Islamic Philosophy, a Perspective
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
This is a subject I have been involved with since my childhood. Perhaps you might say my interest in philosophical inquiry began when I started wondering about the world around me. Being born in a Muslim family and raised in a Muslim country helped me search for answers to my philosophical and religious questions. For some reason I knew I was not like any other kids around the corner. Although I was among other children, I felt I was not one of them. Was I a prodigy of some sort? Not really! What was my skill? Was I a great musician? Not that I know of. Was I a prolific writer? Not at all! All I remember is that I loved to read. My interest was neither in fiction nor in science. What fascinated me were books on Religions and philosophy. What was I seeking? The meaning of life, I guess, as if ‘being’ had a meaning. Where did I come from and what was my coming into this world for? Where am I going, and you don’t tell me where my final abode is? (a poet). I was taught there was a God who had revealed Himself to the prophet Mohammad in the holy Qur’an some 1400 years ago. “Was he Persian”, was the question I asked? The answer was: No. He was an Arab from Arabia. I went to the Qur’an and read it to find my answer. I also read about his life and sayings. I began doing the canonical prayers. I learned that if I follow God’s commandments and do the right thing I would be rewarded, not only in this world but also in Heaven. I fasted and tried my hardest to stay away from sin and be pious and virtuous. I went to the mosques and associated with other Muslim brothers. I listened to the sermons. Ethics and morality became part of my life. Every time I needed something, I would pray to receive it from this unknown God. When my prayers were answered, I held on to my faith tighter. However, when I didn’t get what I wanted, I would get disappointed or was told to be patient, because we don’t know whether I was meant to have it, given the wisdom of God.
Having battled the crisis of discerning what is right or wrong, I was introduced to Sufism or Islamic mysticism. Gradually I became interested in the great intellectual figures in the history of Islamic philosophy. How Muslim thinkers managed to create a relationship among Religion of Islam, Sufism, and philosophy captured my imagination. It is a delicate connection to consider. This harmony gradually lost its luster after Renaissance or rebirth in the Christian Europe. However, the youngest child of Abrahamic Religions, namely, Islam, seems to have been able to realize the importance of this balance among these three subjects. Let us not forget, there’re scholars who believe that Islam had a lot to do with the creation of Renaissance. If it is the case that Islam was the cause of this rebirth, then here is the proof that a cause doesn’t necessarily have to be of the same nature as its effect. The natural law should acknowledge the authenticity of this phenomenon, because what Islam gave to Europe was a good act accompanied with good intention. Even if the results were not satisfactory, what happened was still according to the natural law.
The positive influence of Islam on the Western intellectual history began with Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. All three religions, that is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam faced the great intellectual challenge by the Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
Religion in general is about belief and faith in the unknown Reality. Philosophy rather concerns rationality as a way to know the truth. The ancient thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle didn’t use the word ‘reason’ loosely. They were aware of what is called ‘Intellectus’ in Latin. This means the power of reasoning. This would also mean perceiving and understanding. With the help of the Intellect we can pierce through the apparent reality in order to have knowledge of the Reality. This is a higher level of intelligence. From Hindu perspective, this is the Atman within us. This is, in other words, my true Self. These Greek classical philosophers were called ‘rationalists’ in this sense. This is different from modern rationalism in which the unlimited reality of the Intellect has been ignored and exchanged for the limited pure reason of Immanuel Kant. In the holy Qur’an we have a word named ‘AQL’, which is equivalent of the term ‘reason’ and ‘Intellect’. The same ‘AQL’ can be used in different ways. It can be utilized as a tool in scientific inquiry. It is also made use of in ratiocination. This means to reason with formal logic used in science. It also has the potential to help us reach the reality beyond the phenomenal world. Having gone through several verses, God says to the prophet, these are for those who use their ‘AQL’. There is nothing wrong with thinking logically. However, we can also think super-logically. Emmanuel Kant also treats the Intellect and pure reason as if they’re one reality. But once he considers pure reason as limited, he is automatically limiting the Intellect too. He knows the Intellect is unlimited. Then how can we have our cake and eat it too? Once ‘AQL’ is used other than knowing God, it is then is limited. Without this possibility, however, ‘AQL” can’t be perfect. Unfortunately, Kant regards the Intellect also as limited. Limitation is a possibility of “AQL’ without which it wouldn’t be perfect. Remember, this is what we can come up with our own mind. Nonetheless, we still are able to figure out certain facts through our intellectual abilities. For instance, Kant can’t simply come up with the measurement to check the limitation of pure reason, unless he knows the unlimited Reason. This makes perfect logical sense. But one can’t combine the Intellect or the unlimited Reason and pure reason and then call it limited.
The holy Qur’an doesn’t have to combine what was never separated. There is a distinction between “AQL’ and its descended aspect called ordinary reason. There is a difference between the sun itself and the sun on my curtain. The ray of the sun is different from the sun itself, and yet there are both one reality. The ray here is the reason you and I use to go with our daily life in this world. The sun itself is ‘AQL’. The ray is weak in its capacity and acts like central park pigeons in Manhattan. ‘AQL’, on the other hand, is like those hawks or eagles on high rises. Kant called the unlimited, limited. For him God was only a postulate or an assumption. He also limited the God who could be worshiped by man. After all, who are we worshiping?
When we read the history of Islamic philosophy, we come to understand that at one point in time they mistook Plotinus’s philosophy for Aristotle’s. To my humble opinion, this is very unlikely to have happened. I believe those minds were too great to have made such a mistake. I argue that the reason why they went beyond Plato (thesis) and Aristotle (anti-thesis) was to discover the genius of Plotinus who had already by passed the two great thinkers by the logic of neither/nor. When it came the Ultimate Reality, he went for the non-dualistic one, which brought him closer to Hinduism. This Reality, to him, was or is beyond any duality whatsoever. It is beyond rest and motion, being and non-being from which Being is its first manifestation, without which it can’t be perfect. This Being and later soul that descend to the word are less than that Reality. This Being is perhaps the same as the necessary one. In other words, it can’t but be and It can’t not be, therefore, it must be. Muslim thinkers were aware of this ontological factor involved. However, they believed we ought to go beyond where the Ultimate Reality is to manifest its Oneness.
This article is not about historical records of the history of Islamic philosophy. We’re simply not repeating and rewording what others have done in the past. The point of this humble effort is to see what we can come up, with what we’re given. You might say that this is too presumptuous on my part. I couldn’t agree with more, except the fact that I’m approaching the understanding of the reality of the Islamic thought by bypassing the historical events in order to let the truth manifest itself to my heart and consciousness, even though I personally don’t believe I deserve it. To begin this difficult task, I try my best to see what the holy Qur’an says in regard to what reality is. In the meantime, we’ll make an attempt to bring in Greek thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle into our discussion to see what they had to say concerning the world of being. However, it must be remembered that, though we return to the holy Qur’an for guidance in our journey, we’ll not try to ignore the trunk and the branches of Islamic philosophy, which have been the result of the sacred scripture of the Islamic thoughts. To see the responses to the fundamental questions of life or being, we’ll wear different pair of glasses. To watch certain movies in the movie theater, we need to wear three dimensional glasses. Those Greek philosophers didn’t have scriptures in their possessions. Therefore, they relied only on their Intellects, not pure reason of Immanuel Kant, the German thinker of the 18th century.
Muslims ought to pray towards Kaaba, or Ka ’bah, the house of God, which is said to have been originally built by Adam, in Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. Every time this canonical pray is performed, two chapters of the holy book are also recited: The opening and the unity. (The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, by M.M. Pickthall). The chapter on unity begins with: “In the name of God, the Compassionate, and the Merciful. (1) Say, He, God, is One, (2) God, the Eternally Sufficient unto Himself. (3) He begets not; nor was He begotten. (4) And none is like unto Him.” (THE STUDY QURAN, S.H. Nasr).
We’re born in this world and are presented with the words of God. It is a monologue, namely, from God to His prophet. It is a one-way street, in other words. God is speaking about Itself. We’re trying to gradually get away from ‘He’ ‘She’ here. It says, it is ‘Samad’. It is the One unlike everything else. This is not a numerical one. There is only one Reality and that is the One. Everything else is in the realm of many. It is full and there is no bubble or impurity in it. This has been said about the quality of German steel compared to what was used to make the Titanic, which sank more than 100 years ago, although some believe it was not Titanic that sank but another ship called Olympic, which shouldn’t have been used to cross the ocean to begin with. We know this analogy doesn’t go far enough. Nothing can be added to, nor subtracted from it. It is not like our bodies to become fat or skinny. For instance, when I eat a lot, I’ll become over weight. And when I cut dawn, I’ll lose weight. So, the Ultimate Reality is not like us. Once we turn it into a personal God, then it becomes like us. Nothing came from it like a mother giving birth; it never came from anything, like a baby from the womb of a mother, either. The element of time is absent here, as you notice. Causality is in time in this world. It didn’t cause, nor was it caused. Sperms are added to the body of a woman and are leaving the body of a man. Anthropomorphism is completely rejected here. There’s nothing like it. It is unique. It is not like a female. Perhaps this might be the reason why we call it ‘He’ even though male is also born. In Taoism the Tao is likened to the womb of a mother from which 10,000 things emerge. In a word, it is the mother of many. Samad can’t be that. Samad never gives births. Samad was never given birth either. For Aristotle it is an uncaused Cause. It is an unmoved Mover. We can’t use our notion of causality for Samad because it is not in time. Vertical Causality is not in time. Perhaps Plato was for such Causality. This Reality is transcendent. Our causality is not. Now if It or the Ultimate Reality, doesn’t beget, then how can creation take place? Creation seems to become a reality with the appearance of the personal God who communicates with His prophets, thus, the coming into being of the scriptures. How can the fragmented many emerge out of the Ultimate Reality, which is Eternally Self-sufficient? The presence of the universe of being is the result of the necessity of the Ultimate Reality’s perfection. It is a ‘must’ and a ‘necessity’ that the sun sheds light. Can we ask a new born baby not to cry? Instead of necessary Being, namely, a Being that must be and can’t not be, we have the Ultimate Reality, which comes with numerous and infinite possibilities, among which is the existence of the universe. On the one hand, we’re in this imperfect world and on the other hand, we’re part of the perfection of the Ultimate Reality. We’re aware of the fact that this ocean of being can’t be imperfect and perfect at the same time and in the same relationship. Nevertheless, this is all in the realm of the mind, which is different from the objective Reality existing independent of our mind. Mind represents the logical while objective world manifests the ontological world. Even this very division is the consequence of the dividing reality of the mind. Outside of the mind there’s only one reality, which is the One Ultimate Reality. This world is the realm of divisions and multiplicity. In this world we add and subtract. We’re mortal beings. We were born and someday we’ll die.
In this chapter the Ultimate Reality is described as having no such qualities to make it look like us. Uncaused Cause and unmoved mover of Aristotle can’t logically help us understand the nature of this Reality. The word ‘cause’ requires ‘effect’. Even the vertical, transcendent Cause is unable to assist us to comprehend it, because that Reality is beyond cause and effect. To define motion Aristotle needs unmoved Reality. This mover has to be attracting the universe towards itself. It can’t be pushing; thus, it must be pulling. However, if it pulls, then it indicates that the world can’t be in motion. To define motion, the unmoved mover shouldn’t be moving. You might want to use the sun as an analogy here by saying that, though it doesn’t move, and it is stationary, it draws everything towards it. But we know that analogies go only so far. As we know, there is movement in the sun, though it doesn’t revolve around the earth, which is in constant change. There’re explosions in the sun. Unmoved mover of Aristotle, however, still can be regarded as Cause. A mover that is not moved is that Reality? This Reality, according to Aristotle, is at rest. Otherwise, movement would have no meaning. Samad, on the other hand, is beyond rest and change. Then if Samad doesn’t fall into this category, then how can we define motion and becoming? The world is not an illusion or Maya as it is in Hinduism, for instance. The Void or Emptiness in Buddhism also doesn’t seem to help us here either. Is it possible that this whole universe is really nothing? Is it possible that it is only a dream? Samad being One can’t accept duality. This world appears to be concrete. In reality the hidden or the unknown realm is concrete, not this world. Let us say, we take one mustard seed and divide it till there’s nothing to be divided. This whole universe of being is like 0 before the Ultimate Reality. 0 + 1= 1, for example, is the way we can understand our relation to the Ultimate Reality. In fact, if there is anything that is real, it is that very Reality before whom everything else is nothing. We need to link Plato and Plotinus to see whether the latter can come close to what is in this chapter. Plato definitely needs immutable realities such as Forms of perfection in order to explain the universe we live in. His Forms are transcendent. The highest Form is the Form of Good. With Plotinus, the Ultimate Reality doesn’t seem to be a necessary Being. This final Reality is above the duality being and non-being and rest and motion. Being is its first manifestation in this hierarchy.
Recite that the Ultimate Reality is One. This is not a numerical 1, which is subject of -1 and +1. It is not restricted at all. Our world, as we perceive it is the realm of many and imperfection. We’re here and this is not our home. It is a house but is not a home. We’re not comfortable here. We’re experiencing constant conflicts, contradictions, opposites, suffering, and uneasiness. We’re derailed from the track leading us to where we came from.
We don’t belong here. We’re trying to be well, both mentally and physically. Nonetheless, we’re getting old and subject to illness, which finally would lead to our extermination from this life. Life still is beautiful. Life comes from the source of beauty. However, can’t stay as white as the beginning of the snow. Soon it will be like the snow on both sides of the streets waiting to melt and go away. As beautiful as life is, it will decay and atrophy.
Babies are beautiful gifts who bring new life and innocence into this world. But even they are getting older.
The world is in constant renewal and decay, creation and destruction. We’re like those survivals in the jungles. Like the movie, ‘Cast away’ we’re lost in this island of being and even if we make to the other side, everything is already changed. Once we become attached to the world, we’re on the way to the pain of being heartbroken.
This is no paradise, just as Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), in the movie, was soon to find out. He had been presumed dead after four years during which the love of his life had married his dentist from whom she had a daughter. He got out of one jungle to return to the one he had left behind. This was a total loss for him. However, just as he was at a crossroad of his life facing with different choices, a girl showed up who helped him with the direction. As she left he saw the painting of a pair of white wings on the back of the truck, which was also on the FedEx box. Then he realized she had lived at the same address. By that time, he knew which direction was leading him to his destiny. As they say, when one door closes, another opens, or things happen for reason. Let us hope this is the case.
Whether these correspond with the facts of life, we really don’t know. However, in the chapter, ‘The Opening’ we’re asked by God to ask Him to guide us upon the straight path. (Nasr) or show us the straight path. We ought to avoid extremes in life. We should walk on a tight rope holding a long rod or a bar. If we’re lucky, we’re protected by a harness. With the rod I keep my balance between the two extremes and in worse scenario the harness would hold me from falling to my death.
Knock on the door, so the door opens for you. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. But keep on knocking. Although we’re not perfect, we’re the possibilities of the Ultimate Reality. Show us the straight path leading to you. We’re lost in this darkness. We don’t exist authentically. We’re free to turn to any direction and yet there’s only one way to the Ultimate Reality, which is that straight path. The true freedom only comes to us when we turn to that Oneness, anything else is bondage and imprisonment. Real happiness is to be with Oneness and not with many.
When we concentrate, we center ourselves. When we pray, we ought to have nothing in our mind and heart but the Ultimate Reality. Any name or definition, once it becomes an obstacle to our focus on that Reality, must not be held on to. “
La ellaha illa Allah” means there’s no deity but or except Allah. ‘La’ here negates anything that stands on the way to that Reality. We should remove anything that blocks the straight road to Allah in our everyday prayer. Islam begins with this negation. We must unlearn everything and stand with clear slate before God. Remember all the 99 names of God refer to One Reality and that is the Ultimate Reality. Even the word ‘Ultimate Reality’ refers to that Oneness. Even the term ‘Oneness’ refers to that Reality. If we’re derailed, we ought to get back on the track or the straight path. It is never too late to get on board again. This is not a rate race of linear reality of time and history. This is like being on concentric circles based on the direction we have taken in our life. Some of us are close and some are far from the center. We’re either close or far from the center of Reality. The sun is in the center, by way of analogy. There’re circles that are closer to the center, namely, the light and there’re those, who are far away and in the dark. My home is in the center from which I have drifted away. I suffer because I’m in the dark. I don’t have to suffer. I’m able to get out of this underground tunnel to reach the light, like in the movie, Rambo. Our final destination is our unity with the Ultimate Reality. This is unlike 2+2= 4. We don’t add anything to that Reality because it is Samad. The best way to put it is like 0 + 1= 1. Zero plus one is always one. We can’t add, nor can we subtract from the Ultimate Reality. This Reality is unique. There’s nothing like it. We should renew our thoughts about it at every moment. Being on the right track doesn’t mean we should be stagnant in our way of imaginations and concepts regarding the nature of the Ultimate.
We must not create our own God or gods and worship them, lest we might be worshiping ourselves, which is a blasphemy.
Let us not forget that we’re still operating in the realm of our own mind. We’re plugged into the world around us through our five senses. We’re trying to figure out and understand our holy scriptures in general and the holy Qur’an in particular. We still need to work on ourselves spiritually in order to let our sacred books reveal themselves to us or else we end up with interpretations, which may not give us an accurate picture of what they’re all about. We ought to go beyond interpretations. We should get to the heart of the holy Qur’an to seek the truth about it.
When Muslim philosophers ran into conflicts with the reality of their Religion, there were mystics who warned them concerning changing the scripture to match their understanding of the Greek thinkers? The esoteric Gnostics or Orafa always focused on purifying our mind through meditation and contemplation. We don’t have to change the truth of the holy Qur’an to suit our philosophical or rational comprehension of the world. Once our mind and hearts are clean, then the sun can pierce through the glass windows. There’s nothing wrong with so-called ‘rationalism’. However, we ought to transcend and go beyond pure reason of Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher.
Islamic thinkers’ criteria for calibration have always been the holy Qur’an. For them the solid words of this sacred scripture finally have the last saying in whatever philosophical endeavor we get engaged in and the direction we take to know the truth about the universe of being.
No matter how tired and distracted you’re with your daily life, come with me and let us search for the truth hidden behind the apparent world of becoming. Come on this journey and help me navigate into the sea of the Reality unknown to us.
One of the 40th sacred saying of the prophet says: “I was a hidden treasure. I desired to be known. Therefore, I created the world.” To bring about existence is one of the Ultimate Reality’s possibilities. But the use of the past tense indicates the passage of time. So, can’t this be the Ultimate reality? However, this Reality has the power to appear as a communicator who can then speak the language we understand. Thus, He says through the mouth of the prophet that he was a hidden treasure. Look, if we’re dealing with the Ultimate Reality, then we know that this term comes with infinite possibilities.
An old man once approached the prophet and sat near him. Those who were around him were wondering how he knew the prophet from others in that circle. Normal people always asked who the prophet was, because he sat with his close associates in a circle. Let us not forget that ‘circle’ is the sign of eternity. After a short time, he got up and left the prophet. Being curious, his followers asked the messenger as to whom the elderly gentleman was. This primordial man or the cosmic figure, told them, he was angel Gabriel. He had disguised himself as an old man and came to me to ask me some questions.
The most powerful and potent Reality is able to come to us as God to speak about Himself. He is a jealous God. Really! Can God also become jealous? Then he is like us. (Old Testament). This God has created us in its image.
Therefore, the Ultimate Reality uses the prophet as a conduit through whom He talks to mankind. He says: “I was a hidden treasure.” Here time is taken into consideration. “I wanted to be known. Thus, I created the universe and everything in it.”
This is not an exact quotation, as you can tell. In a total solar eclipse, the sun is hidden. The moon was casting shadow on the sun. Once it is uncovered, the sun sheds light again. To assert my identity, I created the world. What is the sun, if it is not giving us light? What is God, if it can’t create, which is one of its possibilities? Being in this world of becoming, where we face opposites, contradictions, birth and death; we’re bound by our languages to express our selves. The Ultimate Reality also expresses itself through the Gods of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as its possibilities. It also manifests itself in other non-Abrahamic Religions.
The greatest mistake on our part is when we fall into the so- called, ‘reductionism’. We simply can’t reduce one Religion into another. We’re trying to go from many to one. However, in this world of many we ought to respect all Religions in their own accord. I was a hidden treasure. The creation of the whole of universe is only one of the possibilities of the Ultimate Reality. We can’t say this Reality is known to itself, because it creates duality, which goes against its nature. Thus, ‘I loved or desired to be known’ here means, I wanted to be known by the world and man. Therefore, it becomes very important to understand that our knowledge of the Ultimate is the key here.
Socrates and Plato both spoke of this fact, which is our duty as human beings to go from the realm of opinions to the abode of knowledge. The Ultimate knows its possibility. We, on the other hand, need to know that Reality. We’re those who must know that Reality. We’re already known by that Reality. This knowledge by its creation or manifestation is a must for its perfection. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Christ).
Remember, we’re analyzing the verses of the holy Qur’an from the framework of our mind and its logical construction. In other words, we couldn’t imagine the Oneness of the Ultimate Reality without the multiplicity of the many. The word ‘Ahad’ refers to the Oneness of Allah or God. Then the term ‘Samad’ comes in. Nothing can be added to and nothing can be subtracted from Allah. In other words, the Ultimate Reality is full and solid. It doesn’t birth, nor is it born. It is unique. Birth and death are within the territory of the many. Once you’re born, you’re bound to die. Allah is subject to neither birth nor death. Sperms are added to the body of women while babies are born from them. Oneness is perfect. It is absolute. The world of many, however, is relative. Allah is universal while the world is particular. The universe of many is only a manifestation of the One. The hidden treasure wanted to be known. “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.” (Jesus). Our most important task is to know God. To gain the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality is not the reason why we’re here. Nevertheless, now that we’re here, the only way out of here to know that Reality, because this is the only way to be truly free from the bondage of this world of many.
Islamic philosophy puts a great emphasis on knowledge. Islam begins with knowledge, which is in “La ellaha, illa Allah”, that is, there is no deity or god, but Allah. This is a statement of knowledge. We ought to renew and purify the water of our perceptions, conceptions, thoughts, and opinions of God. This knowledge has nothing to do with information. This is a sacred knowledge. This is not about whether it is cold outside or not. Let us not forget that the transcendence of the Ultimate Reality is never compromised as this was the case in the philosophy of Hegel, the 18th and 19th century Prussian thinker.
Allah is transcendent in His Oneness. He is Ahad, and yet He is present in the world of multiplicity. The moon is far away and yet its reflections are present all over the lakes, the ponds, and the rivers at night. The sun’s reflections are all over the ocean, the lakes, the ponds, and the rivers while it is far away from us. This is the mystery of being.
In the chapter, ‘the opening’ we’re told to ask God to guide us on the straight path. He wants us to only worship Him and nothing else. This path is the golden mean taught by many prophets, sages, and philosophers throughout ages. The middle path has nothing to do with the geometric one. There should be a balance between the two extremes. There’re many roads and they all look alike. But which one is the right path? Which of them is the way out of this maze? I truly exist when I’m no longer lost. There were several roads to California for pioneers in the early day of the discovery of the West. Those who chose the right road without knowing that it was the less harmful among others, made it to their destination safely and others lost many before they reached the West coast. In amazing grace, we sing: I once was lost, but now am or I’m found. The term for existence in Arabic is ‘alwujud’, which literally means ‘to be found’. I’m lost means I don’t live my life authentically. I’m found, however, means I live my life authentically. To be on the straight path means the light of my existence is getting intensified. In other words, I’m reaching the source of the light, even though the Ultimate Reality is beyond light and darkness. We’re lost in this dark desert. The only way we can see our way back to the main road is when there’s a lightening. This particular metaphor has been mentioned in the chapter called, ‘The Cow’. As the lightening comes and goes, we get a chance to walk a few miles till it stops. We need the light of the sun, so we can find the road. Guide us with your light, to you. The analogy or metaphor we just mentioned, however, gives us the feeling as if this path is a horizontal one. In reality this is not the case, because the way to the Ultimate is a vertical one. Horizontality requires time. But verticality is in space. Here we don’t mean outer space. In the spiritual space, however, there is no time. “Allah is Samad” means nothing can be added and nothing can be subtracted from this Reality. It is unlike any living creatures, including us.
What I’m about to explain might sound a bit gross. We and other animals need to eat and defecate in order to live. Food enters our bodies through our moths and after digestion it leaves our bodies. Food is added to our bodies and digested food is subtracted from our bodies. The Ultimate Reality is not like us. This Reality appears as many forms as it can to communicate with us human beings. It is not difficult to imagine that the Ultimate could come to us through Abrahamic Gods as well as other forms to others. That is the way at the bottom of the drawing (exoteric level) by the late Houston Smith. We see the presence of many Religions at the bottom of the pyramid. Once we draw a line horizontally right in the middle of this pyramid, all those divided lines representing different faiths converge. This is what he called (esoteric level). The Ultimate Reality is at the apex. It is at the zenith. It is beyond any duality, rest and motion, being and non-being, light and darkness, existence and non-existence, and emptiness and fullness. It is Samad. It is absolute, and the only Absolute there’s.
Imagine that more than a billion Muslims across the globe recite these two chapters of the holy Qur’an every day, provided they all perform their five times canonical prayers.
In the chapter, ‘the opening’ we’re basically asking the Ultimate Reality to help us understand why we’re here and what this is all about. I had no idea where I was before I was born. Nor do I have any idea where I’ll go after I die. Guide me so I can have some idea as to what this is all about. Why, for example, should the Ultimate Reality be in charge of the existence of the universe? Who is in charge of it, which is logically absurd question to ask, because it wouldn’t be the Ultimate, if this was the case?
As you can see, we’re stepping into a philosophical complexity. Based on faith, we believe in our scriptures in general and, as Muslims, in the holy Qur’an in particular. Well, let us say, we just believe in Religions and their claims in the existence of Gods, gods, or Ultimate Reality. Nonetheless, we can’t deny the fact that when we speak of the relativity of everything in the world; we’re bound to think of the existence of the absolute. Now you might argue that this is all in our mind where logic plays a great role in our understanding of the world we live in. I couldn’t agree with you more. However, remember that ‘reason’ is the only tool we have to navigate and ask questions, even though we don’t know their answers. (Kant) Nevertheless, the very fact that we ask these questions makes us wonder as to who we’re. I have my five senses plugged into the world. I have my reason to put together my findings about the world around me. My reason may be handicapped and limited, according to Kant, but my unlimited Intellect must be somewhere to help me. I’m unable to get out of my limited mind to see and experience the truth. But when I’m tired of the presence of the many, I long for Oneness. That is where my only refuge resides. Is it possible that even the fact of being in the world and wondering about whom we really are and what the universe is here for is the absolute working through its imperfections, without which its perfection has no meaning? Now you realize why we need the calibrating tool and the criterion whereby we can look for the truth. Latin proverb says: “The truth is my light.” I’m driven to that Oneness, the absolute, the purity from the contamination of the world of many. I’m drawn towards beauty and simplicity. We’re beautiful so we admire this work of art. However, when we try to enjoy it with private desire and attachment, then we no longer see that beauty. However, when we see the birth of beautiful babies, we realize perhaps then that life is not all about my sexual enjoyments. I can admire the beauty in other person’s body without only worry about my lust and carnal wants. I can be like a hummingbirds and honeybees. They are in awe of the beauty of flowers without destroying them. Once we lose touch of the Oneness in the many, our suffering begins. The meaning of ‘Wahdah’ in Arabic or ‘Wahdat’ in Persian, which is ‘Oneness’, plays a great role how the Muslims view the world. Allah is Ahad, means, He is One. Gender fact here is very important. Traditionally and biblically God tells Abraham that He is the Lord and you’re my people. In Christianity we have at the wedding ceremony that, you man, addressed by the priest, are like Christ and your wife is like the Church. So, at this level, I believe, it is alright to use ‘He’ although there is no duality in the Ultimate Reality.
God has 99 names in Islam. These are in reality attributes of God. As we know, names and definitions limit the Ultimate Reality. How about the name Allah? If Allah is a name, then it also limits the Ultimate Reality in our mind. No matter how sacred God’s names may be, they fall into the category of names. Thus, we ought to move above and ascend much higher level in which duality has no meaning. All we have to do is imagine the existence of such a Reality. However, if we try to think about the Ultimate Reality as if we’re looking at the moon or the sun, I’m afraid we’re bound for disappointment. This Reality is not a point up there. There’s nothing outside of it. It is not in the cosmos. Our notion of space can’t help us here. Oneness here is not a numerical one. When I say the ocean is one, what does come to our mind? Imagine the UR or the Ultimate Reality, is like an ocean, and we’re like the fish in it. But the difference here is that we can come out of the ocean, even for a short time, but when it comes to the UR, we can’t do such a thing. Adam can soar to where he can see nothing but God, while angels are incapable of reaching the place of Adamness. (A Persian Poet). In other words, man reaches where he can see nothing but God. Angels, on the other hand, have no way to get to the residence of Manness or humanity. Humans are potentially way above the angels. However, they can also sink to the lowest of the low, even lower than animal’s. Man is not programmed like the angels and animals to perform with limits. Angels can’t know more than what they’re taught by God. Man (no gender intended) knows the names or ‘asmaa’. What did God mean by this? I’m not God to know that. Nevertheless, it seems we’re dealing with Plato’s Forms. Plato believed we knew the Forms of perfection. Angels just don’t know them. Perhaps we know the nature of reality.
Oneness doesn’t have before and after, up and dawn, in and out. It is unique onto itself. When we read: Recite or say, “He, God, is One, (Nasr) or say: He is Allah, the One, (Pickthall), we can’t help but ask: is Allah referring to himself here? Why not say that: I’m the One. I’m Samad? Instead we read: Say, He is Allah, the One. It seems the Ultimate Reality is conveying that Allah is He, the One. Allah is the One you talk to, speak and communicate with. This Reality or Allah has a name, as you can see, called Allah. It sounds redundant, come to think of it. But it is okay. These names like the name of the God of Moses are sacred. They are not like any other names. They’re holy names. We know those names potentially. Nevertheless, they’re still names and being names they limit. Form in Greek in fact means ‘limit’. Limitless is also a Form.
In our daily conversation we own them and for what stand and what they refer to. We say, my God, my Lord. Can we own the Ultimate Reality? Well, you might say we use these names for reasons in our daily talks because they’ll give us a sense of reverence for them. The name Allah, for example, seems to be referring to the Ultimate Reality, to the nameless, definition less, non-dualistic Reality, the One that doesn’t even exist. In other words, it is not standing out there becoming. It is not outstanding. We’re outstanding but not the ultimate Reality. We can prove or not prove the existence of God, which is a title. We can do the same thing with the name Allah. The Ultimate Reality is beyond being and non-being, rest and motion and any dualistic reality. It is like silence that can’t be divided. Recitation command comes from silence to the prophets. You can’t divide silence. The more you cut, the more silence there’s. (Wayne Dyer). The Ultimate Reality can’t be divided. Silence is noble, as we read on the walls of some Buddhist Temples. Once we have silence in us, then we can hear the truth.
We’re polluting the world as fast as it is humanly possible. Noise pollution is not a natural disaster. It is, in fact, what we do unconsciously so we can no longer receive the message of the Ultimate Reality. It is the message of unity to our sense of loneliness in the universe. Movement, motion, becoming, and change don’t wait for us. It seems time is a witness to this going forward. Perhaps only the eternity can put a brake on the rushing time. But where is the universe going? It is as if time follows this act like a shadow. Things change by time. Time and motion have been moving like a train. They are taking our loved ones away from us left and right. When we look back, we see nothing but the death of many people and things that existed before. We keep celebrating our birth days without realizing we’re glorifying the moment of our death. We come into this world and will eventually leave it at some point. However, why did we come, to go? Who knows what is going on? Perhaps even Buddha didn’t know about this mystery before Pari Nirvana, which comes with death.
Time kills as much as it heals. It leaves cemeteries behind as it measures movement. When I look back I see tombstones of the events of my past. The memories of the things passed stay with me and even they disappear gradually. I visit places I lived before or passed through searching for the happiness I once had between the walls of the life once lived. Some buildings are still there, and some are gone forever.
He had, the Maserati his late father once owned, restored. As he was about to drive the car, the manager told him: I’m sure you feel your dad is sitting next to you. With tears in his eyes he said, you’re right, I feel the same way. (FantomWorks, the car restoration show on T.V) What brought tears to their eyes was the fact that his father was once sitting there next to him, but he was not there when he sat in the car. As I look back, while the train is moving, I see many dead trees on both sides of railroad track. I could also see new and young trees growing among them. Time moves on like the train leaving death and life behind. As we walk, we leave empty space behind. Death follows us no matter where we go. No matter how fast I run, it chases me like a shadow. It doesn’t stop till I’m dead. When I stand, I’m where I’m. But as I take the first step, the emptiness of death is right behind me. Being and non-being are the very fabric of becoming. In fact, motion is the chain of life and death. This is the realm of many not the Oneness of the Ultimate Reality.
“Say, Allah is One.” The many is manifesting the One. The many is one of the possibilities of the One. We’re parts of these possibilities. We’re contingent beings. We can, and we can’t be. We’re here today and may not be tomorrow. We’re born and one day we’ll die. From another point of view, we’re dying at every moment and being born at every moment. We’re sustained by the thick rope of food going through our bodies, from the mouth to where the digested stuff leaves our bodies. We’re like a piece of gem with a hole in it. We pass a thread of life through it. Either the gem is moving, which is when the thread is stationary, or the thread is moving it while the gem is stationary. Which one is which? Who knows what the truth is? In reality we are all changing and becoming.
Someone like the pre-Socratic thinker Parmenides considered motion nothing but an illusion. The second century, Mahayana Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna argued that we could never step into the river because there is nothing to step in. Some like Heraclitus and Buddha believed everything changes. According to them, both the piece of gem and the thread change. To Parmenides, nothing changes, and movement is an illusion, like what the ancient Hindus believed thousands of years ago. In Hinduism this is called ‘Maya’, namely, illusion.
Islamic philosophy, however, tells us that the world is real, and we’re put on earth for a purpose. Unlike Judaism, God does not introduce Himself as, “I Am”. In the Qur’an, the verse says: Say, He, God, is One. (Nasr) or Say: He is Allah, the One. (Pickthall). This is revealed to the prophet by angel Gabriel. That Reality refers to itself as Allah. It is giving Itself a name. It conveys that Allah or God is One. It does not say: I’m the One. “I’m who I’m” or “I’m that I’m”, in Judaism, does not tell Moses what God or He is. God here does not speak of His essence. He doesn’t talk of Its whatness. This tells us that we’re in the presence of the Ultimate Being or necessary existence. In other words, He must be and cannot, not be. Everything else is contingent, namely, it could and could not be. Everything else receives their existence from Him. The whole universe relies on Him for its existence. However, in the Qur’an the Ultimate Reality does not refer to itself as “I’m”. It uses the third person to say: Allah is. Allah is Samad. This indicates that the Ultimate Reality is way above everything we can possibly think to give itself a name, which would limit its Reality in our mind. It resists to be defined, because it also limits. It seems its transcendence is beyond our imagination. It does not want to be perceived and conceived by us. We’re not supposed to have any perception of this Reality. We cannot form an image of it. It is unlike anything we know. It is unique. I would like to argue that this Reality is totally different from the God in Judeo-Christian theology. However, one might argue that in Jewish mysticism, Kabala, we can find something similar. The impersonal Ultimate Reality comes from the verb, ‘Say’. But if we’re dealing with an impersonal Reality, then why we have ‘say’ which only a personal God can say, say. ‘Say’ is a command. Does this mean the author of ‘say’ is the same as Allah himself? Instead of saying ‘I’m One or the One, God or Allah wants us to say, Allah is One’. Tell them that I’m One and Samad. Then where is the impersonal Reality here, because Ultimate Reality does not talk. So, Allah is the author of the one who says, say. Nevertheless, we don’t have such a thing as ‘I’m the One’. Why God is not using ‘I’ here? When I meditate, I put a wedge between my ordinary self and my true Self. Instead of saying, ‘I’m typing’ I say ‘Parviz is typing’. Is this the same thing we’re experiencing in this chapter in the holy Qur’an? If I do that, it is because I’m trying to reach my true Self. But what about these verses? It sounds as if the Ultimate Reality is avoiding the letter ‘I’, not because it is trying to find its true Self. This Reality is already the true Self itself. Therefore, Allah is, at the end, the Ultimate Reality or UR in Islam. When this Reality speaks to the prophet in a monologue style, it is trying to communicate with humanity with the qualities we’re familiar. Otherwise, we cannot know this reality at all. We’re able to be close to it when it appears with His human attributes such as mercy, compassion, beauty and a lot more. “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” is what He says about Himself. Allah never says just because He says something is beautiful, therefore, it is. Yes, names and definitions limit that Reality in our perceptions. One of the possibilities of the Ultimate Reality is to be able to reach us through our ways. Thus, it adopts a name, which is sacred such as ‘Allah’. However, it safe guards this human path by teaching us that we need to always remember, “La, elaaha, illa Allah” simply means: “No deity or god but or except Allah”. This statement of knowledge was given to us through His prophet to remind us that we ought to constantly purify the contaminated water of our understanding the Ultimate Reality. It basically tells us that this Ultimate Reality is beyond any dualistic language. A language that bifurcates can’t explain that Reality. A ‘reason’ that divides is unable to help us in our journey to the Truth. Just as we pray five times a day and wash our bodies in the river, we ought to refine our mind of all dualities and impurities, images and false sense of what God is all about. I can never reach the essence or the whatness of this Reality, which is One and Samad, as the way I’m. In other words, Parviz qua Parviz will never be able to know the essence of the Ultimate Reality. Immanuel Kant was not so wrong to say that we can’t know God through our pure reason. But he was not right when he identified pure reason with the Intellect. The only and only way to achieve our goal is through the ray of the sun or the Intellect within. This is the unlimited reason Kant seems to have completely neglected.
Allah is beyond being and non-being, rest and motion, time and space, existence and non-existence, and impermanence and permanence. If we don’t follow the message and the affirmation of faith, “There’s no god but Allah”, then we can easily create our own gods and worship them. We can also externalize these gods and turn them into idols. The Greek word ‘eidolon’ means ‘image’. If I have an image of a god, then I can shape it into a statue, which can be worshipped as a god. God creates us, and we return the favor by creating Him in our image. This is called ‘Anthropomorphism’. We make our gods or God to look like us. In the name of gods people in the past have killed thousands and millions. There’re those who totally ignore their families and just worship their gods. However, the question is: Who is this God they worship? Are they not in fact worshipping themselves? They are those who pray and then kill innocent people for no reason. These are those who lack the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality or Allah. The prophet destroyed them and cleaned the house of God so Ka’bah was once again empty and vacant. This emptiness represents what Adam meant when he built this it. We also are encouraged to empty our mind of images and idols, so we wouldn’t create our own gods and worship them. This symbolic act of the prophet teaches us to constantly renew our mind so the Ka’bah of our hearts would always be devoid of idols. Perhaps that is why Muslims pray five times a day.
Having faith alone is not enough, nor is sufficient. Throughout the holy Qur’an we’re asked to use our ‘Aql’, which is the intellect and reason. ‘Aql’ or intelligence is the light of the Ultimate Reality in us. Combination of faith and ‘Aql’ can help us to know God. Assist us to sustain on the right path. What is the straight path? Nothing is straight in the universe according to modern mathematicians. The shortest distance between the two points is straight line, according to Euclid, who was the student of Plato in the academy. But he believed this was only a postulate or an assumption. He told Plato, who himself was a mathematician, about this fact around two thousand and four hundred years ago. What did God mean by the word ‘straight’? Perhaps he was not referring to a geometrical reality. The golden mean is not about a point in the middle of a straight line. It is not a geometrical fact. It is rather about balancing between the two extremes. It is like the old scales in doctor’s offices. The term ‘straight’ is used as a common-sense language like when we say the sun is rising while, we know very well, it is the earth that is turning around itself and the sun.
We’re asking God to protect us from falling into extremes, so we can be on the path to true happiness. We’re in midair walking on a tight rope stretched between two high raises. Our cat walk, that is, one foot in front of the other, is possible by the stick in my hand, so I can keep my balance. Be my rod on this rope, so I can reach you and be with you. I’m holding on to the bar or the rope hanging from the sky (Qur’an). Protect me with your grace, so I will not fall into the abyss of nothingness. Help me, so I can keep my balance on the tight rope of everyday life in this world. Flesh is weak and carnal pleasures and enjoyments are constant temptations. We live at the time when it is very easy to have our virtues, which took many years to be established in our behaviors, shattered and destroyed like the twin towers on 9/11.
Centuries ago cultures were protected by religious traditions. But now all religions, with no exception, are threatened by secularism, materialism, and modernism. The forbidden fruits are readily available. Pornography has reached our homes from the adult movie theaters, thanks to our computer age and on-line life style. Modern technology has done wonders since decades ago. However, this offshoot of modern science has also paved the way for a kind of so-called ‘reductionism’, which has distorted the totality of womanhood and the state of femininity. It has reduced a woman to only a sex object, namely, she is only good to be used. Romance has been given away and replaced by images on our movies and computers. There is no doubt that we live in a challenging time. It is very dark, but we don’t have to be negative and depressed about it. We ought to light our candles and ask God for guidance on this dangerous journey toward salvation. Will God have mercy on us in these rough times? These hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, fires and mudslides are not only destroying our homes, but they are taking our souls away to the devils. Everything else can be replaced except what we have cherished for so long. Our precious time has been squandered. Some say, it is the sign of the end of time. I don’t know about that. All I can say, however, is that our values, which we have treasured throughout centuries, are being annihilated. More than three decades ago Allan Bloom, the professor philosophy at Chicago University, wrote his best seller called, ‘The closing of the American mind’ (1987) in which he warned us of the future of America, of the days when our democracy would be challenged. We don’t have to be rocket scientists to see where we’re at the present time.
The chapter on unity wants us to realize that we’re locked up and lost in the maze of multiplicity. The Ultimate Reality is One. It is not numerically one. It is not a number to be subject to addition and subtraction. Multiplicity of being is the realm of change, becoming, relativity, and many. We ought to keep the Oneness of the Ultimate Reality in our souls and bodies. We should clear our consciousness and awareness from the images of the multiplicity to which we’re so attached. Guide us to your Oneness. We’re the possibilities of the Ultimate Reality. We’re contingent and that Reality, whatever it may be, is necessary, namely, it must be. It cannot not be in its first manifestation. In our mind, with Absolute we have relative. With necessary existence we have contingency. Imperfect world is the realm of possibilities. With God everything is possible, as the faithful say. God says, in the holy Qur’an, when He says, be, then it is. This is the translation of Konfa Yakun in Arabic. God is the author of this imperfect possibility called creation. Once someone said: I can’t believe what we see in the world of sexuality, for example. Things that we could never believe would be possible. I’m intimidated. I could never believe, as I was growing up that we, humans, could commit all sorts of moral atrocities. We hear the question why good things happen to bad people and vice versa? Rabbi Kushner removes God from the equation and argues that we ought to accept that we live in an imperfect world and shouldn’t expect perfection here. We can ask God for help though, he says, but we shouldn’t have any expectation. I believe he is concentrating on the story of Job in the Bible.
First of all, who is deciding what is good and what is bad?
Job was very rich and prosperous for a while and he practically lost, almost everything. Subsequently, to prove a point to Hassataan or Shaytaan, that is, Satan, for the second time, God let him suffer from boils on his body. Job never curst God to His face, as it had been predicted by Satan that he would do. Job didn’t fail the test, but at what cost? He suffered so much for what he had not done. Even though God had promised him that he would get everything he had lost, but he could never have his dead children back. Of course, God would never lie. He told him he would have more children. He had more children but not the ones he had lost. It sounds like God couldn’t change history or He just didn’t want to. Why God was not with Job 100% throughout this tragedy? Satan being jealous, wanted proofs with the hope that Job would turn away from God. Satan failed but not completely. Job disappointed Satan. Nevertheless, Satan had already hurt Job by creating such a chaos. Under a lot of pain and suffering, Job said: I wish I had never being born. Why do I have to suffer when I was a faithful servant of the Lord? It was Job’s expectation that gave him in. I deserve better. Why are you doing this to me? I want to die but I can’t even do that, because you’re in charge of my life. I have no one else to complain but you. How can you be my defense attorney and the cause of my misery at the same time? Look at me and that I’m suicidal. I much rather commit suicide than curse you to your face. Lord gives, and Lord takes, my dear Job. What are you talking about? I have not done anything to qualify for this torture. All my life I have followed the Lord’s commandments and rules. Perhaps the Lord is testing you. What? He has been testing me as if He is not omniscient? He knows me very well. Then what is going on here? You taught us that if we’re good, we’ll be rewarded and if we’re bad, we’ll be punished. Perhaps you yourself have done something wrong in the past and doing wrong currently as we speak? Please don’t talk to me as if I’m an idiot. I know what I have done and what I have not. Then perhaps He is teaching you by testing you Satan made the water muddy and perhaps you did something during this time rather than wait till the mud receded. Did you think about the reward in terms of quid pro quo or something for something? (Random house) I’m not sure. Well, if you were thinking of being rewarded for your virtues, then naturally you would expect to be treated differently. However, if you did what is right regardless, that is a different ball game. Our main task in life is to go into the game to do the right thing without the intention to get something in return. We shouldn’t mix the worldly affair with spiritual duty. Kant used the term ‘Deon’ for it though his was not a spiritual act. Job we’re your friends and we deeply care for you. When you said, I wish I had never been born, this alone signifies that you expected something in return. This very intention goes against the fabric of the cosmos. We ought to do the right thing, as much as we know it is right, regardless of whether we get something out of it or not. There shouldn’t be any intent in our actions. The good intention is to act without any expectation. Did Job fail this important test? I’m afraid to say that, yes, he did, without judging him, because the final judgment belongs to Allah.
Some resort to the belief in Karma. This Hindu and Buddhist religious ideas tells us the reason why we either have good things happening to us or vice versa, is because of our past Karma or actions along with the ones we have done in this world. Kushner doesn’t go for such an explanation. This is understandable, because he is a rabbi and thus he ought to work within the limit of his respectable Religion, which is Judaism. After all, we have no knowledge of what had gone on in our past lives, provided we had lived before. Innocent baby gazelle is eaten by the head monkey on my television set in nature. Why? That little being had just being born to turn into the monkey’s defecation later on. What a destiny! Why? What crime had she committed to be devoured in front of her mother? Can Karma explain this? The camera man doesn’t want to interfere with the flow of nature, of course, without realizing that by being there, he is already interfering with the hierarchal reality of nature.
A man was beaten to death in central park and nobody went for his rescue and he was left there to die. A girl was being raped in California while others were watching nature taking place. Can Karma elaborate this for us? According to the belief in Karma those folks must have done something bad in their past life or this life or a combination of the two.
What has happened to our moral responsibility? Unfortunately, it is just the way it is. Is this the way it ought to be? No, but regrettably it is the way of life in an imperfect world.
When I think of why good things happen to bad people or vice versa, I’m dealing with Karma or cause and effect. In other words, since I have been good, there is no reason why bad things should happen to me. I want something in return. However, if I don’t think in terms of what I’m getting for what I have done, then I’m in the realm of doing what is right regardless of whether I deserve to be treated accordingly. I don’t expect anything for the good I have done. Once we’re clear here, then we see something else. I live my life whether I get what I deserve or not. Of course, I fight for justice, but I don’t let it distract me from what I need to focus on. I try not to think in terms of good or bad. I concentrate on my goal, which is reaching the One or the Ultimate Reality. I try not to suffer like Job. Job is surprised for what had happened to him based on the assumption that he had done well in the past. He was still in the Karmic entanglement, however. I try not to expect anything when I do something good or what I think is good.
Guide me to the straight path Lord is telling me don’t count on what you think is good or bad. Focus on your walk on the tight rope. Don’t dwell on either good or bad. I just want to continue on the right path till I get to my final destination. Straight path doesn’t mean the shortest distance between two points of Euclid. The ideal is not the straight path of this world, which is curved anyway. The holy Qur’an is referring to the vertical reality, not the horizontal one. Show or guide us upon the straight path (Pickthall and Nasr) in the chapter, “The Opening” or (al-Fatihah) means direct me on my ascent to the center and the One, that is you and only you. I’m not in the business of counting my good points and make sure they out weight the bad ones and then expect you to grant me your grace.
The problem with Job was that he was upset about what was happening to him. This very fact shows he had expectation. As long as he was prosperous he didn’t complain. But once his properties, human and non-human, were taken away from him, he was angry, even though he still didn’t curse God to His face. This very expectation alone was his dawn fall. The Ultimate Reality or UR gives without expectation. Rains falls on Bad Lands and good ones. God doesn’t get even with us. God is not revengeful like us. He is not jealous. In the ocean of His grace, both sharks and dolphins exist. The Ultimate Reality is beyond good and evil. This duality doesn’t exist in its nature. We ought to give without expectation. Without expecting anything in return is the right way, which is the path of ascent. Guide me on the right path because it is the way to righteousness. When I don’t have any expectation, I will not worry about why I have to suffer, because the Ultimate Reality doesn’t owe me anything. Every breath I take is a gift from that Reality or Allah. I need to move up from the level of relativity and possibility, changing and impermanence to where there is nothing but absolute silence and Emptiness like the inside of the Ka’bah. It was vacated from all the idles. We went from many to One. The word ‘straight’, I believe, is the same as the word, ‘right’. God shows me the right path. The moral law within me tells me to do the right thing, regardless. When I do the right thing, I don’t have to worry, if bad or good thing happen to me. Wise men don’t fall for praise or blame, good or bad as long as they are doing the right things. The fabric of the universe is made in the loom of the righteousness. As long as my behavior corresponds to, the natural law, which is within me, I seem to be on the right path. I think Job missed this very important reality. Whether or not my actions are acknowledged by the horizontal good or bad, what matters at the end is what I do vertically.
Lord, show me the right path, which is the path to becoming one with you like 0+1 is always 1. I’m just 0 and you’re everything. This Reality doesn’t owe me anything. I owe this Reality everything I possess. Job was uncomfortable for what had become of him. Job was suffering tremendously. He lost his home, all his children, and his entire livestock. Something like tornado destroyed everything he had. God had given him everything he owned. Satan, however, believed once they were taken away from him, then he would curse God to His face. Having lost everything, he still didn’t curse God to His face. Satan asked God to hurt him physically. He then developed skin boils, which devastated him. What Job was experiencing was the opposite of what he always had faith in, namely, good actions would be rewarded by God and bad ones would be punished. Three of his friends showed up and felt very bad for what had happened to him. They thought he had done something wrong to deserve this. Job was in such an agony that he wished he had never been born. He was depressed and frustrated and didn’t know what to do about it. Even though he didn’t curse God for the predicament he was in, he was not happy for what had happened to him. He must have thought whatever had occurred to him was not fair and just. Where is justice in this case? I believe maybe he was unhappy, because he had been attached to his possessions. He was also sad because in spite of the fact that he had obeyed God and His commandments all his life, he had to be treated this way. Maybe he was thinking why bad things should happen to good people like him? Why bad things happened to Esau and relatively good things happened to Jacob, the two sons of Isaac who was Abraham’s son.
However, if this might be the case that he had asked this question, then the question itself conveys the message that Job’s good actions were not without expectation. Underlying assumption was that he was a good man. But who are to be the judge of our own character? Only God can truly judge us. This fact that he was good and didn’t deserve such a punishment alone tells us he wanted to be rewarded for his good actions. This sounds like a perjury trap by God. Did you expect anything more than what I had given you? No Lord I didn’t expect anything from you. Lord you’re like honey bee. Since you have given me honey, it is okay if you hurt me. After all, you’re not like a bumble bee or wasp. But, nevertheless, he wished he had never been born, even though he had been given plenty of honey. Not only was he not rewarded, but he was rather punished for what he had not done. May be Job didn’t realize that building a wall of virtues is not enough to reach God. In fact, this wall could easily block my way to the Ultimate Reality. To become united with the Ultimate Reality, we ought to go beyond the ethical conduct and climb to the top of Jacob’s ladder.
This narrative whose author is unknown wants to wake us up from a dream. This is an illusion that we can play the same game we’re engaged with in this world with the Ultimate Reality. Our whole economy and business are based on reciprocity. Nevertheless, when it comes to the Ultimate Reality, we must not act virtuously in order get something in return. We’re not supposed to do business with God. We ought not to set ourselves up for disappointment. In other words, our actions shouldn’t be conditional. They must not be based on ‘if’, ‘then’ statements.
In Islam we don’t work hard to be morally perfect in order to go to Heaven. Some people think they don’t even have to do anything to get to Heaven. Islam wants us to ask God for guidance on this road to righteousness. Allah wants to lift us up not after death but before it. There is a rope hanging from the sky to which we ought to hold on. This is very much like when a drowning person is being lifted from a grand rapid or the sea by a helicopter crew. This is a vertical ascent. This vertical reality is like a ladder, Jacob experienced in his dream, upon which angels were ascending and descending. This rope is there to save us from this world of change and becoming, relativity and multiplicity. It runs all the way to the presence of God or Oneness. I want to go way above Job and be with that Ultimate Reality. I’m not looking for His Heaven. Maybe I deserve Hell. As long as I’m with the Ultimate Reality, I’m happy. Death will not get me there. Dreams are not my place. I have no expectation for my good actions, because I’m on the right path and want to do the right thing. I don’t want anything in return. Why do I have to worry about, if I have expectation or no expectation? I live in this imperfect world. Some say things happen for a reason. Even though I would like to think this way, I believe once I fail, other avenues begin to open their doors of opportunity. I believed that is the way the world has always been. Now it is up to you whether you would like to make God responsible for what happens in our life or not.
God never said in the holy Qur’an that He is the one who opens another door when the first one closes. The answer to “everything happens for a reason” is “not necessarily”. It depends on how we interpret the events around us. Otherwise things happen for good or bad. Everything is relative in this world. Based on a story among the Taoists, a farmer lost his only horse he had. To next door neighbor this was very bad. The farmer himself didn’t see it that way. After a few days, the lost horse came back with many more horses. According to the same neighbor, this was good. The farmer still didn’t see it that way. We interpret what is good and bad. As long as I’m focused on the right path and the right thing, it doesn’t matter what is good or bad. I ask Allah to keep me on the right path. Let me have enough power to know things with discernment. Let me know the difference between good and bad, and right and wrong though I may not know what they really are. Let me have good thoughts, good speech, and good actions. My horizontal knowledge of good and bad may fail. But help me ascend from weak knowledge to the knowledge of the One. Lift me up from this relative world to your absoluteness my Lord. This is a very powerful chapter in the Qur’an. Let me center myself with five times prayers to see the reality of Samad. Are you referring to yourself or Allah? These different names and attributes are for us who live in the world of multiplicity. Otherwise there is One and only One.
Trinity is the manifestation of the One or the one essence for the majority of Christians. In reality the One is manifested in numerous phenomena. When the sun light enters a prism, we see several different colors on our walls. The mystery of one and many continues to exist. It has been with us for thousands of years since Thales, the first pre-Socratic philosopher or perhaps long before him. We ought to concentrate on the One that is Samad. We repeat, it is not a numerical one. Nothing can be added to and subtracted from it. It never gives birth and it was never born. It never adds, and he never was added. I use my imagination to conceive, but I can’t form a picture of this Reality, let alone the personal God. I’m a knower and I desire to have knowledge of this Reality that is beyond any duality. “Say, Allah is One or the One” is what we repeat every day and many times in the Islamic world and also other places and countries around the globe. We want to tune in with this Reality. The helicopter pilot is shouting at the drowning man: hold on tight to the rope. If he can’t, then there is not much the pilot can do to save him. The sea is rough and there is nothing I can hold on to except the rope. This is the only chance he has to move up to safety. I’m the knower but I can’t say He is the known. He can’t be known to Itself, because he is beyond duality. Once I know him, He is then known through me. By this time there is no knower and the known. This happens through the act of knowledge. I was a hidden treasure and wanted to be known. Therefore, I created the world and man in it. I desired to be known by man, not by Myself. Once I’m known, then there is no ‘I and thou’. So, saying, the knower and the known become one through the act of knowledge can’t help me here. By knowing that Reality, I become one with it, which means finally there is only One. It is important for that Reality to be known by man, not man qua man. There is something in man that is already with the Ultimate Reality. The ray of the sun or the Intellect or Atman is already one with that Reality. There is no separation between man and that Reality. The ray of the sun and the sun are one already. Man, as man is the obstacle here. True Self is uncreated. Oh, Lord, remove this inness from between us. (al-Hallaj). My true Self is ‘I’ in me. This ‘I’ is not my ordinary self. We’re its possibilities without which it is not perfect. The whole universe of being is nothing but the sunlight cast away. This universe is also in the realm of many carrying the rays of the sun with it. The sun can exist without its rays, but it is not perfect. It wants to be known by its possibilities. It itself is not a possibility. This Reality is absolute and we’re relative. We, as possibilities, and are knower’s. Being absolutely perfect, it must have its possibilities. I, as a contingent being, want to know the absolute. Once I know this Reality, I’m free from the bondage of the world of possibilities. As soon as I know this Reality, this Reality is known by me, not by itself. I, not as me, will know the truth like the ray of the sun and the sun become one through the act of the light or better, there was no time they were not together. Let us not forget that what we’re doing here is a rational approach to the truth of the Ultimate reality, not an experiential one. We have read hundreds of pages about the perfume of the reality of being or the Ultimate reality and yet we have not been able to smell the scent of It, come with experience.
They say with God everything is possible. The Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky (1821-81) said in 19th century, without God anything is possible. What is the difference between the two? When God says in the holy Qur’an, “kunfo yakoun”, this means “Be and it is”. The Ultimate Reality’s first manifestation is ‘Being’. This is where possibilities come to existence. With the Ultimate Reality, possibilities come forward. However, if God, Ultimate Reality, Absolute are removed, there can’t be possibilities, because relative and absolute go together. From our point of view, there can’t be relative without absolute. So how can Dostoyevsky make such a statement? Well, though he was philosophically wrong, he was morally right. Thus, without God nothing is possible. The holy Qur’an conveys the same message, namely, with the Ultimate Reality all things are possible. If I were to remove the absolute, the relative wouldn’t exist. This is the way our minds work. This is the logic of the mind. I would want to be lifted up from this cranberry lake of multiplicity to the realm of Oneness. Allah is the One. It is that very absolute. It is the Ultimate Reality. We suffer because we’re very much attached to the world of multiplicity. This world is the manifestation of change and becoming. This is the realm of time and space. We can’t reach the Truth by our dreams because we don’t have enough capacity to receive divine messages. Even if we had, we’re like Joseph in the Old Testament who interpreted dreams, because he was a saintly person and a gifted individual. Can prayers help us to find a way to the Ultimate Reality? Time is of the essence here. We’re getting old, which is an inevitable fact, whether we like it or not. We have no choice in this matter. How about after life? Would death give us a clue as to what this mystery of being is all about? I’m afraid dying will not do it. Otherwise suicide would be a good option. I believe, if there is any Reality to be known, it must be here and now. Either I hit it, or I miss it. I have to aim for the center. I’m on the periphery of this cyclical reality. This world is imperfect. We can never make it perfect. However, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best to make it better, though we know it is not perfect. You see, there is only one perfection and that is the Ultimate Reality. Just because this is the way it is, it doesn’t mean this is the way it ought to be. Perhaps there was a time when things were the way they ought to be and still is in nature as long as it has not been destroyed by natural disasters or human beings. But even when things are the way they ought to be, they’re still not perfect. When one of a scorpion’s off springs leaves the safety of her back and falls in front of her, she tends to be ready to eat it, unless the little one quickly gets back and stays on mother’s back. This is how she or he survives.
We get so upset when things do not happen the way we believe they should be. Of course, we’re looking at nature from our own perspectives. We think it is not fair for the mother to eat her own offspring. But ‘is’ and ‘ought’ are in harmony in nature. Things in nature happen the way they ought. This is called balance of nature. And when we interfere with it, we create a disaster.
There’s a difference between what is out there in nature and the way we perceive it. There’s no universal natural law to guarantee that that nature should act the way we want it to act. There are times, of course when things go the way we want them to go and there are times that this isn’t the case. Then why get disappointed when the world is not dancing the way we want.
We’re relatively always in pain compared to when we were young. However, even youngsters are in pain and suffering in their own ways. Babies cry at the moment of arrival into this world, outside of their mother’s wombs. Of course, I understand that this is not cry but gasping for oxygen. However, symbolically they scream while coming into this world, as if they’re reluctant to enter the realm they don’t belong to. Of course, it hurts to go through the transition from one home to another. They now have to get used to breathing the air. But look at it from another point of view, suffering stars then and continues till we take our last breath. The mother’s womb is like the paradise we lived before and birth resembles our departure from it. Why come and why leave? Why be to suffer? “That is the way it is” is not an answer. This is a cop out, if you don’t mind. This is not the way it should be. Unfortunately, we don’t live in paradise. What is our moral responsibility in this world? Should we speed up Chris’s second coming by just do nothing and let the world be destroyed or do something about it and thus postpone his coming? How are we supposed to solve this problem? We sure have a dilemma on our hands. Islam maintains that even if there’s breaking news that the end of time is bear and you have a plant in your hand, don’t hesitate, and just plant it. (Prophet). Don’t give up hope as the world seems to be getting worse day by day. We need to continue swimming to the opposite of the flow of the river of time. In this world we’re constantly subject to injustice and unfairness. We’re falsely accused of things we have never committed. We’re forced to carry guilt feelings on a regular basis. We have hard time forgiving ourselves, so we can move on with our lives. Consequently, we would have hard time to forgive others. We’re constantly dragged to the past and the future. We’re longing for stillness of this pendulum, which moves to the right and left. Did grand pa know about this clock? But he knew when the clock stopped. This was when he left this world. He never knew from where he came from and to where he was heading. However, he occasionally asked what this world is all about. Who knows what? I know it exists. Are you sure this is not another dream? Are we sure we’re not in other’s dreams? Let us be realists here and admit the fact that no one knows the mystery of being and why we’re here. There’re many stories but which one is the true one? The person who is focused on the One or the Ultimate Reality, doesn’t worry about what people think about him or her. People’s opinions of you shouldn’t make you be what they think you’re. The opinions of the many must encourage you to focus on the One. With the One comes silence.
Noise pollution is one of our biggest problems in the modern world. Noise is a distraction when we’re trying to concentrate on the most important matter in our lives, which is the Ultimate Reality. Noise represents many and silence opens the door to the One. The word ‘Mendacity’ taken from Tennessee William’s “cat on a hot tin roof” has become the hallmark of the moral chaos we live in. Big daddy says to his son: “I smell mendacity here”. Don’t we smell it all around us? This world has become a place of cheating, lying, insincerity. Some people sell themselves for money no matter what. The lie and cheat to make a sell in the market place. The natural law frowns at such an act.
We’re longing for some transparency, which is hard to come by. Living with contradiction has become a life style. “Honesty, such a lonely word” is what Billy Joel sang many years ago. We’re here, in this world in which Diogenes was looking for a true human being while walking with a lantern in the day light more than two thousand years ago. He perhaps smelt the rats of mendacity. As we write, some politicians are mendacious in FBI investigation in Washington D.C. The world around us has become depleted with those who lie on a regular basis.
Socrates said: I know this much that I don’t know. He clearly told his followers that his wisdom was that he just didn’t know. Ignorance was really a blessing for him. There’re those who don’t know that they don’t know, though they think they know. When you don’t know, you’ll pursue to know the truth. When you think you know, you’ll not look and search to find out what the truth is. Do you know what justice is? Socrates would say, gentlemen let us find out what justice is. I don’t know what it is. Was he lying? Not really. By having a dialogue, he would try bringing out the truth or at least get closer to it. Then use silence in your pursuit to hear the truth.
In Islam we pray five times a day or consolidated, three times a day and then we’re silent. We work on ourselves first and then try to fix the world. We come back and start training the black stallion of our egos. That is our greater holy war. We try to fight our battles in our minds before we would have to fight them outside of our minds. Our hearts and minds are focused on the reality of the Ultimate Reality. I see the trees and flowers and observe the silence of the deer in the woods. It seems as if we make more noise than they do. While we pass by them with our noisy cars and trucks, they’re standing nearby silent.
All four seasons have their own beauties. I’m in touch with the Oneness in all the trees in the meadow and see the presence of God in everything. The One, that is Samad, is manifested in the many. Grant me OH, Lord the knowledge through which I can see the reality as it is. I’m poor in spirit, so fill my bowl with your grace. I’m totally ignorant, enlighten me and guide me to know. I’ll try to purify myself to become transparent, though there’re temptations haunting me all the time. They say: squeaking wheels get the grease. We’re crying out loud and we would like to hear from you God. However, even if we don’t hear anything, we still continue and we’re patient. I hear the echo in the valley when I shout. But you’re not the mountains, which would return my calls, though you’re present in them. I don’t have to call you, because you’re already in me and you know what I’m about to say.
What is Islamic philosophy? One of the short chapters in the holy Qur’an is called, “The day break” or “al-Falaq”. It starts by God asking us to recite: (1) I seek refuge in the Lord of Daybreak (2) from the evil of what He has created, (3) from the evil of darkness when it enshrouds, (4) from the evil of those who blow upon knots, (5) and from the evil of the envier when he envies. (Trans, Nasr and Pick). As you can see, our first refuge is in the Lord of daybreak not to Buddha who was the enlightened one. Second refuge is from the evil of what He has created and not in the teaching of Buddha. The third refuge is from the evil of darkness when it enshrouds, not in the community of the monks. It sounds as if the Ultimate Reality is trying to tell us that it emerges from darkness and light us the whole world. Remember the sacred saying of the prophet, that is, He was a hidden treasure and wanted to be known. In daybreak, it rises like the sun from the darkness of the night. He is using a metaphor here.
In Shintoism, Amatrasu is the sun goddess. Being upset with her brother, she hid in a cave. And upon people’s request, she came out light the whole world. The first Emperor of Japan descended from her, who was half divine and half man.
What is night but the absence of the light using St. Augustine’s way of explaining what evil is? The chapter is entitled, “Daybreak”. Right now, it is 4:29 a.m. The daybreak is around 6:30 a.m. Of course, we know that the sun is stationary, thanks to the polish astronomer, Nicklaus Copernicus (1473-1543). However, this is a common-sense point of view. The sun rises, and the darkness disappears. We understand the events around us by their opposites. For example, without pain, pleasure has no meaning. Copernicus’s discovery though put the earth on the periphery; it still has some mystical implication. The sun is the center representing the Ultimate Reality, while the earth is circumambulating like the Muslim pilgrims on the ritual pilgrimage, walk around the Ka’bah or the house of God, in a counter clockwise way. Daybreak is teaching me something about what we ought to do. We should turn around, namely, move and change ourselves while we’re circumambulating. The sun here is symbolically the Ultimate Reality. While worshipping, we must also renew our views of that Reality. We should always remember that we need not make our own gods and worship them. While we’re turning around the sun, we ought to turn around ourselves. We shouldn’t take the real for what is not real. “Those who take the non-real for the real and the real for the non-real and thus fall victims to erroneous notions, never reach the essence of reality. (Buddha, DhammaPada, the twin verses) On the one hand, I focus on the Ultimate Reality. On the other hand, I keep on refining and purifying my mind, which helps me not mistake the unreal for real. I’m very much reminded of when the great chefs demonstrate their arts of cooking on T.V. There’s a compromise here, in that, I can see and hear but I can’t taste, touch, and smell the cooked foods. Nothing is like the real thing, namely, there’s a great difference between watching and being in the kitchen to observe and finally eat the prepared dish. The same thing is true about watching movies. We know they are not real and yet we want them to be by filling the gaps. Although I’m watching the sun on the mountains in the movie theater, I don’t experience the sun when it is shining all over me.
I take refuge Lord, from the evil of what you have created. St. Augustine said, evil is nothing but the absence of good. I have to struggle and suffer in battling this absence or vacuum. This absence is the darkness before the daybreak. God help me out of your grace and light, so I can survive the evil. I take refuge from the evil of darkness when it is intense. I take refuge from those who blow upon knots. When Moses’ brother Aaron dropped his staff in front of the Pharaoh, it turned into a serpent. The Pharaoh ordered his magicians to do the same thing with their rods. Their staffs also transformed into snakes. The real swallowed the sorcerers’ snakes, which were unreal. The sun appears on the horizon and the darkness disappears. God here is telling us not to fall for appearances. We ought to develop our sense of discernment to be able to tell the difference between right and wrong, day and night, and real and unreal. I take refuge from the evil of the envier when he envies. Perhaps there’s no causal connection between what a jealous person does and the effect of his or her jealousy. God can reverse what an envier does to his or her victim. Things just don’t happen. There’s a vertical cause involved, which is none but the Ultimate Reality. For a fish to go from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, it must happen in the sea, unless it is hanging from the mouth of a hawk traveling the same distance. The evil can become the cause of good, if God wills it. My prayer is that, God turn my enemies into causes of good, if it is in your will. This means that final cause is God himself. Horizontal causality matters but it can’t operate by itself. The Scottish thinker, David Hume held that we can never have a direct perception of causality. Of course, he removed the presence of God from the equation. Whether he was influenced by the Muslim philosopher, Al-Ghazali (1058-1111), we may never know. He anticipated Hume when he argued that there was no connection between cause and effect. He believed God, the vertical cause, interferes between the two. The presence of God mattered a lot to him. This is what is missing in Hume’s philosophy.
Al- Nas or (Mankind) is the next chapter. Say, “I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind, the King of mankind, the God of mankind, from the evil of stealthy or sneaking whisperer, who whispers into the breasts or hearts of mankind, from jinn and mankind.” (Nasr and Pick) This Reality has dominion over the universal man or mankind. This is not like the relation between master and slave. This is like Plato’s Form of Good, which is like the sun shining over other Forms. Mankind here could be the collectivity of individual human beings. This is like the forest or Plato’s Forms. But the individual numbers of the trees are focused on. The late actress, Marilyn Monroe once said: “imperfection is beauty”. For Plato beauty is a perfect and transcendent Form. Imperfect beauty only participates in the Form of beauty. Marilyn was not a goddess, or the Form of beauty and she never claimed to be one. With imperfect beauty Marilyn and others only participate in the Form of beauty. When God says: “Allah is beautiful and loves beauty” this is like saying that He is just and loves justice. Allah is good and loves goodness. Remember, the Ultimate Reality is talking about Allah’s characteristics and attributes. We don’t hear God say, I’m generous and love generosity. My focus is on the Lord, the King, and the God of mankind as a Form and as we who’re in this world. These names refer to the Ultimate Reality. The most perfect Reality is Allah. Names shouldn’t become hindrance to block our ways to reach the Ultimate. Man is the issue here. I take refuge in the sun that is shining on the Form of humanity as well as the people in general. Here we’re also speaking of the individuals or persons. Here we’re appealing to the wholeness of the forest. Form, to Plato, is the manifestation of the whole and not the parts, the universal and not particulars. I appeal to you from the evil of the stealthy whisperer or Stan or the enemy or the Devil. People, by voting for Satan, they become its deputies. This reality called Satan whispers into the hearts or breasts of imperfect human beings. Help us Lord to stay firm in becoming one with the archetype of human beings. Man is one, but men are many. Al- Insan al-kammel or the perfect Man or primordial Man refers to the reality I ought to have as my model. Allah’s attributes are these Platonic Forms. 99 names of God are all attributes of this Reality.
Job was very close, but he wasn’t perfect. In other words, he had not yet embodied all Forms. By complaining, he proved he had not accomplished 100% selflessness. Allah is the one and only Reality to worship. I appeal to you from the distractions and evils of this world of many. I take refuge from jinn and mankind. Angels like jinns being supernatural beings can take the shape of people around us. Jinn can be interpreted as demon. But others might interpret it as a reality that can take the form good or bad. Whatever jinns may be, they’re among us. I take refuge from the evil of the jinn and mankind.
In the chapter called, “the Disbelievers” or al-Kafirun, we read, say, “O disbelievers! I worship not that which you worship; nor am I a worshiper of what you worship; nor are you worshippers of what I worship, unto you your religion and unto me my religion.” The late Dr. Huston Smith’s drawing in his introduction to Frithjof Schuon’s book, ‘The Transcendent Unity of Religions’ can be of great help to us here. On the exoteric level, which is at the bottom of the pyramid, Religions are all separated from one another. This is where the pyramid meets the ground. By drawing one horizontal line through them, we also separate this level from the upper level, which is named esoteric. This is the level, which converges at the apex or the zenith or the Ultimate point. The exoteric is the realm of many, changes, becoming, motion, and impermanence. This is where Religions could be at odds and occasionally war with each other. This is the level in which we might find oppositions, not only among Religions but even within the same faith. Nonetheless, as they converge and come together, we can see how their essence is one, though they may be different in forms. The prophet is facing those believers, who are so attached to their Religions, for the preservation of which, they’re ready to do anything, even to disagree and if necessary, go to war with him. How can you go to war with the prophet, who is the representative of the Truth? Perhaps Allah knows these disbelievers are the creators of their own Religions and gods. It is very difficult for them to accept the new faith. To keep them in perspective, the prophet needs to separate himself from them, so he can see them better. Their idols resemble them. Things and objects are thoughts coagulated. Beliefs are first conceived and shaped in the mind and then they’re manifested outside of the mind. You can never have an idol of the Ultimate Reality or Allah because it is independent of our minds. You can keep your Religion.
Socrates once said: “Religion is truth possessed. But philosophy is truth pursued.” Own your Religions and gods, as if you can possess anything. Don’t forget, however, that in the final analysis, we don’t even own our bodies, bones, flesh and blood. We own nothing. We’re temporary owners of the things in the world. If the prophet says, unto me my religion, it is because he is the messenger of God, one and only Reality that exists.
I can also say that the Ultimate Reality is even beyond being and non-being, rest and motion and finally it is way above any duality. Allah is One or the One and it is Samad. We still don’t know what the Ultimate reality is, namely, we don’t know Its essence.
You have over interpreted and misinterpreted everything you know about your Religions. You have created your own gods and goddesses to worship. You’re in deed worshipping your own selves. You think you’re always right and everybody else is wrong. Unfortunately, you think you know everything, but you don’t. You’re not open for criticisms. You have made idols out of your scriptures, which you kiss and worship. You never take responsibility for your actions. You don’t suspect for a moment that what you possess, as your Religions, are like swamps, which are homes to thousands of insects and mosquitoes. Their waters are stagnant. There’re also rivers, which due to pollutions can’t help a thirsty human being. Xenophobia is a popular item in your stores. You’re faithful but to Religions that are your making. These Religions teach nothing but hatred, racism, bigotry, and intolerance. You are of the opinions that your Religions and yours alone are absolute. This means we’re dealing with many absolutes, which is logically absurd. The prophet is here to teach you to consolidate your gods and goddesses along with the idols you worship and then transcend the many to reach for the One Realty, which is Allah. Ascend towards the One in order to get rid of the many.
The kings, emperors, rulers, and presidents may be at fault in a lot of what they do. Nevertheless, we ought to look at ourselves and ask: Are we the ones we claim we’re? There’s no shortage of crooks in the world we live. However, humility demands of us to wonder if we’re perfectly right in what we do on our daily affairs? His message is new and pure. It is unlike Hudson River. I’m bringing you pure and uncontaminated water from the source before man’s hand destroys its virginity. Our nation began 240 years ago but our spring water, ‘Poland Spring’ was established in 1845. Their water bottles entered the market in the first half of the 19th century. Perhaps some of our civil war soldiers had a chance to enjoy the uncontaminated water during the battle or before they passed on. We rushed to pollute our air and rivers as early as the name ‘progress’ became a popular word in our dictionaries. Unfortunately, this was not ‘Pilgrim’s progresses’. As a great mind once said: The pollution without is an indication of the pollution within. (Nasr) I, the prophet have seen the results of your Religions you have been following. I keep my Religion and I don’t worship what you worship.
The chapter, “The Declining Day” we read 1. By the declining day. 2. Truly mankind is in a state of loss, 3. Save those who believe, perform righteous deeds, exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to patience.” Here we’re told that human beings have gone astray and are lost in the maze of life of this world. You don’t live authentically. You’re only alive and don’t exist the way you ought to except those who believe and do good works. We should try our best to encourage each other to pursue the truth. We must teach them patience. This last word is repeated so many times in the holy Qur’an. When I asked one of my students what patience is? I was answered: That which goes against the onslaught of time. Before an Indonesian 145 or 146 years old man died in 2017, was asked about the secret to his longevity, he simply said: Patience. Patience or al-sabr in Arabic has secret of its own. We live in a world where the word ‘patience’ has lost its meaning except places in which this term is still used in daily life. Job was known for his patience in the Islamic world. Be patient my friends. Sleep well and believe and have faith. When you’re sleep, you don’t feel the passage of time. You also don’t feel your pains. Defy the superiority of time. Time is not absolute. Patience challenges time. Be patient my brothers and sisters. Time can make you feel guilty. You should have done this long ago. If you don’t do anything about it now, you’ll regret it later on. Time is of the essence. Time is money. It is like wild fire and plague catching everybody. I should plan for the future, which hasn’t come and learn from my past experiences and my mistakes. Ironically Einstein himself, who didn’t consider time and space as absolute, spoke about the importance of time. He said: Learn from the past, live for today, and hope for tomorrow.
Santayana, the Spanish American philosopher, once said: Those who don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Why history became so important? It is somewhat safe to say that after Hegel, the Prussian philosopher, history and time became God. (Nasr).
Man is in the state of loss, according to the holy Qur’an. Man is losing time. Man is not at peace. We constantly worry. We’re being agitated as if we’re in a washing machine. We’re like the moving part of the grand pa’s clock acting like a pendulum. Aging keeps following us like our shadows. Given the weight of time and history on my back, I feel I’m driven to my destination before its time. Out with the old, and in with the new. Gone with the time, come with the novelty. As we know, dividing the Old Testament and the New Testament version of the Bible into Old and New is unacceptable by the Jewish scholars. This linear conception of time has helped us in our notion of horizontal progress, which is far from what the old tradition called ‘Pilgrim’s progress’, which was a vertical one. The reality of a circle seems to have been forgotten. Circle symbolizes eternity, which is in contrast to time. In the pre-renaissance era, we don’t seem to witness paintings or icons of Jesus and his followers with oval drawings halos behind their heads. As you can see there’s a contradiction here between the word ‘oval’ and ‘halo’. ‘Halo’ by definition refers to that which is circle. ‘Oval’ or egg-shaped paintings would symbolize perspectives, which in turn show us objects getting smaller as they are far away from us. A circle can turn into an oval very easily. If I were to hold a ring, metal or plastic, with two fingers of both of my hands, then once I tilt it, it automatically gives me an oval reality. Circularity doesn’t provide me with far away distance. Perspective in art shows me a relative distance and the world. Circle is the sign of eternity. I believe the reason those halos turned oval after Renaissance was the influence of the Greek Humanism on Christianity, which made it change and become worldlier and more realistic. Perhaps the Renaissance mushroom was a poisonous one after all.
In chapter named, “Rivalry or vying in worldly increase” we read: 1. Rivalry for increase distracts you 2. Till you visit the graves. As we know, Adam Smith (1723-90), the Scottish economist, laid the foundation of his economic theory on competition. He wrote his first book on ethics, following his colleague David Hume; he argued that our morality rests on sentiments, which are universally true. There seems to be a contradiction hidden in Smith’s project, because competition in fact erodes the universal sentiments he put his morality on. Lao-tzu once said: “When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.” (S. Mitchell, Trans). The holy Qur’an talks about the outcome of this behavior. It brings the prices dawn, but the baby of morality is thrown out with the bath water. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy competition. However, progress can be made through cooperation too. We can agree to disagree. We can cooperate in order to compete. This can only be done provided we believe and do good works and encourage each other to pursue the truth and patience. Vying in spiritual matters is suggested here, not in the worldly achievements. As we can see, Adam Smith’s project is obviously rejected considering what the holy Qur’an teaches. The engine of progress in history is not necessarily competition. Our morality is also not based on human being’s universal sentiments. Muslims around the world ought to first believe in the holy Qur’an and its messages and then follow the sayings of the prophet. However, this is not enough, because we need to see if these teachings can be applied in our daily lives.
Our ethics is based on the authority of the words of God as long as our interpretations and hermeneutics are true. We always have to do the right thing regardless as long as what we do correspond with the teachings of Islam. We should pursue the truth beyond the handed dawn interpretations. We ought not to dress or cloth the truth with falsehood, which is the message of the Qur’an itself. There’s no separation between the Holy Scripture and the universe. The verses of Qur’an are the threads where by the fabrics of the world is woven. The truth is in the Holy book as well as the universe. There’s a unity between the two. There’s Oneness among everything. I can infer my morality, however, from the natural law as well as the words of God. I test what I have learned as long as I’m transparent. With a pure mind and heart, I’m able to see how the sacred words reveal their reality to me.
In the chapter, called “The Fig” Allah speaks of the fig and the olive. The fig tree reminds us of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment while the olive tree of the whole Middle East and Christ. This is where the Abrahamic Religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, meet their Eastern partner Buddhism. God then goes on saying that He created man in the most beautiful stature and then He cast or reduced him to the lowest of the low. Man can reach where he can see nothing but God. This is where even angels can’t come close. However, he can also drop to the lowest level where he or she becomes lower than animal’s. However, we’re potentially above angels in Islam. When Luciano De Crescenzo once said: “We are each of us Angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another”. This is wonderful, except the fact that we’re not angels according to the holy Qur’an, because of the fact that we have the knowledge of the names. We know the nature of the reality of God’s creations. We know the Forms of perfections in Plato’s language. Angels were asked by God to bow before man because they didn’t know the names. They said in response to God’s question: we know only what you taught us. Marcus Aurelius asked her daughter a hypothetical question in the movie, ‘The gladiator’ “If only you had been a man, what a Caesar you would have made. You would have been strong? I wonder”. Then Lucilla, his daughter, answered her father by saying: “I would have been what you taught me to be.” Angels also answered God the same way when they were asked about the names. When I ask my computer whether God exist or not, it simply responds by saying: I’m sorry no answer can be provided for. I ask why? Because this modern technological machine is only able to give you what you have already put in it. It is unable to go beyond what you guys have taught it. “I would have been what you taught me to be”. (Lucilla). She admitted she would not have been otherwise. Father was a stoic thinker and a great Emperor. He was what Plato would have loved to show his students as a model of a philosopher king. Lucilla couldn’t be more than what her father taught her. Modern science can’t help us with our metaphysical questions regarding where we came from, what is this, and where we’re going, what is the nature of reality? Perhaps if Lucilla was more than what her father had taught her, she would have qualified to be the next Emperor, as Plato would have loved to hear. Angels provided if there’re angels, and animals are programmed to behave in certain ways. Man, or a human is taught differently. Lucilla’s answer should have been: I would have been what God intended for me to be, not what her father taught her to be. We’re all equal before the Ultimate Reality. In the holy Qur’an God doesn’t say He taught Adam. He just said Adam knows the names. In other words, it is in the nature and the makeup of Adam to know and transcend Angels and animals. Man’s task in fact is more difficult than any other beings in the Universe of being. He is not determined or preordained like others to act accordingly. Others don’t have the freedom that Man has to see God face to face. We embrace one anther exactly because we’re made differently. We’re given the power of discernment to tell the difference between right and wrong. We didn’t have to eat the fruit to know what we were doing was wrong. Eve would have been like Lucilla, but she ate the fruit along with Adam. Lucilla would obey the command of her father like Abraham in the Bible. Lucilla could have convinced her father that now that her brother is not a moral person, she should qualify to be the next Emperor. At least Marcus admitted that in the case of his son, he was also a failure. May be the death of her father in the hand of her brother woke her up to what had gone on in her conversation between her and her father. Eve in the Bible basically defied the order of the Lord. Just because God says it is wrong to eat from the fruit of that tree, it doesn’t make it right. Once God was asked why, He simply fell in to what Kant called it the hypothetical imperative, or ‘if’ ‘then’ affair, that is, if you did, you would die. It just didn’t happen. But they were punished. Eve proved that God’s commandments don’t make things right or wrong, which is very much in harmony with what Socrates believed. In reality, Commodus, Lucilla’s brother was the one who challenged his father as to whether he was fair the way he had treated him in the past and now that he knew he was not going to be the next Emperor. Just because you were good in battle doesn’t mean you qualify to run Roman Empire. Somehow this movie tells us that being stoic didn’t necessarily mean you were good judge of character. When St. Paul visited the stoics and the Epicureans he took an issue with them concerning their faith and what they believed. I would have been what you taught me. Otherwise, it is possible that I wouldn’t have been just. I would be what you want me to be. Justice is one Plato’s Form or Form of perfection. We have already familiar with it in our past life. All a good teacher can do is bring out what is already in us. Was Marcus Aurelius a Platonist? Not really. He taught but didn’t bring the baby of the knowledge of justice out of the mother’s womb. He taught what he thought was fair and just. Just because Maximus won the war, he admires him to the extent that he felt he qualified to become Rome’s next Emperor. Of course, he had other good qualities. Lucilla should have answered her father that she would have been just because she believed in Plato’s Form of justice and she would have participated in it. She wouldn’t have been perfect, but she would have been fair by following the paradigm and model of virtue. I don’t have to be taught by father unless you tried to bring the best in me. Why your teachings brought the worst in Commodus, may be because not everybody is a qualified teacher? We could have the best degrees from top universities and yet we might not be able to teach. Teaching is an art form, but not everyone is an artist. Perhaps Marcus wasn’t the best judge of characters when it came to his children. Socrates knew about this very well. If you’re not an excellent midwife, the baby’s life could be in jeopardy. Apparently, Socrates’ mother was a good midwife and delivered healthy babies with no complications. Marcus confessed that he had failed in upbringing of Commodus. It is possible that even Maximus, the greatest general Rome had ever seen, was not also was not qualified to become Rome’s next Emperor. It must you Maximus, because you have shown your valor many times over during my life time, Marcus said. May be Maximus was qualified to be the next Emperor. However, he had a lot to learn from Proximo, the freed former gladiator and now a trainer. He told Maximus that he didn’t get his freedom because he had killed more men. He was freed because he had won the mob. Win the hearts of people Maximus, Proximo said. Having done that, Maximus became the person who had earned the title of the philosopher king of Plato. Lucilla had become one of the angels who showed her humility by saying that, I know what you taught me Lord. You programmed us to be what we’re, so we only know what you taught us, nothing more and nothing less. Lucilla saw the travesty of justice in the life of Maximus. Nonetheless, the natural law was on the side of Maximus, who had good intention and action but ended up with disaster. But Commodus, Marcus’ son wanted to become the next Emperor at any price. For him the goal justified the means. Natural law wouldn’t accept his behavior, because his action was wrong to begin with even if what he did led to a great benefit for him. The very fact that one child is like Lucilla and one like Commodus shows that Plato was right, because he argued, unlike John Locke, that we don’t come into this world as a blank tablet. Being a believer in reincarnation, he knew Commodus was harvesting what he had planted in his past life. Lucilla must have been a great person in her past life that now he is highly admired by her father. On the other hand, when Lucilla responded by saying that, “I would have been what you taught me to be” she points out the fact that she would have been how her father would have educated and brought her up. Therefore, we must have a bit of both in use. In the Qur’an we’re told we’re potentially can turn to good and bad. We’re made such that we can switch to the right and left. Angels are fixed from the time they were created. Lucilla was not fixed. She indicated that it depends on the way you brought us up, which is not true. Rains falls on a good soil and bad one. We give equal education to both kids. One turns out to be a good son and the other one to a bad son expressed in the movie, ‘Good son’, except the fact that the bad son is her real son and the good one is her son’s friend. We come into this world with certain characteristics. What we do with them is based on our moral responsibilities. Lucilla acted as if it was all about upbringing, which is not Platonic at all. According to Aristotle, we come to this world with potentials to either be good or bad. Aristotle didn’t believe in innate ideas like Plato. He didn’t have faith in reincarnation. We have the freedom to change ourselves regardless of what we bring into this world. The innate characteristics are what they are what we do to direct them to what is right is our responsibilities. Commodus, on the other hand is complaining that he never received a loving huge from his father. May be this was the reason Maximus, who was a farmer, was so different from both of them. Lucilla’s nature was not fixed like the angels in the Qur’an. They were not free like us. Lucilla was free unlike Maximus who became a slave and later a gladiator. The argument between the two in the prison is an indication of this fact. Lucilla you’re free while I’m in chain. Animals’ nature is also fixed except a temporary training for the shows. God gives us this much freedom to love Him or hate Him. We’re not determined to love, which is an absurd proposition. Although we’re in this world we’re not of this world. (The author of ‘Axial age’)
Lucilla didn’t challenge her father while she should have. Neither did Job in his earlier days before the disaster. Job took an issue with God only after he became subject to the predicament that he was in.
In the holy Qur’an God tells us of the principal of cause and effect in our everyday conducts. If you do well, you’ll be rewarded and if you do badly, you’ll be punished for it. Commodus received his punishment at the end and others were rewarded. As a leader if you lie and cheat your subject, you’re bound to be removed from the office, which belongs to the people in a democracy. Some 2500 years ago Confucius taught that the divine right of a king ought to be suspended, if he happens to be a crook. Nevertheless, if you believe and perform righteous deeds, then you shall be rewarded. But isn’t this what Job had been doing all his life and later received nothing except hardship in return? Was it because he had built a wall of virtues between himself and God? Was it because he was so attached to the worldly possessions? Or it was what he had deep within him, which was one word, namely, ‘expectation. If I have followed God’s teachings to do the right thing, I have not done this for the Ultimate Reality. I look for guidance, because I’m lost in this maze of being. Well, okay, I’m not at fault to have been in this world. I didn’t ask for it. I’m now in this imperfect and impermanent universe, which is one of God’s possibilities. There’re infinite possibilities, which would make the Ultimate Reality perfect. I’m created of the best stature and then I’m reduced to the lowest of the low. Why? If I’m His contingency and possibility, then why am I to be punished? If I believe and do good works, then I’ll be rewarded. Why do I have to do business with God? If being good, why should I expect a reward from Him? Did Job expect a reward? Then why was he punished for it? Besides, what is good? Who decides what is good or bad anyway? In this world of relativity, even morality seems to be a relative term? When the branches of my old oak tree fell on my roof, due to the heavy and watery snow, my neighbor called me and told me that was not good. I should have told him: what is good, and what is bad? We hear, things happen for reasons, really? Or perhaps it was God’s punishment for bad things I had done in the past. Or maybe it was my bad karma I had committed in my past life or this life. My basement was flooded twice, and I lost about 100 books in the process. Was it because I had committed sin there? Or it might be the case that things just happen. I always think there must be a cause for anything that occurs. Perhaps there’re no causes. I have to face it; I’m living in an imperfect and relative existence, which is impermanent. We read: why do you think Religion is a lie? Is not God the most just of judges? He is a supreme judge, in other words. Not even Supreme Court judges that by mistake we call them justices can match the power of His judgment. Justice is one of Plato’s Form of perfection. Those judges ought not to be called justices. Looking back at the Fred Korematsu’s case, the Japanese American in1944, and the Supreme Court, we should realize that Supreme Court’s decisions are not necessarily perfect. Since the government misinformed the Supreme court, Korematsu’s case was rejected till some discovered documents later on vindicated him. We ought to know more about this case, if we think our Supreme Court judges are infallible. No, they’re not and they have not embodied the Platonic Forms. Being called Justices, therefore, is wrong. A judge must not be called justice any way. Ideally, judges participate in the Form of justice but they’re not perfect.
The word ‘judgment’ is used here for God to show that He knows what He did in case of Job. Job didn’t deny the reality of Religion. Nonetheless, he seems to have been questioning the righteousness of the act of God. What did I do wrong to deserve such a punishment? Little did he know the very question he was asking was the reason why he was being punished? The question itself was the indication that he was unhappy. Job didn’t realize things do not just happen automatically. We don’t decide whether we should be reward or not. We obeyed the laws of God not to get something in return. I must not even reward myself. How do I know if I deserve a trophy for what I have done? I do what I think is right, even though I’m not 100% sure If what I did was good. I’m unable to make a decision as to whether what I did was good or even bad. The wisest of all judges, who is none but God, can see the reality of my behavior, not me. I simply can’t judge myself and the world around me like the absolute Judge. It is logically and mathematically absurd to claim that my judgment is unbiased and without prejudice. When Job opened his mouth and showed dissatisfaction, he should have known that he failed the test of expectation. The Ultimate Reality doesn’t owe me anything. Don’t I, however, have the right to question why bad things are happening to me? There’s no doubt you have the right to do so. But because you have the right, it doesn’t mean you should. The reason being, we don’t know the intricacies of things involved in this universe. So, denying the reality of Religion is the sign of ignorance. Rejecting the absolute is in itself contradictory. In fact, I’m rejecting my very existence by so doing. Refuting the absolute, is indeed affirming this Reality. How can you reject and not reject at the same time and in the same relationship? When I believe and do the right thing, I’m not expecting anything in return from any source. If I get rewarded, I have no problem with that. I’m not turning away the offer. But if my bowl is empty that is alright too. Lao Tzu once said the journey itself is a reward. But I don’t act well with the hope of reward. The fact that I’m given the possibility of being good is a reward in and of itself. I don’t expect to be in Heaven for my good deeds. Perhaps “By Mount Sinai” Allah means that the Truth manifested itself to Moses at the pick, zenith, and apex of this tetrahedron. I’m not interested in Heaven or hell as long as I’m closer to the top of Mount Sinai. My real promised land is my heart and True Self. This world is the realm of flowers and thorns and weeds. When you admire the beauty of the flowers, remember you couldn’t do that without the presence of the thorns. If you like flowers on your beloved’s hair, as one Persian poet once said, you should also accept thorns in her foot. When God says n Genesis that I created the world and it is good, it perhaps means even thorns are good in this relative existence. I accept your reward Lord. After all, who am I to turn it down? Nevertheless, even if I don’t get any reward, the very event itself is enough for me because I was given the opportunity to do well. At the end, I don’t think about any expectation.
Job is forgiven even when he did act out of ignorance. In the movie ‘Cast away’, a FedEx employee ended up in an island after his plane crashed in the ocean. He was the only one who somehow survived and was back in Memphis. The girl he had loved so dearly once was married. He was presumed dead after being absent for four years. He practically lost everything. Nevertheless, he said at the end: “I’m so sad that I don’t have Kelly. I know what I have to do now. I gotta [I have got to] keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring? I’m very much reminded of the way the movie, ‘Gone with the wind’ ended when Scarlet said: “After all tomorrow is another day”. Nothing is impossible. Believe not in the impossible, because this world is the realm of possibilities.
God is not in the abode of possibilities, though Its presence is felt everywhere. He is beyond the possibilities. On the one hand, it is transcendent and on the other hand, He is immanent. Transcendence of God can’t be compromised.
Up to the time of Immanuel Kant, the 18th century German philosopher, the categories of our mind were not subject to change. They were innate widows through which we experienced the world. However, by the time we got to Hegel, they changed. God entered the flow of time and history and somewhat lost Its transcendence. In reality, God became history, so time would become God. (H.S Nasr). This is only one perspective and not a final one on his philosophy. Spinoza (1632-77), the Dutch Jewish rationalist thinker was accused of pantheism or all is God. The transcendence of the Ultimate Reality disappears in this closed system. In recent years a young Iranian American Muslim scholar by the name of Reza Aslan also has shown a tendency towards this position, which is not accepted in Islam.
In the chapter ‘al-Sharh’, ‘Expansion’ or ‘Solace’ we read: “Did we not expand for thee thy breast?” (Nasr), “Have we not caused thy bosom to dilate?” (Pick), and lift from thee thy burden that weighed heavily upon thy back? And did We not elevate thy renown or fame? For truly with hardship comes ease! Truly with hardship comes ease! So, when thou art relieved, exert thyself; and let thy desire be for thy Lord.” When we breathe, our lungs expand. We can’t breathe under water. We hold our breath when we’re watching a scary movie. In general, we don’t breathe correctly. Breathing itself is an art. When we hold our breath, something happens to our health. We say what a relief, when we take a deep breath. This burden of hardship and roughness of life is lifted from our backs. A weight lifter is relieved once he drops the weight in Olympic. God made the prophet’s fame and reputation spread throughout the Arabia and even beyond. The vertical grace of God is there for you. However, after hardship, there’s ease. Life has its ups and downs. Life is like the surf, which has its picks and valleys. In this world, we go through day and night. This world is the realm of opposites and contradictions. Twice it is mentioned: “Truly with hardship comes ease”. Ease has no meaning without hardship. They define each other. You can’t navigate through this rough sea without the vertical grace of God, which is like a rope hanging from the sky. We need to hold on to it tight, so we’re lifted from drowning. Once we become free from the bondage of the overloaded life, then we ought to use this break to focus on the Ultimate Reality. We’re lifted from this choppy ocean to safety. We’re no longer cast away in an isolated island. We’re found by the rescue ship. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t be forgetful. We can’t take a break from remembering God at every moment. We’re distracted by the way this world operates. However, as they say, when one door closes, another one opens. Ease comes, but it will follow by hardship again. There’s no way out of this suffering except by the help of the grace of God. Don’t you ever retire? When you’re out of the woods, then concentrate and center yourself. Be in the moment, now, present. Don’t be crucified between the two thieves, namely, the past and the future, as someone by the name of Charles Fulton Oursler once said. He said: “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves- regret for the past and fear of the future”. If we keep staring at the sun, darkness can’t bother us. (Helen Keller). Axial age tells us, though we’re in this world, we’re not of this world. I’m carrying this heavy backpack and it is hurting me badly. God will help you drop it, so you can walk freely and without any burden.
In chapter, “The Morning Brightness or hours”, al-Duba we read: By the morning brightness, and by the night when still, the Lord has not forsaken thee; nor has He despised or hate thee. And the Hereafter shall be better for thee than this life. And surely thy Lord shall give unto thee, and thou shalt be content. Did He not find thee an orphan and shelter, find thee astray and guide, and find thee and enrich? So as for the orphan, scorn not. And as for one who requests, repel not. And as for the blessing of thy Lord, proclaim!
Jesus is said to have asked his Father or God the Father on the cross: “Why have you forsaken me?” This was a question, which was never answered, according to the New Testament account. The answer is here. God has not forsaken you, nor has he despised you. The lord has neither forsaken, nor hated you. It seems as if this could be an answer to Job. You’re part of me. How can I abandon you when I’m everywhere? You’re in the ocean of being. I, as the Ultimate Reality, am transcendent, on the one hand. And, on the other hand, I’m closer to you than your jugular vein. If you ignore the orphans and beggars, you have forsaken your Lord, because God is in the broken hearts. Ali, the cousin of the prophet, is said to have dropped his ring for a beggar while he was praying. Are not we all beggars carrying our bowls to be filled with the grace of God? One might interpret the questions of Job and Christ, perhaps even the prophet of Islam, as a sign of expectation. However, these sufferings don’t seem to be the results of their expectations because they simply asked God why they were in pain. God, nevertheless, might say that if you had not been expecting, you never would have asked such a question. So, expectation might be the cause of this loneliness, even though we might not even know it. Of course, we have the right to inquire why God has left us. Jesus in his humanity was very much like Job. The very fact of questioning indicates that they didn’t expect this from the Lord. This is based on the assumption that they didn’t deserve this. The question is: “How do they know they didn’t deserve this?” “The Lord has not forsaken thee” is the answer to the question: “Why have you forsaken me?” This axial age questions are not answered by God’s punishment. Perhaps, since we think too much of ourselves, we demand. We think we’re entitled to have answers to our questions. We suffer because we have been misinterpreting the Divine messages and signs.
Kant once said the limited pure reason asks questions that can’t answer. Prophets were also humans. In case of Jesus, if the dogma of the holy Trinity were correct, we’re dealing with the fact that being a member of this reality, he was God. However, this belief was established by the church fathers in 300 A.D. They decided what Christ’s followers were to believe. Even though the holy Qur’an tells us he was a spirit and a word from Him, it never agrees with the church fathers on the subject of Trinity. Jesus being fully man and fully God was also rejected by the holy book of Islam.
Right before Socrates drank the hemlock or the poison, he was asked whether he feared death. He answered by saying that I’m not afraid of what I don’t know. When he was asked what he thought of the next life, he thought for a moment and then answered by telling them that it is perhaps better than this world. As you notice, I’m not quoting this right out of Plato’s dialogue. In other words, this is not an exact quotation. Nevertheless, what I’m typing is based on what he told his followers. I see a similarity here between what Socrates said and what we read in this chapter. “And verily hereafter shall be better for you than this life.” God here is using a relative language because He sees the two worlds, which means this world, in which we live, is not as bad as we think it is. This doesn’t mean those who’re no longer with us are in Heaven. It perhaps means we’re in an imperfect, impermanent, relative, and changing realm. We need our five senses, which are plugged, to make sense out of what we experience in this world. We also need our rational capability to guide us in this world. We can’t make this comparison, as we noticed with Socrates. Socrates doesn’t see both world, namely, this world and the hereafter. Confucius completely by passed this question by asking another question: Do you know what this life is all about? Let us find out what this life is first. The only reality, namely, the Ultimate Reality, can come up with such a comparison because It encompasses the whole of reality.
Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher and mathematician, also argued that only God knows about the two worlds. When a loved one or a relative or even a friend passes on, we become sad and miss those who have left us willingly or unwillingly. We feel the vacuum they left behind. At the funeral, we cry and shed tears. However, it is hard for us to think perhaps they might be also crying but this time for us who’re still in this world and have to struggle and suffer or occasionally enjoy the passing moments of happiness, which are temporary and not everlasting. We long for permanence. We paint or take pictures or film to freeze time but to no avail.
We’re at the mercy of time, though it heals, it also crushes. It is a double edge sword. This is a space-time-based world. The universe and the world of being may be perfect from the point of the Ultimate Reality. This apparent chaos may be the manifestation of order. But from our point of view, it is not our place. We’re not comfortable in it. Life as beautiful it is, it is also where we’re in constant struggle and suffering. There is no permanent happiness here. We wish for eternity, but we end up with time. In Genesis we read that God created the world and it was good. However, God didn’t say it was the best. But the question is: “compared to or with what?” Had God created another reality which was bad? In the holy Qur’an we read that the next life is better than this, which could mean the metaphysical Reality is better than this. God uses the term ‘better’ here, but in reality, He is not comparing this world with another one in this cosmos. God is trying to tell us that the world beyond or the meta-physical realm is better than this physical world. The word ‘Metaphysics’ became a known name among philosophers to refer to the realm beyond this world. Those who collected Aristotle’s student’s notes decided to put his works on theology and philosophy after his works on physics. So, the term ‘Meta’ meant ‘after’ and later on ‘beyond’, which happens to be the label of a dog food can these days. The metaphysical world is not another universe. That world of beyond is beyond our imagination. The created world is good. We can also say that the world is being created and destroyed at every moment, which means it was never created in time. From the point of view of the Ultimate Reality this created universe is beyond good and bad. The God of the Genesis is a personal God, who speaks our language. However, ‘good’ doesn’t mean perfect. It is not the perfect world of Plato. This may be good compared with another world of which we have no idea or compared to the one God created and since He didn’t like it, He created another one. Here this personal God of the Bible is acting like a sculptor or a painter, who makes things till He finds it good. Perhaps only God knew about it. But what we read in the Qur’an seems to be directing our attention more to the metaphysical abode. This may be good from the point of the creator. But the world beyond is the one, which is way above of any duality. It is beyond perfect and imperfect. It is beyond good and bad. It is beyond the scope of rest and motion. It can’t even be. It is beyond being and non-being. Things are because of that Reality.
In chapter ‘The Night’ or al-Layl, verse (13) He says: … “and truly unto Us belong the Hereafter and this world.” The Ultimate Reality encompasses the two realities.
In chapter, ‘The Sun’ or al-Shams, we read about the reality of the soul. In verse (7) God morphed or shaped the soul or a- Nafs. He then inspired it as to what makes it iniquitous or wicked or reverent. He inspired with the conscience of what is wrong for it and what is right for it. The one who prospers is the one who purifies it. The one who fails is the one who obscures it.
Buddha also said we ought to purify our mind. In ‘Dhammapada’, The Twin Verses-Canto, he says: If with an impure mind one speaks or acts, suffering follows him in the same way as the wheel follows the foot of the drawer (of the chariot). If with a pure mind one speaks or acts, happiness follows him like his shadow that never leaves him. There is a Persian saying, which has been part and parcel of this culture for a long time: ‘Good thinking’, good speech, and good behavior are the quintessential realities of life.
In this chapter God tells us that He fashioned the soul and engraved it regarding what is right and what is wrong. In other words, what is right and wrong are written in our souls. As we’re, our souls are like New York, Hudson River, contaminated and toxic. Our task as moral beings is to purify our souls. What stopped Joseph from getting involved with Faro’s wife was this very fact that his soul was pure. His soul was not like muddy water. He knew the difference between right and wrong. He knew how to discern between the two. He was ready for any temptation unlike Adam and Eve. He didn’t need to eat the fruit in order to know the difference between right and wrong like Adam and Eve, who were deceived by the Lucifer, who didn’t keep his promise on the tree. They just didn’t realize God had already equipped them with the power of discernment. Joseph knew what was right and wrong. Therefore, his speech and acts followed his good thinking. He prospered even though he went to jail. He would rather be in a prison than being in bondage to his lust. Prison became his protector. He didn’t obscure his soul. He didn’t stop the growth of his soul. He didn’t stunt it. He was successful, not a failure. He scarified his desire for a higher cause. He did without any expectation. He didn’t complain why he was dropped into a well in the desert. Neither did he show unhappiness and perturbation as to why he had to go to jail for what he hadn’t done. He did the right thing and still went to prison, even though he acted without any expectation for a reward from the Lord. He didn’t complain like Job. We still wonder why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. We’re puzzled by why God said in the previous Testament: Esau have I hated, and Jacob have I loved. The whole line of philosophical discussions followed to come to the conclusion that when it comes to the grace of God, we’re preordained or determined. All the way from St. Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and later Calvinism and finally ended up in our country, America 400 years ago. Did Esau ever complain about what had happened to him? There is no indication in the Bible he ever did. Did Joseph complain why he was dropped in the well? Just as he never complained then, he never complained later either.
We’re not here trying to condemn Job and while elevating the status of Joseph to the level of divinity. Nevertheless, we would like to know why Job was suffering. Perhaps the whole story was written to make us understand that we must not be attached to the goodness of our actions. Let us take this issue to a different level. What is considered good and what is considered bad? What I regard as good may not be interpreted as good or vice versa by another person. We live in this world and can’t get away from the fact that things are relative. Then “why bad things happen to good people or vice versa” should be even asked? The question itself is put in the wrong way to begin with. “What is right and wrong?” also would have no meaning. They’re all subject to relativity. However, according to Qur’an once we restore and purify our souls, we’ll then find out what is right and what is wrong. What God put in the soul, he turned it into a criterion whereby we can tell the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and was planted in our soul. The vertical reality of righteousness is my spine around which my ribs are coiled, like the snake in caduceus. The ribs symbolize the snakes, which they stand as the symbol of evil. The spine is that very tree. Our souls are potentially, using Aristotelian language, good and bad. Some argue that our nature is corrupt to begin with, like Plato’s older brother Glaucon. Yesterday I was clever and wanted to change the world. Today I’m wise enough to know I must change myself first. Rumi, the Persian poet. We’re neither bad nor good by nature. We’re combination of both right and wrong. We’re neither Like Plato who was an idealist, namely, we’re good by nature, nor like Glaucon, that is, we’re evil by nature. We can tilt towards either direction. You can either be like Scrooge all your life or change yourself and be like him after he woke up and smelt the reality as it was always within him.
This position held by the Qur’an reminds us a little of John Locke (1632-1704), the British philosopher. Being Aristotelian, he believed in potentiality and actuality. Perhaps this was one of the points of departure between Plato and Aristotle. For Plato we’re good by nature. Aristotle, on the other hand, argued that we have both elements in us. We’re potentially good and bad. We’re not sinful by nature. The Christian dogma of the original sin doesn’t exist in Islam. Both Judaism and Islam reject this idea that perhaps began with St. Augustine (354-430) in 400 A.D.
In chapter “The Land or City”, or al-Balad, verse (4) we read: truly we created man in travail. We verily have created man in affliction. This verse reminds us of Buddha’s assessment of our life as struggle and suffering in his 4 noble truths. This world is the abode of pain and agony. Although there’re moments of temporary happiness, we go through mental and psychological suffering as well as physical ones. This is not Heaven. We go through hardship on a regular basis. This is what it is. This is not what it should be. The Qur’an teaches that by having faith in the Ultimate Reality, we can go on the journey of life with a lot less pain till we leave this life.
In chapter, “The Most High” or al-A’la we read in verse (7) that “… He knows that which is open and that which is hidden.” He knows the disclosed and that which still is hidden.” He says at one point not to dress or cloth the truth with falsehood. For God nothing is hidden. He knows the phenomenon and the noumenon, using Kant’s technical language. In (14) we read: “He indeed prospers who is purified, (15) remembers the Name of his Lord and prays. (16) Nay, but you prefer the life of this world, (17) while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. (18) Truly this is in the scriptures of old, (19) the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.” There were some Western Philosophers who denied there ever was a difference between noumenon and phenomenon, such as Friedrich Nietzsche. (1844-1900). However, the Qur’an tells us that in fact there is a difference between the two. For the Ultimate Reality nothing is hidden. As children we played ‘hide and seek’. In Hinduism God, as Lila, plays hide and seek with people. But He knows where we are hiding. We lie thousand times in our life time. Lying is hiding the truth from others or from us. First, we lie to ourselves and then we lie to others. We even lie while we’re under oath. Polygraph has been invented to catch people when they lie. Just as when the clouds hide the sun, we lie to cover the truth. However, God knows the hidden and the revealed. If you’re not transparent, you’ll be hiding yourself from yourself. When we’re not honest with ourselves, we’re dishonest with others. Lying to yourself means you’re using yourself. I become means to my end. God knows that which is concealed and that which is revealed. Let the phenomena reveal their secrets. The only way this is possible is when you purify yourself. When you’re not hiding yourself from yourself, the world of noumenon replaces the world of phenomenon. We need to focus on noumenology rather than phenomenology. With the power of the Intellect within us we can penetrate the phenomena to reach the noumenal realm. God has the necessary knowledge of the concealed and the exposed. God knows the secrets of the wombs, which carry thousands of eggs. He knew where prophet and his friend were hiding. He knew the secrets of the cave while their enemies didn’t know. But nonetheless, it is God who knows the appearance and what is behind it. He knows when I lie and conceal the truth. I cover the truth like I cover myself by clothing. Even though we ought to tell the truth regardless of the results and consequences, there’re times we can’t help but lie.
God operates in the realm of the absolute imperatives. However, we’re not absolute. Just because the divine laws are absolute, it doesn’t mean we’re qualified to follow them perfectly. When a group of people were about to stone Mary Magdalene for adultery, Jesus stopped them. They were following the Decalogue or the Ten commandments without realizing they were neither Moses, nor God. Besides, they were about to commit a murder. This was a contradiction. They were contradicting themselves. We’re not absolute. So, I’m afraid, Kant’s absolutism in ethics, is to put it mildly, absurd. We just can’t use either/or logic of science for ethics. Aristotle who was responsible for our formal logic never used it for ethics.
In chapter, “What Comes by Night” or al-Tariq, or “The Morning Star”, verse (4) we read: “Over every soul there is a guardian” or “No human soul but hath a guardian over it”. I’m already ready to get a chill as I read this verse. Nasr’s interpretation reads: “A guardian refers to the angel who is said to be tasked with recording the deeds of individual human beings or to the angels who protect human beings at all times….” I’m reminded of the movie, ‘The Final Cut’, (2004 film), starring Robert Williams, in which computer chips are implanted in the back of babies’ necks so they would record everything, all the way, from birth to death in their life. The difference here between this science fiction and what we read in the Qur’an is that in the former we’re dealing with future technology but in the latter, we’re told of the metaphysical reality. The soul also protects us from falling into the abyss of Hell. These angels have nothing to do with the cultures we were born into, be it the family or the society. Here the difference is between the horizontality of the cross and its verticality. The latter is about the reality of the soul and the former belongs to the computer chips. As you can see, there is a battle between the worldly aspect of life and its spiritual reality. There’s a difference here between the physical and the spiritual. Soul is not physical. It is possible that it started with being physical and then survived as spiritual. It began from the horizontal parts of the cross and then ascends to Heaven. This is like when a lotus flower roots in the mud and gradually moves up till it reaches the surface of the water and the open air. Christ says that he is that ladder, perhaps referring to Jacob’s ladder, upon which angels ascend and descend. Man doesn’t live by bread alone but by the words of God. Of course, these are not exact quotations. However, we’re trying to make a point here.
Do good works, theirs will be Gardens underneath which rivers flow. … When you have good actions or in Hinduism and Buddhism good Karma, you can reach a level in which you’re on the other side, namely, you’re in paradise. This Persian word originally means curtain. By having faith and being moral, one can get to this level. This is where we’re happy. These Gardens are theirs. This is the level of ‘Samadhi’ in meditation. A perfect Karma will turn one into a Bodhisattva or a deity. Avalokiteshvara, the most important Bodhisattva, would say, I’m a Bodhisattva, that is, I’m a being unto enlightenment, but I’m not there yet. In Mahayana Buddhism, I’m way above the world I lived before and now I’m looking down like gliding eagles to help others to get up there like myself. When I look down, I can see rivers. However, in Heaven where Bodhisattvas reside there’re no rivers as there’re on earth because rivers symbolize motion and this metaphysical realm is beyond movement and is a place of immutability. The world is like a river constantly changing. In this Paradise life is unchanging as compared with the river underneath. The river here symbolizes the change, becoming, impermanence, and motion. It is the realm of the relativity of practically everything. It is the world of imperfection from at least our points of view. From God’s point of view everything is perfect, even our universe. This Heaven is not Kant’s noumenal realm. This Heaven is more like Plato’s realm of the Forms, without which motion would have no meaning.
Ethics, which is the philosophical study of what is right or wrong, is unable to help us metaphysically to become one with the Ultimate Reality. Morality is a preparation for climbing the Jacob’s ladder.
The river can’t exist without the permanent reality of the Garden. Does the Garden represent the Heaven? If it does, then it is the realm of permanence. It is the abode of Plato’s Forms. Plato needed his idea of Forms in order to define motion. I believe we also need this Paradise or Heaven to explain the rivers running underneath. The rivers in Heaven are not like we experience in this world horizontally. There is a hierarchy here to consider. This is a vertical reality. Heaven is above, and the rivers are below. However, Adam and Eve didn’t see God in Paradise. This Persian word literally means ‘curtain’, as we mentioned before. There was still a veil between them and God, even a personal one. The Ultimate Reality is way beyond any duality. That Reality defines what Oneness really is. I believe that is Kant’s noumenal world, which can’t be penetrated according to Kant, through pure reason. Let us not forget that there are underground rivers in our world on top of which there are also beautiful gardens. This world, according to Plato, is a reflection of the perfect world of Forms. The transcendent Form of beauty, for instance, is that Reality in which all the beautiful things of the world participate. The beauty of our world is contingent and possible. We can have the Heaven and the rivers, whether of this world or hereafter. But our focus should always be on the Reality, which is way beyond the Gardens and the rivers. The Gardens unlike the rivers are immutable and unchanging. We ought to think of the Reality that doesn’t need to be defined by its opposite. That Reality is beyond the realm of contradictions and opposites. In Heaven the trees are stationary whereas the rivers are not. The river in Heaven is like the Platonic Form in motion. There’s a Form of motion in which all moving things participate. The ideal river in Heaven is that transcendent reality in which all other rivers of this world participate. The wine mentioned in the holy Qur’an, which is served in Heaven, is that transcendent one in which these worldly wines all participate.
In chapter, “The Enfolding” or al-Takwir or the overthrowing, verse (8) we read: and when the female infant buried alive is asked (9) for what sin she was slain”. When we perform abortion, we kill unborn fetus in mother’s womb. The fetus is alive when the doctor takes its ripped body out of the mother’s womb. The female infants were alive when they were put in the graves, before Islam. They were placed in the womb of the mother earth, from one womb to another. In abortion case, we murder a defenseless fetus in the mother’s womb. I’m sure there are cases when abortion is used as a last resort. However, the holy Qur’an seems to be encouraging us to save life rather than destroying it. This verse lifted the status of women from the mother earth to the zenith and the apex of the Heaven. A woman’s womb is the Temple of life not a cemetery of the potential human beings. Life comes out of the doors of this Temple not death. Even in case of rape, some girls or women decide to have the baby and then put it for adoption. Babies are innocent, even though the condition of their creation is different. Some prefer abortion to adoption or foster care, because of the lack of safe environments. They much rather murder the fetuses before they are brought up by those who sexually abuse children. Not all homes are good. But no home is better than parent’s place, even though that can also be worse than other homes. Nevertheless, even these shouldn’t be the reasons for murdering one’s potentially baby. We’re not claiming to have discovered the best solution for the controversial problem of abortion here. Nonetheless, we’re trying to find out what the holy Qur’an’s stand is on this issue, which has been the subject of moral choices in our time.
On chapter, “He Frowned” or ‘Abasa’, verses (1) “He frowned and turned away, (2) because the blind man came to him. (3) …Perhaps he would purify himself, (5) as for him who deems himself beyond need, (60 to him dost thou attend, (7) though thou art not answerable, should he not be purified. (8) But as for him who came to thee striving earnestly (9) while fearful, (10) from him thou art diverted.” Once a blind man approached the prophet to ask a question or seek his advice. However, he frowned. I personally don’t believe that the holy Qur’an is here referring to the prophet, because He doesn’t mention his name at all. God reminded the person that though he may be blind, he can see with his heart. It is very much possible that angel Gabriel visited this person, disguised as a blind man, just to test him. The prophet was once visited by Gabriel who came to him as an old man. There’re many who can see but they’re blind in side. We shouldn’t fall for the appearance. We pay attention to those who think they’re self-sufficient and are not in need of anything. They are under the impression that they don’t need any help. There’re students who do very well in the class and there’re those who, for some reason, are behind. A successful teacher is the one who is able to spend more time with the latter so even they would catch up with the rest or the former. They say, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”. Ali, the cousin of the prophet, once said that he could never be the true leader of his community if there was even one poor person among them. There’re students who are very good in answering the questions on tests. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they have in depth knowledge of the subject. On the other hand, there’re those who’re not good test takers, but nevertheless, they have full grasp of what they have studied. God knows the phenomena and the noumenon, the outer and the inner. When an individual frowns, God doesn’t judge him based on what appears to be the case. God sees what is in the hearts of people. The prophet was a primordial man and a cosmic figure. Although he was a human being like us, he knew better not to frown when a blind seeker enters in. After all it was possible that this man was angel Gabriel in disguise. ‘He’, namely, God doesn’t necessarily mean the prophet. We’re subject to errors and mistakes. He could have been a god or God, or a deity disguised as an angel. It is also possible that he was not frowning at the blind man. This is a monologue not a dialogue. God is telling the prophet a story or a parable like when Jesus related a story about the Good Samaritan. This is, of course, my interpretation. By saying that he frowned, God is perhaps talking of another individual in third person. The prophet was as much a human as anybody else. God would know if he really frowned at the blind man or it was only a coincidence. If this was a dialogue, the prophet would have asked: “Lord, are you referring to me?” God would then answer: “Not really”. If God was speaking to us about the prophet, then I would understand why He said: “He frowned”. But God is clearly not talking to us here. Why would He speak to us about His prophet? Who are we to be worthy of that treatment? Therefore, He is having a talk with His own prophet concerning someone else. It is also possible that such an event was only a narrative to convey a message to His primordial man. While the prophet was still alive these chapters were revealed to him, namely, we ought to take care of the poor. How can we be wealthy while there’re those who can’t afford simple things of life? How can I have a full stomach knowing that there’re hungry people in the world? The holy Qur’an is against the ethical theory called, ‘Ethical egoism’. Altruism ought to be the duty of all Muslims. All roads shouldn’t lead to the Rome of me. ‘Me, myself, and I’ are very much discouraged in Islam. Real blind people are those whose hearts are sealed. Nonetheless, Christ asked God the father to forgive them for they know not what they do. Prophet of Islam never frowned at those who were ignorant. As a human being, he must have undoubtedly frowned occasionally. However, just because you frown doesn’t mean you’re doing it at someone.
On chapter, “Man” or al-Insan or “Time or Man”, we read:(8) “and give food, despite loving it, to the indigent, the orphan, and the captive.” (9) “We feed you only for the Face [sake] of God. We do not desire any recompense or thanks from you. (10) Truly we fear from our Lord a grim, calamitous day.” (11) So, God has shielded them from the evil of that Day, bestowed upon them radiance and joy.” (Nasr) “And feed with food the needy wretch, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him. (Saying): We feed you, for the sake of Allah only. We wish for no reward nor thanks from you; Low! We fear from our Lord a day of frowning and of fate. Therefore, Allah hath warded off from them the evil of that day, and hath made them find brightness and joy;” (Pick) Jesus’ followers fed people unconditionally. They did this for the love of Christ. They did it with no expectation either from them or God. This was unconditional love. They didn’t do that because it was a right thing to do. They didn’t do that for duty’s sake. (Kant) In Hinduism, the Upanishad period, ‘karma yoga’ taught to give without any expectation. The followers, therefore, gave while expecting no reward from either the receivers or gods. Giving was not for the sake of giving or because it was a right thing to do. Why and how they gave mattered. Action was important but how you carry on was more important. The goal didn’t justify the means for them. In ‘The Bhagavad-Gita’ Krishna, the Avatar of Vishnu, tells Arjuna to give without expectation. He taught him to discipline his action. Krishna is one of the incarnations of Vishnu, who is one of the masks of the Ultimate Reality or Brahman. How and why we do what we do is the issue here. We’re told to give unconditionally. Unconditional love is significant here. (Brian Tracy) In the Qur’an we’re also asked to feed for the love, Face, and sake of God. We do not feed to convert. We feed with no expectation. We give because of the reverence we have for God. We’re not waiting for a reward from on high. There’re no ‘if’ and ‘then’ in what we do.
What is missing in Emmanuel Kant’s ethics though is the presence of God. Faith in Allah plays a great role in what we do. I don’t love God in order to get something from Him. If He gives on its own, it is fine with me. We never reject an offer from God. But we never ask for something in return either. We don’t do business with God. Our love for Him is unconditional.
Karma means action and its consequences. It is based on causality. It is what the ancient Hindus believed in and they still do so. It falls into the category of hypothetical imperative of Kant. This is a conditional commandment, the formula of which is ‘if’ and ‘then’. It is deterministic by nature, because it explains that what happens to us, whether good or bad, are the results of our past life and what we have done in this life. Here we give in order to receive. The ancient Hindus made animal sacrifices to get what they wished from the gods. I ought to have more good karmas or actions, as I go through my life in his world, so that I will not suffer more. My good karmas should out weight my bad karmas. This way I cut my losses as I go through the karmic cycle. The reasons for my sufferings and unhappiness are the bad karmas I had committed in my past life and the present life. As we can see the element of determinism is part of the fabric of karmic cycle. We almost experience the same kind of determinism in the philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-83) and Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).
By the time we reach the Upanishad period, however, we encounter what is called, Karma Yoga, which means to give without any expectation. The expectation factor no longer exists here. Even though effects or results of our actions are still present, they don’t play a great role in our efforts to get out of this cycle of karma. Consequences of our actions are no longer as significant as before. The cause and effect don’t play a great part in our life. In the works of both Marx and Freud cause and effect are structured in their determinism. With karma yoga, the vertical reality becomes very important. Job is replaced by Joseph. The former represents the horizontality of the system, while the latter shows us the verticality of this project. With karma yoga your action is disciplined. You’re not in Kant’s hypothetical imperative. You’re not in his categorical imperative, with the absence of God, either. For Kant God is nothing but a postulate here. In his categorical imperative you also give without expecting anything in return. However, Krishna is not to be seen here. In the holy Qur’an we give for the love of God. We don’t expect anything from the given. The golden rule, unlike the popular belief, is based on some kind of karmic structure. If you like to be respected in return, respect people. Treat others as you would like to be treated. I personally don’t believe Christ ever advocated such a reciprocal maxim for humanity. The reason being, it easily falls into Kant’s hypothetical imperative camp. Unless you give me what I want, I can’t provide you with what you want. This is based on mutuality. This is still on the horizontal level. This is not what Jesus taught. Christ said even if you’re cursed, don’t reciprocate. If you’re hated by people, show them love. If you’re harmed by someone, don’t retaliate. If you’re treated unjustly, treat them with fairness. This is a vertical behavior towards your fellow man. We can turn the golden rule into a hypothetical imperative by saying that, if you respect me, then I respect you too. Confucius apparently believed in the negative golden rule. Don’t treat others with disrespect, if you don’t want to be disrespected. This makes a lot of sense, perhaps even more than the positive one. But nonetheless, they both suffer from the lack of giving without expectation of karma yoga and the Qur’an, and even Kant’s categorical imperative. I believe this maxim shouldn’t be called golden. At best we can name it silver rule. Things happen all around us over which we have no power. We do our best to do well with good intention. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Marcus Aurelius (121-180), the Stoic philosopher and the emperor of Rome once wrote that things that are happening to us are not bad. How we estimate them, however, is what makes them good or bad. Who knows? Perhaps he was right to say that events in and of themselves are not evil. But we’re the ones who decide whether they are good or evil. A huge branch of our old oak tree fell off and landed on our roof some time back. I never heard it complained. Does it sound silly? Perhaps! We’re also part of nature. Aren’t we? Happiness comes from our own actions, said Dalai Lama.
I once received a dollar from a woman, who was a stranger, at a dollar store, because I didn’t have singles on me. Things worked without her dollar. When I tried to give her back the money, she refused to take it. She smiled and walked away. This girl didn’t expect anything by offering me a dollar. There was no recompense. I thanked her even though she didn’t act like she was waiting for it. Having dark brown eyes and hair, I asked her initially as to where she was from? She said, she was Russian and then qualified it by saying that she was a Russian Jew. At that time, it didn’t matter where she was from or Religion or race she belonged to. What matters is that she did almost what the Qur’an asks us to do. Now for what reasons she did what she did, is not what I can find out. But all it mattered was that she did what she did without any hesitation. Giving is an art, but not everyone is an artist. To give, however, with no expectation is a prophetic act. To give in order to reach salvation or Nirvana is a karmic one. To give without expecting to go to Heaven is what the great Muslim mystics have always done. When you’re in the presence of God here and now, why would you desire to be in Heaven, since you’re already there? Why would I want to be in an underwater cave to be safe from the predators, when I’m embraced by the ocean of being? The fish ask their mothers as to where the water is. Their mother is caught by surprised and doesn’t know how to answer this question. We’re in the heart of the Ultimate Reality and ask for the proof of God. The sun came, the reason for the sun. (Persian proverb). The light of the sun is the universe of being. What would the sun be without its light? We’re in the ocean of the light of the sun and still inquire about the sun. If the Ultimate Reality is beyond being and non-being, then why ask for its existence? Everything is here and we’re blind. The water is in the jar and we’re searching for it all over the world. Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, so they could see the light, not to see the glory of Rome. Marcus Aurelius asks Maximus, why are we here? He answered, for the glory of Rome sire. Marcus Aurelius was asking Maximus a fundamental philosophical question. However, Rome’s greatest general misunderstood the question completely. Maximus was not blind, but he couldn’t see the truth. Marcus Aurelius manifested Plato’s philosopher king. I was sitting in my room when I was only a teenager asking about what life was all about. Of seven members of my family there’re only three left including me. At 69 I’m still wondering what life is. Since I have hard time finding an answer to my question, I keep thinking that perhaps I’ll reach my goal in hereafter. But somehow, I know I’ll not be able to achieve that after I die. Thus, I continue my inquiry into the future hoping I’ll get there. I came into this world surrounded by my family. Before I know, they left me, and the rest perhaps will follow them. What was this all about? I’m looking in the Qur’an for answer to my question.
This chapter is called, “The Resurrection” or al-Qiyamah or “The rising of the dead”. Here we’re reminded of the Day of Judgment when, based on our past actions, whether good or bad, we’ll be judged. We rise from the dead and face the inevitable. There’re many among us who’re living dead. It sounds like a contradiction at first. In the movie, ‘Six sense’ this little boy claims he sees dead people. We ought to resurrect. We should rise again. We must stand up. This is a vertical ascend. Unlike in Hinduism and Buddhism we don’t sit cross legged in meditation. No one remembered seeing the prophet sitting in that position or manner. We rise from sitting position. We stand up as in the canonical pray. The literal meaning of the term ‘existence’ is in fact ‘outstanding’. When we stand, we truly exist. Our authentic existence manifests itself when we rise. Jesus told Lazarus to rise from the dead. We need to rise from within. Though we are alive, but many of us are dead inside. (5) “But man, desires to defile what lies before him”. He would fain deny what is before him. In the name of Jesus, we have been crucifying him (Christ) for thousands of years, because we’re simply ignorant. Father forgive them for they know not what they do, not only to me but millions of people throughout the history of mankind. When we have no sacred knowledge, we’re dead. We’re walking dead. We don’t have to think the Day of resurrection is in distant future. We deny the obvious. We’re blind to the truth, and the moon is eclipsed. The moon gets its light from the sun. This symbol of death rises when it is no longer eclipsed. The whole universe of being is enlightened but we’re blind to see the light. There’re dead people all around us. There’re also those who are only alive but don’t exist authentically. There’re also those whose very existence and presence light in the midst of darkness. When we resurrect, we stand up. This is a vertical ascend. Buddha woke up from his sleep and stood up from his lotus position. He became awake.
The moon receives its light from the sun. When it is eclipsed, it becomes dark. This is called lunar eclipse. When the earth moves to be between the sun and the moon, this phenomenon becomes visible. Resurrection is not the cause of it. In reality, when this happens to us, we’re living in darkness. We reach enlightenment, when we’re lit because of the moon. Everything is enlightened but the blinds of our rooms are shut dawn. The world is obscuring our hearts. We have a solar eclipse when the moon blocks the sun. (9) “And the sun and the moon are brought together and are united.” The moon here blocks the sun and darkens it. This is when the sun is obscured by the moon. In these two verses we have both lunar and solar eclipses. Once my heart is dark, I block the sun for myself and others. Plato’s philosopher king lets the sun shine because his heart has not become darkened like the moon. He is like the moon. The people of the world are lit because the earth has not eclipsed his heart. (10) That Day man will say, “Where is the escape?” He cries, whither to flee! There’s no place of refuge. Once a friend told me the reason why people read novels is escape. Escape from what? Reality brother! Perhaps that is why we watch movies. We watch them to lose ourselves in them. We dream to be away from the state of awareness. This world is not ours. We have landed here to take off soon. The world is like a run way. Plains arrive and later take off. They fly from nowhere and after temporary stay, they fly to nowhere. There’s no permanence here. We’re excited when we buy things, at least for a while. Then we move to other novelties when yesterday toys gather dust and become ready for garage sales. Flea markets are full of state items left behind by the deceased. They once owned them and touched and used them. But where’re they now? (13) “On that day man is told the tale of that which he hath sent before and left behind.” We are constantly leaving things and actions behind and at the same time we’re sending things and actions before us towards the future. Whatever we do in this life echoes in eternity is what Rome’s greatest general said before launched his attack in the movie, “The gladiator”. Whatever we have left behind and are doing even now will someday catch up with us. Also, whatever we have sent forward will count in the Day of Judgment. This is the story of time. We’re locked up between the past and the future and lost in this realm of existence. We’re sacrificing the present moment in the meantime. If we do the right thing without expecting anything in return, we don’t have to worry about what we have left behind or sent to the future. We ought to be in the damage control process on a regular basis. We can’t bring the past, for it is dead and gone with the wind (The book by Margaret Mitchell.) The future is yet to come. However, there seems to a connection between the finitude and time of this world and the infinity and eternity of the future.
Although the belief in the idea of reincarnation or rebirth, which has been followed by the Hindus and Buddhists for thousands of years, has not been accepted in Islam, it reminds us of this verse (13) in the holy Qur’an. When Buddha became enlightened at the age of 35, he recalled many of his past life or what he had left behind, and he has sent forward to the future. Future is evolving into the present and the past. While I’m experiencing the present moment, I’m leaving what I’m doing behind and at the same time throwing some of my actions towards the future. While I’m standing in the river, I’m seeing my actions become part of my past and at the same time some of my actions are thrown up river, which naturally will be coming back to shape the life of my presence. My past actions, though belong to my past, are thrown to the future to flow back to me from the upper stream. This gives us a cyclical rather than linear picture of time. It seems my present actions create my past as much as my future. Perhaps this is the reason why the present moment is so important in our life and has such a significance effect on the life people around us. Here and now determine my past and future. For God, of course, there’s no past and future. Present moment crushes the onslaught of time.
In the verse (14) “we read: Indeed, man shall be a testimony against himself.” Or “Oh, but man is a telling witness against himself.” This is fascinating because instead of thinking that God or absolute awareness is watching me, I can say that I’m conscious of what I have sent before as much as I know where my actions are going as we speak. I’m aware of my surrounding as well as what I do on a daily basis. If I become enlightened, I’m no longer conscious of this or that, not even consciousness itself, because there’s nothing to be aware of. There’s now the presence of absolute consciousness. So, be a witness against or for myself is not the final goal. The Ultimate Reality can’t accept duality. Once my ordinary self is dissolved, I’m a zero plus one, which is always one anyway. In other words,
0 + 1 = 1. However, this is not a numerical ‘1’. This is the One or the Ultimate Reality. (20) “Nay! But you love the ephemeral, (21) and forsake the Hereafter.” Or, “And neglect the Hereafter.” We love the transitory and short-lived things of the world. We forget the life after death. Death is ever present reality, which can fall upon us at any moment. When it comes to Christmas, some of us only think about gifts and material things to give or be given. We don’t think about Jesus, who is the heart of Christmas. (22) “Faces that Day shall be radiant, (23) gazing upon their Lord.” Or “Looking toward their Lord;” We’re like the moon facing the sun. (24) “And faces that Day shall be scowling.” Or “And that day will other faces be despondent”. As we can see, some faces are glowing, and some are frowning. Once we gaze upon or look towards our Lord, we see the truth of what we have left behind and what we have sent to the future. If our actions were good that we left behind and good what we sent to future, then our faces are radiant or resplendent. Our theaters have two masks as their representative: one is a frowning one and the other is smiling one. When we see the truth, based on our past deeds, our masks or personas are smiling ones. We reflect the light of the sun like a mirror. By the same token, if the mirror of our faces is dark with the bad deeds we have left behind and sent forwards, we can’t reflect the sun. It is said that at one gathering, Buddha lifted a flower and one of his followers smiled. This was perhaps a test by which he found out about the monk who was ready for the next step in the enlightenment journey.
Christ once said: “Whoever has seen me, has seen the father.” Apparently, he was like a mirror reflecting the sun. If I’m transparent, the light of the Truth shines through me. And if I’m not, my face will be scowling. (36) “Does man suppose that he would be let aimless?” We’re here for a reason. There’s a teleology involved here. There’s a goal for everything in this world. There’s an aim for everything in the universe. We’re not left here on our own. (37) “Was he not a drop of semen emitted?” (38) “Then he was a blood clot; whereupon He created, then fashioned, (39) and made from him the two genders, male and female. (40) “Is not such a One able to give life to the dead?” From one He brought two, namely, man and woman. He is also the One who can make the dead rise, as if things appear to be dead. The whole universe is alive and well. The whole world is enlightened and all we have to do is open our hearts to it. (Zen) Nothing is really dead to the eyes of an enlightened person. People don’t have to go through a biological or physiological death to be considered dead. There’re dead people all around us. We do our best to wake them up but to no avail. I’m not Christ to say to Lazarus rise and he rose. Only God is able to do that through Jesus. The Ultimate Reality has no hands and legs or lips. A persona or mask is appointed to do that on His behalf. Vishnu and Shiva are those masks in Hinduism. The Ultimate Reality manifests itself through them. ‘Tao Te Ch’ing’ means the classic of the Tao and its power. The Ultimate Reality has that power. It is not power or love. It doesn’t have attributes. It is One Reality, which is beyond all duality. We ought to rise above the past and the future. We should free ourselves from the obstructive forces, which stop us from our vertical ascent. I want to move up the Jacob’s ladder, but my hands are tied up, that is, one hand is chained by the past and the other by the future. We’re crucified on the cross of this world. We desire to ascend but our hands are nailed to the cross. I want to be on the vertical ascend of the pilgrim’s progress. This is not a horizontal one. I want to live authentically and not just be alive. I want to rise above my nature and its demands. I want to be free from the bondage of death. I want to travel upward away from the world I have been thrown into. I’m like that one broken singing bamboo in the wind. I have drifted away from the bamboo forest. I’m longing to get back. This is not my home. Give me the power of life Lord so I can rise from the dead. Socrates said that philosophy is the practice of death. We die before our biological death. We must die unto our senses. We need to be reborn before we die of this or that disease. We’re all mortal and shall die one day. We have only now and the present moment. “Life is available only in the present moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh.
We read chapter 74, called, “The Covered One” or ‘al- Muddaththir’. (1) O thou who art covered, (20) arise and warn! Once I watched on T.V a statue of a covered person lying down on a bench. It looked like a statue of a homeless person. Its feet were showing, and they were out together. There was a hole on the upper part of each foot as I could see from the top. I immediately realized the sculptor must have had Jesus in mind as he sculptured. We have often times seen homeless people lying down on benches in some parks in New York or other metropolitan cities. It seems this verse is addressed to those who cover their eyes from seeing the truth about what is going on around them. Rise and warn people so that they open their eyes and hearts concerning those who are poor among us. Our helicopters land only on the area marked ‘H’ some high rises and not on the streets below where the homeless live. We attend conferences on poverty in our inner cities, but we don’t spend time with the poor. We cut down trees to build a library, so we can shelf more books on our environmental crisis. God is telling us to stand up and stand by the neediest. We write books regarding poverty and the countries in which this is an everyday situation and yet we have never visited those whose drinking waters are yellow. We should wait till our youngsters teach us as to how we ought to do the right things as seen in the movies, “Home alone’.
Emmanuel Kant believes we ought to give for the sake of duty or ‘Deon’ in Greek. Any other way would make us fall into the hypothetical imperative camp, which is about an ‘if’/ ‘then’ statements. Duty for duty’s sake is what he meant by ‘good will’. However, in (6) we’re asked not to give favor in order to receive and in (7) we read, “for the sake of thy Lord, be patient”. There is a difference between Kant’s categorical imperative position and what we read in the Qur’an. We give for the sake of the Ultimate Reality that is beyond any duality we could possibly imagine. (3) “Thy Lord magnify!” (4) “Thy garment purify!” (5) “And defilement, shun!” Business is about giving and taking. When you give, however, don’t look to gain more. It sounds like we’re told to give without expectation in way we treat others. But this is about the economic affair in business. Job followed his Lord’s demands, but it seemed he wanted something in return. God’s love is unconditional. He created us in His image. We shouldn’t act like we’re doing business with God. Economic aspects of life are different from ethical ones. Even though we have what is called ‘business ethics’ our morality wants us not to be attached to the fruits of our actions. Are we reading into the holy Qur’an, given the fact that in the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ of the ‘Upanishads’, Krishna, the avatar or incarnation of Vishnu, tells Arjuna to give selflessly and without expectation. Karma means action and its consequences. It is based on cause and effect. It is about ‘quid pro quo’ or one thing in return for another, other than money (Webster’s New World Dictionary). However, Karma yoga means giving without expectation. This is the highest form of giving. Truth is One and it is not subject to time. Hindus and Buddhists have no monopoly on this universal principle. In the holy Qur’an we read: When you give, don’t do that to get more in return. I loan you some money to get it back with some interest. Usury is forbidden in Islam. When it comes to economy, business is about selling a product to get paid for. But when it comes to human relationship, we don’t have to treat one another as if we’re doing business. When you’re helping someone, you’re not to expect anything in return. If I’m a Good Samaritan, should I be waiting for a reward? A taxi driver finds 8000 $ cash in the back seat. He goes straight to the police station and gives all the money to the authorities. He is asked to say for some kind of a reward. But he refuses to receive any money and he leaves. When you’re granting a favor, don’t have any expectation. This is karma yoga par excellence (French) or an example of excellence. Karma represents the business aspect of action. Karma yoga is not based on cause and effect. Am I reading into the holy Qur’an? Not at all! Of course, we can’t deny the past influences on our consciousness as we revisit our past observations of certain subjects. Nevertheless, we can always rely on our empirical and rational findings. The verse is clearly saying, don’t show kindness to seek monetary gains or give in a ‘quid pro quo’ manners. Another way of looking at the first verse is to realize that covering also means hiding. What you have been covering yourself with is manifesting who you’re in side. Your attire is not clean. By purifying your garments, you make it transparent. Come out of your hiding. Detoxify yourself from the pollution within, which is the cause of pollution without. Be like that saintly Indian woman from Kashmir, named La La yogish venara, whose mystical guide told her once: your utter now should resemble your inner. Apparently, she took her master’s word literary and uncovered herself in the market place. When she was asked why she was nude, she simply responded by saying: my utter is like my inner now. The spelling of her name is not correct. However, our main goal is not the correct spelling of names here as long as we get the meaning of what I intend to convey. O you, who have covered yourself, get up and through your teaching and writing, warn people. Inform your students of the moral collapse of the world. Tell them that Rome didn’t fall from without. It fell from within. The tree of Roman Empire was rotten from inside.
(11) Leave Me alone with the one whom I created (12) and to whom I gave vast wealth, (13) and sons at his side, (14) and made smooth the way for him. (15) Yet he desires that I give more. Think for a moment when we pray to receive something from God. We seldom pray and ask if it is in His will, so we can have what we have desired. We just request to get what we want. For example, this dying girl’s aunt, who so happened to be a Muslim, planned to sacrifice a sheep, so her sick niece would survive and get better. Her Buddhist mother released a young female cow for the same reason. Her father asked Christ, the healer, to heal his only daughter. Let us say, she miraculously dodged an imminent death. The question is who was responsible for the recovery of this girl, Buddhism or Christianity or Islam? In order not to miss anything, I guess we would go for all three and also those about which we have no information. To be safe, in other words, we prefer to stay with the many than one. At the apex, zenith, summit, and pick there is only One, the absolute, the Ultimate Reality. These entire request, prays, and wishes are directed towards that very Oneness. Samad is the undivided, non-dualistic, and unique Reality or the essence of all there is in the universe of being. I surrender my will to that Reality. Whatever is the will of that Reality is my wish. (12) I’m given the wealth of knowledge, before it was requested and everything else. So was Job for that matter was wealthy and rich with sons and daughters. Things were made smooth for him and yet he desired for more. He seems to have been content though. Whether or not this was his situation at the time, we know what he said after what had happened to him. “I wish I had never been born”. He loved his family. All his children were gone in the storm and he never got them back. Death also came over all of his livestock. We’re not judging Job, for it is not our job. However, from our reading of his narrative, we come to the conclusion that he had expectation from God for what he had done by following His commandments. Did he want more? What is wrong with being content? Why do we teach our children that more is better? We wish them to know that being is better than non-being? Why positive is better than negative? Why right is better than left? (39) “Save the companions of the right” or “save those who stand on the right hand”. We tell each other you’re right, not you’re left. We seem to ignore the fact that, relatively speaking, being can’t be without non-being. To have is better than not to have. ‘Have and have not’ has become a common expression in our language. When it comes to majority rule in our democracy, more matters a lot. Even in our Supreme court, majority rules because it is more.
Buddhist monks walked through the neighborhood with begging bowls for food to sustain. Some Islamic mystics called themselves poor. By that they meant they wish to get rich by the spirit of God. This was not about their economic situations. There have been great saintly figures in the Islamic world that produced magnificent works on Islamic philosophy and theology and yet died in poverty. Although the worldly wealth brings convenience, they desired to become rich from within. They kept being busy sculpting the bodies of their resurrection rather than building high rises. The minarets of their mosques pointed towards the heaven than the world. The pinnacles of their Churches built by Christians directed our attention towards the sky rather than skyscrapers, which are mostly built for more profits. The more we have, the more we want. (16) “Nay! Truly he sets himself against Our signs.” Our nature is in the realm of ‘is’. This is the way we’re. But is this the way we ought to be? As we get older, we realize we just can’t add and collect. Where are we going to take them? We’ll soon find out we have no choice but leave everything behind. Our loved ones inherit them and in turn they’ll pass them on. We own the worldly possessions only for a short time. This world is not faithful to anyone. This world finally is not for us to keep. Where are we going from here? To be honest with you, I have no clue. Nevertheless, I think we’ll enter another world, but not another planet. Is it better than here? Perhaps it is. Even Socrates didn’t have any idea as to where he was going. Nonetheless, he thought it must be better than this world. The problem is we still don’t know what this life is all about. Once Confucius was asked about hereafter, and he simply answered you know what this life is? He answered ‘No’. Then why do you worry about afterlife? This life is a mystery in and of itself and we don’t have to keep adding anything else to be fulfilled. We turn away from God’s portents or signs. (31) “And We have appointed none but angels as wardens of the Fire; Thus, does god lead astray whomsoever He will and guide whomsoever He will. …” If God decides, He is capable of leaving sickness in the heart of disbelievers and happiness in the life of believers. However, (38) “Every soul is held in pledge for what it has earned”. You may be free to do good or bad, and yet we must not forget that God is the Ultimate authority in this game. For a fish to move from ‘A’ to ‘B’, it has to travel through the water. The pond, the sea, and the ocean are in command. Although we may have the freedom to earn, whether good deeds or otherwise, God has the Ultimate saying. Sartre, the French philosopher once said: “We’re condemned to be free.” While we’re free, we’re also determined. Absolute liberty belongs only to Allah. God doesn’t force us to love Him. He gives us enough freedom to do that freely, because we have to decide which way we’re going. Love has no meaning, if it is determined. Nevertheless, being relative, our liberty must be under the Divine Law. John Locke said, we have freedom under the law. Of course, he didn’t mean, the Divine law of which Thomas Aquinas spoke of. Every time we say, our president is not above the law; we don’t mean the Divine Law. “Every soul is held in pledge for what it has earned, except the companions of the right,” seems to be telling us, it is not how much good or bad action you have done as long as you have always done the right thing. Guide me, oh Lord, to the right or straight path, which is the golden mean. This is not a geometric middle. On this path we avoid extremes in our life. This path of righteousness is beyond the ethical actions of good or bad. One might interpret this in a different way, namely, this is about right and wrong. Who knows? Those in Heaven or paradise don’t have to earn, either good or bad deeds. Nevertheless, they ask questions of those who had failed. What happened to you people? Why are you in such a predicament of burning? “We were not among those who prayed, they said; nor did we feed the wretched or indigent, and we engaged in vain discourse with those who do the same, and we denied the Day of Judgment, until certainty or inevitable came upon us.” Thus, the intercession of the intercessors will not help them. Fire of hell or Saqar in Arabic is to purify the soul. When fire begins in a forest due to lightening, it burns in order to pave the way for new life for future trees. We prune a tree, so it can grow better. It is like the act of god Shiva in Hinduism, that is, it destroys to create. This reminds us of the Allegory of the cave of Plato. Those liberated from the chain of slavery communicate with the ones still in bondage. Once the loaded souls of those burning are purified of all the darkness of this world, they can then enter the gardens of Heaven. We need to wash off the dirt before we’re qualified to go to the right. Someone once said, our hearts shifted to the left when Adam and Eve had their fall in paradise. Apparently, our hearts were in the center of our chests.
In chapter, The Enwrapped One, or The enshrouded one, al- Muzzammil, (20) … “lend unto God a goodly loan—whatever good you send forth for your souls, you will find it with God better and greater in reward.” You give without any expectation. You favor without expecting anything in return. Whether or not God will reward your deed, you lend, and you help. God rewards whom He wishes. Then why should it matter to you? While you leave behind your good deed, you’re sending it forward. I don’t do business with God.
These were a few chapters from the holy Qur’an based on which we tried to see the roots of what became known as ‘Islamic philosophy’. Great thinkers of early Islam, just like their predecessors, Judaism and Christianity were challenged by the Greek philosophers of the ancient Greece. Being religious, the thinkers of the Abrahamic Religions had no choice but to come up with their own responses to many questions asked during their life time. On the one hand, they had their own religious obligations. On the other hand, they couldn’t remain silent in the face of the Greek rationalists whose one strong tool was the power of the Intellect. This word gradually lost its luster and was reduced to what Immanuel Kant called it ‘pure reason’. The Greek thinkers sought the truth through the Intellect while the Eastern world tilted towards the inner depth of their beings through meditation. The Eastern and the Western worlds, nevertheless, searched for the truth in their own ways. Perhaps that is why we have courses taught at our colleges and universities named, ‘World philosophy’. The texts on this particular subject are also called, by the same name, with, may be, some subtle differences.
We began with the canonical prayers performed five times a day by the Muslims. Two major chapters of the Qur’an are included in these prayers. One is called ‘The unity’ and the other is named ‘The opening’. In the former, the prophet is asked to recite that Allah is One. Who is telling the prophet to do so? Is it angel Gabriel or God himself? Well, this angel speaks on behalf of God. It doesn’t, however, say ‘I am One’, or the One. It says Allah is One or the One. It doesn’t even say ‘I’m Allah’. Then we recite, ‘Allah is Samad’. I believe this personal God is referring to the Ultimate Reality. Therefore, Allah is One and Samad. Nothing can be added to and subtracted from this Reality. In other words, it is not a numerical one. It is beyond all dualities. It is beyond being and non-being. It is beyond rest and motion. It can’t be imagined. We can’t form a concept of it. We can’t conceive it. We can’t think about it either. It also can’t exist to be on the level of everything else in the universe of being. Existence, etymologically and literally, means ‘outstanding’. A tree is outstanding. We really don’t have to prove its existence, because it is way above and beyond what we know of existence. It was never born, nor did it give birth. There is nothing like it.
In the latter chapter, we ask Allah to guide and show us the straight path. In this road we’re not to fall into excess. This is like a tight rope. We ought to keep our balance at any time or else we fall into extremes. We ask God to light up the way, so we can see and watch where we’re going. We immediately think of riding on a linear road. However, this is about a pilgrim progress, which is a vertical ascent, and a horizontal reality. We ask God to help us both in this world and the one beyond it. In a loom there’re many vertical and horizontal threads. We’re situated in the middle of this cross, namely, +. We’re at a cross road just as Thom Hanks was at the end of the movie called, ‘Cast away’. He didn’t know which direction he should turn to? We ask God to shed light on the right path so that we can go straight both horizontally and vertically. In the same movie, this mail man perhaps decided to go towards the direction a young woman was driving. He dropped a package for her while she was away. Among several packages he ripped while on the island, he saved one, because he saw two angels looking wings on it. He left the package at the door and wrote a note saying that this package saved his life. Of course, he meant when he was on a raft sailing in the ocean. How this happened, I have no clue? The package belonging to that single woman somehow saved his life. His once girlfriend that he loved so dearly was not with him in that Island, but the package was. Finally, after he found out that former girlfriend had moved on and got married, he drove his car, which had been kept during his absence by her once girlfriend, to deliver the package. He found his destiny with her. This was a horizontal approach towards his future. Buddha was also at a cross road and once he a shaven monk, who was walking towards the jungle, he decided to follow him. One sign or portent took the FedEx employee to one direction and another one directed Buddha to another destiny.
We’re also at the cross road of our life and want to be assisted to climb up the Jacob’s ladder to where even angels can’t reach.
We or I covered only a few chapters from the holy Qur’an to show you what Islamic philosophy is all about. However, you and I also know very well that we have only scratched the surface of this vast territory. I never claim to have penetrated the depth of the scripture when it comes to the meaning of the Islamic philosophy. But, nonetheless, we tried whether successfully or not to let our readers have some taste of what the great thinkers of early Islam were confronted with as they tried to bring the Religion of Islam and the might of the Greek philosophers together.