Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Truth of Islam

Ibn ‘Arabi says that the name Allah is the proper name of the One and Unique God. It is the name of the essence of God, which contains in itself the beautiful names of all His attributes. Everything in Islam has generated from the name Allah. It is the cause of the unity of God: the cause of the Holy Qur’an and all other holy books; the cause of worship and prayer. All else is named, but Allah is the Giver of Names. That is why the messenger of Allah has said, “As long as someone is reciting the Name of Allah, the last day of the world will not come.” – because on that day everything named will be ceased to exist. Only Allah, the Namer, will remain. Ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah have been mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. Some, like “The Ever-Living”, “the All-Knowing,” are the names of divine attributes. Some, like “the Creator” and “the Sustainer” are the names of divine actions. When one mentions them, one says “Allah the Ever-Living” and “Allah the Sustainer.” In Islam one declares one’s faith by saying laa ilaha illallah, there is no god but Allah, signifying that all is from Him, and that there is nothing but He. It is not sufficient as a declaration of belief in Him to say Laa ilaha ill al-Khaliq, “there is no God but the Creator” – Although Allah is the Creator. One may say that a creative person, a living tree, a sustaining food, carry the manifestations of His attributes in His creation. However, nothing in His creation may be given the name of Allah, for He is other than everything He has created and there is none like Him. In the Muslim declaration of faith, after “There is no god but Allah,” it is necessary to bear witness that “Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.” The Messenger of Allah is a chosen human being, a perfect man. That he is “servant of Allah” shows usthe highest level to which any human being can aspire. That he is “Messenger of Allah” is an indication of his closeness to his Lord. He is a guide and an example to humankind whom Allah has sent as a mercy upon the universe, and who Muslims believe will intercede for the faithful on the Day of Judgment. He is human – but as Shaykh Abdul Aziz Dabbagh, a contemporary of Ibn ‘Arabi says, “If the strength and valor of forty warriors were put into one man who could drag a male lion by the ear, and if that man saw the truth of the Prophet for a siingle moment, the awe that he felt would tear his lungs from his chest and his soul would leave him.” None can look upon him except the few saints to whom God has given the strength and the ability to see him. Ibn ‘Arabi says that he saw him in an ecstatic state, and that he had no shadow – for the source of light has no shadow. God created the divine light, with which everything may be seen and understood, as His first creation. And He placed this divine light in Muhammad, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him. When this light is reflected in the heart of the believer, that heart sees the truth. That person becomes blind to t he cognizance of himself, his ego, his flesh as well as becoming blind to these characteristics in others. It is like the ladies of ancient Egypt, invited by Zulaykhah to see the beauty of the prophet Joseph, forgot themselves at the sight of him, and cut their fingers while peeling the fruit in their hands. According to Ibn ‘Arabi, the true peace of submission, the truth of Islam, is only possible by passing through that state where one forgets one’s self and everything else. The saint Bayazid al-Bistami said, “I was only conscious three times in my life. Once I saw the world. Once I was conscious of the Hereafter. And then one night I saw my Lord, who asked me what I wished, and said He would give it to me. I told Him that I wished for nothing, for He is the Only One.” Thus the truth of Islam cannot be reached without eliminating the worries about this world and the worries about the Hereafter. The ones who can do that are in continuous worship and prayer. According to Ibn ‘Arabi, the way to the truth of Islam is through action and sincerity. The downfall of the ordinary person is to know, but to be unable to act upon knowledge but lack sincerity. The danger for the person of higher state is to divulge knowledge without the license of the Lord – for inspired knowledge and the ability to exercise it in sincerity is one of the secrets of the Truth, and can only be shared with others by the permission of the One who gave it. The confession of faith, “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger”; daily prayer; fasting during the month of Ramadan; charity and pilgrimage to Mecca are the five pillars of Islam. Hadrat Ibn ‘Arabi adds cleanliness, outer and inner purity, to these five obligations. He likens Islams to a house with four walls. One wall is the daily prayer, the other is charity, the third is fasting, the fourth is pilgrimage. There is a double door to this house. Upon one leaf of the door is written “There is no god but Allah,” and upon the other, “Muhammad is His servant and His Messenger.” The roof of that house is cleanliness – purity of body, mind and soul. In this metaphor we see that if one of the walls is lacking, the house will not stand; and that prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage offer little shelter without purity of being over all. Ablution, a symbol of cleanliness, is a prerequisite to prayer. According to Ibn ‘Arabi, the water used to clean oneself in ablution is a symbol of knowledge. The heart of a believer is alive only if sustained by knowledge. When there is no water, one can take ritual ablution with sand or earth. Earth too is a symbol of life, for everything alive comes out of it. While ablution with water, one washes one’s hands and arms to the elbow, one’s mouth, one’s nose, one’s ears, one’s face and eyes, one’s feet, and also one puts water on one’s head. While taking ablution with sand or earth, one does not put earth one one’s head, because worship is an attempt to come close to God, while putting earth on one’s head is a sign of mourning, of lamentation, when someone beloved is taken away and one is left alone and far off. God says: He it is who has made the earth humble, quite and submissive to you (Surah Mulk, 15) Earth is the lowest of the four elements. Our need for it to cleanse ourselves is in our need to rid ourselves of the feeling of superiority and arrogance. Once cleansed, a believer presents himself or herself in front of the Lord five times a day, during the ritual prayers performed at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night. In the seventeen cycles of obligatory prayers and twenty-three cycles of exemplary prayers, and in other voluntary prayers, we go through certain movements. First we stand, turning in the direction of Ka’bah. Wherever believers find themselves on the face of the earth they turn toward Mecca, forming concentric circles. Thus, facing the Ka’bah, we also face each other, symbilically facing the Lord in the hearts of all believers. For God says in a divine tradition, “I do not fit into the heavens and the earth of My creation but I fit into the heart of My believing servant”: and the Prophet says, “The believer is a mirror to the believer.” The prayer starts in a respectful, standing position. When the faithful raise their hands above their shoulders, palms facing forward, and say Allahu Akbar, “God is greater than anything He has created,” with this gesture they throw the world and their worldly concerns behind them with the backs of their hands. Then they clasp their right hands over their left hands in a respectful position. In this standing position we are to be aware of the human in us, for only the human being is vertical and stands erect. We then recite the opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an: In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds The Beneficent, the Merciful, Master of the day of Requital Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help Guide us on the right path The path of those upon whom Tou hast bestowed favors Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray (Surah Fatihah, 1-7) Ibn ‘Arabi says that these words are a conversation between the believer and his Lord. When the servant of God says, “In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” the Lord says, “My servant is calling Me.” And when he says, “Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Beneficent, the Merciful,” the Lord says, “My servant knows Me and he praises Me, for I love him and overlook his faults.” When the believer says, “Master of the Day of Requital,” the Lord says, “My servant knows that he will come back to Me, and depends on My justice and forgiveness.” In the center of the chapter is the key verse, “Thee do we serve and Thee do we beseech for help,” where the whole of the being, conscious of its exterior actions and expression and of the inner thought and feeling, promises to submit to its Lord’s will and beg for His help, declaring that there is nowhere to go but to Him, there is no one from whom to ask for help but from Him. This is the crucial moment in the audience with one’s Lord. People who realize this, at this awesome and fearful moment, tremble and shed tears. For the Lord might say, “O tongue, you say that you submit to Me and ask for My help alone, but all the members of all that physical body, who have deputized you to talk to Me – your eyes, your mind, your heart – have forgotten Me. Thus, what you say is nothing but a lie.” Those who are thus condemned are the people whose minds, eyes, and hearts wander, who look for and see and feel the temptations of this world during prayer. In the last three verses of the opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an, the Lord speaks to the heart of the servant – for the prayer “Guide us on the right path” calls upon a promise of the Lord, as does “The path of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed favors, not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray.” In the second movement of the ritual prayer, when the believers bow from the waist and repeat thrice subhaana Rabbiiy al ‘Aziim (Glory to my Lord the Most Great), one is conscious of the animal state to which we have been reduced. Most animals roam the earth parallel to the ground. And we plaintively beg our Lord, “Have mercy upon me, O Great One!” Then momentarily we stand up, regaining our human state. With gratitude we throw ourselves into a position of prostration, for realizing our lowliness and the earth from which we are made, we return to the earth. Then slowly we rise, sitting upon our knees, to remember the Day of Judgment. We turn our head to the right and then to the left, seeking the help and intercession of those who loved us in this life – our mothers, our fathers, our children – but all in vain; for all will then be concerned with their own fate. The only one immune to the terror of that Day will be the one whom God has sent as His mercy upon the universe, the intercessor for sinners, Muhammad, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him. Before all prayers but one, a formal summons is chanted. The exception is the funeral prayer. And there is no call to prayer that is not followed by worship, except the summons recited into the right ear of a newborn child. The secret is that the call to attend to our departure from this world is issued at the moment we arrive. The call to prayer consists of reciting four times “Allah is greater,” twice “I witness that there is no god but Allah,” twice “I witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah,” twice “Come to salvation” twice “Come to felicity,” and again twice “Allah is greater.” Finally at the end the reciter says, “There is no god but Allah.” The reason that these phrases are repeated is that Muslims believe that every human being is born a Muslim – in fact, everything created is created as a Muslim. Some have remembered their original submission to God, while others have not. The first repetition addresses those who realize their state. The second is to remind those who have forgotten. It is very important that these words be chanted musically and by someone with a most beautiful voice, especially for the congregational prayers in mosques. The Prophet chose Bilal the Abyssinian to perform the call, because his voice was beautiful, although his Arabic was lacking. He said, “When Bilal chants, all the gates of heaven open, up to the throne of God.” And when he was asked if that was an honor bestowed on Bilal alone, he answered “No, this honor belongs to all who call to prayer.” In another tradition the Prophet said that the necks of the chanters of the call to prayer are very long – meaning that they will receive blessings as far as their voices reach. He also said that the souls of callers to prayer are together with the souls of martyrs in the Hereafter. The call to prayer consists of the invitation of God issuing from the lips of a human being. It resembles the revelation of the holy books, which issued from the lips of the prophets. Therefore the real caller to prayer, who invites man to truth and salvation, to peace and felicity, is always the Prophet. As the Lord says in the Holy Qur’an: O our Lord, we have heard the call of one calling to faith “Believe ye in the Lord,” and we have believed (Surah ali-Imran, 193) Ibn ‘Arabi says, “When my Lord made me chant the call to prayer, I saw that each word coming from my lips extended to a distance as fas as the eye can see. Then I understood the meaning of the Prophet’s words that the necks of the chanters of the call to prayer will be very long, for their Lord’s praise for them will be as vast as the area where their voices are heard. The heralds who call the believer to prayer are the best of people, after the prophets, who transmit the truth. The reason that the Prophet of God did not chant the call to prayer himself was because of his compassion for his people. If he himself had called people to prayer, those who couldn’t come would have been disobedeient to God, and received divine blame for revolting against Him. (The Tree of Being:Shajarat al-kawn. An Ode to the Perfect Man. Interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti. Archetype Pub. London, 2005)

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