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 V

Part 1

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.

Herein, receiving the blessing of this Chapter, we continue our talk on simplifying the New Islamic Call. This is our fifth episode. We ended the fourth episode talking about the expressive language that is veiling the meanings of the Quran. We said that language is only a set of implements in which meaning forms along with living practices of the speaker and hearer.

The use of language can only be perfectly expressed, exceptionally refined, and more precise when the speaker is at a high level of knowledge. This is true even in the Quran. Since it came from God, the use of language is at its utmost, the highest, and the finest level at which Arabic can be used to serve the purposes of knowledge. In the Quran, the unfolding of knowledge came in the most precise, the most perfect, and the most eloquent manner conceivable.

The one who listens to the Quran needs to understand, through the implement of language, the meanings which can be extended through practice. Commensurate with the practice, comes the understanding. If you depend on language alone, the Quran will remain veiled to you—the language may even turn you away from the true meaning. Recall that we already provided a simple illustration for this with the word “camel.” This word cannot convey any meaning if you have never seen a camel. However, it may convey, to a child in the streets of Khartoum, the meaning of camel carrying firewood in the streets. This meaning differs greatly from what the word “camel” can convey to a similar child out in the Kababish country, as an example. This issue does not require lengthy explanation; we only go to this length because we believe that the endeavor to understand the Quran is also based on the use of language. Indeed, a lot of people think that anyone who knows Arabic can understand the Quran. This makes them believe that the forefathers’ interpretation of the Quran is equivalent to the Quran. This is of course a colossal error. What we want to draw the attention to is that the Arabic language is only a series of signs, and the true meanings are to be taken from God—through the practice of worship. This is exactly what is meant by the Quranic verse: “So be pious to God, and God teaches you” (2:282).

Piety is obedience to God—it is to do good deeds and avoid sins. Piety begins with the clear idea of what is lawful and what is unlawful, and extends to include more abstruse matters. This has been alluded to in the hadith: “That which is lawful is clear and that which is unlawful is clear, 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.” Between the clearly lawful and the clearly unlawful is the straight path. It is the path that we earlier discussed in our talk about the verse, “Guide us to the straight path” (1:6), and it is the same path we are now discussing in our talk about the hadith, “Hud and Chapters similar to it have made me gray-haired.” The Sages say, what made the hair of the Prophet turns gray, in Hud, is the commandment: “Stay straight, as you have been commanded” (11:112). Because it is very difficult to steady on the intermediate line without leaning to the right or left, the Prophet said, this command made him gray-haired. This is because the Prophet knows the true significance of accountability. Straightness is the peak of piety, while avoiding prohibitions and meeting obligations is its base.

Piety varies. According to the variation of piety, knowledge also varies. The Quran says: “So be pious to God, and God teaches you” (2:282). The novice in piety, at the level of avoiding prohibitions and meeting obligations, has a level of knowledge. That knowledge varies until it involves the nuances of the highest knowledge—until piety becomes the straightness that doesn’t lean right or left, about which the Prophet said made him gray-haired. He was referring to the verse: “Stay straight, as you have been commanded” (11:112).

The fact that knowledge of the Quran must be taken from God is featured in the text. It is self-evident; it does not require us to interpret it. As the Quran says 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). Any clarification that comes from God does not begin nor end. It is an ongoing clarification—it is eternal—then upon Us is its clarification. The Quran also says: “Hasten not with the Quran before its revelation has been completed, and say: My Lord, enrich me in knowledge” (20:114). Thus it was, and remains, the case of the Prophet—in every new moment he is ascending to a new height, and acquiring new knowledge. The ultimate meanings of the Quran are with God. These meanings are the course of ascending to God, from the beginning of creation before the revelation of the Quran on Earth to the utmost end. But then, there is no end because the ascending to God is eternal. When it is said: “To your Lord is the return” (96:8), or “You are toiling on towards your Lord with great exertion, and then you will be meeting Him” (84:6), each of these phrases show that there is no end to this ascension. All of this eternal ascension is within the domain of the Quran.

All that we learn from God, we receive from Him through the Quran. This includes the simple meanings of the Quran, which appear to us, at first, as if we receive them from the Arabic language. In fact, we receive the initial understanding that on which the exoteric code is based—what we receive from the Arabic language is the exoteric code. The exoteric code is the course; when we act on it, piety takes place. The exoteric code enjoins us to act according to the standards of doctrine and duty. The hadith refers to this expressly: “He who acts up to his learning will be given by God such a knowledge which was unknown to him before.” God gives one who acts (in worship) up to his learning (from the exoteric code, without which no worship is valid) an access to the Truth. The more you gain mastery in ascending the heights of monotheism toward God, the more your knowledge continues to be refined until you reach the steps of Divine Self manifestation, which we talked about a while ago.

The evident is that the Arabic language veils the meanings of the Quran. When the Quran was expressed in Arabic, in the most impressive manner conceivable, it ended up as suggestive signs, in the sense that “Alif, Lam, Mim” are merely suggestive signs, which are symbols that we call Arabic letters. Letters are just a localized linguistic manifestation. The Arabs have their own nomenclature for letters, just as the Europeans have their own nomenclatures, according to their different countries and national traits. But the thing they have in common is the sound. We, the Arabic speakers, represented the sound “Ah” with what we called “Alif” and the English speakers represented it with what they happen to call “Ey”; as have other different nations and nationalities (created unique representations). So, the “Alif, Lam, Mim,” which we have in the Quran, are letters. It is well known to us that independent letters have no meaning. The meaning of the letter appears in its association with other letters, in the sense that the letter “p” has no meaning, “e” has no meaning, and “n” has no meaning. But when these three letters are joined together, they become “pen,” and thus have meaning. So, in saying that the meaning of a letter appears in its association with other letters, one can better understand the intended meaning of the alphabetic letters in the openings of some Chapters of the Quran—(suggesting) the true meaning is not in the Quran, one has yet to arrive there. The Quran does not have the capacity to express the vast meanings of the absolute, except the meanings that wisdom has allowed the letters to contain so that we can understand. We do not need to stop at a particular understanding, but rather, we should proceed continuously. After you are through with the implements of language, which carry the meanings, you end up dealing with the suggestive signs. These signs are arrows taking off towards the absolute. So you are, in fact, in constant procession after the cessation of rational meanings, after the cessation of the mind, as we said in our previous talks. After the lifting of the veil of the mind, comes singular knowledge, which cannot enter the mind when it is behind the veil.

When the phrases become too narrow to carry the meanings of the Quran, they end up as suggestive signs. Sages have a saying that: “Ships of phrases have no place in the sea of sagacity; the Sage is above what he says.” The Quran refers to this expressly: “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). We have said that “the Mother of Scriptures” with the Divine Self. At the utmost end, it is the Divine Self. The Quran with the Divine Self is ineffable—it is incapable of being expressed in words, it hints at meaning and comes up short. But when the Quran descended, it settled into the implements of the Arabic language.

We have had many experiences with people contending with us over different meanings of the Quran that they have derived from the Arabic language while they are deprived of the ability to discern the truth. For example: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion” (5:3). The apparent meaning of this text, which is the basis of knowledge for today’s scholars and theologians, is settled—there is nothing to be recommenced. This is because (to them) “this day,” referred to by the Quran in this instance, is a day that has ended; it was the Day of Arafat (the 9th day of the last month of the Islamic calendar) during the Farewell Pilgrimage in the tenth year of Emigration; it was Friday, when this verse was revealed. In the phrase “I have perfected for you,” the word “perfected” is in past tense, meaning that the question of perfection is settled, according to Arabic language; the word “completed” is also in past tense, it is a settled question, according to language. Further, in the phrase “chosen for you Islam as your religion,” the word “chosen” is a past tense, it is a settled question—there is nothing to be recommenced. Therefore, from their knowledge of this verse, they reject our view that there is or can be a new understanding of the religion, a new understanding of the Quran. They reject our view on the basis that there is nothing new after this explicit text: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion” (5:3). As long as their basis is the Arabic language, they are right. However, the Arabic language does not give the truest meanings. Those meanings must be received through monotheism. We offer a sphere of action where one can discover such meaning—people must turn to it as of today.

The meaning that we receive through monotheism in collaboration with language is that the revelation of the Quran has been completed—the revelation of the religion included in the Quran, between the two covers of the Holy Book, has been completed on Earth. Heaven was joined with Earth for all time. There have been, since the time of Adam, descending portions of the Quran which were in accordance with the levels of the nations and the levels of the Prophets and Messengers. You can even say that the Torah is a phase of the Quran revealed to Moses, the Gospel is a phase of the Quran revealed to Jesus, and the Quran has been revealed to Muhammad. With the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad, the descending has been perfected, as expressed in the verse: “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and chosen for you Islam as your religion” (5:3). Still, we must realize that the clarification of the Quran has not been perfect or complete, and it will not be perfect or complete, because God says: “Then upon Us is its clarification” (75:19). We said that the clarification of the Quran is from God—this clarification is eternal and does not end; and the entire realm within which one approaches God occurs within the domain of the meanings of the Quran. This is because God speaks to us and teaches us of his knowledge in every moment, and all the time: “They encompass nothing of His knowledge except as He wills” (2:255). All the knowledge of God is in the Quran. The Quran, in fact, is God Self. But we do not understand anything of the Quran except as He wills. But we should know that God, in every moment, wills for us to have a new knowledge. When we consider all of this, we learn from monotheism that the Quran will never be fully clarified.

We say that only God has comprehensive knowledge of the Quran. The Quran refers to this expressly: “None [conclusively] knows its interpretation except God. Those who are firmly established in knowledge say: We believe in [the Quran]” (3:7). Those who are firmly established in knowledge are the Prophets, the Messengers, and the Angels. All rational beings are at a level to be able to know and believe in part of the Quran. However, to have a comprehensive knowledge of the Quran is impossible—it belongs to God alone. We said that the Prophet could not fully clarify the Quran; this is because even he does not have a comprehensive knowledge of the Quran. The Prophet’s knowledge of the Quran is at the level of ignorance in comparison to the knowledge of God. Even so, his nation could not tolerate the level of the Prophet’s knowledge of the Quran. The Prophet received a very considerable knowledge of the Quran, but it is nothing when compared to the true knowledge of the Quran. The Prophet clarified to his nation a great deal of the Quran. But what he clarified to the nation is nothing compared to the extent of knowledge that he has of the Quran. Quranic meanings are accordingly arranged in levels. Thus, the true meaning of the verse in question cannot be understood unless there is cooperation between language and monotheism. Monotheism provides the meaning we reported, while language gives the meaning used by our opponents as an argument. It is, in fact, not only a lack of understanding on their part that fuels their argument—they are veiled from a grand truth. Language veils the true meaning of the Quran.

There is another verse used by our opponents as an argument, in which the veil of language is noticeable: “We have revealed to you the Remembrance to clarify to mankind what has been released for them so that they may recall” (16:44). It can be understood from the phrase, “We have revealed to you the Remembrance,” that the Remembrance is the entire Quran. Grammatically, in the phrase, “that you may clarify to mankind what has descended to them,” the particle “what” introduces a relative clause, meaning “that which.” As if to say: We have revealed to you the Remembrance to clarify to mankind the Remembrance. The word what, here points back anaphorically to the Remembrance, as if to say: We have revealed to you the Quran to clarify it to mankind. Monotheism, however, teaches otherwise. This is the same point we made before, that the Prophet cannot clarify the entire Remembrance. Our Lord says to the Prophet that every day you will know more when He reminds him: “say: My Lord, enrich me in knowledge” (20:114). This means that he did not encompass the knowledge of the Quran. If the Prophet imparted to people the knowledge he encompassed, it would have been too hard for them. He is enjoined by God to speak to the people according to the extent of their intelligence. He said: “We Prophets are ordered to speak to the people according to the extent of their intelligence.” This is also asserted in the Quran: “God takes not a soul beyond its capacity” (2:286). The verse in question can also be understood if there is cooperation between monotheism and language. Language is not vanity, but the one who receives his understanding through language alone is precluded and veiled from the true meaning of the Quran. The meaning of the verse, obtained through language and monotheism together, is as follows: We have revealed to you the Remembrance (the entire Quran, original and subsidiaries, Meccan and Medinese) to clarify to mankind what has been released for them (that you may clarify to mankind the portion of the Quran that is descended from the grand, high, and lofty origins to the level of people so that they can tolerate it; that you may clarify to them what their minds can tolerate, and what is necessary to solve the problems of their lives). This is what is captured in the clarification.