Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness

duties of proximity
Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness – Dr. Arif Nayed 

In this paper, Aref Nayed argues that the way to improve societal relations and promote peace within and between communities is by developing the theological concepts of “neighbourliness” and “proximity”.

Dr Aref Ali Nayed is a Libyan Islamic scholar and the Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates.Nayed is the founder and director of Kalam Research & Media (KRM), based in Tripoli, Libya and Dubai. Until the outbreak of the revolution in Libya, he lectured at the restored Uthman Pasha Madrassa in Tripoli, and supervised graduate students at the Islamic Call College.

Nayed is ranked 50th among the top 500 most influential Muslims in the world.

Some of the Insights on Duties of Proximity: Towards a Theology of Neighbourliness from this article

[The Muslim world is within you]

Dr. Arif Nayed writes:
When a heart is alive and luminescent with God’s remembrance and is content to live according to His guidance, that heart is already an abode of peace—dar salam, and dar Islam. It is the faithful heart that can already, in this world, link up with and live in, longing for the eternal vision of The Peace. Such a heart is constantly drawing near towards that ultimate proximity that can only be achieved in the Hereafter.The interior abodes of peace in the hearts of the faithful are the essential seeds from which worldly peaceful environments grow, and through which the eternal abode is prepared for. Such interior abodes can live and grow within a multiplicity of worldly situations, and need not be, and cannot really be, limited to geographically delimitated zones of the world, ‘dar Islam’. The ‘Muslim World’ is the entire cosmos, and is no mere worldly empire! Every human heart, and even every creaturely sign (aya), that adores, remembers, and glorifies the One True God, is already an abode of peace, and is already a ‘Muslim world’!And:

Being alienated, estranged, unsettled, and always on-the-way is not a pathological state to be in. Rather, it is the very state of healthy Islamic living! We must stop lamenting alienation, and begin to realize that such alienation is a sign of healthy and righteous living. If we ever feel at-home and settled in any worldly abode, even if it happens to be an abode of peace, we are very likely to be in a state of temptation that distracts us from striving towards our true eternal peace.
This is why living in diaspora is often more conducive to healthy and sincere Muslim living! Empires and carved-out ‘Islamic states’ often make us complacent, and can actually become a hindrance rather than a help to sincere Muslim living.
There is a very important lesson to learn from the often forgotten 1st Hijra. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) asked his persecuted early followers to seek refuge (jiwar) in the kingdom of Axum, ruled by a Christian king from Nagash (and hence the Arabic name: Najashi). King Najashi was a wise and noble host to his early Muslim guests. As a Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him) put it: ‘When we resided in the land of Abyssinia we took refuge (jawarna) with a goodly and protective neighbour (jar), Najashi, he made us safe in our religion, and we were able to worship God without being harmed or hearing anything hurtful whatsoever.’
A liberal welcoming environment in which a Muslim can freely practice his religion in which he is neither persecuted nor humiliated is an environment that offers a sort of abode of peace, even in the very midst of, and often because of, its liberal secularism.
Muslims today must remember that not all types of secularisms are anti-religious. Anglo-American common law secularisms that define secularism as separation of state and religion, but are also open to the free practice of all religions is not anti-Islamic. For example, it is precisely because Christianity is not allowed to be the ‘established religion’ of the United States of America that there is room for Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Hindus to thrive there.
Yes, there are still in our world today forms of French-revolution-like secularisms that are anti-religious, and because they are anti-religious are often anti-Islamic. Historically, anti-religious secularism has often matured towards wiser and more generous and accommodating liberal forms. Muslims must dialogically and compassionately engage such secularisms to help them mature towards higher forms that are open to religiosity, and to Islam.And:
For the discernment of proper conduct towards others, the traditional discourse of ‘abodes’ was indeed very helpful in the past, and may still be helpful under certain conditions and situation. However, I would like to suggest here, for scholarly reflection, discussion, correction, and expansion, the idea that a fresh discourse of ‘neighbourliness’ and ‘duties of proximity’ may be more helpful in many situations in our world of today. The rights and duties associated with neighbourliness, what can be called ‘rights and duties of proximity’, are very important, and can be very helpful to us.
No one questions that there are rights and duties of neighbourliness in Islam. The Qur’an, the Hadith, and the tradition are very rich sources of myriad gems of wisdom in this regard. However, some mistakenly think that such rights and duties are limited to neighbourliness within a Muslim community, and only amongst Muslims. This is simply not the case, and must be clarified from the very outset, if we are to make any progress.And:
There is another important hadith that speaks of an even more basic duty:… the duty not to harm one’s neighbours. Prophet Muhammad’s judgement (peace be upon him), on a Muslim who harms his neighbour, be that neighbour Muslim or non-Muslim (as we saw above), is amazingly drastic. He says (peace be upon him):
By God, he does not believe! By God, he does not believe! By God, he does not believe! [The Companions said:] ‘Who is that, Oh Messenger of God?’ He said: ‘The neighbour whose neighbour is not safe from his mischief.’ They said: ‘Oh, Messenger of God: “What is his mischief?”’ He said: ‘His evil-acts (shar)’.
Thus, the Prophet actually denies belief itself (iman) to a person who harms his neighbour! Our neighbours, then, wherever we happen to live, have a fundamental right to safety, and we have a fundamental duty not to harm them. What would happen to our world if we lived up to this fundamental normative Sunnah of the Prophet of God (peace be upon him)!
Being key to belief (iman) itself, the living-up-to-our-duties-of-proximity is actually nothing less than a ‘Categorical Imperative’. As a matter of fact that kind of righteous living is indeed expressed by the Prophet (peace be upon him) as a Categorical Imperative: ‘None of you will truly believe until he desires for his brother (or neighbour) what he desires for himself.’

Has Cantor Proved the Muslim Theologians Wrong?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Khan

Question: 1. The universe can never be infinite because otherwise we would never exist. But how come God is infinite if the universe can’t be infinite?

2. Do Zeno’s paradox and Cantor’s work in mathematics show that actual infinite does exist in reality?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.

Please pardon me for the undue delay in answering your questions.

The Universe as Finite, and God as Eternal

Regarding your first question, the universe cannot possibly be infinite because it is bound in space and time, and therefore occurs as discrete and separate events. Distinct events can never amount to an actual infinity, since an actual infinity cannot possibly be ‘traversed’ (since there is always more to traverse!), let alone completed by successive addition of separate events (since you can always add one).

The only infinity that exists in the universe is ‘potential infinity’, which is purely conceptual, such as the endless divisibility of a finite measure that can take place in the mind; or such as the possibility of always ‘adding one’ to any finite number or measure. So endless future events (like the everlasting abodes of Paradise and Hell in the afterlife) are potential infinities, not actual: they shall last forever, by God’s creative act, yet at any one moment their elapsed time period is always finite.

God the Exalted, however, is not bound in space and time. He is transcendent above any contingency and temporality, since His existence is metaphysically necessary and not merely possible. Therefore His eternality does not entail the fallacies of an actual infinity in space-time. The universe necessarily had a beginning, while its Creator is necessarily eternal and timeless.

Zeno’s Paradox

Regarding your second question, neither Zeno’s Paradox nor Cantor’s set theory prove the possibility of an actual infinity in space-time.

Zeno’s Paradox has many types (Achilles Paradox, Dichotomy Paradoxes, etc.) which all attempt at showing that certain temporal events cannot possibly occur since they entail infinities. Yet all are based on the common fallacy of treating the potential infinity as actual, and are therefore non-paradoxical. A finite distance does not actually contain an infinite number of points. As stated above, finite distances have only potential infinities, by way of unending conceptual division.

Cantor’s Set Theory

Cantorian set theory, which treats the actual infinite as a determinate totality, pertains only to the mathematical realm of concepts and as such has no bearing on extra-mental existence (objective reality). As stated above, actual infinities cannot exist in reality, as demonstrated by the obvious contradictions entailed otherwise, such as the impossibility of further addition to an actual infinity. In real time or space though, any number, however large, can validly be added to.

Another paradox of set theory untenable in the real world is the equivalence of a whole to its part: it is self-evident (a ‘first principle’) that in reality, a whole is always greater than its part. But in the Cantorian realm of actual infinites, a infinite set of all integers (1, 2, 3, …) is shown by one-to-one correspondence to be equivalent to an infinite set of even integers (2, 4, 6, …).

Applied to the real world, the position of a beginningless universe would entail no difference between (a) past infinity until the present moment (the whole), and (b) past infinity until an event a thousand years ago (its part), which is clearly absurd. (In the classical kalam literature, this reductio ad absurdum argument is termed burhan al-tatbiq, or the ‘demonstration by way of one-to-one correspondence’.)

Indeed, several mathematicians acknowledge that modern set theory is merely an abstract model of intellectual discourse, completely divorced from any implications in the physical universe. Bernard Bolzano for example, an early pioneer of modern set theory, admits that actually infinite sets exist only in the “realm of things which do not claim actuality, and do not even claim possibility.”

Moreover, several antinomies were identified that over time made set theory less and less tenable. Specifically, Zermelo and Russell discovered a contradiction in set theory that caused its abandonment by even former proponents like Dedekind and Frege. And David Hilbert’s analysis of set theory illustrates that the existence of an actual infinity in reality (real time and space) would not only entail numerous paradoxes, but would in fact undermine the axioms of finite numbers and hence mathematical reasoning in general. As such, Hilbert concludes that actual infinities are not only logically absurd but also mathematically inadmissible in reality.

[Spitzer, New Proofs for the Existence of God; Craig, Kalam Cosmological Argument]

An Infinity in the Singularity?

According to the ‘Big Bang Theory’, which is pretty much accepted as factual in the scientific community, the universe began about 13.7 billion years ago from a singularity, or point of infinitely dense matter. Aside from the problematic name of the theory, it does serve as empirical confirmation of what Muslims believe that the universe had a beginning, although such confirmation is not necessary since that theological position is proven metaphysically (by logical demonstration, or burhan). And if for some reason the theory changes, the rational demonstration of the universe’s beginning still remains undeniable.

Yet based on the Big Bang Theory, the singularity by no means shows the occurrence of an actual infinity in space-time, since the very first moment after the singularity was the beginning of space-time, and the infinite density of matter of the singularity basically means there was literally ‘nothing’ in existence. So even science confirms what Muslim scholastics (scholars of kalam) proved by logic, that the cosmos was created from nothing, or ex nihilo.

The question then is, what caused the Big Bang? Metaphysically, there must be a cause, as the causal principle itself is known a priori; it is self-evident that every occurrence must have an efficient cause. Yet the cause of space-time itself must be transcendent above space-time, lest it too need an efficient cause, resulting in either infinite regress (an impossibility!) or circular reasoning (also impossible!). Therefore one is logically forced to affirm an efficient cause that is outside space-time, or eternal. Its existence is therefore necessary, not merely possible, since the possibly existent would be a temporal occurrence.

The Necessarily Existent (or Abidingly Real; in Arabic, al-Haqq) must have neither beginning nor conceivable end; be completely dissimilar from all things contingent and temporal; and be wholly self-sufficient, as need for another entails contingency and hence temporality.

The Necessarily Existent must also be unique and one, without partner or co-sharer, as composition or partnership would entail temporality along with other logical absurdities. And in light of creation, the Necessarily Existent must possess the attributes of life, knowledge, will, and power; while in light of His absolute perfection, He must possess hearing, sight, and speech.

This Ultimate Reality is what is referred to by Muslims as Allah, or God. And out of His pure largesse and mercy, He has chosen to reveal Himself through scripture sent to messengers, whose evidence was the miracles they performed that were inimitable.

The last of God’s messengers is Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him and all prophets), whose miracle is both the revelation given to him, the Qur’an, as well as hundreds of other miracles narrated through sound chains of transmission, coupled with his pristine and cosmic character. And this final revelation, the Qur’an, confirms every reality of the Necessarily Existent mentioned above that is rationally necessary.

And Allah knows best.



Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Kalam Jadid, Islamization & The Worldview of Islam: Operationalizing the Neo-Ghazalian, Attasian Vision by Adi Setia

Kalam Jadid, Islamization & The Worldview of Islam: Operationalizing the Neo-Ghazalian, Attasian Vision by Adi Setia

Adi Setia is Assistant Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, Department of General Studies, International Islamic University Malaysia. Shared with permission from the author.

Download: Kalam Jadid, Islamization and Worldview of Islam

Kalam Jadid Islamization & Worldview of Islam by Adi Setia

The Sunni Position on the Speech of Allah

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan

Question: It is said that the Mutazilites deny Allah’s affirmative attributes, eg. they believe that Allah doesn’t have the attribute of speech, rather they believe that Allah speaks through His entity, SubhanaHu wa t’ala.  I don’t understand the difference between 1. Allah speaking because He has the attribute of speech, and 2. Allah speaking through His entity.  Could you help me understand this difference?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.

The Mu’tazila Claim

The Mu’tazila do deny Allah’s preeternal attribute of speech, yet they do not maintain that Allah speaks “through His entity.” Rather, they claim that He Most High creates speech that is temporal.

They hold this belief because they limit speech to that which is conveyed by letters and sounds, and of course letters and sounds cannot be preeternal.

The Sunni response is that speech is not necessarily limited to letters and sounds. Even among ourselves, we use expressions like “I said to myself” or “I would like to have a word with you,” based on an internal speech of a person that is without letters or sounds. The essence of speech, then, is that it is an attribute of *indication.*

The Position of Ahl al-Sunna

Sunni theologians explain divine speech as: a preeternal attribute of indication; ascribed to His essence; that is not from the category of letters or sounds; that is not divisible or composed of parts; and that is transcendent above and free from order [such as statements that come before or after other statements], grammatical inflection, silence, or defect. [Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid; Sabuni, al-Bidaya fi Usul al-Din]

The difference between the Sunnis and Mu’tazila is that the latter deny a divine attribute, and in doing so imply deficiency to the Divine, as lack of speech entails muteness or the like.

And Allah knows best.



Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani