Osama: Salam ‘alaykum Shaykh Hamza, As always, it’s a great blessing to be talking to you. In our previous conversation, we talked about the concept of religion, it’s relevance, and the experiential and logical proofs for it. Today, as a follow-up to that conversation, I’d like to pose a more practical question to you: What is the purpose of life?
Shaykh Hamza: Wa ‘alaykum salam Osama. I’m happy to be talking to you again! Let’s start in the same way as our last conversation: define your terms! When you ask, “What is the purpose of life,” what, in your mind, do you mean by purpose and and what do you mean by life?
Osama: Of course, that is a pertinent reminder. When I use the term purpose, I mean: the reason for which something is done or created, or, the reason for which something exists.
Shaykh Hamza: Okay great, let’s start with purpose; so you’ve defined the word purpose as, the reason for which something is done, created, or for which something exists. Now, someone who asks what the purpose of life is, and uses purpose to mean what you have just said, often doesn’t realize that he thereby presupposes many things. For example, someone who asks the question, “What is the purpose of life,” and means by purpose, “the reason for which something is done,” this person presupposes that life is something that has been done by someone for some reason. In the back of his mind, he is accepting that there is someone, a doer, a volitional agent who made the the phenomenon of life for some reason. Someone who says purpose is “the reason for which something is created,” (the second part of your definition) goes even further to presuppose that this doer, or volitional agent who made the phenomenon of life is God. The latter part of your definition, however–“the reason for which something exists”–does not explicitly reveal this presupposition. People who have this latter part of the definition of purpose in their minds may or may not presuppose that there is a Creator or Maker of life. Aristotle, for example, believed that all things exist for a reason that is embedded within them and that this reason drives them towards a particular end. He called this reason the “final cause” (telos) of things, and it was one of four kinds of causes that he postulated drove things in the world to change. I won’t dwell on these four causes now, but I will may have to return to some of them later as we will try to understand why a scientific understanding of the universe is often incorrectly equated with a purposeless understanding of the universe. So Aristotle believed that it was these final causes within things that gave them their purpose, not God. Aristotle did believe in God, but not in the same way that we do. More on that at a later point in our conversation, in sha’ Allah.
Osama: Sidi, these days a lot of people in the West do not believe in God, and most have not read anything about Aristotle. Don’t you think the presuppositions of modern people about the term purpose will be different to the ones that you have highlighted so far?
Shaykh Hamza: Yes, most people today would have different presuppositions about the term purpose because we live in a post-Enlightenment and postmodern world that is heavily influenced by a worldview grounded in modern scientific reasoning that seeks to explain the universe without any reference to God. So today, when people ask the question, “What is the purpose of life?” they are most likely not asking from the perspective of someone who believes in God, nor are they asking from the perspective of Aristotle, rather they are probably asking from the perspective of modern science. But I think that Aristotle is still important because people’s perspective today has its roots in a reaction to a Christianized Aristotelianism.
Osama: Can you elaborate on the relationship between modern science and this “Christianized Aristotelianism”?
Shaykh Hamza: Good question! To answer this properly, I’ll need to give you a brief history of modern science so that you can appreciate how we got to where we are now. Modern science came out of a period in the history of Western Europe called the ”Enlightenment.” I am saying quote-unquote “Enlightenment” in quotation marks because true “Enlightenment” comes from the light of Allah Most High that He sends through His prophets–”Allah is the protector of the believers: He takes them out of the darknesses into light.” (Qur’an, 2:256) “Into light”–in other words, He enlightens them. I think I talked about this period in our previous conversation, right?
Osama: Yes, I recall that you mentioned to me that this was a period in Western history in which oppressive and corrupt religion was displaced, through revolution in some places and gradual movements in other places, because oppressive religious state structures in Europe wronged people by denying them property rights, trapping most of them in a life of serfdom in which they were bought and sold with the land they belonged to, wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few people, and religious people would use religion to become wealthy.
Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, and in this conversation, I want to tell you something else about this period. Not only was this a period when the Christian Church was corrupt, it was also a period when it forcibly imposed a view of the universe that was, scientifically speaking, wrong. It taught by religious and political writ that the earth was at the center of the universe and that everything else–the sun, the moon, the planets, the stars–revolved around it. It took this position of Aristotle and “Christianized” it. (We’ll talk more about that later.) A number of scientists (most notably Copernicus and Galileo) challenged this view based on empirical evidence, but the Christian Church used its political authority to persecute and silence them. When, during the Enlightenment, the political power of the Church was taken away, scientists gained the freedom to use their minds and do science, and so science began to flourish. That’s what brought us to the world that we live in today.
Osama: I see, so from the perspective of the scientists, it seems that the Age of Enlightenment truly was, to a certain degree a period of “enlightenment” because it allowed intellectuals to reasonably question and critically examine the dogmatic teachings of the Church in order for the truth to prevail, right?
Shaykh Hamza: Yes, it was “enlightening” from the perspective that it sought to critically evaluate the dogmatic teachings of the Church, but the reactionary nature of the Enlightenment movement led to a hyper-correction in which things went from one extreme to another one. So they took steps towards enlightenment, but they never got there.
Osama: I learned from your “Introduction to Logic” course how Aristotelianism became a part of Christian theology by passing first through the Muslim world, and then from there to Christian Europe. I think that the introduction of Aristotelianism into Christianity–what you just called a “Christianized Aristotelianism”– led to the downfall of the state-sponsored Church in the Enlightenment. I think that Christian scholars, despite their intention to prove as valid the beliefs forwarded by their religion through rational means, failed to recognise the false-truths that were “unprovable” through rational means, like for example, the Trinity, which Christians to this day have a tough time explaining. This type of blind imitation that rejects the rules of correct reasoning, I estimate, is exactly what the Quran asks us to abandon, when God urges us to use our intellects. I would argue that this type of intellectual reasoning, which sought to prove the validity of a religion that had admixed within it falsehood, and that had no access to preserved revelation, must have been what led to the development of tension between the Christian theologians and empirical scientists; and this is probably what brought about the Age of Enlightenment in the West. Scientists like Copernicus and Galileo must have justifiably been opposed to the authoritative imposition of incorrect intellectual and scientific positions. Now, I think that in their zeal to rid their society of false, corrupt, and oppressive religion, the Enlightenment scholars must have opposed anything that sought to justify it; hence Aristotelianism too must have become a victim of their justifiable and long overdue intellectual onslaught of false and unjust religion, namely Christianity.
Shaykh Hamza: Exactly! Alright, now that we understand why a non-religious scientific perspective has become the prevailing worldview that modern people–sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously–ascribe to, let’s return to our discussion of what pre-modern Western intellectuals would have presupposed of the term purpose. You should keep in mind that the incorrect scientific positions that the Church upheld were actually directly taken from the natural philosophy of Aristotle — that is why I mentioned him at the beginning of our conversation. One of the aspects of this natural philosophy that the Church found theologically useful was its emphasis on final causes (teleos) –the purposes of things, which I explained to you at beginning of our conversation too. We saw earlier that Aristotle believed that the purposes of things were embedded within them, and drove those things to change and realize their purposes. The Church appropriated this view of the universe from Aristotle and it interpreted the final causes of things in a way that was consistent with its own belief in God, which was very different from the way Aristotle believed in God. For Aristotle, God was like an inanimate cause that didn’t have a will, that didn’t have any volition, that couldn’t choose to do anything, from which the universe necessarily followed just like burning follows from fire. For the Church, on the other hand, God actually created the universe, so He was someone who acted out of His free-Will (this is also what we believe and also what Jews believes). So the Church took Aristotle’s natural philosophy, and the universe was interpreted to be a universe that God had designed with purposes that it was meant to fulfill. Now, Aristotle also believed that the earth was at the center of the universe, so they appropriated that, too, and made it part of their religious belief that the Earth’s being at the center of the universe reflects the fact that human beings are the most special creation of God.
Osama: Is this an illustration of why the science-versus-religion debate began in the Western world? It seems that the scientists were at odds with Christianity, and by extension Aristotelianism too, as it was used as a tool by the Church to prove its own theology and philosophy.
Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, so when scientists challenged the Church on scientifically incorrect beliefs like the earth being at the center of the universe, science and the Church became enemies, and that’s why the science-religion debate exists in the Western world. Aristotelianism, too, became an enemy of the scientists by both virtue of its conflict with science and by virtue of its historical association with the Church that forced its natural philosophy on others. Because of this enmity with the Church and with its accompanying Christianized Aristotelianism, scientists sought to understand the world in a way that was devoid of God and final causes. They said that they wanted to understand things not in terms of their final causes, the purposes that the Church had taught were embedded by God within them, but instead in terms of what Aristotle called the efficient cause.
Osama: I understand what you mean by the term final cause, but what do you mean by efficient cause?
Shaykh Hamza: The efficient cause was another one of the four causes that Aristotle believed in, and scientists sought to emphasise the efficient causes of things in the universe over their final causes in order to remove God and final causes from the philosophical–or, in a modern idiom, the scientific— analysis of the universe. Let me explain the difference between the efficient cause and the final cause. The efficient cause comes before its effect whereas the final cause comes after. Let’s say, for example, that I feel cold and so, in order to become warm, I wear my warm coat. The efficient cause of my wearing my warm coat is my feeling cold. My feeling cold (the efficient cause) comes before I wear my coat (the effect). My final cause, or purpose, or the reason why I wear my coat, however, is so that I can thereby become warm. My becoming warm (the final cause) comes after I wear my coat (the effect). The efficient cause drives me to wear my coat and if I am driven by a purpose (as all sane human beings are), then my purpose in wearing the coat (the final cause) is realized by doing the action, by my wearing my coat. So the final causes come after, and reflects the motive of the doer, and the efficient cause reflects the thing that drives someone to do it. In Aristotelianism, everything in the universe is alive and driven by purposes, similar to the way that human beings are. The seed has a purpose, a final cause, embedded into it. Its purpose, its final cause is to become a tree. And it has efficient causes that drives it towards becoming a tree–water, soil, and sunlight. Scientists who studied the universe sought to rid our analysis of the universe from these final causes, which were emphasized by the church in order to highlight the action of God, and focus solely on efficient causes. They thus got rid of both the oppressive Church and the irrational Aristotelianism.
Osama: This is an important discussion because one can definitely notice these subtleties when one studies science in college. We are not taught why the sun shines, or why flowers grow, or why it rains, but rather the emphasis is always on how the sun shines, or what makes flowers grow, or how it rains. The “why” question seems to be either ignored, or left for you to figure out for yourself, or is left for philosophy or religion. It seems like, as you pointed out, this is due to science focusing only on the efficient causes behind phenomena as opposed to its final cause.
Shaykh Hamza: Correct, and the reason for this is that modern science was formed in the crucible of all these tensions in the Enlightenment period. To illustrate the point you made about the way science is taught in classrooms today, you will notice that when you learn that plants grow through a chemical reaction called photosynthesis, in which chlorophyll converts sunlight into energy that drives an endothermic chemical reaction between carbon dioxide and water to produce glucose and oxygen, you don’t learn that God created plants so that livestock could graze on them so that, in turn, humans could benefit from the milk, meat, skin, and wool of those livestock (which is what the Qur’an, for example would tell us). You learn about efficient causes, but you don’t learn about final causes. Another example. When you study fire in your school science class, you learn that it is the visible effect of a chemical reaction called “combustion”, in which a flammable gas is ignited to begin an exothermic chemical reaction between that gas and between oxygen to produce water, carbon dioxide, and heat. You don’t learn that God made fire so that we could warm ourselves in the cold (as the Qur’an would tell us), cook food, and drive cars, trucks, and airplanes. You learn about efficient causes, but you don’t learn about final causes. This is what we do when we study science. We focus on efficient causes and try as best as we can to ignore final causes, to ignore any kind of purpose in the universe. (We are not always successful in this. Biology is a prominent example of our failure–it is impossible to understand the organs of the human body, for example, without reference to purpose.)
Osama: Shaykh Hamza, it seems like we have come to agree that the reason why modern people have presuppositions of the term purpose, which are grounded in an atheistic worldview influenced by scientism, is the because of the outcome that ensued due to the tension that existed between a Christianised Aristotelianism and the western scientific community prior to the Age of Enlightenment. We also seem to agree that the Enlightenment, was to a degree, enlightening because it freed western civilisation of false and oppressive religion, and allowed the western scientific community to finally pursue their intellectual endeavours without fear of persecution. I don’t see anything wrong with what happened in the Age of Enlightenment so far, what do you think went wrong?
Shaykh Hamza: Well, this modern scientific view of the universe is wrong, just as the preceding Christianized Aristotelian view of the universe was wrong. They are wrong in different ways, but they are both wrong. Deep down inside us, we all know that this modern scientific view of the universe is wrong. Despite the fact that our science classes teach us–sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly–that the things in the universe don’t happen for any purpose, that they just happen because a bunch of a atoms and molecules randomly (whatever that means!) bumped into each other, we still find ourselves asking the question, “What is the purpose of life?” The fact that we insist on asking this question despite our modern education reveals that we know deep down inside us that there is something fundamentally wrong with this view of the universe. The search for purpose is embedded into what Muslims call the fitra; it is embedded into our souls and primordial natures. Because of our fitra, our souls, our primordial natures, we instinctively search for purposes, and when science tells us that there is no purpose in the universe, only efficient causes, we know that there is something missing. That is why we ask about the purposes of things. That is why we ask about the purpose of life. My reading of the Enlightenment is that it was also , in reality, motivated by a search for purpose because the Christianity of that time wasn’t doing its job for people–it wasn’t giving them purpose. So people saw in their fitra, in their souls, and in their primordial natures, that their purpose wasn’t being fulfilled and they were moved by the Enlightenment to discover the true purpose of their life. The trajectory their search for purpose took, however, went off-course. They missed Islam and hence missed discovering the purpose of their life. They went from one state of purposelessness (Christianity) to a state with even less purpose (modernism) to another state with even less purpose (postmodernism). Their search for purpose took them farther and farther from their purpose because they weren’t enlightened by the light of revelation.
Osama: There is a lot to unpack in what you have said here. Why do you think the Enlightenment was motivated by a search for purpose?
Shaykh Hamza: Living in the Age of the Enlightenment wasn’t pleasant. It was a period of revolution and civil strife. One of the reasons why that strife happened was that people knew within them that the societies in which they lived didn’t fulfill the purpose of their lives. They knew that the dogma of the Church wasn’t fulfilling their purpose, so they sought to fulfill it themselves through their reason. That’s why the Age of Enlightenment is also called the Age of Reason, in which we were to free ourselves of religious dogma by not doing things because God told us to do them, but because we wanted to do them, This is what we call humanism.
Osama: Right, so civil strife and revolution was a symbolic of a deeper problem, which was that the dogmatic religious teachings of the Church weren’t fulfilling the purpose that human beings sought to fulfill, so in their search to fill this void, they resorted to humanism. What is humanism, what is its relation to the post-Enlightenment world, and to the larger question of purpose?
Shaykh Hamza: Humanism is centered around the human being. It is the idea that things should be seen from the perspective of “me” and “I” and how “I” as the human being in general can maximise my own benefit by using my reason. I use my reason to find prosperity, eliminate poverty, to spread tolerance, to attain happiness, good health, and longevity, to reduce the infant mortality rate, and so on. This is humanism. It produced the dreams of the Enlightenment. We went from an oppressive Church-oriented society, in which we felt upset, to this world, to the pursuit of these dreams. Now, these dreams are good, but they are not the purpose of our lives. As religious people, as Muslims, we want these good things, too. However, we were not created to achieve these dreams. We were created for God. When we look at our existence in this world through these dreams, we look at the world as though there is no afterlife. This leads to societies in which, once again, we know within us that the purpose of our lives is not being fulfilled. And, once again, we feel oppressed. This is how humanism relates to our larger question about purpose. As for the relationship of humanism with other post-Enlightenment ideas, let me give you a few reasons why it failed, and how western intellectuals resorted to other ways of thinking. Events of the 20th century have rudely woken us up from our dreams to reveal the senselessness, the purposelessness, and the oppression of our post-Enlightenment world of “reason”. 20 million people died in the four years of World War I, 80 million in the six years of World War II, and two nuclear bombs destroyed the entire cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of the deaths of the two world wars and the dozens of modern conflicts since then have shown that as a result of human reason, as a result of the science and technology that was born out of the Age of Reason, the Age of “Enlightenment”, as a result of that, “enlightened” human beings have killed more people in the last one hundred years than they have in thousands of years before that. We all know this. We recognize this. And the rude awakening that the dreams of the Enlightenment are not meant to be, has left us disappointed and pessimistic about the Enlightenment project. From this disappointment has come a way of thinking that we call Postmodernism. Modernism is the Enlightenment. Postmodernism is after the Enlightenment when we lost confidence in the Enlightenment project.
Osama: Before you go on, let me confirm my understanding here with you. So what you have argued thus far is that the Enlightenment produced various expressions of thought like humanism that were broadly grouped under modernism, and the dreams and ideals modernity called us to, through the use of reason, weren’t fulfilled because these ideals too were not the purpose of our life. Instead, because we didn’t pursue the actual ideals that were meant to fulfill our purpose, we ended up with events like World War I and II, which eventually caused the western civilisation to lose hope in the project of the Enlightenment and Age of Reason, as a result of which we find ourselves in a postmodern world, wherein the project of Enlightenment has been deemed to have failed. Am I following correctly thus far? If so, can you please explain what is postmodernism, and how does it relate to the larger question of purpose that we are investigating?
Shaykh Hamza: That’s right, you’re with me so far. Now, postmodernism is a pessimistic view of human beings. It’s the view that anybody who has power is corrupt and must always be suspected of harboring a desire to benefit at the expense of those under his power. (Sounds like pre-Enlightenment Europe, doesn’t it? Can you see how we’ve come full circle?) The goal of postmodernism is to curb the power of anyone who has power, to never trust anyone who has any authority, and to have the individual freedom to do whatever you want, to say whatever you want, and to interpret things any way that you want. Postmodernism is explicitly non-rational (the opposite of the reason-oriented spirit of Enlightenment modernism) and also explicitly purposeless. That makes it very difficult to have a reasoned dialogue with a postmodernist. It also breeds a non-rational anger, frustration, and vindictiveness in its most ardent adherents. That anger, frustration, and vindictiveness becomes its purpose. It has many different manifestations. Feminism is a manifestation of Postmodernism. Post-colonialism is a manifestation of Postmodernism. The LGBTQ movement is a manifestation of Postmodernism. Many kinds of strange art and music are manifestations of Postmodernism. The list goes on. Enlightenment humanism sought purpose in the abandonment of religion under the guise of reason. That failed to fulfill the purpose of our lives because it focuses on this world and turns away from God and the afterlife. Postmodernism was an offshoot of Enlightenment humanism and sought purpose in the critique of power and the promotion of an extreme individualism that seeks to disturb the norms of surrounding societies and seeks to stand out, but that, too, hasn’t helped us find the purpose of our lives because it, too, focuses on this world and turns away from God and the afterlife. Our purpose is found in true religion, in the submission of our souls to God through the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), and living this life for the afterlife. Where do we go from postmodernism? Maybe we are going to go to post-postmodernism (laughs) or maybe we will finally discover the revelation of Islam as being true (smiles).
Osama: Now, by mentioning that the revelation of Islam truly presents the world with a solution to its philosophical problems and lack of purpose, you are bound to have many who are going to doubt this notion by pointing to history to say that religion has already failed us in the West, why should we trust it again?
Shaykh Hamza: Well, when we look back at the history of Western Europe and refer to the Age of Enlightenment as the Age of Reason we are saying that the Christian Church suppressed our reason and that we found enlightenment by using our collective social will to put an end to oppression and our minds to decide for ourselves what is best for us. The idea that the false dogma of the Church should not be accepted on authority, and that we find enlightened by using our reason is correct. But the idea that this happened in the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason is not correct. It didn’t happen then. It actually happened a thousand years before that time in the age of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), who called the ancient Arabians to turn away from the false dogma of the Qurashite idolatrous establishment, and to become enlightened by shining the light of divine revelation onto their lives and then using their enlightened reason (enlightened by divine revelation, in other words) to make choices that fulfilled the purpose of their lives. There are many, many verses in the Qur’an that tell us that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) was sent to take believers out of the “darknesses” of disbelief into “light” of belief (e.g., Qur’an, 2:257, 5:16, 6:39, 13:16, 14:1, 14:5, and many others). There are also many, many verses that command us to use our minds. “Won’t you use your minds?”–afala ta‘qilun–is a common expression of censure that is mentioned at the end of more than a dozen verses. And the Arabian polytheists are frequently censured for clinging mindlessly to the customs of their ancestors and refusing to use their reason to discern the truth and follow it. There is not a single verse in the Quran that tells people not to use their minds, not to reason, not to think. Thinking and reasoning is what our religion is based on, and the first obligation of every human being is to use their mind, their reason to discern that God exists, that the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is His messenger, and that God will resurrect us and bring us to judgment after we die. The first obligation of every human being, in other words, is to discover the purpose of their lives. Now, the Enlightenment thinkers also used their minds, but not to discover the purpose of their existence. They used their minds to expose the hypocrisy and contradictions of the Church institution and its beliefs. But they didn’t go all the way. They didn’t go on to use their minds to rationally show what the purpose of our lives is. They didn’t do that because their rational inquiry was not enlightened by the light of genuine divine revelation.
Osama: So you’re arguing that reason, when used correctly, is bound to lead human beings to recognise God and His true message to humanity?
Shaykh Hamza: Yes, that is correct. A common analogy that Imam al-Ghazali and other scholars used to describe the relationship between revelation and reason is that revelation is like a light and reason is like the eyes. So if you go into the entrance of a dark cave and shine a light, then you can use your eyes to find your way, but if you enter without any light, then you will grope around in the dark and get lost. Allah sends us prophets and messengers to bring us revelation, which is a light that enlightens our minds to help us reason clearly. He tells us that that the Torah that He gave to the Prophet Moses (upon him be peace) contained “light” (Qur’an, 5:44), that the Evangel that He gave to the Prophet Jesus (upon him be peace) contained “light” (Qur’an, 5:46), and He tells us that he revealed a “light” to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) (Qur’an, 7:157), and that the Qur’an takes us out of darknesses into “light” (Qur’an, 14:1, 57:9, and 65:11). The Quran is a light because when you read it, it illuminates the way, and when you examine it, it makes sense. The Quran is guiding you to use your mind without any coercion and when you use this guidance and think correctly, you will independently come to the conclusion that Islam is true, Allah exists, and that He sent the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) as the last messenger. The Enlightenment thinkers were unable use their reason to discover the purpose of their lives because they weren’t enlightened. They didn’t have the light of revelation to enlighten their thinking and reasoning. You need the light of revelation in order to use your reason properly otherwise you will make mistakes. You might be correct on many conclusions, but you will make mistakes, not on every point–you might reach many correct and valuable conclusions–but on the things that really matter, the things that give purpose to our lives, you will make mistakes. There’s many good things that came out of the Enlightenment, just as there were good things that came from Aristotle before the Enlightenment. But enlightened thought requires revelation, and it is not possible for us to discover the purpose of our lives without recourse to revelation. In conclusion to our discussion about the Enlightenment, what I am saying is that calling what happened in Western Europe the “Age of Enlightenment” is a misnomer.
Osama: Why do you call the Age of Enlightenment a misnomer, especially, when it took the western world out from the dogmatic teachings of the Church?
Shaykh Hamza: It’s a misnomer because true enlightenment only comes through a mind that is enlightened by revelation. So when the mind is enlightened by revelation, the conclusions that it comes to will move a person to turn his soul towards the worship of Allah. It will move him to the fulfill the purpose for which he was created. In contrast, a mind that turns away from revelation and tries to be independent will grope about in the dark and make mistakes. Because it hasn’t been enlightened by revelation, it won’t see the light, it won’t know what it is supposed to go towards. This will end up destroying the soul by turning it towards the pursuit of worldly possessions — the “here-and-now” — and that pursuit is a feature of the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightenment has turned human beings away from focusing on God and the afterlife to focusing on the here-and-now, away from God to focusing on the human being, not as he was meant to be — someone who fulfills purpose of his life — but as someone who is focused on maximising pleasure and prosperity in this life. Just look at the statistics: Canada, for example, is set to lose 9000 churches over the next decade because religion is no longer important to communities (link to: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/losing-churches-canada-1.5046812). Even though we believe that Christianity has been corrupted and has strayed from the original teachings of the Prophet Jesus (upon him be peace), it still officially promotes the ideal of living for God, for others, and for the afterlife, and goes against the Enlightenment ideal of the here-and-now, and the decline of those ideals in Canadian society is moving people even further from fulfilling the purpose of their lives.
Osama: If you hold the Age of Enlightenment to be a misnomer, do you have a different name that better describes that period in history?
Shaykh Hamza: A better name for what happened in Western Europe in this period is the “Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion”. So the Age of Enlightenment, in reality, was the “Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion”. If we, as Muslims, were to write a history of Europe, that is what we would call it. When “Enlightened” societies turned away from God, religion, and from focusing on the afterlife, they did this because false religion was being used to oppress people. They saw this and they turned away from it. They didn’t find enlightenment through false religion so they left all religion. The path to true enlightenment would have been to leave false religion and adopt true religion, enlighten the mind with the light of revelation to take the soul towards the purpose for which it is created, namely to love, adore, and worship Allah, and to focus on the afterlife. But that path–on a large-scale, at least–has not yet been taken. I want to emphasize here that the Age of Enlightenment–as Western historians would call it–or the Age of Escape from the Oppression of False Religion–as we would call it–wasn’t bad or evil. It was an escape from something bad and it was a step in the right in the direction because it threw off the shackles of blind faith and sought to discover the truth through the mind. These are all admirable things that we agree with. But just as the false and oppressive religion of western Europe didn’t give us the purpose of life, humanism and modernism, as I explained just a little while ago, also didn’t give us the purpose of life. That’s why people disappointed in the modernist project have turned to postmodernism. But postmodernism, too, doesn’t give us the purpose of life because it is anti-reason, and it is anti-purpose–that is the reality of the postmodern age and postmodernism. Postmodernism is, in many ways, even more entrenched in worldliness and even further from God and the afterlife than modernism was. So if we want the purpose of life, we need to turn to revelation, and to use that to turn with our souls towards Allah and the afterlife. Allah Most High says, “You prefer the life of this world even though the next life is better and more lasting.” (Qur’an, 87:16).
To be continued…
Osama Hassan is an Australian of Pakistani descent who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Finance from Curtin University. He is currently pursuing studies in the Islamic sciences and Arabic in Amman.
This article is sourced from Muwasala: Click here for the original post
We are approaching the night on which the Islamic world traditionally celebrates the Isrā’ (Night Journey) and Mi`rāj (Ascension) of our Prophet, the Chosen One ﷺ. The Isrā’ and Mi`rāj was a great sign and an immense miracle which Allah gave to the Master of the people of the heavens and the earth, to demonstrate his superiority over mankind, jinn-kind, angels and the whole of creation. There are great lessons in the events that took place and a means of increasing in belief and certitude.
The scholars say that the best night in relation to the Ummah as a whole was the night on which the Prophet was born, whereas the best night in relation to the Prophet himself was the night of the Isrā’ and Mi`rāj.
Prior to this night the Prophet had displayed great patience in the face of hardship and it is one of Allah’s wisdoms that He bestows His gifts accompanied with hardships.
Allah says: They encountered suffering and adversity and were shaken such that the Messenger and those of faith who were with him said: “When will Allah’s assistance come?” Truly Allah’s assistance is always near.
At the end of his life, the Messenger of Allah said that the worst treatment that he received from the disbelievers was his violent rejection at the hands of the people of al-Ṭā’if. Most of the scholars of the Sīrah say that that the Isrā’ and Mi`rāj took place shortly after this, a year prior to the Hijrah on the 27th night of the month of Rajab.
The Prophet ﷺ saw some of the events of the Isrā’ and Mi`rāj in his dreams as a preparation for them before the events actually occurred. Some people claim that all the events of the Isrā’ and Mi`rāj took place in a dream state but this is not the case: the Prophet experienced them with his body and soul. Had the Isrā’ been merely something the Prophet experienced in his dream, the disbelievers of Quraysh would not have had difficulty accepting it. They would not have asked: “How can you have travelled to Jerusalem last night and be with us in Makkah this morning?”
Allāh says: Transcendent is the One Who caused His slave to travel by night from al-Masjid al-Ḥarām to al-Masjid al-Aqṣā. Allāh tends to express His transcendence before mentioning a great affair which is beyond what people are accustomed to.
When Allāh wished to speak to Sayyidunā Mūsā, He told him to wait thirty days and then a further ten days: We appointed for Mūsā thirty nights and we completed (the period) with ten more.
Allāh, however, did not tell His Beloved to wait. Rather His order came suddenly, without any warning. The Prophet’s chest was split open and his heart was washed and filled with knowledge and forbearance. The Burāq was then brought to him. Allāh could have caused him to travel without the Burāq, but it was a means of honouring and ennobling him. Jibrīl said to the Burāq after some initial obstinacy: “Are you not ashamed, O Burāq? By Allāh, no one more noble in the sight of Allāh has ever ridden you!”
The Prophet stopped in a number of places on the Isrā’ to emphasise the importance of visiting the places in which Allah bestowed His bounties upon His pious slaves. He was ordered to seek to draw close to Allah by praying near the tree where Allah spoke to Mūsā, by praying at Mount Ṭūr, where Allah gave revelation to Mūsā, and at Bayt Laḥm, where Īsā was born.
The whole earth was made a place of prayer and prostration for the Prophet so what was the significance of him praying in those places if it was not seeking blessings (tabarruk) and spiritual assistance from them? It is also narrated in Saḥīḥ Muslim that he visited the grave of Mūsā and witnessed him praying in his grave. He said to his Companions: “If I was there I would have showed you his grave.” He was thus teaching his Ummah the importance of knowing the location of the graves of the Prophets and thus the importance of visiting them.
While on his journey, someone called him on his right side but he did not respond. Jibrīl informed him that this was the caller of the Jews, and had he responded, his Ummah would have followed the way of the Jews. Then someone called him on his left side and once again he did not respond. Jibrīl informed him that this was the caller of the Christians, and had he responded, his Ummah would have followed the way of the Christians. Thus, in spite of all the efforts of the Christians to convert people to Christianity, the Ummah remains in Allāh’s care and protection due to the steadfastness of the Prophet ﷺ.
He was called a third time, and once again he did not respond. Jibrīl informed him that it was the dunyā or the material world calling him, and had he responded, his Ummah would have chosen this life over the next. The dunyā then appeared to him in the form of an old woman. Jibrīl informed him that all that remained of the life of this world before the Day of Judgement is like the time this old woman had left to live. We witness all the wars and struggles that take place and in reality this life is like an old woman on the verge of death and ahead of us is the next life! May Allāh give us the best of endings! Due to the Prophet’s refusal to respond to the callings of the dunyā, there remain to this day people who know its worthlessness.
The Messenger of Allāh ﷺled the Prophets in prayer in al-Masjid al-Aqṣā. Jibrīl informed him that the soul of every prophet sent by Allāh from the time of Ādam to the time of Īsā was brought to pray behind him so that they would come to know the station of their master, Muḥammad. He was the imām who led all the prophets and angels in prayer. Why do we not make him our imām?
The Prophet then ascended from heaven to heaven. The angels in the heavens had been informed that he would come and it was their opportunity to be honoured by meeting him just as his Companions had that honour on the earth. The people of the earth threw stones at him and insulted him but the people of the heavens gave him the warmest of welcomes. In the Prophet’s meeting with his father Ādam and the other Prophets in the various heavens there is a lesson. In spite of the Prophet’s superiority over them, he was still ordered to greet them. There was no-one less in need of anyone else than him but he met them and displayed great etiquette and manifested his slave-hood to his Lord.
Among the things he witnessed was people who turned down freshly cooked meat and chose to eat putrid rotting meat. He was told that this was like those who leave that which is lawful and choose that which is unlawful. He saw people’s heads being smashed with rocks. As soon as their heads were smashed they would be restored and then smashed again and so on. He was told these were the people who were too lazy to pray the obligatory prayer.
He ascended to al-Bayt al-Ma`mūr, which resembles the Ka`bah above the seventh heaven. It lies directly above the Ka`bah, and every day 70,000 angels enter it. The Prophet entered it and prayed in it, along with the spirits of some of the elect of Allah. Then he came to al-Sidrat al-Muntahā, a tree whose size and beauty is indescribable. Were one of its leaves to fall it would cover the heavens and the earth. This is the end point of the knowledge of creation.
It was here that Jibrīl stopped. He said that if he went any further, he would burn but he told the Prophet to continue his journey alone.
He duly ascended to the Throne of Allah and fell into prostration. Mūsā had been ordered to remove his sandals when Allah spoke to him, but the Beloved was not ordered to do so. Allah then ordered him to raise his head and he addressed Allah: “Greetings, blessings and the best of prayers to Allah.”
Allah responded: “Peace be upon you, O Prophet, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.”
At this point, when Allah was manifesting Himself to him, the Prophet wished to remember the pious members of his Ummah and the previous nations. He said: “Peace be upon us and upon Allah’s pious slaves.”
The angels of the heavens then cried out: “We testify that there is no deity other than Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and messenger.”
When Allāh spoke to him, He said: “I have taken you as My beloved and I have expanded your heart and raised high the esteem in which you are held so that whenever I am mentioned you are mentioned with Me. I made your nation the best of nations and I made them the last and the first on the Day of Judgement. I made you the first prophet to be created and the last to be sent.” Allāh thus spoke gently to His Beloved and reminded him of His blessings upon him. He said things to Him which only He knows.
He made fifty prayers compulsory on his nation. This was eventually reduced to five with the reward of fifty. Are those who are unable to perform the five not ashamed of their Lord? What would they have done if it was fifty prayers that they had to perform? Allāh made five prayers compulsory upon His slaves, in which there is the opportunity to converse with Allāh and draw close to Him. “The closest the slave is to his Lord is when he is in prostration.”
The Prophet was blessed with the vision of his Lord, a blessing which no-one else will receive until they enter Paradise. The vision cannot be understood in a conventional way since Allah is transcendent and cannot be limited to a place or direction. Some Muslims deny that the vision of Allah is possible and we agree with them that the vision of Allah in a conventional sense is impossible. However, we understand the vision of Allah to be something far greater than that, a pure manifestation of Allah’s light, which is indescribable.
Sayyidunā Mūsā was keen to receive some of the light that was on the face of the Prophet ﷺ who himself had just seen his Lord. Mūsā had asked to see Allah while on the earth but his request was not granted. He thus took as much light as he could from the Prophet’s face. The Prophet ﷺ informed us that there will come a time when the Muslims will seek victory through people who had seen him, and later through people who have seen people who have seen him. This shows us that secrets are transmitted through the vision of people’s faces.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺremained firm while witnessing all the things that he witnessed: His vision did not stray, nor did it go wrong; His heart did not lie about what it saw, for truly did he see, of the signs of his Lord, the greatest.
All of this took place in a few instants. So little time had elapsed that the place where he had been sleeping was still warm. All of these are amazing examples of divine power. We are so accustomed to the pattern of cause and effect and the laws of creation that we tend to forget the presence of divine power in everything. In reality the things which we regard to be normal are miraculous – our sitting and standing, our eating and drinking.
Allah says: Do you see the water which you drink? Did you bring it down from the clouds or did We?
May Allah bestow prayers upon the one who made this awesome journey and may He resurrect us with him. Make us among those who are truthful in their following of him. Do not deprive us of the vision of him in this life, the Barzakh and the next life. Allow us to see the face of the one who You allowed to see Your countenance so that we are ready to see Your countenance in the abode of Your pleasure.
 Al-Baqarah, 2:214
 In the Islamic calendar the night precedes the day, so what is meant is the night before the 27th day
 Al-Isrā’ 17:1
 Al-A`rāf, 7:142
 Narrated by al-Bukhāri
 Al-Najm, 53:17-18
 Al-Najm, 53:11
 Al-Wāqi`ah, 56:68
Philosophy is logic and metaphysics. Metaphysics is content. Logic is form. It is empty of content. It is how thought is structured, not what thought is. It is a calculus. Some would say it is the calculus. Al-Farabi said that logic (mantiq) “gives general rules for the expressions of every community.” A sort of universal grammar. A grammar of all languages.
This is right and wrong. It is wrong in so far as it identifies with being a grammar. But it is right in so far as it means that logic is rooted in grammar, which is to say, it is rooted in language. Al-Farabi’s definition is really an analogy. A sort of gesture saying, “This is kind of like that.” Of course, you only get what this is if you already know that.
But if we follow the analogy it is clear that logic is not Arabic, and definitely not Islamic. Logic is logic. It is form, empty of content. So, why would anyone want to talk about Islamic Logic? Indeed.
The Bedouin scout sees tracks in the sand and infers that someone must have made them. This is logic. Is it Greek? Is it Arabic? Does it even make sense to say it is Islamic? No, it is human. Do we not all know this?
“But how can you say it is logic? Or that he is using logic? He might not even know the word.” True. He might not even know that he made an inference. But if you asked him, “Why do you say that someone must have made them?” what would he say? I imagine he would question your sanity.
Similarly, if you asked him, “Did you make a logical inference from the tracks in the sand to the thought that someone must have made them? What proof do you have?” Again, he might look at you in wonder, or, what is more likely, just point to the tracks and say, “They are there.”
Does he have to know the word “logic” or “inference” or their history and what they mean in order for him to infer as he does? Does he have to be Muslim?
A queer argument against the use of logic and its place in Islam is that it is a Greek discovery that has nothing to do with religion, and that it is probably anti-Islamic. The counter-argument is to prove that there is such a thing as Islamic Logic which is not at all Greek, and therefore okay. Equally queer.
Logic is logic. In the Hijaz or in China. In Greek, in Arabic, in Swahili, or any other language for that matter. It is inference from a set of propositions to another proposition. “But that is all Greek to me. What do you mean?”
A classical example of a logical inference goes: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” Formally speaking it looks like this: Major premise; minor premise; conclusion. That is the structure. The structure is empty. It is mere form without content.
This is logic. It is a tool. A very familiar one that is neither of the east or west. We use it all the time. It is not Islamic. Is it still Greek to you?
— Yusuf Latif, 10 Dec 2018
Assalam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa baraktuh.
I have had a lot of questions about some claimed scientific mistakes in the Qur’an that I haven’t had any answers too (or any good answers to). I would like for you to have patience with me, since I have a lot of questions that have been bothering me.
1. In the verse, يخرج من بين الصلب والترائب (
) I haven’t seen a good explanation that doesn’t feel forced or تكلف that explains the verse, which is against what is seen.
2. The hadith of the “tail bone” (عجب الذنب), I want references from credible scientific sources that this bone doesn’t go away and it is where the human is created or any explanation as to how is this hadith can be interpreted.
3. The verse of وحلائل ابنائكم الذين من اصلابكم (
) and واذ اخذ ربك من بني آدم من ظهورهم ذريتهم. (
) I want an explanation for how can this reconcile with what is known. How is it that children are from the back?
4. It is known (and correct me if I am wrong) that circumcision for young ladies is permissible and some say it is good. This leads to a weird contradiction, since the Qur’an and Sunna never asks us to do anything that harms us, but there is a whole movement trying to stop it for young ladies, since it harmful.
5. I also wanted to ask about cousin marriages, and how is it permissible as scientifically it is may be more harmful?
6. There is a sahih hadith that says a woman has a role in the gender of the child, which is مَاءُ الرَّجُلِ أَبْيَضُ، وَمَاءُ الْمَرْأَةِ أَصْفَرُ ، فَإِذَا اجْتَمَعَا ، فَعَلَا مَنِيُّ الرَّجُلِ مَنِيَّ الْمَرْأَةِ ، أَذْكَرَا بِإِذْنِ اللهِ ، وَإِذَا عَلَا مَنِيُّ الْمَرْأَةِ مَنِيَّ الرَّجُلِ ، آنَثَا بِإِذْنِ اللهِ . ً(Muslim) What is the correct interpretation for this hadith?
7. Last thing is the verse, ومن كل شيء خلقنا زوجين. (
) What is the correct interpretation for this ayat?
May Allah help you and help me, and may you help me to reach clarity and strong faith.
Thank you for your questions. I have answered them in order below.
I am unable to provide scientific proofs to your questions as I am not a scientist. However, please note the following points in regards this set of questions:
A. There is a lot of literature out there which discuss scientific facts found in the Quran. While it is true that the Quran does indeed contain scientific miracles and will I’m sure continue to shed light on numerous facts about our universe, much of the information written on this subject is unfortunately often poorly researched.
Therefore, Muslims who do not have both a solid understanding of the Qur’an; it’s language and exegesis, alongside a firm understanding of the relevant branches of modern sciences, should avoid too much discussion on these aspects of the Qur’an. The most important matters in the Qur’an that man needs to know and hold onto have been made clear, while other verses are not so clear to the laymen, and should not be delved into by the unqualified, for Allah Most High tells us in regards some verses, “What does Allah mean by such a parable? Through this He leaves many to stray, and guides many.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:26)
B. The Qur’an is not a scientific book, it is the Divine Speech of God, which contains guidance for man to fulfill his earthly needs and attain to eternal salvation, and a warning of what awaits those who transgress. Unless for general interest or scholarly specialization, one should focus on these aspects of the Qur’an and attaching ones’ heart to Allah and his Messenger, as ultimately, this is what matters and the point of the guidance.
C. The Qur’an has an endless depth of meaning. This is one of the Miracles of the Qur’an. Because it is the eternal Speech of God, it indicates to some of the eternal knowledge of God, which is limitless. No one will ever fully encompass its full meanings, but new meanings become apparent over time, and occur to people of varying abilities and insight. However, it’s meanings never change, and its inward meanings do not contradict its outward implications.
D. When the Qur’an mentions facts about the created universe, it is often implicit and indicative to these facts, and not usually explicit or apparent immediately.
E. The universe is still mainly undiscovered territory. What science knows now maybe different tomorrow. It is a tool for discovering facts, not the fact itself, therefore it is subject to change as new facts become undisclosed. It cannot be relied upon as the standard to measure the absolute truth. The first thing we learnt from even our basic science texts at school is that in science, “no theory is accepted as absolute truth.”
F. Despite science and modern medicine making immense advancements in the understanding of human anatomy and physiology, it is by no means complete knowledge. Moreover, in regards the human being as a whole, such as psychologically and spiritually, and how this connects to the physical, modern science’s understanding of these are deeply inadequate and relies on various assumptions and theories. The interconnection between the somatic and non-somatic levels of the human being are only now being explored and new ways in how we view and study the human body are being discovered.
G. In regards the hadith, “There is nothing of the human body that does not decay except one bone; the little bone at the end of the coccyx of which the human body will be recreated on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari) It actually doesn’t matter whether this bone decomposes or not, as the hadith does not explicitly state that the whole bone does not decompose, nor delineate what is meant by “tail bone.”
Therefore, it is valid to state that what the hadith could be referring to is that even the tiniest part of the tail bone does not decompose, as a part is necessarily a part of the whole, so one may use the whole to describe the part. Thus, even if the smallest part of the tail bone is left intact, perhaps even extending to the molecular or atomic level, then this suffices to make the statement true, as is supported by the hadith, when asked about the tailbone, he, peace and blessings be upon him, replied, “[It is] like a grain of mustard.’ (Ahmad)
Furthermore, there is a difference of opinion on how humans will be resurrected on the Day of Judgement. One opinion is that we will be assembled and resurrected from all our scattered remains. Another opinion holds that when the trumpet blows all our parts and remnants will be utterly annihilated and taken out of existence, except whatever remains of the “tail bone” (even if nanoscopic), and then we will be created again, almost ex-nihilo, similar to how we were created the first time. (Sharh al-Kharida al-Bahiyya)
H. Know that Allah Most High is the Creator of all things, and this includes natural laws and normative relationships of cause and effect. If He so willed, He could turn these laws and relations on their heads or create entirely different laws. Therefore, when Allah Most High informs us that He bought forth the children of Adam from their “backs” it is irrelevant whether this coincides with the ordinary manner that we observe the reproduction system to work or different to it, as Allah Most High has power over all things and may do as He pleases. Secondly, most reliable translators translate the words “min dhuhurim” “from their backs” as “from their loins,” in which case, there is no contradiction between these words and what is normally observed in this life.
Female circumcision is mentioned in various narrations, such as when the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to a woman who circumcised females, “Do not go to the extreme in cutting; that is better for the woman.” (Abu Dawud) The Mujtahid Imams differed on its rulings; some holding it obligatory, others recommended, and others still, considered it good etiquette.
I specifically quoted the hadith above, because it contains a warning; “Do not go to extremes” and this is the important point. Proper female circumcision consists of removing a tiny flake or shaving of skin from the hood of the clitoris, nothing more. This is what is described in our fiqh books. Advanced hospitals in the UAE perform this very well.
It does not in any way consist of excess skin or flesh being removed, harm to the woman, mutilation of any kind, or anything else that interferes with or diminishes the functioning of the genital area.
The whole point of correct female circumcision is increased hygiene and sexual pleasure for the woman. This is obviously not achieved by the malpractice we have just mentioned, but rather the opposite occurs.
Unfortunately, in many cultural practices of female circumcision this is what happens, and in this we wholeheartedly agree with those who speak out about such practices, while at the same time, we uphold the correct and Shari‘a-defined female circumcision we have outlined above. This is certainly an area which needs serious addressing and educating.
There is nothing wrong with cousins marrying one another, and the possibilities of any defect occurring is not significant unless the cousins in question are from generations of cousin marriages or they have genetic defects themselves. Cousin-marriage is permitted in Islam, Judaism, and has been within Christianity at various periods of time, or still is depending on the Christian denomination.
What has been observed by medical scientists as a significant concern is the repeated marrying of first cousins, generation after generation, due to the increased chances of sharing recessive traits. In these cases, the Shari‘a ruling would also be that it is not recommended to do so.
The gender of the child can depend on many factors, among them the manner of fluid exchange during intercourse, which is what is mentioned in the hadith, “Man’s discharge is thick and white and the discharge of woman is thin and yellow, so the resemblance comes from the one whose water prevails or dominate.” (Muslim)
Imam al-Nawawi mentions that the scholars have explained prevailing or dominant to mean here either the one who emits first, or the one whose discharge is more plentiful and stronger in relation to whose desire was stronger. (Sharh Muslim)
The verse, “And all things We have created by pairs, that haply ye may reflect,” (Sura al-Dhariya 51:49) means that creation has been created in two types or two kinds, such as the land and sea, night and day, the sun and moon, sweetness and bitterness, earth and sky, light and dark, male and female. Pairs are either opposites or similar.
These pairings point to one Creator, to His Power and Ability and that the one who is able to create them is able to recreate them at will and bring them together again, and that one may reflect that pairs and plurality belong to all things possible (mumkinat) while a necessary being (al-wajib bi dhat), namely God, does not accept plurality or division (Most of these arguments require further logical explanation). (al-Baydawi, al-Qurtubi, al-Wahidi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir)
Lastly, I would suggest you focus more on studying the broader aspects of religion, particularly aqida and tafsir. This will help you in your understanding. Unless one is firmly grounded in both their religious knowledge and the secular sciences, entering into discussions or answering other people’s questions on such topics such as science and religion (and many more subjects) can often do harm and turn people away, even if one’s intentions are good.
I pray the above provides sufficient guidance and clarification.
I’ve been told that people who suffer from mental illness may be exempt from certain aspects of Shari‘a. If that’s the case, why is suicide punishable given that a lot of people that commit suicide surely have some sort of mental illness?
Our religion is the religion of Allah, the Wise, the Just,the Merciful, and in that not everything is black or white. There are also gradations in between. When we look at a soul there are those who are considered morally responsible. The same adult who is an adult with full legal capacity. Then you have those who don’t have legal capacity, such as the children or the insane.
But then there are also intermediate cases, e.g. with children there’s a difference between the young child and the discerning child. The child is gradually morally responsible, without being morally accountable. It is a responsibility granted as training for when they hit adulthood. So they’re generally encouraged, then, specifically encouraged, then, commanded with respect to the obligations.
Similarly not all those lacking mental capacity, short of full sanity, are at the same level. You have what’s called al-majnun. Someone who is legally insane or lacking legal capacity. But then there are different cases of insanity.
Some people are bereft of sanity. Day in day out, they’re not able to discern and distinguish between benefit and harm, right and wrong. They’re not able to make informed choices. That’s one type of insanity: insanity that lasts.
Then there’s also the lunatic. There’s incapacity that affects someone such that they may be sane at times and lacking sanity at other times. For example in our times like someone who’s bipolar in intense cases could be oscillating between when they have capacity and when they don’t.
Then there’s also an intermediate state between full legal capacity and the legally insane or the one without legal capacity, which is someone with partial legal capacity. A person with partial legal capacity is treated like the discerning child. To the extent of their capacity to discern, they’re encouraged to do the good. They’re encouraged to uphold legal responsibility in the things within their capacity but they”re not ultimately legally accountable, just like a discerning child.
Different cases differ. Allah Most High tells us: “Allah does not hold the soul responsible for more than its capacity.” (Sura al-Baqara 2:286) We have a very nuanced, balanced, fair, set of legal criteria by which to outwardly judge different types of individuals and their capacity so that we are able to guide them towards their best interests.
Ultimately, Allah knows every single person and where they are with respect to their responsibilities. When it comes to suicide, the ruling of suicide is that committing suicide is prohibited, and suicide is itself a major sin. However, committing suicide is not kufr. Sins are one thing. Disbelief is another.
Just as we preserve the lives of others the first life that we preserve is our own, and no one should willfully take their life. That has implications in terms of end-of-life issues and so on. However, if someone commits suicide, we don’t hasten to judge. We don’t know what triggered it. What was their mental state and what would we call legal capacity at the time they made that decision?
We have to be sensitive, firstly, with respect to the person themselves. We don’t know what state they were in. Secondly, we also have to be sensitive to the living. Their family has suffered a serious loss and so on. But at the same that we don’t affirm the absurd.
We’re not there to judge in the accusation manner: “That was wrong. They’re going to hell.” – Well, who are you? Are you the Lord? At the same time, we don’t we don’t go into conjectural rulings as well: “O, Allah will forgive him because he was in a bad situation.” It’s not your decision to make. These are sensitive situations.
Most of the times these kinds of confusions arise when things like that happen within a within a family, within a community – the trouble arises in these kinds of difficult situations because of two reasons. One is from people who take religion directly from texts without appreciating their context and understanding.
People say, “O, there are hadith that say the person who commits suicide will be punished forever.” No, there isn’t. That’s not what the hadith is saying. What is the understanding sound understanding of that hadith? That’s one danger. And the connecting danger is, especially, the application of specific rules to particular situations is a specialized skill. That is why communities require scholars of guidance.
When people deal with a sensitive situation, how do you deal with it with these considerations? One cannot take a ruling from a book and apply it to a specific situation just like that, without training, because it is likely that the harm would be greater. There’s likely harm.
We should heed the divine command: “Ask the people of remembrance if you know not.” This of course requires attention to supporting institutions that facilitate scholars to be teaching in their communities. We have to have people of knowledge in every community.
It is obligatory that there be jurists who have the capacity, who have learned our religious tradition soundly and reliably, and who are trained to apply that to the the social and lived context of individuals and communities that they operate in. That is critical and we have grave shortcomings in that around the world.
Why do we obey Allah? Out of gratitude. “Should I not be a servant who is truly grateful?” If we look at the Qur’an, Allah tells us in Sura Ibrahim 14:7. There’s a context to this which, is our master Musa’s proclamation to Bani Israel and so on. You can read the tafsir of the context. There’s a specific context to this verse. It’s one of the marvels of the Qur’an.
If a friend of mine and I are having conversation and you strip it of its context, what will happen? It won’t make sense. But the Qur’an has a specific context either within the text of the Qur’an itself or the context of Revelation. That gives insight into the meaning, but the general meaning of the words is not affected by the context, in so far as the general meaning still applies.
If someone asked me: “All right have you had lunch?” And I say: “No. I haven’t. I’m hungry.” If I say I am hungry, it doesn’t apply for all the time. It just applies in this context. But the guidance of the Qur’an, though there’s a specific context here related to Bani Israel. This is what our master Musa is told to tell them: “When your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you are grateful, I will certainly grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, surely, My punishment is severe.’”
There are a number of things related to this verse. Ibn Ajiba in his tafsir, Al-Bahr al-Madid, mentioned that the first thing is: This is a proclamation from Allah. An adhan is a public announcement is a public announcement. So it’s much more emphatic than simply saying something. You are announcing it widely.
But it’s not just that. It says: “wa idh ta’adhdhana Rabbukum.” The tafa‘‘ala pattern in the Arabic language conveys active effort. That is, your Lord fully proclaims – fully proclaims. This is meant like, “Get it!” It’s not just an announcement. This is in bold, red, capital letters. A major proclamation. This is not just something Allah is telling you. He’s proclaiming. Pay attention.
It’s difficult to to translate the Qur’an. It’s impossible to translate the Qur’an because to catch the eloquence you have to be brief, but to convey the meaning you’d have to be very wordy. So “When your Lord openly proclaims, widely, demanding full attention for the proclamation.” Then comes a conditional statement. “If you are grateful then We shall surely grant you increase.”
How are you grateful? The scholars of tafsir say, the believers’ gratitude is to respond to the gift of life with recognition of the Bestower of gifts through having faith. Because if you recognize that your life is a gift, who is it a gift from? It’s a gift from the Creator. So, believe in Him! That’s the first element of gratitude.
Then if you recognize that Allah has granted you health, has blessed you with these limbs, what is the recognition for your physical blessings? It is righteous deeds. Each limb has blessings that are due for them.
Literally if you translate the verse, you say, if you have been grateful. It’s put in the past tense. In the Arabic language when you put something in the past tense meaning: “If you are fully grateful,” that gratitude is a standard. It’s not just something you do. It’s done with. You have full gratitude.
The response to your gratitude, Allah emphasizes this several fold in saying “la’azidannakum.” The letter lam here is for emphasis. The letter nun is also for emphasis. The fact that is formed as a conditional sentence, “If you are grateful, then I will grant you increase,” is also for emphasis.
It’s fascinating, because what will you be granted an increase in? Normally someone says, e.g. if you clear the snow from the driveway, I’ll give you…” and you mention what you will give. But Allah Most High says: “I will grant you increase.” But the increase is not specified. Meaning it’s unconditional.
The gratitude is a condition. What are you grateful for? Whatever you’re grateful for you’ll be granted increase beyond measure. Beyond measure. Now this increase is both of the good of this life and the good of the next as we know from the Qur’an. So gratitude secures increase in worldly terms but there is also the eternal increase of reward.
The basic increase of any good deed is that Allah rewards it tenfold. The Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, tells us: “A good deed is rewarded tenfold, up to 700 times, to many times thereof.” One of the things that takes the good deed from having ten rewards to having 700 or beyond measure is if you do the same thing with gratitude Allah will reward it far more than doing the same deed with sincerity but lacking in gratitude.
The sunna of action is that anything that you do should have two qualities. One is sincerity. That will secure you some multiplication for your reward. But the other key to increase the spiritual impact and the eternal rewards is gratitude. That’s the prophetic way. “Should I not be a servant who is truly grateful?”
The scholars mention that if you look at prophetic teachings; if you are grateful, Allah does not say, If you are grateful for the things that are pleasing to you. That is the obvious gratitude. If there’s something pleasing to you be grateful. That is the common person’s gratitude. But the true believers’ gratitude – the gratitude of the righteous believer is in pleasing things but also in difficulty and distress, because the distress is also from Allah Most High.
This is why Ibn Ata’illah in his Hikam says: “If f you can see Allah’s giving when He withholds from you then Allah’s withholding becomes from His giving itself.” Why? Our Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him, says in a sahih hadith: “How strange are the affairs of the believer, because their affair is all for their good. That’s for no one but the believer. Pleasing things happen to them, they are grateful and that is for their good. Distressful things happen to them, they are contentedly patient, and that too is for their good.”
Contented patience is a branch of gratitude, because the patience of the believer is not a begrudging patience. “What can I do about, you know? Just grit my teeth and deal with it.” That’s not gratitude. That’s not patience. They say that the beginning of true patience is leaving complaints.
There is a level below patience which is making yourself be patient. Which is take a breath, don’t complain, but you feel complaint within. That’s not patience. That’s not steadfastness. That is what is called “making yourself be patient.”
True patience has gratitude in it. True gratitude is to see everything as a blessing from Allah. Allah Most High tells us: “Say, it is all from Allah.” Gratitude in one sense has an action and a response. The action is Allah’s, which is, it is all from Allah. Whatever comes to you is from Allah, so you see everything as from Allah.
Your response is to respond in the way pleasing to Allah. That is gratitude. Divine action–human response. The human response is the response that Allah has called you to have. And the response that Allah has called you to have in each situation.
What is the response that Allah has called you to have in each situation? That’s a sunna of the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him. In any situation there is an outward sunna and an inward sunna. It’s action and attitude. That’s basically life.
The defining statement of Islam “La ilaha illa Allah” (there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah), captures the inherent civilization of oneness and unicity upon which Islam is built. This unicity is accompanied with a sense of the sacred ontology of spirituality; that is, the very nature of our reality and our being – when viewed through the lens of tawhid – is that our essence is sacred. It mirrors tawhid. One of our shortcomings is that we have externalized spirituality and abandoned its internalization. There is therefore a dire need to re-inject Islam with this awareness of inner spirituality – a need that demands the re-exploration of the very notion of tawhid.
The one who has indeed succeeded is the one who purifies himself, remembers his Lord and prays. But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. Indeed, this is in the former scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (Sura al-A‘la 87:14-19)
The Qur’an promotes purification and tazkiya (cleansing) of the self through dhikr (spiritual remembrance) and du’a (invocation), and states categorically that the Akhira (the afterlife) is better for us than the Dunya (material existence). Yet we as human beings have come to prefer and prioritize the Dunya – some to the point of abandoning the Akhira altogether. The Qur’an then reinforces the universality of this message by stating that it is one that has been confirmed in the earlier scriptures.
However, the “self-image” of the Qur’an is highly pragmatic in that it deals with realities, emotions, people and communities. It recognizes the palpable context of the Dunya – whilst the message is clear that the Akhira is better, it does not condemn the Dunya. On the contrary, it views our earthly existence as a “Dar al-Balah” – as an abode of trials in which we will be tested.
Furthermore, Allah declares:
He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving. (Sura al Mulk 67:2)
The sequence of this verse (ayat) places “death” before “life”, reminding us firstly that death is both a creation of Allah and a transition to the next life, and not merely a lifeless condition of absolute nothingness. But in its pragmatism, the Qur’an also reminds us of our earthly responsibilities:
Do not forget your portion in the Dunya. (Sura al-Qasas 28:77)
And thus we recognize the profoundness of one of our most oft-repeated supplications:
Our Lord, grant us the best of this Dunya [world] and the best of the Akhira [the hereafter]. (Sura al-Baqara 2:201)
It is in this reflective state of the believers, who ask and seek for the best of both “worlds”, that we find ourselves as an “ummatan wasatan”, a balanced community … a community dynamically located in this world but with a supremacy of focus on the world to come. In this regard, all of us, as men and as women, have two roles to play: that of Ubudiyyah (being the bondsmen of Allah) and that of Khilafa (being representatives/vicegerents of Allah) in this world.
Wasatiyyah thus becomes a balancing act between these two functions, because if we prioritize our Khilafa and forget that we are the servants of Allah, we may become tyrannical. On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves only in Ubudiyyah, then we forget our social responsibilities towards our communities; or even collapse into form of servility unbecoming of our dignity as human beings. To embody these two roles and become communities of equilibrium and justice, we must locate ourselves within a spirituo-moral locus of Islam as a “Way of Being” before our conception of it as “a Way of Life” – which is a somewhat externalised way of viewing and practising the Deen (Religion as a “way of being” and “becoming” in consonance with the Divine Principle of tawhid). As a ‘Way of Being’, it presents us with the potential to change and to transform internally. This perspective finds a powerful resonance within the Qur’an where it states:
Allah will not change the external conditions of a people until they change that which is within themselves. (Sura al-Ra‘ad 13:11)
We often focus excessively on changing the conditions outside of ourselves – and those of others. Immersed in our dunyawi (worldly) delusions, we have externalized and exteriorized change and transformation to our detriment. This attitude constitutes the “heart” of self-righteousness. And so it is that we fail to realize that it is only when we change that which resides within ourselves – within the very core of our hearts and minds and souls – that Allah will change our external conditions and allow us to be the vessels of that social change.
Further emphasizing the importance of our internal realities, Allah says:
Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)
We will only be able to read these ayaat - these symbols and signs of Allah – through the process of tazkiyatu n–nafs (purification of the Self). Attempting to recognize and understand the signs and symbols of Allah is what forms the foundation of interacting with the Divine – it is what links us with spirituality. Herein lays our “identity” as Muslims. Ours is an internal, spiritually focussed and centred identity. “Identity” in Islamic Spirituality encompasses an ontology of being. It is an existential condition. To fully realise this demands a number of things: that we interrogate ourselves both spiritually and ethically; that we reflect upon and modify our conduct and comportment where necessary; and that we ask ourselves to what degree we are prepared to undergo the requisite transformation. From this point of departure, we may trace the trajectory of our Islamic “identity” along the oft-mentioned triad of the Nafs: from the Nafs al–Ammarah Bi s-Su’ (the Inciting Self) through the Nafs al-Lawwama (the Reproachful Self) to the Nafs al-Mutma’inna (Tranquil self/self at rest). It is only after we have cultivated the ability to objectively criticize ourselves (the Lawwama of the Self) that we are able to attain that serenity and inner peace – that Itmi’nan. Without this tranquillity there can be no peace between ourselves and Allah, ourselves and creation, or that sublime condition of inner peace.
It is therefore necessary that we ask ourselves important questions about the state of our Islamic education – referenced in Arabic as Tarbiyyah (to nurture, enrich, refine and cultivate). It is imperative, too, that we identify the points of reference for such a process. How – in more specific terms – and in a holistic manner, we are able to connect the idea of tawhid with Islam as a universal Din. Allah says,
The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will). (Sura Aal Imran 3:19)
How do we translate this into our educational models. What are the principles that underlie our educational processes?
There are three important aspects to consider:
The individual – how, for example, are individuals and individuality constituted?
Society – how do we understand the histories, the values and the norms of societies?
The content of reality – namely, its relation to both the material and spiritual contexts?
Moreover, and on the one hand, the tensions that may arise between “individuality” and “individualism” (particularly as they are often-times embraced in the contemporary world as ruthless and necessary forms of competitiveness – the corporate world providing just one of the spaces for some of its worst manifestations), and our notions of “collectivity” on the other, need to be urgently addressed. These tensions are fraught with the potential to lead to unrest and wars.
With a view to more fully grasping these complexities we need to understand that the aims and purposes (maqasid) of education are both intrinsically and intimately linked to our ultimate convictions.
We, as Muslims, need to ask ourselves and critically examine what our ultimate convictions are about human nature and society. What Quranic or Sunnic template do we need to foreground in order to express and actualize those ultimate convictions? Again it needs to be re-emphasized that as Muslims we are governed by spirituo-ethical values. These values form the foundation of the concept of adab (right and fair conduct – or virtuosity) and is far more important than ilm (knowledge), without diminishing the exalted station of knowledge in Islam in any way. As the Arabic proverb goes, “al–adab fawq al-ilm”, (adab is above knowledge), because without good conduct and virtuosity, knowledge reduces to mere information. One can be a tyrant and yet be the most learned and informed of people.
We come to realize that Islam is thus based on unity of knowledge and servitude to Allah through service to the creation, as well as the centrality of revelation, because we view the cosmos itself as reflective and symbolic of higher realities.
Islam and tawhid as our aqidah (belief and theological system), are thus synthetic in nature. It is an approach that builds towards a dynamic and regenerative concept of unity (as opposed to being merely deconstructive or reductionist). It continuously strives to inform us of the interconnectedness and wholeness of all things, of the intimacy and meaningfulness of the created order, so that we can transform both ourselves and the world within which we live. This we cannot do without the characteristics of justice, fairness and equality (for example, between males and females). In addition, if we cannot do justice to ourselves how can we do justice to others? If we cannot forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven; if we show no mercy, how can we expect mercy to be shown to us; if we cannot love, how can we expect to be loved? Even more so, the blameworthy attribute “malicious envy” (hasad), for example, is not condemned so much for the pain it causes others, but for its horrific potential to bring spiritual ruin and destruction upon the soul guilty of such envy. Allah cares for all His creation! Said the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him:
Malicious envy (hasad) destroys the goodness (hasanaat) in us in as much as fire devours wood. (Abu Dawud: Hadith 2653).
There ought to be, therefore, several natural consequences for societies who embrace and build themselves on tawhid:
1. Tawhid forces us to embrace and look to the essence of being human rather than the happenstances of our creation in which we played no part. It relegates race, ethnicity, nationality, gender and language – those things for which we are not responsible and have not come by way of acquisition. If we really internalize tawhid, it marginalizes secondary qualities and forces us to recognize the essentials of our existence and obliterate the contingencies.
2. Tawhid engenders love and mutual respect; it urges us to respect all human beings, to argue in the best of ways, and to invite to the way of Allah in the most excellent manner and with wisdom. The Quran is emphatic about this.
3. Tawhid demands from us that we both verify and establish truth. Whenever we view tawhid as an Ultimate Truth, everyday truthfulness becomes symbolic of this higher truth.) This matter of faithfulness to the truth plagues us as an ummah (community of believers). Allah says,
O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with information, then first verify it, lest you harm a people in ignorance. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:6)
This is a Divine imperative, and so if we embrace tawhid we will not be easy victims of falsehood and malicious speculation; and herein lies the safeguards and protection for societies and communities that have the potential to be both wholesome and fructifying.
4. Maintaining purity and clemency in our societies – without clemency we can never establish truth and justice. Only when we internalize kindness, compassion and generosity, will we naturally strive to free ourselves from fitnah, scandals, divisiveness and arrogance. Also included here is the elimination of poverty, as poverty militates against the stability and unicity of our societies, so we should strive to empower the incapacitated and disadvantaged.
5. Respecting the freedom and the dignity of all human beings, including both personal and intellectual freedoms.
6. Implementing consultation (shura), co-operation and mutual assistance.
7. Striving for justice that is vitally alive in valuing both the rights of Allah and the rights of people and the rights owing to ourselves.
Without understanding the inherent diversity that goes along with tawhid, our aqidah becomes another form of totalitarianism and tyranny. Even those people who call themselves “muwahidun” (proponents of the Oneness of Allah) have failed to embrace the importance of diversity.
O humakind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are those of you with taqwa. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:13)
We need to realize that in this context Allah speaks to “humankind” and not just “believers”. That which are ultimately important are not the properties with which we are born and in which we have had no hand, but what we acquire (as mentioned earlier). The best of us and most honored of us therefore – and according to the Quran – are those who have taqwa. Taqwa is that form of higher consciousness of Allah that enables us to become both “personifications” of the highest values enunciated by the Qur’an and representatives of the most endearing qualities of Prophethood.
The most worthy qualities are those which we can acquire, not those which are the accidents of our creation (like the colors of our skins, languages, gender or nationalities). Taqwa is eminently attainable and open to all, from the poorest to the richest – it a kind of spiritual democracy, which, when we align ourselves with tawhid – we may discover and realise within ourselves that spiritual station of becoming muttaqin.
However, we cannot achieve this if we cannot embrace and live with diversity. Taqwa is available to those who are able to both live with and be enriched by diversity. Only in this way can we become the vehicles of tawhid, and hopefully align ourselves with the Will of Allah, the Most High. Unrealized (including crass modes of literalism) and superficial understandings avail nought, no matter how stringently we enact the externals of our ‘ibadah. If we cannot embrace diversity, we cannot fulfil our roles as khulafa and be true practitioners of tawhid. Says Allah, the Most High,
Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring forth produce of various colors. And among the mountains are tracts white and red, of various hues, and (others) raven-black. And so amongst people, and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear Allah among His servants who have knowledge, for Allah is exalted in Might, oft forgiving. (Sura al-Fajr 35:27-8)
And yet again,
And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours. Indeed herein are signs for those who have knowledge. (Sura al-Rum 30:22)
Islam is the last of the Revealed Faiths. If we cannot see beyond the walls of our ghettoized cultures; if we cannot see beyond our dress codes (which in essence form a part of the beauty within a ubiquitous diversity). If we cannot see beyond our stubborn social codes (particularly the gendered ones). If we cannot see beyond the many fossilized features of our increasingly regressive religious mindscapes, then we call a lie upon our claim to have embraced the liberating beauty of Islamic universality. We would have called a lie upon our much-professed tawhid that constitutes that axis of Divine unicity around which the many-hued and kaleidoscopic beauty of Allah’s Creation rotates. And we would have called a lie upon ourselves in the face of the verse in the Quran,
And we shall reveal to them our Signs along the horizons and within their own souls until it becomes manifest to them that He is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)
From the distant edges of our visual perceptions to the very core of our souls, we are called upon to bear witness to the wondrous nature of tawhid encapsulated within the equally wondrous nature of multiplicity. Islam is a universal civilization of Oneness within a universe of diversity. To those who reject or scorn this we say, as the Quran does:
To you your Way and Religion and to me mine. (Sura al-Kafirun 109: 6)
What more need be said?
Shaykh Seraj Hendricks
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