1. Love “Say: If you love Allah…”
Everyone has their own Qur’an: for some it is a terrible book full of warnings about eternal punishment, for others it is a legal work with regulation of all affairs of life, and with others it is a spiritual book detailing knowledge of Allah and His Messengers. Once you take the perspective of love, you will find love mentioned everywhere in the Noble Book and the Sunnah.
2. Knowledge and Ihsan
People rightly emphasise love of Allah and the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, but love can only be of what you know. Knowing comprises both ‘ilm and ma‘rifah, and it is this latter that is the issue. Ma’rifah is more like recognition than knowledge. Allah says that which means: “They recognise him/it as they recognise their own children” – meaning the Qur’an or the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. After knowledge, love springs from ihsan – good treatment, and Allah’s good treatment of us is obvious to the grateful, and the Prophet’s ihsan is equally obvious to grateful Muslims for without his transmission of the deen to us we could not know our Lord fully or worship Him.
3. Illa li ya’rifun
This knowledge/recognition is connected to the fundamental purpose of human existence. Allah says, that which means: “And I have not created jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” Mujahid, who was a student of the cousin of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and who read out the Qur’an to him thirty times three of them with Ibn ‘Abbas’s explanation, said that the ayat means: “to know Me,” using the word ma‘rifah. In other words, the purpose of our existence is to know Allah.
4. Awwalu wajibin
Then the people of knowledge say that the first obligation of Islam, before wudu’, salat and zakat etc. is ma‘rifah of Allah and His Messengers, the peace of Allah be upon them all. Here the word is used according to the usage of the mutakallim?n to indicate what can be said about Allah and His Messengers that is rational and in accord with the Book and the Sunnah.
5. Analytic/integrated – Islam, iman, Ihsan – fiqh, kalam and tasawwuf
According to the hadith known as the hadith of Jibril or the mother or core of the hadith deen comprises Islam, Iman and Ihsan. If we think analytically we see them as three separate elements each with its own science: fiqh, kalam, and tasawwuf or tazkiyat an-nafs – purification of the self. Perhaps more important than that is that the three should remain integrated. Thus, the ma‘rifah that the mutakallim?n see as the very first step on the path of the deen is not necessarily other than the ma‘rifah that the people of tasawwuf see as the very goal of being a Muslim and, moreover, something that you cannot gain by your own efforts but which must be a gift from Allah.
6. God – ghani
In approaching Allah, exalted is He, the mutakallim?n are also vitally important. La ilaha ill’Allah – there is no god but Allah. God, ilah, means the One Who is ghani – meaning that He has no need of anything other than Him, but everything other than Him needs Him in every possible way. Allah is the name for the One about Whose Dhat – essence – we can saying nothing except to take away things that are not possible, for example, He has neither beginning nor end, there is no second or third God, nothing is like Him, not even our metaphors, images or thoughts. Then He has names and attributes about which things can be said, beginning with what He has said about Himself. and His Messenger, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, has said about Him.
The Messengers have three essential attributes: sidq – truthfulness, which is more than just not lying, but that they actually speak truly about the nature of existence; tabligh – transmission, which is that they transmitted everything that was revealed to them from their Lord and kept nothing back; and amana – trustworthiness, in that they embodied the Message they transmitted and didn’t themselves contravene it in any way.
7. The Shifa and hadith/sira works
Christianity lost its way because Paul and his followers built everything they said and did on a metaphysics that was due to a cross-fertilisation with Greek thinking. Because little is really known about ‘Isa, peace be upon him, and his life, this has come to dominate Pauline Christianity.
However, the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, lived in a genuinely historical era. His family and numerous Companions transmitted an extraordinary amount of material about his life, actions, and words, including about the things done in his presence that he rejected or endorsed. Only the intransigent and fanatical would deny this record.
Among the works about him, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, that are most useful is the Shifa’ of Qadi ‘Iyad, a great scholar of hadith and of all the sciences. This work is based on the Noble Book and what his Lord, exalted is He, said to him and about him, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and on the scrupulous recorded transmissions about him in the hadith literature.
Note that when the Moroccans under French occupation came to accept that their jihad was not succeeding, they surrendered, but then they moved into resistance mode, not through guerrilla actions but through a surprising strategy of reading through the Shifa’ publicly in the mosque of Moulay Idris in Fez and resorting to the Nasiri du‘a. This strategy of turning sincerely to Allah was so powerful that the French tried to ban and suppress it. Morocco was the Muslim country that endured the shortest occupation. (https://newnomos.podbean.com/e/the-sufi-resistance-in-the-maghreb-on-how-accepting-defeat-can-be-the-most-heroic-act/)
8. Metaphysics – kalam and Sufic ma‘rifah
It is with this secure basis of what is reliably transmitted about the human being, the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, that we can turn to things that the Muslims have said about him, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which derive from ayats and from hadith, although sometimes lesser known ones, but which more importantly derive from the ma‘rifah of the people of direct knowledge. Some of this we have heard in what we sang tonight.
9. The cosmos is the place of manifestation of the asma and sifat
The basic understanding which is the setting we must not neglect is that the cosmos is the place for the manifestation of the Names and Attributes of Allah. They manifest, meaning that they appear. This is a very ancient understanding of the Muslims. Taking one attribute alone might suffice: will. Allah, exalted is He, says: “So whoever wills should take a way to his Lord. And you will not will unless Allah wills.” This connection between His names and attributes and His creation is not such that you can claim an identity – we are not pantheists – but there is a connection and relationship.
10. Muhammad, peace be upon him, the highest manifestation. The first manifestation.
Given that prior relationship then the highest manifestation of the Names and Attributes is Muhammad, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. He is the first of them. The purpose of the creation is that Allah should be known. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, was the foremost of those who know their Lord by His own words: “I am, of you all, the most knowing of Allah and the most fearful of Him.” This was said when some of the Companions supposed that somehow as a Prophet he would not be bound by the same rules as lesser beings, and he, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, became angry and connected together his superior ma‘rifah with his more complete fear.
As the greatest of the ‘arifun he was intended first, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and from him would come the great stream of people of ma‘rifah right down to our day transmitting that knowledge from him, which is the highest point and the very purpose of existence and our creation.