Allah says, “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The likeness of His Light is that of a niche in which there is a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, the glass like a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east nor of the west, its oil all but giving off light even if no fire touches it. Light upon Light. Allah guides to His Light anyone He wills and Allah makes likenesses for mankind and Allah has knowledge of everything.” (24:35)
Light can be sensory or meaning. Allah being the light of the heavens and the earth can mean that He illuminates the heavens and the earth, that He has created the light that is in them, has created the sun and the moon that give them light, that He has placed light in the hearts of the inhabitants of the heavens and the earth so that they can grasp meanings, and that He is the guide of the inhabitants of the heaven and the earth.
In the greatest work on the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. agreed upon in the East and the West by the Muslims of every school, the Shifa’ of Qadi ‘Iyad, the author cites some of the major figures among the right-acting first generations (salaf) as saying that in the ayat an-N?r, the second light mentioned, “his light”, refers to the light of Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Elsewhere in the Qur’an, Allah calls his Prophet a light and a light-giving lamp. He says, “A light and a Clear Book have come to you from Allah.” (5:15) Allah also says, “We sent you as a witness, a bringer of good news and a warner, one who calls to Allah with His permission and a light-giving lamp.” (33:46)
Although the khatim or seal of the Prophets chronologically, he, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was the first of them to be created since he was intended from the first. There is a hadith qudsi, which, although lacking a sound isnad the people of knowledge of hadith say that its meaning is authentic, in which Allah said, “I was a hidden treasure and I wanted to be known, so I created the creation in order to be known,” because it corresponds to His words in the Qur’an, “I did not create jinn and mankind but for them to worship Me” upon which the commentators have often cited that the meaning of worship here is ma’rifa – knowledge and gnosis.
The Muslims agree that the least of the Prophets is greater than the greatest of the awliya’, and that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, is the greatest of all the Prophets and Messengers. Thus, he was the greatest of the gnostics, with that ma’rifa which is the purpose of the creation. Moreover, by his being a mercy to all the worlds, that ma’rifa has spread in a way that is completely unprecedented historically. It has dimensions: first, an utterly clear and rational exposition of what may be said about Allah and about His Messengers, and second, a living experience of the Oneness and nearness of Allah that has stages of nearness.
If we retrace our steps to the beginning of the human story, the first human being Adam, peace be upon him, was also the first Prophet. Allah taught him the names, all of them. Names and nouns are the same thing in Arabic. Thus the story of the human being begins with language and it begins with revelation, contrary to evolutionists who want to describe anything that stood on two legs or used some kind of tool as homo this and homo that. These two – language and revelation – are connected. Language is not just labels for things which we manipulate to achieve our purposes. Language is capable of revelation. In English revelation is literally unveiling. We are veiled from the truth, the Haqq, and need something to take away the veil. Throughout the story of mankind that has come in the form of language. There has also always been a figure to convey that revelation and to embody it. The three things that we believe about all of the Prophets are that they had: sidq, tableegh and amanah.
Sidq is truthfulness. The first level of that is negative: they did not lie, even in small things, even in jokes. The second thing is much more profound: knowing as they did the Haqq, they spoke the Haqq, both what was rationally and experientially true that any human might know, but also that which no one could know except by means of revelation from the Divine.
Tableegh is to convey the truth. Negatively, they did not withhold any part of their revelation, nor did they keep some bits to give to special people but not to others. They conveyed all of their message to all of their people, and the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, conveyed all that he had been given to all of mankind.
Amanah is trustworthiness in acting by the truth and the revelation entirely and in embodying it in all its aspects. The Prophets were helped in that by their being protected from doing wrong.
But in doing that they are showing what it is to be human. To be human is to be an heir to prophethood, to convey it and to be true to it by embodying it. We have needed Prophets and Messengers not to found religions but to remind us what it means to be a human being, which contrary to humanists we cannot work out for ourselves.
This perspective has been sabotaged by two deviations, two religions.
The first, which is older, is to deny these aspects of the Prophets while nevertheless ascribing oneself to them. It claims to be an Islam while denying its most fundamental truths. It will always narrate unlikely stories about the Prophets to try and prove that they were just like those telling the stories, untrustworthy and liable to lie. They will do this while nevertheless claiming descent from them and affiliation to them, and an example of this were the later rabbinical Jews.
The second, which is newer, and which emerges from the first group, posits one of the Prophets and Messengers as more than human, as being unattainably close to the Divine. The Christians are a prime example of this.
The first group say that there is no use in imitating the Prophets because they were not so great after all. The second group endorse the previous group’s cynicism and in addition they say that there is no use in imitating their own Prophet because he was an absolute exception chosen out of all mankind, and therefore all you can do is ‘believe’ in him.
Both groups are an act of sabotage of the primordial din.
The ancient Prophets’ followers were their close families and others. At the time of Musa, peace be upon him,, it had evolved to the tribe. The last of the Prophets sent to the Tribe of Israel, ‘Isa, peace be upon him,, had disciples and a wider circle of adherents within the Tribe.
There followed him an interregnum, called in Arabic the fatrah, in which a group of his followers wed themselves to naked Roman power with its emperor worship. Seemingly the light of revelation had been extinguished entirely by those claiming to uphold it, except for some small groups who adhered as best they could to the primal teaching.
Then Allah sent Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as a mercy for all creation endorsing all that remained of the earlier revelations and clarifying the things that they had corrupted. He sent him among a people who were not educated in science, philosophy or religion, because all three had already become corrupted. He made him, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, ummi, and so never again could anyone claim the excuse of ignorance or lack of scholarship. He sent him and made him a married man with a business in the world and with children, and later with multiple families, so never again could anyone claim their family commitments as an excuse.
Instead of the tribe, he had family and Companions from many tribes, the whole united at its core in the Madina – the City. His history, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was of the purification of that city. They witnessed his revelation and his embodiment of it in his Sunnah. If he had not embodied it, they would have said, “It can’t be done, it is just a great and beautiful ideal.” But they saw it as pertaining to them. They took it on. They also took on the responsibility of sidq, tableegh and amanah. If they had not taken it on, others would have said, “Yes, the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, did embody it, but that was a Prophetic miracle, and nothing that ordinary humans can do.” The next generation took it from the Companions. If they had not done that, later generations would have said, “Yes, the Companions were taught directly by Prophethood and thus it was easier for them to take it on, but we don’t have that advantage.” And thus it has come down to us through successive generations of people who took it on. The key transformative role in that was played by the Shaykhs of Instruction (tarbiyah), who in every generation performed the same functions as did the Prophets who succeeded one another in the Children of Israel.
Our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was the Prophet of Madina – the city. The city was not buildings, mosques, markets, and roads, but men, women and children and all their worship of Allah and their interactions.
Islam has not arrived in a land when Muslims come, even if they should be a million, among them great scholars, devotees and worshippers. Islam arrives when there is an intention. There is an intention in those who are already there – the Ansar – and an intention in those who come – the Emigrants. Both intentions come together in the creation of the Madina. A Madina does not remain with itself but leads to the deliverance of the whole world.
And that has been the whole process of Islamic civilisation, a word which comes from city in Latin, in the east and the west until our day: the transformation of cities or the foundation of new ones that were beacons of justice and enlightenment.
But now we are in our own interregnum, the low point apparently of 1440 years of history, in which Muslim polities have all been subjugated to outside forces, and the unity of the Muslim world destroyed. Yet this had to happen for us to sit here today. The division of the world into Dar al-Islam and the rest of the world – originally a dynamic process, Dar al-Islam being ‘the midmost community’, the home from which the men of Allah called the rest of humanity to worship of the Lord according to the revelation of the Seal of the Messengers, peace be upon him – had become static and was excluding the rest of the world to no good purpose.
So we are not the last brave remnants of a long history at the end of time, but the beginning of a new chapter in lands which hitherto have not known Islam. In a hadith of ‘Ali, the Prophet said, may Allah bless him and grant him peace:
“The likeness of this ummah is like rain: one does not know if the first of it is better or the last of it.”
“I wish I had met my brothers.” They said, “Messenger of Allah, are we not your brothers?” He said, “You are my Companions, and my brothers are a people who will come after me who will believe in me although they have not seen me.” Then he said, “Ab? Bakr, do you not love a people whom it reaches that you love me, and so they love you because of your love for me? So love them, may Allah love them.”
16th Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1440 – 24/11/2018