The students had come to the Tailor’s shop to purchase some traditional Islamic robes, of which he had a wide and excellent selection.
The students were arguing amongst themselves that all bidah (innovation) should be discarded, and we should aim to live as people lived at the time of the Sahaba and the Prophet, from ways of thinking and behaving to each other, conducting finances and politics, but even down to the level of personal hygiene.
It was a particularly hot day and the rest of London was moving through the streets outside, girls in tank tops and men in shorts. The group were in high spirits and, seeing an Asian woman walk past, wearing a modern t-shirt and jeans, the sisters amongst them nudged each other, giggling, ”Allah protect us from such a display!”
One student declared that the dangers of living in London were very real: that Asian Muslims fall so easily into dressing in modern styles, leaving behind the correct way of dress clearly prescribed by the hadiths.
The Prophet (the blessing and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “I saw paradise and stretched my hands towards a bunch (of its fruits) and had I taken it, you would have eaten from it as long as the world remains. I also saw the Hell-fire and I had never seen such a horrible sight. I saw that most of the inhabitants were women.” The people asked: “O Allah’s Apostle! Why is it so?” The Prophet said: “Because of their ungratefulness.” It was asked whether they are ungrateful to Allah. The Prophet said: “They are ungrateful to their companions of life and ungrateful to good deeds.” (Sahih Bukhari)”
What Wisdom exists within such a story? Like all Prophetic hadiths, it refers to our potential reading of its own constituent signs. It communicates through Time. For there is a reading of the story that displays ingratitude to the Companions of Life, and leads our Feminine aspect to manifest the Lilith: this is the reading of hatred to our sisters, our mothers, our wives and daughters. The reading of the Lilith, in the fire! And there is a reading of the story where Sophia is manifest, and a foretaste of the food of the new is present in the Bride: this is the reading of grateful reception, of full and dutiful reception to the Light. A comfortable reading, a reading of restfulness, a foretaste of the garden.
Three princes, Jewish, Muslim and Christian, have come to the palace to seek the hand of the princess. The king has declared that the cleverest of the princes is to be granted his daughter in marriage, and he tests them in the following way. He puts them in a room, with a door that leads to the princess. He shows the princes four markers: three white and one black.
He places a marker on the back of each prince: explaining that the marker will be either black or white. He discards one marker. The princes can see each other’s backs, but cannot see their own back. The king declares that the cleverest prince is the one who first opens the door to the princess and tell her correctly the colour of the maker on his own back. If he tells her incorrectly, he is to be banished from the kingdom.
The Islamic Reformer had come to the Tailor’s shop to get a suit altered. The Tailor measured him and began to make the adjustments. As the Tailor worked, the reformer explained that he rarely wore business suits and had bought this one specifically for a major interfaith conference on “Ijtihad [independent interpretation of Islamic legal sources] and Islam in the 21st century” to be held in Canterbury. As an important member of a “progressive” Muslim organization, he was invited to give a speech on the necessity for renewing and reforming Islam to meet the challenges of new contexts – particularly those challenges relating to being a Muslim in the West. He was to argue how such a revival and renewal is, in fact, prescribed within the religion by the Prophet himself, of course with the qualification that this ongoing process has been going on throughout the history of Islam, and, until recently, always had its basis in a core of learned scholars and their educated understanding of the Qur’an and associated books.
The Reformer said: “There is indeed, within the classical Islamic tradition, a central reference to the need for a renewal, revival, and consequently reform of our reading and understanding.” He then cited the following hadith:
Surah number 18 of the Qur’an is Al Khaf, the Cave. It is considered to be amongst the most cryptic of the verses within the Holy Book. Its concerns Time and navigation: the former concept is our subject today. The first section of the surah concerns a group of people referred to as the “People of the Cave and the Inscription” who God sent to sleep for many years within a Cave, to “test” their understanding.
The scholars have debated: why are they called People of the Cave and Inscription? Some speculate that “inscription” refers to some form of writing or book that the people were engaged with in the cave. Partly true.
But an inscription is our life as signification. It is us as a trace: the simultaneous recording and playing through of the proof to our personal judgements, whether they are illuminated or not. Life is inscription. And life is signification in process: life is the realisation of judgement through Time. And so the People of Inscription are tested on their understanding of Time. Mastery of our temporality lies at the essence of the chosen.
As we exist in the cosmos, navigating the signs, living through signification, we are unaware that all things (linguistic, physical, objective, subjective) are signs that have within them, ultimately, an indication of what philosophers have called the Other. The Other is nothing but the Indescribable Beloved who stands to Creation in Total Alterity:
There is nothing like Him, but He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing. (Qur’an 42:11)
There is nothing comparable to Him. (Qur’an 112:4)
The unnamable G-d, the 100th name of Allah, the unknowable infinite Ein Sof!
Vision cannot grasp Him, but His Grasp is over all vision. (Qur’an 6:103)
And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me that I may look at You.’ (God) said, ‘You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, ‘Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.’ (Qur’an 7:143)
Nothing is comparable to the Other.
But all things intimate the Other. Continue reading
And the goal of religious practice – specifically, the purpose of following the sunnah (way) of the Prophet (peace and blessings) is to recover as much light as we can, by attempting to judge in an illuminated mode. The religion is effective across all cultures and times, because while the language games vary, the mode of illumination does not.