The Vanishing of Spiritual Knowledge

(Reflections on Sheikh Hamza’s lecture on Book 1: On Knowledge)

The Prophet said, “Near the establishment of the Hour there will be days during which  ignorance will spread, knowledge will be taken away (vanish) and there will be much Al-Harj, and Al-Harj means killing”

There is a worry among the spiritually minded that mankind is approaching its end. Such worry is hardly new; naysayers have been predicting the end of the world since the demise of the Prophet (pbuh). But increasingly the various signs of the hour mentioned by the Prophet (pbuh) appear to be coming true such as bare-footed Bedouins competing in constructing tall buildings, people traversing great distances in short periods of time and the increase in fornication and associated diseases.

The decrease of knowledge is one of the marks of the end of time. Scholars typically interpret it to mean religious knowledge, which is surprising in that due to the internet, speed of travel, growth in literacy rates, and availability, religious knowledge is burgeoning across the world.

Other forms of knowledge have grown tremendously and has allowed mankind to develop, construct and progress. What is more is that Western society stresses the importance of knowledge, broadly guaranteeing primary and secondary education. Secular knowledge is constantly increasing, not decreasing.

There is a third type of knowledge, one that Ghazali addresses, and that is spiritual knowledge. In his time, the Persian polymath was critical of the ulama  largely based on what he saw as the secularization of religious knowledge. It was not the quantity and quality of intellectual production that bothered him as much as it was the gradual distancing of scholars from upholding the purpose of Islam itself, and that was seeking proximity to the Divine.

Attaining this spiritual knowledge is not confined to the bookish; it is in the grasps of all mankind. Knowledge of the Divine is a special kind of knowledge, one refined by worship and spiritual purification, and, for some, intellectualism. Pursuing such a course is rewarding provided the seeker believes that to be so.

In contemporary society, knowledge of the world is increasing. What is decreasing is our sense of the Divine. Spiritual knowledge is falling at such a rapid rate that today we are no longer in awe by that which should cause awe. We no longer look at the signs of God as indicators of the existence of God. Our conceptualization of the world is materialistic, seeing the world as explicable and exploitable.

In that perception, the sacredness of the world diminishes, damaging the way we behave with it. Recent protests at Standing Rock against the Dakota pipeline encapsulates the conflict between sacredness and materialism. Whereas one party sees only rocks and resources to power industry, another group saw holiness and eternity. The latter was bound to lose.

The Native American tribes have a strong a sense of the sacred in the world. Indeed, all traditional societies had a sense of the transcendent in the world, and not something that was beyond it. From the Native American to the Aborigine, God was infused in the way Man once perceived the world.

Today, we regard these ancient societies as harboring irrational beliefs. We argue that the Enlightenment woke mankind up to reason with science explaining or trying to explain the inexplicable. God was removed from the equation.

Atheists with loudspeakers such as the late Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, Sam Harris, and others pose rational counterarguments to religion. Their approach is persuasive for many in that they rest upon what our senses can sense. The senses are elemental to the atheist worldview.

For the believer, God is beyond the senses, residing in the area of gray that no scientist can ever hope of entering. The retort will be that man seeks to explain the unknown by interpolating God, which is true. But that is not an irrational move. It is merely another sense within us, neither rational nor concupiscent, granted to us by God.

That knowledge is what is being taken away, and we do not know the consequences of such a phenomena. Modern capitalist enlightened society is 300 years old. In that period it has witnessed the boundless potential of human ingenuity in both good and evil. We cannot note achievements such as the industrial revolution without mentioning two destructive world wars. We cannot speak of globalization without acknowledging colonialization; and we cannot praise the computerization of society without considering global warming.

No society is perfect, religious or non-religious. Each type of society has its challenges because men have egos. No law can satisfy society entirely because law is material. However, the less we see God in the world, the more our desires can be unleashed, which will entail more laws in order to control. Eventually, we will reach a tipping point where the world cannot give what we desire. Perhaps this is a dim view of the world, but the Prophet (pbuh) did not predict particularly heartwarming events to signify the end.