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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Unit 2: At the heart of faith

Overview of the Unit
2.1     Islam and Iman
We begin this unit by examining the concept of faith that lies at the heart of all religions. We explore the distinction that the Quran makes between Islam and Iman, and we explore the meaning of faith as it is understood in Muslim traditions. We refer to the story of Bilal’s conversion to Islam in the Prophet’s time to gain a deeper understanding of the concept of Iman.
2.2            The bond of trust
Faith can be viewed as a special relationship between an individual and the sacred. A believer expresses this relationship in the form of absolute commitment or trust in the sacred. We explore in this section the relationship between the human and the divine as expressed through the concept of baya (oath of allegiance) in Muslim traditions. We read extracts from the Diwan of Hakim Nasir-i-Khusraw, an Ismaili poet and philosopher, to help us gain insight into the concept of baya.
2.3            In search of the spiritual
In each religious tradition, we find individuals, groups and communities who seek for greater meaning in the original message of their faith. In Muslim history, we find many communities who have adopted a mystical path towards Islam. In this section, we explore an example of a Sufi teacher whose beliefs reflected a mystical understanding of Islam.
2.4            The use of mind
In the religious literature of Muslims, we find many examples which encourage people to seek for greater meaning of their faith, within themselves and the world around them. We refer to one such example in this section, based on the guidance of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis.

2.1     Islam and Iman
The outer and the inner
In the previous unit, we learned that religion is a complex subject' that has many aspects to it. We found that religion can be studied from various perspectives. In this unit, we will examine religion from the viewpoint of the believers. We wil1 try to examine the inner dimension of faith that lies at the heart of every, religion.
.All religion has outer and inner sides to them. The outer, side is what is visible to everyone, believers as well as non-believers. If we select the subject of prayer, then some of these outer aspects would include where a community of believers prays, what kinds of prayers they recite, and the kinds of actions they perform while saying their prayers. The outward meaning of religious practices or sacred texts is known as the zahir.
The inner side of religions is what the believers feel and experience inside themselves. Unless they communicate their inner state to others, it remains hidden to the outside world. In the example of prayers, this inner aspect would refer to an individual believer's personal experience of prayer. It would involve such things as the person’s beliefs about prayers, the intention and feelings with which a person prays, and the effect the prayer has on the person's life. The inner meaning of religious practices or sacred texts is known as the batin.
Studying the lived Faith of believers
If we were to examine a religion in terms of its outer aspect, there would be much to learn about it. However, out- understanding of the religion would not be complete. To gain a fuller knowledge of it, we would need to study it from the viewpoint of the believers is well. We would have to gain insight into what the religion means to those who practice, it as a lived faith. Studying what a religion means as faith to believers can be quite challenging. It means stepping into their religion from their eyes. It involves finding out what their need to understand their feelings and experiences in living and practicing their faith.'
This form of study is not always easy. Scholars find that they have put aside their own views about a particular religion before they can study it. They have to be aware of the beliefs of the people they are studying.
Since faith is something which is personal to each believer, scholars have to deal with a wide range of the beliefs and meanings often within the same community. They try to identify patterns of beliefs and experiences that are common to believers within a particular community.
Outward acceptance and inner conviction
As with other religions, Islam too has outer and inner sides to it these two aspects have always been important to Muslims, from the time of Prophet Muhammad.
In early Muslim history, there were many people who became Muslims. Many of them belonged to Bedouin tribes whose loyalty lay with their tribal leaders. When the leaders decided to join the Prophet the entire tribe converted to Islam as a group rather than as individuals. If leaders decided to oppose the prophet, the whole tribe would do so as well acceptance. Referring to the Conversion of the Bedouins the Quran made an important distinction between Islam and Iman:
The Bedouin say: we believe
Say, ou do not belief
Rather say, we surrender
For faith has not _yet entered your hearts?  4:14
In the above verse, Islam (surrender) means the outward acceptance of religion, while! Man (faith) refers to, Inner conviction. According to the Quran, the Bedouins had outwardly accepted Islam. They had yet to acquire the inner faith that would turn them into true believers.
The conversion of Bilal
We can explore this difference between outward acceptance and inner faith more deeply by studying the lives of individuals who converted into Islam in the Prophet’s time.
There were many reasons why people in the early history of Islam became Muslims. Some did so because they wanted to be on the winning side, or to retain their existing power. Others may have done so for reasons of wealth, attracted by the lure of booty to be gained out of warfare. Yet others became Muslims for social reasons, to follow what the majority’ of the people in their tribe were doing.
There were also the weak and the oppressed in Mecca and Medina who opted to accept Islam. Some may have wanted to improve their conditions, or to seek protection and support from the Muslims. Slaves may have wanted to gain their freedom from their masters.
However, among both the rich and the poor, there were individuals who became Muslims because they were convinced by the truth of the Prophet’s teachings. They found a spiritual and ethical message in Islam that affected them deeply and transformed their whole life.
The case of Bilal bin Rabah is an interesting example to study. Bilal was an African slave whose master was thought to be Umayya bin Khalaf, one of the staunchest of the Prophet’s enemies. Bilal’s parents had originally came from Africa, and he was born in slavery in Mecca, Bilal was among the first Meccans to accept Islam. He did so at the risk of his life, since Umayya tortured him with severe punishment for converting into a Muslim.
What were the reasons for Bilal accepting the faith of Islam? Did he do so to liberate himself from his slavery, or were there other reasons? The following extract is taken from a book entitled Bilal by H.A.L.Cragg. It focuses on the point of Bilal’s conversion. The extract begins with the leaders of the Quraysh questioning Ammar bin Yasir about the Prophet’s teachings. Ammar was a Meccan from the poor classes who had recently become a Muslim. Bilal watched silently as Ammar was questioned
I was standing in slave position against the wall when they brought in Ammar. They pushed him to his knees, hut he lifted his head to them. I saw then that it would end badly. Had he been a slave, he would have known the protection of the bent head. But he insisted on his rights as a free man, however low on the ladder, and dared to face them.
What does Muhammad teach you?’
‘He teaches us that all men are as equal before God as the teeth of a comb:
I know that I, Bilal, the slave against the wall, shivered wide cold when I heard these words and I know that Umayya grew red in the face and was hot. But the slave has the same pulse as his owner.
I’ve often wondered why Ammar was so hold that day. He might have said:  Muhammad teaches us to pray ... to speak the truth... to desire for your neighbor what you desire for yourself,’ and they would have turned him loose. But Ammar, God have mercy on him, opened the book to them:
‘Muhammad teaches us to worship the One God only.’
Abu Sufyan had, I remember, a fly-swat which he would curl around his neck like a living thing. When Ammar said ‘One God’, the fly-swat rose like a swish of dog’s hair on his back........
‘One God?’ he asked, very logically, in a voice that seemed only curious. ‘But we have three hundred and sixty gods who watch over us, who provide for us.
I remember then something rare: a white butterfly outside the opposite window that wouldn’t go away. I remember Abu Sufyan walking around Ammar. I remember. And why not? In that, in the next minutes, all my life changed.
‘Doesn’t Muhammad realize that we live by giving housing to the gods? Every tribe has its own god. Every year the tribes of Arabia come Mecca to pray and to buy from us. The gods are both our worship and our revenue and don’t we look after the weak and the poor? Don’t you get your share? Now - - -, he paused, as orators do to give themselves more platform, and held the room on his next word ... ‘were we to replace three hundred gods with the one, whom we can not see, but who’s supposed to be everywhere, in the Taif, in Yathrib, in Jerusalem .. On the Moon...... where would Mecca be then? Who would come here when they have God at home?’
Everyone seemed satisfied. The merchant prince had put down the One God and a short sentence had been roundly thrashed by a long speech. The matter might have ended there with no hurt to anyone if my master had not involved me, as much part in the proceedings as the wall at my back. But suddenly there was no wall at my back; my name was spoken.
In a sway of silk, Umayya approached Ammar. ‘You say a slave is equal to his master ...?‘ The silk shivered on his back. ‘Is black Bilal, for whom I paid money, equal to me?’
He paused to relish the absurdity of the question. I, black Bilal, was really outside the question, ‘equal or unequal’. I was nothing and therefore neither. Indeed I might have joined in the laughter as Umayya in a clowning gesture cupped the question in the palm of his hand under Ammar’s nose. No answer was needed. But Ammar - what a fool he them - dared to take up the question that everyone else, even Umayya, had dropped.
 Muhammad teaches us that all men, all races, all colors, all conditions, are equal before God.’
There was a silence. Then I heard my name again.
How was I to know that when I was called then, I called from one life to another?  But it is God who knows the next minute of any of our lives.
I came, as bidden.
‘Bilal, show this man the difference between a Lord of Mecca and yourself. Lash his face to teach his lesson.’ To this day I cannot understand the neatness of the phrase.....
 They put a whip into my hand and Ammar looked offering his face for the punishment.
How can I tell you what happened next? Even now, I cannot look back on that moment without a ringing in my ears and a sense of daze.
I remember, I suppose, very little. Umayva’s bulging eyes and Abu Sufyan’s profile, for he was a man who approved punishments but would not lower his dignity to watch them.
But Ammar I saw clear. His gaze was pure and peaceful, unafraid, meek but strong. I saw in his eyes strength more powerful than my slavery. In that moment, I, Bilal, changed ownership.
I dropped the whip.
I heard the gasps. They knew what they had seen and I knew what I had done. A slave had revolted.
Ammar scrambled on the floor for the whip. He tried to put it back into my hand. His whispering was like a screaming in my head.
‘Do what they say, Bilal . . . here’s the whip . . . do it........... they will kill you, Bilal.’
But this time when I threw the whip down, everything became calm to me. I saw Abu Sufyan gesture to Umayya.....
Umayya was calm, even quiet. ‘If you’re human enough to have gods, Bilal, then they’re the gods of your owner. Mine. You will not bring any unseen gods into my slave quarters.’ He glanced out at the declining day. ‘I will correct you ... but I will wait for the heat of the sun; it has passed its peak today.’
I felt the ropes on my wrists and around my neck as they did what they liked with me. I was never more obedient. Then they led me out and threw me down in the slave quarters to wait for the morning.
What importance is given to inner faith in Muslim tradition?
·                                       Batin
·                                       Zahir
·                                       Imam
·                                       7th century – Bilal bin Rabah
Study the lives of early companions of the Prophet. What were some of the reasons why they became Muslim?
v   absurdity- something which is wildly unreasonable
v   bidden - ordered; commanded
v    declining - referring to the gradual setting of the sun
v    fly-swat - a short stick with long bristles or hair at one end for brushing away flies
v    gesture - movement or action of the body to express a thought or feeling
v    lash - beat with a whip; strike violently
v    orators - public speakers
v    proceedings - events
v    profile - an outline seen from the side
v   pulse - feeling
v    relish - enjoy greatly; got pleasure out of
v    revenue Income; source of wealth
v    thrashed - defeated thoroughly
They left me alone to myself, to stir all night in myself. My master was, ’precise in his punishment. A whip in the morning is the best firewood to keep a slave or the boil all night – in his description. But I had more to ponder than the whip. I had the sun. Umayya had condemned me to the sun; in Mecca. The sun was the cart of execution.
An expectation of death can light many lanterns in a man and, to my grace and favour, that night God granted me light to see by: I saw again my father and my mother working in the steam of dye vats and the tanners’ yards - my father’s great strength so exploited and worn down that what should have been his full manhood was his old age - my mother coughing, always coughing, until life itself was coughed away. Yet that night I saw again their tenderness and sadness when they looked at me.......
Then, again, in streaks of pain. I began to relive the beauty of the world. The beauty that was passing from me. What was it? A dog barking in the distance, the moonlight on the floor, a man snoring on the courtyard in the depth of his peace. I hardly remember. How can I? I do remember, in that dark night, seeing in blinding daylight a red ladybird upon a stalk. Even today when I see a ladybird I am happy all day. Ladybirds, ladybirds - what do men think about as death collect their wits?
Then there were the accidents of the evening before. What brought me to this precipice? Ammar?  What I had to do with Ammar or Ammar to do with me. He wouldn’t have blamed me had I struck him. He even put the whip back in my hand. Yet I, Bilal, a man of nothing, discovered that nothing in my slavery could make me obey.
You might think I made a decision. You would be wrong. For how could a slave decide? He who has no option cannot have a decision. Why then had the whip - or was it a stick - fallen out of slave is a fear even to himself and I was neither brave enough nor fool enough to revolt. The answer lay elsewhere. Where? In Muhammad?
I had seen Muhammad many times but I had never spoken to him. When the great Fair was over, when the caravans had disappeared into their own dust, Mecca shrank. The streets emptied into familiar faces, though they passed me the slave, without much notice and no familiarity. But Muhammad was different. He never passed any man without a look of friendship. Now he was the one witnessing the One God.........
Morning was coming up. A new air pushed through the old air of yesterday I filled my lungs with it. My mind began to wander back to the One God.
You must know that in those days I was illiterate, my thought had no alphabet, and when I was wondered I mean I was a nomad who possessed no wells. But I had my thirst: my thirst was all and my thirst compelled me towards I knew not what.
O God, it is not man who chooses you, but you who choose man. No man would believe except by your will.
That dawn, by the will of God, I made my surrender to God. My Islam. Suddenly, so great sweetness flowed through me that I was content even in the ropes. My soul sang. I knew that my only comfort would be to be near the One God. I knew it in a truth deeper than in the mind, in the fathoms of a man, in his heart. I began to pray and my soul rested. I began to praise God, and my mind was at peace. I began to look at his mercy, and my fear departed from me.
Then the sun rose up by God’s hand.
When they came for me I thanked them. How could they have known? The proper course would have been to pray to their pity. They thought me mad. How could they have known that I had rested in the God who created me - and what they did or did  not do to me would be done or not to  be done by the will of God? Their hands lifted me up.
How could they have known that God had already lifted me up beyond fear of their hands?
They were quick with me. They hurried me through the streets, and here and there a window closed......
They all of course, understood and approved my correction-I had defied ... my owner.......
To Umayya.... I was thief. I had destroyed my value as a slave, therefore I had stolen from him the price he had paid for me.....
They staked me out on the ground, the poor forked animal called man, and Umayya took the whip.
I will not dwell on my torture. Pain has no memory; it exists in its own present .. . God is stronger than the sun and the soul of man cannot he touched by a whip.
I remember calling aloud to God in the only way I knew saying-the only name for him that I knew:
One God.’ I, Bilal, who have since summoned tens of thousands to prayer, at that time knew no prayer. Yet when I spoke His name, He answered me in my heart. I did not scream under the whip, I held my breath for my God. I did not ask their mercy, but only His.
...Then the whip lashed down on me again, again and again.
I’ve often wondered if for a moment, as in the swing of a tree in the wind, I went over into death. But who can tell? It is only the dead who know that’ they have died. Yet I can tell you that I ceased to suffer. My torturers became distant to me; even when they put the rocks down on me, weights that would eventually press me to death, I could only feel that they were doing something new and different. I was out of their reach. I watched them, engaged in their absurdities, like the dancing goats at goats at the great Fair of Ukaz.
v     compelled - forced
v      condemned - forced to experience pain
v      defied - refused to obey: challenged
v      dwell- speak or write at length about
v      exploited - taken unfair advantage of
v      Fair of Ukaz- a trading fair held every year in Mecca in the Prophets time
v      fathoms - depths
v      option - choice
v      precipice- steep face of a cliff or mountain
v     Revolt –rebel
v     staked- tied to stakes or stout sticks driven into the ground
v     summoned- called
v     tanners’ yards - places where raw hide is turned into leather by soaking it in a special solution
v      vats - large tanks: a dyeing solution in which textiles are soaked to change their colour
v     wits - ability to reason
What did Ammar say that annoyed Umayya?
How did Umayya tried to show Ammar that he was wrong? Did he succeed?
Why did Bilal refused to whip Ammar?
What kinds of thoughts came to Bilal at night as he waited for his death the next day?
How did he reason to himself about his disobedience to Umayya?
How does the author describe Bilal’s experience of his conversion to Islam?
Why do you think Bilal decided to become a Muslim?
The personal nature of faith
Bilal’s conversion of Islam occurred for him at a very trying time. It is difficult to say what made him decide to adopt a new faith. Was it because he wanted to disobey his master? Was it out of fear of death that he accepted the religion of One God? Was it Prophet Muhammad’s teachings that convinced him of which path to choose in his life?
Only Bilal could answer these questions, because his conversion was a deeply personal experience. He was rescued from Umayya and freed from slavery by Abu Bakar. Bilal became a close companion of the Prophet and an important member of the early Muslim community.
Bilal’s story makes us aware of the complex nature of faith. Bilal’s conversion into Islam consisted of an outward acceptance of the One God, and Prophet Muhammad as His messenger. It also included an inner dimension, consisted of beliefs, feelings and experience that were personal to Bilal.
Find out more about the conversion of great figures in Muslim history and in other religious traditions of the world.
In the early period of Islam, the question of who was a Muslim became a major debate among Muslim groups. Discuss this question in terms of the difference between Islam and Imam referred to in the Quran.
Look up verses in the Quran in which the terms islam and iman are used. What meanings are given to these terms?
The Quran makes an important distinction between outward acceptance of religion (islam) and the inner faith (iman) of the believer.
Two meanings of Islam
In the Quran, the word Islam occurs only eight times as a noun. However, Islam occurs many more times as a verb, aslama. Islam is presented in the Quran more in terms of action, rather than as a religion. The Quran speaks of doing or performing Islam, rather than Islam as a system of beliefs.
The Quran also refers to the Islam of the individual, as a personal and lived faith. It calls upon Muslims as individuals to perform their !slam. This means to follow the message of God, to be ethical in one's life, and to practice the faith regularly.
A Muslim is therefore one who submits or surrenders to God, and actively practises his or her Islam. A Muslim enters into a personal relationship with the divine through his or her Islam. This is the inner aspect of faith or Iman, which is not visible or open to other people.
Collect a set of books, newspapers, journals, magazines, and other, texts produced in recent years in which references are made to Islam. Examine how the word Islam is used, in these publications. What meanings are given to this word? How do these meanings compare with the ways in which Islam is used in the Quran?
The meanings of Iman
The word Iman in Arabic comes from a root which means to 'be secure, to have trust in, or to turn towards' someone or something.. Iman means 'to believe, to give one's faith'. It also has connections with words, which mean 'to protect, to place in safety.'
Different groups of Muslims give different emphasis to the meaning of Iman. Compare the following definitions of faith by various thinkers and scholars. What emphasis is placed in each definition? What would your own meaning of faith be in the context of the world we live in today? Why would you choose this meaning?
Al-Ashari (theologian): Faith means conviction or internal judgment,
Abu Hanifa (religious lawyer): Faith is the confession by the tongue, internal conviction, and knowledge of the heart.
AI-Ghazali (theologian): Faith is the pact or agreement of the heart.
Ahmad bin Hanbal (religious lawyer): Faith is word, act and right intention.
Ibn Taymiyya (theologian): Faith must not only be expressed by words and works, but it should awaken in the heart of the believer the virtues of the fear of God, of submission to God, of humility, of patient endurance,
Ikhwan al-Safa (philosophers): External faith is verbal affirmation... Internal faith is the true faith, defined as the innermost thoughts of the heart...
Qadi al-Numan (religious lawyer and judge): Imam Muhammad al-Baqir explained about Islam and iman with an illustration. He drew a small circle on his palm and said: 'This represents iman. ‘He then drew another circle outside the smaller one and said, 'This outer circle represents Islam. The inner circle is iman because iman is related to the knowledge of the, heart which lies within the body '
2.2 The bond of trust
Faith as an act of free will
All religions place great emphasis on the inner faith and commitment of the believers. Faith is an act of free will, undertaken without any force or compulsion. Faith establishes a personal and special relationship between the believer and the sacred. It is a relationship which the believer freely enters into, out of trust or love. A forced or compulsory faith contradicts the essence of a faith. Such a faith is not based on the personal and inner conviction of the individual.
In the theistic faiths, the believers enter into a direct relationship with God as their Creator and Lord. The believers place their unconditional trust and faith in their Creator,
While God helps and protects those who follow His guidance. This relationship is known as a covenant. It is based on deep trust, love and loyalty which a believer attempts to keep for his or her entire life.
A covenant is different from a contract. A covenant is based on trust while a contract is based on law. In a contract, two people are committed to an agreement through the force of law. They avoid breaking the agreement since it would lead to breaking the law. A relationship based on contract might involve suspicion, fear and mistrust for those involved in it. A covenant, on the other hand, is based an open trust, faith and love.
The divine covenant
In the Quran, the relationship that is established between God and human beings has many dimensions to it. God is described with many attributes. He is kind, merciful and forgiving but He is also the Lord of the Day of Judgment. Human beings too are described in different ways for example, the believers and distinguished from the hypocrites and the infidels.
A special relationship is established in the Quran between God and all human beings before creation:
And when your Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their descendants, and made then testify concerning themselves, Am I not your Lord They said, as  testify :1.1
In the above verse, all of humanity recognizes and accepts God as their Lord. God also makes a pact with human beings:
… There shall come to you guidance from Me, and Whoever follows My guidance, no fear shall come upon them.  2.3
The Quran emphasizes to believers to keep their trust with God and not to break it. The commitment and allegiance to God form an important part of the inner faith of the believer.
Performing baya
Following Islam for Muslims means always observing the special relationship they have with God. The believers constantly reaffirm this special relationship or covenant with God in their lives. It forms an integral part of their faith.
In the Prophet's time, this affirmation took place through the giving of baya or oath of allegiance to God through the Prophet. Baya is an Arabic word which means the recognition of the authority of one person by another.
In the Medinan period, the Prophet decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca, accompanied by 1400 Muslims. The Prophet stopped at a place called al-Hudaybiya, on the outskirts of Mecca. Here, while sitting under a tree, the Prophet asked all the Muslims who were with him to give their pledge to him to support him. The Muslims approached the Prophet, one at a time, and gave their oath of allegiance (baya) to God's Messenger. They did this by placing their hand on the Prophet's hand. They promised to follow the Prophet in whatever he did. This oath was known as bayat al-ridwan (the Pledge of Good Pleasure). It was also known as 'the Pledge under the Tree'.
On this occasion, the following verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet:
O Prophet Verily, those who give you their allegiance. they give it but to Allah Himself Allah's hand is upon their hands. Then he who breaks it, he certainly breaks it against himself. And he who fulfills what he has pledged with Allah, God shall in return reward him in plenty. 4: I
'God was well pleased with the believers when they gave their allegiance to you under the tree, and He knew what was in their hearts ... ' 4:1
Hakim Nasir-i Khusraw
In the religious literature of Muslims, we find many topics on trust, allegiance and commitment that give us a deeper understanding of the nature of faith. In Sufi texts, for example, we find poetry based on the original covenant between God and human beings as mentioned in the Quran.                                                                                                                               `
We also find the subject of baya discussed by Sufi and Shia writers, such as Hakirn Nasir-i Khusraw, an Ismaili poet, philosopher and writer who lived in Central Asia in the eleventh century.
As a young man, Hakim Nasir-i Khusraw expressed great interest in a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, science, mathematics and poetry. When he turned forty-one, something strange happened in his life which made him take a new direction.
In 1045 CE, he decided to set out on a pilgrimage to Mecca, accompanied only by his brother and a servant. This journey, which was to last seven years, would take him to many lands, including as far away as Egypt. In his Diwan, which is a collection of poems, he explains his reasons for leaving his home and embarking on this long and perilous journey.
The hand of the Prophet
... Three hundred ninety four years had passed since the Migration,
when my mother dropped me in the dust,
a voiceless creature like a weed
which thrives on soil and rain.
From this vegetative stare I reached that of beasts,
and floundered like a bird whose wings are clipped,
till in the Fourth Age. I gained the stature of a man,
and felt a soul of reason worm its way
into my gloomy body.

When the clock of years had turned
some forty-two rounds,
my conscious self began to seek out wisdom.
From the mouths of sages
or the pages of ancient books,
I heard of the Cosmos, of the whirl of Time,
and the ‘three Kingdoms;

I found myself superior- to all around mc,
and ‘among all creatures’ (so I mused)
‘there must be one superior to others,
like the falcon among all birds,
a camel among all beasts of burden,
the palm among the trees,
the Quran among all books,
the Kaba among all houses,
heart in the body, sun among stars.’ - - -

From every School I searched:
from Shafiite, Malikite, Hanifite,
sought a sign of guidance,
of the Chosen One of God,
the Almighty, the Guide;
and each one pointed me a different way.
one to China, one to Africa.
When I asked for a reason,
or for corroboration from the Quran.
they recoiled in helplessness,
like blind men, like deaf men.

‘then one day, as I read in the Book
of the Verse of the Oath,
in which God proclaims
His Hand is above all hands,
and pondered on that group
who swore-allegiance beneath the Tree - - -
I asked myself,
‘How is it now with that Tree and with that hand?
Where shall I see that Hand, that group, that Oath?

I asked, but was rebuffed.
‘They are no more’ - so I was told –
‘The Tree, the Hand are gone,
the Assembly dispersed,
the Hand concealed and veiled in secrecy.
Those men were the Companions,
favoured by that allegiance
and chosen to be with the Prophet in paradise.’

But I said to myself,
‘In the book it is clear that
Ahmad is the Messenger of Good News,
and the Warner, luminous as light.
vets wished to blow it out,
God would light it again in spite of them.
How is it today no one is left of that Community?
Surely the word of the Universal Judge
Can not be false!

Whose hand should we grasp,
Where should we take an oath
That we men of latter times
Might enjoy the justice of heaven?
Why should it be our fault
not to be born in that era?
Why should we he deprived of the Prophet,
Afflicted and distressed?’

My face grew pale as a yellow blossom
in the pain of ignorance,
I bowed in the wind of doubt like an aging cypress

...  Then I arose and set out on my way,
 Remembering neither my home nor past,
nor garden of roses.
From Persian, Arab, Hindu, Turk and Jew,
from the folk of Sind, from the Romans,
from everyone I met,
the philosopher, Manichee, Subean, atheist,
I asked, I questioned, I pestered.

Many a night I made a stone my pillow
the clouds my tent.
I sank as low as a fish,
I ascended as high as the stars above the hills;
now in a land where the very dust was hot
as a spark, I roamed.

Now by the sea, now on the high plateau
or trackless waste, across mountains,
sand and streams,
and clown the precipices,
coil of rope round my shoulder like a camel driver,
pack on my back like a mule,
inquiring I went my way
searching from city to city, shore to shore.

... Then one day I reached those city gates
where angels are servants,
where planets and stars are slaves,
a garden of roses and pines girded round with walls
of emerald and jasper trees,
set in a desert of gold-embroidered silk,
its springs sweet as honey, the river of paradise:
- a city which only Virtue can aspire to reach,
a city whose cypresses are like
the blades of Intellect,
a city whose sages wear brocaded robes
woven of silk,..


v    afflicted and distressed - suffering deeply
v    ascended – climbed
v    aspire - rise high
v    blossom – flower
v    brocaded - woven with a raised pattern
v    clipped - cut short or trimmed
v    concealed – hidden
v    corroboration - support, evidence
v    Cosmos - universe
v    deprived - be left without
v    dispersed - left in different directions
v    emerald and jasper- precious gemstones
v    floundered - struggled with difficulty
v    girded – encircled
v    luminous - shining, bright, giving off tight
v    Manichee - a believer in good end evil forces engaged in an everlasting conflict
v    Migration - the Prophets hijra in 622 CE, the beginning of the Muslim calendar
v    pondered- thought about
v     precipices - steep faces of cliffs or mountains
v    proclaims - reveals, announces
v    rebuffed - rejected
v    recoiled - withdrew suddenly
v    Sabean - believers in the true God mentioned in the Quran
v    Shafiite, Malikite, Hanifite - people following different systems of religious law
v    stature - status, position
v    thrives  - grows strongly
v    Universal Judge - God

And here, before these gates, my Reason spoke:
‘Here, within these walls, find what you seek
and do not leave without it.’

So I approached the Guardian of the Gate,
and told him of my search.
‘Rejoice’ he answered.
‘Your mine has produced a jewel,
for beneath this land of Truth.
there flows a crystal ocean of precious pearls
and pure clear water ...

I heard these words freighted with meaning.
sweet as honey,
and felt myself on the threshold of heaven.
I told him,
‘My soul is weak,
though my body may seem strong to you.
I am in pain, but that is nothing.
I refuse a medicine I cannot understand,
I reject all that which is beyond the Law.’

‘I am a doctor’, he answered. ‘Speak to me
and tell me all that ails you, every detail’
Nasir asked the gate-keeper a hundred questions
about the origin and end of the universe, and about
other maters ...

That sage set his hand upon his heart ...
and said, ‘I offer you the remedy
of proof and demonstration;
but if you accept,
I shall place a seal upon your lips
which must never be broken.’
I gave my consent and he affixed the seal.

Drop by drop, and day by day,
he fed me the healing potion,
till my ailment disappeared,
my tongue became imbued with eloquent speech
my face, which had been pale as saffron,
now grew rosy with joy;
I, who had been as stone, was now a ruby;
I had been dust - now I was ambergris.

He Put my hand in to the Prophet’s hand,
I spoke the Oath beneath that exalted Tree,
so heavy with fruit, so sweet with cooling shade ...

The master turned my night into full daylight,
thanks to his proof as clear as sunshine bright,
he made me drink so much of Living Water
that death seemed unimportant now to me.
I looked out from the corner of his viewplace
and saw the turning skies beneath my feet.
He showed me all that’s present in the world
here in one place in my body, clear and hidden

v    affixed attached
v    ailment – illness
v    ambergris - a strong-smelting perfume
v    consent- agreement
v    eloquent- fluent, persuasive
v    exalted - of a high position
v    freighted – loaded
v    imbued – inspired
v    mine - dug-up underground place where minerals are extracted
v    potion - a liquid medicine
v    saffron - an orange-yellow flavouring and food colouring
v    seal- a vow of secrecy
v    threshold - a crossing or boundary between Iwo areas; entrance

Reflecting on the poem
How does Nasir-i Khusraw describes his life at the beginning of the poem?
What important question did he become determined to answer when he turned forty-two years of  age?
What verse did he come across in in the Quran? What did this verse lead him to think?
Why could hakim Nasir-i Khusraw not accept that ‘the Tree, the Hand are no more?
Explain the following lines in your own words: ‘Whose hand should we grasp, where should we take an oath that even we men of latter times might enjoy the justice of heaven?
Did Hakim Nasir-i Khisraw feel that the Muslims who lived in the Prophet’s time were more fortunate than those who Came later?
Where did he eventually find the ‘hand’ he was seeking?
Why was it important for him that he find this ‘hand’?
Giving baya in every age
During the time of Prophet Muhammad, the Muslims gave their baya to God through the Prophet. The Quran says that when they did so, God's hand was upon their hands (48:10).
Hakim Nasir-i Khusraw lived four centuries after the Prophet. He wanted to know how he could perform the baya in his time, since the Prophet was no longer alive. This led him to search for the Imam from the Prophet's family to whom he could give his allegiance. It was in Cairo that he found the Imam of the time. He was Imam Mustansir billah, the direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad through Imam Ali and Hazrat Fatima.
In Shia and Sufi Islam, the practice of baya is performed through mediation. For the Muslims in the Prophet's time, it was the Prophet who mediated between them and God. For the Shias, it is the Imam of the time who becomes the intercessor and who accepts the baya of the believers. In the same way, Sufis give their baya to their shaykhs or pirs (spiritual masters).
2.3 In search of the spiritual

The spiritual dimension in religions
All religions develop and evolve over time. History shows us the changes that religions experience. The original vision of a religion slowly becomes translated into systems of beliefs and laws by rulers, priests, scholars, lawyers and religious authorities. These systems consist of creeds, codes of conduct, set practices, and other forms of rules. They regulate how believers should understand and practise their faith.
With time, these systems of beliefs and laws may become more important than the original message of the faith, believers of a religion may start placing more emphasis on the external or exoteric aspects of the faith for example, on how to perform certain rituals correctly. They may forget the spirit of the faith and its key teachings. Some groups may start imposing this outward interpretation on others, and make it the dominant form of understanding their religion.
In each religion, we also find a movement to return to the original vision of faith. There is a constant search for inspiration and meaning in this vision. The believers actively seek to translate the spirit of the faith to guide them in the changing conditions of their lives.
In their religion may be mystical, spiritual or intellectual. They try to find deeper levels of meaning in religion that are not limited to systems of beliefs and practices. These communities of believers uphold an esoteric interpretation of Islam.
Law in Islam
In Muslim history, the changing conditions after the Prophet's life had a great impact on how Islam came to be interpreted and practised. This rise of Muslim empires led to the need for a system of laws to govern the lives of people in these lands.
The sharia became an, important concept for scholars of law. It came to mean the divine law that was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, and which Muslims were expected to follow in their lives. Different schools of law developed over time, based on their interpretation of the sharia.
Sunni Muslims derived their system of rules and regulations mainly from the Quran and the hadith. Shia Muslims placed importance on the interpretation of the Quran and hadith by the Imams descended from the Ahl al-bayt, the Prophet's family.
In the first four centuries of Muslim history, scholars of law were creative thinkers. They exercised their intellects to interpret the sharia so that it would be relevant to the problems faced by the Muslims of their time. They discussed and debated the methods of interpreting the sharia, and they also differed over which rules were important to follow.
In some places and times, the law became a means of controlling Muslims, rather than acting as a source of inspiration and guidance in their lives. It was strictly enforced, and Muslims who deviated from it were punished. Rulers and scholars in such places used their power to impose a single understanding and form of practice of Islam on all Muslims.
Spiritual traditions in Islam
As in other religions, traditions of interpretation arose in Muslim societies that placed emphasis on the spirit of Islam. For these traditions, the various systems of beliefs, law and practices were a means rather than an end towards a higher goal, leading them to seek for deeper understanding in message of Islam. Today these traditions form an important part of Muslim societies. Among them are the Sufi communities, or tariqas, that are to be found all over the world. Each tariqa is headed by a shaykh or pir (spiritual master), under whom are his murid or disciples. Some important Sufi group is the Qadiriyya, the Qubrawiyya. and the Naqshbandiyya.
The Sufis place emphasis on the inner aspect of Islam. They seek to realize the scared in their lives through an intense love of God. They express this love through constant remembrance of God, as well as through poetry, music and dance. The Sufis aim to grow closer to and experience the divine in their lives.
Murids who belong to a particular tariqa have to give their baya or oath of allegiance to their shaykh. They agree to follow the mystical path under the guidance of the shaykh. Through prayer and contemplation, the shaykh leads his disciples through various stages of spiritual progress.
The Sufis gather in places of worship that belong to their particular tariqa. These places are known by various names, such as the tekke, the ribat, the zawiya, or the khanqah. The murids, under the guidance of their shaykh, perform dhikr, a form of prayer in which the names of Allah, the prophet, and Imam Ali are recited.
The Sufis have a rich intellectual and mystical heritage that is reflected in their history and their literature. Some of the most creative works of poetry and philosophy have been produced by great Sufis, such as Jalal al- din Rumi and Ibn al rabi.
What importance is given to the inner dimension of Islam in Muslim traditions?
Read stories composed by Sufi poets such as Rumi, Sadi and Attar. What are some of the important messages that those stories are trying to convoy?
• esoteric     pir
• exoteric    sharia
murid         shaykh
• mysticism                    sufism
Compare the relationship between God and the believers in the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths. What are some of the similarities and differences between these three traditions? How is the relationship with the sacred expressed in other religious traditions?
Were the Muslims who lived in the time of the Prophet more fortunate than those who came later? Discuss this question from different viewpoints.
Why is commitment to a religious tradition viewed as an important aspect of faith by believers?
In Muslim traditions, trust and allegiance form an important basis of the relationship of believers with the sacred.
An encounter with a Sufi shaykh
 One way of gaining insight into lire spiritual aspect of Islam is by studying a Sufi community. We can find many such studies that have examined various aspects of Sufism. Some studies, for example, have investigated the beliefs and practices of Sufi tariqas in specific regions of the world. Some have explored a particular aspect of Sufi practices, such as the dhikr they perform. Other studies have focused on the political and economic impact of the Sufis in the areas in which they are to he found.
 Among the works on Sufism, we also come across journals, diaries and accounts written either by a Sufi shaykh, or a disciple, that gives us insight into the Sufi way of life. We come to understand what it means for a Muslim to follow a mystical discipline that emphasises the inner dimension of Islam.
 In the following account, we read of an encounter between a French doctor and a Sufi shaykh in a Moroccan town in the early part of the twentieth century. This account is from a hook by Martin Lings entitled A Sufi Saint of the Towentieth Century.
 The account is written by the French doctor who relates how he grew to become very close to a Sufi shaykh. It describes their developing relationship, as well as the conversations they had on religion. We also read about the French doctor’s feelings as he tries to treat the aging shaykh in the Final years of his life.
 A Sufi saint of the twentieth century
 1 met the Shaykh al-AIawi for the first Lime in the spring of 1920. It was not a chance meeting, for I had been called in to him in my capacity as doctor. It was then only a few months since 1 started a practice at Mostaganem - -
 A rather serious attack of influenza which he had during thc Spring of 1920 made him decide to send for me.
From my first contact with him, I had the impression of being in the presence of no ordinary personality. The room I was shown into ... was without furniture, There were simply two chests which, as I found out later, were full of books and manuscripts. But the floor was covered from end to end with carpets and rush mats. In one corner was a rug-covered mattress, and here, with some cushions on his back, sitting straight upright, cross-legged, with his hands on his knees, was the Shaykh –
 His voice was gentle, somewhat subdued. He spoke little, in short sentences, and those about him obeyed in silence, waiting on his least word or gesture. One felt that he was surrounded by the deepest reverence -.
 [The Shaykh] wanted to know if the illness he had contracted a few days previously was a serious one. He relied on me to tell him quite frankly and without keeping anything back, what I thought of his condition, The rest was of little or no importance ...
I proceeded, to make a most thorough medical examination . .. I then explained to the Shaykh that if he had a fairly bad attack of influenza, but there was nothing seriously wrong with him, that his chief organs were working quite normally, and that probably all his troubles would disappear of their own accord after a few days. But although it would .be unlikely there would be any complications, there was always a certain risk of them in such eases, so that his illness must be closely watched, and I would have to come and see him again by way of Precaution ...
The Shaykh seemed very satisfied with the result of nay examination. He thanked me with dignity, apologised For having troubled me, and told me I could come to see him again whenever I thought necessary .,.
The next day I went to see hint again, and also for several days after that, until he had quite recovered.  Each time I found him just the same, motionless, the same position, in the same place, with the faraway look in his eyes and the taint smile on his lips. ...
We were soon on friendly terms, and when I told him that I considered my visits as doctor no longer necessary, he said that he had been very pleased to make my acquaintance, and that he would be glad if I could come to see hint now and then, whenever I had time.
This was the beginning of a friendship which was to last until the death of the Shaykh in 1934. During these fourteen years, I was able to see him at least once a week, Sometimes I went for the pleasure of talking to him when I had me sent ... because his own precarious health needed my attention.
... When I first met the Shaykh, the present day zawiya, had not been built ... The way in which this zawiya was built is both eloquent and typical: there was neither architect - at least, not in the ordinary sense - nor master-builder, and all the workmen  were volunteers. The architect was the Shaykh himself - not that he ever drew up a plan or manipulated a set-square. He simply said what he wanted, and his conception was understood by the builders.
[The workers] were by no means all from that part of the country. Many had come from Morocco ... and some from Tunis, all without any kind of enlistment. The news had gone round that work on: the zawiya could be started once more, and that was all that was needed, Among the Shaykh’s North disciples, there began an exodus in relays: masons some, carpenters others, stone-cutters, workers on the roads, or even ordinary manual labourers, they knotted a few meager provisions in a handkerchief and set out for the far-off town where the master lived, to put at his disposal the work of their hands.
They received no wages. They were fed, that was all; and they camped out in tents. But every evening, an hour before the prayer, the Shaykh brought them together and gave them spiritual instruction. That was their reward.
 They worked in this way for two months, sometimes three, and then went away once more, glad to have contributed to the work, and satisfied in spirit. Others took their place, and after a certain time went off in their turn, to be immediately replaced by new arrivals, eager to start work. More always came and there was never any lack of hands. This went on for two years, by the end of which the building was finished ...
... I was especially struck by the most humble of them all, the Riff mountaineers, who had been travelling for a whole month, going on foot from hamlet to hamlet, with their spirits kept up by the inward fire that burned in their simple souls.
They had set out full of enthusiasm, like the pioneers of the gold-rush, but it was no temporal riches that they had come in search of. Their quest was purely spiritual, and they knew that they would not be deceived. I watched them, motionless, silent, drinking in the atmosphere as if plunged in a kind of beatitude through the very fact of being there, penetrated by the holiness of the place, with their chief aspiration realised. They were happy, in complete accord with themselves, in the Presence of God...
And how had the Shaykh’s fame spread so far? There was never any organised propaganda. The disciples made not the slightest attempt to proselytise ... These little brotherhoods refrain on principle from all outward action, as if they were 1ealousiy bent on letting no one share their secrets. None the less, the influence spreads, and would-be novices are always coming forward to ask for initiation. They come from all walks of life.
One day, I voiced my surprise to the Shaykh. He said:
‘All those come here who feel haunted by the thought of God.’
And he added these words, worthy of the Gospels:
‘They come to seek inward Pieace.’
That day, I did not dare to question him any-further for fear of seeming too inquisitive.
When he was relatively well, the Shaykh always received me, except in winter, on a sort of veranda at the bottom of a little garden, surrounded by high walls It was in these peaceful surroundings, far from the noise of the world, amid the rustling of leaves and the song of birds, that we exchanged remarks sometimes interspersed with long silences one day my own ideas happened to come up for discussion.
‘What is your religion then?’ [he asked.]
‘I have none.’
There was a silence. Then the Shaykh said: ‘That is strange.’
‘Why strange?’
‘Because usually those who, like yourself have no religion are hostile to religions. And you do not seem to be so.’
I said that since everyone is troubled by the enigma of his existence and his future, we each seek some explanation that will satisfy us and set our minds at rest.
[... I said:] ‘The religions provide an answer which satisfy most people ... Whatever means are used, whatever path is chosen, anyone who is bent on gaining peace of mind is always obliged to take some belief as his starting point.
‘Even the path of science, which is the one I have followed, is based on a certain number of assumptions .. . Along whatever line one looks, there is always some element of belief, whether it be great or small. The only truth is what one believes to be true. Everyone follows the course which suits him best. If he finds what he is looking for, then for him this course is the right one. They are all equal.
Here he stopped mc, saying:
No, they are not all equal.’
I said nothing, waiting for an explanation, which came.
‘They are all equal if you only consider the question of being set at rest. But there are different degrees. Some people are set at rest by very little; others find their satisfaction in religion; some require more; it is not only peace of mind that they must have, but thc Great Peace, which brings with it the plenitude of the Spirit.’
‘What about religion?’
‘For these last, religion is only a starting point.’
‘Then is there anything above a religion?’ ...
‘The means of attaining to God Himself.’ .. .
One day he asked me point-blank:
‘Do you believe in God?’
I replied:
‘Yes, if you mean by that an indefinable principle of which all depends and which no doubt gives a meaning to the Universe.’
He seemed satisfied by nay reply. I added:
‘But I consider this principle as being beyond our reach and understanding.’ ...
He looked at me for a while as if he were reading my thoughts. Then his eyes met mine with a piercing glance which went far beyond them, and he said slowly:
‘It is a pity that you will not let your Spirit rise above yourself. But whatever you may say and whatever you may imagine, you are nearer to God than you think.’
‘You are nearer to God than you think.’
When he spoke these words, the Shaykh al-Alawi had not much longer to live ... the Shaykh was becoming more and more given to deep meditation, which he seemed to emerge only against his will. He ate practically nothing, and although I both scolded and entreated him, he simply gave me the shadow of a smile and said gently:
‘What is the use? The hour is drawing near.’
There was nothing I could answer.
I was in fact convinced that the Shaykh would go on living to the very last flicker of his strength ... He would use up the very last drop of oil in the lamp of life, which he had turned so low that it was now no more than a night-light. And he knew this as well as I did ...
... In 1932, we were badly shaken by his having a partial heart attack. I was summoned in all haste, and when I arrived his pulse was imperceptible and he seemed to have lost all consciousness. An intra-veinous injection brought him round. He opened his eyes, and looked at me reproachfully.
‘Why did you do that?’ he said. ‘you should have let me go. There is no point in keeping me back. What is the good?’
‘If I am at your side,’ I answered. ‘it is because God willed it so. And if He willed it so it was in order that I might do my duty by you as your doctor.’
 ‘Very well,’ he said. ‘Insha Allah’ ...
 One morning, he sent for mc. His condition, to all appearances, was no more serious than it had been the day before that, but he said: ‘It will be to day. Promise me to do nothing, and to let things taketheir course.’
I said that he seemed to be no worse, but he insisted. ‘I know it will be today. And I must be allowed to return to God.’
I left him, impressed by what he had said, but none the less a little sceptical. I had seen him so often with his life hanging by
a thread, without the thread having broken, and so, I thought, it would be again that day.
But when I came back in the afternoon, the picture had changed. He was scarcely breathing, and I could not count his pulse.
 He opened his eyes when he felt my fingers on his wrist, and recognised me. His lips murmured: ‘I am going at last to take my rest in the Presence of God.’
He clasped my hand feebly and closed his eyes. It was a last farewell. My place was no longer there. He belonged from
then on to his [disciples], who were waiting in the background ...
I learned that evening that two hours after I had left, he had gently passed away, almost imperceptibly, reverently surrounded by all those disciples who lived at the zawiya or were staving there.
 The last drop of oil had been used up.
 I remember once having said to him that what prevented me from trying to ‘raise my spirit above myself’ was no doubt lack of faith.
 He answered:
 ‘Faith is necessary for religions, but it ceases to be so for those who go further and who achieve self-realisation in God. Then one no longer believes because one sees. There is no longer any need to believe, when one sees the ‘Truth.’
v     Accord - harmony
v    aspiration - aim, ambition
v    botiltude – happiness
v    complications - additional diseases
v    conception - idea, plan
v    contracted - caught a disease
v    deceived - misled
v    disciples - followers: pupils
v    eloquent - creative expression
v    enlistment - seeking for help
v    exodus -departure of people
v    Gospels - the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament of the Bible
v    hamlet - a small village
v    haunted - constantly reminded
v    influenza - a virus infection that causes fever
v    initiation - admission into the tariqa
v    inquisitive – curious
v    make acquaintance - come to know
v    manipulated – handle, use with skill
v    manual labourers - workers who do tasks with their hands
v    manuscripts - books or documents written by hand
v    masons - people who build with stone
v    assumptions – beliefs or ideas accepted as true without proof
v    attaining – reaching
v    ceases – stops
v    element – part
v    enigma - riddle, mystery
v    entreated- asked in a persuading manner
v    existence – life
v    hostile - unfriendly, opposed
v    imperceptible - very slight, not able to be felt or seen
v    indefinable principle - a truth which cannot be known by the human mind
v    Insha Allah  - ‘if it be the will of God’
v    interspersed - mixed with, broken up by
v    intra-veinous  — into a vein
v    meditation — prayer, thought
v    obliged - forced
v    plenitude -   fullness, abundance, completeness
v    point-blank - bluntly, directly
v    pulse – heartbeat
v    reproachfully- with disapproval
v    sceptical - doubtful
v    self-realisation - knowledge of who one is
v    veranda - a gallery along the side of a house,usualty covered with a roof

Reflecting on the story

What were the doctor’s first impressions on meeting the Shaykh? How did he gradually get to know the Shaykh better?
How did the disciples go about building the zawiya? Where did the different workers come from?
What did the disciples hope to gain by giving their service freely to the Shaykh?
What do you think the Shaykh meant when he said that his disciples came to seek ‘inward Peace’?
What were the views of the doctor on the subject of religion? Do you think the doctor was a religious man?
Why did the Shaykh believe that all paths to truth were not equal?
What did he mean by saying that religion was ‘only a starting point?
 Describe the last days of the doctor with the Shaykh. What do we learn from his account about the Shaykh’s attitude to death?
What is your general impression about the Shaykh? What kind of a person was he? What about the doctor?

Religion as a starting point
In the account of the French doctor, the Sufi shaykh invites us to think more deeply about the meaning of religion. For him, religion was only a starting point to a higher goal, not an end. This principle forms the foundation of all the spiritual traditions in Islam and in other faiths.
In a spiritual understanding of faith, a system of beliefs, laws and practices acts as a framework for finding deeper levels of meaning. When religion becomes an end, believers start placing more importance on the beliefs, laws and practices, rather than on what their ultimate purpose is.
For the Sufi shaykh, what was higher than religion was the means to attaining God. The Sufi way of life is based on becoming one with God. A Sufi’s thoughts, words and deeds are centered on God. Prayers and rituals are used as a ‘ladder’ to grow closer to God. For Sufis, God is present in their lives all the time. This is why the Shaykh says to the French doctor: ‘You are nearer to God than you think’
Find out more about mystics and the mystical path in Islam and in other religious traditions. What similarities and differences do you find between the various religions?
What did the Shaykh mean when, made the following remark to the doctor? ‘Faith is necessary for religions, but it ceases to be so for who go further.’
The spiritual dimension forms an important part of the faith of Muslims who belong to esoteric traditions in Islam.
Discuss the viewpoints of people of who argue that only the outer or the inner aspects of religion are important. What are some of the implications of adopting either of these positions?

2.4 The use of the mind
The role of knowledge
In some religious traditions of the past, the use of the mind was actively discouraged. Reason was seen as a threat to belief, and religion became reduced to blind faith. In history, we find examples where believers were persecuted because they sought to exercise their reason in matters of religion.
Spiritual traditions in religion encourage believers to seek for deeper meaning in their faith. The active use of the mind forms an important aspect of the believer's faith. The mind is viewed as a gift from the divine, and a vehicle that leads human beings closer to their final goal.
Knowledge and wisdom therefore become an important part of faith in spiritual traditions. Searching for wisdom leads one on the path towards the divine. In religious literature, we find stories, fables, parables and allegories of a believer seeking for wisdom. Knowledge is often portrayed as a metaphor. It becomes a mountain that has to be climbed. The higher one climbs up the mountain of knowledge, the clearer one sees the truth. Similarly, the ocean of wisdom contains many pearls in its depths. In theistic traditions, God is the source of all knowledge and wisdom. It is God who grants human beings the gift of the Intellect with which to rise to higher levels of understanding.
Knowledge in Muslim traditions
The term Ilm (knowledge) is cited many, times in the Quran. The; Quran invites Muslims to reflect on the wonders of Allah's creation, both within themselves and in the wider cosmos. It elevates those who exercise the use of their minds above those who remain ignorant:
‘Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the alternation of night and day, there are signs for men possessed of minds who reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth and say Our Lord, you have not created this in vain’   3.1
In the traditions of the Prophets and the Imams, we find numerous references on the value of knowledge. The Prophet encourages Muslims to search for knowledge:
‘Seek knowledge, even unto China.' 'The search for knowledge is a duty for every Muslim man and woman’.
Muslims often quote the sayings of Hazrat Ali on knowledge. For example:
'There is no treasure" like knowledge.' 'There is no wealth like wisdom. '
We also find much discussion and debate among theologians, lawyers, philosophers and mystics in Muslim history about knowledge. Some of these debates, for example, refer to the relationship between knowledge of ordinary things and knowledge of God.
Knowledge in Shia Islam
In Shia Islam, knowledge forms a central part of faith. The Imam is the spiritual guide who leads believers to higher planes of understanding. The Shias believe that the Imams from the Prophet's family (the Ahl al-bayt) are sources of divine knowledge, as reflected in the following verse of the Quran:
‘And we have vested the knowledge and authority of everything in the manifest Imam’
 3 :12
The Shias also cite the following hadith of the Prophet:
 I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gateway so let whoever wants knowledge enter through its gate.'
In Shia Islam, the Imams interpret the message of Allah for the believers. They contextualise the revelation according to the times.
For Ismaili Shia Muslims, it is the Imam of the time who guides the murids (followers). The Imam guides the believers to reflect on the spirit and ethics of Islam.
The search for knowledge and wisdom forms an important aspect of the Ismaili tariqa. The murids seek for a deeper understanding of the message of Islam in their lives by following the guidance of the Imam of the time.
The essence of the faith
The religious literature of Shia Islam is rich with examples that are on topic of knowledge. The search for knowledge also forms an important subject in Ismaili writings. We can find many references to knowledge the works of Ismaili philosophers, dais and poets, such as Hakim Nasir Khusraw al-Muayyad fil-Din al-Shirazi, al-Kirmani. and al-Sijistani.
Another important source is the guidance or Farmans of the Imams, The following farman, on the essence of faith, was given by Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis. He was also known as Aga Khan III. He was the Imam of the Ismailis from 1885 to 1957, and guided the community into the modern times. Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah placed great importance on balancing the material with the spiritual aspects of life.
The Farman was made to the jamat (community) in Dar es Salaam in 1899. The Imam encourages the murids to think more deeply about their faith. He urges them to seek for the kernel or essence of Islam. The farman is a good example that shows the relationship between intellect and faith in the Shia Ismaili tariqa.
The essence of faith
I am speaking to you about the usul-al-din (i.e. the principles of faith). The usul-al-din are like the kernel of a plant. Every man is ultimately inclined towards usul or essence.
... When you are free, you must turn your thoughts to these questions: “who is the Creator and what is
The creation?’ ... For instance, what would you say if you were ever asked who you are? You might answer, I am the son of so-and-so.’ At the most, you might be able to reach back several generations. A more thinking person might name Adam as his first ancestor; but he will not be able to proceed further. You must ask yourself: ‘Where did Adam come from?’ That man who is a Sufi (i.e. a mystic) will be able to capture this trend of thought.
You know that when rain pours on to the earth, it gathers drop by drop, to form a river, which finally merges into the sea once again.  All rain water eventually reaches the sea once again. The same is true of the soul. The soul too has its abode and the abode of the soul is infinite.
The man who is not given to deep thinking, and who does not have the ambition to rise high, is like a rain-drop which has evaporated from the surface of the earth. The man who has the aspiration to a higher realm practises more and more ibadat (meditative prayer), and also cultivates love in his heart. But it is wrong to practise ibadat with a view to escaping from this prison of the world and gaining paradise. For paradise too is a prison.
Those who knew better ... followed our way For instance, Mansur took this path. Paradise was ever present for him. But he rejected it. ‘Why should I be content with paradise?’ he used to ask himself ‘I shall not rest till I taste the essence. Till then, I shall always strive ahead.’ For, what is the use of anything indeed, until and unless the origin, the essence, has become known? ...
Hazrat All has said, ‘He who knows himself knows God.’ . . Man’s real self has great dignity, but he abases himself through his own willfulness. If somebody among you were to aim at being like Pir Sadardin, Pir Shams or Mansur, you can indeed achieve such a status; you can rise even higher . .. if you were to follow our faith steadfastly, you would certainly attain an exalted destiny ...
Over the ages, only a select few have been able to rise to these heights. Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, Pir Shams - only these and a few others were able to realise this goal. They all had the same dominant impulse; thee were all passionately in love with the Spirit; they were the friends of the Spirit; and so they were able to reach this sanctuary ...
Mowlana Rumi declared that he had once existed in the form of an inanimate rock. From this, he evolved into plant-life from which, becoming a tiny worm, he finally attained an animal existence; from the latter he acquired a human life. ‘Where shall I go from hence?’ he asks himself. ‘I shall soar like an angel and thence I shall rise even higher.’ ...Whoever has the will and tries hard enough will be able to attain that state ...
Reflecting on the farman
Identify some of the passages where the Imam is referring directly to knowledge. What do we learn from these passages about its role in faith?
What kinds of examples does the Imam give to illustrate the need for reflection in a believer’s life?
In what way is a person who does not think deeply like a rain-drop that has evaporated into the sky?
Explain in your own words the meaning behind the example of sunlight reflecting in the water.
What do you think the Imam means by ‘usul’ or ‘essence’?
How does the Imam describe his role?
How would you distinguish between the tariqat and the haqiqat?
What kind of freedom is the Imam referring to in the last paragraph of the farman?
He who knows himself knows God
The Farman of Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah highlights the role of reason and reflection in the Ismaili tariqa. The search for the usul or essence of a religion can lead believers to higher levels of understanding. The imam mentions Jesus and Prophet Muhammad as some of the people who reached these heights.
The Iman stresses the importance of inner or self-knowledge. He quotes the following saying of Hazrat Ali – ‘He who knows himself knows God.’ The Imam states that in order to understand who God is, we first have to understand ourselves. The search for the essence of faith begins with ourselves. The greater our curiosity about ourselves as human beings, the more insight we will acquire into the divine.
The Imam urges the believers to go beyond the common understanding of religion. For example, he stresses that it is not paradise but God that should be our final goal. A person who thinks of nothing else but reaching paradise becomes trapped in the prison of his thoughts. Only our thoughts on God can set us free because God is infinite.
The Imam describes his role as leading the believers to their real destiny. He speaks of the soul being like a rain-drop returning to the sea. The Imam‘s role is to guide the believers to realise what their true nature is, It is to lead them to their real abode, which is union with the infinite.
You should also set you heart on Sufism (mysticism). You should aim at reaching even further. Sufism is tariqat (the path) for you; it will lead you to haqiqat (truth). The Spirit enriched by knowledge will rise higher, step by step. But one who lacks the inner knowledge wilt complacently stay where he is ...
Hazrat All once uttered a prayer, in which he declared that he was not in the least afraid of tortures of hell, nor did he have any lust for the pleasures of paradise. He was simply intoxicated with the love of God, This is the haqiqat (the truth).
It is said that Hazrat Ali used to perform miracles; but even the magicians perform conjuring tricks. Hazrat Ali’s miraculous powers lay in his ability to help people to arrive at the haqiqat. That is the greatest miracle.
Those who have only superficial knowledge of the faith have fantastic notions about me. They believe my job is to heal the sick. This is not my task. My task is to show yon the way to tile truth, so that you may achieve your real destiny ...
You must keep on asking yourself: ‘What is God and why cannot I become one with Him?’ You must have such ambitions and you should meditate over what I am saying. For instance, Jesus became one with God. He was in love with the haqiqat  (i.e. the truth). As a result he was able to attain union with God.
You must also have heard about the Miraj (the celestial journey) of the Holy Prophet. People say that he rode on a horse upto the heavens and that was his Miraj.  This is the foolish idea of the masses. God does not dwell only in heaven; He is to be found even-where. The night of Miraj is the one on which the Prophet revisited his original home. Only the wise and the intelligent will understand the parables of the prophets...
Your religion teaches you to think deeply and apply your reason. Take the example of a wilderness with swamps or pools containing water. At eventide, the light of the setting sun is reflected in the water. At unthinking wayfarer, who is passing by the place, might conclude that what he saw was the colour of the water. A thoughtful person will realise that it is only the reflected sunlight which causes the glimmer he will know that what he is really seeing is the radiance of the sun. After sunset, the truth will become clear...
Once you are able to understand your real capacity and once you grasp the truth, you will be able to attain freedom. In order to understand the status of God, you must first understand your own status as man.
What place is given to the intellect in the Shia tradition of Islam?
·        aql              ilm              farman                  usul
1877-1957 Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah (Aga Khan III)
Make a collection of quotations from the Quran, the hadith, and the sayings of the Imams on the subject of knowledge. What are some of the important messages expressed in these quotations about the place of knowledge in Islam?
Find out mote about the role of knowledge in other Muslim communities, as well as in other religious traditions. Ate there certain features that are common to all faiths?
In religious communities, we come across the view that ‘blind faith’ is essential to be a good believer. We also encounter the view that true faith is based on reason and reflection. Discuss both these perspectives in terms of their underlying arguments.
Is knowledge of God different from knowledge of ordinary things? Is there only one type of knowledge, or are there many?
The mind plays an important role in the quest for the sacred in spiritual traditions
v    abases- degrades, brings down to a lower position
v    abode  — home, dwelling place
v    attain  - achieve, roach
v    cultivates - gives attention to developing something
v    dignity - high rank or position
v    dominant impulse - powerful desire
v    evaporated- turned into vapour
v    exalted destiny- high goal
v    generations - groups of ancestors
v    inanimate - lifeless
v    inclined- tending to move towards
v    kernel - the nucleus, core or essential part of something –
v    merges- joins. unites with
v    realm - state, sphere
v    sanctuary -

place; place of safety
v    steadfastly- firmly without giving up
v    trend- direction
v    willfulness  - deliberate action
v    celestial - heavenly
v    complacently - being satisfied or content with oneself
v    conjuring -  magical
v    eventide – evening
v    intoxicated - drunk
v    lust -  strong desire or passion
v    masses - ordinary people
v    parables - a story that teaches an important lesson
v    radiance - rays of light
v    superficial - lacking depth
v    wayfarer - traveler, especially on toot

Review of Unit 2: At the heart of s faith

Review questions

2.1 Islam and Iman
Ø    What is the difference between the outer and inner aspects of a religion?
Ø    How does the Quran distinguish between Islam and Iman?
Ø    What do we learn about the nature of Iman from Bilal’s story?
Ø    How is the term Islam used in the Quran?
Ø    What kinds of meanings has Islam acquired in recent times?
2.2 The bond of Trust
Ø    What does the Quran teach us about the covenant between God and human beings? –
Ø    What is the meaning of the word baya?
Ø    How did Muslims in the time of the Prophet give their baya to God and His Prophet?
Ø    What questions did Hakim Nasir-i Khusraw ask about the giving of baya by Muslims who lived after the Prophet’s time?
Ø    What importance is given to baya in Shia and Sufi traditions of Islam?
 2.3 In search of the spiritual
Ø    How do religions evolve into systems of beliefs, laws and practices over time?
Ø    Why do some religious traditions seek to return to the original vision of their faith?
Ø    What is the difference between an exoteric and esoteric interpretation of Islam?
Ø    What do we learn front the story of the Sufi shaykh about religion and the search for a higher goal?
Ø    What was the Shaykh’s understanding of ‘faith’?
2.4 The use of the mind
Ø    What role does knowledge have in spiritual traditions of Islam?
Ø    Explain in your own words the hadith in which the Prophet is called the ‘city of knowledge’ and Imam All its ‘gateway’.
Ø    What does Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah’s farman teach us about the role of the mind in the practice of one’s faith?
Ø    What does the Imam mean by the usul of the faith?
Ø    What do you understand by the following saying of Imam Ali? ‘He who knows himself knows God.’
To continue reading this book click:   UNIT-3
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