((لا تحسبن الكيد لهذه الأمة مأمون العواقب، كلا !! فلتشهدن يوما تجف لبهتة سؤاله أسلات الألسن، يوما يرجف كل قلب، ويرعد كل فريصة.. أما بعد: فهذا نذير بين يدى صاخة، تمزق مسامع من أصمّه الطمع))

الأستاذ محمود محمد طه - 1946

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أسئلة وأجوبة - الكتاب الثانى

فيما يلي نورد باللغة الإنجليزية أجوبة من الأستاذ محمود محمد طه على أسئلة حول "التصوف الإسلامي والطرق الصوفية في السودان، تقدم بها أخ أمريكي من جامعة هارفارد.. وكان ذلك عام 1963"..

Questions from Mr. John Voll and Answers from Ustadh Mahmoud Mohammed Taha


17 July 1963




Khartoum, P.O. Box 752

17.7.1963

Mr. JOHN VOLL,

Khartoum

Dear Mr. John,

Your questions cover a wide range. In attempting to answer them I had to be brief, considering the little time I have at my disposal. Now to questions and answers:-

Question
(1) As I mentioned, one of my specific interests is Tasawwuf and the Turug - both in Islam in general and in the Sudan in particular. In discussion with a Muslim professor from Tehran he said that Tasawwuf is really the heart of Islam and the message of God as revealed in the Koran and that it is Tasawwuf which explains the real meaning of Islam.


a) Do you feel that this is true or what do you feel is the relation between the teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past and the true Islam with regard to the ideas of Wusul and unity with God?

b) What good contributions and bad effects do you feel that the Sufi teachers have had on Islamic culture and Islamic History?

c) Now, regarding the Sudan in particular: Prof. Sanderson (at University of Khartoum ) has commented that Tasawwuf is one of the important bases of Sudanese culture. What valuable contributions, if any, do you feel that Tasawwuf or the Turug have made to Sudanese culture and history? What bad effects do you feel that the Turug had in the Sudan?

Answer
(1) I am sure that the Muslim Professor from Tehran was right in saying that "Tasawwuf is really the heart of Islam and the message of God as revealed in the Koran and that it is Tasawwuf which explains the real meaning of Islam."
At the very beginning I should like to point out that there is a difference between Tasawwuf, as such, and the teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past; Tasawwuf is a later name for an earlier practice. It is agreement with reality. The criterion was set by the life of the Prophet. In his life he was trying to be true to himself, to his fellowmen, and to God. In the second century to his flight from Mecca to Medina, the example of his life was been sought and followed by certain devotees. Asceticism, in one measure or another, was invariably among their qualities. It stood them apart from the rest of the people. It is then that the name of Sufia (plural of Sufi) came into popular usage. A Sufi, is a man who tries to imitate the Prophet's way of life, namely, who tries to be true to himself, to his fellowmen and to god, inasmuch as the Prophet was such. As time passed, the imitation, through ignorance, became more concerned with the letter than the spirit; and we invariably have the pseudo-Sufi.
The teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past, on the other hand, represent, at best, the individual attainments by those men of the example set by the Prophet. This difference between Tasawwuf and the teachings of the Sufi leaders of the past is important. It is with this difference in view that I agree with the Professor from Tehran in his statement about Tasawwuf.
Tasawwuf in this case is tantamount to the Prophet's practice. In other words, it is the Prophet alone who can be considered as an exponent of true Islam. This is not to belittle the excellent efforts of the Sufia.

a&b) The Sufi leaders of the past, in general, made contributions to Islamic culture that are equalled by none, in depth of thought and richness of quality.
Ibn Arabi and men of his caliber, passed through profound spiritual developments. They tried in their writings to convey to us experiences that belong to the greatest heights and depths that the spirit of man has yet reached - for all I know. Their revelations, expressed in words, are up to now unintelligible to most learnt men, yet their force of argument is irresistible. They ignited the ambition of lesser men to follow their example - men who would, otherwise, have thought that the example of the Prophet was beyond them.
The good contribution was not without bad effects. The bad effects were due partly to the utterings of the freakish and the immature (and there were plenty of them), and partly to the pseudo-Sufia. The shortcoming of the contemporaries of the great Sufi leaders to understand their teachings contributed its share to the bad effects. They were misunderstood, misquoted and grossly misrepresented. Many of the greatest of them all were killed on religious pretences. The mere fact of their having been killed greatly contributed to their bad effect on Islamic history. The day is dawning when justice will be done to the lives and memories of those great men.
I will come back later to say a word about the part of your question which touches on the idea of Wusul and unity with God; but then it will be in respect of Tasawwuf itself and not what the various Sufi leaders said about it.

c) Professor Sanderson is also right in his comment about the Turug in the Sudan. He probably understated their case. The Turug in the Sudan are responsible for the introduction of Islam itself to the Sudan.
The Gadria Tariga - the teachings of Sheikh Abdel Gader El Gailani of Baghdad - played the major role.
The men who were brought up in the ways of the Turug, by their sheer example, were able to keep the uneducated people of the Sudan in the religious fold. Some of these men were illiterate. By their modesty, simplicity, sincerity and truthfullness in regarding their religious rites, they attained such heights of wisdom that commanded the respect and love of a nation of illiterates to religion itself.
There are bad effects of course, but they are due to the pseudo-Sufia, as I mentioned before.

Question
2) What are the important differences, if any, between the various Turug in the Sudan?


Answer
2) There are no important differences between the various Turug in the Sudan. The teachings, thanks to the Koran and the Tradition, are essentially the same. The cardinal rituals are the same. Slight differences, however, exist in the manner of performing religious usages of minor importance.

Question
3) Do you feel that the Khatmia with its relatively greater involvement in political affairs is any more advanced or enlightened than any of the other Turug?


Answer
3) The Khatmia, in the northern and some parts of the central Sudan, superseded the Gadria. In eastern Sudan it is almost pioneer. The followers of the Khatmia Tariga in the eastern Sudan are more enlightened than the Unsar of western Sudan. The enlightenment of the followers of the Khatmia Tariga does not take its origin from the Tariga, as such. The Tariga found the people more enlightened than the rest of the population when it first came, about 150 years ago. They are the population of the Sudan proper that is why.

Question
4) Many writers about the Sudan have referred to the important position of the "holy man" in Sudanese society. Do these men still have great influence and has their effect been bad or good? Does the average person in the Sudan pay close attention to the counsel and teaching of any of the religious leaders?


Answer
4) The holy man in the Sudanese society has an important position, no doubt. The average person in the Sudan is generally a follower of one Tariga or another. He, almost invariably, pay great attention to the counsel of the religious leaders.
The influence of the holy men had, on the whole, good effects; they kept the love and respect for religion kindled in hearts of all men - to say the least.

Question
5) What do you feel is the attitude of most people towards a leader like Sayyid Ali Al-Mirghani?


Answer
5) Sayed Ali El Mirghani commands great respect in the Sudanese community as a whole. He is genuinely loved by many.
Political discord of the last twenty years opened him to criticism. It clouded the love in which he was formerly held in some circles. He is still looked upon as the most influential man in the Sudan.

Question
II) I do have some questions about the renewal of Islam as we began to discuss that subject in our conversation.


a) What are the major elements of corruption in the contemporary world of Islam?

b) What do you feel can be the most effective instruments for the purification of Islam? Are there organisations at the present time which you feel are heading in the right direction - if so, which are they and if not, what do you feel can be done to start such movements?

c) Do you feel that the Muslim institutions are performing a good service for Islam; specifically, what is the importance of Al-Azhar in modern Islam and how would you evaluate the accomplishments of smaller institutions like the Islamic institute in Omdurman?

d) What is your opinion of some of the efforts of modern Muslims at reform of Islam, specifically, what do you think of the teachings of Muhammad Abdu, the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, the Wahhabi Group, the Islamic Congress in Cairo, and the Founders in Pakistan?

e) Many political parties in the Sudan seemed to support an Islamic state in some form - for example, the Hizb ash-Shaab ad-Dimogratie. What effects do you think that such programs can have in the Sudan and which parties do you feel have been the most explicit in outlining a program for formation of an Islamic state?

Answer
a) The major elements of corruption in the contemporary world of Islam are many and divergent. The mother of them all is lip-devotion. Religion has become divorced from the social scheme of things.

b) The most effective instruments for the purification of Islam is the appearance and guidance, in the Islamic world, of the Muslim who has first purified Islam in himself.
There is an organisation at the present time which is heading in the right direction. It is trying to pave the way for the coming in the scene of the man who has purified Islam in himself. I, personally, belong to that organisation.

c) AL-Azhar has been the custodian and propagator of Muslim learning for over a thousand years. Its real value lies in its historic service. In our present atomic age, when life is moving so fast, this Islamic Institute is losing touch, Islamic communities of modern turn of mind look for guidance elsewhere.
The Islamic Institute in Omdurman has all the demerits of AL-Azhar with none of its merits.

d) Mohammed Abdu was a great man. He was a product of AL-Azhar himself. He had a Sufi turn of mind. He tried to bridge the gap between the traditional thinking of his Institute and life in his own day. He met with great opposition from his contemporary Azharites.
Posthumously he was recognized as a great Muslim thinker. His ideas at reform left their effect on his own day and in the days since, but they fall lamentably short of the requirements of our present day.
The Ikhwan AL-Muslimun, under their leader the late Hassan AL Banaa, were more politically conscious than Mohammed Abdu. They felt the need for an Islamic come-back which will accommodate for all the political questions for our day. Hassan AL- Banaa died prematurely and the leadership fell to lesser hands. The organisation met with catastrophe and there was an end to it.
The Wahhabi group in the Sudan is an offshoot of the Wahhabi group in Saudi Arabia. They have no political conviction as a group. As a matter of fact, during the British regime in the Sudan they were standoffish. They have a claim on Islamic reform, but nothing good can possibly come out of them.
The Islamic congress in Cairo is a political instrument. The present rulers of Egypt, with their Arab-Nationalism, think little of Islam. The Islamic congress in Cairo, therefore, uses Islam as a means to political ends.
The founders of Pakistan, on the other hand, are very well meaning. There was a day when Islam meant to them more than it did to any other community in modern history. They were a minority in the Sub-Continent India. They staked their claim for autonomy on Islam and they got it. Hence Pakistan. They tried and still try to organise their society on Islamic principles, but they just can't.
The reason for their failure is that, for Islam to properly organise present day society, it has to be renewed. Any measure short of downright renewal is only an escapist device and will not take us far. At the end of my letter I shall write a little about what I mean by the renewal of Islam.

e) My own party was "The Republican Party". It built its ideology on Islam. We opposed the tendencies of some of the political parties towards an Islamic state, because we were sure they did not know what they were talking about. An Islamic state built on ignorance of the pure facts of Islam can be more detrimental to progress than a secular state of average ability. Religious fanaticism is inalienable from religious ignorance.
Fortunately none of the political parties of the Sudan really meant what it professed. Political propaganda among the masses was the end.
The Republican Party was the most explicit party in outlining a program for the formation of an Islamic state - only we did not call it Islamic.
We were aiming at universality, because universality is the order of the day. Only the universal contents of Islam were tapped. What do I mean? This brings me back to the idea of the renewal of Islam which I promised to discuss.
Intrinsically Islam means peace. "Peace be with you," is the form of greetings of the Muslims at the times of day or night. You must be in peace with yourself, with your fellow creatures and with God.
This status cannot be attained merely by wishing for it. It comes at the end of a long drawn-out spiritual experience. It is the Subject of Tasawwuf.
Tasawwuf is the art of acquiring a correct outlook towards the general scheme of things in the universe.
The central belief in Islam is monotheism. Monotheism means that God alone is the architect of every thing that happens inside us, to us or to the elements, visible or invisible, of the universe around us. God is the Embodiment of Kindness, Knowledge and Wisdom. That being that, good is fundamental, and evil only a lapsing phase. The cause of evil is our deficient degree of consciousness. If, and when, we achieve a certain degree of consciousness, the different elements of life are no longer presented as contrasting, but as strangely unified. In this particular region of consciousness the problem of evil is resolved and good stands as fundamental.
From the premise of monotheism proceeds the most controversial proposition of all times. That is the doctrine of determinism. To the Sufi, that is to say to the good Muslim, the universe is a completely deterministic scheme. That is his outlook. He sets out to prove it for himself by his spiritual endeavour in his daily life and worship.
This outlook demands from him that he should not quarrel with the general scheme of things. He should live in harmony with it. That is exactly where the idea of peace with all creation comes in.
This is the result of an increased degree of consciousness, as was previously mentioned.
To the great Sufi consciousness has two levels. One fundamental and supreme. It transcends time and space. It is well-nigh static. This level is the attribute of the Infinite, of the Elect, of God.
The other level of consciousness is dynamic, and evolutionary. It is the attribute of the finite. The two levels of consciousness have a difference of degree not of kind.
Every Sufi tries, through his spiritual development, to work his way up the ladder of consciousness, from limitation to abundance, from Man's opportunity, to God's proximity.
At a certain stage along that ladder discord gives place to harmony and the inner conflicts cool down. The individual enjoys eternal bliss. This stage of progress marks what is called wusul. The Arabic word "wusul" literally means arrival. The Sufi, in his spiritual development, is exemplified, metaphorically, to the traveler who arrives at his destination after a weary and hazardous journey through the desert. That would be an oasis. It has its temptation for the traveler to prolong his stay. The spiritual oasis is even more temptatious. Many spiritual mediocres forget their eternal journey and happily settle down.
To the great Sufi the stage of wusul only marks the beginning of unity with God. Unity with God means sharing with Him his attributes of perfection. Individualism is one of these attributes. The successful Muslim must enjoy absolute individual freedom. Here Islam ceases to be a religion. It becomes a way of life. It gives to every individual his moral code.
These heights used to be the habitat of the chosen few. The rank and file teamed at the bottom of the ladder trying to work their way up. They expected little help from their betters. The majority of them were, steadfastly, dogmatic. Their spiritual practices were generally abortive.
This state of affairs will not be allowed to continue. Our present civilization of collectivism and impersonal bigness is giving way to the age of small things - the individual, the-man-in-the-street. Every individual is, authentically, an end in himself. He is not a means to any other end. He - even if he is an imbecile - is a "God" in the making, and must be given the full opportunity to develop as such.
Liberty is the prerequisite need. Men must be free from all dehumanising influences - poverty, ignorance and fear.
Real democracy is the answer. The central problem of democracy has always been to reconcile the needs of the individual with the claims of society.
Given the degree of consciousness where the contrasting elements of life are synthesised, the reconciling of the individual with society should not present any difficulty.
Socialism is also reconcilable with democracy, Islam, renewed, would provide the legislative ground-work for the human society, in this planet as a whole, that would live in a democracy reconciled with socialism. It would also help the individual to be himself.
The age-old dream of the human caravan is not to send astronauts in their orbit in the outer space. It is to send its individuals - every single individual - in his orbit of self-realisation. It is high time that this dream be thus reinterpreted. It is also the sacred duty of every man and woman to help to intelligently re-orientate human endeavour towards the culmination of this pilgrimage.
Here I must stop. I left a great deal unsaid. Writing in English, on a subject like this, does not afford me the chance of clarity I could, otherwise, have mastered in Arabic. If what I said here can be of any help to you my labour is, thereby, rewarded. Should you feel the need to labour any point by a fresh set of questions, you are welcome.

I hope you are enjoying your stay with us out here.

Sincerely,

MAHMOUD MOHAMMED TAHA