In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
I became muslim in 1990 at the age of 27. I was born to a Lutheran Christian family in the American Mid-West, which was not terribly religious. However, I was sent to religion classes on Sunday mornings when I was old enough to enter grade school. I recall being very enthusiastic upon receiving my own Bible, and looking forward to gaining knowledge through religion. However, I was not satisfied with either the words of my King James Bible or the instruction given the teachers at my “sunday school.” The idea of Jesus Christ as God, Son of God, or part of the Holy Trinity seemed a ridiculous idea to me, especially on those occasions when I was allowed to be seated with the adults during Church services. The singing of songs and the statue of a dying god hanging on the wall; it all seemed a pathetic farce to me.
Furthermore, I found that questions and doubts about the religion were readily dismissed without any reason: one was simply expected to believe what one was told and not to question or ask for reasons for the “facts” one was told. I also encountered parents trying to tell their children about Christianity and telling us to “let Jesus into our hearts.” To me, the content of this metaphor amounted to a request to succumb to simple brainwashing. Sunday classes amounted to the reciting of stories about the life of Jesus, some of which, like the story of Jesus’ encounter with the money changers in front of the synagogue, I liked very much, but most of which I found irrelevant. After a year of two of this unsatisfying indoctrination, I refused to go to Church any longer. I became progressively more agnostic. I had a friend who was the son of a Methodist Christian minister, and though I had small conversations with the boy’s father when invited to dine with the family, nothing in my feelings about Christianity changed.
As I became increasingly educated in science, I decided that I wished to become a scientist. The more I learned about science and the history of encounters between the Church and pursuers of truth such as Galileo, the more antagonistic became my relationship with Christianity. The theological conflict Christianity has engendered between reason and Christian faith drove me further and further away from Christianity throughout my period as a high school student and closer to materialist agnosticism.
In college, I began to meet Muslims and became interested in the culture of the Middle East. I became very interested in Islamic art, which piqued my interest in Islam itself. However, being a triple major in difficult academic subjects, I felt I had little extra time to study religion. Upon entering graduate school I bought a translation of the Qur’an and began reading it on the bus to and from my office. I found it very interesting, but was distracted by its detailed rules regarding legal and other practical matters, and furthermore had no one to ask about things made unclear in translation. Then I began dating a Catholic Christian girl about whom I became very serious. However, I refused to accept the Christian view of Christ no matter how many ways I considered it and despite the strength of faith, honesty, and morality my friend exhibited. Eventually, we parted ways, but the girl’s conservatism and strength of morality left a strong impression on me. I reconsidered the virtues of faith in God, untainted by the idea of associating of others with Him.
Soon thereafter I had a chance to meet new Muslim friends and to read the Qur’an again, now with these friends available to answer my questions about it. This time it really sunk in, and I couldn’t read enough; until now, I make time to read the Qur’an every day. The Qur’an in some way addressed every single one of the doubts I’d ever had about religion. Before this time, my opinion about religion had become that it was a essentially a construction formed from old myths for the purposes of advocating a particular view of morality, that it was used to benefit those in power in society. I believed that most religious people, however well intentioned, actually used religion as an excuse for their own failures and weaknesses and as a way of avoiding difficult questions about their own mortality and place in the physical universe. In short, I saw religion as a means of rationalizing that which human beings find difficult to face. I believed that this is what drew people to religion — faith was the quid pro quo for escaping moral accountability and personal insignificance. The Qur’an faced my supposition that religion is just mythologizing and storytelling and denied it directly; it made me face anew my reasons for abandoning religion. The Arabic Qur’an as an unaltered record of God’s words removes the possibility of Islamic religion being simply stories passed down from generation to generation or century to century progressively altered in content and language, and the strict personal moral accountability it required left no room for rationalizing immoral conduct: Islam was no escape mechanism for the irrational or the morally weak.
The Qur’an asked me to contemplate God’s creation and ask myself honestly “Is not this a great achievement?” I began to take seriously the idea that the universe might in fact be created. If this amazing universe were created, would not God be Great, as muslims say? In a religion which makes no room for hypocrisy and makes each human being fully accountable down to the smallest unit of good deeds and the smallest unit of bad deeds, true justice is possible. Indeed only in such a moral scheme is true justice possible. At the same time, Islam explicitly rejected all the clear errors of religion against which I had good arguments, such as deifying a man and/or associating others with the God. And it went further: it provided its own arguments against the errors of other religions and against uncalled-for doubt. I had been shown the straight path of God and had no excuse: I was obligated as an honest and rational human being to become a Muslim.
In The Name of Allah Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
It’s interesting for me to look back on my life and see how it all fits together – how Allah planned this for me all along. When I think about it, I can’t help saying “Subhannallah”, and thank Allah for bringing me to where I am today. At other times, I feel sad that I was not born into Islam and been a Muslim all my life. While I admire those who were, I at times pity them because sometimes they don’t really appreciate this blessing.
Insha’Allah, reading this can help you understand how I, at least, came to be a Muslim. Whether it gives you ideas for da’wah, or just gives you some inspiration in your own faith, I hope it is worth your time to read, insha’Allah. It is my story, but I think a lot of others might see themselves in it.
I was born in San Francisco, California, and raised in a Bay Area suburb. My small own (San Anselmo, pop. about 14,000 when I last checked) was a mostly white, upper-middle-class, Christian community. It is a beautiful area – just north of San Francisco (across the Golden Gate Bridge), nestled in a valley near the hillsides (Mount Tamalpais) and the Pacific Ocean. I knew all of my neighbours, played baseball in the street, caught frogs in the creeks, rode horses in the hills, and climbed trees in my front yard.
My father is Presbyterian, and my mother is Catholic. My father was never active in any church, but my mother tried to raise us as Catholics. She took us to church sometimes, but we didn’t know what was going on. People stand up, sit down, kneel, sit again, stand up, and recite things after the priest. Each pew had a booklet – a kind of “direction book” -and we had to follow along in order to know what to do next (if we didn’t fall asleep first!). I was baptized in this church, and received my First Communion at about the age of 8 (I have pictures, but I don’t remember it much). After that, we only went about once a year.
I lived on a dead-end street of about 15 houses. My grammar school was at the end of the street (4 houses down), next to a small Presbyterian Church. When I was about 10, the people of this church invited me to participate in their children’s Christmas play. Every Sunday morning from then on, I walked down to church alone (no one else in my family was interested in coming). The whole congregation was only about 30 older people (past their 50’s), but they were nice and never made me feel out of place. There were about three younger couples with children younger than me.
I became a very active member of this church down the street. When I was in 6th grade, I started baby-sitting the younger kids during the service. By ninth grade, I was helping the minister’s wife teach Sunday school. In high school, I started a church youth group by recruiting 4 of my friends to join me. It was a small group: my friends, myself, and a young couple with kids, but we liked it that way. The big Presbyterian Church in town had about 100 kids in their youth group and took trips to Mexico, etc. Nevertheless, our group was content to get together to study the bible, talk about God, and raise money for charities.
These friends and I would sit together and talk about spiritual issues. We debated about questions in our minds: what happens to the people who lived before Jesus came (go to heaven or hell); why do some very righteous people automatically go to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus (we thought about Gandhi); on the other hand, why do some pretty horrible people (like my friend’s abusive father) get rewarded with heaven just because they’re Christian; why does a loving and merciful God require a blood sacrifice (Jesus) to forgive people’s sins; why are we guilty of Adam’s original sin; why does the Word of God (Bible) disagree with scientific facts; how can Jesus be God; how can One God be 3 different things; etc. We debated about these things, but never came up with good answers. The church couldn’t give us good answers either; they only told us to “have faith”.
The people at church told me about a Presbyterian summer camp in Northern California. I went for the first time when I was 10. For the next 7 years, I went every summer. While I was happy with the little church I went to, this is where I really felt in touch with God, without confusion. It was here that I developed my very deep faith in God. We spent much of our time outdoors, playing games, doing crafts, swimming, etc. It was fun, but every day we would also take time out to pray, study the bible, sing spiritual songs, and have `quiet time.’ It is this quiet time that really meant a lot to me, and of which I have the best memories. The rule was that you had to sit alone – anywhere on the camp’s 200 beautiful acres. I would often go to a meadow, or sit on a bridge overlooking the creek, and just THINK. I looked around me, at the creek, the trees, the clouds, the bugs – listened to the water, the birds’ songs, the crickets’ chirps. This place really let me feel at peace, and I admired and thanked God for His beautiful creation. At the end of each summer, when I returned home, this feeling stayed with me. I loved to spend time outdoors, alone, to just think about God, life, and my place in it. I developed my personal understanding of Jesus’ role as a teacher and example, and left all the confusing church teachings behind.
I believed (and still do) in the teaching “Love your neighbour as yourself”, fully giving to others without expecting anything in return, treating others as you would like to be treated. I strived to help everyone I could. When I was fourteen, I got my first job, at an ice cream store. When I got my paycheck each month (it wasn’t much), I sent the first $25 to a program called “Foster Parents Plan” (they’ve changed the name now). This charity hooked up needy children overseas with American sponsors. During my 4 years of high school, I was a sponsor for a young Egyptian boy named Sherif. I sent him part of my paycheck each month, and we exchanged letters. (His letters were in Arabic, and looking at them now, it appears that he believed he was writing to an adult man, not a girl 5 years older than him.) He was 9 years old, his father was dead, and his mother was ill and couldn’t work. He had 2 younger brothers and a sister my age. I remember getting a letter from him when I was 16 – he was excited because his sister had got engaged. I thought, “She’s the same age as me, and she’s getting engaged!” It seemed so foreign to me. These were the first Muslims I had contact with.
Aside from this, I was also involved with other activities in high school. I tutored Central American students at my school in English. In a group called “Students for Social Responsibility,” I helped charities for Nicaraguan school children and Kenyan villagers. We campaigned against nuclear arms (the biggest fear we all had at that time was of a nuclear war).
I invited exchange students from France into my home, and I had penpals from all over the world (France, Germany, Sweden, etc.). My junior year of high school, we hosted a group called `Children of War’ – a group of young people from South Africa, Gaza Strip, Guatemala, and other war-torn lands, who toured the country telling their stories and their wishes for peace. Two of them stayed at my house – the group’s chaperone from Nicaragua, and a young black South African man. The summer after my junior year of high school, I took a volunteer job in San Francisco (the Tenderloin district), teaching English to refugee women. In my class were Fatimah and Maysoon, 2 Chinese Muslim widows from Vietnam. These were the next Muslims I met, although we couldn’t talk much (their English was too minimal). All they did was laugh.
All of these experiences put me in touch with the outside world, and led me to value people of all kinds. Throughout my youth and high school, I had developed two very deep interests: faith in God, and interacting with people from other countries. When I left home to attend college in Portland, Oregon, I brought these interests with me.
At Lewis & Clark College, I started out as a Foreign Language (French & Spanish) major, with a thought to one day work with refugee populations, or teach English as a Second Language. When I arrived at school, I moved into a dorm room with two others – a girl from California (who grew up only 10 minutes from where I did), and a 29-year-old Japanese woman (exchange student). I was 17.
I didn’t know anyone else at school, so I tried to get involved in activities to meet people. In line with my interests, I chose to get involved with 2 groups: Campus Crusade for Christ (obviously, a Christian group), and Conversation Groups (where they match Americans up with a group of international students to practice English).
I met with the Campus Crusade students during my first term of school. A few of the people that I met were very nice, pure-hearted people, but the majority were very ostentatious. We got together every week to listen to “personal testimonies”, sing songs, etc. Every week we visited a different church in the Portland area. Most of the churches were unlike anything I’d ever been exposed to before. One final visit to a church in the Southeast area freaked me out so much that I quit going to the Crusade meetings. At this church, there was a rock band with electric guitars, and people were waving their hands in the air (above their heads, with their eyes closed) and singing “hallelujah.” I had _never_ seen anything like it! I see things like this now on TV, but coming from a very small Presbyterian Church, I was disturbed. Others in Campus Crusade loved this church, and they continued to go. The atmosphere seemed so far removed from the worship of God, and I didn’t feel comfortable returning.
I always felt closest to God when I was in a quiet setting and/or outdoors. I started taking walks around campus (Lewis & Clark College has a beautiful campus!), sitting on benches, looking at the view of Mount Hood, watching the trees change colors. One day I wandered into the campus chapel – a small, round building nestled in the trees. It was beautifully simple. The pews formed a circle around the center of the room, and a huge pipe organ hung from the ceiling in the middle. No altar, no crosses, no statues – nothing. Just some simple wood benches and a pipe organ. During the rest of the year, I spent a lot of time in this building, listening to the organist practice, or just sitting alone in the quiet to think. I felt more comfortable and closer to God there than at any church I had ever been to.
During this time, I was also meeting with a group of international students as part of the Conversation Group program. We had five people in our group: me, a Japanese man and woman, an Italian man and a Palestinian man. We met twice a week over lunch, to practice English conversation skills. We talked about our families, our studies, our childhood, cultural differences, etc. As I listened to the Palestinian man (Faris) talk about his life, his family, his faith, etc., it struck a nerve in me. I remembered Sherif, Fatima and Maysoon, the only other Muslims I had ever known. Previously, I had seen their beliefs and way of life as foreign, something that was alien to my culture. I never bothered to learn about their faith because of this cultural barrier. But the more I learned about Islam, the more I became interested in it as a possibility for my own life.
During my second term of school, the conversation group disbanded and the international students transferred to other schools. The discussions we had had, however, stayed at the front of my thoughts. The following term, I registered for a class in the religious studies department: Introduction to Islam. This class brought back all of the concerns that I had about Christianity. As I learned about Islam, all of my questions were answered. None of us are punished for Adam’s original sin. Adam asked God for forgiveness and our Merciful and Loving God forgave him. God doesn’t require a blood sacrifice in payment for sin. We must sincerely ask for forgiveness and amend our ways. Jesus wasn’t God, he was a prophet, like all of the other prophets, who all taught the same message: Believe in the One true God; worship and submit to Him alone; and live a righteous life according to the guidance He has sent. This answered all of my questions about the trinity and the nature of Jesus (all God, all human, or a combination). God is a Perfect and Fair Judge, who will reward or punish us based on our faith and righteousness. I found a teaching that put everything in its proper perspective, and appealed to my heart and my intellect. It seemed natural. It wasn’t confusing. I had been searching, and I had found a place to rest my faith.
That summer, I returned home to the Bay Area and continued my studies of Islam. I checked books out of the library and talked with my friends. They were as deeply spiritual as I was, and had been searching (most of them were looking into eastern religions, Buddhism in particular). They understood my search, and were happy I could find something to believe in. They raised questions, though, about how Islam would affect my life: as a woman, as a liberal Californian, with my family, etc. I continued to study, pray and soul-search to see how comfortable I really was with it. I sought out Islamic centers in my area, but the closest one was in San Francisco, and I never got to visit (no car, and bus schedules didn’t fit with my work schedule). So I continued to search on my own. When it came up in conversation, I talked to my family about it. I remember one time in particular, when we were all watching a public television program about the Eskimos. They said that the Eskimos have over 200 words for “snow”, because snow is such a big part of their life. Later that night, we were talking about how different languages have many words for things that are important to them. My father commented about all the different words Americans use for “money” (money, dough, bread, etc.). I commented, “You know, the Muslims have 99 names for God – I guess that’s what is important to them.”
At the end of the summer, I returned to Lewis & Clark. The first thing I did was contact the mosque in south-west Portland. I asked for the name of a woman I could talk to, and they gave me the number of a Muslim American sister. That week, I visited her at home. After talking for a while, she realized that I was already a believer. I told her I was just looking for some women who could help guide me in the practicalities of what it meant to be a Muslim. For example, how to pray. I had read it in books, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it just from books. I made attempts, and prayed in English, but I knew I wasn’t doing it right. The sister invited me that night to an aqiqa (dinner after the birth of a new baby). She picked me up that night and we went. I felt so comfortable with the Muslim sisters there, and they were very friendly to me that night. I said my shahaada, witnessed by a few sisters. They taught me how to pray. They talked to me about their own faith (many of them were also American). I left that night feeling like I had just started a new life.
I was still living in a campus dorm, and was pretty isolated from the Muslim community. I had to take two buses to get to the area where the mosque was (and where most of the women lived). I quickly lost touch with the women I met, and was left to pursue my faith on my own at school. I made a few attempts to go to the mosque, but was confused by the meeting times. Sometimes I’d show up to borrow some books from the library, and the whole building would be full of men. Another time I decided to go to my first Jumah (Friday) prayer, and I couldn’t go in for the same reason. Later, I was told that women only meet at a certain time (Saturday afternoon), and that I couldn’t go at other times. I was discouraged and confused, but I continued to have faith and learn on my own.
Six months after my shahaada, I observed my first Ramadan. I had been contemplating the issue of hijab, but was too scared to take that step. I had already begun to dress more modestly, and usually wore a scarf over my shoulders (when I visited the sister, she told me “all you have to do is move that scarf from your shoulders to your head, and you’ll be Islamically dressed.”). At first, I didn’t feel ready to wear hijab, because I didn’t feel strong enough in my faith. I understood the reason for it, agreed with it, and admired the women who did wear it, they looked so pious and noble. But I knew that if I wore it, people would ask me many questions, and I didn’t feel ready or strong enough to deal with that.
This changed as Ramadan approached, and on the first day of Ramadan, I woke up and went to class in hijab. Alhamdillah, I haven’t taken it off since. Something about Ramadan helped me to feel strong, and proud to be a Muslim. I felt ready to answer anybody’s questions.
However, I also felt isolated and lonely during that first Ramadan. No one from the Muslim community even called me. I was on a meal plan at school, so I had to arrange to get special meals (the dining hall wasn’t open during the hours I could eat). The school agreed to give me my meals in bag lunches. So every night as sundown approached, I’d walk across the street to the kitchen, go in the back to the huge refrigerators, and take my 2 bag lunches (one for fitoor (sunset breakfast meal), one for suhoor (pre-dawn meal)). I’d bring the bags back to my dorm room and eat alone. They always had the same thing: yoghurt, a piece of fruit, cookies, and either a tuna or egg salad sandwich. The same thing, for both meals, for the whole month. I was lonely, but at the same time I had never felt more at peace with myself.
When I embraced Islam, I told my family. They were not surprised. They kind of saw it coming, from my actions and what I said when I was home that summer. They accepted my decision, and knew that I was sincere. Even before, my family always accepted my activities and my deep faith, even if they didn’t share it. They were not as open-minded, however, when I started to wear hijab. They worried that I was cutting myself off from society, that I would be discriminated against, that it would discourage me from reaching my goals, and they were embarrassed to be seen with me. They thought it was too radical. They didn’t mind if I had a different faith, but they didn’t like it to affect my life in an outward way.
They were more upset when I decided to get married. During this time, I had been back in touch with Faris, the Muslim Palestinian brother of my conversation group, the one who first prompted my interest in Islam. He was still in the Portland area, attending the community college. We started meeting again, over lunch, in the library, at his brother’s house, etc. We were married the following summer (after my sophomore year, a year after my shahaada). My family freaked out. They weren’t quite yet over my hijab, and they felt like I had thrown something else at them. They argued that I was too young, and worried that I would abandon my goals, drop out of school, become a young mother, and destroy my life. They liked my husband, but didn’t trust him at first (they were thinking “green card scam”). My family and I fought over this for several months, and I feared that our relationship would never be repaired.
That was 3 years ago, and a lot has changed. Faris and I moved to Corvallis, Oregon, home of Oregon State University. We live in a very strong and close-knit Muslim community. I graduated magna cum laude, with a degree in child development. I have had several jobs, from secretary to pre-school teacher, with no problems about my hijab. I’m active in the community, and still do volunteer work. My husband, insha’Allah, also finished his Electrical Engineering degree. We visit my family a couple of times a year. I met Faris’ parents for the first time this summer, and we get along great. I’m slowly but surely adding Arabic to the list of languages I speak.
My family has seen all of this, and has recognized that I didn’t destroy my life. They see that Islam has brought me happiness, not pain and sorrow. They are proud of my accomplishments, and can see that I am truly happy and at peace. Our relationship is back to Alhamdulillah.
Looking back on all of this, I feel truly grateful that Allah has guided me to where I am today. I truly feel blessed. It seems that all of the pieces of my life fit together in a pattern – a path to Islam.
Alhamdillillahi rabi al’amin.
Your sister in faith, C. Huda Dodge “Say: Allah’s guidance is the only guidance, and we have been directed to submit ourselves to the Lord of the Worlds…”
Many people today like to classify themselves as belonging to the Saved Sect (Firqatun-Najiyyah) – Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah; but do these people really know which is the Saved Sect, from the many sects we have today? The following is an attempt to clarify some misconceptions by way of definitive proofs from the Qur’an and Sunnah, as well as quotes from the profoundly learned Classical Scholars of Islam. Know that there is only one Saved Sect in Islam, and this is the original pristine form of Islam that has been transmitted to us by Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala in his Qur’an, his Rasul (Peace and blessings be upon him), the blessed Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) and the great scholars of Islam (Allah’s mercy be upon them all) who have been following their Straight Path for more than one thousand years of Islam’s history. The first question that should be raised is: “What differentiates one sect from another sect?” The answer to this is simple and definitive! Know that the chief characteristic that distinguishes one sect from another, lies not in the differences of opinion that its scholars have attained by making ijtihad from the sources of the Shari’ah (this leads to the formation of the Madhhabs), but rather the actual belief (aqid’ah or i’tiqad in Arabic) that the scholars and laity of the sect in question are clinging onto – since the founding of their respective sect.
According to the unknown author of the book Belief and Islam (pp. 78-9), the faith of the People of the Sunnah and Jama’ah was spread as follows:
“Nowadays, some mouths frequently use the name of ‘Salafiyya’. Every Muslim should know very well that in Islam there is nothing in the name of the Madhhab of Salafiyya but there is the Madhhab of the Salaf as-salihin who were the Muslims of the first two Islamic centuries (i.e; the Companions, their successors and the followers of the successors) which were lauded in a Hadith sharif. The ulama of Islam who came in the third and fourth centuries are called Khalaf as-sadiqin. The i’tiqad (belief) of these honourable people is called the Madhhab of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah. This is the Madhhab of Iman, tenets of faith. The Iman held by the Sahaba al-Kiram (may Allah be pleased with them all) and by theTabi’un (Allah’s mercy be upon them all) was the same. There was no difference between their beliefs. Today most Muslims in the world are in the Madhhab of Ahl as-Sunnah (i.e; most Muslim’s claim to be Sunni’s). All the seventy-two heretical groups (see later for the actual Hadith and its commentary) of bid’ah appeared (mainly) after the second century of Islam. Founders of some of them lived earlier, but it was after the Tabi’unthat their books were written, and that they appeared in groups and defied the Ahl as-Sunnah.
Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) brought the beliefs of Ahl as-Sunnah. The Sahaba al-kiram (may Allah be pleased with them all) derived these teachings of Iman from the source (the Qur’an and Sunnah). And the Tabi’un (successors), in their turn, learned these teachings from the Sahaba al-kiram. And from them their successors learned, thus the teachings of Ahl as-Sunnah reached us by way of transmission and tawatur (through many undeniable chains of transmission). These teachings cannot be explored by way of reasoning. Intellect cannot change them and will only help understand them. That is, intellect is necessary for understanding them, for realizing that they are right and for knowing their value. All the scholars of Hadith held the beliefs of the Ahl as-Sunnah. The Imams of the four Madhhabs in deeds, too, were in this Madhhab. Also, al-Maturidi and al-Ashari (Allah’s mercy be upon them), the two Imam’s of our Madhhab in beliefs, were in the Madhhab of the Ahl as-Sunnah. Both of these Imams promulgated this Madhhab. They always defended this Madhhab against heretics and materialists, who had been stuck in the bogs of ancient Greek philosophy. Though they were contemporaries, they lived in different places and the ways of thinking and behaving of the offenders they had met were different, so the methods of defence used and the answers given by these two great scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah were different. But this does not mean that they belonged to different Madhhabs (rather they were both from the Ahl as-Sunnah). Hundreds of thousands of profoundly learned ulama and awliya (friends of Allah) coming after these two exalted Imams studied their books and stated in consensus that they both belonged to the Madhhab of the Ahl as-Sunnah. The scholars of the Ahl as-Sunnah took the nass (Qur’an and Sunnah) with their outward meanings. That is, they gave the ayats and Hadiths their outward meanings, and did not explain away (ta’wil) thenass or change these meanings unless there was a darura (necessity) to do so. And they never made any changes with their personal knowledge or opinions. But those who belonged to heretical groups and the la-Madhhabi (those who do not belong to one of the four Madhhabs) did not hesitate to change the teachings of Iman and Ibadat (worship) as they had learned from (the books of) Greek philosophers and from sham scientists, who were Islam’s adversaries.”
Let us now see what the definition of Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah was according to the classical scholars of this aided, Victorious sect (Tai’fatul-Mansoorah) of Islam.
(1) Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567; R.A.)
Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami defined the Sunni Muslims as follows in his book Fath al-jawad:
“A mubtadi (innovator) is the person who does not have the faith (aqid’ah) conveyed unanimously by the Ahl as-Sunnah. This unanimity was transmitted by the two great Imam’s Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari (d.324/936; Rahimahullah) and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d.333/944; Rahimahullah) and the scholars who followed their path.” Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami also said in his book al-Fatawa al-Hadithiyya (pg. 205): “Man of bid’ah means one whose beliefs are different from the Ahl as-Sunnah faith. The Ahl as-Sunnah faith, is the faith of Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari, Abu Mansur al-Maturidi and those who followed them. One who brings forth something which is not approved by Islam becomes a man of bid’ah.”
(2) Imam Ahmad Shihab ad-Din al Qalyubi (d.1069/1659; R.A.)
Imam al-Qalyubi wrote on the fourth volume of his marginalia to the book Kanz ar-raghibin:
“One who departs from what Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Allah’s mercy be upon them) reported is not a Sunni. These two Imam’s followed the footprints of Rasulullah (Peace be upon him) and his Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with them all).”
(3) Imam Abdullah ibn Alawi al-Haddad (d. 1132 AH; Rahimahullah)
Imam al-Haddad stated in The Book of Assistance (pg. 40):
“You must correct and protect your beliefs and conform to the pattern of the party of salvation, who are those known from among the other Islamic factions as the “People of the Sunnah and Jama’ah” (Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah). They are those who firmly adhere to the way of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), and of his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all).
If you look with a sound understanding into those passages relating to the sciences of faith in the Book (Qur’an), the Sunnah, and the saying of the virtuous predecessors, whether they be Companions or followers, you will know for certain that the truth is with the party called the Ashari (NB-the Maturidi’s are also upon the truth), named after the Shaykh Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari, may Allah have mercy on him, who systematized the foundations of the creed of the people of the truth, and recorded its earliest versions, these being the beliefs with the Companions and the best among the followers agreed upon.”
(4) Imam Abdal Ghani an-Nablusi (d. 1143/1733; Rahimahullah)
Imam an-Nablusi stated in his book al-Hadiqat an-Nadiyya (vol. 2, pg. 103):
“Jama’ah is rahma, that is, the union of Muslims on truth brings Allahu ta’ala’s Compassion. Tafriqa is adhab, that is, separation from the Community of Muslims brings about punishment from Allahu ta’ala. Hence, it is necessary for every Muslim to unite with those who are on the right path. He must join and believe like them even if they are only a small group. The right path is the path of as-Sahaba al-Kiram. Those who follow this path are called Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. It should not confuse us that many heretical groups appeared after the time of as-Sahaba al-Kiram. Al-Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458/1066; Rahimahullah) said, ‘When Muslims go astray, you should follow the right path of those who came before them! You should not give up that path even if you are left alone on the path!‘ Najm ad-Din al-Ghazzi (d. 1061/1651; Rahimahullah) wrote: ‘Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah are those ulama who keep on the right path of Rasullullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) and as-Sahaba al-Kiram. As-Sawad al-Azam, that is, the majority of Islamic scholars, have followed this right path. The Firqatun-Naajiyyah which was defined to be the group of salvation among the seventy three groups is this true Jama’ah.‘ The Qur’an al-Karim declares, ‘Do not disunite!‘ This ayat means ‘Do not disunite in i’tiqad, in the teachings of beliefs!‘ Most ulama, for example, Abdullah ibn Masood (may Allah be pleased with him), interpreted this ayat as above and said that it meant, ‘Do not deviate from the right path by following your desires and corrupt ideas.‘ This ayat does not mean that there should be no disagreement in the knowledge of fiqh. It forbids separation which causes discord and dissension in the knowledge of i’tiqad (see Imam al-Qurtubi’s opinion later). The disagreement in the knowledge (of fiqh) derived through ijtihad in the field of practices (amal) is not a discord, because such disagreement has brought to sight the rights, the fards and the subtle teachings in amal andIbadah (worship). As-Sahaba al-kiram (Allah be pleased with them all), too, differed from one another in those teachings that explained the daily life, but there was no disagreement among them in the knowledge of i’tiqad.”
(5) Allamah Sayyid Ahmad at-Tahtawi (d. 1231/1816; Rahimahullah)
Allamah Sayyid Ahmad at-Tahtawi, a great Hanafi fiqh scholar of Egypt, wrote on the subject of ‘Zabayih‘ in his Hashiya al-Durr al-Mukhtar:
“According to the majority of scholars of tafsir, the ayat, ‘They parted into groups in the religion,‘ referred to the people of bid’ah who would arise in this Ummah. In a Hadith reported by Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) said to Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), ‘The ayat about the partitions into groups in the religion refers to the people of bid’ah and to the followers of their nafs who would arise in this Ummah.’ Allah declared in the 153rd ayat of Surah Al-An’am, ‘This is My Straight path, so follow it! Follow not other ways, lest you be parted from His way!‘ (that is, Jews, Christians, and other heretics departed from the right path; you should not part like them!). In the 103rd ayat of Surah Al-Imran, Allah declares, ‘And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah, and do not separate!‘ (see later for a brief commentary). Some scholars of tafsir said that Allah’s rope meant Jama’ah, unity. The command, ‘Do not separate‘, shows that it is so and the Jama’ah are the possessors of fiqh and ilm (knowledge). One who descents from fuqaha (scholars of fiqh) as much as a span falls into heresy, becomes deprived of Allah’s help and deserves Hell, because the fuqaha have been on the right path and have held on to the Sunnah of Rasulullah (Peace and blessings be upon him) and on to the path of al-Khulafa ar-Rashideen, the Four Khaliphs (may Allah be pleased with them). As-Sawad al-Azam, that is, the majority of the Muslims, are on the path of fuqaha. Those who depart from their path will burn in the fire of Hell. O believers! Follow the unique group which is protected against Hell! And this group is the one that is called Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. For, Allah’s help, protection and guidance are for the followers of this group, and His wrath and punishment are for those who dissent from this group. Today, this group of salvation comes together in the Four Madhhabs, namely the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali.”
It is very important to have unity in the Ummah, and to achieve this goal of unity it is incumbent that the whole Ummah has the correct and preservedaqidah of the Salaf as-salihin (may Allah be pleased with them all); since Allah will no doubt ask us about our aqidah if it is not in conformity with the divine revelation and what his Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) transmitted to us. The way of the Salaf as-salihin is the way of the saved sect of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah. And we should all know that the Jama’ah is the sect which has the most correct and united aqid’ah out of all other Jama’ahs. To know what is the real Jama’ah, one must look into the Qur’an and Hadith for evidence. If one was to look deeply in to this matter with an open and scholarly mind, one will come to the conclusion that this great Jama’ah is the one which is composed of the foremost scholars of Qur’anic commentary, Hadith, fiqh and other Islamic sciences; it is no doubt the Jama’ah which has had the greatest following throughout Islamic history in terms of scholars and laity, and this alone is the main body of Islam which represents the views of the great mass of believers (as-Sawad al-Azam) as we shall see from the Hadith evidence below. Let us now see what Allah ta’ala has said about unity and schism in the Holy Qur’an.
(1) Surah al-Imran (3:103):
“And hold fast, all of you together, to the rope of Allah and be not divided.”
Imam Sayf ad-Din al-Amidi (d. 631/1233; Rahimahullah) said in his al-Ihkam fi usul al-ahkam (The proficiency: on the fundamentals of legal rulings, pg. 295) with regard to the above Qur’anic verse:
“Allah has forbidden separation, and disagreement with consensus (ijma) is separation.”
Hence, if Allah has forbidden separation then surely we must all unite on the unanimously accepted aqid’ah of our pious predecessors. And I have already quoted Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Rahimahullah) as saying: “This unanimity (in aqidah) was transmitted by the two great Imam’s Abu’l Hasan al-Ashari and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Allah’s mercy be upon them) and the scholars who followed their path.”
Mahmoud Ayoub wrote in The Qur’an and Its Interpreters (vol. II, 275-6):
“Ibn Kathir (d. 774/1373; Rahimahullah) interprets the ‘rope of God‘ in verse 103 as ‘The covenant of God,‘ citing in support of this interpretation verse 112 below (in Surah al-Imran). Another view, he adds, is that ‘The rope of God‘ here refers to the Qur’an, as reported on the authority of Ali (Allah be pleased with him) who said that ‘The Qur’an is God’s strong rope and the straight way.‘ He cites another Hadith, on the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (Allah be pleased with him), where the Prophet (Peace be upon him) declared, ‘The book of God is God’s rope stretched from heaven to earth.‘ Abd Allah ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) reported -that the Messenger of God (Peace be upon him) said, ‘Surely this Qur’an is God’s strong rope, manifest light, and beneficial source of healing. It is protection for those who hold fast to it, and a means of salvation for those who abide by it.‘
Ibn Kathir interprets the injunction, ‘and do not be divided‘ to mean strict adherence to unity among Muslims. He reports on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘God will be pleased with three acts from you, and wrathful with three others. He wishes that you worship Him alone without associating any thing with Him; that you hold fast all together to the rope of God and be not divided; and that you show loyalty to those whom God has set in authority.‘ (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, II, pp. 83-4)
Qurtubi (d. 671/1273; Rahimahullah) agrees with Tabari (d. 923 CE; Rahimahullah) and Ibn Kathir regarding the meaning of ‘the rope of God‘ in verse 103. He cites with approval the famous traditionist Ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181/797; Rahimahullah) who said, ‘Surely unity is God’s rope; therefore hold fast all together to ‘its firm handle‘ (see Qur’an 2:256).’ Qurtubi adds that ‘God enjoins concord and forbids dissension, for in disunity is perdition, and in unity salvation.‘
Qurtubi offers two possible interpretations of the phrase ‘And be not divided‘:
‘Be not divided in your religion as were the Jews and Christians divided in their religions‘ and ‘Be not divided in following different false opinions and purposes. Rather, be brothers in God’s religion.‘
As a jurist, Qurtubi observes that, ‘There is no indication in this verse of the prohibition of disagreement in the branches (furu’) [of fiqh] as this in reality is not dissension. This is because true dissention is one wherein concord and unity become virtually impossible. As for disagreement in judgements based on personal effort (ijtihad), it is due to differences in deducing obligations (fara’id) and the minutiae of law.‘ On page 279, Imam al-Razi (d. 606/1210; Rahimahullah) was quoted as saying in conclusion to his commentary on the above ayat:
‘If a person going down into a well must hold fast to a rope in order that he may not fall in, so also the Book of God, His covenant, religion and obedience to Him, as well as unity and harmony among the people of faith are means of security for anyone who holds fast to them from falling into the bottom of Hell.'”
(2) Surah al-Imran (3:105):
“And be not like those who separated and disputed after the clear proofs had come unto them: For such there is an awful doom.”
(3) Surah al-Imran (3:110):
“Ye are the best community that has been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin the good and forbid the evil; and ye believe in Allah”
(4) Surah Al-An’am (6:159):
“As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, thou has no part in them in the least: Their affair is with Allah: He will in the end tell them the truth of all that they did.”
(5) Surah Al-Mu’minun (23:52-53):
“And verily this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah and I am your Lord, so keep your duty unto Me. But they have broken their religion among them into sects, each sect rejoicing in its tenets.”
(6) Surah Al-Rum (30:32):
“Those who split up their Religion, and become Sects, each sect exulting in its tenets.”
(7) Surah Al-Nisa (4:115):
“He that disobeys the Apostle (Muhammad) after guidance has been made clear to him and follows a way other than that of the believers, We appoint for him that unto which he himself hath turned, and expose him unto Hell – a hapless journey’s end!”
(8) Surah Al-An’am (6:153):
“This is My Straight path, so follow it. Follow not other ways, lest ye be parted from His way. This has he ordained for you, that ye may ward off (evil).“
(1) Imam Abu Dawood (Rahimahullah) has quoted the well known Hadith concerning the division of the Muslim Ummah into seventy-three sects in his Sunan (3/4580, English edn):
Abu Amir al-Hawdhani said, “Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan (may Allah be pleased with him) stood among us and said, ‘Beware! The Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) stood among us and said’: ‘Beware! The People of the Book before (you) were split up into 72 sects, and this community will be split up into 73, seventy-two of them will go to Hell and one of them will go to Paradise, and it is the majority group (Jama’ah).’
Another version of the above Hadith has been reported by Hafiz Ibn Kathir (Rahimahullah) in The signs before the day of Judgement (pg. 14):
“Awf ibn Malik reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘The Jews split into 71 sects: one will enter Paradise and 70 will enter Hell. The Christians split into 72 sects: 71 will enter Hell and one will enter Paradise. By Him in Whose hand is my soul, my Ummah will split into 73 sects: one will enter Paradise and 72 will enter Hell.’ Someone asked, ‘O Messenger ofAllah (Peace be upon him), who will they be?’ He replied, ‘The main body of the Muslims (al-Jama’ah).’ Awf ibn Malik is the only one who reported this Hadith, and its isnad is acceptable.” And in another version of this Hadith the Prophet (Peace be upon him) goes onto say that the saved sect, “…Are those who follow my and my Sahaba’s path” (Tirmidhi, vol. 2, pg. 89)
Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad al-Sirhindi (d. 1034/1624; Rahimahullah) who is regarded by many people in the Indian sub-continent as a great renovator of the Tenth Islamic Century (Mujaddid alf Thani) wrote in his Maktubat (Vol. 3, Letter 38):
“It was declared in a Hadith that this Ummah would part into 73 groups, 72 of which would go to Hell. This Hadith informs us that the 72 groups will be tormented in the Fire of Hell. It does not inform us that they will remain in torment eternally. Remaining in the torment of Hell Fire eternally is for those who do not have Iman. That is, it is for disbelievers. The 72 groups, on account of their corrupt beliefs, will go to Hell and will burn as much as the corruptness of their beliefs. One group, the 73rd, will be saved from Hell Fire because their belief is not corrupt. If among the members of this one group there are those who committed evil deeds and if these evil deeds of theirs have not been forgiven through repentance or intercession, it is possible that these, too, will burn in Hell as much as their sins. All of those who are in the 72 groups will go to Hell. But none of them will remain in Hell eternally. Not all of those who are in this one group will go to Hell. Of these only those who have committed evil deeds will go to Hell. The 72 reported groups of bid’ah, which will go to Hell, should not be called disbelievers, because they are Ahl al-Qibla (people of the Qibla in prayer). But, of these, the ones who disbelieve those facts in the Deen that are indispensably required to be believed, as well as those who deny the rules of the Shari’ah which every Muslim has heard and knows, become disbelievers.”
In another letter (vol. 1, letter 80) he said:
“There is no doubt whatsoever that the sect that made conforming to the conduct of the Prophet’s Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) necessary, that alone is the Ahl as Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah.”
Shaykh Abdal Qadir al-Jilani (d. 561/1166; Rahimahullah) stated in his commentary to the above Hadith in Ghunyat at-Talibin (pg. 90),
“The Believer should adapt himself to the Sunnah and to the Jama’ah. The Sunnah is the way shown by Rasulullah (Peace be upon him). The Jama’ah is composed of the things done unanimously by the Sahaba al-Kiram who lived in the time of the four caliphs called Khulafa’ ar-Rashidin (and others in their path). A Muslim must prevent the multiplication of the men of bid’ah and keep away from them, and should not greet them (as given in many Hadith on this issue). Ahmad ibn Hanbal (rahimahullah), the Imam of our Madhhab, said that greeting a man ofbid’ah meant loving him since it had been declared in a Hadith, ‘Disseminate (your) greeting (salaam)! Love one another in this way!” He also said (pg. 143): “The title, Ahl as-Sunnah, which the innovators have expressed for themselves is not appropriate for them.“
Although Ibn Taymiyya was accused of holding certain corrupt points in his aqid’ah, which led so many scholars to denounce him for his heresy, he never the less hit the right point when he described those who are the real Sunni’s in his Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyyah (pg. 154):
” Their creed is the religion of Islam which was sent to the world by Allah through the Prophet (Peace be upon him). But the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘My Ummah will get divided into 73 sects and each one will go to Hell save one and that one is the Jama’at.’ Also in one Hadith he said, ‘They are those people who will follow this path which I and my Sahaba follow today.’ Therefore they have caught hold of Islam unalloyed from every adulteration and these are the people of Ahl as-Sunnah Wa’l Jama’ah. This group includes the truthful, the martyrs and the virtuous; it includes the minarets of guidance, lamps in the darkness and owners of such superiorities and virtues who have been already mentioned. It includes the saints and also those Imams on whose guidance Muslims are unanimous. It is this successful group about which the Prophet (Peace be upon him) has said: ‘One group from my Ummah will always remain dominant with truth; the opponents will never be able to harm its members or afflict them upto the Doomsday.'”
(2) Imam Muslim (Rahimahullah) has collected a number of variant Hadith on the saved sect. He has related a longer version of the last Hadith quoted above:
“Abdal Rahman ibn Shamasa al-Mahri said: ‘I was in the company of Maslama bin Mukhallad and Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-Aas (may Allah be pleased with them).’ Abdullah said, ‘The Hour shall come only when the worst type of people are left on the earth. They will be worse than the people of pre-Islamic days. They will get what ever they ask of Allah.‘ While we were sitting Uqba ibn Amir came, and Maslama said to him, ‘Uqba, listen to what Abdullah says.‘ Uqba said, ‘He knows, so far as I am concerned, I heard the Prophet (Peace be upon him) say: A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight in obedience to the Command of Allah, remaining dominant over their enemies. Those who will opose them shall not do them any harm. They will remain in this condition until the Hour over takes them.‘ (At this) Abdullah said, ‘Yes. Then Allah will raise a wind which will be fragrant like musk and whose touch will be like the touch of silk; (but) it will cause the death of all (faithful) persons, not leaving behind a single person with an iota of faith in his heart. Then only the worst of men will remain to be overwhelmed by the Hour.’” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4721, English ed’n, see also Sahih al-Bukhari, 9/414, English ed’n)
Imam Nawawi (d. 676/1277, Rahimahullah) said in his Sharh Muslim (vol. 2, pg. 143):
“The group of people (mentioned in the above Hadith) consists of scholars, jurisprudents, authorities on Hadith, those who enjoin Good (Maroof) and forbid Evil (Munkar) and all such persons who do good deeds. Such righteous persons may be found spread all over the world.”
Imam al-Tirmidhi (Rahimahullah) said:
“The explanation of al-Jama’ah according to the people of knowledge: They are the people of fiqh, knowledge and Hadith.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi, 4/2167; Ahmad Shakir ed’n)
Imam Bukhari (Rahimahullah) stated in his Sahih (vol. 9, chapter. 10, English ed’n),
“The statement of the Prophet (Peace be upon him): ‘A group of my followers will remain victorious in their struggle in the cause of the Truth.’ Those are the religious(ly) learned men (Ahl ul-Ilm).”
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (Rahimahullah) said about this group:
“If it is not the people of Hadith, then I do not know who they may be.” (Sahih Muslim Sharif-Mukhtasar Sharh Nawawi, vol. 5, pg. 183, W. Zaman)
Qadi Iyad (Rahimahullah) said in ash-Shifa (pg. 188):
“In a Hadith from Abu Umama (Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, `A group of my community will remain constant to the truth, conquering their enemy until the command of Allah comes to them while they are still in that condition.‘ He was asked, ‘Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), where are they?‘ He replied, `In Jerusalem.‘”
(3) Imam Muslim (Rahimahullah) has related in his Sahih (3/4553) under the chapter heading ‘Instruction to stick to the main body of the Muslims in the time of the trials and warning against those inviting people to disbelief‘, a Hadith on the authority of Hudhaifa ibn al-Yaman (Allah be pleased with him), who said:
“People used to ask the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) about the good times, but I used to ask him about (the) bad times fearing lest they overtake me. I said, ‘Messenger of Allah, we were in the midst of ignorance and evil, and then God brought us this good (time through Islam). Is there any bad time after this good one?’ He said, ‘Yes’. I asked, ‘Will there be a good time again after that bad time?’ He said, ‘Yes, but therein will be a hidden evil.’ I asked, ‘What will be the evil hidden therein?’ He said, ‘(That time will witness the rise of) the people who will adopt ways other than mine and seek guidance other than mine. You will know good points as well as bad points.’ I asked, ‘Will there be a bad time after this good one?’ He said, ‘Yes. (A time will come) when there will be people standing and inviting at the gates of Hell. Whoso responds to their call, they will throw them into the fire.’ I said, ‘Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), describe them for us.’ He said, ‘All right. They will be a people having the same complexion as ours and speaking our language.’ I said, `Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him), what do you suggest if I happen to live in their time?’ He said, ‘You should stick to the main body of the Muslims and their leader’ I said, ‘If they have no (such thing as the) main body of the Muslims and have no leader?’ He said, ‘Separate yourself from all these factions, though you may have to eat the roots of trees until death comes to you and you are in this state.'”
(NB-It is not likely that there will be an absence of a Jama’ah, since I have already quoted the Prophet, peace be upon him, as saying: ‘A group of people from my Ummah will continue to fight in obedience to the command of Allah, remaining dominant over their enemies. Those who will oppose them shall not do them any harm. They will remain in this condition until the Hour overtakes them.‘)
(4) Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“Who (ever) defected from the obedience (to the Amir) and separated from the main body of the Muslims – then he died in that state – would die the death of one belonging to the days of Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic ignorance). And he who is killed under the banner of a man who is blind (to the cause for which he is fighting), who gets flared up with family pride and fights for his tribe – is not from my Ummah, and whoso from my followers attacks my followers (indiscriminately) killing the righteous and the wicked of them, sparing not (even) those staunch in faith and fulfilling not his obligation towards them who have been given a pledge (of security), is not from me.” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4557 & 4555; English ed’n)
Imam al-Bayhaqi (d. 458/1066; Rahimahullah) stated in his: The Seventy-Seven Branches of Faith (pg. 42-3), under the fiftieth branch of faith (50 – Holding firmly to the position of the majority): “God Most High has said: Hold fast, all together, to the rope of God, and do not be disunited. [3:103]. Muslim (Rahimahullah) relates on the authority of Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, ‘Whoever is disobedient, and departs from the majority, and then dies, has died in a state of Jahiliyya.‘ He also relates the following Hadith on the authority of Ibn Shurayh (Allah be pleased with him): ‘After I am gone, there will come days of corruption and turmoil. When you see people damaging the unity of the Community of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), you must fight them, whoever they may happen to be.‘
Abdal Hakim Murad (the translator of the above book) said in the footnote to the fiftieth branch of faith: ‘Orthodoxy in Islam is defined as the doctrine of ahl al-sunna wa’l jama’a, the People of the Sunna and the Community. To know whether a doctrine or practise is orthodox or heretical, the Muslim is required to find out whether it is recognised by the majority of Muslim scholars (see later for Imam al-Munawi’s commentary). Thus even without looking into their theology, he will know that sects such as the Isma’ilis, the Khariji’s, the Wahhabi’s, the Twelver Shi’a and others (not to mention anti-Islamic groupings such as the Ahmadiya and the Bahais) are to be repudiated.'”
(5) Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“One who found in his Amir (the ruler of the true Islamic state; which is absent today) something which he disliked should hold his patience, for one who separated from the main body of the Muslims even to the extent of a handspan and then he died, would die the death of one belonging to the days of Jahiliyya.” (Sahih Muslim, 3/4559; English ed’n & Sahih al-Bukhari, 9/257; English ed’n)
(6) Imam’s Ahmad and Abu Dawood (Allah’s mercy be upon them) said that Abu Dharr (Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“He who separates from the main body (of the Ummah) by even a hand’s breadth from the Community he throws off Islam from his neck.” (Mishkat-ul-Masabih, 1/185 & Sunan Abu Dawood, 3/4740)
NB-The following five Hadith have been mentioned by the great scholar of Hadith, Hafiz Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201; Rahimahullah) in hisTalbis Iblis (section entitled: Adherence to the Sunnah and Jama’ah). A section of the above work has been translated by Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips in to English, under the title: The Devil’s Deception of the Shee’ah (pp. 4-5). Bilal Philips has put footnotes to the five Hadith that I will be quoting below (to declare some of the Hadith to be Da’eef), but one thing that should be mentioned is that he has mainly relied upon al-Albani’s classification of the Hadiths in question; hence these ‘classifications’ of al-Albani need re-verifying! I say this because it is a well known fact that Hafiz Ibn al-Jawzi was noted for his exceptional stringency in accepting Hadith, and he has been known to have declared some of the Hadith in Bukhari/Muslim to be Da’eef, as well as declaring some sound Hadith to be fabricated! Nevertheless, I would like to make it clear to those readers who are unaware of the status of Bilal Philips, that he has heavily depended on the classifications of al-Albani in most of his books! If the esteemed reader is convinced that the errors of al-Albani are most apparent, then one should beware of the status of those Hadiths that have been used by Bilal Philips (on account of his accepting al-Albani’s classifications). Bilal Philips seems to be a leading critic of Taqleed who has been swept away by the tide of modern day “Salafiyyism”; and it seems that he has ‘blindly’ accepted the classifications of al-Albani without himself reverifying al-Albani’s classifications! I ask you, is this not a clear cut example of Taqleed? If it has been proven that al-Albani’s classifications are unreliable, would it not be just for Bilal Philips to re-verify all the Hadiths that have been authenticated by al-Albani and correct any misclassifications in his books? Allah know’s best.
(7) ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) reported that on one occasion Allah’s Messenger (Peace and blessings be upon him) stood up among them and said, “Whoever among you desires the centre of paradise should keep close to the Jama’ah for the Devil closely accompanies the solitary individual and is more distant from two.” (Collected by Imam Tirmidhi)
(8) And ‘Arfajah (Allah be pleased with him) reported (Allah’s Messenger, peace be upon him, as saying): “that Allah’s hand is over the Jama’ah and the Devil is with whoever deviates from the Jama’ah.” (Collected by Imam al-Tabarani)
(9) ‘Abdullah ibn Masood (Allah be pleased with him) reported that once Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) drew a line in the dust with his hand and said, “This is the straight path of Allah.” Then he drew a series of lines to the right of it and to the left and said, “Each of these paths has a devil at its head inviting people to it.” He then recited (Qur’an 6:153), “Verily this is my straight path so follow it and do not follow the (twisted) paths.” (Collected by Ahmad, Nisai and Darimi; see Mishkat ul-Masabih, 1/166)
(10) Mu’adh ibn Jabal (Allah be pleased with him) reported that Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said, “The Devil is like a wolf among humans as a wolf is among sheep; it snatches the stray sheep. So beware of the paths which branch off and adhere to the Jama’ah, the masses and the masjid.” (Collected by Imam Ahmad; NB- The version given in Mishkat, 1/184, also on the authority of Imam Ahmad does not have the addition ‘the masses and the masjid.’)
(11) And Abu Dharr (Allah be pleased with him) reported from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) that, “Two are better than one, and three better than two; so stick to the Jama’ah for verily Allah, Most Great and Glorious, will only unite my nation on guidance.” (Collected by Ahmad)
(12) Al-Harith al-Ashari (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:
“I bid you to do five things: to remain attached to the main body (Jama’ah of Muslims), listen to your ruler (the Khalif of the Islamic state) and obey him, and migrate, and fight in the way of Allah. And he who detaches himself from the main body of the Muslims (Jama’ah) to the extent of one span of hand, he in fact, throws off the yoke of Islam from his neck, and he who calls with the call of ignorance, he is one from the denizens of Hell beyond doubt, even if he observes fast and says prayers and considers himself as a Muslim.” (Musnad Ahmad, vide: Selection from Hadith, no. 288; by A.H. Siddique)
(13) Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) reported Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) as saying:
“Follow the great mass (as-Sawad al-Azam) for he who kept himself away from it, in fact would be thrown in Hell Fire.” (Ibn Majah; vide: Mishkat, 1/174, by A.H. Siddiqui).
The translator of Mishkat-ul-Masabih (A.H. Siddiqui, pg. 113) said in the footnote to the last Hadith:
“There is a good deal of difference of opinion as to what the term Sawad al-Azam implies. The overwhelming majority of the scholars are of the view that As-Sawad al-Azam means the largest group of the learned scholars and pious persons whose opinions are held in high esteem in Islam.”
(14) Imam al-Shafi’i (Rahimahullah) said in his Risala (pg. 252-3):
“Sufyan (ibn Uyayna) told us from Abd al-Malik ibn Umayr from Abd al-Rahman ibn Abd Allah ibn Masood from his father, that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, `God will grant prosperity to His servant who hears my words, remembers them, guards them, and hands them on. Many a transmitter of law is no lawyer (faqih) himself, and many may transmit law to others who are more versed in the law than they. The heart of a Muslim shall never harbour vindictive feelings against three: sincerity in working for God; faithfulness to Muslims; and conformity to the community of believers (Jama’ah) – their call shall protect (the believers) and guard them from (the Devil’s) delusion.‘” (vide: Sunan al-Darimi, vol. 1, pp. 74-6; Ibn Hanbal, vol. 6, pg. 96; Musnad al-Shafi’i, vol. 1, pg. 16; Mishkat-ul-Masabih, 1/228; and al-Bayhaqi in his al-Madkhal). Imam al-Shafi’i said (pg. 253): “The Apostle’s (Peace be upon him) order that men should follow the Muslim community is a proof that the ijma (consensus) of the Muslims is binding.”
(15) Imam al-Shafi’i (Rahimahullah) stated in al-Risala (pg. 286-7):
“And Sufyan (also) told us from `Abd Allah ibn Abi Labid from `Abd Allah ibn Sulayman ibn Yasar from his father, who said: `Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) made a speech at al-Jabiya in which he said: The Apostle of God (Peace be upon him) stood among us by an order from God, as I am now standing among you, and said: Believe my Companions, then those who succeed them (the Successors), and after that those who succeed the Successors; but after them untruthfulness will prevail when people will swear (in support of their saying) without having been asked to swear, and will testify without having been asked to testify. Only those who seek the pleasure of Paradise will follow the community, for the devil can pursue one person, but stands far away from two. Let no man be alone with a woman, for the devil will be third among them. He who is happy with his right (behaviour), or unhappy with his wrong behaviour, is a (true) believer.'” (see also Musnad al-Shafi’i, vol. 2, pg. 187; and Ibn Hanbal, vol. 1, pg. 112-13, 176-81).
Imam al-Shafi’i said in conclusion to this Hadith:
“He who holds what the Muslim community (Jama’ah) holds shall be regarded as following the community, and he who holds differently shall be regarded as opposing the community he was ordered to follow. So the error comes from separation; but in the community as a whole there is no error concerning the meaning of the Qur’an, the Sunnah, and analogy (qiyas).”
(16) Imam Hakim (1/116) has related a Sahih Hadith from the Prophet (Peace be upon him) in the following words: “My Ummah shall not agree upon error.”
(17) Imam al-Tirmidhi (4/2167) reported on the authority of Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him) from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who said: “Verily my Ummah would not agree (or he said the Ummah of Muhammad) would not agree upon error and Allah’s hand is over the group and whoever dissents from them departs to Hell.” (see also Mishkat, 1/173)
Imam al-Azizi (d. 1070/1660; Rahimahullah) quoted Imam al-Munawi’s (d. 1031/1622; Rahimahullah) commentary to the last Hadith in his al-Siraj al-munir sharh al-Jami al-saghir (3.449), as follows:- Allah’s hand is over the group
(al-Azizi): Munawi says, “Meaning his protection and preservation of them, signifying that the collectivity of the people of Islam are in Allah’s fold, so be also in Allah’s shelter, in the midst of them, and do not separate yourselves from them.” The rest of the Hadith, according to the one who first recorded it (Tirmidhi), is:-
and whoever descents from them departs to hell.
Meaning that whoever diverges from the overwhelming majority concerning what is lawful or unlawful and on which the Community does not differ has slipped off the path of guidance and this will lead him to hell.” (vide: The Reliance of the Traveller, pg. 25)
From Al-Albani Unvelied by Ahmed ibn Muhammad
A defence of the Ash’ari school by one of the foremost scholars of Hadith and Fiqh in Makkah of his time – Shaikh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki (RahimAllah).
Shaykh Muhammad ‘Alawi Maliki: “Many sons/daughters of Muslims are ignorant of the Ash’ari School, whom it represents, and its positions on the tenets of the Islamic faith (aqidah), and yet some of them are not God-fearing enough to refrain from accusing it of deviance, departure from the religion of Islam, and heresy about the attributes of Allah. The ignorance of the Ash’ari school is a cause of rendering the unity of the Ahl al-Sunnah dispersing its ranks. Some have gone as far as to consider the Ash’aris among the categories of heretical sects, though it is beyond me how believers can be linked with misbelievers, or how Sunni Muslims can be considered equal with the most extreme faction of the Mu’tazilites, the Jahmites.
“Shall We deal with Muslims as We do criminals? How is it that you judge?” [Qur’an 68:35-36]
The Ash’aris are the Imams of the distinguished figures of guidance among the scholars of the Muslims, whose knowledge has filled the world from east to west, and whom people have unanimously concurred upon their excellence, scholarship, and religiousness. They include the first rank of Sunni scholars and the most brilliant of their luminaries, who stood in the face of the excesses commited by the Mu’tazilites, and who constitute whole sections of the foremost Imams of Hadith, Sacred Law, Quranic exegesis. Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad ibn Hajar ‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449; Rahimullah), the mentor of Hadith scholars and author of the book “Fath al-Bari bi sharh Sahih al-Bukhari“, which not a single Islamic scholar can dispense with, was Ash’ari. The shaykh of the scholars of Sunni Islam, Imam Nawawi (d. 676/1277; Rahimullah), author of “Sharh Sahih Muslim” and many other famous works, was Ash’ari. The master of Qur’anic exegetes, Imam Qurtubi (d. 671/1273; Rahimullah), author of “al-Jami’ li ahkan al-Qur’an“, was Ash’ari. Shaykh al-Islam ibn Hajar Haytami (d. 974/1567; Rahimullah), who wrote “al-Zawajir ‘an iqtiraf al-kaba’ir“, was Ash’ari. The Shaykh of Sacred Law and Hadith, the conclusive definitive Zakariyya Ansari (d. 926/1520; Rahimullah), was Ash’ari. Imam Abu Bakr Baqillani (d. 403/1013; Rahimullah), Imam ‘Asqalani; Imam Nasafi (d. 710/1310; Rahimullah); Imam Shirbini (d. 977/1570; Rahimullah); Abu Hayyan Tawhidi, author of the Qur’anic commentary “al-Bahr al-muhit“; Imam ibn Juzayy (d. 741/1340; Rahimullah); author of “al-Tashil fi ‘ulum al-Tanzil“; and others – all of these were Imams of the Ash’aris. If we wanted to name all of the top scholars of Hadith, Qur’anic exegesis, and Sacred Law who were Imams of the Ash’aris, we would be hard put to do so and would require volumes merely to list these illustrious figures whose wisdom has filled the earth from east to west. And it is incumbent upon us to give credit where credit is due, recognising the merit of those of knowledge and virtue who have served the Sacred Law of the Greatest Messengers (Allah bless him and grant him peace). What good is to be hoped for us if we impugn our foremost scholars and righteous forbearers with charges of aberrancy and misguidance? Or how should Allah give us the benefit of their scholarship if we believe it is deviance and departure from the way of Islam? I ask you, is there a single Islamic scholar of the present day, among all the PhD.’s and geniuses, who has done what Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalani or Imam Nawawi have, of the service rendered by these two noble Imams (May Allah enfold them in His mercy and bliss) to the pure Prophetic Sunnah? How should we charge them and all Ash’aris with abberancy when it is we who are in need of their scholarship? Or how can we take knowledge from them if they were in error? For as Imam Zuhri (d. 124/742; rahimullah) says, “This knowledge is religion, so look well to whom you are taking your religion from.”
Is it not sufficient for someone opposed to the Ash’aris to say, “Allah have mercy on them, they used reasoning (ijtihad) in figuratively interpreting the divine attributes, which it would have been fitter for them not to do”; instead of accusing them of deviance and misguidance, or displaying anger towards whoever considers them to be of the Sunni Community? If Imams Nawawi, ‘Asqalani, Qurtubi, Baqillani, al-Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Haytami, Zakariyyah Ansari, and many others were not among the most brilliant scholars and illustrious geniuses, or of the Sunni Community, then who are the Sunnis?
I sincerely entreat all who call others to this religion or who work in the field of propagating Islam to fear Allah respecting the honour of the Community of Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is possessed of goodness until the Final Hour, we are bereft of any if we fail to acknowledge the worth and excellence of our learned.”
In conclusion, the Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l Jama’ah are the true followers of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his Companions (Allah be pleased with them all), followed by by those who trod their path for the last 1400 years. It is in summary the followers of Imam Abu’l Hasan al-Ash’ari (Rahimullah) and Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (Rahimullah) in Aqeedah, and this saved sect is represented by the adherents of one of the four schools – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali today. This is the sect which has had the largest following throughout Islamic history as-Sawad al-Az’am) as confirmed by the Qur’anic and Ahadith based evidence and it will remain dominant until the Hour is established, inshaAllah.
Shaykh Ahmad Darwish Mosque of the Internet P.O. Box 601, Tesuque, NM 87574 USA Foreword by Professor Hasan El Fatih Dean of Umm Durman Islamic University. This book was written in Arabic by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, or Algazel as he was known to medieval Europe (died 505/1111).
His numerous works are well known, respected and quoted not only in the middle east but in the higher universities of west. His contribution to theology and philosophy have proved to be major cornerstones of resource throughout the centuries.
During the revival of Greek philosophy in the middle ages, many Christians were attracted and swayed by the persuasion of Greek logic. In an effort to protect Christianity, Christian theologians relied upon the profound arguments of Al Ghazali to defeat the adherents of Greek philosophy and thereby protected their religion.
Al Ghazali’s works have been translated and printed in many languages. Comparative studies have shown that Jean Jacques Rousseau, known in the west as the pioneer of children’s education, based his ideas and methods upon the work of Al Ghazali.
The Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam says of Al Ghazali:
“He was the most original thinker that Islam produced and its greatest theologian.”
A.J. Arberry, professor and director of the Middle East Centre at the University of Cambridge, England referred to him as being:
“He was one of the greatest mystical theologians of Islam and indeed of all mankind.”
I pray that the readers will benefit from the sound reasoning which they are about to embark upon and that it will open guiding channels of thought that will give pleasure in this life and in the Hereafter.
Hasan El Fatih Umm Durman Sudan 1992
The first translation into English was by the late Professor Nabih Amin Al Faris, American University, Beirut, October 31, 1962 with the examination of Dr. John H. Patton, Professor of Religion Park College, Parksville, MO. USA.
The reason for this work being undertaken yet again is due to the need for updating this work and also to rectify English linguistic usages and to adapt it for the computer with the addition of an index.
If the reader encounters difficulty in understanding some parts of this book, we would advise a visit to the grand philosopher and Sufi of Islam, Professor Hasan El Fatih, at the Mosque of Sheikh Muhammad El Fatih, Umm Durman, Sudan.
It is interesting to note that in the English versions of the Bible we found that the proper noun of the Creator referred to as “God” whereas we found in the Arabic edition of the Bible the proper noun changes to be “Allah” which is the same proper noun mentioned in the Arabic Qur’an.
In the Name of the Compassionate, the Merciful Allah,
This is the Book of the Foundations of Islamic Belief.
The Exposition of the Belief of the Sunni, way of the Prophet, is embodied in two phrases of witnessing (Shahadah) which form one of the Pillars of Islam.
We say – our success is from Allah – praise be to Allah the Creator, the Restorer, the One who does whatever He wills. He whose Throne is glorious and whose Power is Mighty; who guides the select amongst His worshippers to the righteous path. He who grants them benefits once they affirm His Oneness by guarding the articles of belief from the darkness of doubt and hesitation. He who leads them to follow the way of His chosen Prophet Muhammad – praise and peace be upon him – and to follow the example of his companions, the most honored, by directing their footsteps to the way of truth. He who reveals Himself to them in His Essence and in His Works by His fine attributes which none perceive except the one who inclines his ear in contemplation. He who makes known to them that He is One in His Essence without any associate, Single without any equal, Eternal without a similar.
Nothing precedes Him, He is without any beginning. He is Eternal with none after Him, Everlasting without any end, subsisting without cessation, abiding without termination He has not ceased and He will not cease to be described by the epithets of Majesty. At the end of time He will not be subject to dissolution and decay, but He is the First and the Last, the Hidden and Apparent, and He knows everything.
Allah is not a body possessing form, nor a substance restricted and limited: He does not resemble other bodies either in limitation or in accepting division.
He is not a substance and substances do not reside in Him; He is not a quality of substance, nor does a quality of substance occur in Him.
Rather, He resembles no existent and no existent resembles Him. Nothing is like Him and He is not like anything. Measure does not bind Him and boundaries do not contain Him. Directions do not surround Him and neither the earth nor the Heavens are on different sides of Him.
Truly, He is controlling the Throne in the manner in which He said and in the sense in which He willed – in a state of transcendence that is removed from parallel and touch, residence, fixity of location, stability, envelopment, and movement.
The Throne does not support Him, but the Throne and those who carry it are supported by the Subtleness of His Power and are constrained by His Firmness. He is above the Throne and Heavens and above everything to the limits of the earth with an aboveness which does not bring Him nearer to the Throne and the Heavens, just as it does not make Him further from the earth.
Rather, He is Highly Exalted above the Throne and the Heavens, just as He is Highly Exalted above the earth. Nevertheless, He is near to every entity and is “nearer to the worshipper than his juggler vein” and He witnesses everything since His nearness does not resemble the nearness of bodies, just as His Essence does not resemble the essence of bodies.
He does not exist in anything, just as nothing exists in Him: Exalted is He that a place could contain Him, just as sanctified is He that no time could limit Him.
For, He was as before He had created time and place, and just as He was, He is now. He is distinct from His creatures through His attributes. There is not in His Essence any other than Him, nor does His Essence exist in any other than Him.
He is Exalted from change and movement. Substance does not reside in Him and the quality of substance do not befall Him. Rather, He is in the attributes of His Majesty beyond cessation. And He is in the attributes of His Perfection. He is not in need of an increase in perfection. In His Essence, His Existence is known by reason (in this life).
In the Everlasting Life, His Essence is seen by the eyes of the righteous as a favor from Him, and a subtlety as a completion of favors from Him through their beholding His Gracious Face.
He is Living, Able, the Conqueror and All-subduing.
Inadequacy and weakness do not befall Him; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; annihilation does not prevail over Him nor death. He is the Owner of the visible and invisible Kingdom, and of Power and Might. His are dominion, subjugation, creation, and command; the Heavens are rolled in His Right and created things are subjugated in His Firmness.
He is Single in creating and inventing. He is Alone in bringing into existence and innovating. He created all creatures and their deeds, and decreed their sustenance and their life span; nothing decreed escapes His Firmness and the mutations of the affairs does not slip from His Power.
Whatever He decrees cannot be numbered neither does His Knowledge end.
He is Knowledgeable of all the known, encompassing all that happens in the depths of earth to the highest heavens. He is Knowledgeable in which there is not an atom that escapes His Knowledge in heaven and earth.
Rather, He knows the stamping of the black ant upon the solid rock in the darkest night. He perceives the movement of a particle of dust in mid-air. He knows the secrets and that which is more hidden.
He is the Overseer of the whispering of the self and the flow of thoughts, and the most deepest concealment of the selves.
With a knowledge which is ancient from eternity and by which He has not ceased to be described through the ages.
Not by a knowledge which is subject to updating by occurring and circulating in His Essence.
He is the Willer of all existence and the Planner of all contingent things. There is nothing that occurs in His visible or invisible world except by His prior planning and His execution whether it is little or plenteous, small or large, good or evil, benefit or harm, belief or unbelief, gratitude or ingratitude, prosperity or loss, increase or decrease, obedience or disobedience all is according to His Wisdom and Will, what He wills occurs and what He does not will does not occur. There is not a glance of the onlooker nor a stray thought that is not subject to His Will.
He is the Creator at first, the Restorer, the Doer of whatsoever He wills. There is none that rescinds His command, and none that supplements His decrees, and there is no escape for a worshipper from disobeying Him, except by His Help and Mercy, and none has power to obey Him except by His Will. Even if mankind, jinn, angels, and devils were to unite to try to move the weight of an atom in the world or to render it still, without His Will they would fail.
His Will subsists in His Essence amongst His Attributes. He has not ceased to be described by it from eternity, willing, – in His Infinity – the existence of the things at their appointed time which He has decreed. So they come into existence at their appointed times as He has willed in His Infinity without precedence or delay. They come to pass in accordance with His Knowledge and His Will without variation or change.
He directs matters not through arrangement of thought and awaiting the passage of time, and so no affair occupies Him from another affair.
He – the Most High – is the Hearer, the Seer. He hears and sees.
No audible thing, however faint, escapes His Hearing, and no visible thing, however minute, is hidden from His Sight.
Distance does not prevent His Hearing and darkness does not obstruct His Seeing. He sees without a pupil and eyelid, and hears without the meatus and ears, as He perceives without a heart, and seizes without limbs, and creates without an instrument, since His attributes do not resemble the attributes of the creation, and as His Essence does not resemble the essence of creation.
He – the Most High – speaks, commanding, forbidding, promising, and threatening, with a speech from eternity, ancient, and self-existing.
Unlike the speech of the creation, it is not a sound which is caused through the passage of air or the friction of bodies; nor is it a letter which is enunciated through the opening and closing of lips and the movement of the tongue.
And that the Qur’an, the original Torah, the original Gospel of Jesus, and the original Psalms are His Books sent down upon His Messengers, peace be upon them.
The Qur’an is read by tongues, written in books, and remembered in the heart, yet it is, nevertheless ancient, subsisting in the Essence of Allah, not subject to division and or separation through its transmission to the heart and paper [by this he meant that the movement of the reciter’s tongue and his management of the flow of air in his mouth and ear etc., or the writer’s inscription upon paper, all of which are created. Whereas the logic of Ghazali addresses what is beyond this human quality and dimension of time and physic. Thereby he refers to the Qur’an before one’s movement of the tongue or transcription onto paper. Most errors have come from our human dimensions, and that we try to describe Divine attributes through our own limited human attributes – Darwish]. Moses – Allah praised him and gave him peace – heard the Speech of Allah without sound and without letter, just as the righteous see the Essence of Allah – the High – in the Hereafter, without substance or its quality.
And since He has these qualities, He is Living, Knowing, Willing, Hearing, Seeing and Speaking with life, power, knowledge, will, hearing, sight, and speech, not solely through His Essence.
He, the Exalted, the High, there is no existence except Him, unless it occurs by His action and proceeds from His Justice, in the best, perfect, complete and just ways.
He is Wise in His verdicts. His justice is not to be compared with that of worshippers, because it is conceivable that the worshipper is unjust when he deals with properties of other than his own. But, harm is not conceivable from Allah – the High – because He does not encounter any ownership of other than Himself, in which His dealing could be described to be harmful.
Everything besides Him, children of Adam and jinn, angels and devils, heaven and earth, animals, plants, and inanimates, substance and its quality, as well as things perceived and things felt, are all originated things which He created by His Power and before they were nothing, since He existed in Eternity alone and there was nothing whatsoever with Him.
So He originated creation thereafter as a manifestation of His Power and a realization of that which had preceded of His Will and the realization of His Word in eternity, not because He had any need or necessity for it.
He is magnanimous in creating and inventing and in imposing obligations, not doing it through necessity.
He is Gracious in beneficence and reform, though not through any need. Munificence and Kindness, Beneficence and Grace are His, since He is able to bring upon His creatures all manner of torture and to try them with all kinds of pain and affliction. Even if He should do this, it would be justice from Him, it would not be vile, it would not be tyrannous.
He – the Mighty, the Glorified – rewards His believing worshippers for their acts of obedience according to generosity and encouragement rather than according to their merit and obligation. For there is no obligation upon Him in any deed towards anyone and tyranny is inconceivable in Him. For there is no right upon Him towards anyone.
As for His right to be obeyed it is obligatory and binding upon all creatures because He made it obligatory upon them through the tongues of His prophets and not by reason. But He sent His prophets and showed their truthfulness through explicit miracles, and they conveyed His commands and prohibitions as well as His promises and threats. So it became obligatory upon all creatures to believe them and what they brought.
Allah sent the unlettered, of Quraish, Prophet Muhammad – praise and peace be upon him – with His Message for Arabs and non-Arabs alike, to the jinn and humanity. Therefore Allah superseded other religions by the Religion of Prophet Muhammad – praise and peace be upon him – except that which He confirmed amongst them.
He favored Prophet Muhammad over all other prophets and made him the master of mankind, and declared incomplete any profession of faith which attests to Oneness, which is “ There is no god except Allah, ” unless it is followed by the witness to the Messenger, which is your saying, “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” He obligated all nations to believe in everything he informed of the affairs of here and the Hereafter.
Allah will not accept the belief of any one (worshipper) until he believes in that which the Prophet informed of the affairs that occur after death, the first of which is the question of the angels Munkar and Nakeer. These are two awesome and terrifying beings who will make the deceased sit up in the grave, both soul and body; they will ask him about the Oneness of Allah and about the Message, asking, “Who is your Lord, and what is your Religion, and who is your prophet?” They are also known as the two examiners of the grave and their questions are considered as the first trial after death.
Again, one should believe in the punishment of the grave, and that it is real and that His Ruling is just over both the body and soul in accordance with His Will.
And one should believe in the Scale with the two pans with its indicator – the magnitude of which is like the stages of the Heavens and the earth – in it, the deeds are weighed by the Power of Allah, and its weights or measures are the mustard seed and the atom, in order to establish exact justice.
The records of good deeds will be placed in a fine image in the scale of light, and then the balance will be heavy according to its rank with Allah, by His Virtue.
The records of the evil deeds will be cast in an evil image in the scale of darkness, and they will be light in the balance through the Justice of Allah.
One should believe also that the Bridge is real; it is a Bridge stretched over Hell, sharper than the edge of the sword and finer than a hair. The feet of the unbelievers slip on it, according to the decree of Allah – the Exalted – and they will fall into the Fire; but the feet of the believers stand firm upon it, by the Grace of Allah, and so they are driven into the Everlasting residence.
And one should believe in the frequented pool, the Pool of Prophet Muhammad – Allah has praised and given him peace. From which the believers will drink before entering Paradise and after crossing over the Bridge. Whoever drinks a single mouthful from it will never thirst again. Its width is the distance of one month’s journey; its waters are whiter than milk and sweeter than honey. Around it are ewers in number like the stars of the sky, and into it flow two springs from al-Kawthar.
And one should believe in the Judgement and the distinctions between those in it, that some will be closely questioned, that some will be treated with forgiveness and that others will enter Paradise without questioning – these are the nearest.
Allah will ask whomsoever He will of the prophets concerning the deliverance of the Message, and whosoever of the unbelievers concerning their rejection of the Messengers; and He will ask the innovators concerning the way of the Prophet (sunnah) and the Muslims concerning their deeds.
One should believe that the believer in the Oneness of Allah (if he enters Hell on account of his sins) will be released from Hell fire after he has been punished, so that there will not remain in Hell one single believer.
One should believe in the intercession of the prophets, of the learned, and of the martyrs, then the rest of the believers – each according to his influence and rank before Allah.
Whosoever remains of the believers and has no intercessor will be released through the Grace of Allah, the Mighty, the Glorified.
Therefore not one single believer will abide in Hell forever; whosoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought out from there.
One should believe the virtues of the Companions – may Allah be pleased with them – and their different ranks, and that the most excellent of mankind, after the Prophet – Allah praised and gave him peace – is Abu-Bakr, and then `Umar, and then `Uthman, and then `Ali – may Allah be pleased with them – and one should think well of all the Companions and praise them, just as Allah – the Mighty, the Glorified – and His Prophet praised them all – Allah has praised the Prophet and given him peace -. All these were reported in the news and witnessed traditions (of the Prophet). Therefore whosoever believes in all this and believes in it without doubting will be among the people of truth and the congregation of the Way of the Prophet (sunnah), and indeed has separated themself from the followers of error and party of innovation.
So we ask Allah to perfect our faith and make us steadfast in the Religion for us and for all Muslims through His Mercy. Truly He is the Most Merciful. And may the praise of Allah be upon our Master Muhammad and upon every chosen worshipper.
(The writer (1915-1978) was an English convert to Islam who became a Shaykh of the Tariqa Chishtiyya, living a life of simplicity in Karachi, Pakistan, where his holiness gained him the love and devotion of thousands of Muslims from all walks of life. May Allah show him His mercy, and grant him light in his grave. Amin.)
It is mistakenly imagined by some that belief in a Supreme Being as the Creator and Controller of the universe is a mere emotional aspiration, a superstition of ancient times, irrational and illogical, and exploded by modern science. It is believed that scientists (physicists, biologists and others) have erected some theory which both refutes and replaces the traditional belief in God. Such ideas have only a very superficial grounding, and are the result of ignorance or an indifference to both the fundamentals of religious faith and the scope of the physical sciences. It is a significant fact in the history of world thought that very few people have ever made it their business to refute the existence of God. The views of the universe which are considered to be anti-religious are almost all agnostic, not atheistic, that is to say, they attempt to ignore the existence of God instead of denying it. This is true of certain views of modern science as well as of the ancient non-religious theories. The universe in which we live comprises an evident system of causes and effects, of phenomena and their results, and it is possible to discuss them indefinitely and construct theories about them, giving a superficial appearance of completeness. This is done, however, only at the expense of ignoring fundamentals or claiming that they cannot be known. If one were to search for a convincing statement based on firm principles that the existence of a Supreme Being is impossible, one would not be able to find it.
The reason for this state of affairs is that belief in God is at once instinctive, rational, evidential and intuitional, and it is only by deliberately neglecting to consider it that the non-religious attitude is maintained. It is instinctive in that man has an innate feeling of his own inadequacy and helplessness, which accompanies him from the cradle to the grave, a feeling accompanied by the complementary desire to seek refuge and support with a being who controls all those forces before which he feels himself inadequate. We put this feeling forward as instinctive, although it will immediately be perceived that it is also evidential. The weakness of man before all the uncountable influences over which he has no control is a fact so obvious as to require no discussion.
What is less well grasped by some who have claims to intelligence is that belief in God is fully supported by reason and logic, the principles on which all human intelligence stands. For instance, it is a basic requirement of reason that an effect cannot exist without a cause. However hard we press our mental faculties, we cannot conceive rationally of a causeless effect, and if we wish to postulate one we can only do so by temporarily putting our reason on the shelf. Reason leads us to the conclusion that just as the elements which compose the universe are effects of certain causes, the universe itself must be the effect of a cause, a cause which is itself mightier than and outside the universe. Non-religious thinkers have to ignore the origin of the universe and postulate something existing in the beginning without any known cause. This postulate is essentially non-rational and therefore unscientific, but it is a necessity for those thinkers who have unconsciously or deliberately decided not to consider fundamentals. Of these there are even some who openly proclaim their refusal to discuss or admit any metaphysical concept. This kind of attitude, however, can only be upheld by abandoning reason. Reason itself guides us inexorably to the conclusion that there is an ultimate cause, the Cause of causes, beyond this universe of time, space and change; in fact, a Supreme Being.
Another of the basic demands of reason is that diversity cannot exist without a fundamental unity. Whenever the human mind is confronted with diversity, it immediately sets to work to synthesise it into unities, then to synthesise these unities into higher unities and so on until it can go no further. The ultimate result of a rational consideration of diversity is to arrive at a unity of unities, a Supreme Unity, the producer of all diversities, but itself essentially One. Whichever fundamental of reason we select, if we follow its path we are led inevitably to the same goal – belief in God, the Supreme Being.
Besides the conclusion arrived at by purely rational processes, man is led to the belief in God by observation and experience. One of the principal reasons for man’s refusal to recognize the existence of God is the intellectual arrogance produced by his appreciation of his own powers of analysis and synthesis, of harnessing physical forces by his ingenuity, and of constructing complex machines to do his work for him. But pride is caused by concentrating too much attention on one’s own virtues and blinding oneself to one’s defects. What are the best of man’s mechanical inventions but a poor and crude imitation of what already exists in an infinitely finer form in nature? By copying in an elementary fashion some of the functions of the human eye, he has been able to evolve the camera; but what comparison has this machine, made out of lifeless materials, to the living stuff of the eye, and to the refinement, brightness, clarity, flexibility and stability of its vision, its immediate connection with the mind which sifts and appreciates all it sees, all without a complicated system and controls, and directly under the command of the human will? Take any organ of the body and study it – the heart, the brain – and it will immediately be obvious that it is quite outside the scope of man’s ability to conceive and fashion such an instrument. The petty imitations of man are attributed to his great cunning, artistry and intelligence. Is it then reasonable, logical or scientific to attribute the infinitely finer and more perfect instruments of nature to such vague and blind energies called by names such as the ‘life force’, or ‘matter in evolution’, and leave them undescribed and unexplained? If logic has any validity (and if it has not we had better stop thinking altogether and become animals), the intelligence which conceived and wrought myriads of such delicate and astonishing devices must be infinitely superior to the human intelligence (even the human intelligence is one of its products), and have control of all the materials and workings of the universe. Such an intelligence can only be possessed by a Supreme Being, the Creator, Fashioner and Sustainer of all things.
If we ponder our own place in the world, we find that we (as well as all other beings) are kept in being by a most intimate combination of forces and conditions, which is so delicate that even a small dislocation would cause our total destruction. We live, so to speak, continually on the brink of annihilation, and yet are enabled to carry on our complex existences in comparative immunity. We cannot live, for instance, without daily rest; both the human body and the human mind are constructed to need it. This fact is not in itself surprising, but what is surprising is that the solar system collaborates with us in our human frailty and provides us with a day and a night exactly suited to our needs. Man cannot claim to have compelled or persuaded the solar system to do so; nor can the solar system claim to have modelled human physical and mental energy to conform to its own movements. Both man and the solar system are evidently linked in a total organisation in which man is the beneficiary; the organiser of these inexplicable concordances can only be a Supreme Controller of the universe and mankind. Sweet water is a necessary condition of human existence; it is equally necessary for those plants which produce man’s staple foods, which themselves depend on each other. If sea water were to invade our rivers and wells or rain down from the sky, is there any doubt that we should all die of hunger and thirst in a few days and the whole world become an empty desert? Yet sea water is only held back by an invisible barrier over which we have no control, and the sun and the clouds co-operate in order to desalinate our water for us and so give us life. This linkage of interdependence and concurrence could be extended indefinitely by taking examples from the physical world, and to describe it as ‘fortuitous’ is only begging the question; moreover it is a contradiction in terms. Fortuity is the name for something which does not come within any known system or regulation, an apparently meaningless and haphazard occurrence. To call a system which is a balanced and cohesive organization fortuitous is obviously self-contradictory and fallacious. A ‘fortuitous system’ is, simply, an absurdity. If we observe carefully we can see that the whole of the universe is interdependent and interlinked and therefore not fortuitous but planned. Belief in God means, precisely, belief in a Planner of the universe.
A basic element in human consciousness – a suprarational element – is a sense of value and purpose in respect to life. Even the worst of men is prevented from becoming completely bestial by this feeling, and in the best of them it dominates their whole existence. The senses of good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness, fitness and unfitness, truth and falsehood are such that however attacked by the missiles of constructive analysis, they remain intact within their intuitional fortress. In all ages and conditions, man has not been able to divest himself of the idea that behind its external effect, every action possesses a quality by which it may be judged and graded in the scale of final values. In addition to the consciousness of the existence of these values, there is the feeling that it is the purpose of man’s life to attain those qualities which reflect the highest of them, that not only are they excellent in themselves and worthy of being acquired, but that they must be acquired, and that he has been created to acquire them. The natural sense of qualitative purpose, if allowed to develop freely without the cramps of agnostic prejudice, leads him to the conception of an absolute good and an absolute truth as the ultimate standard of human existence, and from there (for a quality cannot exist except in a being who is qualified by it) to a being who is the possessor and author of these qualities, the Supreme Purposer.
The decisive vindication of the existence of God is evidential. At various junctures in world history and in widely distant places, certain men have arisen and proclaimed that they have been inspired by God to give His message to mankind. These men were not mad; we have historical records of several of them, including all or part of the message they insisted that they were called to deliver, and it is obvious that they were men who were intellectually and morally highly impressive. They did not come all at once so that we could attribute them to a sort of historical fashion. They came spaced throughout history usually at a time of great moral degeneration. If we examine their message, we find that apart from differences of expression, attributable to the milieu in which they lived, they not only bear remarkable similarities but are basically identical. They have stated that God had conversed with them in some inspirational manner, and had ordered them to proclaim His Existence as the Creator, Maintainer, Controller and eventual Destroyer of the world, to describe His Mercy and Justice, and to warn mankind that it is only by remembering and worshipping Him and following the moral and practical principles that He has laid down for them that they can achieve success and happiness here and hereafter. The last of these prophets was Muhammad of Mecca, who stated that there would be no prophet after him, and it is a demonstrable historical fact that no-one has been able to establish a claim to prophethood since. Now those who discuss or refuse to discuss the existence of God almost invariably rely on rational or anti-rational arguments and rarely, if ever, consider the evidential factor. The two basic elements in human knowledge are, firstly, our own observations and conclusions, and secondly, the evidence of others. Among the branches of knowledge the whole of history, for example, and most of the average man’s acquaintance with science, are only known from the evidence of others, unless he himself is a specialist in the subject. When specialists in a certain branch of knowledge continuously assert that a certain thing is a fact, it becomes a necessity for the rest of mankind, who are unable to acquire this knowledge directly, to accept it as such. In the field of direct inspiration from God, and knowledge of His qualities and works, we have the repeated evidence of people in history who have affirmed their apprehension of Him and that they have been charged with conveying His message; not only that, the realities of the divine and spiritual realism as described by these prophets have in various degrees been corroborated and confirmed by the spiritual experiences of an uncounted number of their followers right up to the present day. These corroborators have been the saints and mystics of their various communities. This continuous and widespread evidence of the existence of God, the central and original evidence of prophets, and the derivative and confirmatory evidence of their followers, all based on modes of direct and intuitional perception of His Being, cannot with any reasonability be denied or ignored. To deny or ignore them is patently illogical and unscientific, and against the basic principles of the acquirement and dissemination of human knowledge. In addition to being instinctive, intuitional, and logical, belief in God has irrefutable evidence to prove its verity.
First Annual Altaf Gauhar Memorial Lecture
Islamabad, 23 December 2002
Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, may I express my warm gratitude to you all for paying me the compliment of attending today? It is particularly gratifying to me to attend an event in this country, the only state established in recent history specifically as a homeland for Muslims. It is also a privilege to be associated with the name of the late and revered Altaf Gauhar, whose translations from the Qur’an certainly formed, back in the late 1970s, part of my own personal journey towards Islam.
I want to talk about religion – our religion – and address the question of what exactly is going on when we speak about the prospects of a mutually helpful engagement between Islam and Western modernity. I propose to tackle this rather large question by invoking what I take to be the underlying issue in all religious talk, which is its ability both to propose and to resolve paradoxes.
We might begin by saying that theology is the most ambitious and fruitful of disciplines because it is all about the successful squaring of circles. Most obviously, it seeks to capture, in the limited net of human language, something of the mystery of an infinite God. Most taxingly, it seeks to demonstrate that an omnipotent God is also absolutely just, and that an apparently infinite reward or chastisement can attend upon finite human behaviour. Most scandalously, it holds that we are more than natural philosophy can describe or know, and that we can achieve states of being in what we call the soul that are as movingly palpable as they are inexplicable. The Spirit, as the scriptures tell us, ‘is of the command of our Lord, and of knowledge you have been given but little.’ (17:85)
So we have a list of imponderables. But to this list the specifically Islamic form of monotheism adds several additional items. The first of these items is what we call universalism, that is to say, that Islam does not limit itself to the upliftment of any given section of humanity, but rather announces a desire to transform the entire human family. This is, if you like, its Ishmaelite uniqueness: the religions that spring from Isaac (a.s.), are, in our understanding, an extension of Hebrew and Occidental particularity, while Islam is universal. Hagar, unlike Sarah, is half-Egyptian, half-Gentile, and it is she who goes forth into the Gentile world. Rembrandt’s famous picture of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael has Sarah mockingly peering out of a window. She is old, and stays at home; while Hagar is young, and looks, with her son, towards limitless horizons.
In the hadith, we learn that ‘Every prophet was sent to his own people; but I am sent to all mankind’ (bu‘ithtu li’l-nasi kaffa).  This will demand the squaring of a circle – in fact of many circles – in a way that is characteristically Islamic. Despite its Arabian origins, Islam is to be not merely for the nations, but of the nations. No pre-modern civilisation embraced more cultures than that of Islam – in fact, it was Muslims who invented globalisation. The many-coloured fabric of the traditional Umma is not merely part of the glory of the Blessed Prophet, of whom it is said: ‘Truly your adversary is the one cut off’. (108:3) It also demonstrates the divine purpose that this Ishmaelite covenant is to bring a monotheism that uplifts, rather than devastates cultures. Islam brought immense fertility to the Indian subcontinent, upgrading architecture, cuisine, music, and languages. Nothing could be more unfair than the Indian chauvinistic thesis, given its most articulate and insidious voice by V.S. Naipaul, that Islam is a travelling parochialism, an ‘Arab imperialism’. 
That, then, has been another circle successfully squared – the bringing to the very different genius of the Subcontinent an uncompromising monotheism which fertilised, and brought to the region its highest artistic and literary moments. Mother India was never more fecund than when she welcomed the virility of Islam. Remember the words of Allama Iqbal:
Behold and see! In Ind’s domain
Thou shalt not find the like again,
That, though a Brahman’s son I be,
Tabriz and Rum stand wide to me. 
It is our confidence, moreover, that this triumphant demonstration of Islam’s universalism has not come to an end. Perhaps the greatest single issue exercising the world today is the following: is the engagement of Islamic monotheism with the new capitalist global reality a challenge that even Islam, with its proven ability to square circles, cannot manage?
As Muslims, of course, we believe that every culture, including the culture of modern consumer liberalism, stands accountable before the claims of revelation. There must, therefore, be a mode of behaviour that modernity can adopt that can be meaningfully termed Islamic, without entailing its transformation into a monochrome Arabness. This is a consequence of our universalist assumptions, but it is also an extension of our triumphalism, and our belief that the divine purposes can be read in history. Wa-kalimatu’Llahi hiya’l-‘ulya – God’s word is uppermost. (9:40) The current agreement between zealots on both sides – Islamic and unbelieving – that Islam and Western modernity can have no conversation, and cannot inhabit each other, seems difficult given traditional Islamic assurances about the universal potential of revelation. The increasing number of individuals who identify themselves as entirely Western, and entirely Muslim, demonstrate that the arguments against the continued ability of Islam to be inclusively universal are simply false.
Yet the question, the big new Eastern Question, will not go away this easily. Palpably, there are millions of Muslims who are at ease somewhere within the spectrum of the diverse possibilities of Westernness. We need, however, a theory to match this practice. Is the accommodation real? What is the theological or fiqh status of this claim to an overlap? Can Islam really square this biggest of all historical circles, or must it now fail, and retreat into impoverished and hostile marginality, as history passes it by?
Let us refine this question by asking what, exactly, is the case against Islam’s contemporary claim to universal relevance? Some of the most frank arguments have come from right-wing European politicians, as part of their campaign to reduce Muslim immigration to Europe. This has, of course, become a prime political issue in the European Union, a local extension of a currently global argument.
Sometimes one hears the claim that Muslims cannot inhabit the West, or – as successful participants – the Western-dominated global reality, because Islam has not passed through a reformation. This is a tiresome and absent-minded claim that I have heard from senior diplomats who simply cannot be troubled to read their own history, let alone the history of Islam. A reformation, that is to say, a bypass operation which avoids the clogged arteries of medieval history and seeks to refresh us with the lifeblood of the scriptures themselves, is precisely what is today underway among those movements and in those places which the West finds most intimidating. The Islamic world is now in the throes of its own reformation, and our Calvins and Cromwells are proving no more tolerant and flexible than their European predecessors. 
A reformation, then, is a bad thing to ask us for, if you would like us to be more pliant. But there is an apparently more intelligible demand, which is that we must pass through an Enlightenment. Take, for instance, the late Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn. In his book Against the Islamisation of our Culture, he writes: ‘Christianity and Judaism have gone through the laundromat of humanism and enlightenment, but that is not the case with Islam.’ 
Fortuyn is not a marginal voice. His funeral at Rotterdam Cathedral, reverently covered by Dutch television, attracted a vast crowd of mourners. As his coffin passed down the city’s main street, the Coolsingel, so many flowers were thrown that the vehicle itself almost disappeared from sight, recalling, to many, the scenes attending the funeral of Princess Diana. The election performance of his party a week later was a posthumous triumph, as his associate Hilbrand Nawijn was appointed minister for asylum and immigration. Fortuyn’s desire to close all Holland’s mosques was not put into effect, but a number of new, highly-restrictive, policies have been implemented. Asylum seekers now have to pay a seven thousand Euro deposit for compulsory Dutch language and citizenship lessons. A 90 percent cut in the budget of asylum seeker centres has been approved. An official government enquiry into the Dutch Muslim community was ordered by the new parliament in July 2002. 
I take the case of the Netherlands because it was, until very recently, a model of liberalism and multiculturalism. Indeed, modern conceptions of religious toleration may be said to have originated among Dutch intellectuals. Without wishing to sound the alarm, it is evident that if Holland can adopt an implicitly inquisitorial attitude to Islam, there is no reason why other states should not do likewise.
But again, the question has not been answered. Fortuyn, a highly-educated and liberal Islamophobe, was convinced that Islam cannot square the circle. He would say that the past genius of Islam in adapting itself to cultures from Senegal to Sumatra cannot be extended into our era, because the rules of that game no longer apply. Success today demands membership of a global reality, which means signing up to the terms of its philosophy. The alternative is poverty, failure, and – just possibly – the B52s.
How should Islam answer this charge? The answer is, of course, that ‘Islam’ can’t. The religion’s strength stems in large degree from its internal diversity. Different readings of the scriptures attract different species of humanity. There will be no unified Islamic voice answering Fortuyn’s interrogation. The more useful question is: who should answer the charge? What sort of Muslim is best equipped to speak for us, and to defeat his logic?
Fortuyn’s error was to impose a Christian squint on Islam. As a practising Catholic, he imported assumptions about the nature of religious authority that ignore the multi-centred reality of Islam. On doctrine, we try to be united – but he is not interested in our doctrine. On fiqh, we are substantially diverse. Even in the medieval period, one of the great moral and methodological triumphs of the Muslim mind was the confidence that a variety of madhhabs could conflict formally, but could all be acceptable to God. In fact, we could propose as the key distinction between a great religion and a sect the ability of the former to accommodate and respect substantial diversity. Fortuyn, and other European politicians, seek to build a new Iron Curtain between Islam and Christendom, on the assumption that Islam is an ideology functionally akin to communism, or to the traditional churches of Europe.
The great tragedy is that some of our brethren would agree with him. There are many Muslims who are happy to describe Islam as an ideology. One suspects that they have not troubled to look the term up, and locate its totalitarian and positivistic undercurrents. It is impossible to deny that certain formulations of Islam in the twentieth century resembled European ideologies, with their obsession with the latest certainties of science, their regimented cellular structure, their utopianism, and their implicit but primary self-definition as advocates of communalism rather than of metaphysical responsibility. The emergence of ‘ideological Islam’ was, particularly in the mid-twentieth century, entirely predictable. Everything at that time was ideology. Spirituality seemed to have ended, and postmodernism was not yet a twinkle in a Parisian eye. In fact, the British historian John Gray goes so far as to describe the process which Washington describes as the ‘war on terror’ as an internal Western argument which has nothing to do with traditional Islam. As he puts it: ‘The ideologues of political Islam are western voices, no less than Marx or Hayek. The struggle with radical Islam is yet another western family quarrel.’ 
There are, of course, significant oversimplications in this analysis. There are some individuals in the new movements who do have a substantial grounding in Islamic studies. And the juxtaposition of ‘political’ and ‘Islam’ will always be redundant, given that the Islamic, Ishmaelite message is inherently liberative, and hence militantly opposed to oppression.
Nonetheless, the irony remains. We are represented by the unrepresentative, and the West sees in us a mirror image of its less attractive potentialities. Western Muslim theologians such as myself frequently point out that the movements which seek to represent Islam globally, or in Western minority situations, are typically movements which arose as reactions against Western political hegemony that themselves internalised substantial aspects of Western political method. In Europe, Muslim community leaders who are called upon to justify Islam in the face of recent terrorist activities are ironically often individuals who subscribe to ideologised forms of Islam which adopt dimensions of Western modernity in order to secure an anti-Western profile. It is no surprise that such leaders arouse the suspicion of the likes of Pim Fortuyn, or, indeed, a remarkably wide spectrum of commentators across the political spectrum.
Islam’s universalism, however, is not well-represented by the advocates of movement Islam. Islamic universalism is represented by the great bulk of ordinary mosque-going Muslims who around the world live out different degrees of accommodation with the local and global reality. One could argue, against Fortuyn, that Muslim communities are far more open to the West than vice-versa, and know far more about it. Muslims return from the mosques in Cairo in time for the latest American soaps. There is no equivalent desire in the West to learn from and integrate into other cultures. On the ground, the West is keener to export than to import, to shape, rather than be shaped. As such, its universalism can seem imperial and hierarchical, driven by corporations and strategic imperatives that owe nothing whatsoever to non-Western cultures, and acknowledge their existence only where they might turn out to be obstacles. Likewise, Westerners, when they settle outside their cultural area, almost never assimilate to the culture which newly surrounds them. Islam, we will therefore insist, is more flexible than the West. Where they are intelligently applied, our laws and customs, mediated through the due instruments of ijtihad, have been reshaped substantially by encounter with the Western juggernaut, through faculties such as the concern for public interest, or urf – customary legislation. Western law and society, by contrast, have not admitted significant emendation at the hands of another culture for many centuries.
From our perspective, then, it can seem that it is the West, not the Islamic world, which stands in need of reform in a more pluralistic direction. It claims to be open, while we are closed, but in reality, on the ground, seems closed, while we have been open.
* * *
I think there is force to this defence. But does it help us answer the insistent question of Mr Fortuyn? Do we have to pass through his laundromat to be made internally white, as it were, to have an authentic and honoured place of belonging at the table of the modern reality?
Historians would probably argue that since history cannot repeat itself, the demand that Islam experience an Enlightenment is strange, and that if the task be attempted, it cannot remotely guarantee an outcome analogous to that experienced by Europe. If honest and erudite enough, they may also recognise that the Enlightenment possibilities in Europe were themselves the consequence of a Renaissance humanism which was triggered not by an internal European or Christian logic, but by the encounter with Islamic thought, and particularly the Islamised version of Aristotle which, via Ibn Rushd, took fourteenth-century Italy by storm. The stress on the individual, the reluctance to establish clerical hierarchies which hold sway over earthly kingdoms, the generalised dislike of superstition, the slowness to persecute for the sake of credal difference: all these may well be European transformations that were eased, or even enabled, by the transfusion of a certain kind of Muslim wisdom from Spain.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the Christian and Jewish Enlightenments of the eighteenth century did not move Europe in a religious, still less an Islamic direction. Instead, they moved outside the Moorish paradigm to produce a disenchantment, a desacralising of the world which opened the gates for two enormous transformations in human experience. One of these has been the subjugation of nature to the will (or more usually the lower desires) of man. The consequences for the environment, and even for the sustainable habitability of our planet, are looking increasingly disturbing. There is certainly an oddness about the Western desire to convert the Third World to a high-consumption market economy, when it is certain that if the world were to reach American levels of fossil-fuel consumption, global warming would soon render the planet entirely uninhabitable.
The second dangerous consequence of ‘Enlightenment’, as Muslims see it, is the replacement of religious autocracy and sacred kingship with either a totalitarian political order, or with a democratic liberal arrangement that has no fail-safe resistance to moving in a totalitarian direction. Take, for instance, the American Jewish philosopher Peter Ochs, for whom the Enlightenment did away with Jewish faith in God, while the Holocaust did away with Jewish faith in humanity. As he writes:
They lost faith in a utopian humanism that promised: ‘Give up your superstitions! Abandon the ethnic and religious traditions that separate us one from the other! Subject all aspects of life to rational scrutiny and the disciplines of science! This is how we will be saved.’ It didn’t work. Not that science and rationality are unworthy; what failed was the effort to abstract these from their setting in the ethics and wisdoms of received tradition. 
Here is another voice from deep in the American Jewish intellectual tradition that many in the Muslim world assume provides the staunchest advocates of the Enlightenment. This time it is Irving Greenberg:
The humanistic revolt for the ‘liberation’ of humankind from centuries of dependence upon God and nature has been shown to sustain a capacity for demonic evil. Twentieth-century European civilization, in part the product of the Enlightenment and liberal culture, was a Frankenstein that authored the German monster’s being. […] Moreover, the Holocaust and the failure to confront it make a repetition more likely – a limit was broken, a control or awe is gone – and the murder procedure is now better laid out and understood. 
The West is loath to refer to this possibility in its makeup, as it urges, in Messianic fashion, its pattern of life upon the world. It believes that Srebrenica, or Mr Fortuyn, are aberrations, not a recurrent possibility. Muslims, however, surely have the right to express deep unease about the demand to submit to an Enlightenment project that seems to have produced so much darkness as well as light. Iqbal, identifying himself with the character Zinda-Rud in his Javid-name, declaims, to consummate the final moment of his own version of the Mi‘raj: Inghelab-i Rus u Alman dide am: ‘I have seen the revolutions of Russia and of Germany!’  This in a great, final crying-out to God.
We European Muslims, born already amid the ambiguities of the Enlightenment, have also wrestled with this legacy. Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian president, has discussed the relationship in his book Between East and West. A lesser-known voice has been that of the Swedish theologian Tage Lindbom, who died three years ago. Lindbom is particularly important to European Muslim thought because of his own personal journey. A founder member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, and one of the major theorists of the Swedish welfare state, Lindbom experienced an almost Ghazalian crisis of doubt, and repented of his Enlightenment ideology in favour of a kind of Islamic traditionalism. In 1962 he published his book The Windmills of Sancho Panza, which generated enough of a scandal to force him from his job, and he composed the remainder of his twenty-odd books in retirement. For Lindbom, the liberation promised by the Enlightenment did not only lead to the explicit totalitarianisms which ruined most of Europe for much of the twentieth century, but also to an implicit, hidden totalitarianism, which is hardly less dangerous to human freedom. We are now increasingly slaves to the self, via the market, and the endlessly proliferating desires and lifestyles which we take to be the result of our free choice are in fact designed for us by corporation executives and media moguls.
There can be no brotherhood among human beings, Lindbom insists, unless there is a God under whom we may be brothers. As he writes: ‘The perennial question is always whether we humans are to understand our presence on this earth as a vice-regency or trusteeship under the mandate of Heaven, or whether we must strive to emancipate ourselves from any higher dominion, with human supremacy as our ultimate aim.’ 
He goes on as follows:
Secularization increasingly becomes identified with two motives: the reduction of human intelligence to rationalism, and sensual desire; the one is grafted onto the vertebral nervous system, and the other is a function of the involuntary and subconscious elements of man’s composite nature. Rationalism and sensualism will prove to be the mental currents and the two forms of consciousness whereby secularization floods the Western world. Human pride, superbia, the first and greatest of the seven deadly sins, grows unceasingly; and it is during the eighteenth century that man begins to formulate the notion that he is discovering himself as the earthly agent of power. 
Lindbom’s works have provoked sharp discussion among Western Muslims in the universities. Enlightenment leads to sensualism and to rationality. Walter Benjamin has already seen that it cannot guarantee that these principles will secure a moral consensus, or protect the weak. It also – and here Lindbom has less to say – yields its own destruction. Western intellectuals now speak of post-modernism as an end of Enlightenment reason. Hence the new Muslim question becomes: why jump into the laundromat if European thinkers have themselves turned it off? Is the Third World to be brought to heel by importing only Europe’s yesterdays? 
These are troubled waters, and perhaps will carry us too far from our purpose in this lecture. Let me, however, offer a few reflections on what our prospects might look like if we excuse ourselves the duty of spinning in Mr Fortuyn’s machine.
Islam, as I rather conventionally observed a few minutes ago, speaks with many voices. Fortuyn, and the new groundswell of educated Western Islamophobia, have heard only a few of them, hearkening as they do to the totalitarian and the extreme. Iqbal, I would suggest, and Altaf Gauhar, represent a very different tradition. It is a tradition which insists that Islam is only itself when it recognises that authenticity arises from recognising the versatility of classical Islam, rather than taking any single reading of the scriptures as uniquely true. Ijtihad, after all, is scarcely a modern invention.
Iqbal puts it this way:
The ultimate spiritual basis of all life, as conceived by Islam, is eternal and reveals itself in variety and change. A society based on such a conception of Reality must reconcile in its life the categories of permanence and change. 
In other words, to use my own idiom, it must square the circle to be dynamic. The immutable Law, to be alive, even to be itself, must engage with the mill-wheel of the transient.
One of Altaf Gauhar’s intellectual associates, Allahbakhsh Brohi, used the following metaphor:
We need a bi-focal vision: we must have an eye on the eternal principles sanctioned by the Qur’anic view of man’s place in the scheme of things, and also have the eye firmly fixed on the ever-changing concourse of economic-political situation which confronts man from time to time. 
We do indeed need a bi-focal ability. It is, after all, a quality of the Antichrist that he sees with only one eye. An age of decadence, whether or not framed by an Enlightenment, is an age of extremes, and the twentieth century was, in Eric Hobsbawm’s phrase, precisely that. Islam has been Westernised enough, it sometimes appears, to have joined that logic. We are either neutralised by a supposedly benign Islamic liberalism that in practice allows nothing distinctively Islamic to leave the home or the mosque – an Enlightenment-style privatisation of religion that abandons the world to the morality of the market leaders and the demagogues. Or we fall back into the sensual embrace of extremism, justifying our refusal to deal with the real world by dismissing it as absolute evil, as kufr, unworthy of serious attention, which will disappear if we curse it enough.
Traditional Islam, as is scripturally evident, cannot sanction either policy. Extremism, however, has been probably the more damaging of the two. Al-Bukhari and Muslim both narrate from A’isha, (r.a.), the hadith that runs: ‘Allah loves kindness is all matters.’ Imam Muslim also narrates from Ibn Mas‘ud, (r.a.), that the Prophet (salla’Llahu ‘alayhi wa-sallam) said: ‘Extremists shall perish’ (halaka’l-mutanatti‘un). Commenting on this, Imam al-Nawawi defines extremists as ‘fanatical zealots’ (al-muta‘ammiqun al-ghalun), who are simply ‘too intense’ (al-mushaddidun).
Revelation, as always, requires the middle way. Extremism, in any case, never succeeds even on its own terms. It usually repels more people from religion than it holds within it. Attempts to reject all of global modernity simply cannot succeed, and have not succeeded anywhere. A more sane policy, albeit a more courageous, complex and nuanced one, has to be the introduction of Islam as a prophetic, dissenting witness within the reality of the modern world.
It should not be hard to see where we naturally fit. The gaping hole in the Enlightenment, pointed out by the postmodern theologians and by more sceptical but still anxious minds, was the Enlightenment’s inability to form a stable and persuasive ground for virtue and hence for what it has called ‘citizenship’. David Hume expressed the problem as follows:
If the reason be asked of that obedience which we are bound to pay to government, I readily answer: Because society could not otherwise subsist; and this answer is clear and intelligible to all mankind. Your answer is, Because we should keep our word. But besides that, nobody, till trained in a philosophical system, can either comprehend or relish this answer; besides this, say, you find yourself embarrassed when it is asked, Why we are bound to keep our word? Nor can you give any answer but what would immediately, without any circuit, have accounted for our obligation to allegiance. 
But why are we bound to keep our word? Why need we respect the moral law? Religion seems to answer this far more convincingly than any secular ethic. In spite of all stereotypes, the degree of violence in the Muslim world remains far less than that of Western lands governed by the hope of a persuasive secular social contract.  Perhaps this is inevitable: the Enlightenment was, after all, nothing but the end of the Delphic principle that to know the world we must know and refine and uplift ourselves. Before Descartes, Locke and Hume, all the world had taken spirituality to be the precondition of philosophical knowing. Without love, self-discipline, and care for others, that is to say, without a transformation of the human subject, there could be no knowledge at all. The Enlightenment, however, as Descartes foresaw, would propose that the mind is already self-sufficient and that moral and spiritual growth are not preconditions for intellectual eminence, so that they might function to shape the nature of its influence upon society. Not only is the precondition of the transformation of the subject repudiated, but the classical idea, shared by the religions and the Greeks, that access to truth itself brings about a personal transformation, is dethroned just as insistently.  Relationality is disposable, and the laundromat turns out to be a centrifuge.
Religion offers a solution to this fatal weakness. Applied with wisdom, it provides a fully adequate reason for virtue and an ability to produce cultural and political leaders who embody it themselves. Of course, it is all too often applied improperly, and there is something of the Promethean arrogance and hubris of the philosophes in the radical insistence that the human subject be enthroned in authority over scriptural interpretation, without a due prelude of initiation, love, and self-naughting. Yet the failure of the Enlightenment paradigm, as invoked by the secular elites in the Muslim world, to deliver moral and efficient government and cultural guidance, indicates that the solution must be religious. Religious aberrations do not discredit the principle they aberrantly affirm.
What manner of Islam may most safely undertake this task? It is no accident that the overwhelming majority of Western Muslim thinkers, including Lindbom himself, have been drawn into the religion by the appeal of Sufism. To us, the ideological redefinitions of Islam are hardly more impressive than they are to the many European xenophobes who take them as normative. We need a form of religion that elegantly and persuasively squares the circle, rather than insisting on a conflictual model that is unlikely to damage the West as much as Islam. A purely non-spiritual reading of Islam, lacking the vertical dimension, tends to produce only liberals or zealots; and both have proved irrelevant to our needs.
* * *
The most recurrent theme of Islamic architecture has been the dome surmounting the cube. Between the two there are complex arrangements of arabesques and pendentives. Religion is worth having because, drawing on the infinite and miraculous power of God, it can turn a circle into a square in a way that delights the eye. Through logic and definition the theologian seeks to show how the infinite engages with the finite. Imam al-Ghazali, and our tradition generally, came to the conclusion that the Sufi does the job more elegantly, while not putting the theologian out of a job. But Sufism also, as Iqbal and the consensus of Muslim theologians in the West have seen, demonstrates other virtues. Because it has been the instrument whereby Islam has been embedded in the divergent cultures of the rainbow that is the traditional Islamic world, we may suppose that it represents the best instrument available for attempting a ‘dissenting’ Muslim embedding within today’s inexorable global reality. It insists on the acquisition of compassion and wisdom as a precondition for the exercise of ijtihad, or of any other mode of knowing. Its emphasis on the potential grandeur of man’s condition, of the one who was ‘taught all the Names’, makes it more humane than any secular humanism. In short, its recognition of the limitations of rational attempts to square the circle of speaking of the metaphysical and in justifying virtue, can bring us to real, rather than illusory, enlightenment, to a true ishraq. This is because there is only one ‘Light of the heavens and the earth.’ (24:35) Seeking truth in the many, while ignoring the One, is the cardinal, Luciferian error. Its consequences for recent human history have already been tragic. Its prospects, as it yields more and more methods of destruction, and fewer and fewer arguments for a universal morality, are surely unnerving. Genetic engineering now threatens to redefine our very humanity, precisely that principle which the Enlightenment found to be the basis of truth. In such a world, religion, for all its failings, is likely to be the only force which can genuinely reconnect us with our humanity, and with our fellow men.
1. Bukhari, Tayammum, 1.
2. The view is expounded most forcefully in his recent Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples (London, 1998). For a refutation see T.J. Winter, ‘Some thoughts on the formation of British Muslim identity’, Encounters 8:1 (2002), 3-26.
3. Persian Psalms (Zabur-i ‘Ajam), translated into English verse from the Persian of the late Sir Muhammad Iqbal by Arthur J. Arberry. (Lahore, 1948), 8.
4. The defining demand of the Reformation was the return to the most literal meaning of Scripture. Hence Calvin: ‘Let us know, then, that the true meaning of Scripture is the natural and simple one, and let us embrace and hold it resolutely. Let us not merely neglect as doubtful, but boldly set aside as deadly corruptions, those pretended expositions which lead us away from the literal sense.’ (John Calvin, The Epistles of Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Edinburgh, 1965), 84-5. Is this what the West is demanding of us? That a Muslim state should, in consequence, be a ‘city of glass’, like Calvin’s terrified Geneva?
5. Cited in Angus Roxburgh, Preachers of Hate: The Rise of the Far Right. (London, 2002), 163.
6. Roxburgh, 160, 169, 174.
7. The Independent July 28, 2002.
8. Peter Ochs, ‘The God of Jews and Christians’, in Tikva Frymer-Kensky et al., Christianity in Jewish Terms (Boulder and Oxford, 2000), 54.
9. Irving Greenberg, ‘Judaism, Christianity and Partnership after the Twentieth Century’, in Frymer-Kensky, op. cit., 26.
10. Iqbal, Javid-Nama, translated from the Persian with introduction and notes, by Arthur J. Arberry (London, 1966), 140.
11. Tage Lindbom, The Myth of Democracy (Grand Rapids, 1996), 18.
12. Ibid., 22.
13. The implications of the collapse of Enlightenment reason for theology have been sketched out by George Lindbeck in his The Nature of Doctrine: religion and theology in a postliberal age (London, 1984), and (for a more Islamic turn, because explicitly resistant to those Renaissance-Aristotelian confidences of Suarez which took Thomism so far from kalam) in the several works of Jean-Luc Marion. The Ash‘arite resonances are clear enough: discourse is self-referential unless penetrated by the Word.
14. Iqbal, Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, cited in Allahbakhsh Brohi, Iqbal and the Concept of Islamic Socialism (Lahore, 1967), 7.
15. Brohi, op. cit., 7.
16. David Hume, Essays (Oxford, 1963), 469.
17. For example, the 2002 World Health Organisation document World Report on Violence and Health, shows the murder rate in the Eastern Mediterranean region to be less than half the rate for the Americas. See http://www5.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/download.cfm?id=0000000559, page 7.
18. This has been discussed with particular clarity by Michel Foucault, L’Hermeneutique du sujet: Cours au College de France (1981-2) (Paris, 2001), pp.16-17. Foucault’s pessimism might be further reinforced by considering the corrosive implications of the new biology, with its anti-egalitarian potential, for secular reasons for conviviality and mutual respect. Cf. W.D. Hamilton, Narrow Roads of Gene Land, vol. II (Oxford, 2001), for whom evolutionary theories ‘have the unfortunate property of being solvents of a vital societal glue.’
The literal sense of being “in the sky” would mean that Allah is actually in one of His creatures, for the sky is something created. It is not permissible to believe that Allah indwells or occupies (in Arabic,hulul) any of His creatures, as the Christians believe about Jesus, or the Hindus about their avatars.
What is obligatory for a human being to know is that Allah is ghaniyy or “absolutely free from need” of anything He has created. He explicitly says insurat al-Ankabut of the Qur’an,
“Verily Allah is absolutely free of need of anything in the worlds” (Qur’an 29:6).
Allah mentions this attribute of ghina or “freedom of need for anything whatsoever” in some seventeen verses in the Qur’an. It is a central point of Islamic `aqida or faith, and is the reason why it is impossible that Allah could be Jesus (upon whom be peace) or be anyone else with a body and form: because bodies need space and time, while Allah has absolutely no need for anything. This is the `aqida of the Qur’an, and Muslim scholars have kept it in view in understanding other Qur’anic verses or hadiths.
Muslims lift their hands toward the sky when they make supplications (du’a) to Allah because the sky is the qibla for du’a, not that Allah occupies that particular direction–just as the Kaaba is the qibla of the prayer (salat), without Muslims believing that Allah is in that direction. Rather, Allah in His wisdom has made the qibla a sign (ayah) of Muslim unity, just as He has made the sky the sign of His exaltedness and His infinitude, meanings which come to the heart of every believer merely by facing the sky and supplicating Allah.
It was part of the divine wisdom to incorporate these meanings into the prophetic sunna to uplift the hearts of the people who first heard them, and to direct them to the exaltedness and infinitude of Allah through the greatest and most palpable physical sign of them: the visible sky that Allah had raised above them. Many of them, especially when newly from the Jahiliyya or “pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance”, were extremely close to physical, perceptible realities and had little conception of anything besides–as is attested to by their idols, which were images set up on the ground. Umar ibn al-Khattab mentions, for example, that in the Jahiliyya, they might make their idols out of dates, and if they later grew hungry, they would simply eat them. The language of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in conveying the exaltedness of Allah Most High to such people was of course in terms they could understand without difficulty, and used the imagery of the sky above them. Imam al-Qurtubi, the famous Qur’anic exegete of the seventh/thirteenth century, says:
The hadiths on this subject are numerous, rigorously authenticated (sahih), and widely known, and indicate the exaltedness of Allah, being undeniable by anyone except an atheist or obstinate ignoramus. Their meaning is to dignify Allah and exalt Him above all that is base and low, to characterize Him by exaltedness and greatness, not by being in places, particular directions, or within limits, for these are the qualities of physical bodies (al-Jami li ahkam al-Qur’an. 20 vols. Cairo 1387/1967. Reprint (20 vols in 10). Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d.,18.216).
In this connection, a hadith has been related by Malik in his Muwatta’ and by Muslim in his Sahih, that Muawiya ibn al-Hakam came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him, “I am very newly from the Jahiliyya, and now Allah has brought Islam,” and he proceeded to ask about various Jahiliyya practices, until at last he said that he had slapped his slave girl, and asked if he should free her, as was obligatory if she was a believer. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) requested that she be brought, and then asked her, “Where is Allah?” and she said, “In the sky (Fi al-sama)”; whereupon he asked her, “Who am I?” and she said, “You are the Messenger of Allah”; at which he said, Free her, “for she is a believer” (Sahih Muslim, 5 vols. Cairo 1376/1956. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1403/1983, 1.382: 538). Imam Nawawi says of this hadith:
This is one of the “hadiths of the attributes,” about which scholars have two positions. The first is to have faith in it without discussing its meaning, while believing of Allah Most High that “there is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11), and that He is exalted above having any of the attributes of His creatures. The second is to figuratively explain it in a fitting way, scholars who hold this position adducing that the point of the hadith was to test the slave girl: Was she a monotheist, who affirmed that the Creator, the Disposer, the Doer, is Allah alone and that He is the one called upon when a person making supplication (du’a) faces the sky–just as those performing the prayer (salat) face the Kaaba, since the sky is the qibla of those who supplicate, as the Kaaba is the qibla of those who perform the prayer–or was she a worshipper of the idols which they placed in front of themselves? So when she said, In the sky, it was plain that she was not an idol worshipper (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi. 18 vols. Cairo 1349/1930. Reprint (18 vols. in 9). Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1401/1981, 5.24).
It is noteworthy that Imam Nawawi does not mention understanding the hadith literally as a possible scholarly position at all. This occasions surprise today among some Muslims, who imagine that what is at stake is the principle of accepting a single rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith as evidence in Islamic faith (`aqida), for this hadith is such a single hadith, of those termed in Arabic ahad, or “conveyed by a single chain of transmission”, as opposed to being mutawatir or “conveyed by so many chains of transmission that it is impossible it could have been forged”.
Yet this is not what is at stake, because hadiths of its type are only considered acceptable as evidence by traditional scholars of Islamic `aqida if one condition can be met: that the tenet of faith mentioned in the hadith is salimun min al-muarada or “free of conflicting evidence”. This condition is not met by this particular hadith for a number of reasons. First, the story described in the hadith has come to us in a number of other well-authenticated versions that vary a great deal from the “Where is Allah?–In the sky” version. One of these is related by Ibn Hibban in his Sahih with a well-authenticated (hasan) chain of transmission, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked the slave girl, “‘Who is your Lord?’ and she said, ‘Allah’; whereupon he asked her, ‘Who am I?’ and she said, ‘You are the Messenger of Allah’; at which he said, ‘Free her, for she is a believer'” (al-Ihsan fi taqrib Sahih Ibn Hibban, 18 vols. Beirut: Muassasa al-Risala, 1408/1988, 1.419: 189).
In another version, related by Abd al-Razzaq with a rigorously authenticated (sahih) chain of transmission, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to her, “Do you testify that there is no god but Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you testify that I am the Messenger of Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you believe in resurrection after death?” and she said yes. He said, “Free her” (al-Musannaf, 11 vols. Beirut: al-Majlis al-Ilmi, 1390/1970, 9.175: 16814).
In other versions, the slave girl cannot speak, but merely points to the sky in answer. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani has said of the various versions of this hadith, “There is great contradiction in the wording” (Talkhis al-habir, 4 vols. in 2. Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya, 1399/1979, 3.250). When a hadith has numerous conflicting versions, there is a strong possibility that it has been related merely in terms of what one or more narrators understood (riwaya bi al-ma’na), and hence one of the versions is not adequate to establish a point of `aqida.
Second, this latter consideration is especially applicable to the point in question because the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) explicitly detailed the pillars of Islamic faith (iman) in a hadith related in Sahih Muslim when he answered the questions of the angel Gabriel, saying, True faith (iman) is to believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe destiny (qadr), its good and evil (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: 8)–and he did not mention anything about Allah being “in the sky“. If it had been the decisive test of a Muslims belief or unbelief (as in the “in the sky” hadith seems to imply), it would have been obligatory for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to mention it in this hadith, the whole point of which is to say precisely what “iman is”.
Third, if one takes the hadith as meaning that Allah is literally “in the sky”, it conflicts with other equally sahih hadiths that have presumably equal right to be taken literally–such as the hadith qudsi related by al-Hakim that Allah Most High says, “I am with My servant when he makes remembrance of Me and his lips move with Me” (al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihayn. 4 vols. Hyderabad, 1334/1916. Reprint (with index vol. 5). Beirut: Dar al-Marifa, n.d., 1.496), a hadith that al- Hakim said was rigorously authenticated (sahih), which al-Dhahabi confirmed. Or such as the hadith related by al-Nasai, Abu Dawud, and Muslim that “the closest a servant is to his Lord is while prostrating” (Sahih Muslim, 1.350: 482)–whereas if Allah were literally “in the sky”, the closest one would be to Him would be while standing upright. Or such as the hadith related by al-Bukhari in his Sahih, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) forbade spitting during prayer ahead of one, because when a person prays, “his Lord is in front of him” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1.112: 406). Finally, in the hadiths of the Mir’aj or “Nocturnal Ascent”, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was shown all of the seven heavens (samawat) by Gabriel, and Allah was not mentioned as being in any of them.
Fourth, the literal interpretation of Allah being “in the sky” contradicts two fundamentals of Islamic `aqida established by the Qur’an. The first of these is Allah’s attribute of mukhalafa li al- hawadith or “not resembling created things in any way”, as Allah says in surat al-Shura, “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11), whereas if He were literally “in the sky“, there would be innumerable things like unto Him in such respects as having altitude, position, direction, and so forth. The second fundamental that it contradicts, as mentioned above, is Allah’s attribute of ghina or “being absolutely free of need for anything created” that He affirms in numerous verses in the Qur’an. It is impossible that Allah could be a corporeal entity because bodies need space and time, while Allah has absolutely no need for anything.
Fifth, the literalist interpretation of “in the sky” entails that the sky encompasses Allah on all sides, such that He would be smaller than it, and it would thus be greater than Allah, which is patently false.
For these reasons and others, Islamic scholars have viewed it obligatory to figuratively interpret the above hadith and other texts containing similar figures of speech, in ways consonant with how the Arabic language is used. Consider the Qur’anic verse “Do you feel safe that He who is in the sky will not make the earth swallow you while it quakes” (Qur’an 67:16), for which the following examples of traditional tafsir or “Qur’anic commentary” can be offered:
(al-Qurtubi:) The more exacting scholars hold that it [“in the sky“] means, “Do you feel secure from Him who is over the sky“–just as Allah says, “Journey in the earth” (Qur’an 9:2), meaning journey over it–not over the sky by way of physical contact or spatialization, but by way of omnipotent power and control. Another position is that it means “Do you feel secure from Him who is over (‘ala) the sky,” just as it is said, “So-and-so is over Iraq and the Hijaz”, meaning that he is the governor and commander of them (al-Jami li ahkam al-Qur’an, 18.216).(al-Shirbini al-Khatib:) There are various interpretive aspects to “He who is in the sky,” one of which is that it means “He whose dominion is in the sky,” because it is the dwelling place of the angels, and there are His Throne, His Kursi, the Guarded Tablet; and from it are made to descend His decrees, His Books, His commands, and His prohibitions. A second interpretive possibility is that “He who is in the sky” omits the first term of an ascriptive construction (idafa)–in other words, “Do you feel safe from the Creator of him who is in the sky”; meaning the angels who dwell in the sky, for they are the ones who are commanded to dispense the divine mercy or divine vengeance (al-Siraj al-Munir. 4 vols. Bulaq 1285/1886. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Marifa, n.d., 4.344).
(Fakhr al-Din al-Razi:) “He who is in the sky” may mean the angel who is authorized to inflict divine punishments; that is, Gabriel (upon whom be peace); the words “cause the earth to swallow you” meaning “by Allah’s command and leave” (Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi. 32 vols. Beirut 1401/1981. Reprint (32 vols. in 16). Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1405/1985, 30.70).
(Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi:) Or the context of these words may be according to the convictions of those being addressed [the unbelievers], for they were anthropomorphists. So that the meaning would be, “Do you feel safe from Him whom you claim is in the sky?–while He is exalted above all place” (Tafsir al-nahr al-madd min al-Bahr al-muhit. 2 vols. in 3. Beirut: Dar al-Janan and Muassasa al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyya, 1407/1987, 2.1132).
(Qadi Iyad:) There is no disagreement among Muslims, one and all–their legal scholars, their hadith scholars, their scholars of theology, both those of them capable of expert scholarly reasoning and those who merely follow the scholarship of others–that the textual evidences that mention Allah Most High being “in the sky”, such as His words, “Do you feel safe that He who is in the sky will not make the earth swallow you,” and so forth, are not as their literal sense (dhahir) seems to imply, but rather, all scholars interpret them in other than their ostensive sense (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 5.24).
We now turn to a final example, the hadith related by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
Your Lord Blessed and Exalted descends each night to the sky of this world, when the last third of the night remains, and says: “Who supplicates Me, that I may answer him? Who asks Me, that I may give to him? Who seeks My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?” (Sahih Muslim, 1.521: 758).
This hadith, if we reflect for a moment, is not about `aqida, but rather has a quite practical point to establish; namely, that we are supposed to do something in the last third of the night, to rise and pray. This is why Imam al-Nawawi, when he gave the present chapter names to the headings of Sahih Muslim, put this hadith under “Instilling Desire to Supplicate and Make Remembrance of Allah (dhikr) in the Last of the Night, and the Answering Therein”. As for the meaning of “descends” in the hadith, al-Nawawi says:
This is one of the “hadiths of the Attributes”, and there are two positions about it, as previously mentioned in the “Book of Iman”. To summarize, the first position, which is the school of the majority of early Muslims and some theologians, is that one should believe that the hadith is true in a way befitting Allah Most High, while the literal meaning of it as known to us and applicable to ourselves is not what is intended, without discussing the figurative meaning, though we believe that Allah is transcendently above all attributes of createdness, of change of position, of motion, and all other attributes of created things.The second position, the school of most theologians, of whole groups of the early Muslims (salaf), and reported from Malik and al-Awzai, is that such hadiths should be figuratively interpreted in a way appropriate to them in their contexts. According to this school of thought, they interpret the hadith in two ways. The first is the interpretation of Malik ibn Anas and others, that it [“your Lord descends”] means “His mercy, command, and angels descend,” just as it is said, “The sultan did such-and-such,” when his followers did it at his command. The second is that it is a metaphor signifying [Allah’s] concern for those making supplication, by answering them and kindness toward them (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 6.3637).
The hadith scholar Ali al-Qari says about the above hadith of Allah’s “descending”:
You know that Malik and al-Awazai, who are among the greatest of the early Muslims, both gave detailed figurative interpretations to the hadith. . . . Another of them was Jafar al-Sadiq. Indeed a whole group of them [the early Muslims], as well as later scholars, said that whoever believes Allah to be in a particular physical direction is an unbeliever, as al-Iraqi has explicitly stated, saying that this was the position of Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi’i, al-Ashari, and al- Baqillani (Mirqat al-mafatih: sharh Mishkat al-masabih. 5 vols. Cairo 1309/1892. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d., 2.137).
It is worth remembering that al-Iraqi was a hafiz or “hadith master”, someone with over 100,000 hadiths by memory, while Ali al-Qari was a hadith authority who produced reference works still in use today on forged hadiths. In other words, each had the highest credentials for verifying the chains of transmission of the positions they relate. For this reason, their transmission of the position of the unbelief of whoever ascribes a direction to Allah carries its weight.
But perhaps it is fitter today to say that Muslims who believe that Allah is somehow “up there” are not unbelievers. For they have the shubha or “extenuating circumstance” that moneyed quarters in our times are aggressively pushing the bid’a of anthropomorphism. This bid’a was confined in previous centuries to a small handful of Hanbalis, who were rebutted time and again by ulama of Ahl al-Sunna like Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), who addressed his fellow Hanbalis in his Daf shubah al-tashbih bi akaff al-tanzih [Rebuttal of the insinuations of anthropomorphism at the hands of divine transcendence] with the words:
If you had said, “We but read the hadiths and remain silent,” no one would have condemned you. What is shameful is that you interpret them literally. Do not surrreptiously introduce into the madhhab of this righteous, early Muslim man [Ahmad ibn Hanbal] that which is not of it. You have clothed this madhhab in shameful disgrace, until it can hardly be said “Hanbali” any more without saying anthropomorphist (Daf shubah al-tashbih bi akaff al-tanzih. Cairo n.d. Reprint. Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tawfiqiyya, 1396/1976, 2829).
These beliefs apparently survived for some centuries in Khorasan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the East, for Imam al-Kawthari notes that the Hanbali Ibn Taymiya (d. 728/1328) picked up the details of them from manuscripts on sects (nihal) when the libraries of scholars poured into Damascus with caravans fleeing from the Mongols farther east. He read them without a perspicacious teacher to guide him, came to believe what he understood from them, and went on to become an advocate for them in his own works (al-Kawthari, al-Sayf al-saqil fi al-radd ala Ibn Zafil. Cairo 1356/ 1937. Reprint. Cairo: Maktaba al-Zahran, n.d. 56).
He was imprisoned for these ideas numerous times before his death, the ulama of Damascus accusing him of anthropomorphism (al-Asqalani, al-Durar al-kamina fi ayan al-mia al-thamina. 4 vols. Hyderabad 134950/193031. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d., 1.155).
Writings were authored by scholars like Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi (d. 745/ 1344), Taqi al-Din Subki (756/1355), Badr al-Din ibn Jamaa (d. 733/ 1333), al-Amir al-Sanani, author of Subul al-salam (d. 1182/1768), Taqi al-Din al-Hisni, author of Kifayat al-akhyar, (d. 829/1426), and Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567) in rebuttal of his `aqida, and it remained without acceptance by Muslims for another four hundred years, until the eighteenth-century Wahhabi movement, which followed Ibn Taymiya on points of `aqida, and made him its “Sheikh of Islam.” But was not until with the advent of printing in the Arab world that Ibn Taymiya’s books (and the tenets of this sect) really saw the light of day, when a wealthy merchant from Jedda commissioned the printing of his Minhaj al-sunna and other works on `aqida in Egypt at the end of the last century, resurrected this time as Salafism or “return to early Islam.” They have since been carried to all parts of the Islamic world, borne upon a flood of copious funding from one or two modern Muslim countries, whose efforts have filled mosques with books, pamphlets, and young men who push these ideas and even ascribe them (with Ibn Taymiya’s questionable chains of transmission, or none at all) to the Imams of the earliest Muslims. My point, as regards considering Muslims believers or unbelievers, is that this kind of money can buy the influence and propaganda that turn night into day; so perhaps contemporary Muslims have some excuse for these ideas–until they have had a chance to learn that the God of Islam is transcendently above being a large man, just as He is transcendently above being subject to time or to space, which are but two of His creatures.
To summarize what I have said in answer to your question above, scholars take the primary texts of the Qur’an and sunna literally unless there is some cogent reason for them not to. In the case of Allah “descending” or being “in the sky”, there are many such reasons. First, a literal interpretation of these texts makes it impossible to join between them and the many other rigorously authenticated texts about Allah being “with” a servant when he does dhikr, “closer to him than the jugular vein” (Qur’an 50:16), “in front of him” when he prays, “closest” to him when he is prostrating, “in the sky” when a slave girl was asked; “with you wherever you are” (Qur’an 58:4), and so on. These are incoherent when taken together literally, and only become free of contradictions when they are understood figuratively, as Malik, al-Awzai, and al-Nawawi have done above. Second, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) detailed the beliefs that every Muslim must have in the Gabriel Hadith in Sahih Muslim and others, and did not mention Allah being “in the sky” (or anywhere else) in any of them. Third, Allah’s being “in the sky” as birds, clouds, and so on are in the sky in a literal sense contradicts the `aqida of the Qur’an that there is “nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11). Fourth, the notion of Allah’s being in particular places contradicts the `aqida expressed in seventeen verses of the Qur’an that Allah is free of need of anything, while things that occupy places need both space and time.
These reasons are not exhaustive, but are intended to answer your question by illustrating the `aqida and principles of traditional ulama in interpreting the kind of texts we are talking about. They show just how far from traditional Islam is the belief that Allah is “in the sky” in a literal sense, and why it is not permissible for any Muslim to believe this. And Allah alone gives success.
©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, writing as Professor H. M. Léon, M.A., D.C.L., F.S.P., etc. (1916)
In the Numismatical department of the British Museum there is preserved a curious and interesting gold coin, over twelve hundred and thirty years old, on which is inscribed in unmistakable Arabic characters the declaration that ‘There is no Deity but Allah, The One, Without Equal, and Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah,’ and the further declaration, engraved around the margin of the coin, ‘Muhammad is the Apostle of Allah, Who sent him (Muhammad) with the doctrine and the true faith to prevail over every other religion.’
This coin was engraved, struck and issued by Offa, King of Mercia, or ‘Middle England’ (an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, which extended on both sides of the River Trent from the North Sea to Wales), from 757 to 796. The name, originally restricted to the district around Tamworth and Lichfield and the Upper Trent valley, refers to a ‘march,’ a moorland, or frontier, which had to be defended against hostile neighbours; in this case such ‘alien enemies’ being the Welsh, the ‘Ancient Britons,’ who for centuries contended with the Anglo-Saxon invaders for supremacy in that region.
A number of smaller states were gradually incorporated with Mercia, the first settlements being probably made during the second half of the sixth century of the Christian era. The kingdom was, however, of but little importance until the accession of Penda in 626 (C.D.), who rapidly, by his vigorous policy and equitable rule, attained a supremacy over the other kingdoms, particularly after his victory at Hatfield (or Heathfield) over Edin, the powerful Deiran king, in 633. In 655, however, Penda was defeated and slain at Winwaed by Oswin, king of Northumbria,  and for the time being Mercian supremacy was terminated. Wulfhere, the nephew of Penda (659-675), pushed back the Northumbrians, and extended the boundary of the kingdom southward to the Thames. Wulfhere was the first monarch of this kingdom to renounce paganism and embrace Christianity. One of his successors, Ethelbald (716-757), further spread the boundaries of Mercia, by making large encroachments upon the territories of adjoining states. But the mightiest kings of Mercia were Offa (757-796) and Cenwulf (806-819). After the death of the latter monarch the kingdom rapidly declined, and in 828 it was merged in the realm of Egbert, king of Wessex.
King Offa, in whose reign the interesting coin we have under consideration was struck, succeeded to the throne of Mercia in 757, he being the ninth monarch of that kingdom in succession from Wybba, the father of Penda (to whom allusion has previously been made). He found the kingdom much weakened, and probably the early years of his reign were occupied by him in restoring rule and order within his territory. In 771 he began a career of conquest: he defeated the army of the King of Kent in 775, and fought successfully against the West Saxons (779) and the Welsh. As a protection against these lattter marauders he constructed a great earthwork which extended along the whole border between England and Wales, from the north coast of Flintshire, on the estuary of the Dee, through Denbigh, Montgomery, Salop, Radnor and Hereford, into Gloucestershire, where its southern termination is near the mouth of the Wye. Portions of this rampart still stand to a considerable height, though much of it has been almost obliterated by the ravages of time, the elements, and human beings. A vast amount of labour must have been expended to construct this work. Nearly parallel with it, some two miles to the eastern or English side, is an inferior rampart termed Watt’s Dyke, which was also constructed by Offa and completed about 765 (C.D.). It is conjectured that the space between the two dykes may have been a species of neutral zone for trading purposes.
Offa had cordial relations with the Roman See. Two Legates, George and Theophylact, visited Mercia, and were received by the king at a court held at Lichfield in the year 786. The report which these ecclesiastics made to Pope Adrian I, attributed to 787, is printed in Birch’s Cart. Sax., No. 250. In this document there is direct reference to the vow made by King Offa to Pope Adrian I, through the Legates to send 365 mancuses to the ‘Apostle of God’ (i.e. the Pope), ‘as many as there are days in the year, as alms for the poor, and for the manufacture of lights for the church.’
This donation by Offa appears to have been the origin of what has ever since been known as ‘Peter’s Pence,’ and won from the Pope the grant of a Mercian archbishopric.
The importance of this grant by Offa will be hereafter seen, when we come to more particularly discuss the origin of the interesting coin we have now under consideration.
The coinage of the kingdom of Mercia appears to have been the most important of all the coin-striking kingdoms of the Heptarchy. The earliest Mercian coins are those which belong to the sceat class. These were usually of silver,  and weighed from eight to twenty grains.
These early Mercian sceattae bear the names of Penda and Ethelred. The coins of the former are of purely Roman types, but those of the latter show a mixture of Roman and native design, thus pointing to a somewhat later date. The inscriptions on Penda’s coins are in Roman and Runic characters, but those of Ethelred are in Runes (the ancient alphabet of the heathen Northmen) only.  The name of the king in each instance is given on the ‘reverse’ side of the coin.
From the death of Ethelred (704) to the reign of Offa (757-796), a period of over half a century, there are no numismatic records of Mercia.
Offa did not strike any sceattae, and his coins mainly consist of the ‘penny’ class. They were of silver and weighed from eighteen to twenty grains. It is believed that Offa was the first monarch to introduce the ‘penny’ into England. The form of this coin, but not the type, was derived from thedenier of Charlemagne. 
Offa’s coins of the ‘Penny series’ are remarkable for their artistic excellence both in execution and design, and in this respect far surpass the issues of many succeeding rulers. The types are not only numerous but varied. They can be classified into two series: those bearing the bust of the king, and those in which the bust is absent. The bust, when present, is original in character, and exhibits undoubted attempts at portraiture. The designs on the reverse of the coins are decidedly ornamental, and comprise for the most part elaborately formed crosses or floral patterns. The busts upon the coins are well formed, and the head bears a life-like expression, the hair being usually arranged in close curls or plaits, but in some of the specimens it is loose and flowing. The inscriptions are generally in Roman characters, but here and there traces of Runes survive. There are no indications of mint-names, but we may conclude that the principal Mercian mint was in London. The coins themselves, however, prove that after the defeat of the King of Kent and his army in 775, at Otford (about three miles north of Sevenoaks and eight-and-a-half miles north-north-west of Tunbridge, Kent), when Kent became a fief of Mercia, Offa made use of the Canterbury mint. 
The remarkable gold coin of Offa bearing the Arabic inscription has furnished much food for reflection amongst the students of numismatics, and it is generally conceded that it is one of the rarest and most remarkable coins in the world.
Many treatises and papers have been written upon the coin and its origin, and numerous theories propounded with regard to the same.
So far back as November 25, 1841, a paper by Monsieur Adrian de Longperier, of Paris, was read before the Numismatic Society of London  upon this very coin. Mr. J. Y. Akerman, in a paper read before the same society on March 24, 1842, and printed in the Numismatic Chronicle, vol. v. pp. 122-124, also considers the raison d’être of this coin being struck. It is referred to by Mr. Herbert A. Grueber, F.S.A., in his Handbook of theCoins of Great Britain and Ireland in the British Museum (published 1899).  The coin is fully described in Kenyon’s Gold Coins of England, 1884, pp.11, 12, and is illustrated in the frontispiece to that work, Fig. 13. It was made the subject of an exhaustive and extremely interesting article by Mr. P.W.P. Carlyon-Britton, F.S.A., President of the British Numismatic Society,  and as recently as 1914 was the subject of an excellent paper by Mr. J. Allan, M.A. (British Museum Staff, Coin Department). 
The theories put forward by the above learned gentlemen, all of them well versed in numismatical lore, and by some other individuals, whose names are not so well known to fame, may be classified under the following heads:-
(1) That Offa had become a convert to Islam, and took this means of declaring his acceptance of that Faith by stamping the Kalima, or Islamic Confession of Faith, upon his coins.
(2) That, without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, possibly merely regarding them as so much ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck off, merely adding, in order to identify himself with the same, the words ‘Offa Rex’ stamped also thereupon.
(3) That, as many pilgrims proceeded from England to the ‘Holy Land’ of Palestine, then under the dominion of the Muslims, this coin was struck, bearing this Arabic inscription in order that it might be the more readily accepted by the Muslims, and thus facilitate the journey of the pilgrims are assist them in trading (which may of them did) in those lands.
(4) That the piece was not a coin intended for general circulation, but was struck specially as a mancus and as one of the quota of 365 gold pieces which Offa had vowed to pay annually to the Pope of Rome.
Undoubtedly something can be said in support of each of these theories, but in these matters one must carefully consider all the circumstances of the time and weigh the pros and cons upon the subject. The first theory, namely that Offa had accepted Islam, appears to me to be absolutely untenable. At that time Islam was naught more to the Western world than the absolutely living embodiment of ‘Anti-Christ.’ Its tenets were not only not understood, but were wickedly misrepresented, and it was this wilful misrepresentation of ‘The Faith Most Excellent,’ and the colossal ignorance and superstition of the mob, that made the series of crusades possible. Even to-day, twelve centuries after the passing away of Offa, the most profound ignorance exists among the masses as to Islamic doctrines and ethics. Is it then at all probable that Offa, who had petitioned the Pope to grant him an Archbishop for his kingdom, and had voluntarily vowed to pay 365 golden pieces each year to that pontiff (and we know from authentic documents and records that up to his death such tribute was regularly paid by Offa), and had received with open arms and the greatest honour the legates from Rome, should become a Muslim? At that period in the world’s history for Offa to have done so would have meant for him, not merely the loss of his throne, but probably his life also.
Most of his other coins are stamped with a cross and bear his bust! That is not very Islamic.
True that the cross may have been placed upon the coins, and deeply indented therein, so as to enable the same to have been the more easily divided into halves or quarters; but the cross is there, and we cannot conceive any ‘True-Believer’ placing such an emblem upon any coin issued by him.
Furthermore, after the conquest of Kent by Offa in 775, and the adding of that territory to his kingdom, we find the Archbishops of Canterbury acknowledging Offa (and subsequently his successor Coenwulf) as their overlord. This is amply proved by one of the coins struck by the Archbishops of Canterbury (who possessed the right of minting money) at that period.
Jaenberht (766-790) is the first Archbishop of Canterbury of whom coins are known. During his episcopate Offa conquered Kent, and as Jaenberht’s coins were struck under his supremacy, they always bear that ruler’s name on the reverse. The obverse types are a star, a cross potent or pommée, or the name of the archbishop in three lines only. The reverse is always the same with one exception, namely, with Offa’s name at the end of a cruciform object.
The next archbishop was Aethelheard (793-805); he was elected to that office in 791, but did not receive the pallium until 793. During this interval he appears to have struck coins with the title of Pontifex instead of Archiepiscopus. His early coins bear the name of Offa; but those struck after 796 that of Coenwulf. Those with the name of Offa have for obverse and reverse types:- a star, a cross, the Christian monogram, etc. 
Is it likely that these archbishops, whose territory had been conquered by Offa, who had set up a rival archbishop to them in his own dominions, would have put the name of Offa on their coins if he had accepted Islam? Rather would we not have seen them denouncing him as ‘an infidel,’ and rousing the populace in revolt against him and his rule?
The first theory therefore appears to be absolutely untenable.
Let us now consider the theory that without knowing the meaning of the Arabic words upon the coin, and possibly regarding them as pure ornamentation, Offa had the coin struck, adding the words ‘Offa Rex’ to the original superscription.
Mons. Adrian de Longperier inclines to this view. He says:-
‘However strange this piece may appear, it is yet susceptible of explanation. The faults of orthography to be traced in the legend, which is reversed in its position with the words OFFA REX, show that it is a copy of a Mussulman dinar, by a workman unacquainted with the Arabic language, and indeed ignorant of the fact of these characters belonging to any language whatsoever. Examples of a similar description of coin were put in circulation by the French bishops of Agde and Montpellier in the thirteenth century. In the present case, we cannot see an intentional adoption of a foreign language, as on the coins of Russia, Spain, Sicily, Georgia, and even Germany. On the moneys of Vassili Dimitrivitch, of Dmitri Imamvicht, on that of the Norman princes William and Roger, and the Mozarbic dinar of Alfonsus, we find Arabic legends appropriated to the very princes by whose commands they were struck. One silver piece of Henry IV, Emperor of Germany, bears on the reverse the name of the Khalif Moktader Billah-ben-Muhammad; but this is merely the result of an association between those princes.’ 
In support of the views of Mons. A. de Longperier, it is worth noticing that in later times there were issued by Christian princes coins having inscriptions partly in Roman and partly in Arabic characters, and some were issued by Crusaders with entirely Arabic inscriptions.
In Mr Carlyon-Britton’s paper upon this coin  he quotes five specimens of this description of coin, namely:-
(1) A gold coin of Alfonzo VIII, of Castile (1158-1214, Christian date), the Arabic inscription on the obverse side whereof reads thus: El Imam al- bay’ata el mesiahyata el Baba ALF. Bismiel ab Walibu wa errooh el kaddûs Allahoo wahido mam aman wa’ tamada yekdon salminan. The translation whereof if: ‘The pontiff of the church of the Messiah, the Pope. ALF. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, one God. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.’
The reverse side of the coin bears an inscription in Arabic of which the following is a translation: ‘Prince of the Catholics (Amir el Katolikin), Alfonso, son of Sancho. May God help and protect him.’ Around the margin of the coin we find this legend also in Arabic characters: ‘This dinar was struck in the city of Toledo, 1235 of (the era of) Assafar.’
The era of Assafar dates from 30 B.C., that being the date of the submission of Spain to the Romans, consequently the coin in question dates from the year 1197 of the Christian era.
The other coins exhibited by Mr Carlyon-Britton are:
(2) Silver ‘staurat’ drachma struck at St. Jean d’Acre about 1251 under Louis IX (1251-1259).
(3) Gold besant struck by Crusaders at St. Jean d’Acre in 1251.
(4) Early imitation by Crusaders of dinars of El Amir (Fatimite Khaliph from 1101 to 1130 C.D. = 494 to 524 Hegira), and attributed to the regency of Bohemund I of Antioch under Tancred.
(5) Imitation of a dinar of about the time of Hisham II (Hegira 400-403), independent Amawu Caliph in Spain. Found in Spain.
Of the above five coins, three of them (1 to 3) contain Christian inscriptions written in Arabic language and character; the latter two (4 and 5) are written in corrupted Arabic. No.4 has a small Maltese cross in the centre of the reverse side.
The third suggestion, namely that the coin was coined by Offa for the use of such of his subjects as made the pilgrimage to the ‘Holy Land,’ does not seem very probable. The number of such pilgrims, of necessity, would be limited to a comparative few, and the monarchs of those days, even if they were as pious as King Offa is stated to have been, were not distinguished for any particular solicitude for the comfort of their subjects. The majority of these rulers would rather grind out from their subjects the uttermost farthing they could extort, rather than go to the expense and trouble of providing special coins for their use while on a pilgrimage.
There remains, therefore, but the fourth proposition to consider, and here we find ourselves on much surer ground. We have already seen that Offa had made a vow that he would pay 365 gold pieces every year to the Pope, and that probably, in consideration of the faithful fulfilment of that vow, the occupant of the pontifical throne had bestowed an Archbishop upon Mercia. The exact date of Offa’s vow we do not know, but it may fairly be presumed that he made it to the two papal legates, George and Theophylact, who visited him in 786.
The date upon Offa’s coin now becomes extremely important.
The coin bears the date Hegira 157, equivalent to 774 of the Christian era. This date does not, however, prove that Offa’s coin was struck in that year (twelve years prior to the visit of the legates); but as the piece is manifestly a copy of an Arabic dinar of that year (Hegira 157), made by a person who did not understand Arabic (otherwise, why did he place the words OFFA REX in an inverted position to the Arabic characters), all that the date, 157 Hegira, demonstrates is that Offa’s coin was struck in, or, what is more probable, subsequently to the year 774 of the Christian era.
What appears to us to be the most probable origin of this coin is that when Offa made his vow, the question arose as to what was to be the size and weight of each of the 365 ‘gold pieces.’ In reply to such a query on the part of the king, who would naturally desire to know the exact extent of his liability, what would be more natural for one of the legates to hand Offa a coin, and say, ‘365 gold pieces like this’?
Arabic coins were well known at Rome. Countless pilgrims from the Holy Land passed through the Eternal City on their return from Palestine, many of whom laid offerings at the foot of the papal throne. It is fair to presume that amongst such offerings so made, that Arabic gold coins, then in free circulation in Syria, would be included, and high ecclesiastics, such as the legates, would easily become possessed of the same, and might preserve them as curiosities; or it may have been that, seeing that the Arab dinar was of a known weight and quality of gold, one of those coins was especially brought to England to fix thereby the standard and quality of ‘the gold pieces’ to be paid as tribute by Offa.
If such was the case, and Offa so received a sample coin, the Mercian king, according to the almost slavish superstitions of that period, would naturally desire to scrupulously perform his vow to the very letter, and to accomplish this object he would have the sample coin faithfully imitated and struck in his own mint, and stamped in addition with his own name and title, ‘OFFA REX,’ in order that no question could thereafter arise as to the exact fulfilment of the vow in regard to the species of coin promised, or as to the identity of the sender of the contribution. That Offa did keep his promise is certain, for in the papal letter sent in 798 by Pope Leo III to Offa’s successor, King Coenwulf, requesting that monarch to continue the donation, it is distinctly so stated.  It may, therefore, be reasonably presumed that Offa’s coin was struck about 787, and was one of the 365 gold pieces sent to Rome in pursuance of his vow.
It is significant to know that this particular coin – so far as we know, the only one now extant – was purchased by a certain Duke de Blacas, an enthusiastic numismatist, in Rome, about a century ago.
No similar coin has been found in England. All this goes to show that the coin was not struck to be put into circulation in England, but was coined for a special purpose, such probably being the payment by Offa of the promised tribute to Rome.
If such be the case, then what bitter irony, unconsciously, accompanied the gift! One of the claims of the Head of the Catholic Christian is that he is the ‘Apostle of God,’ and the ‘Vice-regent of Christ upon the earth.’ Yet, here to his teeth his faithful servitor, Offa, sends as a tribute 365 golden coins, on each of which is plainly stated: There is but One Allah, the Only God, the True, and Muhammad is His Prophet!
Well might Cowper write the lines:
‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform’!
 This was the period when England was divided into what was termed the Heptarchy, or seven kingdoms. These were: Mercia, Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex, Sussex, and Essex. So far as is known, only the first five kingdoms named above struck coins.
 The origin of the Runic writing has been a matter of prolonged controversy. The runes were formerly supposed to have originated out of the Phoenician or the Latin letters, but it is now generally agreed that they must have been derived, about the sixth century B.C., from an early form of the Greek alphabet which was employed by the Milesian traders and colonists of Olbia and other towns on the northern shores of the Black Sea. The Runic alphabet (the oldest of which contained 24 runes, divided into 3 families, each of 8 runes) is called the Futhorc, from the first six letters thereof, f, u, th, o, r, c. The old Norse word run originally meant ‘secret’ or magical. The oldest extant Runic records probably date from the first century of the Christian era, the latest from the fifteenth to the sixteenth century; the greater number are older than the eleventh century, when, after the conversion of the Scandinavians to Christianity, the Futhorc was superseded by the Latin alphabet.
 The letters £ s. d., which are used as abbreviations for pounds, shillings, and pence, owe their origin to certain Latin words used to denote coins. Thus £ signifies libra, a pound sterling; s signifies solidus. The Romans divided their coinage thus: one libra equaled 20 solidi, each solidus being equal to 12denarii (the denarius thus being, as the modern English penny is to-day, the 240th part of the libra or pound); d signifies denarius, a penny, a word derived from the Latin deni, ten each, from decem, ten. The denarius was the principal silver coin of ancient Rome. The earliest money of Rome was of bronze, and the standard was the as. In 269 B.C. the as was fixed by law at a low valuation, and a silver coin was introduced, with the denarius = to 10 asses, and thequinarius = to 5 asses. The penny (Anglo-Saxon, penig; German, Pfenning, Pfennig) probably derives its name from the Middle Latin word panna, itself derived from the Latina, patina, a shallow bowl. After the sceattae the penny is the most ancient of the English coins, and was the only one current among the Anglo-Saxons. It is first mentioned in the laws of Ina, King of the West Saxons, about the close of the seventh century of the Christian era. It was at that time a silver coin, and weighed about 22.5 troy grains. Halfpence and farthings were not coined in England until the reign of Edward I., but the practice previously prevailed of so deeply indenting the penny with a cross mark that the coin could be easily broken into two or four parts as was required. In 1672 an authorized copper coinage was established in England and halfpence and farthings were struck in copper. The penny was not introduced until 1797, and at the same period the coinage of two-penny pieces was begun; but these latter being found unsuitable were withdrawn. The penny of the present bronze coinage is of only half the value of the old copper coin.
 In Anglo-Saxon times mints for the coinage of money existed at London, Canterbury, and Malmesbury, and coins are extant bearing the names Dorovernis (Canterbury), Londuni(London), and Mealldenus (Malmesbury), showing the place where they were struck.