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|Topic: Dimensions of Spirituality|
Joined: 01 March 2000
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| Topic: Dimensions of Spirituality
Posted: 29 March 2006 at 6:48pm
Bi ismillahir rahmanir raheem
i am posting these one after the other becouse that is how they are intended to be read, Khair insha allah.
Islam and Spiritual Awakening
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
Tasawwuf is a crucial aspect of our Din and I am privileged to have this opportunity to share my insights and understandings of it, small as it may be, with you the reader. It is common in our time to hear people complaining about a lack of meaning in their lives. Everywhere people are looking for "something" to overcome this inner vacuum. A powerfull need is felt to restore the imbalances which usually accompanies and is in fact evident in our lives as we relentessly work to satisfy our material needs. Now what has all of this to do with Tasawwuf you might well ask. The truth is Tasawwuf or the lack of it, has everything to do with this crisis. Tasawwuf is the life blood of this Din. It runs through this Din like the blood that flows through our bodies. Loss of blood, as it happens when someone is seriously injured, will lead to the death of the body.
The Din comprises of three distinct aspects as the answer of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, to the questions put to him by the Archangel Jibril indicates. ‘Umar, may Allah bless him, relates that on the certain day a stranger appeared in Medina, dressed in white clothes without any sign of travelling evident on him, came to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, and sat in front off him. The man placed his knees against the knees of the Nabi and asked, "What is Islam?" The Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To bear witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger, to perform Salah, to give Zakah, to fast the month of Ramadan and perform Hajj". The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth". He then asked again, "What is Iman?", and the Nabi answered, "To believe in Allah, and in His angels, and His books, and His Messengers, and in the Day of Judgement, and to believe that both good and evil is by the Decree of Allah." The stranger replied, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger then asked again, And what is Ihsan, the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, replied, "To worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him then know that He sees you." The man then again said, "You have spoken the truth." The stranger, after another question or two, finally departed from this apparently bizarre encounter, bizarre to the Companions because who is he to say to the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, "You have spoken the truth" after each reply. ‘Umar, amy Allah bless him, built up the courage to enquire about all of this and the Nabi, may Allahs peace and blessing be upon him, said: "That was Jibril who came to teach you your Din." [Narrated by Imam Bukhari]
From this hadith it is apparent that the Din has three basic components, Islam, Iman and Ihsan. We can compare these three elements to the three parts of an egg. Islam which is the practical outer practises, we can for example see people performing Salah or performing Hajj, of the Din corresponds to the hard outer protective shell of the egg. Iman which are the basic beliefs and world-view of the Din, corresponds to the white unseen part of the egg. And finally Ihsan corresponds to the yolk of the egg, its heart and from which eventually a life will evolve. Ihsan according to the words of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, has two aspects; 1) Mushahadah, or Spiritual Vision , or the inward vision of Allah. We are, indeed, instructed to worship Allah as if we see him. The crucial question here is how does one do that. What is mushahadah, also called shuhud by some scholars, really. And how does one attain to that high darajah. How does one develop the ability "to worship Allah as if you see Him".
2) Muraqabah, or awareness that Allah sees us, every moment of our lives and in every place we might be. It is wajib in terms of the hadith we quoted above, it is incumbent on every Muslim to develope this awareness or rather this knowledge, "and if you do see Him know that he sees you."
Let me summarise all of this . The first aspect, the outer practises of Islam, is covered and dealt with in the books of Fiqh, and the second aspect, the belief system of our Din, is studied in the books of Tawhid or ‘ilm al-kalam. And finally Ihsan, and the path of moral transformation and of character building necessary for Ihsan to become a reality and a part of us as Muslims, is precisely the subject of Tasawwuf. Shaykh M.Amin al-Kurdi gives the following definition of Tasawwuf in his great book "The Enlightenment of the hearts"; "It the knowledge of the praiseworthy and blameworthy traits of the self, of the methods of purifying it of the blameworthy and embellishing it with the praiseworthy ones, and knowledge of the methods of travelling too Allah and of fleeing to Him."
So, finally, Tasawwuf deals with the ethics, morals and character traits that are as obligatory on us to have, as salah is obligatory on us. The anti-Tasawwuf mutterings one often hears in certain quarters of the community is utterly bizarre. The Din will be like an empty egg-shell or like a dead corpse drained of its blood without Tasawwuf. In our time it is precisely that emptiness and the loneliness of death that is seeping through society and as we are consumed by our material pursuits we ever more becoming aware of creeping spiritual numbness and eventual death.
(from the Boorhanul Mgazine: January 2000)
Good deeds and the spiritual life.
by Shaykh. Ahmad Hendricks
Good deeds (al-‘amal as-salih) are fundamental to the spiritual life. We improve or enhance our personal spirituality through increasing our good deeds or through improving the quality of the good deeds we already practise regularly. It is therefore crucial that we understand the nature and purpose of good deeds correctly and as deeply as possible. Are we instructed by Islam to live the pious life for its own sake or are there deeper levels of meaning to the simple good deed like dhikr (remembrance), salah and sadaqah (charitable actions) for example. Related to this issue is the whole question of sin (dhanb). What is a sin and why must we avoid it? In this discussion we will look at good deeds and leave the discussion of sin to a later article.
Let us examine briefly a few verses in the Quran about good deeds. Allah, the Most High, says in the Quran, " Those who believe in Allah and the Day of judgement, and who perform good deeds, their reward is with their Rabb."[al-Baqarah. v. 62]. He, the Most High, also says, " Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and who perform good deeds, they will not fear." [al-Maidah v.69]. In surah al-Nahl verse 97, Allah, the Most High, says," Those who perform good deeds, men and women, and they believe, We will give them a new good (lit. a perfumed) life." In another verse He says, "Except those who repent, believe and perform good deeds, for them we will change their sins (they might have incurred in the past) into good deeds, Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful" [al-Furqan v. 70]. The consequences of good deeds according to these verses are huge. We are promised unimaginable rewards in the after-life, that is why in the first ayah Allah simply says, " their reward is with their Rabb" without specifying any particular reward. Good deeds if done properly transform human life. It injects a new vitality into an otherwise sterile and unpleasant life. It changes the person who patterns his life on them. Our bad qualities are removed and replaced by good ones. Good deeds are like a breath of fresh air after suffocating in a dark, dusty room. Allah indeed compares the sinful and spiritually sterile life with the narrowness and cramped condition of the grave when He, the Most High, says, " He who turns his back to my remembrance, he will live an impoverished life (ma’ishatan dhanka)." [Ta-Ha v. 20]. The word "remembrance" in this verse can be interpreted firstly, as a reference specifically to dhikr (remembrance by mentioning and repeating the Names of Allah) and secondly, it also a refers to the general category of "good deeds" we are discussing here.
The Nabi, may Allah pour His peace and blessings on him, says in a well-known Tradition, " He who practises what he knows Allah, the Most High, will teach him things he does not know"[al-Bukhari]. Good deeds, there is doubt, is an effective and powerful means to transforming and enlightening the heart. According to this tradition the enlightenment, this greater understanding and insight, is inspired into the heart by Allah, the Most High, Himself. Good deeds lead to the expansion of the breast to the light of Islam. It is the door that opens up to greater knowledge and leads to understanding the truth of things. The Nabi, may Allah pour His peace and blessings on him, also said, " Surely in the human body is an organ, if this organ is defiled, the entire body is defiled, and if it is sound the entire body is sound. Verily it is the heart" [al-Bukhari and Muslim]. The Prophet also said, " Allah does not look at your bodies but he looks at the contents of your hearts" [al-Bukhari and Muslim]. These sayings of the Nabi, may Allah pour His peace and blessings on him, have a number of implications and the one relevant to this discussion is the quite obvious focus on the health of the heart. Commentators generally agree that the "heart" spoken about here is the spiritual and not the physical one. The body takes on the fragrance or odour of the heart. The qualities of the heart manifest in the actions of the body. The body is like a mirror in which the contents of the heart are reflected. But in all of this the successful in the eyes of Allah, the Most High, are those who have pure hearts. In surah al-Shu’ara verse 89 Allah, the Most High, relates to us as part of the prayer of Nabi Ebrahim, may Allah bless him, the following words, " Do not dishonor me (O Allah) on the day of resurrection, the day that neither wealth nor off-spring will be beneficial, except the one who comes to Allad with a pure heart (qalbin salim)". Purifying and transforming the qualities of the heart is therefore crucial. In fact without it we will simply fail the ultimate test before Allah. The only means we have to that end, as all the verses and ahadith we quoted indicate, are good deeds.
One important point here is that good deeds will have these results only if they are done regularly and consistently. In a Tradition the Nabi, may Allah pour His peace and blessings on him, said, "The person who is in the habit of doing a certain ‘ibadah and he stops doing it through boredom Allah curses him." He also said, " The good deed that Allah loves most is the one practised consistently even if it is small."
This is what Shaykh Amin al Kurdi says, " The one who perseveres in good deeds will taste the sweetness of ‘Iman in his heart. ‘Iman will penetrate to the innermost recesses of his heart. Once he reaches this level doubts and insecurities disappear and he begins to experience a deep joy in his ‘ibadah, to the point where he prefers spiritual activities to the pursuit of material objectives. At this point ‘Iman enters into the heart exactly like the desire for cold water on an extremely hot day, overwhelms the extremely thirsty man. And so the effort and tiredness that goes with the practise of good deeds is lifted by the joy he eventually discovers in them ."
(from the Boorhanul Magazine: April 2000)
The Problem of Sin
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
Once I heard Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki comparing sin to bacteria in a short talk he delivered at the masjid of Imam Farid Manie. He said, " Sin is like bacteria in the way it silently and stealthily invades the body. At first you are entirely unaware of its presence. It feeds on and grows stronger because of our ignorance and negligence. The victim of the infection becomes aware of the disease much later when the first symptoms appear. He will then have to subject himself to the sometimes unpleasant treatment of a Doctor." Comparisons like this are instructive in more ways than one. A lesson that can learnt from this particular one is that the intelligent person, who cares about his physical well-being, does his level best to prevent this situation. He will guard his spiritual health as he does his physical health. Prevention is better than cure as the adage goes. But in order for this to succeed intelligence is not enough. Knowledge of sin, and of what constitutes sin, and of the factors that give birth to sin, and the effects of sin is indispensable. Shaykh Amin al-Kurdi talking about the effects of sin makes the following point, "Know that the harm of sin to the heart is like the harm done by poison to the body according to the various degrees of damage done by each. And nothing in this world nor the hereafter is evil or bad except that its cause is sin and transgression"[Tanwir al-Qulub,pg. 435]. The seriousness of the problem of sin can be further driven home if we consider the following list of "effects of sin" given by some scholars. Sin they say is extremely harmful to both body and soul to an extent which only Allah, the Most High, alone knows. In summarising a considerable number of Ahadith, relevant verses from the Quran, and some wise sayings of the early Muslim scholars and saints, the following are some of the results of sin:
The consequences of sin are therefore huge. It is quite clear that in addition to being punishable, sin acts as a great veil between the devotee and Allah, the Most High. It prevents us from attaining nearness to Him. Its persistent presence in the behaviour of a Muslim betrays a blind spot and a degree of ignorance and lack of adab towards Him. Genuine knowledge (ma’rifah) of Allah transforms and changes the seeker. "Minor" sins appear to the truly realized Muslim as "major" sins. For that reason some Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, used to say to the Tabi’in (Followers): "You are doing things, though they appear to you less than the hair on your heads. But we used to regard them as "major sins" during the time of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him".
On the basis of this and other hadiths and some verses from the Quran, scholars divide sin into two broad categories - major sins (kaba’ir) and minor sins (sagha’ir). The Quran says, "If you refrain from the kaba’ir (major sins) you have been prohibited from, We will expiate your sayyi’aat (minor sins) and place you in the Jannah." [Surah al-Nisaa, v.31]. The sins designated as minor sins will be forgiven if we manage to expunge the major sins from our lives. Abu Talib al-Makki says in his famous book Qut al-Qulub (Sustenance of the Hearts) that refraining from these major sins is a condition for the acceptance of the five pillars of Islam. Our practice of the five pillars is entirely rejected by Allah when we fail to cleanse ourselves of these major sins. So this verse means that our basic practice of the five pillars will result in forgiveness of all our wrong-doings only after we have repented and refrained from the major sins. When all of this has been achieved is it possible for the seeker to reach the darajah (level) of the people of the Path. [see Qut al-Qulub, pg. 367, vol. 3]. Scholars have debated and written a huge body of writings on the crucial subject of "major and minor sins". Some scholars have attempted to define a major and minor sin and others confined themselves to providing lists of major and minor sins. In our next article we will look at a typical list of major sins and discuss the very important subject of why people fall into a sinful life.
The Major Sins
The Major Sins
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
It is crucial for a Muslim to have some understanding of the major (kaba’ir) and minor (sagha’ir) sins, what the major sins are, the difference between these two categories of sin and how ultimately to avoid them. A related question, which we will leave for a later discussion, is the reasons why people fall into sin in the first place. The quality and level of our spiritual life fundamentally depend on that knowledge.
An important point to bear in mind is that according to the Quran our minor sins will not be forgiven until and unless we refrain from the major ones. "If you refrain from the kaba’ir (major sins) you have been prohibited from, We will expiate your sayyi’aat (minor sins) and place you in the Jannah." [Surah al-Nisaa, v.31]. The Nabi, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, clarified the intention of this verse when he said," The five daily prayers (salah) expiate whatever has been committed between them if the kaba’ir (major sins) are avoided". If we perform our daily salah one of the consequences is that our minor sins are forgiven on condition that we also refrain from the major sins. The hadith also implies that the solution to the major sins is repentance, and in some cases punishment (hadd), not the performance of five pillars of Islam. The major sins in fact nullify the ‘ibadah one may be doing. This is indicated in the verse, "O you who believe obey Allah and obey His Rasul and do not nullify your actions" [Surah Muhammad, v.33]. In other words do not nullify your good deeds by committing any of the major sins.
So the question is what then are the major sins?
Scholars have differed on the subject from the time of the Sahabah, may Allah be pleased with all of them. A very interesting opinion was expressed by Abdallah ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him. He was asked about the meaning of verse 31 of Surah al-Nisaa, and he replied, "Read from the beginning of this Surah up to verse 31 then consider all the things Allah prohibits in those verses, major sins." He consequently believed there were only four major sins. Ibn ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, said there are seven major sins. He based his judgement on the well-known hadith of the al-saba’ah al-mubiqat (the seven grave sins). Abdallah ibn "Amr may Allah be pleased with him, believed there where nine. Other early scholars preferred to define it as every sin that incurs a punishment (hadd). The minor sins they say are more like faults, an inadvertence and shortcomings which are neither punishable nor is there a promise of hell fire for the one who is guilty of them. And finally Abu Hurairah may Allah be pleased with, according to certain reports, said the major sins are hidden and their number unknown like laylah al-qadr and the blessed hour of jumu’ah.
Given all of these differences and the fact that knowledge of the major sins are crucial to the spiritual well-being of every Muslim later scholars decided to combine all of these views and opinions.
The result of this process is summarised by Abu Talib Makki in the listing he provides. [Qut al-Qulub, pg. 365 - 7, vol. 3]. He says " As to my own position in this matter after combining the different opinions is that the major sins are seventeen,
Four of the heart;
1 idolatary (shirk),
Edited by rami
Rasul Allah (sallah llahu alaihi wa sallam) said: "Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord" and whoever knows his Lord has been given His gnosis and nearness.
Joined: 01 March 2000
Online Status: Offline
|Posted: 29 March 2006 at 6:50pm|
Bi ismillahir rahmanir raheem
Freedom from sin
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
In talking about sin another urgent question needs to be looked at. Why and how do people fall into it? Knowledge of the causes and then of managing them wisely with the intention of ultimately removing them is one of the fundamental ways of overcoming the disease. There are both general and specific causes of sin whether they are sins of the body or sins of the heart. In this and the next essay we will look at the general causes. The specific causes of sin will be dealt with in future essays and as the need arises. Generally speaking people fall into a particular sin as a result of mainly four causes:
Let us look briefly at each of these points starting with the first and second:
Lack of Knowledge.
Lack of knowledge is the great shortcoming of humankind. Educational systems of all types exist precisely to overcome this universal human weakness. Quite obviously sins cannot be avoided if they are not known to be sins. The beginning of right living or the persuance of the good life depends entirely on the degree of knowledge of the devotee. It has to be remembered though that knowledge can be both acquired (kasbi) or innate (fitri). Often people with a minutae of acquired knowledge feel dissatisfied with their lives. This dissatisfaction sometimes has its source in the innate knowledge of goodness and evil that every soul is inspired with. As Allah, the Most High, says: "And by the Soul and its creation in perfect proportion and balance, And the knowledge of evil and good He inspired into it." [Surah al-Shams,v 7-8]. Much of Islamic spirituality is geared to the awakening of that innate sense of good and evil. But this innate understanding of good and evil is not enough. Human nature is complex. Circumstance and upbringing can blind the fitrah. Some scholars hold that it can even be changed and distorted. As a result all of the well-known schools of spiritual development or tariqah (pl. turuq) as they are known stipulates the acquisition of a basic knowledge of Islam before higher instruction is given. And this, with good reason, if only to ensure that the student has a firm foundation on which to develop. It is hoped of-course that a basic knowledge of sin has been clearly described in the previous essays in this series.
Learning and acquiring knowledge is obligatory in Islam. One cannot go to the masjid everyday for the daily salah and neglect the important duty of gaining more knowledge. The two must go together. Doing the one and neglecting the other and still imagining that we are improving as Muslims is one of the great delusions of our time. The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him said, " Seeking knowledge is an obligation on every Muslim male and female"[ Narrated by Bukhari]. In this hadith we have one of the rare occasions where the Nabi, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, specifically uses the Arabic term "faridah" or "obligation" mainly to underline the importance of knowledge.
Shaytan and the heart
In order to explain in meaningful terms the relationship between our heart and the workings of Shaytan, Ibn Qudama compares the heart to a fortress. He says " Know that the heart is like a fortress. The Shaytan is the enemy who wants to invade the fortress, own, and control it. And there is no way to protect the fortress except by guarding the entrances. The doors cannot be guarded if we are ignorant of them and the Shaytan cannot be repelled except through knowledge of his routes of penetration. The doors and pathways of the Shaytan are the qualities of the slave and they are many." [Mukhtasar minhaj al-qasidin, Abridgement of the path of the seekers, Ibn Qudama, pg. 193-194].
Traditionally the word heart (qalb) has a number of different applications. In this passage the author uses it to refer to the entire non-physical part of us. And we know the heart in this sense is both susceptible to higher influences in the form of guidance from Allah, the Most High, and tends to rebel against that guidance through its desires and passions. Now the point of the author is that Shaytan is able to influence us and work his tricks of illusion and deception precisely because we are not vigilant enough and not knowledgeable enough of our shortcomings and of our negative qualities. Take for example envy and greed. When these shortcomings are stimulated for some reason. We become, for example, envious of the wealth, fame or knowledge of another individual, or we become greedy for more worldly possessions. The first thing that then happens is the natural light (nur) of the heart becomes dim. It must be remembered here that innately (bil-fitrah) we are equipped to know the Devils ruse. Every human being is gifted with the light (nur) of insight. This insight however, is blocked and even seriously impaired if greed and envy gets the upperhand over us. Once this happens, once we fall victim to envy and greed and many other negative qualities – such as fascination with money, impatience, suspicion, bad-temper and so forth - Shaytan comes into our hearts and beautifies the actions that result from these blameworthy attributes. Whether the actions we want to take are haram or ugly in the extreme, we will do them because Shaytan makes them appear acceptable to us. The result is we adopt a sinful path while at the same ironically thinking we are living the good life.
Much of what we are still going to discuss in this column is going to deal with the crucial subject of self-discipline and self-knowledge and how these can be harnessed to overcome the influences of Shaytan.
The nafs (the self)
The Prophet, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said in a tradition narrated by al-Baihaqi , " Your worst enemy is your nafs within you". In another tradition he, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is reported to have said, " We now return from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad, the jihad against the nafs". Another hadith, about which Imam Nawawi expressed reservations and which Imam al-Mawardi in his Adab al-dunya wa al-din argues is sound at least in its meaning, says, " He who knows himself knows his Lord". The person who knows and comes to realise the essential weakness, insignificance, powerlessness and impermanence of himself (his nafs) will realise and know the Strength, Greatness, Power and Permanence of Allah, the Most High. In other words one of the paths to knowledge of Allah, the Most High, is honest self-reflection and knowledge of the self (nafs). If this is true then the converse is equally true. The individual who is ignorant of himself (his nafs) will be ignorant of Allah, the Most High. These traditions and meanings are adequate proof of the importance of acquiring a good working knowledge of the nafs, its nature and ways of curing its illnesses.
In the Quran Allah, the Most High says, "O peaceful nafs (al-nafs al-mutma’innah) return to your Lord, satisfied and satisfied with. Enter into my jannah enter together with my slaves". In another verse Allah, the Most High, revealed that Zulaykhah said, " Surely it is the nafs (al-nafs al-ammarah bi al-su’) that commands with evil". In surah al-qiyamah Allah, the Most High, says, " Verily I swear by the the day of judgement and verily I swear by the reproaching self (al-nafs al-lawwamah)". Taken together these verses show the different phases and modes of the nafs. At one level of development it is completely at peace and at another level it is fiery, passionate and incitely. It drives one to cross the boundaries of good. In the other verse Allah, Most High swears by the reproaching nafs or the conscience as we would say today. We know that Allah, the Most High, in some instances swears by certain things to underline its importance. In this surah the day of judgement and the conscience is mentioned together and both of these realities we know play key roles in the process of moral and ethical transformation.
What then is the nafs? Opinions have differed on this crucial issue. A good working definition is given by Shaykh al-Kurdi, he says, " Know that the nafs is a divine subtlety and it is the ruh (human spirit) before it entered and became connected to the body. And Allah, the Most High, created the spirits before the physical bodies during which time it was near and close to Allah, the Most High. When He ordered them to connect and be associated with the physical body they perceived the world and became veiled from the Divine Presence as a result of attachment to the physical world…..".
To clarify all of this we have to bear in mind the following points. Everyone of us have basically two sides to him or herself. On the one hand is the physical body, which forms the subject of modern medicine, and on the other hand there is the non-physical side which psychologists and others attempt to understand. Our non-physical self we know as our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our passions and desires even our complexes. These non-physical elements we collectively refer to as our "self". The earlier and later scholars of tassawuf used the term’s al-nafs al-insani (human soul) to refer to our emotional and rational nature and the term al-nafs al-hayawani (vital or animal soul) to refer to the element that animates the body and gives it perception. The vital soul is also the source according to them of our passions and physical drives like hunger, anger and sex. Now the "nafs" according to al-Kurdi includes or comprises of both of these dimensions. It is one integral entity also called the "ruh" or spirit when it is still in its pure state prior to creation. Once the "ruh" enters the body and gives it life it acquires a new character. It aquires an outer dimension called the vital soul (al-nafs al-hayawani) and an inner dimension called human soul (al-nafs al-insani). Now as a result of these changes the "ruh" is now called the "nafs".
As a footnote we must bear in mind that the word "qalb" or heart is also often used to refer to our inner selves or our emotions, rationality and beyond. The word "nafs" or self is also often used to refer specifically to the outer vital soul or our passions and desires.
In all of this it crucial to understand that our passions and our desires, our thoughts and emotions, if kept unchecked and undisciplined and unpurified, are the most important source of sin. Our thoughts and emotions can reach great and noble heights only if we are able to free them from the incessant fire of our drives and passions. When we are dominated by our passions and desires we are at the level of developement called al-nafs al-ammarah bi al-su’ or the evil self. In this condition our passions determine the way we think and feel and consequently act. The great vices of pride, arrogance, envy, slothfullness, hate and greed develope. This is the veil that imprisons us and prevents the nur of the Divine Presence from penetrating our hearts and minds.
And as we are subjected to the discipline of knowledge, salah, fasting and other ‘ibadaat we gain mastery and greater control over our selves. As a result our thoughts and feelings are increasingly purified, deeper levels of the "ruh" or "nafs" are uncovered or if you will deeper functions of the mind are realized and awakened. Once the passions quieten down and the inherent tendencies of the "ruh" start to emerge and awaken we have progressed to the level of al-nafs al-mutma’innah or the peaceful self.
Friends and peer groups
The final general cause of sin we having a look at is the impact of social circles on the direction people take in their lives. It is crucial that we look at this matter in a balanced and mature fashion. Many parents we talk to have the tendency to place all the blame of their childs misbehavior on the circle of friends. This is not entirely correct, indeed in this kind of judgement we are denying our children their independence and their sense of individual responsibility. The same points apply in the case of the disgruntled wife towards her husband and vice versa. In saying this we are not denying that the group has an impact. The point here is that we have to look at both the individual and the social circle. In the previous essay we briefly looked at the nafs and its basic impulses and drives and how that impacts on our behavior and our relationship with Allah, the Most High. This is sufficient to prove that the individual carries a large portion of the responsibility. We need to work hard on excavating and reviving our own spiritual tendencies and on disciplining the rebellious elements in our selves. We also have the added responsibility of assisting our families to those same ends. Much of the work starts in the family and on the relationships inside the family. It amounts to denial to simply blame the circle of friends for all the woes of the world. This however is not the complete tale. It would be equally shortsighted to ignore the influences outside the family.
Imam Ghazali, may Allah be satisfied with him, in his excellent book " The beginning of guidance" recognizes that in addition to basic requirement of being faithful to the commands of Allah, the Most High, who we mix with and on what basis we mix with them is fundamental to the spiritual life. Lets start with a verse from the Quran. Allah, the Most High says in Surah al-Kahf, verse 28, " And tie yourself to those who call on their Lord in the mornings and at night seeking only His Face…" and towards the end of the same verse He, the Most High, says, "…. And do not follow (obey) those whom we closed off their hearts from Our remembrance and who follow their own whims and desires…". It is clear from this verse that Allah instructs his Nabi, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and consequently the entire ummah to associate with others on the basis of certain criteria. On the one hand we are instructed to associate with the spiritually enlightened and on the other to break ties with the spiritually dead. The word used in the verse to connote spiritual blindness is "ghaflah". The meanings of this term include the shortcomings of negligence, forgetfulness, and intellectual blindness. It is also instructive to note that these traits form the basis of the unrepentant sinful life. So we are obliged to be discriminatory in the choice of our associations and that for a very important reason. Both Imams Bukhari and Muslim, may Allah be satisfied with them, narrates a hadith of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, may Allah be pleased with his soul, that the Nabi, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, " The example of a good companion (jalis) and a bad one is like a perfume vendor and a blacksmith. The perfume vendor either gives you something or you purchase an item from him or you receive a pleasant fragrance from him. The blacksmith however either burns your clothes or you acquire a bad smelling odor from him." In another tradition narrated by Abu Daud and Tirmidhi, may Allah be satisfied with them, the Nabi said, " A man adopts the din of his close friends, so look carefully at the person you befriend." A third tradition I want to cite here from the collections of both Bukhari and Muslim is one often not seen in this context and a hadith I believe to be critical in any discussion of companionship and friendship. Abu Hurairah, may Allah be pleased with him, narrates that the Nabi said, " Women are married for their wealth, pedigree, beauty and din, go and marry them for their din and you will succeed." The lessons from these prophetic traditions are numerous. We will consider a few relevant to the issue under discussion. It is human nature to absorb to a degree the qualities of people we respect, admire, and regularly associate with. This process of absorption is effectively compared by the Nabi to the way perfume and the stench of the blacksmith’s shop or even the smoke and smell of burning wood clings to one’s clothes. It is also generally accepted that although temperament fails to escape the laws of hereditary, environment can effectively change and fundamentally modify those traits. If one is serious about one’s spirituality and moral development and that of one’s children we have to choose our friends and associates. All of these sayings directly teach against passive friendships. It’s not a good practice just to fall into a friendship or companionship no matter how the person’s style or personality impresses one. Suhbah or companionship is encouraged in Islam. Friendship is to be valued and respected. They fulfill all sorts of needs the individual might have. But all this goes with a price. The central focus of a Muslim ought to be his din for the simple reason that din is ultimately his vehicle of nearness to Allah, the Most High. This principle is given an interesting context in the third hadith quoted earlier. After indicating the common and largely materialistic motives of the choice of partners, the Nabi says ". Go marry them for their din…". The reason for this, Imam Nawawi in his " Gardens of the Pious" indicates is precisely because our wives are our closest companions. And when she is strongly orientated towards the religious life we should actively seek her companionship to improve our own.
Passive friendships, refusal to exercise our intellects in the choice of friendships and indiscrimination in the choice of marital partners can open up all the woes of a sinful and spiritually alienated life.
Ghazali however reminds us in his "Beginning of guidance", " Know that your Companion that never leaves you whether you are travelling or staying at home, asleep or awake, indeed in life as in death is your Lord, Master, Owner and Creator, and whenever you perform remembrance of Him, He is your company. And He, the Most High, has said so ( Imam Ghazali is referring to a hadith qudsi here), " I am the jalis ( someone who regularly sits with one) of the person who remembers Me."
Shari’ah, Tariqah, Haqiqah
Shari’ah, Tariqah, Haqiqah
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
The meaning and usage of the terms shari’ah, tariqah and haqiqah is a question that has been the subject of some controversy. What exactly do they mean and why do they exist in the first place. The first of those words "shariah" is to most of us a completely familiar term. When we talk about "shari’ah" people generally understand that we are either talking about the din in general or specifically about the legal aspects or fiqh of Islam. The common expression is " we have to live according to the shari’ah" and we immediately understand when we hear this " according to the law of Allah, the Most High". The question that often mystifies Muslims is what else can there possibly be besides the law of Allah, the Most High? We have our din, we have the shari’ah the prophetic code to live by, what is the tariqah or haqiqah we hear about in connection with tasawwuf? We hope to clarify some of this in the following essay.
I’ve made the point that tafakkur is the indispensable beginning of the conscious, purposive Muslim life. Without tafakkur our lives as Muslims have to be shallow. Our Islam wont be more than imitating our parents or wont go beyond simply falling in line with the Muslim social and cultural life style. The crucial point here is that tafakkur can be revolutionary. It can change our lives radically and totally. Through the barakah and nur of tafakkur the meaning of life is shown to be far more than merely imitation and blind belief. We become dissatisfied with our simple, shallow, imitative, material existence. This dissatisfaction often leads to anguish and confusion. We are in great peril if no reliable and solid guidance is available during this time. It is best we bide our time in patience and open ourselves to mature and wise counsel. Tafakkur, we have to remember, can be induced or even forced on us from unexpected quarters. The ways of guidance are many and sometimes mysterious. Deep tafakkur can, for instance, be triggered by a crisis in one’s life - the death of a loved one or the loss and the subsequent despair of a job lost or a critical accident where the victim looses a limb and so forth.
To this Muslim "in crises", Allah, the Most High speaks beckoningly, " Surely this (Quran) is a reminder (tadhkirah) and he who wishes let him seek a path (sabil) to his Lord."
This verse makes two important points;
The "sabil" or path or general program that leads to these high goals comprises three interrelated aspects, according to the ‘Ulama. Let’s us look briefly at each of these aspects:
The haqiqah in turn involves three important phases of development:
So to summarise what we are saying here; the shari’ah is the boat we all have to sail on, the tariqah is the sea, and the haqiqah is the jewels and pearls we extract from the sea; or the shari'ah is the tree, the tariqah are the branches and the haqiqah is the fruit we enjoy.
All three of these aspects together are referred to as the "sabil" (way) to your "Rabb" in the verse quoted earlier. We cannot come near to Allah, the Most High, unless we combine all three aspects in our life; knowledge of the shari’ah, practicing the shari’ah and consequently reaping the fruits of practicing the shari’ah. The solution to our dissatisfaction and spiritual alienation is found in combining all of these aspects. The words shari’ah, tariqah, haqiqah has been coined by the ‘Ulama to refer to these crucial aspects of the din.
It is reported that Imam Malik, may Allah be pleased with him said: He who practices the shari’ah without the haqiqah is a fasiq (reprobate); and he who lays claim to the haqiqah without the shari’ah has left the fold of Islam; but he who combines these aspects have truly realized (the fullness of Islam).
Sainthood (wilayah) and Nearness (qurb).
Sainthood (wilayah) and Nearness (qurb).
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
Sufism has often been criticized for "excessive" veneration of the saints. The focus of this critique are the many practices, or as some would say, abuses associated with visiting the shrines of the saints rather than the station of sainthood as such. In all fairness, some scholars in our Shafite legacy have also declared some of these practices either munkar or makruh. Others developed a more nuanced opinion. Imam Ramli for example holds the position that should a man throw himself onto the grave of a saint, and he is clearly motivated by a spiritual condition (hal) or the man is overwhelmed by an emotion, this act of his is neither munkar, makruh nor, least of all, "shirk". His condition, the Imam says, is like the situation of Sayyidna Bilal who rubbed his face on the grave of the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, upon his return from Syria. Bilal was in Syria when the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, passed away. The implication here is that the practice of throwing oneself onto a grave becomes an abuse (munkar) if people ritualize it. But even here the ruling of "shirk" is absent. The new development that has recently appeared in reformist circles in general - not only Wahabism - is to declare these practices "acts of shirk". This view betrays a basic confusion between the concepts of "act" and of " belief". The truth is "acts" can never become "shirk" unless they are accompanied by a polytheistic mindset. Even then the "act" as such is not "shirk" - the "belief" or "mental orientation" is. The "act" is called "shirk" figuratively. It is simply flawed to call any "act" that looks like a bow or a prostration "shirk". If this was true, Bilal is also a mushrik. The angels in bowing or prostrating before Nabi Adam and the brothers of Nabi Yusuf in performing sujud, as the Quran says, before him will have to be similarly judged. The purpose of this article however is not to deal exhaustively with the controversial issues. I want to focus on the core subject of sainthood. Why is the station of sainthood so sought after? What is a saint and do they perform miracles? Can someone know that he or she is a saint? People also often ask, " We hear that the saints are divided into different categories and that they form some sort of heirarchy, is this true?"
Let us first look at some of the traditions and verses on the subject.
Imam ‘Abdul Karim al-Qushayri narrates a tradition from ‘Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, that the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Allah says, The one who hurts a waliyy has deemed it legal to make war against Me. And there is nothing better for the slave as a means of coming closer to Me than performing the compulsory deeds. And the slave never ceases to grow closer to Me by nawafil until I love him. And I seldom waver in doing something like I waver to draw the soul of My believing slave; because he dislikes death and I dislike to harm and there is no escape from death." In another version of this hadith narrated by Imam Nawawi Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him said, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, said " Verily Allah has said, the one who hurts my waliyy I have declared war against him. And there is nothing better for the slave as a means of coming closer to Me than performing the compulsory deeds. And the slave never ceases to grow closer to Me by nawafil until I love him. And when I love him I am his hearing that he hears by and the sight that he sees by, and his hand that grips with, and his legs that he walks on. If he asks Me I will give and if he seeks My refuge I will give him refuge."
Both Ibn Hibban and Nisaai narrates that the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him said, " There is a group of the slaves of Allah that even the Prophets and martyrs will envy," Then someone said," Who are these people perhaps we can love them." And he said, "They are a people who love each other through the light of Allah not through wealth or family ties. Their faces are filled with nur (light) and they are on pulpits of light, neither do they fear when the people fear nor do they grieve when the people grieve." Then the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, recited the verse, " Verily the ‘awliya of Allah do not fear nor do they grieve." [Yunus, v. 62]
‘Awliya in the verse is the plural of waliyy. This word is used in two broad senses. In ordinary Arabic waliyy means friend, associate, ally. In this sense every Muslim is a waliyy of Allah because he believes in Allah and associates himself with His din. For purposes of adopting the correct attitude towards Muslims in general Imam Ahmad Zarruq recommends we understand the traditions quoted above in this sense also. We should keep in mind that Allah declares war against one who harms or hurts a waliyy. This should be enough deterrence for us to avoid developing a negative attitude and act negatively towards other Muslims. Waliy however also has a more specific meaning. In this second usage the term waliyy refers to;
Continuing our discussion from the previous article a relevant and important quote is Imam Qushairi’s clear ruling on the subject, " And both these descriptions are obligatory (waajib) for a waliy to be a waliy in the first place: It is obligatory for him to comprehensively observe the rights of Allah, the Most High, both in depth and breadth, and the protection of Allah in all circumstances good or bad." And further on in his seminal essay on Sainthood in his "Risalah" he says, "And anyone against whom the law (shar’) has an objection is deluded and deceived"
One of the important points in these quotations is the utter and complete respect shown to the shari’ah. Authentic tasawwuf has everything to do with the shari’ah. Insinuations to the contrary one sometimes hear coming from the ignorant or earlier orientalist opinions that Sufism teaches one to "transcend" the law are simply mistaken and uninformed. There is no tasawwuf without the shari’ah. One of the great features of Islam is that the shari’ah and thorough observance and knowledge of the shari’ah is the means to enter the Divine Presence. The salah, for example, we should see as the Divinely ordained key and instrument through which we "travel" to His Presence. The Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said, "The salah is the mi’raj of the Muslim". We should note the very important comparison the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, is making here. Lets think through this point for minute. The salah is the great spiritual journey of a Muslim. Compared in this hadith to the great journey of the Nabi as he travelled from the Haram in Makkah to the Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem up to regions of nearness and intimacy to Allah where even angels cannot go. This journey of the Nabi prefigures the eternal quest of the travelers on the road of tasawwuf and in terms of this hadith should be the quest of every Muslim. Naturally ordinary men and women like ourselves cannot travel to Allah both physically and spiritually as the Nabi did. The point is that the salah is a gift from Allah and his Nabi to every Muslim and is the means to achieve that unique and blessed nearness and intimacy with Allah, the Most High, similar to what the Nabi experienced on that night.
Similar remarks can be made of the entire shari’ah. In a hadith quoted in a previous essay the Nabi, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, reported that Allah, the Most High, said, " There is nothing better (as a means) for my slave to come closer to me than continuous observance of all I have made obligatory (ma iftaradtu ‘alayhi) on him". One quick point I want to make here is we have to remember that salah, fasting, haj, and zakah are not the only obligations (faraid) in Islam. Some of the other very important obligations in Islam, are for example, correct behaviour towards one’s wife, children and neighbours; justice and fairness in one’s business dealings; justice and fairness if we hold the reigns of power in a country; bravery on the battlefield against the enemies of Islam; purity of mind and the absence of jealousy, envy, hatred, arrogance and insincerity and so forth. The shari’ah deals with all of these matters in great detail. The basic principle in all of this is, there is no way that Allah will admit us into His Presence nor allow us to enjoy the great peace of intimacy with Him unless and until we fully respect and continuously struggle to perfect and realize His sharia’ah in our lives. The earlier ‘ulama even went to extent of including, in addition to the obligations (fards), all the sunnah’s of the Nabi and even all the aadaab of the shari’ah. Listen to this story of one of the foremost Imams of our din.
Abu Yazid al-Bistami once went to see someone described as a waliy by his acquaintances and students. When he arrived at the "waliy’s" masjid he sat down and waited for him to finish-up and leave. As this man left the masjid he spat, not outside the masjid but inside. Ba Yazid got up and left without greeting him. Naturally this caused a stir since Ba Yazid was a particularly prominent visitor, well known in the Muslim world at the time for both his spiritual status and his scholarship. People feverishly enquired why he did this obvious public snubbing of the man. Then Ba Yazid said, "This man cannot be trusted with a single adab of the aadaab of the shari’ah, so how can he be trusted with the secrets of Allah? ".
The saint (waliy) is at once close (qarib) to Allah, the Most High, and drawn near (muqarrab). He comes closer to Allah through his own efforts in observing the shari’ah, and Allah, the Most High, in turn, assists, protects and draws the saint close to Him. Abu Hurairah, may Allah be satisfied wit him, narrates that the Messenger, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, Allah says, " I am with the thought of my slave, if he remembers Me by himself, I remember him by Myself, and if he remembers Me in a group I remember him in a better group (than his), and if he comes close to Me the length of an out-stretched hand I draw close to him the length of a fore-arm, and if he draws close to me the length of a fore-arm I draw near to him the length an arm, and if he comes to me walking I come to him like a wind", in another narration " I am with him if he remembers Me".
This hadith is full of meaning. There is great encouragement here for people who want to enter the path of inner knowledge and closeness to Allah. " I am with the thought of my slave" and in the other narration " I am with him if he remembers Me" implies two basic and important adaab. Firstly, when we perform our ‘ibadah we ought to do so with the utmost purity of thought (husn dhann) and good faith towards Allah. Indeed purity of thought itself is an ‘ibadah. Pure thought towards Allah (husn dhann) also implies complete acceptance of His Will. The aspirant has to work hard to remove all traces of sublimated anger towards Him. Allah gives to others and He withholds from us. Dissatisfaction with the Will of Allah and indeed seething anger towards Him is the essence of envy. And secondly, since we are sitting in the Presence of Allah and He is with us, we have to observe the adab of maximum concentration on Him. If this is difficult or we cannot focus and concentrate with our whole being on Allah during our ‘ibadah we are required either to train ourselves or seek out someone who can train us to achieve that. The station of nearness (qurb) and the station of sainthood (wilayah) are inextricably connected. Both of which should be the desire and objective of every Muslim. According to this tradition, Allah comes to us "faster" and with greater ‘vigour" than we to Him.
The elevated status of the awliyah is alluded to in the tradition known as the hadith al-awliyah. Allah takes them into His care and assists them. The one who loves the awliyah loves Allah. And conversely the one who injures them, "…Allah declares war against him" [Cited by Bukhari from Abu Hurairah] and in another version of this tradition Allah says, "… he (the person who commits the injury) has declared it halal for him to make war against Me" [Cited by Imam Ahmad and Imam Qushairi from ‘Aishah]. The versions of this hadith cited by Tabarani differ mainly in the wording. Tabarani’s narrations also include some very interesting additions not mentioned by the other narrators. A thorough analysis of these texts will have to be left for another time and place. Here we need to comment on some of the points raised by this tradition.
by Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks
Many years ago a book called " Penny for your thoughts" was published. It would be interesting to see whom of the modern generation read this book or heard of it. The cliched title shouldn’t fool one. The intention of the author is to explore the content and quality of everyday thought. This book is not a treatise on logical thinking or the rules of correct reasoning. The systematic study of logic has to be looked for in other works and is usually the forte of experts and scholars. The subject of this book is more humble but extremely important. People you meet often are so deeply steeped in some thought or issue. A look of utter surprise comes into their faces when you ask them, " Penny for your thoughts?". What is of great interest to me is the fact that often people fail to recall the stream of thought that so deeply engrossed them. Yes we are aware of some of the many reasons why this happens. But for a Muslim to be so entirely taken over by everyday worries and concerns is not good enough. The author of this book suggests interesting and useful methods to help gain control over ones propensity to sink into purposeless thinking and well worth a read.
The quality of our thought is a very serious and important subject for any Muslim to consider. Says Allah, the Most High, in the Quran surah al ‘imran verses 190 – 191, " Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the rotations of the day and night are signs for the ulul albab. Those who remember ( dhikr) Allah, the Most High, standing, sitting and whilst reclining on their sides and who think ( tafakkur) about the creation of the heavens and the earth, [ They say] O our Lord You have not created this in vain, Glory be to Thee and protect us from the fires of hell". In this verse Allah, the Most High, speaks highly of the ulul albab or literally the possessors of mind or the intellectuals. Qualities of this kind are mentioned in the Quran precisely because Muslims are expected to emulate them. The second important attribute of this level or quality of Muslim is remembrance (dhikr). We will discuss that in a later article. Our focus in this article is on the crucial matter of tafakkur.
Imam ‘Abdallah ‘Alawi al-Haddad says in his Book of Assistance, " Know that the reformation of both the din and the dunya depends on sound purposive thinking (tafakkur), and the individual who has mastered this ability has gained a portion of every possible good. It is said: Purposive thinking ( tafakkur) for an hour is better than a years worship. It is also related that Sayyidna ‘Ali, may Allah bless him, said: There is no worship ('ibadah) like purposive thinking (tafakkur). A certain gnostic is reported to have said: Purposive thinking ( tafukkur ) is the lamp of the heart, if it removed the heart has no light."
The reader will notice I’m translating the word tafakkur as "purposive thinking" not simply ‘thinking" or "contemplation". Imam Ahmad al-Haddad in his excellent book "Key to the Garden" defines tafakkur as follows: "And tafakkur is the focus and movement of the heart and mind through the meaning of things in order to reach the underlying intention, and by this, the pearls of truth is reached." Tafakkur is the art, if you like, of churning a matter around in ones mind. The intention driving this process must be to discover the truth behind a saying or clarify the real nature of a principle of belief. We shouldn’t be fooled, this is a skill one has to learn. Thinking to some purpose is a skill we have to acquire. It is also important to note that this kind of "quality thinking" formed an integral part of the texture and culture of Muslims since the time of the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him. A saying attributed to both ibn ‘Abbas and Abu Darda, may Allah be satisfied with both of them, goes like this " Tafakkur for an hour is better than a whole nights salaah." This ability and capacity to think deeply about things is the light of a Muslim. The author compares the human heart to a house and tafakkur to the lamp that provides the light in it. The heart is steeped in darkness without the light of tafakkur. Indeed the full and even basic understanding of our din is beyond the scope of the unthinking.
Tafakkur in the context of din is traditionally divided into four types.
The first is the level of the ordinary people (al-‘ammah). This level involves the search and discussion proofs and arguments to arrive at some conviction. Interesting to note is that the requirement or need for proofs before you believe in Allah, for example, is placed at the most basic level.
The second type of tafakkur is that of the worshippers ( al ‘abidin) whose main interest is to know the rewards of a particular ‘ibadah. They want to get on with the work. Knowledge of the rewards inspire them to greater activity.
A third type is the tafakkur of the ascetics (zuhhad). At this level the main focus is on the contingency of existence. They are deeply impressed by the truth of verses such as " everything will disappear and only the Face of Allah will remain". The results of that kind of thinking, which is often inspired by Allah, is a complete break from this world. They loose interest in wealth, fame, power and position.
The fourth type is the tafakkur of the gnostics (‘arifin). They are the great searchers of the truth behind the universe and its creation. They delve into the secrets of the Names and Attributes of Allah, the Most High. And often they speak of things that far exceed the capacity of ordinary people. They are also the great lovers of Allah, the Most High. Love flows from knowledge of the Beloved. The greater our knowledge of the Beloved the greater out love for Him. So as Imam Ahmad al-Haddad says, " Knowledge comes from tafakkur and from knowledge adoration, and from adoration love".
Rasul Allah (sallah llahu alaihi wa sallam) said: "Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord" and whoever knows his Lord has been given His gnosis and nearness.
Joined: 29 December 2005
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|Posted: 29 March 2006 at 10:22pm|
Jazak Allah Khair brother Rami for posting this.
Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
Joined: 15 November 2005
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|Posted: 30 March 2006 at 4:25am|
Thank you Brother Rami....Jazak Allah Khair..
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Note: The 99 names of Allah avatars are courtesy of www.arthafez.com