Whether We Look Inwards or Outwards, There Is Only Submission

يا أَيُّهَا الَّذينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقاتِهِ وَلا تَموتُنَّ إِلّا وَأَنتُم مُسلِمونَ

“O’ you who have faith! Have piety of God, as is His right due to Him and do not die except as those who submit to God’s will (Muslims).” — Qur’an 3: 101

There persists great difficulty and controversy over the meaning of the Arabic word, “Islam”. Popular definitions often hover over “peace”, undoubtedly to dodge accusations of Muslims, the practitioners of the religion Islam, being inherently and exceptionally violent. Other dictionary definitions suggest “to abandon”, suggesting when one becomes a Muslim (yet another definition from the verbal root, aslama, which Islam is derived from) he or she “abandons the world and all its illusions” in favor of God. And while there may be others, I’ll highlight a third here: “submission”. Continue reading “Whether We Look Inwards or Outwards, There Is Only Submission”

Life’s Illusions

Shaytan is constantly feeding our delusions about the nature of life and indeed, death. I found Terence McKenna’s reflection on his immanent death to be profound:

I always thought death would come on the freeway in a few horrifying moments, so you’d have no time to sort it out. Having months and months to look at it and think about it and talk to people and hear what they have to say, it’s a kind of blessing. It’s certainly an opportunity to grow up and get a grip and sort it all out. Just being told by an unsmiling guy in a white coat that you’re going to be dead in four months definitely turns on the lights. … It makes life rich and poignant. When it first happened, and I got these diagnoses, I could see the light of eternity, a la William Blake, shining through every leaf. I mean, a bug walking across the ground moved me to tears.

Many of us do imagine that death will come upon us at a sudden moment: a car crash, as McKenna states, a robbery, a stroke. And indeed death does visit us in this fashion but the real illusion that McKenna reveals is we can have such reflections anytime we chose while we’re still living. As a Muslim, I should always be engaged in a process of “getting a grip” or “sorting it all out”. That we cannot have such vivid or lucid reflections while living is deception from Shaytan and from ourselves. Viewed from this perspective, reality moves from being a cold, dark and purposeless void to one given warmth, illumination and dignity by the Light of God. So yes, even a bug walking across the ground should move us to tears for a cadre of reasons: the Garden, the Fire, and simply put, the majesty and over-awing reality of la ilaha ill’Allah.

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنْفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مِنْ مَاءٍ فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِنْ كُلِّ دَابَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخَّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاءِ وَالْأَرْضِ لَآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ

“In the creation of the heavens and earth, and the alternation of the night and day, and the ships which sail the seas to people’s benefit, and the water which Allah sends down from the sky – by which He brings the earth to life when it was dead and scatters about in it creatures of every kind – and the varying direction of the winds, and the clouds subservient between heaven and earth, there are Signs for people who use their intellect.” Qur’an, 2: 164.

The Relevance In Muslim Thought In Modern Times — An Exposition

Traditional Muslim Thought

What is it and why is it important to think like a Muslim? The ability to be “aware” of things and to articulate that awareness in concepts, language, and even behavior that reinforces and appeases TMT, and ultimately, Islam/God [tawhīd, Prophecy and the Return to God].

This endeavor will always involve attempts to appease certain incontrovertible truths and transcendent values found in Islam. However, Islam itself will never look the same in two difference places or two different times. And this process of Muslim thought will always demand intelligence, creativity, and courage from Muslims in their efforts to realize this goal, both individually and collectively.

When speaking about TMT, this in no way implies that:

  1. Muslims never had to do this in times past. That it is just something particular and peculiar to this term “modernity” that is causing all this hubbub.
  2. In fact, if we were to look at the past [i.e., Muslim history] and see no such examples [and we are sure to see many!] it would have more to do with the dereliction of duty on the part of those scholars of the past than the absence of the necessity in TMT in every time and space.

So – is TMT just a historical curiosity? Is it relevant in any way to the issues that Muslims face today? If so, then part of this relevance must include a tahqīqī approach. This is especially crucial in light of the recent rebranding of the word “tradition” into such catch phrases as “Traditional Muslim knowledge”.

What Does Muslim Thought Address?

TMT addresses four major things:

  1. God.
  2. The cosmos.
  3. The human soul.
  4. Interpersonal relationships.

The first three form the basis of how reality is conceived in Islam. The fourth is from perceptions obtained through studying the first three in a human interaction paradigm.

Goals of Muslim Thought

To know the reality of lā ilāha illa Allah [there is no god but God] for oneself.

The defining of roles: taqlīd and tahqīq.

Taqlīd: if one wishes to be a member of a group, then one must learn from those who are already a part of that group. Prophetic narrative. No one can better perfect a method of making ablution than that of the Prophet.

Tahqīq: the process of coming to know and own the knowing of tawhīd/la ilaha illa Allah [there is no god but God].

Tawhīd: is outside of taqlīd as “there is no compulsion in faith” لا إآراه في الدين [Q: 2: 256]. Instead, taqlīd is trying to inculcate tawhīd through free-willed, internal/intellectual means.

Muslims need to realize that TMT’s raison d’être is the transformation of the human soul, not simply a collection of textual and historical facts.

TMT allowed for a multidisciplined approach but those branches were tied to a root [tawhīd].

Establish the primacy of The Sacred. Therefore, one needs to come to know and understand what is sacred to Muslims/Islam and what is sacred [if anything at all] to modernity.

Preservation of the human being. Modernity/secularism makes vain attempts at this through language such as freedom, democracy, human rights, efficiency, etc.

Ijtihād – What’s In A Name?

The word is used so much by modernist Muslim reformers that it’s lost any context and meaning.

  • To qualify as a mujtahid, one had to master the disciplines [fiqh, etc.]. In other words, master transmitted knowledge [Qur’ān, Sunnah, etc.].
  • This bar has been set very high in traditional Sunni schools of thought.
  • If one does not attain the level of mujtahid, then one must then follow a school of ijtihād [Sunni: mostly dead masters – Shi’ism: living masters].
  • Sharī’ah, for example, can only be learned from someone who already knows it. This is problematic for orthodox, Sunni Muslims if we’re only able to learn from dead people!

Challenges Facing Muslims/TMT Today

Modern Muslim scholarship has been dominated by a non-Muslim spirit of academia in which, only to be partly humorous, one can know everything there is to know about a text except what it’s saying.

Is it possible to think as an engineer or sociologist and still think in a tawhīd-ic mind frame?

How can Muslims/Islam come to really [and in mean real as from The Real] mean anything significant if religion, in the eyes of modernity, is scarcely tolerated so long as it is restricted to ritual and morality. In modernity, religion can have nothing definitive to say about the nature of reality.

When looking at the thought processes behind certain modes of thought or ‘isms, are they/can they be infused or synthesized /re-contextualized by TMT or no? Why/not?

Modern environments are not conducive to inculcating/reinforcing an outlook on the world based on tawhīd. Modern theories of knowledge seek to compartmentalize versus bring varying knowledge disciplines into a unifying vision. This compartmentalization applies to the self as well as knowledge. This leads to a kind of cultural/social schizophrenia [see Daryoush Shayegan]

Science/Scientism: science is often said to be a sign of God but the Qur’ān asks man to think/reflect. But think/reflect on what? The Qur’an emphasizes natural phenomena. Science, however, requires one to first have scientific training as well as accept the supremacy/hegemony that scientific/tistic thought often demands of us.

Modern Muslim thought/scholarship does not challenge the status quo of modern/takthīr thought but rather sees how it can best serve, adopted and co-opt it.

Takthīr – Modernity’s New Gods

Takthīr is, if not the theological opposite of tawhīd, is its antonym in a modern context. The function of tawhīd is to see the many as relating to The One. Takthīr is wanton proliferation.

Tawhīd: to make God one, the recognition of divinity, pointing back to one ultimate source [God].

Takthīr: to make many gods. To refashion the recognition of divine presence as manifold.

Modernity lacks a solid core – a single center of purpose. TMT professes the purpose of life is to realize/worship/prepare for the return to God.

Modernity’s goals [?]: freedom, equality, evolution, progress, science, medicine, nationalism, socialism, democracy, Marxism. More innocuous versions: care, communication, consumption, development, education, information, standard of living, management, model, planning, production, project, resource, service, system, welfare.

TMT & Modernity – A Dialog

TMT may question modernity’s and Muslim reformers’ intentions. And while MR’s may wish to bid “good riddance” to TMT because of its perceived baggage, reform-minded
Muslims are oblivious to the fact that much of what they’re basing their thoughts off of are based on modes of thought that at their core are antithetical to the three crucial aspects of TMT/Islam:

  1. Tawhīd.
  2. Prophecy.
  3. The Return to God [Ma’ād].

If Muslims are to remain true to the core values that Islam is built upon, those very same values that underpin TMT’ing, then how can the adaption of the above be legitimized?