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 II

Part 1

In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful, we begin the second episode of our series of talks on the revival of Islam.

Our effort to revive Islam is in no way an interpretative judgment. It is not an instance, as other familiar practices we have seen, of an interpretive judgment where no literal text exists. Yet, it is also not an instance of an interpretive judgment where a literal text exists. It is a new understanding of the existing familiar texts. It is not an interpretive judgment because the interpretive judgment is just carving. It is, in fact, an effused knowledge thanks to God, and thanks to spiritual aspiration and the beseeching by the prophetic means to gain access to the Quran.

Access to the Quran is via the Prophet’s life. One who knows well how to beseech by the Prophet’s life will be granted access to the Quran by the grace of God, and by virtue of this effort and the blessings of the Prophet. So, our effort is not an interpretative judgment, rather it is an understanding of the texts. The rule is that not a single text, in the Quran or in the hadith, is an end in itself. Texts are means, as all of the means lead to the human. Humans are the most honored of all creatures. Messengers were not sent, the Quran was not revealed, and exoteric code were not enacted, except for the sake of the human being. On this basis rests our call to the Second Message of Islam.

We were, in our opening episode of this series of talks, talking about the esoteric code and the exoteric code. We tried, by scrutiny and elaboration, to show the difference between the esoteric code and the exoteric code. We said at the end of the first episode that the Second Message of Islam is nothing but the Prophet Path. There, we tried to make it clear that there were two practiced codes, the prophethood code and the messengership code. No one except the Prophet practiced or was obligated to follow the prophethood code, although it was recommend to the ordinary practitioners. The ordinary practitioners were not obliged to practice the prophethood code—were not obligated to the esoteric code, simply for fear of hardship on them as ordinary people. The people were not capable of the esoteric code. Also, we talked about the issue of money because it shows the enormous difference between the obligation of the ordinary practitioners and the obligation of the Prophet; the people would have suffered considerable hardship if they had been obliged, monetarily, beyond their capability.

In fact, it is known that the sole reason behind the famous apostasy of the Bedouin Moslems, after the death of the Prophet, was money, even though the money with which they were obliged was at the level of alms tax. They said: “We swear to God that we are Moslems, bear witness that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God, pray, fast, and go on pilgrimage, but we do not give our money. By God, this is exactly the tribute (that we will pay)!” It is for this reason they apostatized from Islam.

That was the result, even though the level of obligation was within the capacity of the ordinary practitioners; so how about if the obligation was at the level of the Prophet’s capacity?! This is not something that comes to mind or falls in line with true wisdom. The wisdom rests on the verse, “God takes not a soul beyond its capacity” (2:286). And it also rests on the hadith, “We Prophets are ordered to speak to the people according to the extent of their intelligence.”

It is known that the Prophet’s level was far higher than the level of other superiors in his nation—much higher than Abu Bakr, not to mention the ordinary person of his nation. Once, the Companions of the Prophet wanted to practice the unbroken fast—a type of fasting known as perpetual fasting. The Prophet used to practice the perpetual fasting. He would fast throughout the day and continue to fast into the night, and fast the following day and continue fasting that night, and fast the third day and finally break the fast at the end of the day—three days and two nights of unbroken fasting. Some of the Companions thought of imitating the Prophet in this matter, but he said to them: “You should follow the approved fasting and break the fast at sunset. Do not fast continuously.” Yet they said to him: “But we see you fasting continuously, O God’s Messenger!” then he said: “I am not like any of you, I am given food and drink during my sleep by my Lord.” It is obvious that the food and drink that the Prophet used to get from his Lord was the certitude in God and not milk or water, and not bread or meat. He eats the fruit of the profoundest knowledge of God. So, this big difference between the Prophet and the ordinary practitioners supports the existence of two practiced codes. One code prescribed for the Prophet, and a much lower code prescribed for the ordinary practitioners.

We have pointed out to a very great danger that when people see us aspiring to the great perfections of the Prophet, to which they believe we are not entitled, it is not our religious duty. That is, of course, what the theologians say a lot to us. They say: “This matter is the Prophet’s specialty. It is not our religious duty.” Yet we have warned that this is a great danger that holds back the ordinary practitioners from pursuing the heights of their Prophet, and discourages their determination to advance. In fact, we are obliged, as we are able, to strive toward all of the prophetic perfections. We are obliged to get acquainted with God. That is because religion exists only to get us acquainted with God, so we can advance toward God. There are no advancements in this realm except in our understanding, and our acquaintance and adornment with the ethics of God.

Approaching God is the process of bringing our characters closer to God’s attributes. God has no place where we approach Him—He is neither in place nor in time. Verily, God is in our hearts. The veils of ignorance, illusions, and inattention, with which life has encircled us, separate us from Him, “No, but that which they have earned has veiled their hearts” (83:14). Approaching God is possible by lifting the veils of ignorance between Him and us—lifting the veils of bad habits, those hostilities, hatreds, resentments, envy and aversions— in the daily matters that we have been drawn into by our concerns of livelihood and the fears associated with that livelihood, “No, but that which they have earned has veiled their hearts” (83:14).

So, the adornment with noblest ethics is the matter. It is enjoined upon us to adorn ourselves with the ethics of God. Therefore, saying that, “it is not enjoined upon us to strive for the heights of the Prophet” or “this matter is the Prophet’s specialty,” is a great and harmful error. The matter enjoined upon us is to be divine. God said: “Be divine for you have taught the Scripture and you have studied it earnestly” (3:79). A saying of the Prophet goes: “Adorn with the ethics of God. Certainly, it is my Lord that is on a straight path.” The matter enjoined upon us is significant! As I say, it is an error when the theologians say that “This matter is the Prophet’s specialty. It is not our religious duty.”

Yet, it is not our religious duty when we fall short of it, and that is for the sake of warding off discomfort. But, eventually, this matter is our religious duty. It is our religious duty, whenever we are capable of it. The Quran, as I said, enjoins it upon us with a command, “Say [O Muhammad]: If you do love God, follow me, God will love you” (3:31). As our spiritual aspirations became too weak to undertake this matter, we slackened to following Muhammad in his outer acts. We are now, in bodily movements, praying as the Prophet used to pray. But, is this the act required to be followed? Or is this a rind around the inner fruit? Yes, we must pray as Muhammad used to pray, in his acts and guises, but we must have the inner preparedness that makes our hearts similar to his heart. What is enjoined, in fact, is to follow him both outwardly and inwardly. The rind that we undertake must be filled with pith. I mean that our acts must have inner substance.

The Second Message of Islam, as we have said, is nothing but the Prophet Path. It is the path of the Prophet, returning again to be the code for all practitioners. The reason is that the ordinary practitioners in the seventh century were incapable of understanding what the Prophet said, or undertaking his acts. Therefore, his acts were greatly lowered to their level. The hadith, which was mentioned earlier, stated: “We Prophets are ordered to speak to the people according to the extent of their intelligence.” Hence the descending from the prophethood code to the messengership code took place. We gave the example of the teacher, who prepared at the college of education, to show us how the Prophet was superbly prepared to bear the burden of the Message; he had the ability to simplify the great verities so the people could understand them and function to the degree to which they were capable, “God takes not a soul beyond its capacity” (2:286).

When the hadith of the revival of Islam stated, the good news succeeded the bad news of Islam’s disappearance and death in the hearts of men and women. The good news was brought forth saying, “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 path when it is forgotten.” In fact, the Prophet announced the coming of the nation of the strange ones. The forerunners, in the nation of the strange ones, are strangers. But soon, when there are many of their kind, their estrangement will come to an end and they will be living among their own ilk of people. But they, as the forerunners, are indeed strangers.

One may ask: where did the strange ones’ attribute of estrangement come from? What exactly is this estrangement? The answer is that the estrangement comes from monotheism. Basically, monotheism is strange to the minds. Minds exist in an atmosphere of multiplicity—in the atmosphere of the material world. The doorways to the material world are numerous, they are the senses. The senses render multiplicity. The environment, in which the mind exists, is this multiplicity. The mind perceives by pairing—at the most primitive phase, it perceives by pairing. So, the environment, in which the minds exist, provides the multiplicity. When invited to monotheism, minds find the lack of multiplicity strange. And that is narrated in the Quran. One day, when the Koreishite were in the presence of their 360 idols around the Ka’ba, the Prophet came up to them saying: “O people, say: there is no deity but God. You will be successful.” With their 360 idols, they found that strange. The Quran gave an account of their wonderment, “They said: Has he made the deities one God? This is a wondrous thing” (38:5)! It is a wondrous thing—something strange. So, when the Prophet came upon them with monotheism, he became a stranger among them, just as the strange ones will become strangers in the community in which they live in the latter days, as the Prophet foretold. They are the ones who revive Islam after it has gone out of the life of the people. They will be strangers because they will come up with monotheism.

The hadith of the strangers is of great importance for the revival of Islam. Islam will not be revived by the exoteric code, as many people think. Nowadays, many people think that we are better off—we bear witness that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; we pray, fast, pay alms, and go on our pilgrimages. It seems there is nothing missing but to enforce our exoteric code. They think if they were given a free hand—if they had been in power, they would have restored the exoteric code. But this is a very faulty understanding of religion. Religion will not be revived by the exoteric code. Religion will be revived by monotheism, yet the reviving is not an act of a community, except in the light of the fact that the community is composed of individuals. This is because the values derived from sagacity fall within the individuals’ domain.

If we, at the present time, attempted to implement the exoteric code, we would distort it—we would implement it far from its reality. We see this every day. Nowadays, the countries that implement Islamic exoteric code are in a very evident paradox with the actual religion. And they are even more in a paradox than the other countries, because they think they are better off, since they are following the religion. This exoteric code, however, is implemented in an extreme corruption. In a sense, it is carried out on the doorkeeper, and never on the executive—carried out on the weak, while the well-to-do are saved from it. Why?! That is because the minds (of those implementing it) are corrupted. Their minds are neither mannered nor disciplined. Therefore, it is impossible to implement the exoteric code fairly, earnestly, impartially, and with integrity. Monotheism, though, is an address and a code to human minds. If you want to establish the Islamic government on Earth, you should first establish it within yourself. If you have managed to establish the Islamic government within yourself, you are about to establish it on Earth. But you cannot establish such a government within yourself, unless you have established it on the basis of monotheism. That is because the standard for codes, within the human mind, is monotheism.

So, the source of estrangement is monotheism, “Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began; so good tidings for the strangers.” The strangers are those who, with the aid of estrangement, manifest their strong cognizance of the gradations of monotheism that are foreign to most people. Whenever the mast of monotheism rises to a new elevation, things come to be viewed in a new light. Even the texts, which were perceived by people in some manner, can be perceived with a new perception when the mast of monotheism rises to a new elevation. This is what we, the advocates of Islamic resurgence, are calling for today. We are focusing on monotheism, which grants us a new understanding of the Quran, based on which we interpret the texts. Earlier, we have said that, the interpretation of the Quran, however great, is not the Quran. Rather it is the interpreter’s own understanding of the Quran. The interpreter’s understanding of the Quran depends on many things, including the ethos of his era. You cannot expect the interpreters of the early centuries to serve the purposes of all subsequent eras in elucidating the Quran. They understood from the Quran that which served their purpose and time. We need to understand from the Quran that which serves the purpose of our time.

Our time, right now, is different from all other times. In fact, humanity, in its distant past, was progressing toward a time like our time. Humanity was moving by the force of their strenuous efforts from one phase to another, in every time and place on this planet, to be in a situation similar to the situation of our present society. They longed to live as we do, in a unified global society in which members conceive of matters in conformity with each other, where they face the same destiny, and also make every conceivable effort to live in peace and cooperation with their neighbors. Humanity’s progression proceeded and arrived at our current situation.

We are now living in a global society in which modern means of transportation have abridged the distance between the regions where people become neighbors. The situation in the past was very different from the present situation. For example, the problems of the people who used to travel by pack animals, by camels, cannot be considered similar to the problems of today’s people who travel by spaceships and airplanes—who travel to the moon and explore the planets in space. Even now, as we speak, there are spaceships traveling to Jupiter and to Saturn. These spaceships are expected to continue their journey through the remainder of 1977 and proceed through the year 1978 to reach Saturn in mid-1979. It is not possible, not by reason or religion, to solve the problems of such a society on the basis of the understanding of ancient Moslems of the seventh century.