Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Prayer of Ibn Mashish

A nice rendition of Ibn Mashish's Salat, with a couple of nice images (sorry, I'm not really a film-maker...)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sheikh ‘Adda on the Divine Name

The ‘A’ of Allah is my sword, the ‘H’ my mount,
The doubled ‘L’ the bridle I hold in my grasp:
My winged steed upon which I may rise
And reach the heights of the Lote-tree when I wish.

The Name of God is my essence and my spirit,
My sight, my ear, my speech, my inner eye’s light:
About it spin the realms of man and angel,
And from it all God’s servants did spring forth.

It is the Tablet reflecting Its light onto man,
It is the Pen which, in His wisdom, has dried;
His Qualities make the One Name into Names,
His Act is His alone when it is quickened.

The keys to every door lie hidden within It,
And it opens every sūra of His Book;
By It the breath is cleansed from foolish utterance,
And the heart delights in the intimacy of the Essence.

Invoke it, then, my friend, and find a marvel
Which spares thee any need to follow factions:
It is enough that It is Light, and Light shines forth
In hidden seclusion just as it does in the open.
Ponder this: wherever thou might think to turn,
His Face is there – in truth, and not mere words!

-'Adda Bentunis

Friday, November 27, 2009

Response to some issues raised by the previous post

The article I translated last week from the letters of Sidi Ahmad ibn Siddiq Ghumari seems to have raised one or two issues which might be worth addressing in a separate post. First of all, it was brought to my attention that Sheikh Gibril Haddad – may Allah preserve him – has written a short commentary on the letter I translated; I am not sure if he wrote it because someone showed him the translation I included on this site, or whether he had already written it as a response to the original letter when it was published, and I am afraid I do not have the address of the website where these comments were published; either way, the Sheikh’s comments were as follows:

The letter is thoroughly devoid of tahqiq and is merely Shaykh Ahmadal-Ghumari's opinion of Ibn al-Qayyim's opinion of Ibn Taymiyya's opinion.Yet the letter does make the important distinction that even though Shaykhal-Akbar's position and Ibn Taymiyya's position appear identical they differ fundamentally, in that the former's position is that the torment of hell does not end but that its pain is changed into bliss for its denizens whilethe latter built on some weak hadiths and aathaar that the fire of hell willbe extinguished. There is no full authoritative tahqiq on the issue I believe. Ibn al-Qayyim approached it in Hadi al-Arwah but he is overly preoccupied in justifying Ibn Taymiyya's position and defending him against Shaykh al-Islam al-Taqi al-Subki who denounced it in his Rasa'ilal-Subkiyya, in print, in which he considers Ibn Taymiyya's position a contradiction of the Qur'an tantamount to kufr, wAllahu a`lam.As for Shaykh Ahmad's disparagement of al-Subki and his son it is rejectedback to him as it shows poor judgment and only serves to ruin his own image.The unparalleled avalanche of criticism and refutations of Ibn Taymiyya both by his contemporaries and by later major authorities in comparison to thepraise heaped on al-Subki by his contemporaries *other* than his own son--such as Hafiz al-Dhahabi, for example, who considered him the greatest hafiz of his time--and later authorities, shows that al-Ghumari is leaguesoff the mark in his scoffing preference of Ibn Taymiyya over him. But Ghumari is known to be a rabid disparager of the Ash`ari School, and it is a mark of his imbalance that as much as he hates Ibn Taymiyya and reviles him in so many books of his, yet he hates the Ash`aris even more! He seems not to know that Hafiz al-San`ani the author of Subul al-Salam also authored a treatise in refutation of Ibn Taymiyya in respect to his belief in fana'al-nar--which al-Albani republished with a lengthy introduction- -among other such refutations. Yet, in the same book of al-Talidi, Ahmad al-Ghumari also heaps praises on al Albani.

Now first of all I should say that the Sheikh is absolutely right in saying that Sheikh Ahmad’s letter does not constitute any kind of argument or proof of the theological opinion in question; indeed it does not, and my intention in posting it was not to try and promote this opinion, because (a) I personally am not a follower of the views of Ibn Taymiyya/Ibn Qayyim, and (b) I do not find this issue particularly interesting. If I had wanted to do this, I would probably have translated Ibn Qayyim’s treatise on this matter, or given a link to a translation of it, or something. The actual reason I posted Sheikh Ahmad’s letter was more to do with the somewhat surprising attitude it expresses. I believe I made the mistake of assuming that Sheikh Ahmad is more well-known to English-speaking Muslims than is in fact the case; with this in mind, some additional background might valuably be provided here.
Those who are familiar with Sheikh Ahmad’s writings will know that when it came to debate and refutation, he was very much of the ‘no-punches pulled’ school of Shafi‘i, Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiyya of old, and – if we may say so – of more contemporary figures such as Sheikh Gibril himself. One of the figures for whom he reserved some of his harshest language was Ibn Taymiyya himself; some of the language he used against him, for example in what is otherwise perhaps his most important and useful work, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Imam al-‘Arifin, is scathing to the point of viciousness. When I obtained a copy of his collected letters, I was astonished to find several such letters in which he spoke more warmly of Ibn Taymiyya and seemed to back up some of his opinions. This showed me a side of Sheikh Ahmad which I had never seen before, and no passage was more astonishing to me than the one I translated last week. I remember reading it over and over again and being amazed, first by the fact that such an open enemy of Ibn Taymiyya would write so respectfully about one of his opinions, and secondly that an extreme literalist such as Ahmad ibn Siddiq would even hold such an opinion in the first place. I felt this alone was enough to make the passage interesting to those who are familiar with this figure, whether they are followers of his or not (I personally am not, generally speaking).

Secondly, I found it engaging that such figures as Ibn Arabi and Ibn Taymiyya – very much the ‘chalk and cheese’ of the history of Islamic thought – could, in this most unusual of cases, have come to such similar opinions, although of course they arrived at them by following very different roads. Regardless of what one thinks about the opinion in question, I again felt that this would be of interest for the small number of people who read this blog, who seem generally to be interested in such things.

As for Sheikh Ahmad’s comments about Imam Subki, although they are fairly restrained compared to his usual manner of dealing with those with whom he disagrees, I accept that some might find them disagreeable and disrespectful; but we should also remember that Sheikh Ahmad was also himself a scholar and muhaddith, and that on many occasions the language used by scholars amongst themselves can seem harsh. Imam Shafi’i made certain statements about Imam Malik in the course of disagreements he had with him which seem very strong and even disrespectful to our ears, and this is something which one comes up against time and again when reading works of scholarly refutation in all the Islamic sciences, even grammar; sometimes the only way to reconcile ourselves to these things is to say, ‘This is between the scholars, I’m staying out.’ (Of course, Sheikh Gibril is himself a scholar and so free to give his own opinions; these comments are not directed at him.) Whatever we might feel about Sheikh Ahmad’s attitudes and positions, I do not think it can be denied that he earned his stripes as a scholar and a muhaddith, and that he therefore might have felt he had the right to make critical statements about other scholars. Imam Subki himself is famous for saying of Ibn Taymiyya that ‘his learning exceeded his intelligence’ and for declaring him an unbeliever, which I’m sure seems very arrogant and offensive to the latter’s followers; but it was Subki’s right as a scholar to make such a statement about one of his peers.

As to Imam Subki’s refutation of the Ibn Qayyim/Ibn Taymiyya argument, as a layman I cannot appreciate the scholarly aspects of either – I cannot make any judgements about the soundness of the traditions narrated to support either position, for example – but solely in terms of the strength of arguments advanced it is difficult to declare Imam Subki the outright winner. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf wrote about the Ibn Taymiyya opinion that he was ‘dumbfounded by the strength of his arguments and the subtle points he brought up on the subject.’ This is essentially how I felt when I first read it, but as Sheikh Hamza continues:
His position is, however, heterodox, and thus rejected by almost all the scholars of Islam. And while some scholars anathematised him for his views, the majority recognized it was heterodox but rooted in a sophisticated ta’wil (interpretation) that was nonetheless incorrect.’

It seems that Sheikh Ahmad was similarly impressed with the arguments – even though they were made by a man he considered to be a great enemy of his, and even though those who know the Sheikh’s works will testify that he was hardly a bleeding-heart liberal when it came to his view of unbelievers, such that he might have been inclined to give preference to the argument for emotional reasons – and since he was not inclined to bend to any number of scholars if he felt the truth lay elsewhere than in their hands, he felt no need to accept a refutation which in his eyes was less well-argued.

For me the great irony here, which was another reason I felt people might be interested in the article, is that Ibn Taymiyya, the man castigated by so many for his ‘literalism’, is here placed on the side of his own bête noire, Ibn Arabi, the metaphysician and mystic, whilst on the other side we have the great Ashari theologian castigating him for his lack of literalism. I find this similar to what Sheikh Sa‘id Ramadan Buti does in his important work as-Salafiyya, quoting passages of Ibn Taymiyya which the uninformed might take to be the work of an advocate of wahdat al-wujud like Ibn ‘Arabi. Many people have simplistic idea of Ibn Taymiyya – this is true of both his most loyal followers and his harshest opponents – and I think it is nice to see him in a different light sometimes.

I do not think that it is a bad thing that Sheikh Ahmad, who as we have seen was capable of excessive partisanship and vicious invective, was also capable, on occasion and seemingly almost despite himself, of giving his opponents their due and acknowledging their efforts or their learning, or that he was even concerned with reconciling the views of thinkers who on the surface seem to be so far apart that any reconciliation would be utterly impossible. Such efforts – regardless of their specific content – exhibit an admirable level of objectivity and detachment, which is something we could all learn from.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Of Books and Men

‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili:

I say unto thee: The levels of certitude alluded to by the terms ‘knowledge of certitude’ (‘ilm al-yaqin), ‘vision of certitude’ (‘ayn al-yaqin) and ‘experiential realisation of certitude’ (haqq al-yaqin), which we have said are the ultimate benefit to be obtained from reading books (of metaphysics and spiritual realities), are almost impossible to attain – not the slightest amount of them – by means of even a lifetime of pious works.

I have seen young men of my brethren on the Path, by means of reading such books for even a few days, reach that which men devoted to pious works could not reach in forty or fifty years, even though they themselves were the cause for these young men to come to the Path; for when they limited themselves only to their way of action, whilst these young men read books of metaphysics and spiritual realities and understood them, they fell short of their full potential, and these young men became the true elders, whilst the elders became youngsters to them. One such as these said:

I adopted all my fathers in full trust,
And there is no doubt that I am the exemplar for all fathers
This verse was composed by a certain Sheikh’s disciple, whose works in the Path were known to us to consist of nothing more than reading books of metaphysics and spiritual realities, until he reached a level of knowledge in this field such as was not reached by a great many of his predecessors. His name was Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad al-Hakkak, and he composed many verses concerning the science of metaphysics and spiritual realities; and whoever finds his collected poems and recognises their worth is lucky indeed!

I have only related to thee all of these stories in the preamble of this book in order to make thee understand the value of this science and its great eminence, that thou might yearn to attain unto this noble art by reading these books, applying them, and discussing them with those who are experts in them wherever they might be; for a man such as one of them might benefit thee with a single word more than all the books in the world could benefit thee in an entire lifetime. This is because what thou takest from books is dependent on thine understanding, whilst if a man who ‘knows through God’ (‘arif bi‘Llah) wishes thee to understand the matter as it actually is, he imparteth unto thee his own understanding of it – and what a difference there is between thine understanding and his!

For those of deep understanding, to read books of metaphysics and spiritual realities is superior to the pious acts of the ‘Wayfarers to God’ (as-salikin); and to sit with the Folk of God and keep good conduct with them is superior to reading all the books there are. I counsel thee, and I counsel thee again, to keep reading books of metaphysics and spiritual realities, and to act in conformity with the knowledge they impart; for in doing this, thou shalt achieve thy purpose and attain unto knowledge of thy God – if He so willeth!

(Maratib al-Wujud wa Haqiqatu kulli Mawjud)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Selections from the Aphorisms of Abu Madyan No.4

Al-Ghawth Abū Madyan: When the heart forgets its passions, it is cured.

Sheikh al-Alawi’s commentary:

The heart has a secret illness, the symptom of which is its inclination to things beloved to the lower self. If it forgets these things and is purified and cleansed from the presence of animal passions, this is a sign that it is cured of its psychological ailments and satanic impulses, and this wellbeing allows it to bear secrets and theophanic illuminations. But as long as any of these impurities remain within it, it is not yet cured, and therefore requires a physician to treat it until it is cured of its sickness and turns once more to its Lord; otherwise, it will inevitably be veiled from Him. Someone once said:

Many ailments pained my heart, and all stemmed from
Its yearning for ephemeral things when it saw them;
But when my heart was cleansed by mention of its Lord,
It turned away from all that fades, and saw them not.

* * * *

Editorial note added by translator (Khalid):

O Rose, Thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ramadan with the Saints of Morocco

Ever thought of visiting all the places we've been describing here, and others besides? Well, the Subul Assalam Centre for the Arabic Language in Fes is putting on a ten-day tour in September (Ramadan) which is a wonderful chance to do just that. Achance to doa little Sacred Tourism in the Sacred Month. Here's the details (you might want to click on the picture to make it big enough to read):

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Our Master Muhammad Volume Two Available for Pre-order

The second volume of Imam Abdallah Sirajuddin al-Husayni's 'Our Master Muhammad the Mesenger of Allah' , with a foreword by Shaykh Muhammad b. Yahya al-Ninowy is now available for pre-order from Sunni Publications

Here's the details:


In this day and age, it is essential for the Muslim community and humanity at large to acquire a detailed description of the Best of Creation, the Messenger of Allah (asws). ‘Our Master Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah’, is a book of devotion written from the heart and addressing every heart that yearns to draw closer to best of Allah’s creation. In this second volume of the book, the author details the exemplary character traits of our Prophet (asws), his devout worship, his noble lineage and progeny, and the blessings of his physical-self and personal effects, and his infallibility in both religious matters.This expression of Prophetic love and longing was written by the ‘Pole of Prophetic love in our times’, the venerable saint, Hadith scholar and exegete: Imam ‘Abdallah Sirajuddin al-Husayni (ra). His book is an exceptional demonstration of sound scholarship and spiritual realization.

O you who love the Messenger of Allah (Allah bles him and give him peace)! Time has isolated us, tribulations have spread amongst us, the charlatans have spoken, and many people have preoccupied themselves with that which relieves neither hunger nor thirst. We have lost the warmth of the love of the Messenger of Allah (asws), the warmth that those who love him feel, and which those who yearn for him desperately
seek, and in the beauty of which the most knowledgeable ones in Allah lose themselves. The reality of this love is absent, whilst claims to it are many, and the way of the Companions and the model of their love have been reduced to mere stories and legends. So let us renew our covenant with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) , and bear the banner of love to the most sincere and lasting love, and the most enduring and faithful reverence, and the brightest and most resplendent light, and the Beloved and Chosen One of Allah.’

– Shaykh Muhammad b. Yahya al-Ninowy

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Selections from the Aphorisms of Abu Madyan No.3

Al-Ghawth Abu Madyan: The heart has but one direction: if it turns to one thing, it is veiled from all else.

Sheikh al-‘Alawi’s commentary:

The heart is quick to turn, and when it turns one way it is veiled from everything else; so turn it, O disciple, to its Lord, and put the people in their proper place. The proper place of the heart is with the Real, not with anyone else, and the Real puts the servant where the servant puts Him. If someone wants to know his place with God, he should consider what place he has afforded God in his own heart.

Guard your heart, O disciple, for it is all you have. If you lose it, you lose all comfort you might derive from God. If your heart turns to anything but God, it will be veiled from God. So make – God bless you – the Real your direction, and accept the company of your Lord so that He does not afflict you with the company of anyone else, as Abū Madyan himself says: ‘If someone is not prepared to accept the company of the Real, he will be afflicted with the company of His bondsmen.’ For the Real is jealous; and if He does not accept works which are dedicated to others as well as Him, how should He accept a heart which is thus dedicated? [Indeed God does not forgive that ought should be associated with Him; He forgives all besides this for those He wills.] (Qur’ān 4:48) [When kings enter a village, they ruin it, and turn its noble folk into wretches.] (Qur’ān 27:34)

The heart should be feared for until full Knowledge is attained; once it is attained, there is no need to fear. Although the heart may have only one direction, we know that the Real has many: [Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God.] (Qur’ān 2:115) The disciple should be feared for until he has attained Knowledge of the Pure Oneness of God; once he has attained it, the Real will be the sole direction he faces. [Each face their own direction, and He is the focal point. Vie, then, with one another in good works.] (Qur’ān 2:148) His heart will be emptied of the existence of all besides God, as the heart of Moses’ mother was emptied: [And the heart of the mother of Moses became empty, and would she would have disclosed all about him] without even being asked, for there was nothing in her heart but Him, and vessels only disclose what lies within them, [had We not fortified her heart.] (Qur’ān 28:10)
Such is the heart of the Knower when it is purified for God to dwell within: he almost divulges its secrets, and would indeed do so were it not that the Real – Blessed and Almighty be He! – fortifies his heart so that he does not divulge its secrets. One of them said:

My shyness before You kept me from showing my love:
Your nearness to me meant I had no reason to tell;
You appeared to me without my knowing, as though
You were telling me, in secret, that You were mine.
I see You, and feel awe before You, and fear;
You comfort me with love and tender care.
The one who loves You lives, yet dies in Your love:
So strange for one to live while yet he dies!

This is due to the jealous protection the Real affords the Knower; for to reveal such secrets would be bad for the one who possessed them, as it would cause him to go down in the estimation of the people. The Real is jealously protective of His Friends just as they are jealously protective of Him. One of them said:

‘Show us Layla,’ they said, ‘for you are her keeper!’
What kind of keeper would I be if I gave her up?

Another one said:

If they asked me whom I loved, and I spoke her name,
They would say, ‘He is mad, and has surely been possessed!’