Where are God’s people?

(Reflections are from imam Ghazali’s independent book,  The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God)

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“Where is God” is a common retort against God and religion. Evil and suffering are pandemic; their existence is inexplicable against the image of a loving, benevolent, God. If such a God exists, then evil should not.

The Ashari theology, to which Ghazali adheres, accepts evil and suffering as characteristic of the world. The theology goes so far as to say all troubles are from God. Indeed, our earthly abode was never intended to be a heaven. Heaven is not predicated on struggle.

This world is precisely the opposite. All humans are born and live in a state of struggle, which is especially hard when external and internal forces are against you. African Americans that undergird the BlackLivesMatter movement spotlight the iniquities of a discriminatory organ of the state that is meant to “serve and protect”; Syrians, for no fault of their own, are caught in a heinous war, and have seen their lives and possessions shattered. Where is God in this horror?

Likewise, where is God when the cancer sufferer writhes in pain, anguished in grief as, internally, his/her cells do battle against each other? Or when a child practically lives in the hospital because his/her organs are failing? Without doubt, the stench of unfairness prevails.

But then in the face of such tragedy, where are God’s people? Where are the activists challenging evil? Where are the scientists looking for cures for diseases?

It is not God who is absent. God is very much present through is attributes and his Names. In nature,  we view a beautiful vista, a sunrise emerging from ocean floor, we see majesty of creation. In the scene is God The Majestic (Al Jalil (الجليل)). When we confront a towering mountain, we are in awe of its grandness. In sight is God The Tremendous (Al Mutakabbir (المتكبر)).

Likewise, and more symptomatically, men reflect God’s attributes. If man wishes to be the embodiment of The Distresser (Ad Dharr (الضآر)), then the world will suffer from the qualities of distress such as oppression and encroachment. On the other hand, if man wishes to be the embodiment of the Bestower (Al Wahhaab (الوهاب)), then the world will gain from the qualities chracterising bestowment, such as providing succor to the suffering.

The Prophet said “There is no disease that Allah has created, except that He also has created its remedy.” He also said “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is oppressed. People asked, ‘It is right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?’ The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.”

Both seeking cures and seeking justice require struggle, patience and determination…such is the world. Distress and mercy will work hand in hand during the struggle, but man through his choices and actions determines the attribute of God that will prevail.

So ask not where is God; ask where are the people of The Merciful and The Compassionate?

(To view and listen to more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit http://www.nursari.com/classes)

 

 

 

 

Book 2: The Foundations of the Articles of Faith – The folly of Humanising God

(Reflections are taken from Sheikh Walead Mosaad’s class on Book 2 of the Ihya, “The Foundations of the Articles of Faith“. Click hyperlink to view the lecture)

 

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Looking up to the heavens in India

In a recent essay, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. David Barash, asserts that the monotheistic God is ‘remarkably humanoid’. Man created God to resemble a ‘harem master’, an ‘alpha male’, a ‘sexually distrustful dominant male’, suffering from ‘mammalian male anxieties.’ Barash concludes that homo sapiens have been ‘stuck with ossified behaviourial patterns and psychological dynamics that persist in its religious values and strictures’.

In other words, man created God in his own idealized image of a ruler.

Anthropomorphasising God is a common strategy used to devalue religion. Unfortunately, Baresh fails to see his assessment suffers from a deep irony. He sees God through the lenses of human experience and sentiment, and constructs an image through inference and postulation.

For Ghazali, personification of God in terms of emotions, body, and location is woefully inadequate and mistaken.  In describing God, Ghazali addresses what God is not thereby emphasizing that the Divine cannot be captured by human words or images. Descriptions, even religiously based, are limp attempts that form an allegory in order for man to relate. The truth is that God is thoroughly ineffable, unique and unknowable.

To learn God’s attributes, and accept a theological creed, is an intellectual exercise and only a mere step towards knowing the Divine.  It is not enough and certainly not sufficient. A creed gives the believer a foundation; truly knowing God is achieved by practice, reflection and, crucially, God’s eventual illumination if he so wills.

Ghazali, therefore, views the operation of Islam as a combination of intellect, practice, and hope.

Difficulties and dilemmas do arise from this philosophy.  Nevertheless, Ghazali insists that beyond the constructs of our mind and emotions lies a God who rises above human conceptualisations. The intellect alone is restricted in its understanding.  No words or concepts or names given to God adequately capture His reality. It is a point Dr.Barash, and other vocal atheists, ignore. Indeed, “Exalted is your Lord, the Lord of might, above what they describe” (Quran 37:180).

(To view and listen to more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit www.nursari.com/classes)

Book 1 : On Knowledge – The Arrogance of Extremism

(For explanation of Imam Ghazali’s Book 1: On Knowledge by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, please click here)

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Uncertainty in the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

All religions suffer an epistemological paradox. How can man follow the commands of God when God does not directly speak to them? Legal scholars such as Ghazali’s teacher, al-Juwayni, believed transmitted knowledge of God’s commands is probablistic. For any given situation, we can only have a reasoned estimation of what God would have wanted.

That uncertainty can provoke three reactions among those who promulgate Islamic law:

1) Believe ones interpretation is ineluctably correct.

2) Regard the whole enterprise as inherently unstable, and ignore the whole interpretative process.

3) View uncertainty as part of one’s journey to the Divine and be humble as to one’s determination of law.

The beginning of Ghazali’s Book of Knowledge is a biting critique of legal scholars, who he regards as being” trapped in their arrogance” issuing rules for the sake of other considerations. Unfortunately, they ignore the key reason for God’s intervention in Human history, and that is to inform Man of life after death (the akhira). Man’s key concern should be in preparing for this eventuality.

Hence, only point 3 is the appropriate reaction to uncertainty.

When an Islamic scholar issues a ruling, he has to navigate the uncertainty inherent in expressing God’s will. How can he be sure he is correct? More importantly, he is burdened by the uncertainty as to whether the ruling pushes a person, and others indirectly affected by his ruling, away from contemplating the akhira.

The recent attacks in Orlando, Istanbul, Dhaka, and Baghdad have the hallmarks of ISIS and Al Qaeda: wanton violence to illicit fear. The problem with their mission, however, is that they are concerned with political and legal dominance. Spreading the message about the akhira is largely ignored. They symbolise point 1.

Arrogance is therefore their mark. When followers can casually brutalise individuals who were non-Muslim or could not read the Quran properly, they have set themselves up as God. If God wished to destroy nations, he would have done so himself. What is worse, and indeed quite peculiar, is that behind the smiles of their own belief in their martyrdom, is that in killing and then being killed, they resemble the people the Angels worried about when God created man “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood, while we glorify You” (Quran 2:30)

Instead of fearing the consequences with God of unlawful murder against innocents, they butchered gleefully.

The Muslim’s role is to convey the message of the akhira, not to force obedience. All humans are in a state of uncertainty, only arrogance contemplates otherwise. To convey the message effectively takes time and patience. Indeed, Prophets in the Quran were granted time to convey.

People are scared of ISIS and their nihilistic proclivities, so the consequence of these attacks is fear of humans, and not fear of God.   For Ghazali, it is fear of God  that should direct one’s journey to the Divine. This represents the true foundation of knowledge and a guide to ones actions and interactions. Only from it can the immanence of the akhira be truly conveyed.

(To view and listen to more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit www.nursari.com/classes)

 

 

 

Book 5: The Secrets of Zakat

(For explanation of Imam Ghazali’s Book 5: The Secrets of Zakat by Sheikh Muhammad Abdul Latif Finch, please click here)

The National Zakat Foundation is a emerging organisation dedicated to the accumulation and disbursement of Zakat funds. On its fifth anniversary, it hosted an evening of lectures and presentations by Sheikh Abdal Hakim Murad, Sheikh Sohail Hanif and members from the NZF team to discuss the importance of Zakat.

Please watch the lectures entitled “The Power of Zakat” found on Youtube to understand its importance and its relationship with communities and the broader financial system.

(For more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit www.nursari.com/classes)

 

Book 14 : On the Halal and Haram

(Reflections on Imam Ghazali’s Book 14: On the Halal and Haram as explained by Sheikh Seraj Hendricks. The lecture can be found here)

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The Quran states “Eat of the good (foods) and do good works” (23:51). For Imam Ghazali, such a juxtaposition demonstrates food has a strong influence on both our internal and external condition. The intrinsic relationship between what we eat and what we do forms the cultural edifice of our society .  To emphasise the relationship, the Quran uses the verb to eat (أكل) to indict those who appropriate wealth or share wealth unjustly

“And devour not their (orphan’s) wealth (by adding it) to your wealth.” (4:2)

“And do not consume one another’s wealth unjustly” (2:188)

Juxtaposing food and action is important for the world. Indeed, gastronomical issues has an impact on both nutrition, politics and economy.

When it comes to nutrition, there is a paradoxical relationship between obesity and malnutrition. According to the Global Nutrition Report 2016, 2 billion people are malnourished and 2 billion people are obese.  44% of countries are experiencing serious levels of under-nutrition and obesity.

Malnutrition and obesity has an impact on health and therefore the economy.  The Richmond Group, which represents 12 charities including Diabetes UK and the British Heart Foundation (BHF), is demanding a reduction in sugar and salt content of foods to stop 250,000 Britons suffering a preventable death by 2025. It is also calling for a limit on advertising from offending food and beverage companies.

Yet the impact on the economy goes far beyond health. Food security is a key global concern; in 2011, a number of countries across the world experienced riots as grain prices shot up.  The fundamental cause, according to Joachim von Braun, former head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, was high income growth suggesting high demand from the nouveau rich led to decrease in supply for poorer members in society.

Verse 23:51 encourages Man to eat of the good. It does not say eat of the permissible (halal) because the good surpasses legal categorization.  Being conscious of what we eat has an impact on our body and soul. Being conscious of where our food comes from, to whom we pay and how much, and how that impacts the allocation of wealth and resources, has an impact on our society.

To view and listen to more lectures on Imam Ghazali’s Ihya, please visit www.nursari.com/classes

Introduction

” We’re the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives”

Chuck Palhaniuk, Fight Club         

For those in the modern world captured by the religious ideas of Islam, the starting point is spiritual, not the material or the political.  It is the spirit that gives meaning and direction to our actions, yet the spirit is ephemeral. It cannot be defined or located and still it characterises us. Imam Ghazali understood intuitively the relationship between the spirit and our actions, and he saw that the two in harmony would lead us to God. To this transcendent end, the spirit aspires. The world will either support or hinder this journey.

Ghazali’s magnum opus, the Ihya Ulum Ud Deen, is an ambitious project, attempting to guide ones spirit and actions towards the divine goal, warning about the challenges, and prescribing the ways of navigating. His words are important today as they were when they were first written in the 11/12th century. Islamic scholars, trained in the science of sufism, or rather spiritual improvement, have studied this text for centuries.

Today, a new generation of scholars are teaching Ghazali’s Ihya. Travelling Light is a novel pedagogical project, where Islamic scholars teach the various books of the Ihya in various locations around the world. This wanderlust reflects the universal applicability of Ghazali’s words, both in time and in space. For more information on the project, visit www.nursari.com.

This blog uses the lectures as a platform for reflections on the specific books of the Ihya, and the application of his ideas in the modern world. Far from being a quixotic enterprise, the Ihya views all the world’s problems as rooted in spiritual ailments, and targeting the spirit is the first point of finding solutions. However, much more than material improvement, the sicker the spirit, the more distant he/she is to the Divine.

Each post will be a brief reflection on one of the lectures. To view the lectures directly please visit www.nursari.com/classes. Each post will hopefully look into some of the pressing issues of our time through the lens of the Ihya. It is an ambitious aim, but the Ihya is a timeless book whose wisdom is still relevant and  penetrative today.