A brother on the path was asking about the shariah’s treatment of apostates.
He said: “For me, this is one of the most difficult and unpalatably dark bits of our texts. The law, though thankfully not invoked in this country, is certainly mentioned often enough at the masjid. For example, once I went to the Friday prayers at the mosque of an acquaintance of mine, the son of a major sheikh in the city. That afternoon the sheikh gave a passionate hutba denouncing the great sin of apostasy, shouting the following hadith in the de rigueur fire and brimstone fashion:
Narrated Ikrima: Ali burnt some people and this news reached ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘Don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.’ (Bukhari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260)
“My acquaintance (who is very much part of the progressive Islamic movement) apologised profusely to me afterwards, excusing his father. ‘Er … you know how our parents are.’ I know he was also nervous about the ever present threat of investigative journalists and and so one being in cognito at hutba: he might even have suspected me of being such.”
The Tailor replied thus:
Now there are two options for understanding this hadith: to discount the authenticity of the narration (certainly something I understand can be done, as not all narrations have the same strength of authenticy) or else to take it as authentic (and I am sure your friend’s father is not in the minority of the ummah here).
Now, let’s say it is authentic. Then it seemingly contradicts the verse 2:256 of our Qur’an (we all know it well — “There is no compulsion in religion …”).
But the contradiction is the clue to its meaning:
An apostate is someone who attempts to turn away from the Deen. But Deen — Din in Hebrew — means judgement: and judgement in general is all forms of logical inference, speech, perception, action. To perform a mathematical proof in classical logic is to engage with Din, with a form of Deen, so to speak. To practice any kind of religion, with its particular and peculiar rules and constraints, its texts and taboos: this is to engage with Deen. To decide to go to the shops to buy a bottle of milk is to commit ourselves to an action — and modern logic (Austin’s theory of Speech Acts for example) understands that all action is judgement — to decide to buy a bottle of milk or to fight in a war or protest for peace or get married or watch TV: all these things are actions, choices, personal judgements. All these things are engagement with Judgement, with Deen.
An apostate is a mystic: someone who attempts to turn away from speech, to transcend judgement. To escape the constraints and bound of language and find a nirvana in what Sufis know as fana, annihilation of the ego. In our alchemy, we know this as drowning in Water.
But there is a different approach to the Divine surely: one that engages with Judgement itself — one that finds Truth through logic, through reason, through Fire.
But is such a thing as transcendence of Deen — escape from Fire into Water — possible? Is such a thing desirable in our path toward the Truth? The hadith informs us:
- The Deen is religion and belief. But its deeper meaning is judgement: religion is judgement. And judgement is fire.
- Ali was burning: his fire was burning people. He had a science (actually, a dialectic developed while working as a gardener near Kaba) that burnt people in disbelief. And ibn Abbas disputed this: like many Muslims today (including those within the culture that Sufism has become), he felt uncomfortable with placing a secondary science between people and Allah. He suspected this science to be a presumptuous, premature mediating knowledge between the people and the Truth.
- Ibn Abbas instead recommended death over fire. He cited the prophet’s words as justification: to leave behind the Deen — to leave religion, judgement, the fire — and escape, dissolve into the waters of annihilation.
So who was right? Ali’s Truth through a burning gardener’s logic or the annihilation of Ibn Abbas?
We have encountered this conflict many times in different forms: it always boils own to the problem of how to approach God — through a gnosis obtained by harnessing logic or through the annihilation of the intellect to approach the nirvana of no-self (the approach to fana/baqa). Islam in silence, or in recitation.
The answer is that completion comes from the unification of Ali and Ibn Abbas: when one is enclosed within the other and vice versa. When this occurs, the body of the Ummah will walk with two feet toward Prophecy: the Light will shine down, fully, upon our mirror once more.
The answer is only partial when burnt through judgement or when turning away and dying.
The answer is in the repetition of Abraham and his family: the reason why Muslims ask that we are blessed with his repetion. The answer must be in passing through fire unscathed and walking upon water. Abraham passed through the fire of Nimrod, as he was of water. Through the martyrdoms of Ismail and Issac, their korban, through their annihilation, the sons of fire are immersed in the waters of God’s Love, the waters embodied by their father. But their sacrifice was also their father’s crowning of fire. And so balance comes to the sons and father. Water no longer drowns, and fire no longer burns.
The double miracle. The narration presents the two sides in argument, as feet of the Ummah. But when the feet walk in repetition of Abraham, feet become fully formed from his arms, and the body moves through True Time in harmony.
May it become so for all believers, though we stumble and fall in baby steps.