By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
14 Jan 2014
In one of his recent speeches. Mr. Sultan Shahin, the founder editor of New Age Islam, triggered a thought-provoking and brainstorming process: “ ... It is very important for us to study what the Prophet did before he was chosen by God to be his messenger. We don't know much but what we do tells us that he spent hours and days in mediation… ..." Mr. Shahin continued: "The mystic meditations of the prophet in the cave of Hira (Ghar-e-Hira) for weeks at a stretch are well known, and so are his personality traits like honesty and total trustworthiness, for which the Meccans had named him al-Ameen (The Trustworthy). But perhaps not many know about his social activism and his fond memories and moving descriptions of these activities during his days as prophet. The Prophet and his allies in the organisation were active in search of justice for all, particularly the wayfarers, traders from foreign soil who had been wronged by Meccans and other oppressed and exploited.”
This question is no doubt of paramount importance at a time when Islam is being turned into a political, extremist, exclusivist, totalitarian and fascist ideology. I would earnestly want the readers to seriously ponder over the question, particularly on the Prophet Muhammad’s birth day, so that they may find a creditable retort to the extremist interpretation of Islam by the people who peddle hate, intolerance, exclusivisim and fascism, in the name of Islam. Therefore, we should consider this point very carefully.
Mysticism in Islam emanates from the cave of Hira in which the Prophet (peace be upon him) spent hours and days in mediation much in the same way as of our sufiya-e-kiram (holy Muslim saints of God who attained close relationship with God). Those who maintain that there was nothing mystic about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) should rethink and ponder over why the Prophet PBUH spent his early days and hours in seclusion and spiritual meditations. Obviously, the Prophet PBUH had cultivated the mystical inclination before he was chosen for the noble position of prophethood, in the fortieth year of his age. He carried on with his mystical practices later in his prophetic life in which he spent two-thirds, or half, or a third of the night in spiritual engagements, as the holy Quran says: “ (O Muhammad, surely, your Lord knows that you stand (for prayer sometimes) about two-thirds of the night and (sometimes) half the night and (sometimes) a third of the night, and (also) a party of those who are with you (join in standing up for Prayer).” (al-Muzammil 73:20). Who would pray for such lengths of time during the hours of late night except a mystic?
Therefore, Duncan B. Macdonald, says in one of his essays on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): “Prophet Muhammad PBUH was a Sufi when on his way to be a prophet” (Sufism: from its origins to Al-Ghazali). This statement also represents the judgment of Imam al-Ghazali, a prominent Islamic theologian, jurist, philosopher and a mystic of the fifth Islamic century. Indeed, this age-old thinker of Islam had untenable reasons to reach this conclusion after having spent the early half of his age in brainstorming studies and practices in ilmul kalaam (Islamic philosophical science) and then eventually opting for Sufism as the discovery of his strenuous search for the truth.
A great number of Qur’anic verses endorse the mystical philosophy of Islam and have been viewed by Sufis as allegorical and esoteric proofs for it such as: “God is the Outward and the Inward” (Qu’ran 57:3), “he for whom wisdom is given, he truly has received abundant good” (Qu’ran 2:269), God is the Light of the heavens and the earth, the likeness of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp, the lamp is a glass, the glass as it were a glittering star kindled from a blessed tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil well-night would shine, even if no fire touched it; light upon lights; God guides to His light whom He will. And God strikes similitudes for man, and God has knowledge of everything. (Qu’ran 24:35).
These are the famous verses of light (Ayaat-e-Noor) that have been inspiring the countless number of Sufis right from the early era of Islam. Some eminent Sufis such as Shihab al-Deen Suhrawardi (12th CE) and Mulla Sadra (16th CE) have written comprehensive Qur'anic exegesis based on these verses. Mulla Sadra’s commentary, for instance, “the Hermeneutics of the Light Verse of the Quran”, is a fine example.
All the early sufis and mystics of Islam were followers of a spiritual, moderate, balanced, all-inclusive and peaceful narrative of Islam. They believed in a close personal relationship with God that they tried to achieve through piety, God-consciousness, self-discipline, moral uprightness, social activism, spiritual mediations and all other mystical inclinations and personality traits that the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) had pronounced in days before the announcement of his prophethood. Prophet Muhammad’s mediations in the cave of Hira (Ghar-e-Hira) introduced the Islamic mysticism as a personal experience of the divine enlightenment. The Prophet (peace be upon him) once said: “Within man there exists a spiritual force which, if it aspired to the Universe, the Universe would come to it”. This is precisely what the holy Sufi saints aspired to achieve in their spiritual voyage towards God. They focused on spiritual seclusion and mystical meditations, much in the same way as the Prophet (pbuh) did, to attain closeness with God.
From an Islamic perspective, mysticism is pronounced in two different and interrelated ways: first ideological and then practical. Ideologically, Islamic mysticism represents the esoteric spiritual dimension of Islam called “Ihsan” as beautifully outlined in the famous Prophetic saying known as Hadith-e-Gibrail. According to this tradition, “One day while the Prophet was sitting in the company of some people, the angel Gabriel came and asked, "What is faith?" the Prophet replied, 'Faith is to believe in God, His angels, the meeting with Him, His Apostles, and to believe in Resurrection." The angel further asked, "What is Islam?" the Prophet replied, "To worship God Alone and none else, to offer prayers perfectly to pay the compulsory charity (Zakat) and to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan." Then he asked, "What is Ihsan?" The Prophet (pbuh) replied, "To worship God as if you see Him, and if you cannot achieve this state of devotion then you must consider that He is seeing you." (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:2:48).
This state of spiritual devotion i.e. Ihsan, which is the highest rank of faith in Islam, lays the foundation for Islamic mysticism. Ihsan comes from the Arabic root word “Husn” meaning “perfection" or "excellence". In Islamic terminology, Ihsan means “excellence in faith” which requires from a Muslim to inculcate mystical inclinations such as love for all, peace with all, universal brotherhood, religious harmony, tolerance, inclusiveness, common goodwill in their faith and ideology. Ihsan evokes a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions. It demonstrates one's inner faith (iman) in both deed and action.
In practice, Islamic mysticism or Ihsan enjoins excellence of conduct and behaviour with other human beings. The famous Sufi doctrine of Sulh-e-Kul (peace with all) emanates from the very core essence of Ihsan. The Prophet (peace be upon him) defined Ihsan in this way: “Pray to GOD as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, know that He sees you".
When this spiritual bent of mind is cultivated, one attains inner perfection in his/her dealings with other human beings irrespective of faith, creed or ethnicity. Imbued in this spiritual inclination, one does not pray to God just because he has to, but because he sees Him and if he does not, then God sees him. Since he believes that God is constantly watching over him, he remembers that whatever he does to himself or others is seen by God. In this sense, Ihsan encourages Muslims to attain excellence and perfection in daily life in such a way that when engaging in their acts and deeds, they behave as if they see God, and although they cannot see Him (due to the Islamic belief that God is not made of matter), they undoubtedly believe that He is constantly watching over them. This highest degree of faith is achieved by constant spiritual mediations, inner purification and the mystical inclinations pronounced by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the cave of Hira.
From these spiritual convictions was borne Prophet’s social activism, his honesty, truthfulness and trustworthiness for which he was known as “Muhammad Al-Ameen” (the trustworthy Muhammad) and “Muhammad al-Sadiq” (the truthful Muhammad). This bright social and humane aspect of the Prophet’s personality was well-known, but it was best described by his wife, Khadijah, as a person is best known to his wife. According to a narration attributed to Hazrat Aisha, when the angel Gabriel brought down the first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), he began trembling with fear and greatly wondered what was going to happen next. At this stage, the Prophet returned to his wife Khadijah, and said, "Cover me, cover me." She covered him until he regained peace and comfort. He then apprised Khadijah of whatever happened to him in the cave and said that he was horrified. Hazrat Khadijah tried to soothe him and reassured him saying, "God will never disgrace you. Because you unite uterine relations; you bear the burden of the weak; you speak the truth, you help the poor and the destitute, you serve your guest generously and assist the deserving, calamity-afflicted ones." (Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 87, Number 111).
Much more could be written on the Prophet’s mysticism and social activism, but I see no point in producing more accounts and examples from the Prophet’s life until we are mentally and ideologically ready to save the mystical, esoteric, spiritual, and prophetic version of Islam from the clutches of a political, exclusivist, totalitarian, fascist and extremist ideology being propagated by the present day pseudo-Islamists.
To connect the article with the ground realities of the era, I would like to quote the following remark by Mr. Sultan Shahin:
“Regrettably, despite Prophet Mohammad's pronounced mystical inclination and practices, Islam is being turned today into an exclusivist, totalitarian, fascist, political ideology. Islam is going through a difficult phase at the moment. The danger of extremism catching the imagination of many of our youth is growing. An extremist, exclusivist, political, fascist interpretation of Islam is being propagated in our country as much as in other parts of the world though a variety of media.”
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
URL of a report of Mr. Sultan Shahin's speech at Pune: http://newageislam.com/islam-and-spiritualism/new-age-islam-special-correspondent/islam-is-based-on-the-prophet-s-mysticism,-honesty-and-social-activism,-says-sultan-shahin-in-pune--muslims-should-strengthen-these-spiritual-foundations-of-islam-and-not-fall-prey-to-fascism/d/34971