"O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
Through a conversation with Shakyh Qays Arthur, I began a series which explored some spiritual aspects behind faith and guidance in accordance with Islamic teachings. The series ended with a discussion on surrender from the perspective of self-knowledge.
At times understanding ourselves comes through challenges with others. These challenges force us to face parts of ourselves that we need to work on and that we need to open up to. Hwaa Irfan summed it best in the following advice:
"We can learn much about ourselves from the challenges that bring out our impatience, our bigotry, our lack of compassion, our need to control or to be a victim of circumstance, our ability to give and receive, and our ability to accept our own selves thus others. We are presented with an opportunity to realize what is really important, and that we are not perfect, and that we have a few issues of our own that we need to work on, or to better ourselves so that we may help others. If we are impatient for example, we ask ourselves why are we so impatient, but we do not ask and answer the question ourselves. How can we answer the question, when we still think, and perceive as before. When we think and perceive a situation without change, nothing actually changes, so we must wait for the answer to present itself to us. This will come to us in many ways, but in that process changes will be taking place within us to ready us for the answer, and to be open to that answer. By doing so, we learn more about ourselves, and are more ready to for the next stage in our jihad an nafs (struggle of the soul)!"
We will now address some questions as promised. Before doing so, let me address some confusion that was made apparent in the comments section. There were some comments in the last blog that raised some issues regarding their understanding of the Qur’an. The Qur'an was revealed in a span of 23 years, and changes were taking place to prepare Muslims to receive its revelation. As the Qur’an was revealed – Muslims were not sitting down in a classroom learning it divorced from life and its challenges, but they were prepared internally either through trials, hardships or challenges with others to fully receive its wisdom and understanding.
At times accusations are made about the Qur’an as a book promoting hatred and violence. A few verses that teach or guide Muslims on how to respond in times of extreme conflict like facing ethnic cleansing or genocide are taken as a general rule with how to coexist with others. The general rule that promotes coexistence are found in the following verses:
“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong.” (60:8-9)
If we read the Qur’an in selective parts – we learn and understand nothing. We must read it as a whole, and reconcile all its verses as a whole. Hence, understanding the Qur'an requires study. It is the book of God addressed to all of humanity till the end of time. It is a book of wisdom that calls humanity to read, reflect, think, to verify, to investigate and seek to understand. Some verses are very clear. Some verses take time to understand, as they require us to grow to receive their wisdom. Some verses lead to field of sciences to emerge. For example, the laws of inheritance were the impetus behind Algebra.
Wazwaz: Shaykh Qays – in the first blog of this series, we discussed monotheism according to Islamic teachings. You mentioned in that blog that the disconnection between Western Christianity and the Middle East as well as Muslims disconnection with earlier faith traditions. You said:
"It therefore makes sense that a religion as thoroughly Semitic as Islam would be unrecognizable to them despite what is in their own books! Yet that disconnection is only perpetuated when we treat the Bible and Christianity as alien to our faith or when we look upon ourselves as some new, independent community as opposed to simply believers in God's final Prophet (peace be upon him) who continue in the legacy of the prophets of the Bible (peace be upon them all)."
That is an interesting point. Given your life experience how would you answer the following question:
"please explain how Islam can stake any claim to Adam. Moses wrote the Pentateuch. Had it not been for Moses, Islam would have no knowledge of Adam. You (or Mohammad) can not simply appropriate the words, works, deeds, etc., of an historical figure and fold them into your religion as if they belonged there all along."
Shaykh Qays: Well the short answer to “explain how Islam can stake any claim to Adam” is: through God, the Creator of Adam, Moses (peace be upon them), and the questioner. In point of fact, as attested to by the Pentateuch itself, Moses was not its author; rather it was dictated to him by God. Other books of the Hebrew Bible contain inspired writings of prophets as well as sages, in addition to direct revelation from God – all attributed to other than Moses yet ultimately the believer sees them all as having legitimacy from God.
If one does not accept the Divine authorship of scripture, choosing instead to belie what the scriptures claim of themselves and designate their authorship to the men who bore and transmitted them, then one will never be able to grasp “how Islam can stake any claim” to anything in previous scriptures. In fact, given what I mentioned about other books in the Hebrew Bible how can those books lay claim to what they claim. The answer is: through God.
So for Muslims there is nothing to explain or justify and there is no misappropriation taking place as the question seems to imply. The same Entity that the Bible calls men to worship and the same Entity that the Bible declares it was revealed and inspired by, has revealed the Quran. It's that simple.
Wazwaz: The following question is regarding our last blog. Why did God ask Satan to kneel before another creation and why did Satan's refusal mean he is arrogant?
Shaykh Qays: God commanded the Angels, in whose company Satan was, to prostrate towards Adam as an acknowledgment of the veneration and respect that God bestowed on Adam. It was an act of worship and obedience to the Lord of Adam, Most High. In a similar manner when Muslims pray today we prostrate in the direction of the Ka'ba in Makkah, thereby acknowledging its God-given status, because the Lord of the Ka'ba commanded that prayer be done in that manner. No one was commended to worship a creature be it the Adam (peace be upon him) or the Ka'ba.
Satan refused to heed the command not due to a misunderstanding or a slip but it was a willful refusal on the basis of his superiority complex – he felt he was better than another creature despite the fact that God Himself accorded that other creature a superior status. Arrogance doesn't get much better than that.
Wazwaz: There seems to be confusion on fear from a questioner. Healthy fear pushes people to know. Unhealthy fear pushes people to insularity. God mentions in the Qur'an that only people of knowledge have fear of God. He equates fear of Him with knowledge of Him. It is not a fear of the unknown, but a fear grounded in knowledge and reality. I noted that humility is best defined as fearing God. When we accept who we are, thus others, we also accept who God is - Majestic and Lord of the Worlds. That fear pushes us to know Him and abide by His commands instead of to oppose and challenge Him. One questioner felt equating fear with humility is unhealthy. I also want to share a quote by Martin Luther King on this.
“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyzes us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.”
How would you respond?
Shakyh Qays: I tend to agree with the questioner precisely because of what you mentioned about healthy versus unhealthy fear. That is, I would say that equating unhealthy fear with humility is a mistake. I would add that unhealthy fear is any fear that is for other than God or for the sake of God, just as unhealthy love is love for other than God or his sake. One constant message of the Quran is that the believer should fear none besides God – it is part of worshiping none besides Him.
The fear of God is based on the worshiper’s knowledge of His sheer unfathomable, awesome perfection – manifested in justice and overwhelming power - and it is always to be counterbalanced with love of God which is based on the worshiper’s knowledge of His sheer unfathomable, beautiful perfection – manifested in mercy and disarming tenderness. The one who is characterized by that kind of healthy, knowledge-based fear cannot help but be humble and submissive. On the other hand, unhealthy fear such as of that of losing one’s prestige or wealth, or being wronged by creatures like an evil tyrant or criminal should never be associated with humility. For that reason being defiant and apparently arrogant before a tyrant or criminal may actually be a good thing when the situation calls for it, while being humble in the face of evil is blameworthy.
Wazwaz: Satan is quoted in the Qur'an as having fear of God. Yet, he challenges God's knowledge and seeks time till the day of Judgment to show that God's decision to choose Adam as representative is wrong. Even though he had knowledge of God, it was a distorted and twisted knowledge - since he had a false sense of who he was. Would you agree?
Shaykh Qays: Satan is not characterized as one of the God-fearing in the Quran. He is characterized as a disbeliever who was one of the God-fearing but was ruined by arrogance. He has knowledge of God and the greater realities of the unseen but he lacks faith which requires what in Arabic is called idh'an or accepting and submitting to what one knows. Satan knows reality but opposes it. His knowledge is against him and not for him. So in the sense that his knowledge is against him due to his arrogance I would agree that it is distorted. May Allah be our refuge from arrogance and knowledge that does not benefit us.
Wazwaz: Since you are a teacher and student of sacred knowledge - what experience can you share that helped you or challenged you to see things differently to understand others?
Shaykh Qays: At the risk of opening a whole new area of discussion as we close this one I will say that without doubt going to Saudi Arabia was a life-changing experience for me. By suddenly being immersed in a traditional and particularly austere Muslim culture and environment I learned, not only about the country and people, but also about myself in the process.
Saudi Arabia, to a Westerner, is a very “different” or “other” place – even for a Muslim from the West. It became apparent to me how important appreciating and understanding others is to self-knowledge. I also gained a new appreciation of the Sharia and the mercy that is inherent in its limits, prescriptions and proscriptions. Against the backdrop of the Sharia I could not only see how Saudi morality is influenced by their culture and norms but I could see the same with my own view of morality.
I thus also saw how misguided and potentially dangerous it can be to reduce the Sharia, the principles of which ensure that morality is upheld across different cultures, to one's own cultural manifestations while denying the legitimacy of others. To me that mistake is the result of looking at the religion, the Sharia, others, and the world through the narrow, impoverished lens of the sociologist or anthropologist or other such investigator whose judgment is deficient of genuine spirituality.
The reality is that God is greater than all of that and religion and Sharia are about Him and seeing the world through Him. That is the way of the prophets, the way of their leader Muhammad (God's peace be upon them all), and the way of Islam.