Discourse on Tawhid
We want to look at the matter of tawhid so that you have a strong understanding of it, because this is the foundation of our Deen and it is the foundation of the tariqa of the people who desire knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Its declaration is found in Surat Ali Imran:
“Allah bears witness that there is no god but Him as do the angels and the people of knowledge upholding justice.” You see the significance of this — that this affirmation of the oneness of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is the thing confirmed by the angels and the people of knowledge upholding justice. So the people of knowledge, the evidence of their being people of knowledge is that they uphold justice. You can relate this to the age we live in when people who are called ‘ulama do not uphold justice, they do not speak. I once said that the evidence that a man is teaching the Deen properly at the Ka’ba is that he would not be able to proceed before he was arrested. Unless he is upholding justice, unless he is declaring what the correct behaviour of the human beings is who have accepted this Deen, then he is not one of the people who understand or know tawhid or are indeed teaching tawhid. “There is no god but Him, the Almighty, the All-Wise.” What the ‘ulama and the muhaqqiqun have indicated and taught about this is correct. Any other hal or maqam that flows from anything but this affirmation has flaws in it.
Tawhid has three aspects. The first aspect of tawhid is that of the common people. It is founded on testimonies, the Shahada — Ash-hadu an la ilaha illallah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadun- Rasulullah. The second aspect of tawhid is that of the elite, the khass, and it is founded on realities. It is founded on haqa’iq. In other words, the people of the elite are those people of knowledge who have had openings lillahi, from Allah — ‘Ilm al-Laduni, a knowledge that is directly from Allah, and this gives them a higher understanding of tawhid. These people are called the khass, the elite. The Sufis divide the people into three groups — the common people, the elite, and the elect of the elite. The third aspect of tawhid is that of the khass al-khass, the elect of the elite, and their knowledge is founded on Pre-existence. It is founded on that which was before existence came into being, on the pure, absolute reality of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. When Rasulullah was asked about what was before the creation of the universe he said, “Allah was, and there was nothing with Him,” and when Imam Junayd was asked about this he simply added, “Is, as He was.”
So the first aspect of tawhid of the common people is by Shahada, that there is no divinity except Allah and He is One without association. La sharikalah — nothing is associated with Him. The first aspect of tawhid is their knowledge and acceptance of Surat al-Ikhlas: “Qul: Huwallahu Ahad. Allahu Samad. Lam yalid wa lam yulad, wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan Ahad.” This is the primary and manifest unification. This is something that all the Muslims can confirm and once you have become a person of this, by it, shirk al-‘adham is forbidden. You cannot associate anything with Allah in any direct manner whatsoever. Nothing is associated with Him, and this is established once you have made this Shahada. By it the qibla is defined and ‘ibada is fard. In other words, once you have said this then you have accepted that there is one qibla and there is not any other qibla or many qiblas, and that no other qibla is accepted. Do not forget that when Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was given the qibla of the House of Allah in Makkah it was the going-beyond the religion of the jews and the christians. There is no way that anyone of Shahada can say, “Oh yes, these are all valid religions,” because the giving of the qibla was Allah’s evidence to the common people that the way Allah had accepted was different — otherwise the qibla would have remained the same as that of the jews and the Christians who look to Jerusalem. So this is from the Shahada. By it, blood is spared and possessions protected. In other words, by it the whole edifice of the shari’at falls into place. When you say, “Blood is spared,” it means the rules concerning legal judgments enter into action, meaning therefore that there is a mechanism within the shari’at to spare blood by pardon and by consent of the relatives and so on. Possessions are protected — all the rules of ownership come under this Shahada. All the rules of ownership that have been laid down in the Qur’an and by the Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and then continued by the ijma’ of the community, are now established. By it, Dar al-Islam is distinguished from Dar al-Harb. This is an extension of the divine distinction that places the qibla to be the House of Allah in Makkah over and against Jerusalem. Equally this distinguishes the zone of the Muslims as being Dar al-Islam and it is distinguished from Dar al-Harb, the land where you can make jihad.
The modernists have tried to cover this over but it is inescapable because it is a logical and necessary extension of recognising the supremacy of the qibla of the House of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, in Makkah. And by it, the jama’at is approved for the people. Once you have this Shahada then it is approved that the people of this Shahada gather in jama’at for Salat, that their lived community is jama’at and that the binding factor of that community is the worship of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Even if the common people do not confirm this correctly, in other words if they have not grasped all of it, nevertheless by ascertaining it they will be freed from uncertainty, perplexity and doubt through the sincerity of their Shahada. In other words, an intellectual grasp is not the important matter, but in doing it the sincerity of the one who says it is what matters. If they have got it right, their hearts will be right so that they do not have to have the same understanding as the learned people. The example of this was shown by the Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Some of the Sahaba became very agitated because they thought a bedouin woman was mushrik and they said to Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, “We do not think she is straight in her tawhid.” He said, “Bring her to me.” She came and he said to her, “Where is Allah?” Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was asking, “Where?” when he knew in his knowledge that Allah has no where-ness, rather he wanted to see what she would say. “Where is Allah?” She did not point to a tree or a stone, she pointed to the sky. Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, immediately understood that in her understanding, in her grasp this meant ‘no-where’. To her the sky was like nowhere. It did not have place, so he said, “It is alright. Leave her be, she is correct. She is Muslim.” He accepted that answer from her because she did not indicate a form and he left it at that. So what we are saying is that the sincerity of the Shahada will make up for failure in the intellect to grasp it completely. We are speaking of the unification of the common people. This unification of the common people is authenticated through the confirmation in the heart. This unification of the common people is also by repetition of Shahada. By confirmation of the Risala of Rasulullah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and the works of Allah. In other words, as they live inside the community of Islam the people begin to confirm it by their recognising through the life of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and through things they are taught about him and by the behaviour of the community around them — what they approve and disapprove of — and they begin to strengthen this tawhid. And of course the works of Allah: when they see Allah’s creation and see what Allah does, the power of Allah over events, all these strengthen this Shahada. It is necessary after hearing it. It is discovered by viewing the truth, and it grows by confirmation. This is the first aspect of tawhid.
The second aspect of tawhid is that of the elect, of the khass. It is different in the sense that it is confirmed by realities, by haqa’iq. This means that the one who is on the path of dhikr begins to have openings, begins to have gleams, flashes, illuminations that come into the heart and that help free the slave from being enmeshed in events and being enmeshed in the idea of some kind of absolute reality in existence rather than that the absolute reality stands over and against and beyond existence. It is by the iskat, the casting away of the asbab — it is by the casting away of the apparent causes. This is something you must now concentrate on. It is by casting away the apparent causes — in other words, you do not look at the creation just as the creation works. The creation works, on the face of it, by cause and effect, obviously. If the apple drops, it drops by gravity. If I move, I move because I have ordered the limb to move, and so on. We live in a world of cause and effect. We think, “If you do this, that happens,” and of course at a very low level this is absolutely true, as we experience life. If you boil water you get steam. But this is not how things are because in the realm of events Allah is the Creator of you and your actions. The best example is if you take the dog. You say, “The dog has been created by Allah,” but what is ‘dog’? Dog is not just a body. We know how a dog behaves, we know what it ‘is’. We know that it will be your friend and yet it will turn on you. We know that it can be trained to hunt. We know that it is dirty and that it leaves behind it its droppings with indifference, that it licks itself, it is unclean and it is also loyal. We know all this mixture of things about ‘dog.’ You cannot separate the dog from its dogginess. The dog and its actions are one, they are the same. The animal that you see is what it is by its complete pattern of existence. There are the high, wild and noble animals which live in families, they hunt together, they share, and then they compete for mates — there is a whole pattern that is not separable from the animal. What man has done because of his intelligence, his intellect, is that he has separated himself from the animals and thinks, “Ah, that is them, but not me. I am free because while the animals mate in a season, I can mate in any season,” and he begins to think he is independent and separate from his own actions. But the man is also the whole pattern of his actions. The understanding of this begins to affect the understanding of the destiny. This is why the du’a of the elect is, “Allah, give me an Iman that is lasting.” What does this mean? It means that when the vicissitudes of life come, when the difficulties of life come, let my Iman be able to deal with it and may I not lose that Iman, because I want to have an Iman that is still there at the end of the story because I have been destined by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to be one of those people who is with the ones who will gain the Garden.
This changes your view of action. You do not look at the cause and effect. You realise that in the whole process of existence, in the words of Imam al-Ghazali, there are actually no secondary causes. That really the thing is happening in another kind of way that at first we cannot grasp. A wonderful metaphor for this was given to me by the Raja of Mahmudabad, rahimahullah: “What does the ant know of the pattern of a Persian carpet?” It is as if the ant is crawling through a forest of trees of the carpet and does not know what the pattern is, but if we look at it we see that the ant is in fact moving through a completely structured and determined set of patterns of enormous complexity. That is the reality of the existence of that instance. But this is also true of us. The matter is as ‘Umar ibn al- Khattab said, “The book is written and it is shut.” It is done, it is over. Once you grasp this, then you behave differently. Fear of Allah is recognising His power in every instant. The difference between the kafir and the mumin is that the kafir thinks he is the operator. He thinks he is free to act, but we know that we are determined, and yet we still have to act. Already our kidneys will make us afraid at a certain moment. One of Shakespeare’s characters says, “I have no kidney for this fight.” So his cowardice is from his kidneys because his kidneys become frightened, and you have been given these kidneys and not other ones. Another man is brave because his kidneys are strong. The Muslims in the Osmanli army used to bind a cloth, the cummerbund, around their kidneys so that their kidneys would not let them down in the battle. So they used tight, tight binding around their middle so that they would be brave.
They were tuning in to the understanding that already it was not a matter of, “These men are coming and I am here and I am frightened,” it is a matter of, “Already my whole body has been determined to be able to act in a certain way. Allah has already designed me to lose my temper at a certain moment, so I do not want to be at the mercy of my temper. I want to do what is pleasing to Allah.” Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, guided people saying, “Anger is fire. Water puts out fire. If you feel anger coming on, do wudu.” In other words, stay among the people of knowledge and do not become one who is ignorant as the one who is ignorant is the one whose senses have dominated not just his intelligence, but also his heart because the heart becomes clouded over. This is why the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “There is an organ in the body that if you can guarantee it to me I can guarantee you the Janna,” and he put his hand on his heart. The heart is the vital organ of the Muslim and the intellect can become clouded over if the heart is not clear.
So the master of the whole affair is the heart, and the people of heart are not looking to secondary causes, they are looking to the Causer, who is the Actor. Allah is the Actor in every situation. This will change how you behave in every situation. Once you realise that this is His staging of events, events are His, then you will be among the knowers, you will act differently from the ones who do not know, who think they are the actors. So this goes to a very important matter. This tawhid is to go beyond intellectual debate. It is to go beyond dependence on the declaration of the Shahada. In this stage you do not depend on dalil, on argument or proof, you do not depend on sabab, on the causes, in order to have tawwakul. You do not depend on any wasila, on any means of rescue. You have put the whole matter in the hands of Allah. In the Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, rahimahullah, he says, “Make all your troubles one and hand them over to Allah,” subhanahu wa ta’ala.
You will view the precedence of Allah in His wisdom and knowledge. In other words, in every situation prior to event, Allah’s wisdom is there and Allah’s knowledge is there and you will tune to this. You will see how things are set in their place. You will see how things are relative to their moment. You will see how things are hidden under their pattern. Every thing and every person has a pattern and they are hidden under it. As I was just saying, the organs of the body also determine the actions. You see how these things are and how they are hidden under their patterns.
For example, the Shah of Iran in his heyday held a great pagan, pre-Islamic celebration in Iran and he gave all his guests golden lavatories, and he exalted them in the most vulgar way. When one saw that one said, “Now he is absolutely finished,” but they said, “Why? It is not possible! He has the CIA, he has the American support, he has the worst secret service in the world, Savak, he cannot be defeated.” “But he has gone too high, so he will be defeated when someone goes into sajda, because that is the opposite, and the thing will turn over.” So things are hidden in their form. That is what inspires the people of this spiritual quality to have wara’, to be careful. You want to be careful because you want that the form you are on is not one which is going to crash. That is why it is said that the true Sufi is like a black insect on a black stone in a room in the middle of the night — you do not even see him, because his carefulness, his wara’, his scrupulousness is his protection against the inexorability of the world’s actions. Thus you will realise causes, and at last you will step on the path of iskat. You will step onto the path of being able to cast away the viewing of new events. This is an extraordinary statement: “The casting away of new events.” The people who see new events think that the world is in command of itself, that things are being determined by other people’s actions whereas the reality is that the new event has no newness and there is no reality of events — Allah is the Actor. Allah is making it happen. So what looks like a victory is a defeat, and what looks like a defeat is a victory. When the Mongol armies came pouring down from Asia into the Subcontinent towards Europe, on the face of it, it was the greatest catastrophe possible. When Rumi’s father, who was a very great ‘alim, got to Baghdad he went to warn the people, but they did not listen. He told them this thing was happening. When the great Khan came and slaughtered these people, he mounted the mimbar and made his famous statement, “I am the scourge of Allah.” He did not say that he was the scourge against Allah, but, “I am the scourge of Allah.” He had the tawhid which they had lost! — because it was a punishment from Allah.
Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said, “The child is the hidden secret of the father,” and the grandchild of the Mongol leader became the first of the Muslim rulers who then dominated the whole world. All the Moghul inheritance came from his sons. So what had looked like a disaster had in fact, hidden in it, this tremendous event. Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi puts it another way, he says, “There is nothing in this world that is not a blessing for one person and a curse for somebody else.” He said, “The sultan dies and some of his family are executed and the others are mourning and they lose their positions, their palaces, and at the same time the new sultan comes and he gives amnesty and hundreds of prisoners are released from prison.” So the one event, for some it brings them low and for others it raises them up. This is the tawhid of the khass and it comes with fana’ and it is clarified by jam’. Jam’ is a very important word for the Sufis, and it means gatheredness. It is when the slave does not experience himself as separate and distinct, but where all existence is somehow gathered together in his experience, so his reality does not end with his limbs or his intellect. This knowledge will be one which attracts those who aspire to tawhid. In other words, the people of the elite are like the red sulphur. They draw to them those people who wish to have this same quality of knowledge. This understanding of tawhid is something that transmits, and the model of this is Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, who poured out this knowledge onto the people around him, and it pours from the people of knowledge onto the ones who desire this knowledge. It is an alchemical process that transforms the hearts.
The third aspect of tawhid is that of the elect of the elite, the khass al-khass. This is the tawhid that Allah has specified for Himself and has decreed as being that of His qadr. This is the aspect of tawhid which is that of His power over events. He has projected a gleam of it upon the asrar, the secrets of a number of His sincere friends. Allah has just given a glimpse of this tawhid that Allah has specified for Himself to some of His awliya, and He has made them mute so they cannot describe it, and He has made them powerless so they will not divulge it. The allusion made to this in the language of those who hint at it by reference to this strange matter about events being His doing — the casting away of new events — becomes the confirmation of Pre-existence. Allah was and there was nothing with Him, and it was Imam Junayd, the elect of the elite who then said, “Is, as He was.”This expression becomes a fault. The saying of it becomes a mistake. It becomes a blemish on it. Tawhid does not become complete until this in turn is cast away. This last is the qutb of allusions in the language of the masters of the Sufic tariqa — this abandoning of what has been given by Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, casting everything out, knowing it cannot be said. They have robed it in ornaments of description, the Sufis have outlined it in chapters. The open explanations only increase its hiddenness, so getting it clear hides it more. Attributes, sifa, descriptions, only increase its reticence, expanding it only increases its difficulty. Those who are engaged in contemplation and the people of states are moving towards this aspect of the tawhid of the khass al-khass. Those who are awed by it, by Allah’s majesty, are intending to move to it. They are in the niyyat of moving to it.
Those who speak of ‘Ayn al-Jam’, the source of this gatheredness where the self becomes universal, are referring to it. Concerning it, allusion, ishara, collapses. Tongues cannot speak and expression cannot indicate, because tawhid is beyond what any created one could indicate about it, what time could encompass, and what any cause could cover. About it Abdullah al-Ansari, one of the great Hanbali Sufis wrote: “Ma wahada al-Wahida min wahid, idhkullu man wahadahu jahi. Tawhidu man yantiqu anmatihi ariyatun abtalahal wahid. Tawhidahu iyahu tawhidahu wa nattu man yanatuhu lahi.” “No-one can declare the unity of the Unique. Whoever declares His unity is a denier. The declaration of unity by anyone speaking from his description is shameful and nullified by the Unique. The declaration of His unity is for Him to declare, and the description of anyone describing Him is a heresy.” This is the poem of a lover of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, who will just not allow anything to be said about the matter. This is like a completion of his understanding which leaves him back among the common people saying with them in the jama’at, “Ash-hadu an la ilaha illallah wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadur-Rasulullah,” sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam.
Allahumma! Allah give us an Iman that is lasting. O Allah, give us knowledge throughout our life that draws us near to You. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to keep us among the company of the Salihun. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, for a taste of the company of the Salihun. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to keep us in the circles of knowledge, to keep us in the company of the people of knowledge. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to make us lovers of Him. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to give us a destiny which draws us always nearer to Him. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to give us a great expectation of His mercy and His light.