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Islam and Spiritualism ( 27 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan's Sufis Preach Faith and Ecstasy: 'The ecstasy of Mast Qalandar!'

By Nicholas Schmidle

 Smithsonian magazine, December 2008


The believers in Islamic mysticism embrace a personal approach to their faith and a different outlook on how to run their country’s government.

In the desert swelter of southern Pakistan, the scent of rose­water mixed with a waft of hashish smoke. Drummers pounded away as celebrants swathed in red pushed a camel bedecked with garlands, tinsel and multihued scarfs through the heaving crowd. A man skirted past, grinning and dancing, his face glistening like the golden dome of a shrine nearby. "Mast Qalandar!" he cried. "The ecstasy of Qalandar!"

The camel reached a courtyard packed with hundreds of men jumping in place with their hands in the air, chanting "Qalandar!" for the saint buried inside the shrine. The men threw rose petals at a dozen women who danced in what seemed like a mosh pit near the shrine's entrance. Enraptured, one woman placed her hands on her knees and threw her head back and forth; another bounced and jiggled as if she were astride a trotting horse. The drumming and dancing never stopped, not even for the call to prayer.

I stood at the edge of the courtyard and asked a young man named Abbas to explain this dancing, called dhamaal. Though dancing is central to the Islamic tradition known as Sufism, dhamaal is particular to some South Asian Sufis. "When a djinn infects a human body," Abbas said, referring to one of the spirits that populate Islamic belief (and known in the West as "genies"), "the only way we can get rid of it is by coming here to do dhamaal." A woman stumbled toward us with her eyes closed and passed out at our feet. Abbas didn't seem to notice, so I pretended not to either.

"What goes through your head when you are doing dhamaal?" I asked.

"Nothing. I don't think," he said. A few women rushed in our direction, emptied a water bottle on the semiconscious woman's face and slapped her cheeks. She shot upright and danced back into the crowd. Abbas smiled. "During dhamaal, I just feel the blessings of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar wash over me."

Every year, a few hundred thousand Sufis converge in Seh- wan, a town in Pakistan's south-eastern Sindh province, for a three-day festival marking the death of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in 1274. Qalandar, as he is almost universally called, belonged to a cast of mystics who consolidated Islam's hold on this region; today, Pakistan's two most populous provinces, Sindh and Punjab, comprise a dense archipelago of shrines devoted to these men. Sufis travel from one shrine to another for festivals known as urs, an Arabic word for "marriage," symbolizing the union between Sufis and the divine.

Sufism is not a sect, like Shiism or Sunnism, but rather the mystical side of Islam—a personal, experiential approach to Allah, which contrasts with the prescriptive, doctrinal approach of fundamentalists like the Taliban. It exists throughout the Muslim world (perhaps most visibly in Turkey, where whirling dervishes represent a strain of Sufism), and its millions of followers generally embrace Islam as a religious experience, not a social or political one. Sufis represent the strongest indigenous force against Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Western countries have tended to underestimate their importance even as the West has spent, since 2001, millions of dollars on interfaith dialogues, public diplomacy campaigns and other initiatives to counter extremism. Sufis are particularly significant in Pakistan, where Taliban-inspired gangs threaten the prevailing social, political and religious order.

Pakistan, carved out of India in 1947, was the first modern nation founded on the basis of religious identity. Questions about that identity have provoked dissent and violence ever since. Was Pakistan to be a state for Muslims, governed by civilian institutions and secular laws? Or an Islamic state, governed by clerics according to sharia, or Islamic law? Sufis, with their ecumenical beliefs, typically favor the former, while the Taliban, in their fight to establish an extreme orthodoxy, seek the latter. The Taliban have antiaircraft weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and squads of suicide bombers. But the Sufis have drums. And history.

I asked Carl Ernst, an author of several books about Sufism and a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; whether he thought Pakistan's Sufis could survive the wave of militant Islam sweeping east from the region along the Afghanistan border. "Sufism has been a part of the fabric of life in the Pakistan region for centuries, while the Taliban are a very recent phenomenon without much depth," he replied in an e-mail. "I would bet on the Sufis in the long run." This summer, the Taliban attracted a few hundred people to witness beheadings in Pakistan's tribal areas. In August, more than 300,000 Sufis showed up to honor Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

Qalandar was an ascetic; he dressed in rags and tied a rock around his neck so that he was constantly bowing before Allah. His given name was Usman Marwandi; "Qalandar" was used by his followers as an honorific indicating his superior standing in the hierarchy of saints. He moved from a suburb of Tabriz, in modern-day Iran, to Sindh in the early 13th century. The remainder of his biography remains murky. The meaning of lal, or "red," in his name? Some say he had auburn hair, others believe he wore a red robe and still others say he once was scalded while meditating over a pot of boiling water.

In migrating to Sindh, Qalandar joined other mystics fleeing Central Asia as the Mongols advanced. Many of them settled temporarily in Multan, a city in central Punjab that came to be known as the "city of saints." Arab armies had conquered Sindh in 711, a hundred years after the founding of Islam, but they had paid more attention to empire-building than to religious conversions. Qalandar teamed with three other itinerant preachers to promote Islam amid a population of Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

The "four friends," as they became known, taught Sufism. They eschewed fire-and-brimstone sermons, and rather than forcibly convert those belonging to other religions, they often incorporated local traditions into their own practices. "The Sufis did not preach Islam like the mullah preaches it today," says Hamid Akhund, a former secretary of tourism and culture in the Sindh government. Qalandar "played the role of integrator," says Ghulam Rabbani Agro, a Sindhi historian who has written a book about Qalandar. "He wanted to take the sting out of religion."

Gradually, as the "friends" and other saints died, their enshrined tombs attracted legions of followers. Sufis believed that their descendants, referred to as pirs, or "spiritual guides," inherited some of the saints' charisma and special access to Allah. Orthodox clerics, or mullahs, considered such beliefs heretical, a denial of Islam's basic creed: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet." While pirs encouraged their followers to engage Allah in a mystical sense and relish the beauty of the Koran's poetic aspects, the mullahs typically instructed their followers to memorize the Koran and study accounts of the Prophet's life, known collectively as the Hadith.

While the tension between Sufis and other Muslims continued through history, in Pakistan the dynamic between the two groups has lately entered an especially intense phase with the proliferation of militant groups. In one example three years ago, terrorists attacked an urs in Islamabad, killing more than two dozen people. After October 2007, when former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto—a native of Sindh province with roots in Sufism—returned from exile, terrorists twice targeted her for assassination, succeeding that December. Meanwhile, the Taliban persisted in their terror campaign against the Pakistani military and launched attacks in major cities.

I had seen the extremists up close; in the fall of 2007 I traveled throughout northwestern Pakistan for three months, reporting a story on the emergence of a new, considerably more dangerous generation of Taliban. In January 2008, two days after that story was published in the New York Times Magazine, I was expelled from Pakistan for traveling without government authorization to areas where the Taliban held sway. The next month, Bhutto's political party swept to victory in national elections, heralding the twilight of President Pervez Musharraf's military rule. It was an odd parallel: the return of democracy and the rise of the Taliban. In August, I secured another visa from the Pakistani government and went back to see how the Sufis were faring.

Over dinner in a Karachi hotel, Rohail Hyatt told me that the "modern-day mullah" was an "urban myth" and that such authoritarian clerics have "always been at war with Sufis." Hyatt, a Sufi, is also one of Pakistan's pop icons. Vital Signs, which he founded in 1986, became the country's biggest rock band in the late '80s. In 2002, the BBC named the band's 1987 hit, "Dil, Dil Pakistan" ("Heart, Heart Pakistan"), the third most popular international song of all time. But Vital Signs became inactive in 1997, and lead singer Junaid Jamshed, Hyatt's long-time friend, became a fundamentalist and decided that such music was un-Islamic.

Hyatt watched with despair as his friend adopted the rituals, doctrine and uncompromising approach espoused by the urban mullahs, who, in Hyatt's view, "believe that our identity is set by the Prophet" and less by Allah, and thus mistakenly gauge a man's commitment to Islam by such outward signs as the length of his beard, the cut of his trousers (the Prophet wore his above the ankle, for comfort in the desert) and the size of the bruise on his forehead (from regular, intense prayer). "These mullahs play to people's fears," Hyatt said. “‘Here is heaven, here is hell. I can get you into heaven. Just do as I say.' "

I hadn't been able to find a clear, succinct definition of Sufism anywhere, so I asked Hyatt for one. "I can explain to you what love is until I turn blue in the face. I can take two weeks to explain everything to you," he said. "But there is no way I can make you feel it until you feel it. Sufism initiates that emotion in you. And through that process, religious experience becomes totally different: pure and absolutely non-violent."

Hyatt is now the music director for Coca-Cola in Pakistan, and he hopes he can leverage some of his cultural influence—and access to corporate cash—to convey Sufism's message of moderation and inclusiveness to urban audiences. (He used to work for Pepsi, he said, but Coke is "way more Sufic.") He recently produced a series of live studio performances that paired rock acts with traditional singers of qawwali, devotional Sufi music from South Asia. One of the best-known qawwali songs is titled "Dama Dum Mast Qalandar," or "Every Breath for the Ecstasy of Qalandar."

Several politicians have also tried to popularize Sufism, with varying degrees of success. In 2006, as Musharraf faced political and military challenges from the resurgent Taliban, he established a National Sufi Council to promote Sufi poetry and music. "The Sufis always worked for the promotion of love and oneness of humanity, not for disunity or hatred," he said at the time. But Musharraf's venture was perceived as less than sincere.

"The generals hoped that since Sufism and devotion to shrines is a common factor of rural life, they would exploit it," Hamid Akhund told me. "They couldn't." Akhund chuckled at the thought of a centralized, military government trying to harness a decentralized phenomenon like Sufism. The Sufi Council is no longer active.

The Bhuttos—most prominently, Benazir and her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto—were much better at marshaling Sufi support, not least because their hometown lies in Sindh province and they have considered Lal Shahbaz Qalandar their patron saint. Qalandar's resting place became, in the judgment of University of Amsterdam scholar Oskar Verkaaik, "the geographical center of [the elder] Bhutto's political spirituality." After founding the Pakistan Peoples Party, Bhutto was elected president in 1971 and prime minister in 1973. (He was ousted in a coup in 1977 and hanged two years later.)

As Benazir Bhutto began her first campaign for prime minister, in the mid-1980s, her followers would greet her with the chant, "Benazir Bhutto Mast Qalandar" ("Benazir Bhutto, the ecstasy of Qalandar"). In late 2007, when she returned to Pakistan from an exile imposed by Musharraf, she received a heroine's welcome, especially in Sindh.

In Jamshoro, a town almost three hours north of Karachi, I met a Sindhi poet named Anwar Sagar. His office had been torched during the riots that followed Benazir Bhutto's assassination. More than six months later, smashed windowpanes were still unrepaired and soot covered the walls. "All the Bhuttos possess the spirit of Qalandar," Sagar told me. "The message of Qalandar was the belief in love and God." From his briefcase he pulled out a poem he had written just after Bhutto was killed. He translated the final lines:

She rose above the Himalayas,

Immortal she became,

The devotee of Qalandar became Qalandar herself.

"So who is next in line?" I asked. "Are all Bhuttos destined to inherit Qalandar's spirit?"

"This is just the beginning for Asif," Sagar said, referring to Asif Ali Zardari, Benazir Bhutto's widower, who was elected president of Pakistan this past September. "So he hasn't attained the level of Qalandar yet. But I have great hope in Bilawal"—Bhutto and Zardari's 20-year-old son, who has been selected to lead the Pakistan Peoples Party after he finishes his studies at Oxford University in England—"that he can become another Qalandar."

Musharraf, a general who had seized power in a 1999 coup, resigned from office a week into my most recent trip. He had spent the better part of his eight-year regime as president, military chief and overseer of a compliant parliament. Pakistan's transition from a military government to a civilian one involved chipping away at his almost absolute control over all three institutions one by one. But civilian leadership by itself was no balm for Pakistan's many ills; Zardari's new regime faces massive challenges regarding the economy, the Taliban and trying to bring the military intelligence agencies under some control.

In the seven months that I had been away, the economy had gone from bad to worse. The value of the rupee had fallen almost 25 percent against the dollar. An electricity shortage caused rolling blackouts for up to 12 hours a day. Reserves of foreign currencies plunged as the new government continued to subsidize basic amenities. All these factors contributed to popular discontent with the government, an emotion that the Taliban exploited by lambasting the regime's perceived deficiencies. In Karachi, the local political party covered the walls of buildings along busy streets with posters that read: "Save Your City from Talibanization."

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the new government is reining in the military's intelligence agencies, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. The Pakistan Peoples Party has long been considered an anti-establishment party, at odds with the agencies. In late July, the PPP-led government announced that it was placing the ISI under the command of the Interior Ministry, wresting it from the army—then days later, under pressure from the military, reversed itself. A uniformed president may symbolize a military dictatorship, but Pakistan's military intelligence agencies, ISI and Military Intelligence (MI), are the true arbiters of power.

In August, I got what I believe was a firsthand indication of the extent of their reach. Two days after Musharraf bid farewell, I began my trip to Sehwan for the urs for Qalandar, along with photographer Aaron Huey; his wife, Kristin; and a translator whom it is best not to name. We had barely left Karachi's city limits when my translator took a phone call from someone claiming to work at the Interior Ministry Secretariat in Karachi. The caller peppered him with questions about me. The translator, sensing something odd, hung up and called the office of a senior bureaucrat in the Interior Ministry. A secretary answered the phone and, when we shared the name and title our caller had given, confirmed what we already suspected: "Neither that person nor that office exists." The secretary added: "It's probably just the [intelligence] agencies."

We continued north on the highway into the heart of Sindh, past water buffaloes soaking in muddy canals and camels resting in the shade of mango trees. About an hour later, my phone rang. The caller ID displayed the same number as the call that had supposedly come from the Interior Ministry Secretariat.




"I am a reporter from the Daily Express newspaper. I want to meet you to talk about the current political situation. When can we meet? Where are you? I can come right now."

"Can I call you back?" I said, and hung up.

My heart raced. Images of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic militants in Karachi in 2002, flashed through my mind. Pearl's last meeting had been with a terrorist pretending to be a fixer and translator. Many people believe that the Pakistani intelligence agencies were involved in Pearl's killing, as he was researching a possible link between the ISI and a jihadi leader with ties to Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber.

My phone rang again. An Associated Press reporter I knew told me that her sources in Karachi said the intelligence agencies were searching for me. I had assumed as much. But what did they want? And why would they request a meeting by pretending to be people who didn't exist?

The car fell silent. My translator made a few calls to senior politicians, bureaucrats and police officers in Sindh. They said they were treating the two phone calls as a kidnapping threat and would provide us with an armed escort for the rest of our trip. Within an hour, two police trucks arrived. In the lead truck, a man armed with a machine gun stood in the bed.

Another phone call, this time from a friend in Islamabad.

"Man, it's good to hear your voice," he said.


"Local TV stations are reporting that you've been kidnapped in Karachi."

Who was planting these stories? And why? With no shortage of conspiracy theories about fatal "car accidents" involving people in the bad graces of the intelligence agencies, I took the planted stories as serious warnings. But the urs beckoned. The four of us collectively decided that since we had traveled halfway around the world to see the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, we would do our damndest to get there, even if under police protection. After all, we could use Qalandar's blessings.

That evening, as the setting sun burned the color of a Creamsicle as it lit the sugar-cane fields on the horizon, I turned to the translator, hoping to lighten the mood.

"It's really beautiful here," I said.

He nodded, but his eyes stayed glued to the road. "Unfortunately, the fear factor spoils the whole fun of it," he said.

By then we could see buses clogging the highway, red flags flapping in the wind as the drivers raced for Qalandar's shrine. The railway ministry had announced that 13 trains would be diverted from their normal routes to transport worshipers. Some devotees even pedaled bicycles, red flags sticking up from the handlebars. We roared down the road in the company of Kalashnikov-toting police, a caravan of armed pilgrims.

The campsites began appearing about five miles from the shrine. Our car eventually mired in a human bog, so we parked and continued on foot. The alleys leading to the shrine reminded me of a carnival fun house—an overwhelming frenzy of lights, music and aromas. I walked beside a man blowing a snake charmer's flute. Stores lined the alley, with merchants squatting behind piles of pistachios, almonds and rosewater-doused candies. Fluorescent lights glowed like light sabers, directing lost souls to Allah.

Groups of up to 40 people heading for the shrine's golden dome carried long banners imprinted with Koranic verses. We followed one group into a tent packed with dancers and drummers next to the shrine. A tall man with curly, greasy shoulder-length hair was beating on a keg-size drum hanging from a leather strap around his neck. The intensity in his eyes, illuminated by a single bulb that dangled above our heads, reminded me of the jungle cats that stalked their night time prey on the nature shows I used to watch on TV.

A man in white linen lunged flamboyantly into a clearing at the center of the crowd, tied an orange sash around his waist and began to dance. Soon he was gyrating and his limbs were trembling, but with such control that at one point it seemed that he was moving only his earlobes. Clouds of hashish smoke rolled through the tent, and the drumming injected the space with a thick, engrossing energy.

I stopped taking notes, closed my eyes and began nodding my head. As the drummer built toward a feverish peak, I drifted unconsciously closer to him. Before long, I found myself standing in the middle of the circle, dancing beside the man with the exuberant earlobes.

"Mast Qalandar!" someone called out. The voice came from right behind me, but it sounded distant. Anything but the drumbeat and the effervescence surging through my body seemed remote. From the corner of my eye, I noticed photographer Aaron Huey high-stepping his way into the circle. He passed his camera to Kristin. In moments, his head was swirling as he whipped his long hair around in circles.

"Mast Qalandar!" another voice screamed.

If only for a few minutes, it didn't matter whether I was a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or atheist. I had entered another realm. I couldn't deny the ecstasy of Qalandar. And in that moment, I understood why pilgrims braved great distances and the heat and the crowds just to come to the shrine. While spun into a trance, I even forgot about the danger, the phone calls, the reports of my disappearance and the police escort.

Later, one of the men who had been dancing in the circle approached me. He gave his name as Hamid and said he had traveled more than 500 miles by train from northern Punjab. He and a friend were traversing the country, hopping from one shrine to another, in search of the wildest festival. "Qalandar is the best," he said. I asked why.

"He could communicate directly with Allah," Hamid said. "And he performs miracles."

"Miracles?" I asked, with a wry smile, having reverted to my normal cynicism. "What kind of miracles?"

He laughed. "What kind of miracles?" he said. "Take a look around!" Sweat sprayed from his mustache. "Can't you see how many people have come to be with Lal Shahbaz Qalandar?"

I looked over both of my shoulders at the drumming, the dhamaal and the sea of red. I stared back at Hamid and tilted my head slightly to acknowledge his point.

"Mast Qalandar!" we said.

Nicholas Schmidle is a fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C. His book, To Live or To Perish Forever: Two Years inside Pakistan will be published May 2009 by Henry Holt.

Aaron Huey is based in Seattle. He has been photographing Sufi life in Pakistan since 2006.

     Photographs by Aaron Huey



Thank God for Justice:  Renewing the Spirit in Uncertain Times

Dr. Robert Dickson Crane

Posted Nov 26, 2008

Biismi Allahi al rahman al rahim.

In the name of God, Who is both the essence of mercy and the most merciful

Every Muslim, at the beginning of whatever one does or intends to do, asks for the blessing of God by invoking His name in this way.

One might call this the Islamic invocation of the trinity.  God, the Father is the essence of power, God the Son is the essence of mercy, and God the Holy Spirit is the essence of wisdom.  Like Meister Eckhart, who succeeded St. Thomas Aquinas in the chair of theology at the University of Paris, we understand this as honouring the attributes of God Who is beyond number, beyond existence, and even Beyond Being.

My Thanksgiving Day talk today is entitled ‘‘Thank God for Justice’’ because justice is the combination of power, compassion, and wisdom, the Abrahamic trinity.

On the back of my card for the Abraham Federation are three quotes.  The first is from Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice. Justice, Thou Shalt Pursue.” The second is from Pope Paul VI, Si vic pacem, laborate justitiam, “If you want peace, work for justice.” And the third is from the Qur’an, Surah al An’am 6:115, Wa tama’at kalimatu Rabika sidqan wa ‘adlan, “And the Word of your Lord is fulfilled and perfected in truth and in justice.”

The central task of the great scholars in all three of the Abraham religions has been to develop holistic methodologies to explore what transcendent justice may mean in the design of God for the universe and how we creatures may best pursue it.

Justice may be defined as right order in a coherent universe.  Transcendent justice assumes that the universe has purpose beyond its mere existence.  Justice assumes that sentient human beings are part of this order and therefore that every human being by nature seeks justice as a higher purpose than mere life and liberty, because life and liberty are primarily products of justice.  We should be thankful that we as sentient beings have both the capacity and the instinctual inclination to understand the concept of justice and those we have the life and freedom to pursue it.

Now down to the practice of justice and then we will go back again to the theory.  I almost always avoid discussion of justice in the Holy Land, because emotions can distract from a higher understanding that we must shift from policies of power to a new paradigm of justice in all domestic and foreign policies.  On the other hand, the Holy Land is a good case study, because the dilemmas in the Holy Land today are a microcosm of the world.  If the Jews are not free to fulfill their divine destiny there, as the twentieth century’s greatest spiritual leader, Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, prophetically said that they can, must, and will do, then there is no future for human civilization.

Almost twenty-five years ago, a close colleague of mine in congressional lobbying, Rabbi Herzl Kranz, whom many of you no doubt know as the long-time rabbi of a nearby synagogue, discussed his concern for the security of Jews in Israel.  I said, “What we need is justice!” His eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “Yes, justice!  The Arabs must go!” And then he gave me Rabbi Meir Kahane’s book, published in 1981, They Must Go: How Long Can Israel Survive its Malignant and Growing Arab Population?.

Here we get to the issue of premises.  As the philosopher Cicero said two thousand years ago, “Before you discuss anything whatsoever you should first agree on premises and terminology.” Rabbi Kahane’s basic premise was his goal of an exclusivist religious state, at least for Jews, though I doubt that he would have recognized the justice of a Christian state and certainly not a so-called Islamic one.

In fact, we are dealing here with a paradigm that comprises a spectrum of three premises.  In his recent book, Religious Pluralism in America: The Contentious History of a Founding Ideal, the dean of historians of religion in America, William R. Hutchison, proposes a framework of three premises for interfaith relations.  The first one is “tolerance.” This means, quite simply, “I won’t kill you yet.” The second is diversity, which is somewhat more expansive and means, “You’re here damn it, and I can’t do much about it.” The third and highest premise is “pluralism,” which means “We welcome you because we each have so much to offer and learn from each other.”

Hutchison’s thesis is that in the history of America we consistently think we are one level higher than we actually are, while most of us seem insistently to act as if we were one level lower.

If we want to aspire to, much less live in, a world of pluralism, we must find common purpose.  “Pluralism by participation,” Hutchison writes, “implies a mandate for individuals and groups … to share responsibility for the forming and implementation of the society’s agenda.” This is the difference between suicide by assimilation and both survival and prosperity by integration so that everyone can share the best of the other.  Perhaps the highest wisdom of interfaith understanding and cooperation calls us to recognize the truth and wisdom of the prophets, each of whom left the same message expressed in the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” John 14:16.

Last summer at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia, twenty scholars from around the world spent a month discussing what this means as a framework for faith-based justice and faith-based reconciliation, which now is the framework for all of the IIIT’s work.

Aside for a couple of Wahhabis who were invited to provide a wide spectrum of thought, we reached consensus on two things.  First, we agreed that we should further develop methodologies and even lead the way to derive truth and justice heuristically from three sources.  These are, first, haqq al yaqin, which is divine revelation, second, ‘ain al yaqin, which is natural law or the Sunnat Allah observable in the physical universe, including our own human nature, and, finally, ‘ilm al yaqin, which is the intellectual processing of the first two.

Second, we reached agreement on the purposes of what we might call transcendent justice or even metalaw but what Muslim scholars refer to by the traditional term maqasid al shari’ah.  This is the classical Islamic normative law known variously as the maqasid or purposes, the kulliyat or universal principles, and the dururiyat or essentials of universal jurisprudence.  This whole subject is clarified in my article in the current issue of The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, entitled “Human Rights in Traditionalist Islam: Legal, Political, Economic, and Spiritual Perspectives.” The state of the art in the development of holistic methodologies for the study of justice is best shown by Jasser Auda’s tome, Maqasid al Shari’ah as Philosophy of Islamic Law: A Systems Approach, which was published this year by The International Institute of Islamic Thought as part of a whole library of books now appearing on the subject.

Among the seven irreducibly highest principles developed more than half a millennium ago by Al Shatibi, who was the greatest of the classical Islamic scholars on the subject, the first maqsud is haqq al din.  During the past six hundred years, this has been ossified to mean “protection of true belief,” meaning protection of Islam as an organized and politically approved religion.  Beginning in 1946 with the publication of the book entitled Treatise on Maqasid al Shari’ah by the Grand Mufti of Tunisia, Ibn Ashur, and reaching broad acceptability today half a century later, this first principle of classical Islamic thought about justice is understood to mean “freedom of religion” in the true sense of pluralism.  This is blindingly clear throughout the Qur’an but much less so in the hadith, many or most of which are either spurious or related by witnesses who had their own biases in understanding what they had heard.

Next come three sets of pairs.  The first pair consists of haqq al haya and haqq al nasl, which mean the duties, respectively, to respect the human person and life itself and to respect the nuclear family and communities at every level that derive from the sacredness of the human person.  The first one includes the elaborate set of principles that define the limitations of “just war” theory.  The second one includes the principle of subsidiary, which recognizes that legitimacy expands upward from the community or nation to the state.

The second set consists of two responsibilities related to institutionalizing economic and political justice: haqq al mal and haqq al hurriyah.  Throughout much of Islamdom this second pair of responsibilities has been observed, more often than not, in the breach.  Even when the principles have been acknowledged, the derivative lower level, known as hajjiyat, of institutionalized implementation has been ignored.

The third pair of maqasid consists of haqq al karamah, the duty to respect human dignity especially in regard to gender equity, and haqq al ‘ilm, the duty to respect knowledge, including the secondary level of implementation known as freedom of thought, publication, and assembly.  The historical trend of these last two maqasid is now strongly upward because educated Muslim women are gaining recognition as equal to men in the ijtihad of scriptural analysis known as the intellectual or “third” jihad: Wa jihidhum bihi jihadan kabiran, “And struggle to understand it [divine revelation] in a great jihad” (Surah al Furqan 25:52).

Beyond the intellectual development of these universal principles, which increasingly in the West are now known expansively as natural law, and beyond the philosophical debate over whether positivist or man-made law is the only kind of law accessible to human knowledge, is what Yves R. Simon in his book, The Tradition of Natural Law: A Philosopher’s Perspective, on page xxi calls “a connatural grasp of the idea via inclination.”

Here we come to the essence of my talk and the real reason why we should be thankful for our awareness of a transcendent justice and of the responsibilities that this enjoins upon us.  The grand master in this aspect of justice is the Rebbe Abraham Izaac Kook, whose wisdom has so grievously been distorted and perverted by his self-styled followers, the Gush Emunim in the modern Settlers’ Movement.  He was Chief Rabbi of Palestine from 1919 until the beginning of the first great Palestinian national-liberation movement in 1935.  He taught that every religion contains the seed of its own perversion, because humans are free to divert their worship from God to themselves.  The greatest evil is always the perversion of the good, and the surest salvation from evil is always the return to prophetic origins.  Rebbe Kook’s wisdom has been collected in Abraham Isaac Kook, The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, translation and introduction by Ben Zion Bokser (Paulist Press: N.Y., Ramsey, Toronto, 1978), published in The Classics of Western Spirituality: A Library of the Great Spiritual Masters under the supervision of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Fazlur Rahman, Huston Smith, and others.

The fundamentalist Gush Emunim makes the sacrilegious error of turning his spiritual teaching into a call for secular nationalism of the most extreme kind.  Abraham Isaac Kook’s entire life spoke his message that only in the Holy Land of Israel can the genius of Hebraic prophecy be revived and the Jewish people bring the creative power of God’s love in the form of justice and unity to every person and to all mankind.  “For the disposition of the Israelite nation,” he asserted, “is the aspiration that the highest measure of justice, the justice of God, shall prevail in the world.” Universally recognized as the leading spokesman of spiritual Zionism, Rebbe Kook went to Jaffa from Poland in 1904 to perfect the people and land of Israel by bringing out the “holy sparks” in every person, group, and ideology in order to make way for the advent of the Messiah.

This was the exact opposite of “secular Zionism,” which resulted from the assimilationist movement of 19th century Europe, compounded by the devastating blow of the holocaust to traditionalist Jewish faith.  Thus alienated from their own culture, and vulnerable to modern nationalist demagoguery, a growing portion of the Jewish nation came to elevate control over physical land to an ultimate value and goal, and therefore to transform the land of Israel into a golden calf.

As a Lurianic Cabbalist, committed to the social renewal that both confirms and transcends halakha, Rebbe Kook emphasized, first of all, that religious experience is certain knowledge of God, from which all other knowledge can be at best merely a reflection, and that this common experience of “total being” or “unity” of all religious people is the only adequate medium for God’s message through the Jewish people, who are the “microcosm of humanity.”

“If individuals cannot summon the world to God,” proclaimed Rebbe Kook, “then a people must issue the call.  The people must call out of its inner being, as an individual of great spiritual stature issues the call from his inner being.  This is found only among the Jewish people, whose commitment to the Oneness of God is a commitment to the vision of universality in all its far-reaching implications and whose vocation is to help make the world more receptive to the divine light by bearing witness to the Torah in the world.” This, he taught, is the whole purpose of Israel, which stands for shir el, the “song of God.” It is schlomo, which means peace or wholeness, Solomon’s Song of Songs.

But he warned, again “prophetically,” that, “When an idea needs to acquire a physical base, it tends to descend from its height.  In such an instance it is thrust toward the earthly, and brazen ones come and desecrate its holiness.  Together with this, however, its followers increase, and the physical vitality becomes strikingly visible.  Each person then suffers: The stubbornness of seeking spiritual satisfaction in the outer aspect of things enfeebles one’s powers, fragments the human spirit, and leads the stormy quest in a direction where it will find emptiness and disappointment.  In disillusionment, the quest will continue in another direction.  When degeneration leads one to embrace an outlook on life that negates one’s higher vision, then one becomes prey to the dark side within.  The spiritual dimension becomes enslaved and darkened in the darkness of life.”

Rebbe Kook warned that “the irruption of spiritual light from its divine source on uncultivated ground yields the perverse aspect of idolatry.  It is for this reason that we note to our astonishment the decline of religious Judaism in a period of national renaissance.” “Love of the nation,” he taught, “or more broadly, for humanity, is adorned at its source with the purest ideals, which reflect humanity and nationhood in their noblest light, but if a person should wish to embrace the nation in its decadent condition, its coarser aspects, without inner illumination from its ancient, higher light, he will soon take into himself filth and lowliness and elements of evil that will turn to bitterness in a short span of history of but a few generations.  This is the narrow state to which the community of Israel will descend prior to an awakening to the true revival.”

“By transgressing the limits,” Rebbe Kook prophesied, the leaders of Israel may bring on a holocaust.  But this will merely precede a revival.  “As smoke fades away, so will fade away all the destructive winds that have filled the land, the language, the history, and the literature.” Always following his warning was the reminder of God’s covenant.  “In all of this is hiding the presence of the living God.  It is a fundamental error for us to retreat from our distinctive excellence, to cease recognizing ourselves as chosen for a divine vocation.  We are a great people and we have blundered greatly, and, therefore, we suffered great tribulation; but great also is our consolation.  Our people will be rebuilt and established through the divine dimension of its life.  Then they will call out with a mighty voice to themselves and to their people: ‘Let us go and return to the Lord!’ And this return will be a true return”.

We cannot know whether the catastrophe that Rebbe Kook foresaw was merely a warning, or whether the true return is already taking place, but he was confident of the end result.  The Rebbe always sharply defended the validity of both Christianity and Islam as religions in the plan of God, and proclaimed that, “the brotherly love of Esau and Jacob [Christians and Jews], and Isaac and Ishmael [Jews and Muslims], will assert itself above all the confusion [and turn] the darkness to light.”


For this we should be thankful.  Al hamdu li Allah, wa astaghfiru Allah inna Allahu ghafur wa rahim.

A Thanksgiving Day Talk at Temple Solel sponsored by The Bowie Clergy Association’s

Annual Interfaith Worship Thanksgiving Service 2008

Bowie, Maryland



Iqbal, Jinnah And The Lost Glory Of The Muslims Of India

By Kaleem Kawaja, November 25, 2008


Muslim Boys' in India The fierce controversy that raged in the minds of the Muslims of India over the issue of pan-Islamism and nationalism in the decades preceding India’s independence and partition in 1947 was profoundly influenced by three pre-eminent leaders of India’s Muslims of that time. These were Mohammad Iqbal, Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Abul Kalam Azad. All three were concerned with the protection of the future of Muslims in India in the face of the influence of the majority Hindu population, the British rulers and the Muslim ideologues. At the same time they believed that in India Islam and patriotism could be harmonized if the cultural identity of the Muslims could be preserved. Albeit each of them believed in a totally different method to accomplish that goal.

It is hard to either credit Iqbal with the seed for the creation of Pakistan or absolve him of responsibility for the same. When he termed nationalism antithetical to Islam, he put down the ideology of nationalism and the concept of a nation state. Ideologically Islam clashes not only with nationalism but also with Marxism, Socialism, and Pacifism. While Iqbal conceded the compatibility of Islam with nationalism in a state where Muslims are in a majority and the two are somewhat synonymous, his reservations were primarily against Indian nationalism. He was apprehensive of a threat to the Muslim interests in an India where Hindus were a majority and Muslims were a minority.

To preserve the autonomous growth of Muslims in India, Iqbal suggested the reorganization of the country on the basis of language, race, religion and economic interests within the federal system, with maximum autonomy for the states. In order to preserve the Muslim identity and create a Muslim center of political power, he wanted the amalgamation of the northwestern states of Frontier, Baluchistan, Punjab, Kashmir and Sindh into one Muslim state. This state was to exist within the federal Indian union state. The Muslims in the rest of India were to be given one-third representation in the federal Indian state and legislature.

It is Iqbal’s lack of enthusiasm for the Khilafat movement and appreciation for the Turk nationalist leader Kamal Ataturk who abolished it, that clearly spells his disillusion with the concept of a Pan-Islamic state. He accepted that there are distinct national identities within the Islamic community and that Muslims, transcending their nation states, could get politically united, yet they all could not be one nation. He was very conscious of the influence of Arab imperialism invoking the name of Islam to undermine the loyalty of Indian Muslims. In fact Iqbal concurred with the suspicion of the nationalist Indian Muslims that the idea of Pan-Islamism was planted by the British to divert the attention of India’s Muslims from the movement for India’s freedom.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah on the other hand was the architect of Pakistan who wanted it to be a homeland for all Muslims of India, on the ground that they constituted a separate and distinct nation from the majority Hindus. He regarded Islam as an exclusive basis for a separate nation state. Language, history, culture and geographical region intermingled with Islam, were not the basis of the new nation he wanted to carve out of India. He disavowed the cultural heritage of Guru Nanak and Swami Ram Tirath for the heritage of Punjab that he wanted to include in the new Islamic nation. That was the crux of the two nation theory. Jinnah specifically disagreed with Iqbal’s advice to ignore the Muslim minority provinces of India and did not want to de-link the Pakistan movement from the Muslims who were living in the Hindu majority provinces. Under Jinnah’s leadership Muslims living in the Hindu majority provinces became equally emotionally involved in the movement for their homeland to which most of them had no chance to move to as a community. Similarly the Aligarh Muslim University became an intellectual storm center of the Pakistan movement, even though there was not even a ghost of a chance for it to become a part of the promised Muslim homeland.

An entire generation of educated Muslims in the pre-independence India grew up on the staple diet of Iqbal’s ideas and verses. It was because he felt that Indian Muslims had become nostalgic and had developed self-doubts that Iqbal exhorted them with repetitive messages concerning the progressive nature of Islam. It was his way of shoring up a community beset with low self-esteem in the midst of a steadily progressing Hindu majority that he told them to build their own nation where free from the competitive pressure of the majority Hindus they could get to work to regain their lost glory. The Muslims of India accepted the message with enthusiasm but did not know how to translate that inspiration into reality.

It was in these circumstances that Jinnah, disillusioned with the politics of the Indian National Congress party which represented all Indians, majority of whom were Hindus due to demographic reasons, initiated the concept of the two nation theory and a separate nation for the Muslims. Even though the concept was impractical and of little use to the Muslims living in the Hindu majority provinces of India, a vast segment of Indian Muslims were so emotionally charged with two decades of Iqbal’s exhortations that they were not willing to reason out its core impractical elements. To them it seemed the only way to regain the lost glory in the subcontinent. The nationalist Indian Muslim leaders notably Maulana Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Hasrat Mohani etal, despite their strong efforts at persuading the Muslims to become equal partners in a multi-religious, multicultural nation, could not slow down the flow of the adrenalin of their dream to regain lost glory.

As things have played out sixty years later the consequences for the Muslims of India can at best be described as lack of success. Like the Holy Grail, regaining glory in the subcontinent has eluded them. For the vast majority of Muslims in the many Hindu majority provinces who were sceptical of the idea of a separate nation and who had stayed behind in India along with most of the historical symbols and monuments of the erstwhile Muslim glorious past , the consequences are an unending suspicion of their fellow Hindu citizens concerning their national loyalty. All of Iqbal’s high sounding exhortations and Jinnah’s promises of a better future have rebounded on them. In a sense they have become the lost tribe of the subcontinent.

Far reaching consequences would have followed if Iqbal’s views would have prevailed over those of Jinnah, and only those Muslims who were to actually become part of the new Muslim nation would have been involved in the Pakistan movement. For sure the mindless phobia of Hindus and Muslims regarding each other, their perpetual nemesis, would not have taken root in our national psyche and the continual tension between the two communities would have been avoided. While both Iqbal and Jinnah contributed significantly in the vivisection of India, the consequences would have been very different if the Muslims of India had heeded the call of the poet and not that of the politician. The three nation states of the subcontinent would have been carved out much less violently and without damaging the composite soul of each of them and of the Indian nation.

Today the territorial component is as important as religion in the two nation states flanking India. Even today it is not inaccurate to say that despite the awful bloodshed, violence, tension and the charged rhetoric, the two Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh have more in common with India than the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa. It is this subcontinent nation about which Iqbal told us in his earlier years that:

” Saarey jahan say accha Hindostan hamara; hum bulbulen hain iski, yeh hay aashiyan hamara”. (This is the best nation on earth; it is our magnificent garden and we were its lovely birds).