A lecture on Ubudiyya or True Kingship by Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, from his visit to South Africa, 2018. Sponsored by the Islamic Forum Organisation and Awqaf SA.
Religion, says Shaykh Abdal Hakim, is the most radical possible belief system as it posits three radically profound premises; i.e. that:
1. Unity is the ground of multiplicity
2. Compassion as the fabric from which the world is made
3. Morality has meaning
In our society we are confronted by a whirlwind of false alternatives as there are no tenable ideologies, political visions or economic models that compete with any of the major religions.
Rather, we are left with a lassitude following the collapse of hypertrophic self-identification with race. A political instantiation of Darwin’s theories.
The collapse of the Communist utopia, also rooted in a form of Darwinism. The idea being that distinctions between class, race and wealth could be eliminated. These ideas collapsed either under their own contradictions or through failure in practice.
Nothing Tastes of Anything
According to the Post-Modernist view, our world is in constant flux. Of a foundation with no foundations. A world of whimsy – of cherry picking fun themes from different favoured narratives to sate our desires. Where quantity trumps quality.
Our narratives are bloodless. The forms of the past are no longer truly alive. We cling to relics and ghosts of empires past. Nationalism is rearing its ugly head again. We inhabit a strange stage of human history. One which nobody ever expected.
The British Empire which carved Africa into unwieldy shapes is gone. Its prideful monuments promising a thousand year reign lie in the dust. Its imperial pretensions shredded and not replaced.
Imaginary Worlds of Non-Being
What we are left with is the body with no mind and no spirit. A husk subjected to cosmetics, surgery, dieting, tattoos, piercings, and increasingly freakish things we do to change the little that remains to us. New genders daily invented and defended with near religious certainty.
Question the fifty-second gender and find yourself subject to the pogroms and hatred once reserved for religious heretics. And the world goes on with few to no conscientious objecters or audible dissidents.
The goal seems to be the elimination of the body also: to the Utopia of Kurzweil’s Singularity. Our consciousness uploaded to the net at no cost to become part of the cloud. A form of secular eschatology that seems to be the sublimation of the religious urge.
Escaping the Rotary Motion
Where do we stand in this flux? Where do we root ourselves in the whirlwind? What defines our otherness? It is simply Ubudiyya or slavehood. It is the necessary corollary of the monotheistic premise: la ilaha illa Allah.
For if He alone truly is. If existence depends solely on Him as shadows depend on the light. If values do not signify unless they are grounded in the Divine Will and Decree. Then Ubudiyya is the key category and concept. He says:
سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِ لَيْلًا مِّنَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ إِلَى الْمَسْجِدِ الْأَقْصَى
Exalted is He who took His slave (‘and) by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al-Aqsa (17:1)
Tafsir writers say that the titular use of ‘abd here shows that this is the best form of praise, the highest encomium. This moment in the Prophet’s life, Allah bless him and give him peace, is the supreme moment of human history.
The Slave of Allah
When Jesus, peace be upon him, was brought to Jerusalem and the scandal was at its peak, he said: Verily, I am Allah’s slave. A clear refutation and glorious surpassing of all that the Nasara say about him, peace be upon him. The ultimate truth from the mouth of a babe.
This most radical of claims: I am Allah’s slave, is the primordial affirmation of things as they are. An acknowledgement of the ultimate fact of existence. This submission to and realisation of complete neediness shows his rank, peace be upon him, with Allah.
This claim makes radicals of us all. Makes us strange in the eyes of the whirling world. This is inescapable. Islam began as something strange and shall return as something strange. Blessed therefore are the strangers.
Rejoice then, stranger. You are called.
With gratitude to our content partner: Cambridge Muslim College.