The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.
This conversation is continuation to a series of conversations toward understanding Islam and Muslims. It is not a debating piece, but a reflective one. It is meant to clarify some of the confusion on Islamic beliefs. We are coming to the end of the discussion on submission. This will end the conversation on faith and guidance as well. We will address any questions in the next blog, and then start a new series on God.
The beginning parts of the conversation on self-knowledge or surrender are: 6a, 6b, 6c, 6d and 6e. In this blog, I hope to address two issues that enable Islamophobia. First, we cannot know another if we do not truly know ourselves. Second, the importance of humility, which to me is best defined as fearing God. If you authentically know yourself and your liimitations, you are ready to know the Divine as He is, not as you want Him to be to serve you. He is Majestic and not vindictive. He is the Lord of the Worlds, and not a personal god that cares only for a select elite. Hence, fearing God is due to His Majesty, His reality and embedded in love, which nurtures us up the steep road of guidance and purification and enables us to repent everytime we stumble and fall. This leads to wisdom that allow us to know the other, despite their differences. The blog is quite detailed and long and requires some thought and reflection. Again, the verses below are used in the discussion:
(Qur’an al-Waqia: 80-86)
“A Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. Is it such a Message that ye would hold in light esteem? And have ye made it your livelihood that ye should declare it false? Then why do ye not (intervene) when (the soul of the dying man) reaches the throat,- And ye the while (sit) looking on,- But We are nearer to him than ye, and yet see not,- Then why do ye not,- If you are exempt from (future) account,- Call back the soul, if ye are true (in the claim of independence)?”
(Qur’an Ta-Ha: 14-16)
"Verily, I am Allah: There is no god but I: So serve thou Me (only), and establish regular prayer for celebrating My praise. ”Verily the Hour is coming - My design is to keep it hidden - for every soul to receive its reward by the measure of its Endeavour. "Therefore let not such as believe not therein but follow their own lusts, divert thee therefrom, lest thou perish!"
Wazwaz: Let me bring your attention to the verses from the chapter Ta-Ha. In previous blogs, we discussed the importance of purification in faith. We had a discussion on Satan, the avid worshipper, who was near to God – praying all the time. Yes, he could not acknowledge or know Prophet Adam, upon him peace, in truth. The Angels asked God why Adam was chosen as representative on earth, but Satan just did not want to know. What happened with him in reflection on these verses?
Shaykh Qays: In the chapter Al-Baqara (The Cow), God reveals what happened. The scholarly commentary of the Qur’an tells us – that angels were sent to purge the earth from elements that caused corruption on it. Satan was a jinn, a spirit being, and he was of renowned devotion and ability, in the company of a group of angels who cleansed the earth of its corrupt elements. When that task was finished, Satan's heart swerved as a sense of accomplishment gave way to an astounding arrogance. God was, of course, aware of that swerving in his heart and at that moment said to the angels that He will put a representative on earth. Satan, in his arrogance, felt that that rank belonged to him after all that he had accomplished. He felt a sense of entitlement.
After Adam, the first human and representative of God on earth, was created that group of angels, along with Satan, was commanded to prostrate towards him as a sign of respect. All of them prostrated except Satan who, overcome by arrogance and envy couldn't bring himself to obey. Instead he refused and said he was better than Adam, he did not say he was better than God, but his rejection of the command was clear disbelief.
Now he disbelieved despite his knowledge of the truth. He knew the truth and he had knowledge of God, but he refused to submit due to a false and haughty sense of self-worth and entitlement.
Wazwaz: You said that Satan had knowledge of God. For people who accept faith and worship God, what lesson can we learn from him and his downfall? Can we assume we arrived simply because we worship God?
Shaykh Qays: Well, his heart changed despite profuse worship. From the time he was created, all that time he was worshipping, God knew his final outcome. We have to be aware that the outward showcase of faith should not bring self-satisfaction and a sense of entitlement. Satan worshiped and felt a sense of success, which allowed this self-deception to creep into his heart. Scholars of Muslim spirituality, known as Sufis, say that you either worship God with a gaze that is toward Him, or toward your ego. So worship could be a journey in the spiritual or just an ego trip. In Satan's fall there is a clear message: that true worship entails seeing oneself as a servant of God, and grasping that things are only significant to the extent that they are connected to God. That is self-knowledge.
And that knowledge is important especially because it is not uncommon for religious people to end up worshipping the command, instead of God. They see virtue in the command itself, detached from God. This state represents a lack of self-knowledge which happens when there is little knowledge of God - little true faith.
Wazwaz: Given what we discussed, how would you compare acting on true faith and knowledge with rejection of faith?
Shaykh Qays: That question is of great significance for those who want to avoid deception, especially self-deception, in matters of faith. You hear the word kafir which is mistranslated as infidel. Insofar as the term connotes mere nonconformity it is inaccurate. A Kafir is someone who actively rejects truth, as opposed to someone who simply does not know. Kuffar (the plural) are people who are antagonistic to truth. And there is quite a contrast between such a state and that of faith.
The world of faith is a world that is literate. A world that has knowledge. Literate in the sense of being able and willing to read and see the signs that point to the reality of God. That literacy was facilitated by the Prophets who taught it with their lives and blood: they made their claims, performed their miracles and they spoke the truth. They taught things to people and when people applied it in their lives, at all levels including the spiritual, they were found to be truthful.
According to Islamic teachings, Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings, is the last Prophet. So his true followers live their lives grounded in that knowledge, reading the world with that literacy. They are literate in that sense, that they can look at themselves and things around them and interpret them properly - in truth. And when we say they interpret it properly and in truth we mean that they can see it all leads back to Allah and none else. So that is what the world of faith is about, it is grounded in knowledge that gives direction and purpose. It is a world of purpose. They know what they are upon, why they are in this world, and they act in accordance with that knowledge.
The world of rejection of faith is a world of dhun - conjecture, and ghafla - heedlessness. Where the world of faith is a world of knowledge that leads to awareness and purpose, the world of kufr is ignorance or convention, conjecture, and superstition - and this brings about heedlessness. If you ask why do you do this - or worship like this - they say - this is how we found our fathers or people around us worshipping or doing.
My father, may Allah preserve him, he would point that out to me - that before becoming Muslim, he, like so many others, would act on convention without what we call niyya or purposeful intent. Work, marriage all "mundane" matters were based on convention without the keen awareness that true faith demands.
That heedlessness is the basis of misguidance and regardless of what label one assumes whether Muslim, Christian or otherwise if the teachings of the prophets are not heeded then one consigns oneself to that state of misguidance in which one's opinions, and more often feelings, reign supreme. Whatever feels good, sounds good, increases wealth, and facilitates pleasure is good and only the vilest infractions are frowned upon in such a state. That is in stark contrast to the state of one who indeed has faith.
Wazwaz: So you would agree that surrender or submission in Islam is not about feeling inferior or being submissive, but about embracing knowledge of who we really are, about self-knowledge and this requires having fear of God that is embedded in love? Many want to love God in a manner that denies His Authority, His Majesty – as though He needs our permission regarding His commands. It is an abusive love that doesn’t care if He is angry or displeased, but merely exist to serve us and please us.
Shaykh Qays: Being inferior to what?
Wazwaz: Well for example, some people argue that people, who believe in God, are just not using their minds, not thinking or researching. The argument is made that such people just have an inferiority complex, or attached to being inferior or an attachment to feeling weak, an attachment to feeling sad or victimhood complex. A case in point is people with a dependency disorder are attached to feeling helpless and in need of others, very clingy, and seek out people who dominate them.
Shaykh Qays: Surrender does entail acknowledging one's inferiority whenever one is inferior such as before God and the people He has blessed. But that is just part of acknowledging the truth and being humble. But by no means does the religion encourage complexes which by their nature affect judgment. As regards dependency the Sufis will tell you that it is only to the extent that one submits to and depends on God alone that one can achieve true independence from everything besides him, including one's own desires and ego.
Now there may be people who externalize their complexes with religion as people do with many other things but Islam is about positive action and moral responsibility. The Quran is emphatic that only those who believe and work will prosper and that when misfortune strikes the believers blame none but themselves. There is no room for complexes.
Wazwaz: Can you expand on that? We addressed submission from the angle of self-knowledge. In summary of what we discussed, how would you now answer the question what is submission or surrender to God in Islam?
Shaykh Qays: Submission or surrender to God is based on the truth that is contained in revelation. That knowledge calls us to interact with ourselves as individuals and other creatures in a particular way. It causes us to strive to achieve purpose that is with God. If you take away the purpose - then everything is lost - it anchors everything. Questions of purpose are called the big questions: Why we are here and where are we going to? It simply flies in the face of reason, intuition, and lived experience to deny meaning and purpose. Submission, given what was just said, is accepting the knowledge of our purpose as contained in revelation. When we speak about submission, it is not about being blind or ignorant believers. The knowledge is present. Revelation demands believers seek knowledge. Prophets did not come to uphold systems of government and perpetuate worldly power structures. They came to empower people through knowledge of the truth. So seeking knowledge is an obligation as is arriving at faith through reflection and thought that leads to conviction. The nature of revelation is individual accountability, individual awareness, and not blindly following clergy or Caliph. That happens though. People, Muslim and non-Muslim, follow blindly a human being instead of learning and worshiping God, they start worshipping, as it were, that individual blindly. However when that happens Religion is absent regardless of how those who are in that condition identify themselves. We ask Allah for His protection.
Wazwaz: However, some Muslims do blindly follow. They do not know who they are, but just blindly follow to belong. There is no awareness of how they are being brainwashed, what emotional blackmail is or how mental abuse functions.
Shaykh Qays: As I had said knowledge is emphasized first and foremost. The first revelation that came down to Prophet Muhammad in the Qur'an is the verse "Read, in the name of your Lord...” It is not an academic thing. People try to reduce it to an academic thing because they have been taught that there can be that no thought outside of an institutional framework. The verse came down when there were no institutional frameworks in Arabia to a prophet who could neither read nor write. And it called people to think, to reflect.
Revelation criticized certain character traits that stunt intelligence such as arrogance and mockery or irreverence. But it never prohibited genuine enquiry because to do so would be to encourage blind convention which is not admissible in matters of faith. Unlike jurisprudence which is about law and expertise such that we have more need to defer to experts and conventions concerning the details, there is no room for convention in the fundamentals of faith or aqeedah. It is about conviction. And conviction doesn't happen merely as a result of what anyone else does or says. So the scholars of aqeedah say there is no taqleed(blind following) in aqeedah. And if someone says I am Muslim because my father is a Muslim and what he means by that is that he never thought about matters of faith for himself then he is sinful.
So surrender is about submitting to Allah and none besides with knowledge and purpose. And whoever fails to grasp that, whatever he may call himself, had failed to grasp the religion.