Thursday, November 16, 2023

Lisan al-Din blog morphing into a book | Boost Your Faith


Alhamdulillah, I am delighted to announce that a book called 'Boost Your Faith' is on the way, bi-iznillah. The book will feature over 100 Islamic scholars' discourses from this blog, including my review of specially selected books on Sufism. Here is an excerpt of my synopsis of the book by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr.

The Garden of Truth

Seyyed Hossein Nasr chose the book's title, befitting the Islamic symbolism of the Garden as paradise, in conformity to a similar symbol in the Quran. Fifty years of studying and involvement in Sufism has spurred him to write this book, dedicating it to seekers of the Truth. In doing so, he consciously moves away from academic jargon, preferring contemporary language instead.

In the book's first part, he begins by provoking readers to the big fundamental questions of 'Who am I?' and what it means to be human. The answers to these questions, he claims, are available in Sufism. "Sufism addresses the few who yearn for an answer on the deepest level to the question of who they are, and in a manner that would touch and transform their whole being. The Sufi Path is the means within the Islamic tradition of finding the ultimate answer to this basic question and discovering our real identity." Indeed, Muslims need not wander too far for clues because Prophet Muhammad said, "Whoever knows his self knows his Lord."

Moreover, for Muslims, knowledge of the Divine (knowing my Lord) predates his earthly existence. As stated in the Quran, verse 17:172, we, the Children of Adam, admitted: 'Yes! We do testify!' to the question: "Am I not your Lord"?

However, as we travel on life's journey, we tend to forget this covenant, forgetting who we are in the big scheme of things. We forget our reason for existence as God's servant. Seyyed Hossein states, "Our ego must realize its full servanthood, which the Sufis call ubbudiyyah, before the Lord, and we must realize that as servants, we can never become the Lord." 

While we are nothing more than servants, Sufism offers its own doctrine to the question, 'What does it mean to be human?' Seyyed Hossein cites two authorities in this field who were among the earliest known to have defined and explained in detail the characteristics of al-insan al-kamil or the Universal or Perfect Man. They are Ibn' Arabi and Abdul Karim al-Jili. The most notable example of the Universal Man is the prophets and the great saints. They are like a mirror before God, "reflecting all His Names and Qualities…"

But what about us? "Most of us are daydreaming in our ordinary lives simply because we have forgotten who we are." Therefore, we should all wake up to the reality of who we truly are and wake up sooner rather than later because Prophet Muhammad said, 'Man is asleep, and when he dies, he awakens.' Sufism has the answer, "Sufism is meant for those who want to wake up, who accept dying to the ego here and now, to discover the Self of all selves and to be consumed in the process, in the fire of Divine Love."

In Part 2 of his book, Seyyed Hossein talks about "the knowledge that illuminates and delivers from the bondage of ignorance", particularly on the significance of attaining gnosis, that is, knowing God by God, through Sufi doctrine known as "theoretical gnosis" (al-tasawwuf al-ilmi). However, the author asserts that while this may serve as a map, a seeker or traveller can only realize the Truth through spiritual practice. 

Seyyed Hossein then describes the Divine Essence, or al-Dhat in Arabic, as being beyond definition, just as Ipseity is to Christian theology. The Islamic term for God - Allah, denotes the Almighty as the indescribable Divine Essence and the manifestable Divine Names and Qualities or Attributes (as in the Asmaul Husna, the 99 Divine Names of Allah). Regarding Sufi science, the Divine Reality can only be understood if one can discern the often misconstrued aspect of Sufism, namely wahdatul wujud or 'transcendent oneness or unity of being'. While this can only be fully understood through spiritual experience, a seeker should at least consider its theoretical explanations about the hierarchy of reality, starting from Non-Being or Beyond-Being, a metaphysical concept which, according to Seyyed Hossein, is also known as "sunyata (or the Void) in Buddhism and the supreme Tao which cannot be named in Far Eastern doctrines." He then explains the concept of Muhammadan Reality (al-haqiqa al-Muhammadiyah), the inner reality of the Prophet, identified as the "Word or Logos in divinis" at the second level of the universal hierarchy of reality. Christianity has a similar understanding. It states that "it was by the Word (that is, the Logos) that all things were made and Christ was the Logos." This often-misunderstood aspect of Sufism, especially in the later years of Islam, has its roots in the works of Shams al-Din Fanari, Ibn Turkah Isfahani and Sadr al-Din Shirazi. 

The author emphasizes the need to supplement this theoretical knowledge, or rather its realization, with the virtues of love and beauty. The Truth, the object of one's journey, cannot be known without loving it and that "love leads finally to the embrace of God who in turn loves those among His servants who love Him." However, one must be able to discern between love "as emotion" and its metaphysical importance. Regarding beauty, the path to the Garden of Truth cannot be traversed except by one who beautifies their soul with the capacity of beholding God's Beauty, for that is unquestionably the aim of their yearning.

Having identified knowledge and love as "the two main gates to the Garden of Truth", Seyyed Hossein then introduces the reader to the practical aspect of the journey, the actions. If I may equate it to the spoke of a wheel made of knowledge and love combined, human actions could either steer the soul toward or away from the Truth because our actions can either be good or evil. This affects our ability to love and know God, which affects our souls. While we control our actions as our intelligence and free will drive them, Seyyed Hossein opines that detachment from the fruit of one's actions is necessary because that is the correct spiritual attitude. Furthermore, a seeker's actions must evince sincerity, chivalry, and courtesy. Taqwa, or "reverential fear of God', which the author defines as a combination of detachment, purity of action and mindfulness, is also a condition required for seekers of the Truth.    


Drop me a line if you wish to pre-order 'Boost Your Faith', authored by yours truly. The price has not been finalized yet, but I trust, it is not a deciding factor for you : )

Email: ezatulhada at gmail dot com

[Subject: Preorder Boost Your Faith]