Root Islamic Re-education
Sheij Abdul Haqq Bewley
Say: O you who disbelieve, who cover up the truth, I do not worship what you worship, and you do not worship what I worship; I am not a worshipper of what you worship and you do not worship what I worship. You have your deen and I have my deen. 109
Almost all Muslims know these words from the Qur’an by heart, and many recite them once or more every day, yet not many really reflect on their meaning or realise the importance they hold for the people of this time. It is almost as though, in the repetition of the basic premise of the sura, that two kinds of worship are being highlighted. The first kind – the gross idolatry of literally turning physical forms into objects of worship – is something that all Muslims are protected from doing as long as they hold to even the most basic elements of Islam. The Prophet @ said in a well known hadith: “By Allah, I am not afraid that you will worship others besides Allah after me, but I am afraid that you will strive and struggle against each other over these treasures of the world.” To do that would be the unforgivable wrong action of open shirk. However, as the Prophet @ also made clear there is also such a thing as hidden shirk, the unconscious association of other things with Allah, and it is perhaps this that the second, repeated declaration refers to. In the sura Allah commands His Messenger @ to declare himself free of associating anything whatsoever with his Lord either outwardly or inwardly. But, while his community are protected from associating anything outwardly with Allah, from open shirk, the Muslims as a whole are certainly prone to inward association, to hidden shirk. Indeed Allah tells us in His Book near the end of Sura Yusuf: “Most of them do not believe in Allah without associating others with Him.” 12:106 and the Prophet @ referred to it on several occasions.
The sura ends: “You have your deen and I have my deen” making it clear that Allah’s deen is that deen in which He alone is worshipped, in which nothing is associated with Him, and that this is what differentiates it from from the deen of the unbelievers. But what exactly is the unbelievers’ deen, what form does it take in today’s world? The hadith of the Prophet @, “Kufr is one milla, one system of belief,” has never been more demonstrably true than now. The dominant ethos of the world we live in is often referred to as the Judeo-Christian tradition and, although it has in fact almost nothing to do with either Judaism or Christianity as religions, it can certainly be said to have grown out of the civilisation founded on these two religious traditions. It in fact finds its roots in the ancient world and, subverting seven centuries of enlightened input from the world of Islam while borrowing from it freely, it created a leviathan within the Judeo-Christian world, the ongoing heir of the empire of ancient Rome, that has now overwhelmed the whole globe.
The most obvious outward manifestation of this domination is the dazzling technological superiority achieved through the scientific advances of the past few centuries that has been so crucial to the way that every aspect of human life is now conducted and controlled. What is not so readily appreciated is that this technological dominance is the direct outcome of a lengthy and deeply searched philosophical tradition, which underpins everything that has happened in the modern world. Some landmark figures in this tradition are Plato, Aristotle, Erasmus. Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant but, of course, there were many other significant thinkers betwixt and between them.
The end result of these two millennia of thought has been a very particular understanding of the human creature, which can be very loosely generalised as the increasing subjectivisation of the individual human being and the increasing objectivisation of the surrounding world. A fundamental picture of the human being was definitively formulated, which posited a basic dualism of mind/matter, spirit/body, subject/object, inner perception/outer world, and between the two there was a hard and fast division. In this definition man has become a thinking mind, stuck in a material body, looking out on an alien world of separate things outside himself.
The inevitable consequence of this was the abandonment of a traditional view of existence based on Divine Revelation, which had held sway until that time and which saw all existence as a unified whole. It was replaced by a perspective in which the mathematical science of the world and its phenomena took precedence over everything else. Descartes, who was as much a scientist as he was a philosopher, put it thus: “I perceived it to be possible to arrive at a knowledge highly useful in life. . . to discover a practical, by means of which, knowing the force and action of fire, water, the stars, the heavens, and all the other bodies that surround us … we might also apply them in the same way to all the uses to which they are adapted and thus render ourselves the lords and possessors of nature.” And Francis Bacon, another 17th Century philosopher/scientist, who is best known for his dictum that God works in Nature only by secondary causes, encapsulated this position by saying, “Those therefore, who determine not to conjecture and guess, but to find out and know – not to invent fables and romances of worlds, but to look into and dissect the nature of this real world – must consult only things themselves.”
This led inexorably step by step to Principia Mathematica, the magnum opus of Isaac Newton, in which he formulated the laws of mechanics and gravity and which proved to be the fundamental work for the whole of modern science. In it Newton formulated what he called the law of universal gravitation and the three fundamental laws of mechanics, to the incalculable advancement of scientific knowledge, even if to the eventual detriment of the natural and human environments. There are few people who have so changed other people’s perception of the universe they live in. After Newton mystery disappeared from the universe. Everything was now self-explanatory in terms of mutually dependent, internally self-consistent, interactive forces needing no extra-universal stimulus. Professor E.A. Burtt writing about what had happened says:
“It was of the greatest consequence for succeeding thought that now the great Newton’s authority was squarely behind that view of the cosmos, which saw in man a puny irrelevant spectator (insofar as a being wholly imprisoned in a dark room can be called such) of the vast mathematical system whose regular motions according to mechanical principles constituted the world of nature…
The world that people had thought themselves living in – a world rich with colour and sound, a world of purposive harmony and creative ideals – no longer existed except in imagination. The real world outside was a hard, cold, colourless, silent and dead world – a world of quantity, a world of mathematically computable motions in mechanical regularity… In Newton, the Cartesian metaphysics found its perfect expression and finally became the predominant world-view of modern times.”
The age of scientific materialism had been born.
It might be asked what all this has to do with the subject of this talk – the need for Muslim re-education – but the fact is that the worldview propagated by this philosophical tradition, culminating as we have seen in the work of Descartes and Newton, rapidly disseminated itself and soon became part and parcel of the way more and more people saw themselves and the world they lived in. It became embedded in the education systems of every part of the world and it is true to say that almost everyone is now indoctrinated in its precepts from the moment of their birth, so that there are now very few human beings indeed, Muslims included, who do not view the world in its light. The problem for Muslims is that there are unresolvable contradictions between the understanding of existence inherent in this worldview and the basic teachings of Islam. To start with there is the rigid dualism referred to earlier, the unequivocal separation of subject and object, of mind and matter, of inner perception and outer world. When this is taken to its logical conclusion it leads to a situation where a true understanding of tawhid, of the essential unity of existence, the absolute foundation of all Islamic teaching, becomes, intellectually speaking, virtually impossible to achieve.
Another way that an authentic understanding of tawhid is undermined by the scientific worldview is its rigorous reliance on causality in its methodology. Bacon started the ball rolling by definitively removing the Divine from any involvement in the physical universe with his dictum: “God works in nature only by secondary causes.” This was driven home by Newton’s third law of motion: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This removed the Divine from any involvement whatsoever in the natural world and has been the basis of virtually all scientific experiment and discovery ever since. The problem for Muslims is that this is absolutely at odds with the Qur’anic view of the way things happen. It is made abundantly clear in many ayats of Allah’s Book that there is direct Divine participation in everything that occurs in the natural world and, as Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib reiterated time and time again in his discourses, to attribute effects to their causes is hidden shirk – in other words an unconscious denial of tawhid – because in every instance there is no actor but Allah. The effect accompanies the cause; it is not brought about by it. Both are equally created by Allah at the moment of their occurrence.
However, as I said, scientific materialism has now intruded into every aspect of life and every corner of the earth and our education merely serves to reinforce it and articulate it. The Muslims have been subjected to this indoctrination process along with everyone else and it might be said that we are, in a way, in a worse position than non-Muslims because we think that, because we have the formulae of tawhid on our tongues, we are somehow immune from the insidious effects of the scientific world-view. But, in my experience, Muslims are just as susceptible to its deceptions as non-Muslims and often more so. I have talked over the last forty years to a great many Muslims about this matter and what I have found is that almost all of them have a completely Baconian approach to the subject. For them science and religion occupy separate spheres, different spaces in their consciousness.
They in fact posit the truth of science as being somehow distinct from the truth of religion. In the mosque and the Islamic students’ society they use one language and in the laboratory and classroom quite another. The scientific world-view is necessarily based on Bacon’s dictum that God only works in the universe through secondary causes. But the God the Muslim worships in the mosque is by definition the only Actor without intermediary in every phenomenon. These Muslims are leading double lives, often without realising it. No, there is no doubt that the Muslims’ understanding of tawhid has been weakened and corrupted by the dominant world-view. Like almost everybody else, the modern Muslim has in fact divorced the Divine from direct involvement in natural processes, seeing them only in terms of secondary causation, and is therefore precluded from seeing things as they really are. He too views existence through a Galilean telescope and sees a Newtonian mechanistic universe with a mind permeated by Cartesian dualism.
And we should not be surprised at this since the Prophet @ told us it would happen. As I said earlier the scientific worldview we have been looking at is the inevitable endgame of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The Prophet @ once said, “You will surely follow the ways of those who came before you, span by span and yard by yard so that even if they enter into a lizard’s hole you will enter it.” The Companions asked, “Do you mean the Jews and Christians?” He replied, “Who else!?” And it is absolutely the case that the view of existence finally formulated by Descartes and Newton is a dark tunnel with a dead end and no exit.
However, although the Cartesian/Newtonian model seemed to be a complete description of existence and was immensely effective, in that it endowed human beings with the ability to manipulate nature to their own advantage and gave great power and profit to those with the most understanding of it – even if to the eventual extreme detriment of the planet on which they live – it has turned out to be, in fact, a very incomplete picture of even the very things it purported to be the definitive explanation of. That very matter, the solid substance upon which the whole edifice rested and of which it was supposedly built, was suddenly discovered to be quite other than had been supposed. Rather than being the lifeless substance posited by Newton, mechanistically determined by being acted on by outside forces, it turned out, at its very heart, to be composed of energy itself. Rather than being inert and predictable it was now seen to be, in reality, highly dynamic and extremely unpredictable.
In the year 1927 two things happened that were to demonstrate once and for all that the model that had held sway for three centuries, that was the bedrock on which the modern world was based, that had become the very basis of human cognition of the world, was actually a completely inadequate, even false, description of the natural world. These two things were the publication of Heisenberg’s paper on his “Uncertainty Principle” and the publication of Heidegger’s magnum opus “Being and Time”.
Einstein had already cast doubt on many of Newton’s absolute certainties and, building on the work of his predecessors in researching the sub atomic world, Planck and Rutherford, Werner Heisenberg, in close collaboration with his great friend and teacher, Neils Bohr, developed his “uncertainty principle”. In one stroke the Newtonian description of existence was torn to shreds. This is not the time, nor am I even minimally qualified, to go into the details of the science involved, but the end result of Heisenberg’s work in quantum mechanics was to show definitively that the rigid separation between the human observer and the outside world he was observing, on which all scientific experimentation was based, did not in reality exist. Frithjof Capra, himself a contemporary atomic physicist of considerable standing, expressed in a particularly lucid and eloquent way the implications of Heisenberg’s research when he wrote:
“When quantum mechanics – the theoretical foundation of atomic physics – was worked out in the 1920’s, it became clear that even the sub-atomic particles were nothing like the solid objects of classical physics… At the sub-atomic level the solid material of classical physics dissolves into wave-like patterns of probabilities… A careful analysis of the process of observation in atomic physics has shown that the sub-atomic particles have no meaning as isolated entities but can only be understood as correlations between the preparation of an experiment and the subsequent measurement. This implies, however, that the Cartesian division between the I and the world cannot be made while dealing with atomic matter. Quantum mechanics thus reveals a basic oneness of the Universe. As we penetrate into matter, nature does not show us any isolated basic building blocks, but rather appears as a complicated web of relations between the various parts of the whole and these relations always include the observer in an essential way.”
The rigid dualism of the Newtonian model has thus been shown to be a scientific fallacy and the existence of an underlying unity, at both the macrocosmic and microcosmic level, has been scientifically demonstrated to be the true description of the universe we inhabit. This has once more opened the way to a truly authentic understanding of tawhid, something acknowledged by Heisenberg himself. He was asked if he believed in a personal God and replied, “May I rephrase your question? If you are asking can you, or anyone else, reach the central order of things or events, whose existence seems beyond doubt … I would say yes.” And he further said on the same occasion, ”…let’s hope the central realm will light our way again, perhaps in quite unsuspected ways.”
What was sealed by Heisenberg in the world of the physical sciences was accomplished by Heidegger in the philosophical realm. The powerful Western philosophical tradition we earlier traced from Plato to Kant continued to remain strong throughout the 19th century but the 20th century saw it lose relevance as it petered out in a mire of abstruse and arcane linguistic abstractions. A major exception to this trend was the work of Martin Heidegger and with his publication of “Being and Time” he cut through two thousand years of philosophy to reopen, as he said, “the question of being”. In doing this he redefined the understanding of what it is to be a human being. As his greatest student and fellow philosopher Hans Georg Gadamer said: “Martin Heidegger changed the philosophical consciousness of the time with one stroke… the brilliant scheme of “Being and Time” really meant a total transformation of the intellectual climate, a transformation that had lasting effects on almost all the sciences. His thinking has penetrated everywhere and works in the depths often unrecognised – but nothing today is thinkable without it.”
Again I am in no way qualified to give even a resumé of Heidegger’s philosophy, but suffice it to say that with Heidegger man is no longer considered as a mind in a physical body looking out on a separate world of things outside himself but as dasein – literally “being-there” – a complex fusion of past, present and future and the world he lives in. Comparing his conclusions directly with those of his friend Heisenberg in the subatomic world he said, “Microphysics must accept the impact of the instruments into the experiment when perceiving its objects. This means that the experiencing-bodiness of man is encompassed within the objectivity of the physical discovery. We must ask, ‘Is this only applicable to scientific research?’ …It can only be seen as the critical overcoming of the up to now ruling of the subject/object relationship… as the fundamental character of the human dasein.” In other words human beings can no longer be considered to be in any real way separate from the world that surrounds them. The Cartesian duality is actually a delusion. This once more opens the way to a genuine intellectual understanding of tawhid precluded by the old way of thinking.
This is made absolutely clear by Heidegger in his insistence that the human being can only be truly brought to life by the search for the meaning of Being Itself, about which he says:
“Being is what is emptiest and at the same time it is abundance, out of which all beings – known and experienced, or unknown and yet to be experienced – are endowed each with the essential form of its own individual being.
Being is most universal, encountered in every being, and is therefore most common: it has lost every distinction or never possessed any. At the same time Being is most singular, whose uniqueness cannot be attained by any being whatsoever. Over and against every being that might stand out, there is always another just like it; that is another being, no matter how varied their forms may be. But Being itself has no counterpart.
Being reveals itself to us in a variety of oppositions that cannot be coincidental, since even a mere listing of them points to their inner connection. Being is both utterly void and most abundant, most universal and most unique, most intelligible and most resistant to every concept, most in use and yet to come, most reliable and most abysial, most forgotten and most remembering, most said most impossible to express.”
There are few clearer or more complete expositions of pure Unicity than that contained in these few lines.
So it is undoubtedly the fact that significant breakthroughs have been made both in the scientific and philosophical fields but the problem is that the their implications, although they are apparent in every sphere at the leading edge of scientific and intellectual research, have not yet even found their way into the education system let alone penetrated the level of general consciousness. This means that the discredited Cartesian/Newtonian worldview – what has become known as modernism – is still being taught as a true picture of the human being and the world we live in and is accepted as such by the vast majority of the human race. This is particularly detrimental where the Muslims are concerned for two reasons. Firstly, as I explained earlier, the modernist perspective attacks the most fundamental aspect of Allah’s deen, the core teaching of Islam, a pure understanding of tawhid, and, as I said at the very beginning of this talk, it is precisely that that differentiates Islam from the deen of kufr. In the ways I pointed out, and many more that I have not, the thorough indoctrination in it that all of us have received from the day we were born makes it extremely difficult for Muslims of this time to have an authentic grasp of true tawhid.
The second reason is that, perhaps because they came late to the party, the Muslims were almost indecently eager to swallow the modernist perspective whole. Dazzled by European power and technological superiority, they mistakenly allowed themselves to attribute this to the backwardness of the teachings of Islam and, by wholeheartedly embracing the Western educational system, jettisoned the traditional Islamic model and undermined the very foundations on which the strength of Islam depended. Students went from Cairo, one of the great centres of Muslim education, to study “higher learning” in Paris and London. The tanzimat reforms, based entirely on European ideas, which included the development of a new secular school system, the reorganization of the army based on the Prussian conscript system, the creation of provincial representative assemblies, and the introduction of new codes of commercial and criminal law, largely modeled after those of France, were implemented throughout the Ottoman Caliphate. The Muslim elite in the Indian subcontinent were put through the English education system and established institutions based on it. In the Middle East and Africa the French imposed theirs.
The failure of the Islamic movements of this time such as the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and the Jam’ata’l-Islami is due to this. They all trace their roots back to the reformers al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, both of whom were absolutely immersed in, and in love with, the modernist world view. It has particularly affected the better-educated strata of Muslim society. The best minds and brightest intellects of the Muslim world, which formerly would have been trained within the world view dictated by the Qur’an and the Islamic sciences, have for well over a century now been subjected to an entirely secular modernist education. For this reason it is absolutely vital that the Muslims of today, who are mostly completely unaware of the subtle dangers of the education process they have gone through, become aware of them and go about counteracting them in every way they can. In this context the significance of an event that took place in June 1968 cannot be overstated: the meeting between Ian Dallas – soon to become Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi – and Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib al-Amghari al-Idrisi.
The French did not enter Morocco until 1912. By this time Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib was already a middle-aged man, teaching in the Qarawiyyin in Fez. This means is that he had had an absolutely traditional Muslim education, totally uninfluenced by any of the modernist trends I have mentioned. It was an education process that had been going on in Fez uninterruptedly for more than a thousand years and could be directly traced back to the Madina of Imam Malik and before him to Prophet @ and his Companions. His was the last generation of Muslims about whom this can authentically be said. In other words he was entirely untainted by the modernist worldview that has proved so corrosive to a true understanding of tawhid: the essential knowledge that underpins all other Islamic teachings. This shines through in his diwan and in his surviving derses and is perhaps the reason why so much of his teaching emphasises, indeed insists on, the need for a pure tawhid and explains how it can be achieved.
Shaykh Abdalqadir, on the other hand, was someone who had been entirely educated within the modernist ethos. He had not, however, been content to remain within its imprisoning walls but had burst through them, embracing wholeheartedly the breakthroughs in science and philosophy I mentioned earlier. All the things I have outlined in this talk are taken from him, some as almost direct quotations from what he has written and others through years of reflection on what he has taught. This meant that he was an ideal person to receive from Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib the pure teaching of the deen that had been transmitted to him from those before him. By his repudiation and transcendence of the Cartesian/Newtonian dead end maze – the modernist worldview – he was truly and authentically able to absorb and pass on a true understanding of tawhid. His book The Way of Muhammad makes clear the path he took to it and his Book of Tawhid is, undoubtedly, an explicit example of the purity of his understanding of it, but the truth is that all his writing and teaching is shot through, is underpinned, by his unerring knowledge of it.
Their meeting took place in the Moroccan town of Kenitra, which means in Arabic “The Bridge”, and their meeting was indeed a bridge. It was a bridge that overpassed completely the three centuries of the modernist project and its deceptive half-truths about the nature of existence. The meeting between Shaykh Muhammad b. al-Habib and Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi linked traditional, unalloyed, knowledge of tawhid, the central and core teaching of Allah’s deen, directly to the renewed ability to authentically understand it opened up by the recent discoveries about the true nature of matter and the human being. From the very beginning it is this and this alone that has been the driving force of Islam. It was their unequivocal belief in the limitless power of Allah, without any intermediary, that enabled the first community to conquer half the known world in a single generation; and it is this same uncompromising belief in Allah’s absolute unity that has been the basis of every growth of Islam ever since. It is noteworthy that the weakness of Islam in recent times has coincided with the undermining of the integrity of this belief by the exposure of the Muslims to the doctrines of scientific materialism inherent in the modernist worldview.
What is needed now is a new growth of Islam and for this to happen it is necessary for the Muslims of this time to break out of the straitjacket of the modernist perspective in the way demonstrated by Shaykh Abdalqadir and take on again a belief in Allah that is absolutely untainted by any association whatsoever. We have to bring out a new growth of Islam from the very texture of our own time, an expression of Islam that will transcend and transform the classical tradition of Greece and the European tradition that has enmeshed the whole world but that is now, as we have seen, at a point where it is once more potentially and authentically open to Allah’s deen, the living reality of Allah’s Book and the Sunna of His Messenger @.
The Qur’an is the uncreated word of Allah, outside space and time. We must rediscover the ayats in the present, reflect on them anew, seek out their light and energy and make them our springboard for the re-establishment of Allah’s guidance in this time. The Sunna is the archetypal record of how human perfection, in the person of the Prophet, salla’llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, turned Divine Guidance into a living reality and how he and his Companions, radiya’llahu ‘anhum ajma‘in, completely transformed themselves and their situation. To follow the Sunna, we must discover something of the qualities of the Prophet @ in ourselves, transform ourselves in the way the Companions did, transform our situation as they did theirs. In other words, we must go forwards to the Book and Sunna, not back to them. The people of our time need Islam freshly cooked, not reheated. We must have the thing itself not an imitation. Nothing else will do.
This is certainly not a task for the faint-hearted. It will require great courage, total commitment and absolute trust in Allah. What is needed is a new generation of Muslims, who have repudiated the superficial half-truths of scientific materialism; new men and women who are ready and able to face the challenge of this new age; who are capable of transforming themselves and the society they live in; who have broken out of the enslaving enchantment of the modernist perspective with its false view of existence, its illusory shadow-show politics, and its real economic domination; who are determined to grasp the opportunities opened up by the newly emerging world view; whose lives are devoted to establishing Allah’s deen anew in all its justice, mercy, simplicity, splendour and power. They will truly be able to say with absolute sincerity to the unbelievers around them: “You have your deen and I have my deen.”
Lakum deenukum wa liya deen