The age-old dream of the human caravan is not to send astronauts in their orbit in outer space.. it is to send its individuals - every single individual in his orbit of self-realization. It is high time that this dream be thus reinterpreted. It is also the sacred duty of every man and woman to help intelligently reorientate human endeavour towards the culmination of this pilgrimage.

Mahmoud Muhammad Taha - Answers to the questions of Mr. John Voll - 17.7.1963

Simplifying the New Islamic Call - Episode I

Part 1

Translator's Note:
During the 1980’s, I had the honor of being a disciple of the great Islamic thinker Ustadh Mahmoud Muhammad Taha. A limited part of this period was spent in association with Ustadh Taha.

The set of ideas put forward by Ustadh Taha is so different, so wonderful, and so relevant that I consider it my duty to humanity to make its existence known. His work is so valuable; the whole world stands in need of it. I say this without boasting or hyperbole.

This translation owes its existence, and my thanks, to Mrs. Kate Ristau and Abdalla Ernest Al Ameriki who carried out the correction and editing. Their help and suggestions have proved invaluable—but for them, this translation would not be what it is. I am also indebted to many others who have aided in bringing the translation to its present form. Although it draws upon oral speeches, the sources are mostly in Sudanese Arabic, a language inaccessible to the majority of English readers.

For these readers, I have translated the Sudanese Arabic into English. The gender problem in English confronts us as usual. Suffice it to say that when I say “man,” I am not imputing masculinity, unless an explicitly male person is involved.

Salah Ahmed Farah

In the name of God, the Beneficent the Merciful:

“Indeed We have the Revelation on the Night of Glory. What will convey to you what the Night of Glory is! The Night of Glory is the grace of a thousand months. On that Night the angels and the Spirit descend by permission of their Lord in every affair. Peace it is, till the break of dawn” [Quran, Chapter 97]. God Almighty is truthful.

Between us, the Republican Brothers, and this glorious Quranic Chapter is a great relationship—a great intimate relationship. We may elaborate upon it at a later time. But we would be content, at this time, with receiving the blessing of this Chapter in our introduction to a series of talks intended to clarify the “New Islamic Call,” a call for the revival of Islam. Today we are in the city of al-Mahadiah on Saturday the 27th of August 1977, which corresponds to the 13th of Ramadan 1397.

The revival of Islam means and presupposes that Islam is dead. We have no doubt that Islam, in the bosoms of men and women, has died. Islam today only exists in the Holy Book. People today practice, in the rituals of worship, only the rinds of worship bereaved of its fruit. That is why their worship in fasting, prayer, and pilgrimage, all their rituals of worship, have no affect on their morals. People treat one another in the market, on the street, at school, and at home with a non-Islamic morality. Islam should be in our bosoms, and affect our minds and hearts. It must be reflected in words and deeds—it is both knowledge and morality.

The bad news is that Islam will disappear and leave the hearts of men and women, and people will be without any weight and will have no value with regards to God; a bad news to this effect is stated. Fortunately, the good news is also stated. The bad news is stated in several hadiths (narrative records of Muhammad’s words, acts, and practices) such as, “You will follow the paths of those nations who were before you, span by span and cubit by cubit, so that even if they entered a ruined burrow of a lizard, you would follow them.” It was asked: “Are they the Jews and the Christians?!” He replied, “Whom else?” Do you mean by those who were before us, the Jews and Christians? He replied, “Whom else?” Also, in another hadith that has often been in our writings: “Soon nations will call each other against you just as they invite each other to a feast.” They asked, “O Messenger of God! Will there be few from among us?” He replied, “No, you will be many just as much scum is on the flashflood. But God will not care about you.”

With regard to Christians, their code is largely a set of moral commandments which does not embrace every aspect of their lives—it does not regulate their entire lives. For example, they go to worship in the church on Sundays and pray, yet they deal with each other, while in the market, every one according to their own shrewdness, as if God has nothing to do with the market, as if His business is only in the places of worship—in the church.

Our religion, we the Moslems, embraces every one of our activities, large and small. Everything that we do or don’t do must be religious and satisfactory with respect to the matters of religion—all of our actions must be worshipful. All of our actions are monitored by our code. There is no action that we do outside of our code that we consider healthy. Rather, those actions are a state of sickness—a state of detachment from religion—a state of non-religion.

The similarity that we are now sharing with the Christians is that we pray to God in the mosque—we go to God in the mosque. Our prayers, on the surface, seem to be good and healthy, but they are essentially spoiled. This is evidenced when we leave the mosque, we do not think that God has concerns in the marketplace. We practice usury, cheating, deception, fraud—all kinds of non-religious acts appear in our dealings within the marketplace. This similarity does exist. Clearly, in the hadith, the great Prophet foretold a truthful prophecy. Also, in the other hadith of, “as much scum is on the flashflood,” the scum is the layer of extraneous matter that blankets floodwater. The analogy between us and it, in the later days, is that we do not have any weight. The scum, the straw, which water carries is light; it has no weight. Our lightness is a signal that our hearts are empty of the words of attestation (there is no deity but God), as it is known that an atom’s weight of “there is no deity but God” is heavier than Mount Uhud on the scale of Judgment Day.

The two hadiths of bad news came to pass and are obvious. In fact, we today’s Moslems have no weight, and we have no impact on our world. We are, and have been for a long time in our history, deemed weak, colonized, despised, and driven against our will; even more so we do not have any will. Rather, we are driven like grazing livestock. This is very obvious in practices and experiences up until the present day. I am concerned that this matter is made clear because there cannot be a change in our situation if we are satisfied with our case.

There are many of the clergy, imams, preachers, and all who work in this field who say we are as well as one could possibly wish and we lack nothing. I think this attitude has defeated, from the beginning, our desire for change, because if we are as well as one could possibly wish then what change do we need?! It must be fixed in our minds the sweeping fact that today we have deviated from religion and we are in an age of ignorance—the second age of ignorance has overtaken us. We are living on the rinds of religion—rinds of worship. We have lost our religious morals and forsaken them. This statement applies to every Islamic country. Therefore, this fact must be fixed in all our minds.

If the matter stopped with the bad news, in the way that we presented it here, it would be hopeless. But fortunately, by virtue of Divine providence we have received, the good news stated, namely in the hadith, “Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began; so good tidings for the strangers.” It was asked, “Who are those strangers, O Messenger of God?” He replied, “Those who revive my esoteric code when it is forgotten.” Note that he said “revive my esoteric code (Sunnah),” and did not say “revive my exoteric code (Shariah).” For some people there is no difference between esoteric code and exoteric code. In fact, the Islamic public opinion among the theologians is that the esoteric code and the exoteric code are the same. More than that, the meaning of esoteric code, exoteric code, and religion is considered the same. But the truth is otherwise. The truth is that each of these words: the esoteric code, exoteric code, and religion, has its own meaning. The difference between them is not in nature, but rather in their degree.

Exoteric code is the frayed end of religion that is closest to the ground of the ordinary people. It is the frayed end of religion that descended to the ground of the ordinary people to address them according to the extent of their intelligence, to solve their problems as they have existed to the best of their capabilities. Religion is the rope that descended from God, from His lofty height, to the ground of the ordinary people to show them His way and draw their path closer to Him—to guide them. The exoteric code is that frayed end—the frayed end, which descended to the ground of the ordinary people on the tongues of the Messengers to direct the path of nations towards God. This is the exoteric code.

The esoteric code is a step above the exoteric code. It is the Prophet’s exclusive obligation. The difference between the esoteric code and exoteric code is like the difference between the Prophet and the ordinary practitioners, because the exoteric code is a discourse for them while the esoteric code is a discourse for the Prophet.

We say that the esoteric code is an upgraded exoteric code, in a sense that the five daily prayers are exoteric code that is prescribed for the ordinary practitioners and also prescribed for the Prophet. However, by way of example, an additional prayer is part of the esoteric code of the Prophet or the personal code of the Prophet, specifically the late night prayer. The late night prayer is prescribed for the Prophet, but not for the ordinary practitioners. It is recommended that the ordinary practitioners perform the late night prayer, while it is prescribed for the Prophet, “A part of the night awake for it, a blessing for you. May be your Lord will raise you to a praised station (17:79).” Also, another verse states, “O you wrapped up in your clothing! Keep vigil the nightlong but a little. Perhaps half of that, or abate a little of that. Or add (a little) thereto and chant the Quran in measure. For We shall charge you with a word of weight” (73:1-5). All is, in fact, to prepare him for this great thing called prophethood.

The Prophet spent fifteen years of worship in the cave of mount Hira. Then revelation came to him with the prophethood Quran. First starting with, “Read, in the name of your Lord who creates—Creates man from a clot. Read, as your Lord is the Most Bounteous, Who teaches by the pen—teaches man that which he knew not” (96:1-5). Then, the prophethood Quran went on, “Nun (the Arabic letter N). I swear by the pen and that with which they write, you are not, for your Lord’s favor to you, a madman. For you is a reward uninterrupted. You are of a great moral character” (68:1-4). Then the revelation of the prophethood Quran continues, “O you wrapped up in your clothing! Keep vigil the night long, but a little—a half of that, or abate a little of that. Or add (a little) thereto and chant the Quran in measure. For We shall charge you with a word of weight. The vigil of the night is (a time) when impression is more keen and speech more certain. You have by day a chain of business. So remember the name of your Lord and devote yourself with a complete devotion” (73:1-8). That was followed by the messengership Quran, starting with, “O you enveloped in your cloak! Arise and warn; magnify your Lord; purify your clothing; shun pollution and; show not favor, seeking worldly gain. But show patience for your Lord’s sake” (74:1-7). Falling under the prophethood Quran, which was revealed perhaps before the command to carry the Call, before Chapter 74, is “I swear by the forenoon, and by the night when it is stillest, Your Lord has not forsaken you nor has He become displeased. Certainly the Hereafter is better for you than the worldly existence. Certainly your Lord will give to you, so that you will be content. Didn’t He find you an orphan and gave you shelter; He found you aimless and gave you guidance; He found you poor and made you rich? So, do not oppress the orphan; do not drive away the beggar; as for the bounty of your Lord be thankful” (93:1-11). Also, falling under the early prophethood Quran, perhaps before the command to carry the Call: “Have We not expanded for you your bosom; eased you of the burden, which weighed down your back; and exalted your fame? Certainly, with hardship goes ease. Certainly, with hardship goes ease. So, when you are relieved, still toil; and strive to please your Lord” (94:1-8).

In fact, the prophethood code, which we call the esoteric code, came before the messengership code. That means, our Prophet was first appointed as Prophet, and then became Messenger after he was fully developed—after he was strong enough and able to undertake the Call. In a revelatory hadith, it is stated that, “My Lord has disciplined me well. Then He said: Take the superfluous, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” The first part of this hadith, “My Lord has disciplined me well,” refers to the course of prophethood, while its second part is in the course of messengership, “Then He said: Take the superfluous, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” So, the esoteric code, in its special obligation, is higher than the messengership code, as the exoteric code is for the ordinary practitioners while the esoteric code is exclusively for the Prophet. In fact, this matter does not manifest itself in anything as clearly as it appears in matters of money.

The obligation of the Prophet concerning money is far higher than that of the ordinary practitioners. The obligation of the Prophet, in one of the pillars of Islamic worship, almsgiving, would not be fulfilled unless he gives up all that is superfluous; he should not hoard up the livelihood of one day for future use. His directive verse from God’s Book is: “They ask you what they ought to spend. Say: That which is superfluous” (2:219). The “superfluous” has been interpreted by the Prophet as whatever exceeds present needs. Yet, this pillar of worship as for the ordinary practitioners rests on the directive verse “Take from their wealth alms, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray for them; your prayer is a relief to them” (9:103), which abrogated the verse, “They ask you what they ought to spend. Say: That which is superfluous.”

The pillar of worship , concerning almsgiving, is one of the five pillars of Islam, as stated in the hadith, “Islam is based on five [pillars]: testifying that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; performing the prayers; paying alms…” However, the original almsgiving is that of the Prophet alone; the original pillar of worship is that prescribed for the Prophet and exercised by the Prophet. Yet, for the ordinary practitioners’ own good, their obligatory pillar of worship has been set at the level of hoarding up the minimum amount of wealth liable to the payment of alms. Then, after one year has passed, one should pay one tenth, half of one tenth, or a quarter of one tenth, according to the amounts levied in the code on personal wealth, which is known to us as the alms tax. So, the almsgiving practiced by the ordinary practitioners, is not the pillar of worship referred to in the above hadith about five pillars, except in that it exists as a substitute for the original pillar that was practiced by the Prophet. Clearly, this difference between the ordinary practitioner and the Prophet, in the obligation of money, existed because of the difference between the prophethood and the messengership—between the Prophet and the ordinary practitioners. This even includes those from the top of his nation. That means the difference between the Prophet and Abu Bakr (the leading Companion) is an immense and incalculable difference, despite the greatness of the status of Abu Bakr in religion, in Islam, and in faith—there is a tremendous difference between them.

A difference exists between the esoteric code and exoteric code, which is maintained in many forms of conduct and obligation. But money exposes it more than anything else because money is, of course, an unfaltering gauge. People can profess and claim, but when the matter of money comes, it distinguishes the sincere from the insincere —it shows the great difference between people.