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The Path of Unity

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The Path of Unity
"Living Islam East & West"
(Excerpts Only)

By: Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

A man who was pretending to be a Sufi came to Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq and asked the Imam, "Why are you dressed so beautifully, when your ancestors dressed in patched robes?" He replied, "I am not wearing anything that cannot be found in the bazaar at Medina." At that time, during the time of Mu'awiyyah, Medina was full of opulence and extremely decadent. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq said to the man, "Go to the bazaar, and see if these robes are commonly available. Wealth has poured in from everywhere, everybody can afford them." The man did so, and found that in fact the abundance of wealth had produced an economic situation that made the robes commonly available and easily affordable. He returned to the Imam who explained, "I want to be like everyone else; I don't want to be different. I am dressing this way for you people. If I had my choice I would be dressed in what I am wearing underneath." He then showed him a coarse, patched robe that he was wearing underneath.

This story exemplifies the meaning of dunya. The true meaning of dunya is attachment to worldly existence in any form. There is nothing wrong with a beautiful car, but who owns whom?

We must come to understand the meanings of the self and how these meanings interconnect with the practice and courtesies of Islam. For example, let us consider anger, is it good or bad?

It is both good and bad. If one is angry and indignant against evil, it is the right thing. If one is angry emotionally or because of one's nafs (self), it is terrible. One must be patient to see how correct anger may be shown in the way of Allah. Sometimes anger against evil should not be expressed. One should run away, let it subside, because one is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger is a great power. Channeled properly it is of benefit, like a river that is harnessed to irrigate fields. What are hopes and expectations? What is haughtiness? What is oppression? What is lust? Is it good or bad, and how is it channeled? What is the meaning of companionship and brotherhood? What is the meaning of greeting? What are the courtesies of sitting and walking? There is much in Islam even about the courtesies of sneezing. What is the meaning and courtesy of visiting each other, of giving gifts to each other? What are the virtues of sickness? Much has been written in our traditions about this subject. What is the meaning of grief? How does it come about? Why is one occasionally depressed for no reason? We could go on and on.

What are the sicknesses of the self, and how can we cure them? What is the meaning of 'aql, the faculty of reasoning? What is the heart, al-qalb, which should continuously turn? What is forgiveness? What is repentance? What is the meaning of divine law? What is the meaning of fiqh, jurisprudence? What is the meaning of ritual purity and of prayer? What is the meaning of almsgiving? What is the meaning of the yearly payment of 21/2% of one's earnings after expenses in the way of Allah? What is the meaning of pilgrimage to Mecca? What is the meaning of struggle in the way of Allah? When the Muslims returned from battle, the Prophet told them, "Now you have come back from the lesser battle; it is time for you to start the greater battle, the struggle with the self in the way of Allah." This does not mean we should hide in order to do inner battle -- we must be willing at any time to wage both the inward and outward wars. Otherwise, our unification with Allah is superstitious, pseudo-Sufi nonsense.

These then are the stepping stones. Some of them lie on marshy lands, and are very shaky in the ground. They are the despicable, contemptible elements that make us sink. Some of them are beautiful, firm little stepping stones in the middle of the ocean of Allah's creation, and it is our duty to know which is which -- which stepping stones to avoid, which stepping stones to stand on, on which ones we should occasionally stop and catch our breath, and on which ones we should proceed quickly.

The answers to the above-mentioned questions all dovetail into one another for they all are interlinked. Similarly, we cannot take the outer divine law and forget the inner meaning. If we did this, Islam would become superstitious religiosity, only a veneer. It would then become only a ceremony, a piece of religious celebration. Islam is real courtesy. If we are truly courteous, then the outer courtesy will lead inward. We must pursue it, we must go and find out about it, and that knowledge is available. It is not difficult, provided it is explained in a manner that is compatible with our age, easily digestible and accessible.

The Prophet said to his companions, "If I tell you ten things and you forget one, you are in the Fire. However, a time will come when out of these ten things, if people remember only one, they will be people of the Garden." This is our time. So take heart, but do not use that as an excuse to be sloppy. Be careful, for the self is very clever. Be careful of hypocrisy for it is very elusive: it comes in and escapes through a hole before it can be caught. So catch it, block up that hole, truly reflect.

People today do not even have time to look at their own reflections in the mirror, let alone truly reflect. They rush here and there, from the womb to the tomb. Look at the traffic -- half of it is going this way and half the other way. It is a crazy world with everyone chasing after their desires.

Life is full and you contain all of it, in a meaningful form, in your very breast. That is the meaning of the tradition related to the Prophet from Allah that "The heavens and the earth do not contain Me, but the heart of a trusting believer contains Me." In other words, a believer has in his heart the sub-genetically encoded seed of the meaning of the entire creation.

A start must be made. This start is like clearing a deep well that has been filled with debris from many years of negligence. Every person must dig out his own well, nobody can dig another's. All one can do is learn from others how they dug theirs, learn how they sharpened their tools. One must dig until the bottom is reached. Then the spring within will be found. We can only help each other courteously, correctly, and generously.

When we have cleared the well we will be fully alive and joyfully content, living in a manner that befits man, living on this earth without being swamped by it, without being buried under its minute to minute problems and anxieties which affect everyone as long as they are alive. How can we live a life that inwardly gives us a taste of freedom, yet be available at any moment to depart? How can we be responsible, do our jobs and perform our obligations, fulfill what we promise, act upon what we say, and at the same time increase our knowledge and wisdom about this world and the next, about the seen and the unseen, for the two are connected. The separation is alluded to only for the sake of description. The seen and the unseen dovetail into each other, the same way as the day and the night.

As Muslims, we begin with the assumption that there is one Reality, and there is no god except one God. First is negation and there is a great secret in it. We are programmed in our own lifetime to recognize first what is not. When we are young, very few of us know what we want to do, but we know much more clearly and much more commonly what we do not want to do. We know what is wrong, we know what is causing anxiety. We know that a certain neighbor has caused us trouble, we know that a particular type of boss, or job, or career is not desirable. We discover what is not, because it does not give us happiness, is not reliable and does not last.

Nothing lasts, neither money nor relationships. Even what one knows may be found to be insignificant. What is the use of knowledge if suddenly one is drifting upon an iceberg in the middle of the sea? What is the use of being a billionaire if one finds oneself in the middle of a desert with a crashed aircraft? Invariably one will discover what is not. What is not is any attachment, any connection, any desire, any expectations in the world. This discovery is made by suffering these expectations. The experience is common to us all. We have all experienced suffering from being attached to something -- a child, a wife, a house, a coat, a car, or whatever.

That is why there is a secret in negation. Abraham, for example, as we are told in the Qur`an, negated the worship of the sun, the moon, and the stars in order to teach his people about the way of unity. Nothing lasts, and whatever we know of the world is of no use to us in entirely different circumstances, especially the circumstances after death. Then one discovers la ilaha illa`llah (there is no god but Allah). After the negation one comes to the affirmation. After having said, 'No, it is not acceptable, I will not be satisfied by these things,' when one is bereft, then the conclusion is reached by deduction that there must be a reality that encompasses all of these different things. It is a natural conclusion, and is called knowledge of certainty. By deduction, through the faculty of reason, one reaches a conclusion that there must be one Reality encompassing what appears to be duality.

Life is balanced on pairs of opposites. Whatever state we are in, it represents one of these two opposites. If we are quiet, it is the opposite of being noisy. Thinking is the opposite of non-thought. Being awake is the opposite of being asleep, and so on. Often, in our actions in this life, we move from one end of the spectrum to the other. We oscillate back and forth, either breathing in or breathing out, or suspended from two opposites, and it is a puzzle. Our purpose in creation is to solve this puzzle, to see what is really behind it, because two is not satisfactory. Two is associated with other than Allah. We see two because this is how the world is, and we are given the faculty of intellect and discrimination as Adam was before his apparent disobedience. It was not, in fact, disobedience because he had not seen anything other than the truth. When he heard the voice of someone, he looked at it simply as the truth, like a child in a sense. He was a child in the garden of the Creator. Then he had to earn his way back to that garden by differentiation and by discrimination, by means of the seeds of wisdom, knowing when and how to act, and, just as important, how not to act; how not to be deceptive, and how not to be too clever, because cleverness has a level of deception; how to be sincere by being in submission. The true state of submission is a very difficult state to fully experience and unify with because it implies a measure of helplessness, and we do not like to be helpless. We all want to be active and dynamic, we all want to experience things. Biologically we are dynamic. Being in submission and also being active is a state of knowing that one's actions will be in line with destiny and thus will be successful. We will not go into that in detail now, because it is a major topic encompassing questions such as, what is the meaning of destiny? What is the meaning of free will? Is one free, or not? Is everything decreed before it's occurrence or not?

Allah is in non-time, beyond time; He is the non-time dimension. Whatever we experience over thousands or tens of thousands of years, whatever occurs cosmically over billions of years, is wrapped in non-time, projected upon its fixed substratum, unfolding as events in time. We are able to experience time because there is the backdrop of non-time within us, and this allows us to measure time, allows the experience of time as relative. If we are happy, then time seems to go fast, but if we are unhappy or troubled, then it seems to drag. Imam 'Ali Zayn al-'Abidin said in a supplication: "Oh Allah, don't ever allow me to be arrogant enough to think that after I take this breath, another one will follow." He also said, "Oh Allah, forgive me if I ever think that by lifting one foot, the next will automatically follow." Look at the state of awareness of that great being. He was awareness itself. For him there was no past, no future, only non-time, only Allah.

The Qur`an says,

So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant at what He has given you. (57:23)

What does this mean? It means, do not be sorry for anything that is past and do not be excessively expectant or hopeful about things in the future. Do not dwell on past memories for this tarnishes one's energy now. Do not allow the past to be carried over to the present. If half of the time one is concerned about yesterday's wounds, half of one's energy today is unavailable. And if half of the time one is busy looking towards tomorrow, then half of one is not present to experience today. All our being present is not even good enough, let alone half. Be real, be now, be wholesome. This is tawhid, unity.

We are talking about different manifestations of this fundamental issue of the One and Only Reality -- Allah, Glory be to Him, the Mighty, the Majestic. He is the Non-Manifest. We cannot describe Him or talk about Him. The Prophet advises us to talk only about Allah's attributes and actions. In this way we can get closer to that subtlety, because He is the Subtle. His is the Majestic Name. With Him is complete freedom and joyfulness.

For the people of Allah this world is a prison. Imam 'Ali Zayn al-'Abidin described death by saying, "When an unbeliever dies, it is like taking off his wedding gown. When the believer dies, it is as though he has removed a filthy robe which he had yearned to discard." If this life is not viewed as a preparation, as the place where we are polished in order for that diamond within us to shine, then we have missed the point. We cannot talk about Islam, we cannot talk about faith, and we have no right to talk about the Prophet. Our Islam will become superstitious and it will become something separate from us: once a week we will go to a mosque, or we will bend our knees five times a day, or whatever. The Prophet said, "For how many people does fasting bring nothing other than hunger and thirst?"

The Prophet once heard a woman neighbor cursing her servant. He sent her some food, and she sent back a message saying that she was fasting. He said, "How can you be fasting, and yet curse your servant? What is the use of your fast?" We cannot take just one portion of our path. We cannot take only the outer practices without the inner meaning. What is the inner meaning of fasting? The real meaning, the inner secret, is for one's heart to fast from anything other than Allah. First, however, one must refrain from the outer -- sex and the stomach, which are man's two weakest points. When Muslims become decadent, it is through these two things. If one wishes to clinch a business deal, one merely invites the other fellow for a sumptuous lunch. At the end of the meal the man will be stupefied from all the blood that has rushed from his head to his stomach. Those who are in business know exactly what we are talking about. First feed the brute. Similarly, the intelligent woman knows how to get to her husband -- through his belly.

The recognition and awareness of negative habits allows these tendencies to fall away. When a person genuinely recognizes what they are doing, if they actually stand back and see the damages, then they are more likely to fall into a cybernetic process of self-awareness, rather than simply admit, in a clumsy hypocritical way, that they are bad fellows.

Returning to the aspect of time, let us examine a small element of the meaning of decree and destiny. We must approach this meaning through linguistic definition. Qadr in Arabic means a measure. Qadas means destiny, justice, judgment, what has passed. Qadas, which is destiny, comes according to qadr, or measure. It is scientific. There is no such thing as luck. The outcome of an event will be according to the measure of all the elements involved. As we know, a small element in life can change so many other elements. One person who refused to submit to the system of denial and disbelief in Iran changed the entire shape of world history. One person who abandoned himself and would not yield to compromises, because any small compromises at certain crucial times can be complete compromises. Ayatollah Khomeini knew that there were certain elements that had to be removed. The entire nation of Iran was basically Muslim but they had lost their Islam, it had become diluted. The removal of one key element, the Shah, who was the agent of corruption, was needed. How can one compromise about identifying where the evil lies? Ayatollah Khomeini had no means at his disposal when they sent him a message inviting him to come, but he said he knew that he was as low as he could go and the Shah was high, so what is high must come down and what is low must rise. All it takes is the interlink between different elements which we cannot always measure. Could anyone of us eight or nine years ago have predicted what was going to happen? Ayatollah Khomeini was unknown to most of the world at that time. All the great powers were helplessly paralyzed.

Everything that happens does so according to elements that interact upon each other, and the result is destiny. What is one's destiny, then? One's destiny is subjective individual experience, compared with the rest of the orchestration of surrounding events. If one's intention to perform an action coincides with one's overall destiny, then the result is perfect harmony. We have all heard or know of people who withdraw and shut themselves away from the world. Occasionally we also experience that feeling of not wanting to get out of bed. This is because our wishes or desires have too many times been blunted against our overall destiny, and failure was the result. Not wanting it to happen again, we become paralyzed. But who told us to have those desires? Why are we not intelligent enough to know what is written for us? This is why we want to know Allah.

Do not take our traditions lightly for they expound the knowledge of Allah. They are total, they are absolute, if they are authentic, if they are from our Imams and the Prophet. They provide more detail for what is already in the Qur`an. There are two types of knowledge, one is informational or technical, such as how to weave a cloth, sew a dress, or drive a car, and the other is divine or revealed knowledge. Self-knowledge is part of the latter and it is innate. One must cultivate it. We spend too much time and energy on informational knowledge, which is worldly knowledge, and thus, we are all out of balance. Man is made of both soul and form. The body must be cared for moderately, not too much nor too little. The soul is the same.

Listen to the voice of Reality, the voice of unity. Allah says in the Qur`an:

Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and not be tried? (29:2)

Do people think that they merely have to say that they are in complete trust and faith to avoid being afflicted and tested so that their true state may be known? Was I here to gain some acknowledgement, some joy, or money, or what? Or have I come here without any expectations whatsoever? It is Allah's mercy and Allah's proof that no matter what one does, it must be faced and the intention also will be reflected in it.

The Prophet, talking to Abu Dharr said, "Act as though you see Allah; whilst you may not see Him, know that He sees you." We know that even though we do not have a concept of that Reality which is in non-time, we will taste an aspect of the attributes when we die. So we must have death in front of us at every moment; by this, we will be far more alert.

Think of arrogance and anger. Wouldn't they become less if one suddenly remembered that at any moment one might die? Think of death, think of non-time, and your perspective will change. Time will stop. There is no guarantee that you will not die at any moment.

We have the freedom to choose how to live. We have the option of living according to the divine way, according to Allah's decree. In this way we will end up unifying our will with destiny, and we will live freely, and yet as slaves. Look at the word 'slave'. In Arabic it is from the same root as the verb ' 'abbada' which means to pave a road so that it is smooth and serviceable, so that it has no resistance. The true slave has no resistance; there is no difference between him and his master.

We have a choice. We can act in a manner that is not going to add more to the egoistic qualities of arrogance, vanity, expectation, and desire or we can act in a way which will enhance and cause these qualities to grow. If we desire the former, then we have only to observe ourselves. We want everything to collect, or to become kings and queens -- by nature we want to control. It is the echo of the Controller within us. We want to imitate Allah. Everyone imagines this at some time or another.


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The Recovery of Spiritual Values ] Remembrance of Allah ] Living Real Islam ] Remembrance of the Prophet ] Freedom from the Chain of Desires ] Good News ] Accountability ] Inner Meaning of The Qur`an ] Keys to the Kingdom ] Praising the Lord of Creation ] The Witnesser and the Witnessed ] The Spiritual Nature of Man ] [ The Path of Unity ] The Ecology of Unity ] In Pursuit of True Knowledge ] A Living Model ] The Meaning of Life and Death ]