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 2

Even though the interpretation of the Quran was received from the Prophet, this does not mean it is the final word in the interpretation of the Quran, because the Prophet, as we said in the first episode, interprets according to the extent of people’s intelligence. People were incapable of grasping the Prophet’s understanding of the Quran, and for that reason he did not address his understanding to them. He addressed them according to extent of their intelligence. Furthermore, even the Prophet’s understanding of the Quran does not express the entire Quran. We have mentioned the hadith in which the Prophet says: “Had you relied on God with due reliance, He would have provided you with sustenance, as He provides it to birds, and you would have learned the knowledge which eliminates ignorance. Still no one has learned that! They asked: Neither you? He said: Neither I. They said: We did not think that Prophets fall short of anything! He said: Certainly, what God has, is of greater significance than to be comprehended by anyone.” No one grasps the knowledge of the Quran but God. The Quran alludes to this in an address to the Prophet: “Do not move your tongue with [the Quran] in order to make haste with it. Upon Us are its collection and its recitation. So when We read it, follow you its reading. Then upon Us is its clarification” (75:16-19). And also this has been alluded to in the Quran regarding the Prophet: “Hasten not with the Quran before its revelation has been completed, and say: My Lord, enrich me in knowledge” (20:114). The Prophet’s knowledge of the Quran was increasing through worship and through spiritual aspiration. He is still, in his life on the isthmus, scaling the heights in understanding the Quran. No person will have comprehensive knowledge of the Quran, because the Quran is God Self and the attribute eternal with His Self. In the final analysis, the Quran is God Self.

Therefore, as far as we are concerned, the ever so worthy ancestors’ understanding of the Quran, is not binding. These worthy ancestors did their very best in understanding from the Quran that which served the purposes of their society. We have to understand from the Quran that which helps us solve the problems of our society. It is a society that differs from past societies, in all aspects. It not only differs from the society of the seventh century; in fact, it is different from the society of thirty years ago. Every day there are new developments that turn this society into a new society and require a new understanding of the Quran to solve society’s problems. This new understanding comes from the Quran. There is no solution that is not included in the Quran.

Seeking a solution, however, should be done with the right means, which is the being of the Prophet. We say that the Prophet’s life is the access to the Quran. This is what honorable Aisha meant with her saying about the Prophet: “His ethics were the Quran.” So, if we follow the example of the Prophet’s ethics with imitation, replication, love, and trust—if we follow him in his acts with open minds and pursue the heights of his progression toward his Lord, then we will be granted access to the Quran, and then we will have a new understanding.

What is needed now, then, is the revival of the esoteric code. The essence of esoteric code is the mastering of monotheism. As we said, the Prophet’s level of obligation was indeed higher than the level of the ordinary practitioners, because he mastered monotheism at a level higher than the level of the ordinary practitioners. When he said, “I am given food and drink during my sleep by my Lord,” we maintained that the food and drink that the Prophet received from his Lord was not milk or water, nor was it meat or bread, rather it was the certitude in God that resulted from his mastering of monotheism.

Islam will return if we revive the esoteric code. The essence of esoteric code, as we have said, is “there is no deity but God.” The one who masters “there is no deity but God” will emerge as a stranger among the people. This one will be strange to them because of the different lifestyle and different discourse—this one will be strange among them. Strangers will increase and grow in numbers until God allows their estrangement to disappear and they will live with their ilk of people. The society will turn into that small group that the strangers belonged to before they became larger in number.

The new understanding of the Quran in fact offers a highly accurate and nuanced distinction of the line of equilibrium. An example of this line of equilibrium has been alluded to in the Quran: “thus, We have made you an intermediate nation.” The line of equilibrium is the intermediate line between two extremes, as we can see: “thus, We have made you an intermediate nation to be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger to be a witness over you” (2:143). In our finest Chapter in the Quran—the opening chapter—we read: “Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who are object of anger or of those who are astray” (1:6-7). God called the path of those upon whom He has bestowed favor “the straight path,” that is the line of equilibrium, which is intermediate between two extremes. On one extreme is excessiveness and on the other is negligence. Or you can say, on one extreme is materiality and on the other is spirituality—excessiveness in materiality and excessiveness in spirituality. Or rather, we could say the two extremes are excessiveness in spirituality on the one hand, and on the other extreme, negligence with regard to spirituality. As if there is a material extreme and a spiritual extreme—both are wrong.

In the interpreters view, the two extremes are Jews and Christians—those who are object of anger are “the Jews” and those who are astray “the Christians.” This view is generally agreed upon between the interpreters. They say, “Guide us to the straight path. The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor (the Moslems),” because this is what is asserted in the verse, “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you” (5:3). This reference to the Moslems “upon whom You have bestowed favor,” is also expressed in “thus, We have made you an intermediate nation to be witnesses over mankind.” The intermediate is between the Jews and the Christians. Here, the interpretation of the verse goes like this: “The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor (the Moslems), not of those who are object of anger (the Jews) or of those who are astray (the Christians).” On the intermediate line is the Moslem nation.

The Moslem nation has the qualities of the Jews and of the Christians. We are, of course, required to believe in the Torah and in the Gospel—we believe in Moses and in Jesus. On this part, we believe as if we are followers at the level of recognizing the prophethood and messengership of Moses and of Jesus—as if we are followers. We are Moslems, we are Christians, and we are Jews. We belong to all of that; our Book dominates their Books. We recognize their stature and their high repute with God, and we believe in them.

The Moslem nation, the intermediate between the two extremes, also has the qualities of the two extremes. As in all such cases, every intermediate has the qualities of the two extremes, like the child springing from both the mother and the father. Through mating, together, the mother and father give birth to the child and in the child they both meet—the child has the qualities of both parents. Here as well, in every intermediate are the qualities of the two extremes. On the surface we see that the child is a single person, but if we look deeply, we will find that different qualities of both of the mother and father are present in the child. You may say that the child is composed of soul and spirit. The soul is closer to the mother while the spirit is closer to the father, but we see the child as a single person. Yet when you look deeply, the child is not a single person.

Likewise, the things that converge in the intermediate are, actually, in pairs. This pairness can only be distinguished if we rise, on the column of monotheism, to the power of light by which we, as the Sufis say, can split the hair. This power by which the hair splits is the Criterion that has been alluded to in the Quran, “O believers! If you be pious to God, He will grant you a Criterion” (8:29). The Criterion is the light by which you distinguish between the nuances. The hadith, also, alluded to this triplet among the two extremes: “That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear (these are the two extremes), and between the two are abstruse matters about which many people do not know. Thus, the person who pauses before abstruse matters is cleared in regard to religion and honor.” Furthermore, “between the two [extremes] are abstruse matters about which many people do not know,” because the matters in the intermediate are nuanced. That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear, but in the middle there is something that converges between the extremes, making it very difficult to distinguish between the lawful and the unlawful. We can only do so by the help of certain insights, thanks to God and thanks to piety. This is why the Prophet says: “about which many people do not know.”

We learned from the above that every intermediate between two extremes combines the qualities of those two extremes, which is true. It is self-evident in the case of the child who contains the qualities of both mother and father. From this we can deduce that we, the Moslems, believe in the Torah and also believe in the Gospel—we confirm that which was revealed to Moses and that which was revealed to Jesus. This intermediacy is the same as when we are called to be witnesses over mankind. The meaning of: “thus, We have made you an intermediate nation to be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger to be a witness over you”, is that in you (Moslems) the nations meet—the two extremes meet in you, the intermediate, so you will be witnesses over mankind. You further meet in the Messenger—your aggregation is in him, while he is a witness over you. In this sense, all the matters in the intermediate or on the line of equilibrium are in pairs.

As a matter of fact, the meanings of the Quran are in pairs. This is what is asserted in the verse: “God has revealed the best words in a dual Scripture; it chills the skins of those who fear their Lord, so that their skins and their hearts soften to the remembrance of God. Such is God’s guidance; He guides whom He wills. And for the one whom God sends astray there is no guide” (39:23). The pairingness has been alluded to in this verse, simultaneously, in the “dual” and also in “so that their skins and their hearts soften.” Here, the word “dual” means the meanings are in pairs. In this sense the Quran is dual. Its meanings are in pairs because these are words from the Lord to His servant—these are meanings from the Lord in His lofty height adapted to the servant on Earth.

Also the Quran emphatically declares the duality: “Ha Mim (the Arabic letters ‘laryngeal H’ and ‘M’). I swear by the Book that makes things clear: We have made it a Quran in Arabic that you may understand. As, in the Mother of Scriptures with Us, it is truly elevated, full of wisdom” (43:1-4). The Quran in the Mother of Scriptures, which is with God Self, has been made an Arabic Quran that we may understand God. Hence the phrase, “We have made it a Quran in Arabic.” This (Arabic Quran) is what has descended to the servant on Earth. And then we are referred to that (Quran) at the Source—with the Divine Self—to that which is the God Self: “As, in the Mother of Scriptures with Us, it is truly elevated, full of wisdom.” So, the pairness has been asserted explicitly. If the matter is so, then all of our conceptions need to be reviewed.

Earlier, in our first episode, we said that the exoteric code is something other than the esoteric code, as if we have both an exoteric code and an esoteric code. Yet the difference between them is so fine that to differentiate them requires insight that has to be acquired through worship and piety, “O believers! If you are pious to God, He will grant you a Criterion” (8:29). Piety means we work on obeying commands and avoiding what is forbidden, pursuant to the teachings of the exoteric code. This is what is asserted in the verse: “So be pious to God, and God teaches you” (2:282). This is the access to sagacity—piety is understood as the access to sagacity, in the verse: “So be pious to God, and God teaches you!” Sagacity is also alluded to in the prophetic hadith: “He who acts up to his learning will be given by God such a knowledge which was unknown to him before.” He who acts (in worship) up to his learning (from the exoteric code) will be given by God (an access to the Truth)—will be given by God such a knowledge which was unknown to him before. In another related hadith, “I am only a conveyer, and God is the Provider. Whoever God desires worthy will be endowed with comprehension of the religion. As this nation has not ceased to live the commandments of God, it will not be harmed by those who oppose them until the Command of God comes about.” That is “I am only a conveyer,” which means, I was sent with the teachings of the exoteric code, which are necessary for worship and piety. I am only a conveyer—I teach the exoteric code. I was sent with the teachings of the exoteric code, without which no performance in worship is valid, and God grants the access to the Truth.

The issue of duality, or pairness, with regards to the accuracy of meanings, is the subject of our present Call. We do not call for new texts; rather the mainstay of our work is the Quran that is already in the hands of people—the Quran between the covers of the Holy Book. There is nothing new except a new understanding that God bestows on whom He wills, thanks to His sheer grace, and thanks to the exposure to His grace through the Prophet’s path.

Esoteric code and exoteric code can be considered as “pair.” There are similarities between them, as well as differences. The esoteric code is an upgraded exoteric code—the esoteric is a confirmed code. The fact is that if you wish to comprehend these abstruse meanings, you will find that the meaning of Islam, for example, is paired: Islam at the starting point and Islam at the terminal point. Islam at the starting point is less than faith, while Islam at the terminal point is greater than faith. One could say that faith is intermediate; beneath it there is Islam at the starting point, and above faith there is Islam at the terminal point.

When the Bedouins said: “we have faith!” as recounted in the Quran, they were not given approval for this claim. The Quran refers to this expressly: “The Bedouins said: We have faith. Say: You have no faith, but rather you should say: We converted to Islam, for faith has not yet entered into your hearts” (49:14). The claim of faith was denied to them. They were demoted to the conversion to Islam level, because Islam, at this level, is just a superficial submission—semblance of words and actions. Yet, in this concern, a person may say, “I bear witness that there is no deity but God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” Acknowledging the messengership of Muhammad entails the following of Muhammad. Muhammad said: “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; fasting Ramadan; and pilgrimage to the House for whoever can afford it.”

The convert, who has given testimony and established the pillars of Islam, is outwardly considered by people a Moslem, albeit a hypocrite. With the teachings of God, the Prophet was indeed aware that so-and-so was a hypocrite. The Prophet was aware of the hypocrites, but he was not ordered to tell them, you are not Moslems. This is what is asserted in his hadith: “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that there is no deity but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; establish the prayers; pay the alms; fast Ramadan; and go on pilgrimage to the House. If they do that then they will gain protection from me for their lives and property, unless they violate the exoteric code, then their reckoning will be with God.” The phrase “their reckoning will be with God” means that the Prophet was ordered neither to look into their hearts nor to proclaim what in their hearts was hypocrisy or honesty. The hypocrite is at the level of Islam known as superficial submission, yet the hypocrite is still considered to be a Moslem. This superficial submission is known as the Islam that spares blood from shedding and protects properties from capture. Beyond this level, the heart of the sincere person who genuinely observes the covenant of the initial Islam by physically and mentally obeying, would maintain a perceived status known as faith. This perceived status would be subsequent to the superficial Islam—the superficial submission. The person, whose heart maintains an inward sense known as faith, would be considered a believer. Faith is outward and inward submission.