1. RESEARCH PAPER, 2009
Why Modern Intellectuals don’t reach the Truth?
Sufism – The Misunderstood Islam, 2009
Critical Analysis of Modern Islamic Scholars: Philosophical, Epistemological, Scientific & Spiritual Problems, 2020
What is spirituality? Why is it so unpopular? 2021
An Ideal Model for Muslim Universities
Philosophy of Tragedy & Suffering in Life
Why God must be loved unconditionally
Allama Iqbal’s “Khudi” (Selfhood) – Most misunderstood concept
Music in Islam – Al Ghazali’s opinion
How to unite Muslim Ummah – a brand new idea!
Why 5 times prayers are not helping Muslims?
Sunnah – What is lacking today?
Tazkia-e-Nafs (Purification of Soul)
Fundamental Flaw with Modern Sufis
4. 13 ideas of thesis topics for academic students: MA/PhD in Islamic Thought & Civilization, 2009
“Why Modern Intellectuals don’t reach the Truth?”, 2009
Published in 4 International Journals:-
JRISS, JRSS, Transcendent Philosophy, Suvidya
The pendulum of our age swings with the thrust of relativism, the amplitude of uncertainty while hinging on subjectivity. Paradoxes that defy the best brains, stir the calmest hearts and threaten the conviction of most, revolve around Truth. Reality is a supreme puzzle harder to join after the ascent of intellect. Most religions demand leaps of faith too big for inquisitive minds. Science’s relentless pursuit of facts renders it cold for human emotions. Philosophy cannot avoid and instead drowns in the waves of its times. Psychology mocks man’s dignity by deeming him a puppet dancing to an unheard tune. Intuition and imagination in Art and Literature fail to serve the utilitarian ends of materialism. Hedonism is a forbidden tree whose fruits poison man’s soul; so pleasure, too, is not a beacon of guidance. Thus a cry for intellectual unity among all kinds of people seems fruitless. Yet, one definition of truth worthy of highest consent is that it has to pass the deepest scrutiny of reason and stand the longest test of time.
Is there anything that is qualified to be called the Truth? Do we need a Truth to live for? Can there ever be a single Truth which would unite the whole world without any conflicts? Or is Truth the unmatched utopia which will never prevail beyond wishful thinking? Does Truth stand independent of us? Is Truth only an illusion of our psyche? Is it an inevitable epiphenomenon of the natural disposition of our brain? Do we see things as they are or as we are? Is there a visionary who, blessed with the height of wisdom, possesses a magical answer to these unsolved riddles of our times? The History of Western Thought is full of false prophets who claimed to bring man out of darkness.
Once upon a time, man was foolish, naïve, “backwards” and irrational. When he would set his eyes upon the mighty mountains, he would think of a Creator behind them. When he would witness the undisturbed alternation of sun and moon, he would imagine a God moving them. When he would see his body designed with fragility and perfection, he would ascribe the same cause to it. When he would be in need, he would lift his hands for a prayer. When he would be confused about right and wrong, he would open a Holy Book. However, thanks to science, technology, intellect and progress, there is no such idiocy anymore. Now he can explain everything with science and logic. He does not need fairytales to be fascinated with; perhaps he has grown too wise for them. How superstitious was he!
The above is an excerpt from the diary of a modern man as to how he views religion. Is not it wondrous that some of the most educated and intelligent people turn completely stupid when it comes to religion? People who can design highly complex integrated circuits fail to understand a simple teaching of religion. We have already read the modern man’s explanation, but the secret is much deeper than that which, if understood, would not have given birth to so many “isms”.
The body-soul duality has confused some of the most sophisticated minds since ages. Spiritual masters of all traditions claim that the soul, too, has organs. Let us consider what Western Philosophy calls as the mind-body problem. Neuroscientists claim the dualism of mind-brain to be true; the mind is to soul what the brain is to body; the mind is a ‘spiritual’ brain distinct from the biological brain. To understand how they interact, let us consider computer technology as an analogy. Intelligence itself belongs to the software but it cannot perform its function without its information processor i.e. the hardware. Mind is like the software whereas brain is like the hardware. Furthermore, in both cases, the earlier is non-material whereas the later is material.
Perhaps the two most fascinating scientific discoveries in the last few years are as follows. Firstly, the biological heart which has been considered as only a blood-pump since ages is actually a lot more than that i.e it is an intelligent organ. Secondly, there is a dualism of heart as well i.e besides the biological heart, there is a spiritual heart.
Recently, a relatively new medical discipline known as Neurocardiology has uncovered the presence of the neurons in the heart, the same type of cells that are present in the brain. There are as many as 40000 neurons in the heart. The nervous system of the heart is made up of these neurons which are capable of processing information without the help of neurons from the brain. The neurons of the heart obtain information from the rest of the body and make appropriate adjustments and send back this information from the heart to the rest of the body including the brain. In addition to this, these neurons possess a kind of short-term memory which allows them to function independently of the central nervous system.
These findings prompted the nervous system of the heart being mentioned as the “brain in the heart”. The heart possesses its own little brain, capable of complex computational analysis on its own. Data clearly indicate that the intrinsic cardiac nervous system acts as much more than a simple relay station for the extrinsic autonomic projections to the heart. An understanding of the complex anatomy and function of the heart’s nervous system contributes an additional dimension to the newly emerging view of the heart as a sophisticated information processing centre, functioning not only in concert with the brain but also independent of it.
The heart communicates with the brain in 4 different ways. Firstly, its nerve cells or neurons transmit information to the brain. It is called neural traffic and research has shown that the heart sends more neural traffic to the brain than the other way round. Secondly, the heart has been found to secrete a very powerful hormone called Atrial Natriuretic factor (ANF) that has a profound effect on many parts of the body including those portions of the brain that are involved in memory, learning and emotions. Thirdly, with every heartbeat, pressure waves are generated and when these travel through the arteries to the brain, there are recordable changes in the electrical activity of the brain. Finally, the heart has an electromagnetic energy field 5000 times greater than that of the brain. Since the heart’s energy field is greater than that of the brain, it has a profound effect on the brain’s functions.
Even though the timing of the heartbelt can be influenced by the brain (through the autonomic nervous system), the source of the heartbeat is present within the heart. There appears to be no need for nerve connections between the heart and the brain. That is why, when a person has a heart transplant, all the nerve connections between the heart and brain are cut but that doesn’t stop the heart from working when it is placed in the new person’s chest.
It is common knowledge now that the heart of the unborn child develops and starts pumping long before the brain comes into existence. Even though the actual event which triggers the beating of the heart cells of a baby is not known, it is suspected that the mother’s heart energy conveyed in primal sound waves contains the information that is the code that jump-starts our life. Once the heart begins to beat, it continues to beat throughout a lifetime (auto rhythmic beating function) even when the brain stops working in cases like ‘brain death’. Brain death is described as a condition when brain activity has stopped forever. Hence even when the brain dies, the heart can still live. But when the heart dies (unless we find a replacement for the heart), the brain cannot live. Thus, the brain needs the heart for its survival more than the other way around.
Joseph Pearce, in “Evolution’s End”, claims that the biological heart is governed by another higher unseen order of energy. The behaviors of people after heart-transplants reflect that of the late donors. Experiments were done on two cells taken from the heart and observed through a microscope. In the first experiment in which they are isolated from one another they simply fibrillate until they die but when similar cells are brought near to each other, they synchronize and beat in unison. They don’t have to touch they communicate across a spatial barrier. Our heart made up of many billions of such cells operating in unison is under the guidance of a higher, non localized intelligence so we have both a physical heart and a higher universal heart and our access to the latter is dramatically contingent on the former.
Intelligence used to be defined as only rationality expressed by the brain and measured by IQ tests. In 1983, Howard Gardner of Harvard revolutionized the whole concept of intelligence. He showed 7 distinct kinds of intelligence – logical/mathematical, linguistic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial & bodily/kinesthetic. He claimed that IQ-tests measure only the first two types. In 1996, Daniel Goleman, in his famous book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ showed that life depends far higher on the ability to manage emotions rather than mental abilities alone. Emotional intelligence is of a humanistic type whereas logical intelligence is of a selfish type. Thus intelligence devoid of heart turns man cunning and insensitive. Some deem emotions as only the by-product of brain but it has been shown that emotions are much faster than the thought process and surpass the linear-reasoning of the brain. J. Andrew Armour proved in his book “Neurocardiology” that amygdala, the portion of brain dealing with emotional memory processing, is influenced by the heart.
On a less scientific and much simpler, philosophical and experiential level, we can understand the heart-brain interaction by reflecting on how we reason in our everyday lives. An emotion or feeling gives birth to a thought process. The sequence of the reasoning progresses in the direction as governed by the emotion behind it. The final conclusion which we label as rationale is nothing but the super-imposition of the initial emotion. Man, as we all know, is primarily governed by passion. There are very few instances in which his rationality is unaltered by his emotions. His heart and mind are fully interconnected. Feelings arouse thoughts and thoughts stir feelings and this vicious cycle goes on.
Where man becomes rational in a neutral manner, that is, without favoring his emotions, is mostly the scientific domain. Conclusions of scientific investigations and experiments are more often than not free from adulterations and biases. Why is that so? Why is a scientist more often than not honest in scientific truths? It is because the conclusions have nothing to do with the fulfillment or negation of his desires; but the same scientist will never be that honest in concluding religious truths because, he knows it will directly interfere with his desires. Even in scientific matters like evolution and creation, scientists who are inwardly anti-religious lose their honesty. Atheist Richard Dawkins, who can be called a “fundamentalist Scientist”, despite claiming to be a pure rationalist, rejects a refutation of Darwinism which is more rational than its defense. Scientists, too, are humans like us.
Is intuition a source of intelligence? How can people create art or become great artists with neither learning or studying art nor having an arts degree? They call it artistic sense. But what is artistic sense? Artistic sense is nothing but intuitive intellect invested for art. The rationalists recognize it in the domain of Arts but shun it when it comes to religion. It is their intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy. Without intuition no one can compose music or write poetry. ‘Gut feeling’ and ‘6th sense’, too, are human experiences that cannot be denied. Why does someone in love possess such a strong and accurate sixth sense regarding his beloved? Heart is way above being just a romantic-sounding word.
Knowledge itself is neither Western nor Eastern. Science is neither materialistic nor spiritual in its scope and purpose; it is concerned with the observation, collection and definition of facts and the derivation from them of general rules. But the inductive conclusions derived from them are not based on facts and observations alone but are influenced, to a very large extent, by the intuitive attitude towards life and its problems. The great German philosopher, Kant, said: “It seems surprising at first, but is none the less certain, that our reason does not draw its conclusions from things, but ascribes them to it” . This ascription cannot be free from intuition coming from the heart.
“If you are not deceived by the mirage, be not proud of your understanding. Your freedom from this optical illusion is due to your imperfect thirst” – Urfi
One seldom comes across a more beautiful explanation of the phenomena of perception than the above words of the Persian poet. With a vehement desire to drink, the sands of the desert would give the impression of a lake but due to the absence of a keen desire for water, one cannot perceive it. A person with hatred for someone will see faults in him that do not even exist, whereas, a person in love with someone finds gems in him out of no where. Human knowledge is only a perception of the reality, not the reality itself. In quantum physics, even the distinction between subject and object has ceased to exist. We see things as we are not as they are. Perception, too, is the work of heart.
Till now we have discussed heart in the light of modern science and simple philosophy. Although it has certainly shed new lights on many things but we have not yet answered the question raised at the start. It is said that where all human intellect ceases, the sagacity of revelation starts. Similarly, where scientists and philosophers have nothing to say further, a deeply spiritual or religious man will have a lot to offer. The role of biological heart and the existence of spiritual heart that Science has discovered now were revealed in the Quran, in more than 100 verses, 15 centuries earlier. But Islam did not just settle there and took the concept to another level altogether. It further explained the role of spiritual heart (qalb) as well which would, in turn, create all the difference.
A mirror reveals the true picture only when it is itself clear and clean. When an impurity mars it, the image is dimmed and if it becomes covered with dirt, it cannot reveal a true reflection. The qalb is a mirror. When it is freed from vices, it is spotless and speaks only the truth. When a vice takes place, a black spot appears on it and if the vices go on persisting, the black spot grows bigger till the heart becomes completely blind to the truth. Just as the brain has an IQ level reflecting capability to understand many things, the heart has a purification level which indicates its capacity to comprehend the Ultimate Truth.
Truth is infinite and cannot reside in a finite container. Human senses have limitations with mortality written all over them. Although the human brain is amazing to reach beyond the stars or inside a micro particle but it, too, would fail to give the right output in some of the fundamental questions of life if it receives input from a corrupt master (qalb). Qalb is the only organ which has the potential to grasp the infinite despite human limitations. Quran says that God neither exists in the heavens nor on the earth but only in the qalb of His true followers. The qalb is His home but He enters it only when it is clean enough for Him.
The modern man, in his sheer ignorance, thinks that religion doesn’t appeal to him because, unlike the older times when man hadn’t developed logical competence, now he has intellectually progressed too much to even need religion. In truth, his heart has been darkened so much due to sins that he has lost the ability to see the reality. God describes such people as deaf, dumb and blind who can neither see the truth nor hear the truth nor speak the truth. When Muhammad (pbuh) said that our heart is the organ which governs our body, his words were spoken from a spiritual point of view because from the physical perspective, even a school-kid knows it. The indifference to religion in the modern age is not because of intellectual superiority but due to spiritual inferiority.
People can be brilliant in their professions with impure hearts because most require only good brains. Religious knowledge, however, is quite different from secular knowledge. If Ghazali, Rumi or Ibn-al-Arabi used logic to the fullest for their brilliant philosophies, it is because with a heart similar to theirs, reason will always reach the truth. The problem with the modern man is that he uses logic as much as them but has a heart not even worth comparing to them. As much as intellect guides man, it leads him astray – the criteria being state of the heart. Modern man’s intellectual discourse is mostly a rational expression or rather justification of the call of lower-self (nafs).
It is noteworthy to compare the ancient and modern concepts of Philosophy. In Greek tradition, it was considered hikmah (wisdom). For Muslims, philosophy was nothing but an honest search for the truth. In today’s academics, the discipline of philosophy comes under Arts because now it has been robbed of its serious nature and is more just a creative ability to think without any profound veracity, with more emphasis on originality rather than depth. Iqbal must have seen the highly obscured vision of Russel, Nietzsche, Freud, Marx and Rousseau, when he said that, “man’s reason aims at the conquest of the world of matter; his love makes conquest of the infinite. Knowledge devoid of love is nothing but juggling with ideas” . Quran rightly described pseudo-intellectualism as nothing but mental conjectures devoid of reality.
Rumi saw the heart, being a special inner insight, bringing us into contact with aspects of reality other than those open to sense-perception and intellect. Intellect, according to him, only restrains the living heart of man and robs it of the invisible wealth that lies within. While admitting the superiority of intuitive intellect over rational, Iqbal said that “where thought grasps Reality piecemeal, intuition grasps it in its wholeness. One fixes its gaze on the temporal aspect of Reality; the other on the eternal. One slowly traverses, specifies and closes up the various regions of the whole for exclusive observation; the other is present enjoyment of the whole of Reality” .
The issue with the modern man is that he is so in love with this illusionary world that his rationality is bound to suit only his emotions which are non-religious and non-spiritual in nature. That is why even when he opens a Holy Book, his interpretation deprives him of the truth and the celestial verses fail to penetrate into his dark heart. On the other hand, the same man, amazingly, shed tears on a mere song or a movie or a novel despite knowing it is only art not the truth! The issue with religion is that it is too deep to be grasped without a receptive heart, and certainly not for the shallowness and superficiality of the modern age. Thus Islamization of knowledge is Islamization of man which in turn is Islamization of hearts.
A Sufi once said that no real understanding of the Holy Book is possible until it is actually revealed to the believer just as it was revealed to the Prophet. Sufis of the past were able to derive many hidden meanings behind seemingly simple Quranic verses. Hazrat Ali gave a lecture from isha till fajr on only the first letter of Bismillah. These people had hearts of gold; we only wear gold on our skins. The spiritual heart (qalb) is the organ of higher knowledge when pure. The holy book is not another collection of papers, letters and ink. It is an infinite ocean of knowledge, but only for the thirsty – not for the heedless, arrogant, “civilized” and “refined gentlemen” of the 21st century! The reason why most cannot perceive God in anything in life is because they have too much of everything else, instead, to long for. A Sufi once said that this universe is His book to take lessons from it.
The modern age speaks too much of enlightenment of the mind, whereas, with a darkened heart, the mind will only give birth to an inverted reality. No wonder arrogance is known as dignity; indifference is known as tolerance; humbleness is known as weakness; material greed is known as ambitiousness; vulgarity is known as freedom; lust is known as love; insensitivity is known as rationality; conscience is known as confusion; short-sightedness is known as practicality; conviction is known as fundamentalism; higher conviction is known as extremism; denial of human limitations is known as genius. The best illustration of inverted reality is human prosperity, a term we hear earlier than we learn how to crawl. By devoting himself solely to increase the quantity and quality of ghair-ullah (non-God), man is now inevitably fascinated with all but God whereas the essence of religion was none but God.
What appears as the decay of religion and the rise of intelligence is in reality nothing but the death and emptiness of hearts turned idle, unable to hear that eternal inner voice. Nietzsche said God is dead. I say conscience is dead. The pinnacle of delusion is that modern man has assumed his superiority amongst creations as an unconditional state whereas it solely relies on his acts – man can even be lower than the beasts. Man is great only because he has will and yet doesn’t sin, not because he sins and can rationally justify it as well. The latter case represents that of the modern man and he is so proud of it. He defies the truth using an instrument which alone cannot even measure it.
If man flies to the highest sky of reason, he would nothing but the clouds of Truth, only if the wings of faith take him that far!
Mushtaq, Gohar (1987). The Intelligent Heart, the Pure Heart: an insight into the heart based on Quran, Sunnah and Modern Science. London: Ta-Ha Publishers
Muhammad, Riaz (1998). Sayings of the Mystics of Islam. Karachi: Dawah Academy
Herlihy, John (1990). In Search of the Truth. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Pustaka Islam
Iqbal, Muhammad. (1982). Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Lahore: Javid Iqbal.
“SUFISM – THE MISUNDERSTOOD ISLAM”, 2009
Published in Daily Times newspaper, Ravi Magazine & Pakistan Think-Tank
There are four kinds of opinions about Sufism. The true Sufis claim it as the real Islam. The literalists shun it as a mixture of biddah, kufr and shirk. The pseudo-Sufis “follow” it without knowing anything about its reality. The rationalists deem it only for those who are superstitious, backwards and lack brains. Let us discuss all four with slight details.
The Sufis say that Islam is empty without Ihsan which is worshipping as if one sees God. They say that religion is way beyond acts with a ritualistic and heartless attitude devoid of any concentration. They say that Sufism is a higher dimension of Islam and the perfection of Iman. They aim far above the minimum requirements for salvation. Their focus is not just the quantity but the quality of deeds. They claim Sufism as the spirituality of Islam. Furthermore, they claim some portion of Sufism as a hidden Islam graspable only to them, not even to ordinary scholars let alone to laymen.
The literalists say that Sufism has nothing to do with Quran & Sunnah. They say that whatever Sufis say and do is either different or contradictory to what has been revealed to and practiced by the holy prophet. They say that Shariah is one for all without any distinction between the awaam (common man) and the khawaas (elite). They say that the holy prophet and his companions were the true elites and they didn’t practice Sufism. They do not realize that it is a part of the divine plan that there is a hierarchy within the diversity of creation. Just like plants, animals and humans cannot be put in one category, all humans cannot be put in one category as well. The Quran itself says that Allah has given some prophets precedence and superiority over other prophets. When even all prophets cannot be put in one bracket, how can all humans be categorized as one? Similarly, within believers, the Quran has divided humanity into many categories with each having its own level in the eyes of Allah. So the distinction between the common man and those destined for spiritual and intellectual ranks is a Quranic concept and doesn’t need any debate at all.
The pseudo (fake) Sufis are the liberals who find the conventional, orthodox and traditional Islam as dry, boring and tough not knowing that it is a compulsory pre-requisite to Sufism. They take only the outer form of some aspects of Sufism without even a hint to their inner reality. For example, they are delighted with the artistic aspects of Sufism and find a way to follow their nafs under the guise of Sufi Art not knowing that before creating Sufi Art, one has to become a Sufi which is a lifetime struggle against nafs. Women who do not want to cover themselves as ordered by God, and, men who do not want to follow the Sunnah in appearance consider themselves as “Sufis”. The fact that Sufism stresses on the inner aspects does not mean that the outer is irrelevant; what it teaches is that the outer has to be combined with the inner. In the case of men, since beard and Islamic attire are both not compulsory, one may become a Sufi without Sufi appearance as an exception like Iqbal, but it is very rare. However, in the case of women, since the attire is a compulsion, it is impossible to be a Sufi without it.
The rationalists deny Sufi knowledge because according to them it has nothing to do with reason, logic and proof. This category has similarities as well as differences with the literalists. The difference is that where the later implies revelation as proof, these imply rationality or empirical information as proof. The similarity is that both deny religious experience and intuition as sources of knowledge because for them there are no higher levels of human consciousness than their own. Thus where one consists of those who are modernists to the bones, the other carries the germs of modernism.
Sufism, if properly understood, is the heart of Islam and the essence of deen. It comprises of tazkia-e-nafs (purification of soul) and tasfia-e-qalb (purification of heart). It involves the diminishing of ego, the dominance over animal instincts, abstinence from vain or worldly desires and the freeing of one’s heart from the love of all but God. The sole aim is an intimate relationship with Allah by self-negation.
No discourse on Sufism is worthy without a discussion on qalb (human heart). The entire Quran is full of verses which say that people who deny the truth have hearts with blameworthy traits. The sayings of holy prophet also convey the same theme. The Sufis claim that just as the denial of truth is linked to hearts that are diseased or hardened or blackened, the comprehension of truth to the extent of an almost direct “vision” of God is linked with the purity of heart. This fact is proved by prophet’s experience of miraaj. Although no heart can be purer than his heart but since this experience was of the highest order unmatched by Sufis, even his heart had to be washed thrice. Moreover, when his chest was ripped apart in childhood, even then his heart was washed.
The Sufis insist on nothing more than the act of zikr (remembrance of God) as it is the most supreme cleanser of hearts. However zikr has a much broader and deeper meaning in Sufism. It is not the repetition of a mere tongue-recital of divine names and words as non-Sufis do with the help of beads (tasbi). In general, it is a heartfelt awareness of Allah irrespective of whatever actions are on the limbs. A specific practice to develop this state is muraaqba (concentration) in which they do zikr in isolation in such a way that the tongue, heart and mind all converge on celestial verses while being forgetful of everything other than Allah. Both Quran and hadith have claimed zikr (whether general or specific) as among the most virtuous deeds.
The difference between calculating the height of Mount Everest and climbing it is not more than that between the theoretical conceptualization of and practical adherence to religion. That is why the main theme of Sufis is ishq-e-ilahi (love for Allah) as it is love that softens hearts and inspires men to reach heights, unmatched. Hence they differ from philosophers, theologians and jurists of religion who don’t go beyond mental comprehension. Instead of trying to understand God by reading or thinking, they believe in finding Him. Yet, due to the depth of Sufi thought, it is inevitable that some of the greatest intellectual contributions to both philosophy and literature came from Sufis.
A strong condemnation of Sufism is that since it is about renunciation and other-worldliness, if it is practiced, it will further stagnate the progress of ummah which is the last thing needed. This misconception is due to the lack of understanding of the word dunya in Islamic dictionary. Dunya, which is worthless in the eyes of God, is not attaining a high rank in the society itself but attaining it either for egoistic reasons or love of material things. If the same high rank is attained for a righteous cause with a godly intention, it is deen and not dunya. This proves we need Sufism all the more for two reasons. Firstly, since a Sufi cannot attain status through the wrong means, he has to rely on his brilliance alone and thus will be more competent. Secondly, if there will be Sufis at the top of society, there will be no dirty politics because they would not be sitting on high ranks for selfish motives. Thus Sufism has nothing to do with going to a forest and sitting under a tree doing zikr. Zikr is free from the limitations of place and time.
So far we have discussed aspects of Sufism which even its greatest opponents can only admire. What most don’t realize is that Sufism didn’t start with those categorized under the word, “Sufi”. All those since Adam (AS) who lived exclusively for God in the footsteps of prophets were Sufis. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the biggest maker of Sufis and his special companions known as Ashaab-e-Sufa who devoted their entire days and nights to residing in Masjid-e-Nabwi learning the essence and spirit of Islam were true Sufis irrespective of when this word was introduced in any language. It was for a reason that Hazrat Ali Hajweri said that once there used to be Sufis but the name of Sufism was not there; now there are only Sufi terminologies but there are no Sufis left. However, there are two things that need to be understood at all costs. Firstly, someone who rejects all aspects of Sufism may enter the lowest ranks in paradise but cannot become a momin at all. Secondly, a momin who is considered as a non-Sufi is actually a semi-Sufi because he cannot become a momin without following a major portion of Sufism even if he rejects the minor portion.
However, Sufism is not as simple as we have disclosed so far. Its history is full of controversial statements and actions. Many Sufis have been labeled as either heretics or crazy. Few were persecuted or forced to leave their towns. Most were either never understood or many years after their deaths. The first criticism against Sufis is their distinction in knowledge between the common men and the spiritually elite ones. The question is when Islam is the same for everyone, who put this distinction? The holy prophet himself created this distinction. Hazrat Abu Hurairah narrates a hadith: “God gave me two types of knowledge. One, I have transferred to you. The other, had I transferred, people would have cut down my throat”. When the purpose of holy prophet’s life was to spread knowledge, why would he say such a thing had there been no distinction? Furthermore, another hadith is, “We, the assemblies of the prophets have been commanded to address men in proportion to their intellects”. It proves that prophets do not disclose everything to laymen.
The second criticism raised against Sufis is about their claim that there are hidden and higher dimensions to meanings of Quranic verses. Hazrat Ali narrates a hadith, “every verse of the Qur’an has four layers of meaning: an exoteric sense (zahir), an inner sense (batin), a limit (hadd), and a beware point (matla‘)”. It was for a reason that Al-Ghazali claimed four levels of Tauheed. He said that the first and lowest is the literal text of Surah Ikhlaas which is for ordinary men. The second is for the khawaas (elite). The third is for the elite among the elite. About the fourth, he said that had he disclosed, people would call him a kafir. Here, we cannot help but mention a very subtle aspect of a Quranic verse [Yousaf Ali 3:7]. “In it are verses basic (of established meaning); they are the foundations of the Book: others are allegorical…..but no one knows its hidden meanings except God. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge…..none will grasp the Message except men of understanding”. Notice that the full stop between the bolded lines is put by the translator and is obviously not in the original Arabic text, without which it would be read: “no one knows its hidden meaning except God and those who are firmly grounded in knowledge”.
Religious knowledge is divided into two: evidence-based and experience-based; the earlier means the literal text of Quran and hadith; the later implies the one earned by actually walking on the path taught by the earlier and thus a more profound understanding of the earlier. The literalists reject the later one due to their shallowness, superficiality and short-sightedness. Hence, although they are fully qualified for eternal salvation, they deprive themselves of an immense treasure of knowledge. The Sufis believe in learning by doing it, a rule people otherwise follow in all walks of life e.g a doctor who has not practiced medicine or treated patients will never grasp the expertise through reading books alone.
In my last post I discussed intuition as a source of intelligence. The Sufis take this concept to another level. They claim intuition (ilhaam) with a pure heart as a source of higher knowledge beyond sense and reason. It is below only the prophetic revelation in the hierarchy of God-man communication. Since non-Sufis cannot see anything in between revelation and reason, they are divided into 2 categories – the ordinary religious man deems Sufis as deviants as he sees only revelation, whereas the modern rationalist deems them senseless as he sees only reason. Both are wrong as they don’t see anything in between. This intuitive aspect allows Sufis to have access to those channels of truth which non-Sufis don’t have and thus are deemed as crazy.
Now we will discuss the most “dangerous” part of Sufism – the things said by Sufis which seem totally outside the bounds of Shariah. Human language is lost for words to describe a state of spiritual witnessing. Few moments of mystical experience yield more knowledge than a thousand books. During such experiences, the levels of human consciousness reach far beyond a normal man. Thus mystics have access to those channels of truth which normal people cannot even think about. Here we discover another reason why prophets are greater than the Sufis. Both of them know and experience way beyond a common man but where the prophet’s superior wisdom doesn’t let him disclose everything, the childish ecstasy of a Sufi turns him vocal and thus leads to trouble among novices. That is why Sufis call themselves as intoxicated.
Let us consider the most extreme case of the great Mansur Al-Hallaj who uttered probably the most controversial words in the history of Sufism, “I am the Truth”. If his words are taken literally, how can a non-Sufi accept it? It took another great Sufi, Rumi, to explain it three centuries later after experiencing the same level of proximity to God. As a person travels the path of Sufism, his own “I” (as standing in opposition to Him) gradually gets diminished as it continues to attain unification with “He”. There comes a point when the mystic doesn’t even possess an individual “I”. When Hallaj said “I”, since his own “I” had diminished in the love of “He”, he meant “He is the Truth” with the highest possible conviction. Such apparent contradictions arise due to the fact that a Sufi has two centers of consciousness – human and divine. Outside his state, he speaks from the earlier one; during his state he speaks from the later one.
Some Sufis recognize two deep layers within qalb. The first is called ruh, the spirit and the second which lies even deeper is called sirr, the secret. The sirr is the deepest layer of consciousness and is infact “beyond consciousnesses”. It is the sacred core of the soul where the divine and the human become united, unified and fused. In other words, it is in this dimension of the soul that the “uniomystica” is realized. The ego-consciousness which is actualized in this dimension and which naturally is the highest form of ego-consciousness in Sufism is no longer the consciousness of the mystic himself. It is rather the consciousness of the divine I speaking through him.
Ibn-al-Arabi’s Wahdat-ul-Wajood (Unity of Being) is another serious example. It implied that God alone has existence, and, was misunderstood as Pantheism by the Western Orientalist, Nicholson. It took someone as great as Shah Wali Ullah to admit that far from being false, it was the ultimate realization of Tawheed on a most superior level. Amazingly, Quantum physics, the enemy within secular science, has recently proved exactly the same thing. We live in a spiritual (rather than material) universe. There is a universal consciousness right from an atom to a human being. There is no dead matter. The intensity of this universal soul differs among creations and thus creates the hierarchy from matter to plants to animals to humans. The scientific explanation is not part of this topic but it proves that both extremes were wrong – the dualism of Creator-creation as well as that everything is God – the right view is that “in everything there is God”. Reading scientific proof of Wahdat-ul-Wajood sounds almost unthinkable but the relationship between a high intuition and ordinary rational intellect was best expressed by Iqbal:
“Where thought grasps Reality piecemeal, intuition grasps it in its wholeness. One fixes its gaze on the temporal aspect of Reality; the other on the eternal. One slowly traverses, specifies and closes up the various regions of the whole for exclusive observation; the other is present enjoyment of the whole of Reality”.
Since Thought (brain) will grasp that, much later, which a high Intuition (heart) grasped much earlier, it took 1000 years for scientists to understand that which a mystic understood in a moment. The incommunicability of a mystical state, in the form of an argument, between the one undergone and the one challenging its authenticity raises serious doubts. It is because intuitive knowledge, despite being valid, is unverifiable. However, as discussed earlier, it is even verifiable for those who reach that spiritual level. The great Rumi once said that “whatever exists in the unseen realm has its roots in the seen realm; the forms may change but the essence remains the same”. The multiplicity of different beings that we observe in the universe with the physical eyes is reduced to unity when witnessed with the eye of heart. Thus the mystic, in that state, “sees” or rather experiences nothing but one being in the form of a light (nur) (or some other inexpressible entity) everywhere.
Modern man finds such subjective experiences impossible to believe in. How can we rely in matters of knowledge on something as unreliable as experience of others? What about History? Why, then, does he believe in Aristotle or Plato? Has he himself seen, heard or touched them? The whole recorded history is nothing but an account of other’s experiences. “If a man could say nothing but what he can prove, history could not have been written” – Michael Jackson. Not only this but when we closely study the lives of these Sufis, their truthfulness even in ordinary matters of life was undeniable let alone in a matter as big as the experience of God.
A very strong criticism against Sufism is its extremeness and lack of balance. The Urdu word Ishq, which has no equivalent in its English translation “love”, does true justice to Sufism. Ishq itself turns something finite into infinite but when the subject of that ishq is Himself Infinite, then how can there be balance in it? The holy prophet, again, due to his superiority above Sufis could combine the mutually exclusive combination of Ishq and moderation; otherwise, there is no greatness without a touch of madness. A Sufi sees neither heaven nor hell but only his Beloved. For him, deeds done for the fear of a fire or want of a garden is a trade, not worship.
The various orders (tariqah/silsila) of Tasawwuf have often been criticized as they involve a kind of exaggerated relationship between a Shaikh (master) and a mureed (disciple) in which the later “blindly follows” the earlier by a “slavish imitation”. Even religious people, influenced by contemporary thought, criticize it. It is true that Islam is submission to God and not to someone else but before that one has to learn submission itself and it is not an easy or an overnight process at all as it is harsh on the nafs. The purpose behind such a relationship is learning the “art of submission” which once learned makes following Islam in totality easy on the nafs. Otherwise a genuine Shaikh never goes against Quran and Sunnah in both speech and action.
Secondly, since the Shaikh has walked the path, he knows exactly all the traps and webs of both Satan and nafs and how to avoid and conquer them as well. Thus he makes the aspirant’s journey much easier. The traveler’s spiritual progress is accelerated as a result. Those who do not follow anyone remain stagnant in tarbiat (training of nafs) and islah (self-rectification). When a 1000 things told by a Shaikh are followed, since he is only human, there maybe 10 wrong things as well but who would deprive himself of the benefit of the other 990?
“Every Sufi order is descended from the Prophet. The rite of initiation (bait) is a crucial moment in the history of Islam when, sitting beneath a tree, he called on his Companions to pledge their allegiance to him over and above the pledge they made at their entry into Islam. The prototype of the pact between Master and disciple is mentioned in the Quran[XLVIII:18]: God was well pleased with the believers when they pledged allegiance unto thee beneath the tree. He knew what was in their hearts and sent down the Spirit of Peace upon them and hath rewarded them with a near victory”.
Islamic Education, Culture and Civilization is incomplete without the concept of adab. One may explain everything about Islam in the most convincing manner but he cannot become a scholar unless he has adab for those above him in knowledge, taqwa or experience. Today we come across students and professors of Islamic studies who reject Sufism simply because they cannot understand it. Rather than considering their own lowliness, they reject something followed by the greatest Muslims in history, both qualitatively and quantitatively. The only explanation behind this severe lack of adab is arrogance.
This raises a very serious question. Is there anyone other than the holy prophet who was so pious or knowledgeable that he was infallible? No. Ghazali or Ibn-al-Arabi or Rumi or even the Sahaba (Companions) didn’t have that right at all. But the point that modernists miss is that only those who themselves reach that or near that level have the right to refute them, not us. The hierarchy among scholars cannot be broken; one cannot jump without crossing the intermediate levels. When someone of the caliber of Ibn-e-Taimiyah criticizes Sufism, then it is intellectual difference worthy of respect. But people like us have no choice but to be silent when we don’t understand a Sufi or find him contradictory to Quran due to our own low understanding of Quran.
What it is about Sufis that they deserve knowledge and experiences of a different level altogether? Here, they can be clearly differentiated from other religious people. Religious people may follow all the compulsory acts and abstain from all prohibited acts but when it comes to negating oneself, no one tolerates anything that hurts his pride among others. There is no veil between man and God thicker and most hard to lift than his own ego. No one wants to be considered inferior at any cost and would do anything to avoid such an opinion among peers. What makes Sufis the greatest after the prophets is their willingness to suffer humiliation for God because of their ishq (intense love) for Him. They, because of their humbleness, attain indifference to how much people look down upon them. Their selflessness is their highest virtue and their key to unlock the Divine mysteries kept hidden from everyone else.
Critical Analysis of Modern Islamic Scholars: Philosophical, Epistemological, Scientific & Spiritual Problems
Published in “Pakistan Times” newspaper & “Askedon” Educational Blog:
The entire thought of many modern Islamic scholars is based on the assumption that the strength of an argument is directly proportional to the truthfulness of the claim. Educated and literate people follow them because of the fact that their arguments are stronger than others. If you ever listen to their lectures, watch their videos or read their books & articles, the most frequent words are, “this argument is weak; that argument is strong”. The assumption on which this entire paradigm of knowledge is based – is it wrong or right? Does religion or life in general teach us that something is true or false because it is based on a strong or weak argument?
I strongly disagree. The strength of an argument is a sign of the intelligence of a person. It is not a sign of someone being on Haq (Truth or Reality). The weakness of an argument is a sign of lack of intelligence. It is not a sign of someone being on Batil (Falsehood or lie). The lawyer who wins the case or the debater who wins the debate do not necessarily represent who is based on truth or who has more authentic knowledge. It tells us who has the better brains.
In religion, the proximity to truth/reality is only partially related to the intelligence of mind and it is intimately related to the purity of heart. A pure heart free of spiritual sicknesses will accept the truth even with a low IQ. An impure heart full of spiritual sicknesses will reject the truth even with a genius IQ. Yes the best combination is people like Allama Iqbal who had both genius & inner purity and that is why he was such a great scholar but if Allah has to choose between one of the two things for giving someone hidayat (divine guidance), He will definitely choose inner purity not genius. The history of this world as well as the present era is full of genius people who had or have zero iman (faith/belief).
Religion is the ONLY field of knowledge in this world in which the criteria for reaching or not reaching the right conclusions is based not just on the data and information you have acquired, memorized and processed mentally but it is also highly based on your taqwa (piety), spiritual level, tazkia-e-nafs (self-purification) and connection with the Almighty. You can become the best doctor or best engineer while being a horrible, sinful, unethical and immoral person if you have great brains and have done hard work in your study and practice but you CANNOT become a great Islamic scholar at all without possessing an extremely high level of the virtuous traits mentioned earlier.
If modern Islamic scholars should be followed because they have better arguments than others, then we should apply the same formula and same principle outside Islam as well. We should follow all those atheists, agnostics, Christians, Jews, New age spiritualists & Yogi mystics like Sadhguru who do not believe in Islam at all and have extremely powerful arguments against either religion in general or Islam specifically. Why should we restrict ourselves to the bounds within Islam only? If strong arguments is all that matters, then why not follow schools of thought, philosophies or other religions that are in total contradiction with Quran/Hadith because they too have all the arguments in their baggage to support their own point of view and negate our point of view.
I simply cannot understand why followers of modern Islamic scholars apply this method only within Islam. Why not outside Islam? That is not intellectual honesty. If a genius non-Muslim can prove Islam is wrong on the basis of Science or Philosophy or comparative study of religions or the awful state of Muslim world since centuries with the strength of his arguments, why should these followers remain Muslims? Why should they close their eyes to the powerful analysis of that anti-Islamic scholar? Why do they conveniently negate all the highly intelligent people who speak and write against Islam very logically and rationally? Why do they fit their theory of strong argument only among Islamic scholars? Isn’t that bias or prejudice?
I am saying this because I have been searching for the truth since more than 15 years during which I explored not just Muslim scholars but also non-Muslim and even anti-Islamic intellectuals. I know it for sure that all of them have one thing in common – they all have equally valid arguments. So Islam is not the only one with arguments. I assure you. It seems as if followers of modern Islamic scholars have not explored these other options at all and they have wrongly assumed that their teacher has the best arguments in the world.
The big question which is automatically raised at this point is then why should we be a hardcore Muslim if we know there are arguments against Islam as well? Secondly, within Islam, why should we ascribe to Sufism/Tasawuf if we know there are arguments against it from many Islamic scholars of present & past?
1. What is Iman? Iman is believing in something without evidence because it is told by Holy Prophet SAW who is a prophet and, thus, infallible. I have read his entire life in details from A to Z and I am convinced that when he claimed to be the last prophet of Allah, it is impossible that he was either lying or in a state of delusion. I am not a Muslim due to any other reason at all. I have no proof at all that there is any life after death, heaven, hell, angels, Day of Judgment etc but I only believe in all this because it was said so by Muhammad SAW – that’s it – nothing more, nothing less!
2. Religion is not just an academic or scholastic or intellectual or “mental gymnastic” activity which is only to be read & understood logically like Physics, Chemistry or Biology.
Real religion is something far beyond that. It is not research but search for the Divine. It is an entire journey rather than a mere set of concepts, theories, ideas & beliefs. It is a living experience; it is unveiling of something hidden; it is tasting something spiritual; it is disclosure of deep truths; it is a comprehension of reality where the heart and soul matter more than the mind; it is only understood by practically following and implementing it in your life and not by debates or discussions or social media rants; it is NOT a test of your IQ level but a test of your humility/humbleness; it is not a test of how smart you are but a test of how much you can kill your ego, how much you can sacrifice your desires, how much suffering you can bear for your religion, how much worldly loss you can manage due to your righteousness, how much you can fight against your Nafs (lower-self), how much you can love your Creator and how much you can drown in the footsteps of Holy Prophet SAW.
This moral, ethical, psychological, emotional and in simple words – PRACTICAL – dimension of religion is best demonstrated throughout 1400 years by Muslim saints/sages who are now known as Sufis or Ahl-e-Tasawuf. In the times of Holy Prophet SAW, they were known as Sahaba (companions of the prophet) because then Sufism or Tasawuf was fully in practice without its name or terminology or label. Later, when the spiritual state of Muslims deteriorated drastically, it became a specialized branch of learning via Sufi orders (silsilay) like Chishti, Qadri, Naqshbandi, Suhrawardy etc.
These people who we call Awlia Karaam are blessed with wisdom, penetrating insights & sincerity of intention (ikhlaas) much more than scholars or professors or intellectuals (danishwar). Wilayat or Sainthood (not in the Christian sense) is an indispensable and integral part of Islam. Anyone who denies it denies some of the greatest Muslims ever in history. Thus, I very respectfully disagree with modern Islamic scholars on this as well. Calling Sufism a parallel alternative path to Islam is negating the inner, deeper, mystical aspect of Islam which is its core, essence & spirit – not outside it!
Now, I will comment on Science & Islam. Very often, modern Islamic scholars will say, “Quran said this 1400 years ago and Science discovered it or proved it now”. Using Science to prove the veracity of Islam is an unbelievably wrong approach in many ways.
Science is divided into facts & theories. Facts are few and remain unchanged while theories are many and keep changing because Science has always been and will always be in a state of constant evolution, progression, discovery and exploration. There is no finality in it. There is nothing conclusive about it. Why? Because it is human knowledge and, thus, always dynamic. Religion, on other hand, is always static, fixed & permanent because it is based on revelation (wahi) which is from God. Using a temporary thing to prove something permanent is a flawed method to start with. If tomorrow Science changes its stance on something which was earlier compatible with Quran, would we disbelieve in Quran because of that?
Quran is not a textbook of Science at all and is a book of hidayat (guidance) and spiritual nourishment. Its primary purpose is elevating our consciousness about deeper realities. It was not sent to us for engaging us in scientific experiments. Even when it says anything about Science, the purpose of that verse is not telling us a scientific fact or theory at all but giving a religious message and guiding a seeker of God while casually mentioning something related to Science. If we take that comment on Science too seriously and start comparing it with modern science, it is a very immature, superficial, shallow and amateur approach to scripture and will land us in a lot of confusion because there are many incompatibilities between Quran & modern Science. Should we lose our faith because of that? Taking Science from Quran is missing the whole point of that revealed verse which has a totally different and much higher purpose for mankind.
Scientific theories are born when a scientist philosophizes on a fact he discovers or learns. The fact is in nature but the theory is in his head as a result of his own thinking. The worldview, philosophy of life, beliefs, spiritual outlook and metaphysical framework of that scientist will determine what his theory concludes and what is the epistemological nature of his work? Today, due to the fact that Muslims are far behind the West in all domains of worldly knowledge, Science is in the hands of the West where most people do not believe in Islam and many disbelieve in any religion for that matter. Thus, the Science of today is not pure Science at all but it is Western Science which is heavily influenced by ideas based on Kufr (disbelief) because, sadly, it currently belongs to disbelievers (Kufaar). Science is not a neutral endeavor at all. It is simply too naive to consider it free from distortion. Thus, seeking support for Islam from a Non-Islamic Science is a failed venture from day one.
Last but not the least, I will discuss the immense spiritual problems of current scholars. It is a very common practice that after learning Islam and gaining expertise on it, people start seeking fame, limelight, recognition, glory and worldly status. They start making huge number of followers. They end up becoming a brand. Thus, Islamic scholars become celebrities as big as cricketers, rock-stars and actors. Immense prestige, honor and respect is seen as a sign of Allah being pleased with them. This is clearly the devil playing with them and they do not even know it properly. Since we are living in times of fitna (trials) and spiritual degradation, even Islamic scholars are not safe from the traps of Nafs (lower-self). They themselves need guidance and self-rectification to a very high extent. This is why the Quran says that only the real scholars fear Allah. The last thing on the mind of a real scholar is being a part of news and interviews.
The basic prerequisite of being an Islamic scholar is following the spiritual path much more than an ordinary person does. The basics of Islamic spirituality teach us as our primary lesson that we have to intentionally avoid popularity and opportunities for it. We have to conceal ourselves and impose on ourselves being very low-profile so that we can strive to develop and maintain ikhlaas (pure intentions) in whatever we do. Our objective, goal and purpose is only and solely pleasing Allah and becoming a much better Muslim. That is the whole benefit and fruit of real knowledge. It is not for making fans, impressing others and feeding our ego. People of humility and humbleness do not indulge in any marketing or promotion of themselves or their work. They do not chase media, TV or social media platforms for getting attention and praise. They quietly and silently do their work without any flags or horns or clapping. Their entire concern and focus is on being accepted by Allah in His Kingdom rather than making a big name in society or masses.
And indeed, only Allah has perfect knowledge. May Allah forgive me if I have mentioned something wrong – Ameen!