Rally Against Sharia in Central London

This afternoon there will be a “rally against Sharia Law” in central London, as part of the “One Law for All” campaign. Here’s the call:





The organisers are secular-minded progressives who want no truck with groups such as the English Defence League; Peter Tatchell (whom I greatly respect) gives some background at Comment is Free:

 While other faiths are also often oppressive, sharia law is especially oppressive. Its interpretations stipulate the execution of Muslims who commit adultery, renounce their faith (apostates) or have same-sex relationships. Sharia methods of execution, such as stoning, are particularly brutal and cruel – witness the stoning to death this week in Somalia of a 20-year-old woman divorcee who was accused of adultery. This is the fourth stoning of an adulterer in Somalia in the last year.

…The key point of the protest is to show support for the many courageous, inspiring Muslims who are campaigning against the inequalities and inhumanities of sharia law, often at great risk to their liberty and life. Contrary to the way our critics are trying to misrepresent our campaign, this is not an attack on Muslims or Islam. Nor are we uniquely condemning sharia law. We reject all religious laws and courts, including those inspired by Judaist and Christian fundamentalism.

This is a subject I’ve blogged on: five years ago I noted how local Muslims in Nigeria were protesting against Sharia-based laws as a foreign, Saudi, imposition, and, later, how state enforcement at the hands of a religious police force in Kano was causing problems. The situation in Indonesia is similarly alarming and depressing.

Nevertheless, I have a couple of reservations about the rally. First, talk of “religious-based tribunals in Britain, … Somalia and elsewhere” is a crude polemical conflation of several different problems: (i) draconian and barbaric criminal penalties that shouldn’t be imposed on anyone no matter what they’ve done; (ii) the banning of activities that should be allowed in a free society; and (iii) a gender bias in judgements that discriminates against women. All of these should of course be opposed, but only the third point risks being indulged by British law; this is because unofficial sharia courts can take advantage of the  1996 Arbitration Act, which allows for a range of mediators to make judgements on civil disputes that can then be upheld by the county courts. And as I’ve noted previously, reports of the courts’ activities are certainly unencouraging: inheritances doled out unequally between male and female relatives, and women “persuaded” to drop complaints to the police about domestic violence. The obvious – and reasonable – fear is that some women are agreeing to be bound by the courts’ decisions as a result of community and family pressure rather than giving true consent. It certaintly seems to me that the 1996 act ought to be amended so that civil courts will not enforce decisions where there is evidence of gender bias.

Second, these problems do not encompass full complexity of sharia in its various schools and interpretations – it would be unhelpful if “sharia” were to become simply a synonym for “legally-sanctioned religious oppression”, the way “fatwa” has come to be understood as meaning “death sentence”. In the US, unremarkable niche financial products for Muslim customers who wish to arrange their finances in accordance with sharia principles have provoked ridiculous howls of outrage, and there is an effort underway to paint any Muslim who does not repudiate his or her religion’s legal traditions in toto as an extremist (see here and here).

Tatchell complains that

Sadly, the turn out in Hyde Park will probably be quite small. This is odd. Most liberals and leftwingers would protest loud and strong if these persecutions were perpetrated by a western regime or by Christian fundamentalists. But they get squeamish when it comes to challenging human rights abuses committed in the name of Islam. They fear being denouned as Islamophobic. They confuse protests against fundamentalist, political Islam, which seeks to establish a religious dictatorship, with an attack on Muslim people and the Muslim faith. These are two very different things. Saturday’s protest is in defence of Muslim people – and all people everywhere – who are victims of any form of religious tyranny.

That’s a noble sentiment. However, although I accept I may have a jaundiced view from looking at too many right-wing American websites, I’m not entirely convinced that the organisers want to be clear that they are not protesting against “the Muslim faith”.

32 Responses


    Does that mean they’re are going to demand an end to the English Rabbinical Courts, the “Beth Din” which have been in England for around 300 years and were made part of English law around 100 years ago?

    Or is that one of those subjects declared VERBOTEN?

    • And besides the Beth Din, what about the Church of England’s ecclesiastical courts? They have exactly the same legal powers as sharia courts.

      • For that matter, a “One law for all” campaign would be an attack on the Act of Union of 1707, which guaranteed the separate jurisdictions of English and Scottish law.

  2. Western anti-sharia crusaders also never show much awareness of the existence of sharia courts in Israel.

  3. I went to yesterday’s really to show my support for the rights of all human beings to demand respect. That was the message given, over and over and over again by each and every one of the more than 20 speakers. The turn out was small, but no less vocal for its size!

    Radical Islam, like radical Christianity, like radical Judaism, like radical any other religion of sect of any religion you may wish to name, is wrong. It incites hatred against anyone who, for one reason or not, it feels is either :

    1) Woman = subservient. Just one example (and I can offer many. In the case of two 15 Muslim boys I took to one side yesterday, when they started shouting abuse at one of the speakers, they informed me that they were “superior” and as husbands they would have the right to tell me as their “wife” what to do because the Qur’an said that this was so. When I laughed and said that I knew many Muslims, good Muslims who disagreed with this, they said that they were wrong too! This is laughable indication of Sharia law, but does I think show how it disrespects the human rights of more than half the World’s population!

    2) Non Radical Islamisists. I am involved in the cause to free Iran from the I.R.I. Peaceful protestors, seeking freedom and democracy and a secular state, are being imprisoned, raped (men and woman, boys and girls) and ultimately murdered by this Regime in a desperate attempt to stop this from happening. Again, I could cite more examples, but I do not have the space here.

    3) Radical Christianity is just as bad. In America at the present time, the far right are wearing t-shirts (and encouraging their children to do the same!), quoting a psalm indicating that President Obama should be dead and his wife a widow and his children orphans.

    All extremism is wrong. Sharia Law is NOT a right in this Country, nor in any Country in my opinion. Freedom of Speech does not give you the freedom to abuse other human beings, nor does the freedom to practice your own religion.

  4. The atitudes of the Muslim youth you encountered aren’t due to sharia law – you’re liable to hear exactly the same garbage coming out of the mouths of young black men in places like Barbados. Plus, you’re not going to get a lot of truth from young men in packs – they’re all trying to outdo each other in outrageousness and ‘machoness’ That’s not to deny that there’s a huge problem with young Muslims in general. It’s just that the causes aren’t at all as black and white as the BNP and others would like.

    • Dear Mrs Grimble, I certainly am not a member of the BNP far from it. I spend my life railing against prejudice of ALL forms.

      However the youths were fully in favour of Sharia law, trust me I spoke with them, you did not, with respect, and cannot comment on their views without having had that same conversation. Whether they fully understood what they were saying, is another matter, but I am recounting what they believe at this moment in time. And one day in the not too distant future, these boys will be old enough to marry and start to bring up children.

      Tricia Neda

  5. Can I just flag that we don;t actually live under Sharia Law in the UK?

    And if any twats says: ‘not yet’ can they please bugger off?

  6. The comments here are a xase study in why I’m no longer a leftist.

    First, a deluge of whataboutery concerning BethDin courts…as though Beth Din tribunals would ever claim to cover every Englishman. Every time that distraction is carted out, it is a clear indication that those who doing so are anti-semites.

    There are over 100 sharia courts operating in Britian and the people who frequent them often do not do so of their own free will. Sharia law enshrines gender inequality as being divinely ordained and any decent, sane women would object to that. Instead, we have commenters here falling all over themselves in an effort to show how nuanced and enlightened they are!

    Some even invoke the Act of Union of 1707 in an effort to justify the reintroduction of barbaric tribal “law” codes!

    And then there is this gem in response to someone ( Tricia sutherland) who rightly ( but with great timidity) supports opposing this barbarism: It’s just that the causes aren’t at all as black and white as the BNP and others would like.

    So there you have it, anyone opposing the barbarism represented by shaira “jurisprudence” is the equivalent of the BNP.

    And if any twats says: ‘not yet’ can they please bugger off?

    Well, this twat’s goann say it and I’m NOT going to bugger off. Ten years ago there were virtually NO sharia tribunals and today there are over 100. Now aconcerns all of us because it ultimately aims to supplant the ‘impure’ secular laws of western democracies because, as I stated earlier, it is divinely ordained and cannot, thus, be subordinated to any “toy-town” legal systemes such as that of Great Britian.

    My father lost a kidney defending Briatian during WWII. It underwent some dangerous medical procedures, but as soo as he was patched up, jumped back into the fray.

    Were he alive today to see the despicable and disgusting state of England, and its morally confused inhabitants, he’d have but one thing to say: “Bring back the luftwaffe”

    You people are going to get exactly what you deserve.

    • Dear June ~ thank you for that lukewarm vote of confidence. However, what you see as timidity is not. I recognise that you get more from “jaw jaw” than you do from “war war” and always will.

      Wars are going on right now, all over this World of ours and have been since time began. And to what end? Do we have a better world today than we had the moment after the big bang, or after Adam and Eve if you are a religious person? NO WE DO NOT.

      So I will continue with my “timidity” thank you very much.

      What you perceive as weakness, I perceive as strength. You cannot press-gang, or Luftwaffe!, people into doing what you want. You can only try to educate .. through education and subsequent debate, you get long-lasting results.

      Tricia (not a mouse!) Sutherland

    • Still waiting for you to denounce the sharia courts of Israel. And do you seriously think Rabbinical courts don’t enshrine gender inequality?

    • June, you’re an idiot, scared of fictional things, clearly riddled with a deep-set prejudice based on a crushing ignorance.

      Well done on that.

  7. Tricia I sense you’re under the crushing intimidation of political correctness. Your comments was riddled with qualifiers such as: “Christianity is just as bad”.

    If Christianity was ‘just-as-bad’ for women, then why the little or no controversy about the treatment of Christian women in Britian at the hands of medieval Christian judicial tribunals?

    And yet, even at that you were nonethless, and in an oh-so awkward way, juxtaposed with the BNP ( slandered really) by the resident bien-pensant (and fascist!), “Mrs Gimble”.

    The whataboutery, the insistent references to Beth Din tribunals ( as though Jewish women are still being stoned to death for adultry) and the invocations of Israel are just typical.

    The pressure and intimidation immigrant women are subjected to by their own community and even their own emale co-religionists is enormous and often cannot be resisted.

    By outlawing these tribunals we can be assured that NO women will ever be subjected to those pressures.

    When France passed a law a few years back banning the hijab in schools, it did so after noting that many young schoolgirls complained ( anonymously) that their families ( read menfolk) were forcing them to do so. The French state responded by giving these women a space within which they could resist and be protected from both the family and community pressures that were forcing them to dress in ways they didn’t want to.

    The Islamists are creating a climate of intimidation and fear, especially as pertains to women and women’s rights because the subjegation of women is the very cornerstone of Islam.

    And the fellow travellers of these islamists, the Mrs Gimbles of this world, are engaging in their own campaign of intimidation, one that sees decent leftists opposing the islamist agenda as being in bed with the Far Right.

    Here’s Bart: >i>That’s a noble sentiment. However, although I accept I may have a jaundiced view from looking at too many right-wing American websites, I’m not entirely convinced that the organisers want to be clear that they are not protesting against “the Muslim faith”.

    That’s a weasel disclaimer: He wants to appear to promote the fight against a barbaric systeme of “jurisprudence”, but nonetheless throws that statement out right at the end of his posting…as a kind of insurance policy against any potential P.C. accusations of bigotry, racism and islamophobia.

  8. First, a deluge of whataboutery concerning BethDin courts…as though Beth Din tribunals would ever claim to cover every Englishman. Every time that distraction is carted out, it is a clear indication that those who doing so are anti-semites.

    So, anytime anyone anywhere brings up inconvenient truths about Zionism, they’re automatically labeled as being ‘anti-Semitic?’

    Gosh, I didn’t know that any discussion about radicals in religion, including Judeofascists was VERBOTEN.

    I’ll make a note of that and punish myself by sending me to bed w/o any supper!!

  9. So, anytime anyone anywhere brings up inconvenient truths about Zionism, they’re automatically labeled as being ‘anti-Semitic?’

    The next time Bart complains about Jewish fundamentalism, you can rant away. When you bring up Israel in a knee-jerk manner in the context of a posting about an event in ENLGAND, when you draw false equivalences where none exist, then, yes, you do come across as a bit of an anti-semite.

    I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

    And so do many other decents.

    His posting was about a rally against sharia, a rally at which most of the participants, at least from what I understand, were Muslims.

    So quit indulging your anti-semitism and stay on topic.

    • What part of “all religion-based tribunals” don’t you get? And someone who openly fantasizes about the return of the Nazi air force is also not in a good position to call other people anti-semites.

  10. And someone who openly fantasizes about the return of the Nazi air force is also not in a good position to call other people anti-semites.

    You,re not too bright. The “bring back the Luftwaffe” comment is merely an indication of just to what extent people in North America now hold “Great” Britian in utter contempt.

    It is often used on blogs to terminate postingas on the numerous idiocies that plague “Great” Britian.

    It won’t be long until Englishmen are “profiled” when landing in N. America because of Britian’s accommodating attitude towards radical Islamists. In short, you are now considered a politically correct pariah state


  11. I’m not too bright? I’m not the one cheering for a return of the Nazis.

  12. At last a report not made up of hearsay and lies.


  13. I’m not too bright? I’m not the one cheering for a return of the Nazis.

    The phrase is used in an attempt to show the anaesthetised Saxon just to what extent England is now a “shitty little country”, a safe haven, a breeding ground, a petrie dish for every nutjob islamist group on the planet.

    You’re morphing into a pariah state, and if you allow murderous islamist to call the shots in your social and foreing policies, then we’d might as well “Bring back The Luftwaffe”!.

    England swings like a pendulum due
    Bobbies on bicycles two by two
    Westminster Abbey
    The tower Big Ben
    The rosy red cheeks of the little children


    • Given that the US has just demonstrated an inability to keep violent Islamists out of its armed forces, for heaven’s sake, your condescending attitude to the UK is “not too bright.”

      I’m tired of arguing with someone who thinks advocating the return of the Third Reich is a good way to make a point; you may have the last word.

  14. Given that the US has just demonstrated an inability to keep violent Islamists out of its armed forces, for heaven’s sake, your condescending attitude to the UK is “not too bright.”

    Ah, but Nidla Hasan’s actions have nothing to do with Islam, remember? And any asociation or even mild association of his actions with his peaceful religion would be considered Islamophobic and bigoted, remember?

    What idoelogy, what end of the political spectrum is responsable for that murderous self-censorship?
    Britiasn is about to give a peerage to Abdul Bari, noted Islamist and jihadist cheerleader.

    Was Charles Manson not available, or something?

    Are Bari and his ilk any worse than the Luftwaffe?

    I’d say yes.

  15. Oh dear. June, I have respect for other people’s opinions, views etc. If that makes me “politically correct” then so be it :)

    I was not commenting specitically on the atrocities committed by other faiths because I WAS commenting on Sharia law.

    I have been reading your posts over the past 5 days and, to be perfectly honest, think people like you are dangerous in this country, and in other countries around the World.

    Hatred and bile, whether racially or religiously motivated, is wrong! And when people tell me that they do not hate anyone, indeed how can they .. they “have black friends”, they have “gay friends” I want to laugh in their faces because I usually don’t even notice such things about people until my friends point this out to me.

    I try to only have two categories in my world : Good People and Bad People. Thankfully, group one far outweigh group two. But group one have to work very hard to ensure that this remains the case. Particularly with the news coverage we receive .. but then a good news newspaper has been tried and people are just not interested in buying the same. They would rather read about the lives, loves and tribulations of so-called celebrities :(

    With respect, to EVERYONE here and elsewhere

    Peace, light, love, but NOT organised religion

    Tricia Neda Sutherland

  16. I have been reading your posts over the past 5 days and, to be perfectly honest, think people like you are dangerous in this country, and in other countries around the World

    You’ve pressed the snooze button.

    Look, my only advice to you is this: think in terms of centuries and not deacdes. We are once again faceoing an implacable foe, one which won’t give up and one which we have already stared down, and quite successfully, numerous times now.

    We have just left the 20th century. Let’s make sure we don’t end back up in the 12th.

    • June, you are an ardent and terrible bigot, using a friendly blog space to spout your nonsense as if that will somehow make you right.

      Make a note of this June, know when to shut up and carry on hating from the comfort of your armchair, rather than making us all have to sit through it.

  17. Blimey, where’s the love?
    Well us lot went and it seemed to be dominated by Maryam’s lot, who we respect in spite of everything. More to come I’m sure!

  18. […] A Threat to One Law for All & Equal Rights. I gave my general views on the campaign in November here; this report suffers from the same limitations which I identified then. Most of it is simply […]

  19. Adab of Islam
    © Nuh Keller 2001


    (13) The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “When two vituperate each other, [the sin of] what they say is borne by the one who first began, as long as the one wronged does not transgress [the bounds of merely defending himself, by answering back with worse]” (Muslim, 4.2000: 2587. S). And when a group of Jews covertly cursed the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) by using a play on the words “as-Salamu ‘alaykum,” ‘A’isha noticed it and gave them a rounding, and he said, “Enough, ‘A’isha; for Allah does not like vulgarity or making a display of it” (ibid., 1707: 2165(4). S). And in another version, “O ‘A’isha, always have gentleness, and always shun harsh words and vulgarity” (Bukhari, 8.15: 6030. S). This is the adab of Islam with hardened enemies, so how should it not apply to our fellow Muslims, let alone family and loved ones?

    (14) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to be honest when one speaks. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Honesty certainly leads to goodness, and goodness leads to paradise. Truly, a man keeps speaking the truth until he is inscribed as being true through and through. And lying leads to going wrong, and going wrong leads to hell. Truly, a man lies and lies until he is inscribed as being a liar through and through” (Muslim, 4.2012–13: 2607. S).

    (15) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to completely abandon and shun guile, deceit, scornfulness, or sarcasm because these are unlawful. Allah Most High says, “O you who believe, let no men scorn other men, for they might well be better than they are. And let no women scorn other women, for they might well be better than they. And do not find fault with one another, or give each other insulting nicknames” (Qur’an 49:11). And Allah Most High says, “Woe to whoever demeans others behind their back or to their face” (Qur’an 104:1). And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Let there be no harming another, or harming him back. Whoever harms another Allah shall harm, and whoever gives trouble to another Allah shall give trouble to” (Hakim, 2.58. Hg).

    (16) It is of the adab of the high path of Islam to abandon lying, for it is unlawful. Allah Most High curses liars by saying, “May liars be slain” (Qur’an 51:10), in which slain means “cursed” according to the Arabic idiom likening the accursed, who loses every good and happiness, to the slain, who loses life and every blessing. The Qur’anic exegete al-Khazin notes that “May liars be cursed” originally referred to those who sat on the various roads outside Mecca warning people against the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to keep them from becoming Muslim. The verse, however, like other Qur’anic verses, is not limited to the original circumstances in which it was revealed, but applies universally, to the end of time. Those who lie, except in circumstances in which Sacred Law permits it, are cursed by Allah.

    (17) It is unlawful to lie, except when making up between two people, or lying to an enemy in war, or to one’s wife. It is also unlawful to praise or blame another with an untruth. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Lying is wrong, except in three things: the lie of a man to his wife to make her content with him; a lie in war, for war is deception; or a lie to settle trouble between people” (Ahmad, 6.459. H). Ibn Jawzi has said, “The criterion for it is that every praiseworthy objective in Sacred Law that cannot be brought about without lying is permissible to lie for if the objective is permissible, and obligatory to lie for if the objective is obligatory.” When lying is the only way to attain one’s right, one may lie about oneself or another, provided it does not harm the other. And it is obligatory to lie to if necessary to protect a Muslim from being murdered. But whenever one can accomplish the objective by words that merely give a misleading impression with actually being false, it is unlawful to tell an outright lie, because it is unnecessary.

    (18) If one needs to swear a false oath in order to save a person whose life is unlawful to take from being killed, then one must swear it, for saving such a person’s life is obligatory, and if doing so depends on an oath, it is obligatory. Suwayd ibn Handhala (Allah be well pleased with him) said: “We set out to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and Wa’il ibn Hajar was with us, and he was captured by an enemy. The group was forced to swear an oath [that all were of the same clan, which was under a protection agreement], so I swore that he was my brother, and they released him. We reached the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and I told him that the group had been forced to swear, and that I had sworn he was my brother, and he said, “You told the truth: the Muslim is the bother of the Muslim” (Abu Dawud, 3.224:3256. S).

    (19) The “Farewell Sermon” of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) at hajj:All praise is Allah’s. We praise Him, seek His help, ask His forgiveness, and we repent unto Him. We seek refuge in Allah from the evils of our selves and our bad actions. Whomever Allah guides none can lead astray, and whomever He leads astray has no one to guide him. I testify that there is no god but Allah alone, without any partner, and I testify that Muhammad is his slave and messenger. I enjoin you, O servants of Allah, to be godfearing towards Allah, I urge you to obey Him, and I begin with that which is best.

    To commence: O people, hear me well: I explain to you. For I do not know; I may well not meet you again in this place where I now stand, after this year of mine.

    O people: your lives and your property, until the very day you meet your Lord, are as inviolable to each other as the inviolability of this day you are now in, and the month you are now in. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness. So let whoever has been given something for safekeeping give it back to him who gave him it.

    Truly, the usury of the Era of Ignorance has been laid aside forever, and the first usury I begin with is that which is due to my father’s brother ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. And truly the blood-vengeance of the Era of Ignorance has been laid aside forever, and the first blood-vengeance we shall start with is that which is due for the blood of [my kinsman] ‘Amir ibn Rabi‘a ibn Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib. Truly, the hereditary distinctions that were pretensions to respect in the Era of Ignorance have been laid aside forever, except for the custodianship of the Kaaba [by Bani ‘Abd al-Dar] and the giving of drink to pilgrims [by al-‘Abbas].

    A deliberate murder is subject to retaliation in kind. An accidental death from a deliberate injury means a death resulting from [something not usually used or intended as a deadly weapon such as] a stick or a rock, for which the indemnity is one hundred camels: whoever asks for more is a person of the Era of Ignorance.

    O people: the Devil has despaired of ever being worshipped in this land of yours, though he is content to be obeyed in other works of yours, that you deem to be of little importance.

    O people: postponing the inviolability of a sacred month [claiming to postpone the prohibition of killing in it to a subsequent month, so as to continue warring despite the sacred month’s having arrived] is a surfeit of unbelief, by which those who disbelieve are led astray, making it lawful one year and unlawful in another, in order to match the number [of months] Allah has made inviolable. Time has verily come full turn, to how it was the day Allah created the heavens and the earth. Four months there are which are inviolable, three in a row and forth by itself: Dhul Qa‘da, Dhul Hijja, and Muharram; and Rajab, which lies between Jumada and Sha‘ban. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness.

    O people: verily you owe your women their rights, and they owe you yours. They may not lay with another men in your beds, let anyone into your houses you do not want without your permission, or commit indecency. If they do, Allah has given you leave to debar them, send them from your beds, or [finally] strike them in a way that does no harm. But if they desist, and obey you, then you must provide for them and clothe them fittingly. The women who live with you are like captives, unable to manage for themselves: you took them as a trust from Allah, and enjoyed their sex as lawful through a word [legal ruling] from Allah. So fear Allah in respect to women, and concern yourselves with their welfare. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness.

    O people, believers are but brothers. No one may take his brother’s property without his full consent. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness. Never go back to being unbelievers, smiting each other’s necks, for verily, I have left among you that which if you take it, you will never stray after me: the Book of Allah. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness.

    O people, your Lord is One, and your father is one: all of you are from Adam, and Adam was from the ground. The noblest of you in Allah’s sight is the most godfearing: Arab has no merit over non-Arab other than godfearingness. Have I given the message?—O Allah, be my witness. —At this, they said yes.

    He said, Then let whomever is present tell whomever is absent.

    O people:, Allah has apportioned to every deserving heir his share of the estate, and no deserving heir may accept a special bequest, and no special bequest may exceed a third of the estate. A child’s lineage is that of the [husband who owns the] bed, and adulterers shall be stoned. Whoever claims to be the son of someone besides his father or a bondsman who claims to belong to other than his masters shall bear the curse of Allah and the angels and all men: no deflecting of it or ransom for it shall be accepted from him.

    And peace be upon all of you, and the mercy of Allah.

    (20) ‘Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Mufti of Mecca (d. 114/732), of the generation that followed that of the prophetic Companions (Sahaba) said of them, “They used to dislike talking more than necessary, and considered “more than necessary” to mean more than your reciting the Qur’an, enjoining the right, forbidding the wrong, or speaking about making a living, in the amount strictly necessary.”

    (21) The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should say something good or else be quiet” (Bukhari, 8.13: 6019. S). He also said (Allah bless him and give him peace) “Whoever is silent is saved” (Ahmad, 2.159. S). And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Verily the slave will say a word he thinks nothing of that Allah loves, for which Allah raises him whole degrees. And verily the slave will say a word he thinks nothing of that Allah detests, for which he plummets into hell” (Bukhari, 8.125: 6478. S).

    (22) It is of the adab of Islam to know the value of one’s word, not to give unless one intends to keep it, and to keep it once it has been given. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The signs of a hypocrite are three: when he speaks he lies, when he promises he breaks it, and when entrusted with something he betrays it” (Bukhari, 1.15: 33. S).

    When Abu Bakr was dying, he sent for ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be well pleased with both of them), and told him, “O ‘Umar, if you are given authority over the people, fear Allah and hold fast to what is right. For the balance of those whose scale pans are heavy on Resurrection Day [with good deeds] shall only be heavy for their having followed what is right and its heaviness upon them; and it befits the balance scale when what is right is placed in it tomorrow to be heavy. And the balance of those whose scale pans are light on Resurrection Day [because of few good deeds] shall only be light for their having followed what is wrong and its ease upon them; and it befits the balance scale when what is wrong is placed in it tomorrow to be light. And know that there are works for Allah at night that He does not accept during the day, and that there are works during the day that He does not accept at night. And that He does not accept a supererogatory work of worship until the obligatory has been done.”


  20. The Place of Tasawwuf in Traditional Islamic Sciences
    © Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995


    Perhaps the biggest challenge in learning Islam correctly today is the scarcity of traditional ‘ulama. In this meaning, Bukhari relates the sahih, rigorously authenticated hadith that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “Truly, Allah does not remove Sacred Knowedge by taking it out of servants, but rather by taking back the souls of Islamic scholars [in death], until, when He has not left a single scholar, the people take the ignorant as leaders, who are asked for and who give Islamic legal opinion without knowledge, misguided and misguiding” (Fath al-Bari, 1.194, hadith 100).

    The process described by the hadith is not yet completed, but has certainly begun, and in our times, the lack of traditional scholars—whether in Islamic law, in hadith, in tafsir ‘Qur’anic exegesis’—has given rise to an understanding of the religion that is far from scholarly, and sometimes far from the truth. For example, in the course of my own studies in Islamic law, my first impression from orientalist and Muslim-reformer literature, was that the Imams of the madhhabs or ‘schools of jurisprudence’ had brought a set of rules from completely outside the Islamic tradition and somehow imposed them upon the Muslims. But when I sat with traditional scholars in the Middle East and asked them about the details, I came away with a different point of view, having learned the bases for deriving the law from the Qur’an and sunna.

    And similarly with Tasawwuf—which is the word I will use tonight for the English Sufism, since our context is traditional Islam—quite a different picture emerged from talking with scholars of Tasawwuf than what I had been exposed to in the West. My talk tonight, In Sha’ Allah, will present knowledge taken from the Qur’an and sahih hadith, and from actual teachers of Tasawwuf in Syria and Jordan, in view of the need for all of us to get beyond clichés, the need for factual information from Islamic sources, the need to answer such questions as: Where did Tasawwuf come from? What role does it play in the din or religion of Islam? and most importantly, What is the command of Allah about it?

    As for the origin of the term Tasawwuf, like many other Islamic discliplines, its name was not known to the first generation of Muslims. The historian Ibn Khaldun notes in his Muqaddima:

    This knowledge is a branch of the sciences of Sacred Law that originated within the Umma. From the first, the way of such people had also been considered the path of truth and guidance by the early Muslim community and its notables, of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), those who were taught by them, and those who came after them.

    It basically consists of dedication to worship, total dedication to Allah Most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone. This was the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims, but when involvement in this-worldly things became widespread from the second Islamic century onwards and people became absorbed in worldliness, those devoted to worship came to be called Sufiyya or People of Tasawwuf (Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddima [N.d. Reprint. Mecca: Dar al-Baz, 1397/1978], 467).

    In Ibn Khaldun’s words, the content of Tasawwuf, “total dedication to Allah Most High,” was, “the general rule among the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims.” So if the word did not exist in earliest times, we should not forget that this is also the case with many other Islamic disciplines, such as tafsir, ‘Qur’anic exegesis,’ or ‘ilm al-jarh wa ta‘dil, ‘the science of the positive and negative factors that affect hadith narrators acceptability,’ or ‘ilm al-tawhid, the science of belief in Islamic tenets of faith,’ all of which proved to be of the utmost importance to the correct preservation and transmission of the religion.

    As for the origin of the word Tasawwuf, it may well be from Sufi, the person who does Tasawwuf, which seems to be etymologically prior to it, for the earliest mention of either term was by Hasan al-Basri who died 110 years after the Hijra, and is reported to have said, “I saw a Sufi circumambulating the Kaaba, and offered him a dirham, but he would not accept it.” It therefore seems better to understand Tasawwuf by first asking what a Sufi is; and perhaps the best definition of both the Sufi and his way, certainly one of the most frequently quoted by masters of the discipline, is from the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) who said:

    Allah Most High says: “He who is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him” (Fath al-Bari, 11.340–41, hadith 6502);

    This hadith was related by Imam Bukhari, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bayhaqi, and others with multiple contiguous chains of transmission, and is sahih. It discloses the central reality of Tasawwuf, which is precisely change, while describing the path to this change, in conformity with a traditional definition used by masters in the Middle East, who define a Sufi as Faqihun ‘amila bi ‘ilmihi fa awrathahu Llahu ‘ilma ma lam ya‘lam,‘A man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.’

    To clarify, a Sufi is a man of religious learning,because the hadith says, “My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him,” and only through learning can the Sufi know the command of Allah, or what has been made obligatory for him. He has applied what he knew, because the hadith says he not only approaches Allah with the obligatory, but “keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him.” And in turn, Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know, because the hadith says, “And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks,” which is a metaphor for the consummate awareness of tawhid, or the ‘unity of Allah,’ which in the context of human actions such as hearing, sight, seizing, and walking, consists of realizing the words of the Qur’an about Allah that,

    “It is He who created you and what you do” (Qur’an 37:96).

    The origin of the way of the Sufi thus lies in the prophetic sunna. The sincerity to Allah that it entails was the rule among the earliest Muslims, to whom this was simply a state of being without a name, while it only became a distinct discipline when the majority of the Community had drifted away and changed from this state. Muslims of subsequent generations required systematic effort to attain it, and it was because of the change in the Islamic environment after the earliest generations, that a discipline by the name of Tasawwuf came to exist.

    But if this is true of origins, the more significant question is: How central is Tasawwuf to the religion, and: Where does it fit into Islam as a whole? Perhaps the best answer is the hadith of Muslim, that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said:

    As we sat one day with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace), a man in pure white clothing and jet black hair came to us, without a trace of travelling upon him, though none of us knew him.

    He sat down before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) bracing his knees against his, resting his hands on his legs, and said: “Muhammad, tell me about Islam.” The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said: “Islam is to testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and to perform the prayer, give zakat, fast in Ramadan, and perform the pilgrimage to the House if you can find a way.”

    He said: “You have spoken the truth,” and we were surprised that he should ask and then confirm the answer. Then he said:

    “Tell me about true faith (iman),” and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: “It is to believe in Allah, His angels, His inspired Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and in destiny, its good and evil.”

    “You have spoken the truth,” he said, “Now tell me about the perfection of faith (ihsan),” and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) answered: “It is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you see Him not, He nevertheless sees you.”

    The hadith continues to where ‘Umar said:

    Then the visitor left. I waited a long while, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to me, “Do you know, ‘Umar, who was the questioner?” and I replied, “Allah and His messenger know best.” He said,

    “It was Gabriel, who came to you to teach you your religion” (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: hadith 8).

    This is a sahih hadith, described by Imam Nawawi as one of the hadiths upon which the Islamic religion turns. The use of din in the last words of it, Atakum yu‘allimukum dinakum, “came to you to teach you your religion” entails that the religion of Islam is composed of the three fundamentals mentioned in the hadith: Islam, or external compliance with what Allah asks of us; Iman, or the belief in the unseen that the prophets have informed us of; and Ihsan, or to worship Allah as though one sees Him. The Qur’an says, in Surat Maryam,

    “Surely We have revealed the Remembrance, and surely We shall preserve it” (Qur’an 15:9),

    and if we reflect how Allah, in His wisdom, has accomplished this, we see that it is by human beings, the traditional scholars He has sent at each level of the religion. The level of Islam has been preserved and conveyed to us by the Imams of Shari‘a or ‘Sacred Law’ and its ancillary disciplines; the level of Iman, by the Imams of ‘Aqida or ‘tenets of faith’; and the level of Ihsan, “to worship Allah as though you see Him,” by the Imams of Tasawwuf.

    The hadith’s very words “to worship Allah” show us the interrelation of these three fundamentals, for the how of “worship” is only known through the external prescriptions of Islam, while the validity of this worship in turn presupposes Iman or faith in Allah and the Islamic revelation, without which worship would be but empty motions; while the words, “as if you see Him,” show that Ihsan implies a human change, for it entails the experience of what, for most of us, is not experienced. So to understand Tasawwuf, we must look at the nature of this change in relation to both Islam and Iman, and this is the main focus of my talk tonight.

    At the level of Islam, we said that Tasawwuf requires Islam,through ‘submission to the rules of Sacred Law.’ But Islam, for its part, equally requires Tasawwuf. Why? For the very good reason that the sunna which Muslims have been commanded to follow is not just the words and actions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), but also his states, states of the heart such as taqwa ‘godfearingness,’ ikhlas ‘sincerity,’ tawakkul ‘reliance on Allah,’ rahma ‘mercy,’ tawadu‘ ‘humility,’ and so on.

    Now, it is characteristic of the Islamic ethic that human actions are not simply divided into two shades of morality, right or wrong; but rather five, arranged in order of their consequences in the next world. The obligatory (wajib) is that whose performance is rewarded by Allah in the next life and whose nonperformance is punished. The recommended (mandub) is that whose performance is rewarded, but whose nonperformance is not punished. The permissible (mubah) is indifferent, unconnected with either reward or punishment. The offensive (makruh) is that whose nonperformance is rewarded but whose performance is not punished. The unlawful (haram) is that whose nonperformance is rewarded and whose performance is punished, if one dies unrepentant.

    Human states of the heart, the Qur’an and sunna make plain to us, come under each of these headings. Yet they are not dealt with in books of fiqh or ‘Islamic jurisprudence,’ because unlike the prayer, zakat, or fasting, they are not quantifiable in terms of the specific amount of them that must be done. But though they are not countable, they are of the utmost importance to every Muslim. Let’s look at a few examples.

    (1) Love of Allah. In Surat al-Baqara of the Qur’an, Allah blames those who ascribe associates to Allah whom they love as much as they love Allah. Then He says,

    “And those who believe are greater in love for Allah” (Qur’an 2:165), making being a believer conditional upon having greater love for Allah than any other.

    (2) Mercy. Bukhari and Muslim relate that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Whomever is not merciful to people, Allah will show no mercy” (Sahih Muslim, 4.1809: hadith 2319), and Tirmidhi relates the well authenticated (hasan) hadith “Mercy is not taken out of anyone except the damned” (al-Jami‘ al-sahih, 4.323: hadith 1923).

    (3) Love of each other. Muslim relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, none of you shall enter paradise until you believe, and none of you shall believe until you love one another . . . .” (Sahih Muslim, 1.74: hadith 54).

    (4) Presence of mind in the prayer (salat). Abu Dawud relates in his Sunan that ‘Ammar ibn Yasir heard the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say, “Truly, a man leaves, and none of his prayer has been recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, eighth of it, seventh of it, sixth of it, fifth of it, fourth of it, third of it, a half of it” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 1.211: hadith 796)—meaning that none of a person’s prayer counts for him except that in which he is present in his heart with Allah.

    (5) Love of the Prophet. Bukhari relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “None of you believes until I am more beloved to him than his father, his son, and all people” (Fath al-Bari, 1.58, hadith 15).

    It is plain from these texts that none of the states mentioned—whether mercy, love, or presence of heart—are quantifiable, for the Shari‘a cannot specify that one must “do two units of mercy” or “have three units of presence of mind” in the way that the number of rak‘as of prayer can be specified, yet each of them is personally obligatory for the Muslim. Let us complete the picture by looking at a few examples of states that are haram or ‘strictly unlawful’:

    (1) Fear of anyone besides Allah. Allah Most High says in Surat al-Baqara of the Qur’an,

    “And fulfill My covenant: I will fulfill your covenant—And fear Me alone” (Qur’an 2:40), the last phrase of which, according to Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, “establishes that a human being is obliged to fear no one besides Allah Most High” (Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi, 3.42).

    (2) Despair. Allah Most High says,

    “None despairs of Allah’s mercy except the people who disbelieve” (Qur’an 12:87), indicating the unlawfulness of this inward state by coupling it with the worst human condition possible, that of unbelief.

    (3) Arrogance. Muslim relates in his Sahih that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “No one shall enter paradise who has a particle of arrogance in his heart” (Sahih Muslim, 1.93: hadith 91).

    (4) Envy,meaning to wish for another to lose the blessings he enjoys. Abu Dawud relates that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “Beware of envy, for envy consumes good works as flames consume firewood” (Sunan Abi Dawud, 4.276: hadith 4903).

    (5) Showing off in acts of worship. Al-Hakim relates with a sahih chain of transmission that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah . . . .” (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, 1.4).

    These and similar haram inward states are not found in books of fiqh or ‘jurisprudence,’ because fiqh can only deal with quantifiable descriptions of rulings. Rather, they are examined in their causes and remedies by the scholars of the ‘inner fiqh’ of Tasawwuf, men such as Imam al-Ghazali in his Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din [The reviving of the religious sciences], Imam al-Rabbani in his Maktubat [Letters], al-Suhrawardi in his ‘Awarif al-Ma‘arif [The knowledges of the illuminates], Abu Talib al-Makki in Qut al-qulub [The sustenance of hearts], and similar classic works, which discuss and solve hundreds of ethical questions about the inner life. These are books of Shari‘a and their questions are questions of Sacred Law, of how it is lawful or unlawful for a Muslim to be; and they preserve the part of the prophetic sunna dealing with states.

    Who needs such information? All Muslims, for the Qur’anic verses and authenticated hadiths all point to the fact that a Muslim must not only do certain things and say certain things, but also must be something, must attain certain states of the heart and eliminate others. Do we ever fear someone besides Allah? Do we have a particle of arrogance in our hearts? Is our love for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) greater than our love for any other human being? Is there the slightest bit of showing off in our good works?

    Half a minute’s reflection will show the Muslim where he stands on these aspects of his din, and why in classical times, helping Muslims to attain these states was not left to amateurs, but rather delegated to ‘ulama of the heart, the scholars of Islamic Tasawwuf. For most people, these are not easy transformations to make, because of the force of habit, because of the subtlety with which we can deceive ourselves, but most of all because each of us has an ego, the self, the Me, which is called in Arabic al-nafs, about which Allah testifies in Surat Yusuf:

    “Verily the self ever commands to do evil” (Qur’an 12:53).

    If you do not believe it, consider the hadith related by Muslim in his Sahih, that:

    The first person judged on Resurrection Day will be a man martyred in battle.

    He will be brought forth, Allah will reacquaint him with His blessings upon him and the man will acknowledge them, whereupon Allah will say, “What have you done with them?” to which the man will respond, “I fought to the death for You.”

    Allah will reply, “You lie. You fought in order to be called a hero, and it has already been said.” Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face and flung into the fire.

    Then a man will be brought forward who learned Sacred Knowledge, taught it to others, and who recited the Qur’an. Allah will remind him of His gifts to him and the man will acknowledge them, and then Allah will say, “What have you done with them?” The man will answer, “I acquired Sacred Knowledge, taught it, and recited the Qur’an, for Your sake.”

    Allah will say, “You lie. You learned so as to be called a scholar, and read the Qur’an so as to be called a reciter, and it has already been said.” Then the man will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire.

    Then a man will be brought forward whom Allah generously provided for, giving him various kinds of wealth, and Allah will recall to him the benefits given, and the man will acknowledge them, to which Allah will say, “And what have you done with them?” The man will answer, “I have not left a single kind of expenditure You love to see made, except that I have spent on it for Your sake.”

    Allah will say, “You lie. You did it so as to be called generous, and it has already been said.” Then he will be sentenced and dragged away on his face to be flung into the fire (Sahih Muslim, 3.1514: hadith 1905).

    We should not fool ourselves about this, because our fate depends on it: in our childhood, our parents taught us how to behave through praise or blame, and for most of us, this permeated and colored our whole motivation for doing things. But when childhood ends, and we come of age in Islam, the religion makes it clear to us, both by the above hadith and by the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) “The slightest bit of showing off in good works is as if worshipping others with Allah” that being motivated by what others think is no longer good enough, and that we must change our motives entirely, and henceforth be motivated by nothing but desire for Allah Himself. The Islamic revelation thus tells the Muslim that it is obligatory to break his habits of thinking and motivation, but it does not tell him how. For that, he must go to the scholars of these states, in accordance with the Qur’anic imperative,

    “Ask those who know if you know not” (Qur’an 16:43),

    There is no doubt that bringing about this change, purifying the Muslims by bringing them to spiritual sincerity, was one of the central duties of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), for Allah says in the Surat Al ‘Imran of the Qur’an,

    “Allah has truly blessed the believers, for He has sent them a messenger of themselves, who recites His signs to them and purifies them, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom” (Qur’an 3:164),

    which explicitly lists four tasks of the prophetic mission, the second of which, yuzakkihim means precisely to ‘purify them’ and has no other lexical sense. Now, it is plain that this teaching function cannot, as part of an eternal revelation, have ended with the passing of the first generation, a fact that Allah explictly confirms in His injunction in Surat Luqman,

    “And follow the path of him who turns unto Me” (Qur’an 31:15).

    These verses indicate the teaching and transformative role of those who convey the Islamic revelation to Muslims, and the choice of the word ittiba‘ in the second verse, which is more general, implies both keeping the company of and following the example of a teacher. This is why in the history of Tasawwuf, we find that though there were many methods and schools of thought, these two things never changed: keeping the company of a teacher, and following his example—in exactly the same way that the Sahaba were uplifted and purified by keeping the company of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and following his example.

    And this is why the discipline of Tasawwuf has been preserved and transmitted by Tariqas or groups of students under a particular master. First, because this was the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in his purifying function described by the Qur’an. Secondly, Islamic knowledge has never been transmitted by writings alone, but rather from ‘ulama to students. Thirdly, the nature of the knowledge in question is of hal or ‘state of being,’ not just knowing, and hence requires it be taken from a succession of living masters back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), for the sheer range and number of the states of heart required by the revelation effectively make imitation of the personal example of a teacher the only effective means of transmission.

    So far we have spoken about Tasawwuf in respect to Islam, as a Shari‘a science necessary to fully realize the Sacred Law in one’s life, to attain the states of the heart demanded by the Qur’an and hadith. This close connection between Shari‘a and Tasawwuf is expressed by the statement of Imam Malik, founder of the Maliki school, that “he who practices Tasawwuf without learning Sacred Law corrupts his faith, while he who learns Sacred Law without practicing Tasawwuf corrupts himself. Only he who combines the two proves true.” This is why Tasawwuf was taught as part of the traditional curriculum in madrasas across the Muslim world from Malaysia to Morocco, why many of the greatest Shari‘a scholars of this Umma have been Sufis, and why until the end of the Islamic caliphate at the beginning of this century and the subsequent Western control and cultural dominance of Muslim lands, there were teachers of Tasawwuf in Islamic institutions of higher learning from Lucknow to Istanbul to Cairo.

    But there is a second aspect of Tasawwuf that we have not yet talked about; namely, its relation to Iman or ‘True Faith,’ the second pillar of the Islamic religion, which in the context of the Islamic sciences consists of ‘Aqida or ‘orthodox belief.’

    All Muslims believe in Allah, and that He is transcendently beyond anything conceivable to the minds of men, for the human intellect is imprisoned within its own sense impressions and the categories of thought derived from them, such as number, directionality, spatial extention, place, time, and so forth. Allah is beyond all of that; in His own words,

    “There is nothing whatesover like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11)

    If we reflect for a moment on this verse, in the light of the hadith of Muslim about Ihsan that “it is to worship Allah as though you see Him,” we realize that the means of seeing here is not the eye, which can only behold physical things like itself; nor yet the mind, which cannot transcend its own impressions to reach the Divine, but rather certitude, the light of Iman, whose locus is not the eye or the brain, but rather the ruh, a subtle faculty Allah has created within each of us called the soul, whose knowledge is unobstructed by the bounds of the created universe. Allah Most High says, by way of exalting the nature of this faculty by leaving it a mystery,

    “Say: ‘The soul is of the affair of my Lord’” (Qur’an 17:85).

    The food of this ruh is dhikr or the ‘remembrance of Allah.’ Why? Because acts of obedience increase the light of certainty and Iman in the soul, and dhikr is among the greatest of them, as is attested to by the sahih hadith related by al-Hakim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “Shall I not tell you of the best of your works, the purest of them in the eyes of your Master, the highest in raising your rank, better than giving gold and silver, and better for you than to meet your enemy and smite their necks, and they smite yours?” They said, “This—what is it, O Messenger of Allah?” and he said: Dhikru Llahi ‘azza wa jall, “The remembrance of Allah Mighty and Majestic.” (al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn, 1.496).

    Increasing the strength of Iman through good actions, and particularly through the medium of dhikr has tremendous implications for the Islamic religion and traditional spirituality. A non-Muslim once asked me, “If God exists, then why all this beating around the bush? Why doesn’t He just come out and say so?”

    The answer is that taklif or ‘moral responsibility’ in this life is not only concerned with outward actions, but with what we believe, our ‘Aqida—and the strength with which we believe it. If belief in God and other eternal truths were effortless in this world, there would be no point in Allah making us responsible for it, it would be automatic, involuntary, like our belief, say, that London is in England. There would no point in making someone responsible for something impossible not to believe.

    But the responsibility Allah has place upon us is belief in the Unseen, as a test for us in this world to choose between kufr and Iman, to distinguish believer from unbeliever, and some believers above others.

    This why strengthening Iman through dhikr is of such methodological importance for Tasawwuf: we have not only been commanded as Muslims to believe in certain things, but have been commanded to have absolute certainty in them. The world we see around us is composed of veils of light and darkness: events come that knock the Iman out of some of us, and Allah tests each of us as to the degree of certainty with which we believe the eternal truths of the religion. It was in this sense that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “If the Iman of Abu Bakr were weighed against the Iman of the entire Umma, it would outweigh it.”

    Now, in traditional ‘Aqida one of the most important tenets is the wahdaniyya or ‘oneness and uniqueness’ of Allah Most High. This means He is without any sharik or associate in His being, in His attributes, or in His acts. But the ability to hold this insight in mind in the rough and tumble of daily life is a function of the strength of certainty (yaqin) in one’s heart. Allah tells the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in Surat al-A‘raf of the Qur’an,

    “Say: ‘I do not possess benefit for myself or harm, except as Allah wills’” (Qur’an 7:188),

    yet we tend to rely on ourselves and our plans, in obliviousness to the facts of ‘Aqida that ourselves and our plans have no effect, that Allah alone brings about effects.

    If you want to test yourself on this, the next time you contact someone with good connections whose help is critical to you, take a look at your heart at the moment you ask him to put in a good word for you with someone, and see whom you are relying upon. If you are like most of us, Allah is not at the forefront of your thoughts, despite the fact that He alone is controlling the outcome. Isn’t this a lapse in your ‘Aqida, or, at the very least, in your certainty?

    Tasawwuf corrects such shortcomings by step-by-step increasing the Muslim’s certainty in Allah. The two central means of Tasawwuf in attaining the conviction demanded by ‘Aqida are mudhakara, or learning the traditional tenets of Islamic faith, and dhikr, deepening one’s certainty in them by remembrance of Allah. It is part of our faith that, in the words of the Qur’an in Surat al-Saffat,

    “Allah has created you and what you do” (Qur’an 37:96);

    yet for how many of us is this day to day experience? Because Tasawwuf remedies this and other shortcomings of Iman, by increasing the Muslim’s certainty through a systematic way of teaching and dhikr, it has traditionally been regarded as personally obligatory to this pillar of the religion also, and from the earliest centuries of Islam, has proved its worth.

    The last question we will deal with tonight is: What about the bad Sufis we read about, who contravene the teachings of Islam?

    The answer is that there are two meanings of Sufi: the first is “Anyone who considers himself a Sufi,” which is the rule of thumb of orientalist historians of Sufism and popular writers, who would oppose the “Sufis” to the “Ulama.” I think the Qur’anic verses and hadiths we have mentioned tonight about the scope and method of true Tasawwuf show why we must insist on the primacy of the definition of a Sufi as “a man of religious learning who applied what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.”

    The very first thing a Sufi, as a man of religious learning knows is that the Shari‘a and ‘Aqida of Islam are above every human being. Whoever does not know this will never be a Sufi, except in the orientalist sense of the word—like someone standing in front of the stock exchange in an expensive suit with a briefcase to convince people he is a stockbroker. A real stockbroker is something else.

    Because this distinction is ignored today by otherwise well-meaning Muslims, it is often forgotten that the ‘ulama who have criticized Sufis, such as Ibn al-Jawzi in his Talbis Iblis [The Devil’s deception], or Ibn Taymiya in places in his Fatawa, or Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya, were not criticizing Tasawwuf as an ancillary discipline to the Shari‘a. The proof of this is Ibn al-Jawzi’s five-volume Sifat al-safwa, which contains the biographies of the very same Sufis mentioned in al-Qushayri’s famous Tasawwuf manual al-Risala al-Qushayriyya. Ibn Taymiya considered himself a Sufi of the Qadiri order, and volumes ten and eleven of his thirty-seven-volume Majmu‘ al-fatawa are devoted to Tasawwuf. And Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya wrote his three-volume Madarij al-salikin, a detailed commentary on ‘Abdullah al-Ansari al-Harawi’s tract on the spiritual stations of the Sufi path, Manazil al-sa’irin. These works show that their authors’ criticisms were not directed at Tasawwuf as such, but rather at specific groups of their times, and they should be understood for what they are.

    As in other Islamic sciences, mistakes historically did occur in Tasawwuf, most of them stemming from not recognizing the primacy of Shari‘a and ‘Aqida above all else. But these mistakes were not different in principle from, for example, the Isra’iliyyat (baseless tales of Bani Isra’il) that crept into tafsir literature, or the mawdu‘at (hadith forgeries) that crept into the hadith. These were not taken as proof that tafsir was bad, or hadith was deviance, but rather, in each discipline, the errors were identified and warned against by Imams of the field, because the Umma needed the rest. And such corrections are precisely what we find in books like Qushayri’s Risala,Ghazali’s Ihya’ and other works of Sufism.

    For all of the reasons we have mentioned, Tasawwuf was accepted as an essential part of the Islamic religion by the ‘ulama of this Umma. The proof of this is all the famous scholars of Shari‘a sciences who had the higher education of Tasawwuf, among them Ibn ‘Abidin, al-Razi, Ahmad Sirhindi, Zakariyya al-Ansari, al-‘Izz ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, Ibn Daqiq al-‘Eid, Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Shah Wali Allah, Ahmad Dardir, Ibrahim al-Bajuri, ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, Imam al-Nawawi, Taqi al-Din al-Subki, and al-Suyuti.

    Among the Sufis who aided Islam with the sword as well as the pen, to quote Reliance of the Traveller, were:

    such men as the Naqshbandi sheikh Shamil al-Daghestani, who fought a prolonged war against the Russians in the Caucasus in the nineteenth century; Sayyid Muhammad ‘Abdullah al-Somali, a sheikh of the Salihiyya order who led Muslims against the British and Italians in Somalia from 1899 to 1920; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Uthman ibn Fodi, who led jihad in Northern Nigeria from 1804 to 1808 to establish Islamic rule; the Qadiri sheikh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri, who led the Algerians against the French from 1832 to 1847; the Darqawi faqir al-Hajj Muhammad al-Ahrash, who fought the French in Egypt in 1799; the Tijani sheikh al-Hajj ‘Umar Tal, who led Islamic Jihad in Guinea, Senegal, and Mali from 1852 to 1864; and the Qadiri sheikh Ma’ al-‘Aynayn al-Qalqami, who helped marshal Muslim resistance to the French in northern Mauritania and southern Morocco from 1905 to 1909.

    Among the Sufis whose missionary work Islamized entire regions are such men as the founder of the Sanusiyya order, Muhammad ‘Ali Sanusi, whose efforts and jihad from 1807 to 1859 consolidated Islam as the religion of peoples from the Libyan Desert to sub-Saharan Africa; [and] the Shadhili sheikh Muhammad Ma‘ruf and Qadiri sheikh Uways al-Barawi, whose efforts spread Islam westward and inland from the East African Coast . . . . (Reliance of the Traveller,863).

    It is plain from the examples of such men what kind of Muslims have been Sufis; namely, all kinds, right across the board—and that Tasawwuf did not prevent them from serving Islam in any way they could.

    To summarize everything I have said tonight: In looking first at Tasawwuf and Shari‘a, we found that many Qur’anic verses and sahih hadiths oblige the Muslim to eliminate haram inner states as arrogance, envy, and fear of anyone besides Allah; and on the other hand, to acquire such obligatory inner states as mercy, love of one’s fellow Muslims, presence of mind in prayer, and love of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). We found that these inward states could not be dealt with in books of fiqh, whose purpose is to specify the outward, quantifiable aspects of the Shari‘a. The knowledge of these states is nevertheless of the utmost importance to every Muslim, and this is why it was studied under the ‘ulama of Ihsan, the teachers of Tasawwuf, in all periods of Islamic history until the beginning of the present century.

    We then turned to the level of Iman, and found that though the ‘Aqida of Muslims is that Allah alone has any effect in this world, keeping this in mind in everhday life is not a given of human consciousness, but rather a function of a Muslim’s yaqin, his certainty. And we found that Tasawwuf, as an ancillary discipline to ‘Aqida, emphasizes the systematic increase of this certainty through both mudhakara, ‘teaching tenets of faith’ and dhikr, ‘the remembrance of Allah,’ in accordance with the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) about Ihsan that “it is worship Allah as though you see Him.”

    Lastly, we found that accusations against Tasawwuf made by scholars such as Ibn al-Jawzi, and Ibn Taymiya were not directed against Tasawwuf in principle, but to specific groups and individuals in the times of these authors, the proof for which is the other books by the same authors that showed their understanding of Tasawwuf as a Shari‘a science.

    To return to the starting point of my talk this evening, with the disappearance of traditional Islamic scholars from the Umma, two very different pictures of Tasawwuf emerge today. If we read books written after the dismantling of the traditional fabric of Islam by colonial powers in the last century, we find the big hoax: Islam without spirituality and Shari‘a without Tasawwuf. But if we read the classical works of Islamic scholarship, we learn that Tasawwuf has been a Shari‘a science like tafsir, hadith, or any other, throughout the history of Islam. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,

    “Truly, Allah does not look at your outward forms and wealth, but rather at your hearts and your works” (Sahih Muslim, 4.1389: hadith 2564).

    And this is the brightest hope that Islam can offer a modern world darkened by materialism and nihilism: Islam as it truly is; the hope of eternal salvation through a religion of brotherhood and social and economic justice outwardly, and the direct experience of divine love and illumination inwardly.

  21. […] as a result of community and family pressure rather than giving true consent. I noted this here, and suggested that the 1996 act ought to be amended so that civil courts will not enforce […]

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