The Seventh of nine Discourses on Tawhid,
8th May 2004,
Al-Jami’a Mosque, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
We have been going step by step in an unfolding of something. When you have assimilated all of this you will be among the knowers of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. You will be among the people of knowledge and you will have entered into an understanding of Tawhid which is the Tawhid of the elite.
There is the Tawhid of the common people, the Tawhid of the elite, and there is the Tawhid of the elect of the elite. You have to grasp each stage of the way we have been going as each stage is an unfolding which will take you to another station of understanding and knowledge.
We were looking at how we can understand Allah the Creator, and creation. We looked at how the things come into being. We confirmed the oneness of Allah and at the same time we recognised that the created things were made bil-Haqq, by the Truth. We saw that there has to be a double understanding of Allah as the Outward and the Inward, and His relationship to the creation.
Now we are going to look at two terms which are, as it were, in the courtesy of how we may talk about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. They are called Tanzih and Tashbih, and they are opposites.
Tanzih is exaltation. Allah is exalted above everything that can be associated with Him. Tanzih is disconnection. Allah is disconnected from the forms. Tashbih is when there are modes of speaking about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, which seem to imply that He has form in the world of forms in time. We have to understand how this is so that we have a proper understanding of it.
Everything we have done so far has been founded on the teachings of Al-Ash‘ari. He is a kind of defence system to prevent the rationalists and philosophers breaking down the barriers of adab and courtesy to the understanding of the Divine, and to prevent the reduction of our understanding of the Divine to a level of thought, to ideas and philosophy.
The Sufis go further. They do not negate Al-Ash‘ari, in fact it is necessary to understand him because he is the one who speaks about the Acts, the Attributes and the Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. Now we are going to go past that, we are going to vault over it without denying it in any way, to arrive at an understanding of these two terms which you might say are ‘connection’ and ‘disconnection’ – a way of speaking about Allah that appears in the Qur’an which seems to connect Him to the forms, and disconnecting Allah from the forms. We are going to do this in such a manner that we arrive at a knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, in which there is no iota of association of Allah with anything.
We are going to look at Tashbih, this connection of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to created forms. We go first to Surat an-Najm (53:8-9):
Then he drew near and hung suspended.
He was two bow-lengths away or even closer.
Here we have a statement in the Qur’an of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, drawing near and being two bow-lengths away or even closer, meaning he was two bow-lengths away from Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. This statement flies in the face of all that we have been looking at because first of all it implies that this nearness is an actual, physical drawing near in this apparent proximity which implies space and time.
To understand this we must look at this statement of “two bow-lengths or even closer.” We know that the Arab kings in the old days would let those brought nearest to them only approach to the length of two bows. That was as near the subject could approach the ruler. Intellectual proof which we have already established negates limit and distance from Allah so we have to find out how we are going to understand this statement.
You must know that that sect in Arabia, which has destroyed great swathes of the Deen and great swathes of the Muslims, has taught for some considerable time that for them this was a physical reality. The famous Ibn Batutta tells that he heard Ibn Taymiyya talking, astaghfirullah, about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, descending from the Throne, “As I descend from this mimbar.” In other words, they are anthropomorphists. They see the Divine as a being and an entity, and this is what is taught in Arabia where people are blowing everybody up including themselves.
Let us look at this. The Qur’an is Mubin. It is a Clear Qur’an which has been revealed in a clear Arabic. Remember that the Arabic language was prepared for the Qur’an, the Qur’an was not prepared to fit into the Arabic language. Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, prepared the Arabic language over centuries, took it to a point of fineness, refined it, extended it, made it more precise, then He gave to the Quraish tribe the gift of the best Arabic tongue. Then from the Quraish He gave to one family the exact pronunciation so that the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, said about his family: “We have been given the Dhad.” They are the one family who were given the pure pronunciation of the letter Dhad.
So the language was perfected in his family so that at the time the Revelation came it was in this pure Arabic. So specific is it that Allah then permitted it to stretch over different readings so that there would be no ambiguity in it. At the same time it would be like one diamond that has different facets, so light would come from different ways, so that different readings illuminate the Qur’an in different ways, without them contradicting what was intended in the message of the Qur’an.
Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, not only spoke it in this perfect family Arabic, he also spoke it in what you might call dialects, so that his followers could understand.
In Arabic there are four classes of phrase. If you look at the books of Arabic grammar like the famous Ajrumiyya and so on, you find for example that the great Sufi of Morocco, Shaykh Ibn ‘Ajiba, has written a Sufic commentary on the Ajrumiyya, giving a different spiritual meaning and emphasis to every possible grammatical construct. The language is very formal and structured and can be appreciated in this way.
In Arabic there are four classes of phrase, of expression. There is a ‘clear phrase’: “The sea, key, scissors.” There are ‘indicated phrases’ which have an agreed definition: if you say, “Man,” we all know what that means, if you say, “Woman,” or “Bird,” we know what that means. It is an indicated phrase which represents some genus of which all are the same.
Then there are ‘shared phrases’ which have two meanings. For example, the word ‘ayn in Arabic means ‘eye’, and it also means a ‘spring.’ Insan means ‘man’ and it also means the ‘pupil of the eye.’ This particular shared phrase is of vital importance to the way of speaking which is used by Shaykh al-Akbar because he sees a very important meaning in the fact that insan represents man and it also represents the pupil of the eye. So the shared phrase has two meanings at the same time.
Then we have the ‘synonym phrase’. For example, the different words for lion like asad and hizaba, or for sword like sayf and husam – different words meaning the same thing.
In Arabic these four are defined as the four matrices. They are to language what the hot, the cold, the wet and the dry are to nature – they are fundamental. From these come other expressions: the simile, the metaphor, and transmitted phrases, phrases that are passed down.
If you take the simile, this sounds like something which is different from the four matrices. If you say something is “like light,” it is applied to the known. But ‘like light’ is with the eye in revealing the sensory object which is seen. ‘Like light’ also means that the eye is able to see the thing it sees because you cannot say, “like light” if you are not able to see the object by the light. Then you say that knowledge is called light. For this process to happen you have a knowledge, and then this knowledge is called light so it becomes the third matrix, it becomes the shared phrase. All phrases move towards one of these four matrices.
‘Like light’ is a simile because in fact it moves to the shared phrase and means two things at once. Once you say, “This is like light,” you have given two meanings at the same time. You cannot say, “Like light” without saying therefore that it is illuminating and therefore it is knowledge. So the understanding of it and the seeing of it are not disconnected but connected. Your grasping ‘like light’ is also your recognition of something. If you make a simile it is ‘like light’ but your knowing what is meant by ‘like light’ is knowledge, so it is both ‘like light’ and a knowledge which comes from this.
The ‘Arif recognises what the Divine Presence demands: purity, disconnection and negation of likeness. These are not veiled by reports of Allah using the tools of limitation by time, direction and place. So the meaning – because we know that Allah is disconnected from everything – moves from one to the other so that we go back to the ayat: “Then he drew near and hung suspended. He was two bow-lengths away or even closer.” But Allah is pure, disconnected and has no likeness.
The meaning moves from the report to the reality. It moves from the Mulk to the Malakut, it moves from the kingdom of forms to the Unseen. Let us be patient. A slave-girl was brought to the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, and they said about her, “This slave-girl is mushrik, she is connecting things to Allah.” Rasul said, “Bring her to me!” And he said to the girl, “Where is Allah?” and the slave-girl pointed to the sky. The Messenger had better knowledge of Allah than her yet he affirmed her belief, and Allah has better knowledge of Himself, disconnected from all forms.
Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, knew that “Where is Allah?” is a question you cannot ask, and she gave an answer which on the face of it, you cannot give. But she pointed to the sky which is undifferentiated, it has no form, it is just blue and Rasul said, “She is mumin.”
We go to Surat al-Mulk (67:16-17):
Do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven
causing the earth to swallow you up
when suddenly it rocks from side to side?
Or do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven
releasing against you a sudden squall of stones,
so that you will know how true My warning was?
Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, asked, “Where is Allah?” and the girl pointed to heaven and he said that her Iman was correct. In Qur’an Allah says: “Do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven,” which is a way of speaking which indicates the Divine Reality. It goes from the statement to the meaning of it and these two are not disconnected, they are one reality in the intellect of the ‘Arif.
Let us go to Surat Ta Ha (20:1-5):
In the name of Allah, All-Merciful, Most Merciful
We did not send down the Qur’an to you to make you miserable
You could also take that as an evidence that Allah did not send down the Qur’an for people to become Shi’a because it makes them miserable to have to believe all the terrible things they have to believe in! So:
We did not send down the Qur’an to you to make you miserable,
but only as a reminder for those who have fear,
a Revelation from Him Who created the earth and the high heavens,
established firmly upon the Throne.
Now we go to Surat al-Mujadala (58:7):
Do you not see that Allah knows
what is in the heavens and on the earth?
Three men cannot confer together secretly without Him being the fourth of them,
or five without Him being the sixth of them,
or fewer than that or more without Him being with them wherever they are.
Then He will inform them on the Day of Rising of what they did.
Allah has knowledge of all things.
Again, Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, is explaining how He is with the creatures and He is involving space and time and presence and number, so that He is one of number – this is Allah Who is One and nothing can be associated with Him. Allah says: “Three men cannot confer together secretly without Him being the fourth of them, or five without Him being the sixth of them, or fewer than that or more.” It is extended to say that whatever number it is, He is able to take this condition of His knowledge to be the truth of the matter. Thus place does not prevent Him being in the place, and number does not prevent Him adding to that number by His being there, and Allah has knowledge of all things.
We confirm that Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, created times, places, directions, phrases, words, the one who speaks them, and the in-time creatures who are addressed. This is Allah’s creation. But the ‘Arif knows that when the connective tools of phrase are applied to the Real they have an aspect other than connection or resemblance. So the connection cannot be the affair, and the resemblance cannot be the affair.
There is a group of people who are confronted with these astonishing statements in the Qur’an who neither connect, nor anthropomorphise, nor say, “This is like a man, this is actually how it is,” and they do not put one foot into the zone of ta’wil. Ta’wil is when you interpret things saying, “Well, it is in a special way,” and you give a kind of secret meaning to it. For example the relationship of the man to the ghost – you cannot use ta’wil to deal with this matter. This group of people do not use ta’wil, they say, “I do not know.”
A single sentence – “I do not know,” but we avoid letting it be on Him by connection since Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, has said in Surat Ash-Shura (42:11):
Nothing is like Him.
Faced with this the ‘Arif says: “I do not know,” because, “Nothing is like Him.” The ‘Arifin are thus free of ta’wil because they will not make the statement into a hidden meaning, or interpret it in a secret way, and they are free of tatil – the denial of Attributes. They will not deny Attributes of power, that He would act and He would do if He so wanted. This group empty their hearts of thought and speculation and they say: “We have gained in ourselves esteem for the Haqq. May His Majesty be exalted.”
Therefore we cannot reach Ma‘rifa by fine reflection and investigation. At this point the elite ‘Arifin suspect the mutakallimun, the people of teaching and intellect, and they suspect the muhadithun who even produce texts to back up this matter. So they have to move, they have to travel on the path, and this is Tariqa as-Sufiyya.
They have to move otherwise they would be munafiqun, having bad thoughts about the ‘ulama! They have to free the heart from logical speculation. They have to sit with Allah in dhikr on what Muhiyuddin Ibn al-‘Arabi called the Carpet of Adab, and in muraqaba, watching their own hearts.
Allah takes charge of our instruction by unveiling and Ma‘rifa, and so they enter the hal of these ayats we will now look at. Surat al-Anfal (8:29):
You who have Iman! If you have taqwa of Allah, He will give you discrimination.
In other words, of these ayats, of this Revelation of Allah speaking of Himself in a matter that seems to involve in-timeness, presence, movement and so on, if you who have Iman have taqwa of Allah, awe and fear of Allah, He will give discrimination.
Now we will go to Surat al-Baqara (2:281), at the end of this long ayat:
Have taqwa of Allah and Allah will give you knowledge.
What is required for knowledge of Allah is not ratiocination, is not reflection, is not philosophy, is not programme – what is necessary is to fear Allah and have taqwa of Allah, to be careful with Allah, and “Allah will give you knowledge.” The Arabic is so beautiful – ‘yu‘allimukum Allah’, it is like, ‘you will be knowledged’!
These ayats we are looking at are progressive: “Have taqwa of Allah and He will give you discrimination,” “Have taqwa of Allah and Allah will give you knowledge,” and now Surat Ta Ha (20:114), the very last line of the ayat:
And say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’
“Have taqwa of Allah and Allah will give you knowledge.” Now you reach that point where you become active and you say, “My Lord, increase me in knowledge.” Give it to me! This is another step. You are able to ask for it, you have not become passive, and this is what is called in the language of Tasawwuf, himma. You want this thing, you are demanding it, you are insisting on it.
My Lord, increase me in knowledge.
This is the active tense. This is the man moving into knowledge, and entering the hal of this ayat is your du’a to Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.
We finish with Surat al-Kahf (18:65):
They found a slave of Ours
whom We had granted mercy from Us
and whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us.
This is to say that the mercy which was granted to the slave was the Khatm of the destiny. Allah had decreed that this person would be ‘Arif because it is not by your choosing, it is by His choosing because He is the Doer. The first thing you have to understand for this man to be this man:
mercy from Us
– the mercy that Allah gave to the slave was a good seal on his destiny. He destined him for this knowledge. That is why the du’a of the mumin is, “O Allah, give me an Iman that is lasting,” because you want your Iman to continue throughout your life so that, like the wine in the bottle, it becomes richer although nothing more enters the bottle. The bottle remains, and what is in it slowly changes its quality becoming stronger and richer. This is the Khatm of the destiny.
The second part of the ayat is:
And whom We had also given knowledge direct from Us.
This is the path of the people who have this pure Tanzih of associating nothing with Allah. Surat Ash-Shura (42:11):
Nothing is like Him, as we mentioned from Qur’an earlier. With this you come out of the circle of the people who say, “If He says, ‘He sat on the Throne’ then He sat on the Throne,” which is ignorance. And you come out from the philosophers’ position who say, “It is a metaphor. It is as if He sat on the Throne but He did not really sit on the Throne.”
We take the Arabic language and say No. The joined phrase makes us see that this tells us that. There is no metaphor. There is structurally no such thing in Arabic grammar as a simile, it is the joined phrase. Thus if it says this, it is this. It is both of these things. The philosophers say, “You must not say that He sat on the Throne because that would be to connect Him to forms, so it is a metaphor and it is not real.” But it is neither of these things.
The pure Tanzih is that it cannot be approached in this way. Imam Malik, radiyallahu ‘anhu, said, “The sitting on the Throne is known. The way is not known, and to question it is bida’.” In other words, it is something the understanding of which can only be arrived at on the Carpet of Adab in dhikr and in muraqaba. Then Allah will unveil for you these states, and then Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, will say to you: “Draw near.”
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to confound all the enemies of Islam. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, by the baraka that He has given to the Du’a an-Nasiri that within all our hearts it should be answered by the angels in following the supplications in it.
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to confound and confuse the enemies of Islam. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to scatter the remnants of christianity, judaism and buddhism and all the false religions on the earth. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to raise up and exalt Islam above what the Arabs have done to it. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to let the Arabs return to Islam by Your Mercy.
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to establish the Deen all over the land of India and we ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to confound its enemies. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to give victory to the Muslims. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to give the leadership of the Muslims from among the community of the dhakirun.