Human Development in Islam and Sufism


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My other undergraduate thesis about Islam and Sufism.

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Human Development in Islam and Sufism

  1. 1. HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN ISLAM AND SUFISM: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim By Cameron Campbell 1
  2. 2. INTRODUCTION Any attempt to understand the complexity of Islam benefits from an explanationof its central and most important principle. At the core of Islam is the principle of tawhid,the oneness of God. This principle asserts God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, andomniscience. “There is no God but God”. This over arching theological principle oftawhid extends into society and the individual. Therefore, Islam is a socio-religiouscomplex in which both society and the individual are understood in relationship to theoneness of God and are simultaneous manifestations of a unified spiritual reality.1 As a result of the principle of tawhid, Islam exists simultaneously in differentrealities. On one level Islam is an internal experience of the reality of God’s existence.On another level Islam exists in the external reality of history, society and culture. Assuch Islam can be viewed from a historical and sociological perspective as a socio-religious complex that grew out of various cultural transformations and circumstances inthe Hijaz region of Arabia, and through an exploration of the theory, meaning andmessage of its holy book, the Qur’an. Simply put, Islam was and Islam is. This paper’saim is to view Islam from a historical and sociological perspective while attempting tokeep true to meaning and messages displayed in the Qur’an. However, since, in myopinion there is no conceivable absolute truth, I offer only my humble interpretation ofthis grand and multifarious paradigm of human development. 1 Islam is given new terminology in this paper and will be referred to as the socio-religious complex of Islam. I use the term socio-religious complex because with a littleexplanation it clarifies the holism and multidimensionality of Islam. Firstly I use the wordsocio-religious because Muhammad’s revelations were concerned with not only theinstitution of a new religion but also a new society to practice it in. I use the termcomplex to clarify that Islam is a whole composed of various interrelated parts. 2
  3. 3. I ground my exploration of Islam in various explanations of the concept of humandevelopment on both individual and societal levels. Human development in this contextrefers not only to the development of the individual, but the development of society, as itis human beings that create and animate society with their various beliefs, laws, andrituals. The socio-religious complex of Islam is based on creating a better life for thehuman being by attempting to impose a harmonic order to the complexity and imbalanceof human existence. In our contemporary historical moment Islam has been stigmatized by variousviolent and intolerant manifestations in the form of radical fundamentalisms. This paperattempts to provide a vision of human development in Islam that is rooted in the qualitiesof love, mercy, compassion and generosity and gentleness, and is fortified by a deepsense of egalitarianism, unity, dependence, and harmony on individual and societal levelsand even universal levels. The conception of human development in Islam is based on role of the humanbeing as a servant and representative of God, or kalifa. According to an important Hadith,man was made in the form and image of God, and therefore it in his nature to representHim. As a social-religious complex of Islam nurtures a moral purity in individualsthrough iman, faith and islam, submission, as well as ihsan, doing what is good andbeautiful.2 This moral purity opens their hearts to the Will of God in order that they maytruly express the role of the human being as God’s servant and representative. Being God’s servant and representative implies the active manifestation of God’sWill within the self and within society. Moral purity is attained through a deep and 2 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, (England: OneworldPublications, 2001), 4. 3
  4. 4. sincere realization of God’s Will in space, time, society and history and is developed byfollowing God’s warnings, demands and laws dictated by Muhammad, the Qur’an, theHadiths (sayings of Muhammad), the Sunnah (Muhammad’s code of behavior) and theSharia. These warnings, demands, and laws, if known, followed and experienced at alevel of pure sincerity and certitude, manifest God’s attributes in their proper places andat the proper times, creating an individual, social and universal harmony. This harmonycultivates a deep sense of unity and dependence both in relationship to God, and to fellowhuman beings. Ultimately a deep sincerity and certitude in realizing God’s Will, and being God’sservant and vicegerent, creates a perfect harmony between the two poles of tawhid, God’sdistance, incomparability, wrath, severity, and majesty, or tanzih, and God’s nearness,similarity, mercy, compassion, generosity and gentleness, or tashbih. 3 This harmony alsoreturns the human being to the goodness, beauty, and knowledge of his originaldisposition (fitr), belonging to the prototypical human (Adam), who the Qur’an depicts ashaving been taught all the names of everything in existence, and their proper place in thehierarchy of creation. And, as God’s mercy outshines His wrath, the human beingassumes God’s most predominant qualities of mercy, generosity and compassion thatshine forth from him in infinite splendor. The end of the path of human development inIslam is human perfection. On a historical and sociological level, Islam grew out of complex cultural milleu.Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam received revelations from God creating a newparadigm of human development that responded to a period of social, economic and 3 William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. 4
  5. 5. religious transition in Arabia referred to by scholars and Muslims as the Jahiliyya or “TheTime of Ignorance.” The Qu’ran indicates that historical mission of Islam is to create a just andequitable society that is united by a common faith in One God. The Qu’ran says, “Wehave created the best community ever raised up to mankind enjoining the right andforbidding the wrong, and having faith in God.” (A.J. 3, 110)4 Fazlur Rahman states,“For Muhammad’s monotheism was, from the very beginning, linked up with ahumanism and a sense of social and economic justice whose intensity is no less than theintensity of the monotheistic idea, so that whoever reads the early Revelations of theProphet Muhammad cannot escape the conclusion that the two must be regarded asexpressions of the same experience.”5 The emergence of the socio-religious complex of Islam provided a path of humandevelopment that rejected the arrogance, self-sufficiency, individualism, and theoverwhelming idolatry that pervaded the Jahiliya, and attempted to create a harmoniousspiritual society supported and bound by a common faith and submission to God, and asincerity in carrying out his Will through good, and beautiful actions. The creation of thecommunity of the faithful, the ummah, and the social and economic justice andegalitarianism required within it were, and are actualized and implemented by theindividual’s commitment to fulfilling God’s Will and the role as a servant andrepresentative of God. From a historical and sociological perspective, Islam, dispelled, 4 The Koran Interpreted, trans, Arthur John Arberry, 1st Touchstone edition: (NewYork: Simon and Shuster, 1955). All Qu’ranic references are from this translation andwill contain A.J. 5 Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Second Edition: (1966: Chicago: University of ChicagoPress: 1979), 12. 5
  6. 6. reformed and appropriated various social and religious values that existed in pre-IslamicArabia, and reoriented them into a new paradigm of human development, the socio-religious complex of Islam, which valued the importance of mercy, compassion,generosity as well as social and economic justice and egalitarianism over all other values.Therefore the intrinsic mercy, compassion and generosity intrinsic to Islam can besupported, and validated through a sociological and historical perspective, as well asthrough a theological one. Section 1 of this paper takes a historical and sociological perspective of theparticular social, economic and religious transformations in the Jahiliyya or “Time ofIgnorance, in 6th century Arabia, (Mecca in particular) that led to the emergence of thesocio-religious complex of Islam. The Jahiliyya represents the social, economic andreligious imbalances and problems that God and Muhammad restore through the socio-religious complex of Islam. It provides a description of the dissolution and division oftribal society, and the disintegration values of social and economic egalitarianism, andgenerosity, as a result of increased commericialization and capitalization of Mecca, theKa’bah, and Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh, and the resulting attitude of self-sufficiency,and individualism. It also discusses the various religious conditions that influenced thesocial and economic transformations, and increasing inequality and self-sufficiency, aswell as the influence of various monotheistic faiths, such as hanifism, that influenced theemergence of the monotheistic religion of Islam. Section 2 is an explanation of the socio-religious complex of Islam. The secondsection shows how Muhammad radically re-oriented human development on individualand social levels through the introduction of the socio-religious complex of Islam based 6
  7. 7. on belief in One God and the creation of a society based on social and economic justiceand egalitarianism. New values appear in the form of warnings and demands stressing apersonal devotion to sincerity in fulfilling God’s Will, through faith and submission, asGod’s servant and representative. This section places particular attention on theimportance of tawhid, the oneness of God, and the creation of the ummah, the communityof the faithful, within the socio-religious complex of Islam. In the ummah, theproblematic divisions within tribal society are replaced by a society based on social andeconomic justice and egalitarianism, and religious solidarity. This section discussesaspects of social and economic egalitarianism, within the ummah, such as zakat as well asindividual and collective rituals such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage that are central tobeing God’s servant and representative. and that support the cultivation of moral purityand social harmony in the ummah. This section also highlights the importance ofcosmological pressures and conceptions, such as the emphasis on Paradise, Gehenna andthe Day of Judgment, in enforcing faith and submission to God on individual andcollective levels. Section 3 uses Sufism an example of the most complete expression of humandevelopment in Islam, as it seeks to realize the very nature of man’s existence. In thissection Islam is understood from a theological perspective that illuminates its existence asan inner experience of the divine reality. Sufism is defined as the path to humanperfection. Sufism provides an example of the extent to which the human being canbecome God’s servant and representatives through a balance of tanzih and tashbih.6Human perfection is achieved by realizing God’s Will though a manifestation of His 6 William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. 7
  8. 8. attributes such that the characteristics of Muhammad and eventually God Himself shinethrough the heart. Sufism reveals that the ultimate aim of human development in Islam isto “manifest the fullness of God’s generosity and mercy.”7 It explains the struggles thatman experiences between tanzih and tashbih. It stresses the importance of differenthuman faculties in the path towards human perfection in order to attain a perfectknowledge, and experience of God. Sufism stresses the importance of iman, faith, islam,submission, ihsan, doing what is good and beautiful, and sincerity ikhlas in cultivating anawareness of God.8 This section discusses how Sufis have extended regular Muslimpractices aimed at cultivating a complete awareness of God through techniques of Dhikror remembrance so that they may remember and be with God at all times. It highlights adeeper aim of human development in Islam, beyond the creation of a society of economicjustice, the attainment of human perfection and unity with the Divine mercy, compassion,generosity and love from which all things came and therefore a complete harmony with,God, society, and the universe.SECTION 1SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND RELIGIOUS TRANSITIONS IN THE JAHILIYYA The Prophet Muhammad’s revelations, while universal, certainly addressed andresponded to the social, economic and religious conditions of the time. Since the birth ofIslam both Muslims and Islamicist historians have often referred to pre-Islamic Arabia as 7 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path Of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics ofImagination (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 21. 8 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4. 8
  9. 9. Jahiliyya meaning “Time of Ignorance.” Technically the Jahiliyya refers to the time justbefore the emergence of the religion and community of Islam. The Jahiliyya was by nomeans a static or ignorant period of time. It was in fact defined by change. According tothe Islamic perspective Jahiliyya was defined by social and cultural collapse (a gradualdissolution of tribal values); moral depravity and religious idolatry in the form ofpaganism; a divergence from the true monotheistic religion of Abraham. Although thisdescription of Pre-Islamic Arabia is very simplistic and ignores the complexity anddiversity of Pre-Islamic Arabian religions and society, it provides the description of whatMuhammad was called by God to rectify through the socio-religious complex thatbecame known as Islam. It also clarifies the multidimensional nature of Islam as socio-religious complex that sought to change the course of human development on social,economic and religious levels. The existing social, economic and religious conditions in 6th century Arabiaduring the genesis of Islam were all in a state of progressive transition. The social andindividual developments were changing drastically. The tribal society in whichdedication to ones tribe and clan was the backbone of its ethical framework was beingeroded by a society and culture based on the advancement of individual materialaccumulation and wealth, or what Karen Armstrong calls “a rampant and ruthlesscapitalism.”9 9 Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism,Christianity and Islam (United States: Alfred A. Knopf: 1993), 220. 9
  10. 10. During the 6th century in Arabia there existed two general categories of tribalpeople, the nomadic Bedouin and the sedentary people. 10 The Bedouins were nomadictribal people who lived in the harsh, bleak and barren desert steppes. They herded sheepand camels and depended mostly on their animals’ milk and meat for sustenance withoccasional trading at agricultural oases for grains and dates.11 Bedouins would alsoconduct raids if needs were dire. The sedentary towns people were wealthier than theBedouin and had houses built of mud-brick and stone. Some of them were agriculturalcultivators who settled near oases, others were traders or craftspeople in trading towns, orpracticed a combination of these occupations. 12 Sedentary towns were typically near thecoasts and borders where specific trade relationships had continually developed sinceantiquity. Both the Bedouin and the sedentary townspeople of the Arabian Peninsula hadbeen, for several centuries, surrounded by and either directly or indirectly connected toseveral Empires who competed for wealth, power and religious dominance. Towards theend of the 6th century various sedentary tribes had become increasingly dependent on thecommercial competition and trade of the surrounding Sasanian, Abyssinian and RomanEmpires. Earlier stages of this progressive change had contributed to the diversificationof Arab society and the growth in the numbers of sedentary Arabs as nomadic Bedouins 10 Some scholars have reserved the words Bedouin for the nomads, but others donot. For the sake of clarity I will use the distinction. 11 Johnathan Bloom, Sheila Blair, Islam: A Thousand Years of Power and Faith(United States: Yale University Press: 2002), 10. 12 Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples ( New York: Warner Books,1992), 11. 10
  11. 11. began to settle in trading towns.13 The Empires supported different tribes for tradepurposes and to exert their control over Arabian territories. As a result many tribes beganto accumulate an amount of material wealth and power that generations earlier had beenunforeseen for the people of the area. Many of the tribes near the borders of the largeempires became trade centers and tribes that existed on or in between trade routes alsobenefited. The increased commercialism had a profound impact on the society, cultureand religion of these tribal groups because it replaced tribal values, rituals and ethics withnew ones that held individual wealth to be more important than tribal unity. The gradual changes in the economic demographics of the region characterizedby increased trade were made most manifest in town called (Makkah) Mecca thatbelonged to the tribe of Quraysh situated in the Hijaz, a western coastal area. Mecca notonly provided a perfect example of the progressive transition occurring in Arabiansociety, but was Muhammad’s birth place and the source of the emergence of the religionIslam. Mecca became the most import religious pilgrimage and most important financialcenter in Arabia because of its possession of a very important shrine called the Ka’bahthat hosted a huge variety of statues and representations pagan deities such as Hubal, Al-Uzza (the mighty) Al-Lat (the goddess) and Manat (the goddess of fate, or dahr. as well 14as important representatives of Christianity such as Jesus and Mary. It not only drewpagans but also drew monotheists such as Christians and Hanifs (an early Arab from ofmonotheism, practiced by many including Muhammad based on the rejection of 13 Marshal G. S. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age ofIslam (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1974), 107. 11
  12. 12. polytheism.) Before the emergence and spread of Islam, Arabia was a religiously diverseplace teeming with many different kinds of monotheism, Christianity, Judaism, Hanifism,Zoroastrianism (questionable), and many different kinds of paganism. The Quraysh hadacquired this highly respected shrine under the leader Qussay five generations beforeMuhammad. All trading caravans, merchants and dealers wishing to enter the city of Meccawere required to have all their goods tallied and their trading missions surveyed. Meccanofficials surveyed the values of the textiles, oils, grains and dates that the traders hadaccumulated. For their services, officials collected the fee for entering Mecca, a tax onthe commerce that took place in and around the city. All business ventures had to beconducted before entering the Ka’bah.15 The intense and bustling trade that existed on the outskirts of Mecca and theKa’bah was a result of specific rules and regulations that kept the sanctity of the shrineintact. As Reza Aslan puts it: “Like all Semitic sanctuaries the Ka’bah transformed the entire surrounding area into a sacred ground, making the city of Mecca a neutral zone where fighting among tribes was prohibited and weapons were not allowed. The pilgrims who traveled to Mecca during the pilgrimage season were encouraged to take advantage of the peace and prosperity of the city by bringing with them merchandise to trade. To facilitate this the great commercial fairs of the Hijaz coincided with the pilgrimage season, and the rules for one complemented those for the other.”16 The location of Mecca between two major trade routes made it one of the mostimportant trading centers of Western and Central Arabia. Trade routes coming from the 15 Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam(New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 24. 16 Ibid, 26. 12
  13. 13. East and the South crossed through the town of Mecca bringing it increased commercialand material interaction. As the tribe of Quraysh, and the city of Mecca grew economically it changedsocially and culturally, the important communal values once upheld by tribal societywere replaced by a greedy and materialistic ethic of self-sufficiency and private fortune.These values stood in contrast to the more traditional tribal lifestyle that emphasized theideas of communalism, material obligation and relative egalitarianism, a vengeful systemof justice and an overall dependence on others for survival. The pagan religious systemsof the traditional Bedouin Arabs did not have an overtly ethical character. Religiousbeliefs were secondary to tribal beliefs. There was no “absolute morality dictated by adivine code of ethics” as Reza Aslan puts it.17 The most important concept in tribalsociety was maintaining communal solidarity and unity. In a world that was based not onmaterial accumulation and trade, but constant movement through the harsh and barrendesert steppes of Arabia, survival required a constant dedication to tribal solidarity andunity on behalf of all the tribal members. “Economics” as a system of profit making wasan impractical conception in the tribal world of pre-Islamic Arabia. The closest thing to a religious code of ethics was called belief in muruwah onwhich tribal values were based. The traditional Bedouin concept of muruwah or“generous manliness” or chivalry promoted the virtues of bravery, patience andendurance in suffering, honor, hospitality, strength in battle, concern for justice, completededication to the tribe over the individual and a generous and relatively egalitariandistribution of wealth and possessions among the members of the tribe by the chief 17 Ibid, 42. 13
  14. 14. (Sayyid or Shaykh).18 The Sayyid or Shaykh either inherited his position or was elected as“the greatest of equals” for embodying the ideals of murruwah. The main job of theShaykh or Sayyid was to protect the life of everyone in the tribe, as best he could againstdeath, especially those people who could not easily protect themselves, such as the veryyoung, the elderly, the orphans and the widows. 19 The Bedouins used the word karim to refer to someone who was noble. Thedesignation karim not only praised the individual link to his illustrious ancestors butrepresented the most important virtue of Bedouin, extravagant and unlimited generosityas it was the most blatant and concrete example of nobility. A karim would always beready to fight to preserve his community and his ancestral honor. 20 This conception ofhonor and kinship was the cohesive force of Bedouin society. The concept of nobility and honor in the Jahiliyya however was also closelylinked to a sense of personal dignity that was defined by a refusal “to accept anythingwhatsoever that might degrade his personal dignity, a fierce passionate nature to hurlback with scorn anything that might make him feel humbled and humiliated even in theslightest way.” 21 This characteristic seemed to be more prominent after increasedcommercialism altered the Bedouin lifestyle. 18 Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism,Christianity and Islam, 24. 19 Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 29. 20 Michel Sells, Approaching The Qur’an: The Early Revelations. (United States:White Cloud Press, 1999), 36. 21 Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qur’an: Semantics of the Qu’ranicWeltanschauung (Malaysia: Islamic Book Trust, 2002), 220. 14
  15. 15. Despite the emphasis on personal dignity, in Bedouin tribal society everyone wasvaluable and had to contain a large element of humility, especially toward the Shaykh..To play their part in the survival of the tribe each member was required to follow everycommand of the chief and to hold steadfast to muruwah, but important decisions weremade on a communal basis. However, other tribal members also held specific andimportant positions within Bedouin societies. The Qa’id was the military leader, theKahin, who played the role of poet and soothsayer, and the Hakam who settled domesticand intertribal disputes. The Bedouin system of justice was based on “The Law of Retribution”.22 “TheLaw of Retribution” was based firmly on the communal ethic. It dictated that for everycommitted crime an equal retaliation was taken. For example “the theft of a camelrequired payment of exactly one camel” or the death of one tribal member was avengedby the Shaykh or Sayyid by killing a member of the murderer’s tribe.23 To facilitate thislaw, “blood money” was established for all goods and assets, as well as for every memberof society and even every body part.24 As Karen Armstrong points out, “The vendetta orblood feud was the only way of ensuring a modicum of social security in a region wherethere was no central authority, where every tribal group was a law unto itself and wherethere was nothing comparable to a modern police force.”25 This system of justice oftendrove the tribes into continual warfare and may have been a problematic result of the 22 Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 30. 23 Ibid, 30. 24 Ibid, 30. 25 Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism,Christianity and Islam, 134. 15
  16. 16. communal ethic, but the concern for justice was still strong and the virtues of generosity,patience, hospitality, and endurance in suffering became central to Muhammad’s socio-religious complex. Unfortunately, the commercialism of Meccan society was creating newhierarchies that were destroying the positive virtues of tribal society leading a transitionfrom a communal lifestyle to “a rampant and ruthless capitalism.”26 To be fair, manypeople in the tribe of Quraysh saw their new wealth as a salvation from the harshness ofnomadic life, “cushioning them from the malnutrition and tribal violence that wereendemic to the steppes of Arabia.”27 However, this could only be said by the emergingnouveau riche. The new social and economic stratification of society eroded the socialegalitarianism of tribal society. However, despite whatever cushioning the people of Quraysh and Meccaexperienced there was an over all decline in moral standards. And in reality tribalviolence continued to persist and was being exacerbated and complicated by new socialand economic divisions due to unequal levels of material accumulation and thedisintegration of communal values. Hodgson explains that the attitude of the majority ofMeccans during Muhammad’s time was based on “ individual and group pride and pointof honor- pride in birth, pride in one’s wealth and prowess, pride which lead whencrossed, to an unremitting pitiless vengeance; to a passionate and heedless (if sometimesmagnificent) pursuit of self centered, inherently trivial ends.”28 The extravagant and 26 Ibid, 132. 27 Ibid, 133. 16
  17. 17. unlimited generosity of the Shaykh became an extravagant and magnificent hoarding ofindividual wealth. The Shaykhs of Quraysh and other people of growing wealth andpower had kept honor as a most important principle. However nobility and honor losttheir cohesive force and became more reflective of the individual dignity based on therefusal to be humiliated or to maintain a level of humbleness in the face of any perceivedthreat. Increasing individual wealth began to dissolve the tribal values of socialegalitarianism. Shaykhs were too busy in matters of trade to care any longer forprotecting the poor, weak and disenfranchised. Wealthier members of the tribes, thosewho were part of the ruling tribes, began to build capital without the interests of theweaker and poorer members of the community in mind, creating large gaps between therich and powerful and the poor and weak. Within the tribes, each clan (families within thetribes) began to fight each other for their piece of Meccan wealth and individuals withineach clan became greedy and did not share their revenue. Even the Law of Retribution was ineffective when no one could stand up to theauthority of the wealthiest members of society. Primitive feuds of vengeance began totake on a vicious and unpredictable ferocity. In this context intertribal relations were hardto keep balanced and the survival of less wealthy clans such as Muhammad’s BanuHashim were severely threatened. The pursuit of self-centered ends was promoting, among the men an increasedindulgence in pleasures of the flesh, gambling, and usury (money-lending with interestrates). Extra-marital sex was contributing to the increasingly dissolution of family and 28 Marshal G. S. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age ofIslam, 173, 174. 17
  18. 18. communal ties that were once the key to a good life. There was also a growing lack ofpatience and growing impulsivity as people struggled for worldly significance andpleasure, placing value on material accumulation and individual judgment. The ruling families had not only an economic monopoly over Mecca, but asowners of the Ka’bah they had a religious monopoly. As Reza Aslan tells us, “Considerthat the Hanifs, who the traditions present as severely critical of the insatiable greed oftheir fellow Meccans, nevertheless maintained an unshakable loyality to the Quraysh,whom they regarded as the legitimate agents of the Abrahamic sacredness of Mecca andthe Ka’bah.”29 In a place like Mecca where religion and economics were part of the same system,the progressive transition was not only defined by social and economic changes, butreligious and spiritual changes as well. In a broader historical context the surroundingEmpires had introduced monotheistic beliefs such as Judaism, Christianity andZoroastrianism into Arabia and propagated them. Even the polytheistic paganism of thesedentary Bedouins had become henotheistic, that is, held a high god, (in most casesAllah the Creator) above all others. Furthermore, the practice of hanifism, an attempt atrenouncing polytheism in favor of a return to the pure religion of Abraham had developedin the area of the Hijaz. However, a majority of Meccan and of Arabians for that matterwere still pagans until Muhammad spread the religion of Islam and many submitted tobecome the servant of One God, Allah. Bedouin tribal paganism, even in its henotheistic sedentary formulation, remainedas bleak as their traditional existence as desert nomads when they had to fight each day 29 Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 32 18
  19. 19. for survival. As Izutsu explains it, “The pagan view of life is conceived as a series ofcalamitous events, governed not by the natural law of growth and decay, but by theinscrutable will of a dark, blind, semi personal Being, from who’s strong grip there canbe no escape.”30 Because of frequent death due to blood-feuds and tribal turbulence, theyhad a firm belief in Dahr, Time, which translates as Death, or Fate. The pagan belief system had no explicit conception of human development, suchas the one that exists in Islam. There was no teleological significance to the continuanceof man’s existence, beyond the various cultural elements of self-sufficiency andcapitalism. Generally, there was no meaning or goal to a human’s life beyond what he orshe had as a member of the tribe. As tribal values of social egalitarianism and generosity,were being replaced by material greed, unpredictable barbarism, and the trivial pursuit ofself centered aims, the meaning of life was increasingly measured by individual wealthand power. The emphasis on Dahr, the pagan belief system, gave the poor and theunfortunate people little hope in, or faith about the potential possibilities of this life anddenied all pagans any hope or faith of a better life after death. Karen Armstrong notesthat the “pagan pantheon of deities…had not developed a mythology that explained therelevance of these gods and holy places to the life of the spirit.”31 Many people liketraders or chiefs who accumulated wealth, did not care for the life of spirit, andconsidered their prayer to the pantheon of pagan deities central to the subsistence and 30 Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qu’ran: Semantics of the Qu’ranicWeltangschauung, 132. 31 Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism,Christianity and Islam, 135. 19
  20. 20. creation of their fortune. For those who had the blessings of wealth this semi personalBeing was sufficient, but for the poor and disenfranchised this semi personal Being didnothing for their dim futures other than end them forever. In this context some people began to search elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment thatgave them significance beyond Death through the presence of monotheism. Others, whowere not so fortunate, just longed for it. One can only imagine that there was a lack offaith, especially for poorer and more unfortunate people whose prayers to the variousdeities proved effortless in light of growing social and economic inequality and injustice. A lack of faith also stemmed from a general feeling of inferiority. As is commonthe pagan polytheistic Arabs, especially the desert Bedouins, were mistreated by alienmonotheists and constantly threatened. There was also a feeling of inferiority among theMeccan monotheists (hanifs) such as Muhammad. Many of them asked themselves whythey had been blessed by the presence of the Ka’bah and this great wealth but not by aProphet.SECTION 2THE SOCIO-RELIGIOUS COMPLEX OF ISLAM From the laissez-faire culture of pre-Islamic Arabia, in which one could choosefrom a variety of religions and gods, a menu of evolving cultural systems and anunderlying emphasis of individual self-sufficiency in a city dominated by trade andcommercialization, Islam emerged as holistic alternative paradigm of humandevelopment, a comprehensive socio-religious complex. It was at once a new religion, it 20
  21. 21. created the framework for a new society, and provided the guidelines for systematichuman development. The socio-religious complex of Islam through a fundamental rejection of self-sufficiency and idolatry set about restoring and purifying Abrahamic monotheism,extending the central concept of tawhid, the Oneness of God into every realm of social,economic and political interaction. The concept of a community of believers, the ummah,proposed a vision of society in order to counter act the problems of Jahiliyya. The socio-religious complex introduced an explicit conception of human development on individualand societal levels. The central tenets of Islam, iman, faith and trust in God, and islam,submission to God, actualized the moral qualities allowing man to fulfill the ultimate goalof human development and realize his role as a servant and representative, or khalifa ofGod. A new system of values evolved in which prosperity was the sum of man’s positivevirtues, and good deeds towards God and others. These values on a cultural level werepart of a restoration and revitalization of tribal values and virtues that had been dissolvingin the Jahiliyya and was part of arevitalization of the true religion of Abrahamicmonotheism. Man was urged to strive (jihad) to bring this prosperity about within society atlarge and within the individual. The concepts of Paradise and Gehenna (hell) served as anincentive and a warning. Ultimately this world-view permeated aspects of economicsand governance so that the socio-religious complex of Islam absorbed both church andstate and created a whole new identity above and beyond tribe and nation. It all began with one man, and one experience. Muhammad (ibn al-Ahmed), aman from the tribe of Quraysh, the clan of Banu Hashim, had an experience that called 21
  22. 22. him to prophecy. Muhammad was a merchant and participated in the growing economyof Mecca. He himself had experienced the changing worldview and lifestyles of theMeccans. Muhammad had been born an orphan, and had a deep empathy for thedisenfranchised. Muhammad was a man of moral stature and was deeply concerned withthe social and economic inequality of Meccan society, the dissolution of tribal values andvirtues and the idolatry of the polytheists. It was a ritual for Muhammad, a practicingmonotheistic hanif, to take spiritual retreats and meditate on God, moral responsibility,social and economic inequality or on whatever may be ailing or awing him. During oneof these retreats while Muhammad was meditating in a cave on Mt. Hira he had areligious experience in which God came to Him through the angel Gabriel. God spokethese words through the angel: Recite: In the Name of Thy Lord who created, created Man out of a blood clot, Recite: And Thy Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by the pen, Taught Man what he knew not. No indeed; surely man waxes insolent, For he thinks himself self-sufficient, Surely unto thy Lord is the returning. (96, 1-8 A.J.) This experience began a series of revelations (called the Qur’an, meaningrecitation) that validated the Reality of his monotheistic God, Allah. These revelationsalso validated Muhammad’s role as a prophet and a messenger of God, as well as theleader of a radical social and religious movement. As a result of its holism and multidimensionality the socio-religious complex ofIslam was able to bring about changes on various different levels, notably on theindividual level and on the societal level. At their very core all of these changes are 22
  23. 23. developmental changes because at its very heart Islam is concerned with the ultimateconditions and aims of humanity, in other words human development. The socio-religious complex of Islam, was able to create an explicit conception of humandevelopment through a dramatic reorientation of the beliefs, values and practices thatexisted in the Jahiliyya. Using a term derived from the discipline of DevelopmentStudies, the socio-religious complex of Islam is based on a structural adjustment of thevalue systems of society and the individual as a means of reorienting its developmentaltrajectory.Tawhid The emergence of the socio-religious complex of Islam arose as a result of divinerevelations that dictated to Muhammad the religious and social demands that reorientedthe course of human development. The introduction and reorientation of humandevelopment on social and individual levels rested on the restructuring of value systems.At the top of the new orientation of values, Muhammad placed the transcendental valueof One God. Muhammad’s God was not a new God. Part of Muhammad’s divinelyinspired mission was to restore the pure monotheism of Abraham that had existed in theAbrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity. The polytheistic pagans, and the hanifswere, due to the henotheistic currents of the time, already familiar with a High God,Allah, who was the Creator of the World. Muhammad’s revelations dictated that Allahwas the God of Abraham and the One and only true God in existence. In the new socio-religious complex of Islam self-sufficiency and idolatry were replaced by faith and 23
  24. 24. submission the Will of a single God, Allah, and a commitment to a society based onsocial and economic justice and egalitarianism. In the new system nothing was of value unless it was oriented towards the OneGod, Allah. In this new value system nothing is of value unless it is oriented towards theOne and only God, Allah. Simply put: Allah sits on His Throne at the top (or the center)of the hierarchy of values because he is the source of all existent, and non-existencethings. Muhammad’s revelations continually reminded him and the listener of theomniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God. One aya, or verse from the Suraof the Cow emphasizes this reality clearly. It says: “God, there is no God but He the, Living, the Everlasting. Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heaven and the earth. Who is there that shall intercede by Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them and what is after them, and they comprehend not anything of His knowledge save such as He wills. His Throne comprises the heavens and earth; the preserving of them oppresses Him not. He is the All-high, All-glorious.” (2:259-274). The principle of tawhid implies that there is a greater unity that exists above andbeyond the individual reality of each seemingly independent entity, and person, and thepoint of existence is to realize this larger unity on an individual, societal and universallevel. As a result the socio-religious complex of Islam, is at base an other-oriented systemof human development that shifted the focus away from over indulgence with one’s selftowards the unifying reality of God, as well as toward the unity of the community. Assuch the other-oriented system necessarily focused on the values of compassion, mercyand generosity among other important virtues such as patience, sincerity and humility,through faith and submission to the Will of God. 24
  25. 25. The unity of the ummah is a reflection of God’s unity. On a purely theologicallevel, the ummah is community in which all things were oriented toward God, while on asociological level, this re-orientation also placed a pressure upon the individual to realizeGod’s Will through a commitment to individual and community well-being. Humandevelopment in the socio-religious complex occurrs on both the individual and societallevel as both are part of the divine reality of God. Fazlur Rahman makes clear theimportance of human development on both individual and societal levels in Islam whenhe says: There is no doubt that a central aim of the Qur’an is to establish a viable social order on earth that will be just and ethically based. Whether ultimately it is the individual that is significant and society merely the necessary instrument for his creation or vice versa, is academic, for individual and society appear to be correlates. There is no such thing as a societiless individual.32Faith In the socio-religious complex of Islam, a large emphasis is placed on individualmoral responsibility, defined by faith, iman and submission, islam to the Will of God.Faith and submission replaced the heedlessness, idolatry and self-sufficiency that definedthe Jahiliyya, and provided the basis for servant-hood and represenation. In the early Muslim community Muhammad revitalized the communal tribalvalues of, sincerity, patience and mercy and re-interpreted them into the socio-religiouscomplex of Islam. As part of this new system they were no longer values derived from agodless sense of community commitment and forced allegience to the tribal Shaykh, but 32 Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of The Qur’an, (Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica,1980), 37. 25
  26. 26. values that came from the demands of a divine authority, Muhammad, and through thevoice of God Himself. In the socio-religious complex of Islam, faith in God, demands the values ofpatience and sincerity and mercy. The individual has to be sincere in his beliefs andmerciful in his actions towards God and other people, as God and Muhammad Wills. Healso has to exhibit patience both as an act of self-restraint, as well as part of his faith andtrust in God, the acknowledgment that God’s Will dictated the past, present and thefuture.33 The Qur’an indicates that, iman , faith or trust in God, includes belief in theprinciples tawhid, prophecy, and eschatology. Faith in tawhid means anacknowledgement that God is One. Faith in prophecy entails a belief in the lineage of theAbrahamic prophets or messengers, the final and most purified being Muhammad, andHis Books (the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths). Faith in eschatology means a belief inthe Last Days, when each individual is judged by God and sent to Paradise or Gehenna.Submission In the socio-religious complex of Islam, iman, faith, was accompanied by islam,which means, submission, surrender or servitude, and comes from the same root as theword peace. As Karen Armstrong points out about the early Muslim community, “Inpractical terms, islam meant that Muslims had a duty to create a just and equitable society 33 Marshal G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age ofIslam, 174. 26
  27. 27. where the poor and vulnerable are treated decently.”34 Quite literally then, Islam is thereligion of submission, peace and equality. Submission, as the word implies, meantacknowledging that the individual was dependent on God, and obedient to Him. It was anexistential surrender to God’s omnipotence, omniscience. Therefore submission, not onlydefined the relationship between God and the individual, but also the relationshipbetween one Muslim and his fellow Muslims. Submission, in Islam entails an activeduality, based on the rejection of self-sufficiency and idolatry, and commitment to thecommunity of the faithful. When submitting to God Muslims have a commitment to the community of thefaithful, the ummah as well. As John L. Esposito says, “…the submission incumbent onthe Muslim is not that of mere passivity or acceptance of a set of dogmas or rituals, ratherit is a submission to the divine command, to strive (jihad) to actively realize God’s Willin space-time, and history.”35 The active realization of God’s Will in space, time andhistory was the defining characteristic of being God’s servant and representative. Like the values of patience, sincerity and mercy that followed from a sense offaith in God, the values of humility and generosity that followed from submission to Godwere appropriated from the tribal Bedouin context and given new significance in thesocio-religious complex of Islam. Submission to God and the ummah bestowed thevalues of humility and generosity to the believer. The individual had to be humble in theface of God, but also generous toward Him. On societal level these qualities had to be 34 Karen, Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest for JudaismChristianity and Islam, 142. 35 Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. By John L. Esposito, (United States: OxfordUniversity Press, 1983), 4. 27
  28. 28. expressed towards other individuals as well.36 The values of humility and generosityreplaced the egotism, greed and arrogance that were blatant in the Jahiliyya. Iman and islam function as a symbiotic system within the ummah. That is, theydepend on each other for strength and continuity. True submission can only be attained ifone has true faith and trust in God. True faith and trust in God requires submission toGod’s Will. The unification of iman and islam led to ihsan, doing the beautiful.37 As ateam iman, and islam helped the individual develop taqwa, God-wariness or God-consciousness which sharpened his awareness of the omnipresent, omniscient, andomnipotent Allah.Paradise And Gehenna Muhammad, following his revelations presented to the people of Mecca and thesurrounding areas a choice between two different relationships. In the Islamic context themenu of religions and lifestyles had been simplified to a right religion and lifestyle,Islam, on the one hand, and a large pool of wrong ones on the other. Islam acceptedChristians and Jews as people of the Book, and therefore gave them a certain amount ofrespect, but the various types of pagans and polytheists, often called “unbelievers” in theQuran were considered to be ignorant, heedless and wrong. Ambiguous conceptions of human development that differed from the Islamicconception failed to understand the very nature and purpose of humanity, the very 36 Marshal G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age ofIslam, 174. 37 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4. 28
  29. 29. teleology of human existence. It can be said that Islam introduced a definitive conceptionof human development and a beneficial teleological philosophy, in a culture that mayhave lacked a cohesive one, based on the idea of the human being as a servant andrepresentative of God. In the socio-religious complex of Islam, on one hand, an individual can submitand have faith in God and accept his moral and social demands, in which case God willaccept him out of his mercy and guide him in the straight path of moral purity and ensuresocial harmony. In the Quranic context the realization of these moral and social demandsis described as “doing good deeds.” Doing good deeds if followed properly is what makes someone a good servantand representative and allows the individual to live eternally in Paradise after the Day ofJudgment. This is the only right choice in the Islamic context. It allows the human beingto develop to his fullest capacity. On the other hand, in contrast to the idea of Paradise, people can turn away fromGod, and become absorbed in their own personal wishes and fortunes, in which case Godwould turn away from them, and they would by punished by burning in the hell fires ofGehenna as heedless “evil doers.” Muslims can also be heedless and ignorant andhypocritical, if they claim to be Muslims but fail to do good deeds and therefore fail to begood servants and representatives. However, the Qur’an also emphasizes that God isforgiving to those who repent, as a result of His ultimate mercy and compassion.Unbelievers are considered to have ingratitude (kufr), but if they repent, remember God,and the path they were created for, they are forgiven. 29
  30. 30. The conception of Paradise was central to the reorientation of humandevelopment particularly on an individual level because it changed the fate and destiny ofman. Firstly, it replaced the pagan notions of Dahr, that emphasized the tragedy of lifeand the imminence of final and total death, with the more rewarding conception Paradise.As Izutsu puts it so beautifully, “In fact the Qur’ an offers an entirely different picture ofthe human condition. All of a sudden the sky clears up, the darkness is dissipated and inplace of the tragic sense of life there appears a bright new vista of the eternal life.”38Secondly, the concepts of Paradise and Gehenna places a pressure of ultimateconsequence on the actions, thoughts and intentions of the individual. The beautifuldescriptions of Paradise and the horrible descriptions of Gehenna make individuals fearGod, and places greater emphasis on the importance of dependence and obedience, andfaith and submission.Prosperity One of the defining characteristics of the Jahiliyya was the increasedcommercialism and capitalism that gave rise to a culture that emphasized individual self-sufficiency and wealth accumulation. Therefore, prosperity was measured by theaccumulation of material goods. In the socio-religious complex of Islam the idea ofprosperity is completely reoriented. Ideas of material prosperity are replaced withprosperity that implies giving as opposed to gaining. Prosperity in the Islamic contextdoes not entail making as much money, or accumulating as many material possessions aspossible, but entails a strict adherence to God’s moral and social demands, and an 38 Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qu’ran: Semantics of the Qu’ranicWeltangschauung, 136. 30
  31. 31. understanding of tawhid. The greatest type of prosperity, eternal prosperity isexperienced in the afterlife if the individual lived a good enough life. The Qur’an saysquite explicitly: Prosperous are the believers who in their prayers are humble and from idle talk turn away and at alms giving are active and guard their private parts save from their wives and what their rights own then being not blameworthy (but who-ever seeks more than that those are the transgressors) and who preserve their trusts and their covenant and who observe prayers. those are the inheritors, who shall inherit Paradise therein dwelling forever. (23 1- 12 A.J.) In A.J Arberry’s interpretation of the Quran, the source of these ayas, alsoprovides us within another example of a similar re-orientation in his use of the word“wage”. In many places the word “wage” is used in reference to the good judgment anindividual will receive on the Day of Judgment as opposed to a material wage or apaycheck. The Quran says: Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, And perform the prayer and pay the alms- their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall theysorrow. (2: 275-280 A.J.) 31
  32. 32. The Ummah In the socio-religious complex of Islam the ummah, the community of the faithful,is a defining element because it brings together the social and religious dimensions of thecomplex, bridging the illusive gap between individual and societal development. The ummah is the time and space where God’s Will is realized, and where thejihad, or striving, takes place.39 The ummah provides a community where Muslimsexperience and fulfill their representation and servitude to God. As John L. Esposito says,“the ummah serves as a dynamic vehicle for the realization of the divine mandate insociety.”40 The personal devotion to moral responsibility, through submission and faith inGod is asserted and experienced by individual and communal acts within the ummah.Complete sincerity in faith and submission implies a purification of the body, the mind,and the heart of each of the individual. Every single thing an individual acts, thinks andintends within the ummah had moral and spiritual significance. The Quran says, “We have created the best society known to man, enjoining theright and forbidding the wrong”(3, 10). God demands that society and the individual hadto be put into a social harmony so that the environment was ideal for the realization ofGod’s Will, for fulfilling the role of servant and representative of God and for the proper `39 The word ummah, has been used to refer to several different things. It is alwaysa reference to the unified body of Muslims, or the ummah al muminin, the community ofthe faithful. However it is also used to refer specifically to the first Islamic polity,Medinat-al-nabi, the City of the Prophet, or more simply Medina, the city. This isbecause Medina was separated from Meccan and Qurayshy society, and was able tobecome subject to its own rules, regulations, practices and rituals. It was in Medina thatthe ummah was solidified into a coherent social complex, and Islam into a cohesivesocio-religious complex. In fact the Jahilliya ends with the migration of Muhammad andhis followers to the area of Yathrib where he founded Medina. 40 Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. By John L. Esposito, (United States: OxfordUniversity Press, 1983), 4. 32
  33. 33. development of a perfect society. In reality the ummah has never been the utopia thatMuslims and scholars wish it could be. The ummah is increasingly divided and has beenthat way since shortly after Muhammad’s death. As Islam expanded the ummah began tobecome more institutional, political and more hierarchical becoming guilty of its owninitial critiques of greed, self-sufficiency and idolatry. But its basic foundations of thefirst Islamic polity, Medina, were based on ideas of social and economic justice andegalitarianism that emphasized mercy and compassion. These were values that were heldby tribes before the transition to commericialization, therefore the first ummah was inmany ways much more like a traditional Bedouin tribe, but with a reformedunderstanding of social and economic justice and egalitarianism within a new socio-religious framework. Although this discussion looks at the ummah, in a theoretical andidealized manner, it does so in order to reveal the intrinsic love, mercy, compassion andgenerosity within it. The ummah as a community serves as the collective embodiment of the rejectionof self-sufficiency and idolatry. These individual and collective rituals is based on therejection of shirk. Shirk is the worst sin as it implies putting others in the place of God.The Meccan predicament was one where people not only placed pagan deities aboveGod, but also themselves. This predicament tended to make the individual interested onlyin his personal issues at the moment. Shirk divorces one from realizing tawhid, and thehumility of individual significance. In the ummah, shirk is destroyed by a social andreligious piety. Piety is not an act of pride or caprice, but an act of humility towards Godand others. Individual piety without a service to the community led to greed, egotism and 33
  34. 34. a false sense of independence and self-sufficiency that corresponded to evil. A Qur’anicpassage indicates that: It is not piety, that turn your faces to the East and to the West. True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Last Day, the angles, the Book, and the Prophets, to give of one’s substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, the needy the traveler, beggars and to ransom slaves, to perform the prayer to pay the alms. And they who fulfill their covenant and endure with fortitude, misfortune, hardship and peril, these are they who are true in their faith, these are the truly god-fearing. (2:177 A.J.) In the ummah Muslims are not only dependent on God, but they are dependent onother Muslims. Within the ummah the intrinsic mercy and compassion of Islam becomemanifest in a society based on justice and social and economic egalitarianism. The earlyummah acted as an alternative to the social and economic problems of the Jahiliyya. Inthis way it reoriented the course of human development on a societal level. Unlike the tribal societies of the Jahiliyya and pre-Jahiliyya, the ummah is notbased on tribal ties, but religious solidarity. Society is no longer governed by tribal law,but by God’s Law, the Sharia, revealed through Muhammad. Justice was no longeradministered by man-made judgment, but by the judgment of God. The ummah functionswith the idea the earth belonged to God, and people were its stewards and caretakers, andGod’s servants and representatives. In the early ummah tribal vengeance and retaliationwere subordinated to a belief in an all merciful and all compassionate God.41Muhammad, as the most perfect representative of God, became the chief (Skaykh), themilitary commander (Qaid), the lawgiver (Hakam), and the settler of all disputes in thefirst Islamic polity in Medina. 34
  35. 35. In the Jahiliyya society became increasingly divided between the haves and thehave-nots as tribal values of social and economic egalitarianism were replaced bycapitalism and individualism. The poor, weak and disenfranchised had little hope to leada good life as they were pushed to the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy andfor many, their religious beliefs did not provide them with the spiritual sustenance theyneeded to transcend their poverty. Theoretically, in the community of the faithful, all people, as Muslims, are equal,belong to the same identity group, are subject to the same laws and rules and share thesame individual and communal rituals. According to the Qu’ran people are the sameunder God and differ only in terms of virtue and goodness. So, perhaps in this situationequity is a better word than equality. Specific social and economic rituals such as prayer,alms tax and fasting and pilgrimage are demanded in the ummah for the specific purposeof placing all humans on the same level before God, as a way of unifying them in theirroles as servants and representatives of God. These rituals are used to turn humans awayfrom their individual selves in order to realize that they were not self-sufficient entities,but are dependent on both each other and on a greater unifying reality, God. In this way,the ummah has a high level of conformity to build social and spiritual cohesion and toenhance a feeling of unity and dependence. The early Muslim community provided socio-economic reforms that benefited thepoor, the weak, orphans, slaves, widows and women. One of the most characteristicelements of the Jahiliyya was the social and economic inequality. This inequality wasrectified in the early ummah through various social and economic reforms in the form ofprohibitions and community obligations. These reforms become defining elements of the 35
  36. 36. ummah. Usury, or money lending with interest is outlawed along with gambling,intoxication, bribery, the abuse of women, false contracts, and individual hording ofwealth. The creation of individual wealth is not forbidden, hard work is seen as God’spleasure and is good, but it is limited by other demands that had more importance.Reflecting the important tribal values of social and economic egalitarianism the Qur’anforbids individual hoarding of wealth. It says: Consume not your goods between you in vanity; neither proffer it, to the judges, that you may sinfully consume a portion of other men’s goods, and that unwittingly. (A.J. 2:184) The true reward for hard work is not material prosperity but social responsibilitytoward the community as an expression of mercy, compassion and generosity. The mostimportant socio-economic reform in the creation of the first Islamic society was theinstitution of zakat, an alms tax distributed to the poor and disenfranchised, and the act ofvoluntary charity (sadaqa). The Qur’an says, “The free will offerings are for the poor andneedy. Those who work to collect them, those whose hearts are brought together, theransoming of slaves, debtors, in God’s Way and the travelers; So God ordains; God isAll-knowing All-wise” (A.J. 9:60.) The importance of zakat is revealed in the Qur’an. But, as a cultural practice,zakat was adopted from earlier practices conducted by tribal Shaykhs involving the equaldistribution of resources among tribes and clans. Zakat is one of the characteristicelements of social and economic egalitarianism within the ummah. However, in Islamicsociety zakat, which means purity, was not only an socially and economically egalitarianaction, but one that prevents man from evil and forced him to re-evaluate his ultimate 36
  37. 37. becoming and significance. This action purifies the will of individual and gave themsincerity by parting with something that they held dear. It is an assertion of compassion,generosity and mercy toward other people, as well as humility and sincerity. In the act ofgiving up something, individuals learn the importance of self-sacrifice for the greatergood of humanity, while at the same time ensuring a place in Paradise for themselves byfollowing God’s demands. Zakat, provides the perfect example of the social andeconomically egalitarian foundation of the ummah. It maintains the intrinsic compassionand mercy of the socio-religious complex of Islam. It also shows the extent to which thereorientation of human development occurred. Within the ummah prayer is among the most emphasized acts. Prayer is a methodof integrating the faculties of body, mind and heart into a single gesture towards God andMuhammad. Prayer is conducted by prostrations followed by various praises to God.Prayer is done both individually and communally. The unified prostrations of communalprayer provide a great example of the equality of the human being under God. During theact of prayer man is prevented from evil. Prayer clarified man’s dependence on God andgoodness. It provides the human being with a way to worship something of greatersignificance than themselves, while others were doing the same. Among the other most emphasized acts are the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, andfasting during the month of Ramadan and. During these rituals Muslims experienceindividual sacrifice, and individual spiritual growth in, as well as collective harmony. TheHajj provides an excellent example of the ritual equality of the ummah. During the Hajjpeople adorn traditional Muslims dress to create a visible uniformity. Looking at picturesof millions of Muslims prostrating before the Ka’ba all at once, creates an image of 37
  38. 38. universal humility, as people of all races, colors, ethnicities, and financial status’ areblended into a sacred ocean of prayer. The practice Fasting forces one to experience what it is like to not have food andsustenance, placing one in a state of both physical and metaphorical poverty. The act offasting forces all Muslims to empathize with the disenfranchised, the weak, and the poor.As well, a full stomach gives people a sense of self-satisfaction and indifference, andhunger is an acute reminder of one’s dependency on God. 42 The socio-religious complex of Islam brought forth a new system of values basedon faith and submission to One God, and a commitment to social and economic justiceand egalitarianism within the ummah. In the ummah, the intrinsic love, mercy,compassion and generosity of Islam is understood as central to the development of thehuman being and the development of society.SECTION 3SUFISMSufism As A Critique And A Road Map Of Human Development In Islam William Chittick in Sufism: A Short Introduction, explains, “The early Sufimasters held that they spoke for the animating spirit of the Islamic tradition. From theirpoint of view, where this spirit flourishes, Islam is alive to its own spiritual and moralideals, but to the extent that it languishes, Islam becomes desiccated and sterile, if it 42 Carl Ernst. The Shambala Guide To Sufism, (Boston: Shambala,1997), 99. 38
  39. 39. survives as all,”43 According to Chittick, Sufism refers to a reality that stems from theheart of the Islamic tradition, so there are those who may not call themselves Sufis, butare alive to the spiritual and moral ideals of Islam. Although Sufism refers to an esotericreality at the heart of Islam, that transcends history, Sufism is a cultural phenomenonlinked to a cumulative tradition that came to prominence in the 8th century, and becameinstitutionalized in the 12th century. As Chittick points out, “On the first level – which isthe primary concern of the Sufis – Sufism has no history, because it is an animatingpresence within the community of the faithful. On the second level – which concernsboth Muslim observers and modern historians – Sufism’s presence makes itself knownthrough certain characteristics of people and society or certain specific norms.”44 Sufism, both as an inner reality and a cumulative tradition are grounded inimportant critiques of the ways humans develop within Islamic society, and the world atlarge. After Muhammad’s death, the ummah soon became increasingly divided, as did thesocio-religious complex of Islam itself. The unification of politics and religion in theummah ultimately proved to be one of its most problematic elements. People consistentlyused God’s Will as an excuse for self-centered and egotistical aims. The personal andsectarian motivations within Islamic society fragmented the initial religious solidarity andsocial and economic justice and egalitarianism of the ummah. Throughout history, Sufishave claimed that Islamic ideals have not been upheld with enough sincerity, as theyobserved the ethical bankruptcy of Islamic society. 43 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 21. 44 Ibid, 4. 39
  40. 40. If we accept Chittick’s explanation that Sufism lives up to the spiritual and moralideals of Islam, than the Sufi critique of human development within Islamic society andthe world at large, is that human beings have failed to live up to their potential as servantsand representatives of God, failed to reflect the ultimate knowledge, goodness and beautyof their original disposition, failed to allow God’s attributes of mercy, compassion,gentleness, generosity and love to shine through their hearts, and that the ummah hasfailed in its mission to create a perfect and harmonic society. The evolution of Sufism,both as an inner reality of Islam, and a multifaceted cumulative tradition, has throughvarious means tried to revitalize and re-establish the reality of God’s mercy, compassion,generosity, and love in Islam, and the importance of gaining nearness to God through anassumption of these attributes. Sufis have consistently been accused by other Muslims asbeing, unorthodox, blasphemous, and even heretical, because they practiced variousforms of worship that were not dictated in the mandatory Shariite laws and practices ofthe ummah. The great theoretical Sufis were grounded in the sciences of Islam such asjurisprudence (the study of law) and dogmatic theology, or kalam, as they held rationalityand intellect to be a God given gift, however Sufis were critical of a purely rationalapproach to understanding and obeying God, because it tended to stress tanzih, God’stranscendence, distance, incomparability, wrath, and majesty.45 For the Sufis, God had tobe experienced through other forms of knowledge such as the faculty of imagination, andthrough methods of creative expression, that stressed God’s imminence, nearness,similarity, mercy and beauty, tashbih.46 45 William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. 46 Ibid, 25. 40
  41. 41. In trying to transform human development on individual and societal levels, thetradition of Sufism is somewhat analogous to the rise of Islam as a means to endow thehuman being and society with a higher moral tone and a deeper sense of faith andsubmission to God. Sufism attempts to live up to the moral and spiritual ideas of theIslamic tradition, as well as to dispel, reject and unveil the evil, oppressive and limitingforms of its external manifestations within society and the world at large. Sufism attemptsto return and deliver Islamic society, and the Muslim from the clutches of God’s wrath, tothe embrace of His mercy.Sufism As The Path To Human PerfectionIntroduction The tradition of Sufism is vast and diverse, and can be explained, understood andexperienced in various ways. However at the heart of every description of Sufism, andevery Sufi teaching, is a deep concern with the proper development of the human being,and the betterment of humanity as a whole. Within the context of the Islamic tradition,Sufism provides the most complete example of human development, as it concerns itselfwith the attainment of human perfection. In order to explain Sufism as the path to humandevelopment I explore various themes. I begin with the most important principle ofIslam, tawhid. Tawhid suggests that God is one, but he manifests himself in variousways. The human being defines his relationship to God based on his struggle betweentanzih, God’s incomparability, mercy, wrath, severity, and majesty and tashbih, God’smercy, beauty and generosity and gentleness.47 The Sufis tend to stress tashbih.48 47 Ibid, 25. 41
  42. 42. This struggle is clarified in the next section by an explanation of man’s originaldisposition, his innate duality between incomparability and similarity to God, and hisunique role as the servant and representative of man. This section also emphasizes thesincerity with which the Sufis take the role of servant-hood and representation. For theSufis servant-hood and representation is not only a way of fulfilling the will of God, butactualizing His divine image and form through an assumption of His attributes. The next section emphasizes the fulfillment of man’s dual role as a servant andrepresentative on the Sufi path. Servant-hood is associated requires the acknowledgmentof man’s imperfection and associated with tanzih.49 This section also discusses thepoverty, humility and fear that commonly appear at the beginning of the path.Representation is associated with tashbih and is a way to explain man’s nearness,similarity and love of God.50 Together servant-hood and representation provide the basisfor manifesting God’s mercy and generosity, as they are the forces of creation and reality.A brief explanation of the system of masters and disciples follows to give a sense of howthis relationship is reflected in Sufi orders. Following the discussion of the fulfilment of servant-hood and representation, Idiscuss the important of iman, faith, islam, submission and ihsan.51 These threedimensions help clarify the importance of the perfections of action, thoughts andintentions. This section plays particular attention to ihsan as a reflection of Sufism 48 Ibid, 25 49 Ibid, 25 50 Ibid, 25 51 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4. 42
  43. 43. because it cultivates awareness of God through the heart. After this I discuss theimportance of perfecting the human faculties of reason or rationality, imagination, andsensuality, or creative expression. I speak to the importance of all these faculties, butemphasize the superiority of imagination in gaining a direct knowledge of God’s namesand the benefits of the faculty imagination in experiencing God’s self disclosure. A discussion of sincerity, ikhlas and bewilderment follows in order todemonstrate the various states, stages and stations on the Sufi path, as the heart opens upto God’s self-disclosure.52 It also clarifies the Sufi’s struggle between nearness anddistance, fear and love. To emphasize the tension of the paradox between tanzih andtashbih, I remind the reader of the misleading linearity that occurs as a result variousexplanations of the Sufi path and of human development in the Islamic context. The Sufipath is really a pendulum that swings back and forth to and from God.53 Then, I discuss the various ways Sufis remember and invocate God through Dhikrin order to emphasize the importance of remembering God in order to attain totalawareness of God’s love, mercy, compassion towards God and others. I end with an explanation of assuming the character traits of God in order to painta picture of perfect man as manifesting the mercy, compassion, love and generosity ofGod above all other attributes. Through manifesting God’s names in their proper orderman experiences a state of complete unity and harmony with God, society and theuniverse. I provide quotes from different Sufis, classical and contemporary, in order tosuggest the diversity of the expression of these attributes within Sufism. I clarify that 52 Ibid, 6. 53 Ibid, 6. 43
  44. 44. unifying message of human development in Islam, that mercy, compassion, love andgenerosity are the most important characteristics of God, of man, in society and in theuniverse.Important Themes on the Sufi Path to Human PerfectionTawhid And The Path To Human Perfection The path to human perfection in Islam is rooted in the principle of tawhid, theoneness of God. Tawhid asserts that God is one, but He manifests Himself in manydifferent ways. Although all things in the cosmos are other than God, they all derive theirreality from Him. The human being’s relationship to God is defined by the way heexperiences God’s attributes in the self, and in the world. The Qur’an describes God asdistant and incomparable and therefore wrathful, severe and majestic, tanzih, as well asnear and similar and therefore merciful, and, beautiful and generous, tashbih.54 On theSufi path, human development is defined by a struggle to create a balance between thevarious ways in which God reveals his attributes in the soul and in the world. This isrooted in the importance of developing an awareness of God that is so central to thereligion of Islam. The Sufis tend to stress God’s nearness and similarity, and his mercyand generosity, as these are the more personal and positive characteristics - the ones thatlive up to the intrinsic mercy and compassion of the socio-religious complex of Islam.The Sufi’s adhere to a saying that clarifies this: “God’s mercy predominates His wrath”and believe that all things are a result of God’s ultimate mercy, even His wrath. 54 Ibid, 25 44
  45. 45. Within the Islamic tradition there are various different paths of humandevelopment and of attaining human perfection. Each path, as a result of its particularmethodology and approach, tends to focus on specific attributes of God. For example, thekalam experts who study dogmatic theology use rationality to understand the relationshipbetween the human and God, and as a result of the differentiating and discernmentinvolved in rationality, they inevitably stress God’s distance and incomparability, and hiswrath, majesty and severity. Sufism, although equally as diverse in methodology andapproach provides a more holistic approach to the path towards human perfection thatrequires using each human faculty to both understand and experience the totality ofGod’s attributes. However, Sufis believe that the heart is the center of consciousness, andthat knowing and experiencing God’s attributes through the heart is the ultimate humanexperience, as it is through the heart that the human will is purified and replaced with theWill of God. With a purified heart, the human being becomes a true servant andrepresentative of God. Various Sufis disagree as to the final outcome of living withGod’s Will. Some theories seek more of a balance than others, but as a whole Sufismpresents the predominance of mercy and generosity that shines forth in infinite splendorthrough perfect man.55The Original Disposition Of Man And His Innate Duality Sufi’s take the role of servant-hood and representation with the utmost sincerity.In Sufi theory, it is made explicit that man was the most important of creations, and themost unique. The fundamentals of human development in Sufism are based in the Islamic 55 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysicsof Imagination. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), 28. 45
  46. 46. description of man’s important and unique position in relation to God and the world. Inthe Qu’ranic understanding of the origins of humankind, (insan) man (Adam) was createdout of clay, like the other animals that appeared on earth. However, God also blew intohim of His Spirit, the angelic quality, thereby giving them a unique potential that no othercreature had been endowed with.56 The spirit, since it came from God, gave man aninherent nearness and similarity to Him, however at the same time the quality of claydenoted a distance, and incomparability to God. This composition gave man the capacityto sink lower than the level of animals, characterized by self-serving instinct andprimitive sensuality, or higher than the angels, characterized by pure goodness, beautyand intellect.57 According to Ibn al Arabi,, this composition also defined the strugglebetween God’s simultaneous incomparability, and similarity. He said, “So it was thesetwo relationships- the relationship of incomparability and that of similarity-which turnedtheir attentiveness toward the creation of man.”58 The Qur’an also explains that, “He taught Adam the names, all of them.” (AJ.2,31). Sufis interpret this to mean that Adam was given the knowledge of everything increated existence. God made the angels bow to Adam as a result of his unique position ofspiritual exaltation and his knowledge of the names. All of the angels bowed to Adam,except Iblis who thought he was better, and had too much pride. Iblis was sent to earth as 56 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi,(New York: State University of New York Press, 1983), 61-73. 57 Ibid, 61-73. 58 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysicsof Imagination, 277. 46
  47. 47. a result of this sin and became Shaytan, (the devil) the evil force that influenced pride,egotism and envy.59 The Adamic story clarifies the self-centered desires and heedlessness of man.Adam fell to earth, because Iblis tempted him and he became forgetful and unaware ofGod as well as the angelic spirit within him. He lost his originally good and beautifuldisposition and his initial knowledge of all the names. Man’s angelic intellect had fallenvictim to his self-serving animal instincts, and he became egotistical in his desires andprone to the impulses of sensuality, and evil and devilish deeds. However beneath theugly coat of man’s egotistical disposition, still lay an inner spiritual garment with thepotential to transcend his very predicament. It is this inner spiritual garment that the Sufiswish to actualize by a purification of the will through the opening of the heart. Although Adam and Eve did disobey God, God made them do it because hewanted to place a servant and representative on earth. The Qur’an says, “ I am setting inthe earth a viceroy.”(A.J. 2:28) According to a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad,commonly quoted by Sufis, originally, man (Adam) was also created in the form orimage of God. In the Sufi context servant-hood and representation is more than a merestewardship, or a dominion over the various creatures, and the earth itself, but arealization of God Himself in the soul and the world, and actualization of the divineimage and form. For Sufis, true servant-hood and representation means becoming, “his hearing, hissight, and his hand.”60 Thus, true servant-hood and representation occurs by embodying 59 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi,82-95. 47
  48. 48. the Will of God, through manifesting His attributes in the soul and the world. Man’sposition of servant-hood and representation is known as the Trust. Man accepted theTrust at a meeting between man and God called the Covenant of Alast. However, man’sheedless nature often leads him to forget this primordial agreement with God. Thefamous Sufi, Jallaludin Rumi reminds us of the importance of remembering our role andposition on earth, as a servant and representative of God and as the basis for humandevelopment, and the basis of the Sufi path to human perfection: There is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you forget everything else but not that one thing, than have no fear. But if you perform, remember and do not forget all things, but you forget that, you have done nothing…We have offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it; and man carried. Surely he is sinful, very foolish… (XXXIII 72).61Fulfilling the Roles of Servant and Representative of God Fulfilling the roles of servant and representative of God requirescultivating an awareness of God’s various attributes. The roles of man as both aservant and representative of God embody an inherent duality that provides apreliminary example of what is required on the path to human perfection in theSufi context. The relationship between servant-hood and representation is laid outclearly in this passage by William Chittick. 60 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysicsof Imagination, 176. 61 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi,63. 48
  49. 49. Human beings in function of their dual relationship with God have two main roles: to be God’s servant and to be his vicegerent. In order to become a vicegerent, which implies nearness to God, they must first accept their servant-hood - their distance from God - and act in accordance with it. God in his mercy desires that human beings not remain distant but rather gain nearness, but they have to choose nearness of their own accord. The Sharia is the straight path that leads to the waters of life.62 The acknowledgement of servant-hood in Sufi theory is rooted in the conceptionthat the human being is imperfect in relation to God’s Absolute perfection. In a similarfashion, human reality and existence, is in fact un-real and non-existent in relation toGod’s Absolute existence and His absolute reality. With the realization of theimperfection of the human being comes a feeling of humility, poverty and fear on behalfof the Sufi. A Sufi on the path is often given a name that denotes poverty and humilitysuch as the Persian darvish, or Turkish dervish, and the Arabic, faqir, or as adapted intoEnglish, fakir, both of which mean “poor man.”63 A position of fear is commonly aninitial stage on the Sufi path usually defined or followed by an escape from society, or adenunciation of various outward norms, and intense ascetic practices. The role of man asGod’s servant asserts and reflects God’s, distance, incomparability and His wrath,severity and majesty. The role of man as God’s representative presents a closer relationship with God,and reflects His more personal characteristics. As a representative of God man has tochoose to gain nearness to God on his own. Through a systematic process of embodying 62 William C. Chittick and Sachiko Murata, The Vision of Islam, (New York:Paragon, 1994), 128. 63 Carl Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (United States: Shambhala, 1997),3 49
  50. 50. the attributes of God, man reflects these attributes, and represents them in their propertimes and places. Representation asserts God’s nearness, similarity, and His mercy,compassion and gentleness, beauty and generosity. Sufis towards the end of the path areoften given the title of lover, or lover of God, to denote a position of representation, andemphasize their nearness and similarity to God. In all Sufi paths to human perfection totallove for God is the ultimate aim. As servants and representatives of God, and as the vessel for the manifestation ofhis attributes, the aim of the individual on the Sufi path is, as Ibn al Arabi states, “Tomanifest the fullness of His generosity and mercy,” within the soul and the world.64 Sufisoften quote the hadiths that say, “I loved to be known so I created the world,” and “I wasa Hidden Treasure and I longed to be known.”65 From the perspective of the human beingcreation itself was an act of His ultimate love, mercy, compassion and generosity. TheQur’an states many times the God’s Mercy dominates His wrath, and every chapter butone beings with Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim, which means “In the Name of God, theAll Merciful and Compassionate. Ultimately, in the Islamic context the end of a human being’s life, is defined by areturn to God. Based on how well he has fulfilled his role as servant and representative,and how sincere he was in faith and submission, he goes either to Paradise or Gehenna.However the Sufis seek to “die before they die”, and be near to God at all times. ForSufis a return to God is not the end of life, but the beginning of human perfection. 64 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysicsof Imagination. (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 21. 50
  51. 51. Masters and Disciples Sufism, despite its claim to creating a direct relationship with the divine, havefostered a master and disciple relationship. Dervishes were and still are, distinguishedfrom, Prophets, Shaykhs and saints (wali ’Allah, or friends of God) and placed on acosmological hierarchy that transcends space and time, traced back by Sufi genealogiesto the Prophet Muhammad. Masters act as mediators between Sufis and their goal. Themaster and disciple relationship within Sufism perpetuates the importance of servant-hood, and the qualities of humility, poverty, imperfection and fear that create afoundation for a long and difficult path to human perfection and love of God. It alsoperpetuates the importance of servant-hood and representation, as the dervish is underpressure to be obedient and to reflect the qualities of his master, and gain nearness to him,through love and devotion, and to Him through love and devotion. Worship however, isreserved solely for God. The master and disciple relationship creates a simulacrum of therelationship between God and man, as well as between Muhammad and his disciples as areflection of the hierarchy of perfection.Islam, Iman, And Ihsan The great theoretical Sufis stressed the importance of a systematic approach tohuman development and a path to human perfection that was grounded in an adherence tothe Islamic laws and practices and modes of understanding. This systematic path wasneeded in order for the human being to recognize his position in relationship to God as aservant and representative and to create a deepened sense of awareness of Him. 51