HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN ISLAM AND SUFISM: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim By Cameron Campbell

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INTRODUCTION
Any attempt to understand the complexity of Islam benefits from an explanation of its central and most important principle. At the core of Islam is the principle of tawhid, the oneness of God. This principle asserts God’s omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. “There is no God but God”. This over arching theological principle of tawhid extends into society and the individual. Therefore, Islam is a socio-religious complex in which both society and the individual are understood in relationship to the oneness of God and are simultaneous manifestations of a unified spiritual reality.1 As a result of the principle of tawhid, Islam exists simultaneously in different realities. On one level Islam is an internal experience of the reality of God’s existence. On another level Islam exists in the external reality of history, society and culture. As such Islam can be viewed from a historical and sociological perspective as a socioreligious complex that grew out of various cultural transformations and circumstances in the Hijaz region of Arabia, and through an exploration of the theory, meaning and message of its holy book, the Qur’an. Simply put, Islam was and Islam is. This paper’s aim is to view Islam from a historical and sociological perspective while attempting to keep true to meaning and messages displayed in the Qur’an. However, since, in my opinion there is no conceivable absolute truth, I offer only my humble interpretation of this grand and multifarious paradigm of human development.

Islam is given new terminology in this paper and will be referred to as the socioreligious complex of Islam. I use the term socio-religious complex because with a little explanation it clarifies the holism and multidimensionality of Islam. Firstly I use the word socio-religious because Muhammad’s revelations were concerned with not only the institution of a new religion but also a new society to practice it in. I use the term complex to clarify that Islam is a whole composed of various interrelated parts.

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I ground my exploration of Islam in various explanations of the concept of human development on both individual and societal levels. Human development in this context refers not only to the development of the individual, but the development of society, as it is human beings that create and animate society with their various beliefs, laws, and rituals. The socio-religious complex of Islam is based on creating a better life for the human being by attempting to impose a harmonic order to the complexity and imbalance of human existence. In our contemporary historical moment Islam has been stigmatized by various violent and intolerant manifestations in the form of radical fundamentalisms. This paper attempts to provide a vision of human development in Islam that is rooted in the qualities of love, mercy, compassion and generosity and gentleness, and is fortified by a deep sense of egalitarianism, unity, dependence, and harmony on individual and societal levels and even universal levels. The conception of human development in Islam is based on role of the human being as a servant and representative of God, or kalifa. According to an important Hadith, man was made in the form and image of God, and therefore it in his nature to represent Him. As a social-religious complex of Islam nurtures a moral purity in individuals through iman, faith and islam, submission, as well as ihsan, doing what is good and beautiful.2 This moral purity opens their hearts to the Will of God in order that they may truly express the role of the human being as God’s servant and representative. Being God’s servant and representative implies the active manifestation of God’s Will within the self and within society. Moral purity is attained through a deep and William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, (England: Oneworld Publications, 2001), 4. 3
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sincere realization of God’s Will in space, time, society and history and is developed by following God’s warnings, demands and laws dictated by Muhammad, the Qur’an, the Hadiths (sayings of Muhammad), the Sunnah (Muhammad’s code of behavior) and the Sharia. These warnings, demands, and laws, if known, followed and experienced at a level of pure sincerity and certitude, manifest God’s attributes in their proper places and at the proper times, creating an individual, social and universal harmony. This harmony cultivates a deep sense of unity and dependence both in relationship to God, and to fellow human beings. Ultimately a deep sincerity and certitude in realizing God’s Will, and being God’s servant and vicegerent, creates a perfect harmony between the two poles of tawhid, God’s distance, incomparability, wrath, severity, and majesty, or tanzih, and God’s nearness, similarity, mercy, compassion, generosity and gentleness, or tashbih. 3 This harmony also returns the human being to the goodness, beauty, and knowledge of his original disposition (fitr), belonging to the prototypical human (Adam), who the Qur’an depicts as having been taught all the names of everything in existence, and their proper place in the hierarchy of creation. And, as God’s mercy outshines His wrath, the human being assumes God’s most predominant qualities of mercy, generosity and compassion that shine forth from him in infinite splendor. The end of the path of human development in Islam is human perfection. On a historical and sociological level, Islam grew out of complex cultural milleu. Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam received revelations from God creating a new paradigm of human development that responded to a period of social, economic and

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William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. 4

religious transition in Arabia referred to by scholars and Muslims as the Jahiliyya or “The Time of Ignorance.” The Qu’ran indicates that historical mission of Islam is to create a just and equitable society that is united by a common faith in One God. The Qu’ran says, “We have created the best community ever raised up to mankind enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong, and having faith in God.” (A.J. 3, 110)4 Fazlur Rahman states, “For Muhammad’s monotheism was, from the very beginning, linked up with a humanism and a sense of social and economic justice whose intensity is no less than the intensity of the monotheistic idea, so that whoever reads the early Revelations of the Prophet Muhammad cannot escape the conclusion that the two must be regarded as expressions of the same experience.”5 The emergence of the socio-religious complex of Islam provided a path of human development that rejected the arrogance, self-sufficiency, individualism, and the overwhelming idolatry that pervaded the Jahiliya, and attempted to create a harmonious spiritual society supported and bound by a common faith and submission to God, and a sincerity in carrying out his Will through good, and beautiful actions. The creation of the community of the faithful, the ummah, and the social and economic justice and egalitarianism required within it were, and are actualized and implemented by the individual’s commitment to fulfilling God’s Will and the role as a servant and representative of God. From a historical and sociological perspective, Islam, dispelled, The Koran Interpreted, trans, Arthur John Arberry, 1st Touchstone edition: (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1955). All Qu’ranic references are from this translation and will contain A.J. Fazlur Rahman, Islam, Second Edition: (1966: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1979), 12. 5
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reformed and appropriated various social and religious values that existed in pre-Islamic Arabia, and reoriented them into a new paradigm of human development, the socioreligious complex of Islam, which valued the importance of mercy, compassion, generosity as well as social and economic justice and egalitarianism over all other values. Therefore the intrinsic mercy, compassion and generosity intrinsic to Islam can be supported, and validated through a sociological and historical perspective, as well as through a theological one. Section 1 of this paper takes a historical and sociological perspective of the particular social, economic and religious transformations in the Jahiliyya or “Time of Ignorance, in 6th century Arabia, (Mecca in particular) that led to the emergence of the socio-religious complex of Islam. The Jahiliyya represents the social, economic and religious imbalances and problems that God and Muhammad restore through the socioreligious complex of Islam. It provides a description of the dissolution and division of tribal society, and the disintegration values of social and economic egalitarianism, and generosity, as a result of increased commericialization and capitalization of Mecca, the Ka’bah, and Muhammad’s tribe of Quraysh, and the resulting attitude of self-sufficiency, and individualism. It also discusses the various religious conditions that influenced the social and economic transformations, and increasing inequality and self-sufficiency, as well as the influence of various monotheistic faiths, such as hanifism, that influenced the emergence of the monotheistic religion of Islam. Section 2 is an explanation of the socio-religious complex of Islam. The second section shows how Muhammad radically re-oriented human development on individual and social levels through the introduction of the socio-religious complex of Islam based

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on belief in One God and the creation of a society based on social and economic justice and egalitarianism. New values appear in the form of warnings and demands stressing a personal devotion to sincerity in fulfilling God’s Will, through faith and submission, as God’s servant and representative. This section places particular attention on the importance of tawhid, the oneness of God, and the creation of the ummah, the community of the faithful, within the socio-religious complex of Islam. In the ummah, the problematic divisions within tribal society are replaced by a society based on social and economic justice and egalitarianism, and religious solidarity. This section discusses aspects of social and economic egalitarianism, within the ummah, such as zakat as well as individual and collective rituals such as prayer, fasting, and pilgrimage that are central to being God’s servant and representative. and that support the cultivation of moral purity and social harmony in the ummah. This section also highlights the importance of cosmological pressures and conceptions, such as the emphasis on Paradise, Gehenna and the Day of Judgment, in enforcing faith and submission to God on individual and collective levels. Section 3 uses Sufism an example of the most complete expression of human development in Islam, as it seeks to realize the very nature of man’s existence. In this section Islam is understood from a theological perspective that illuminates its existence as an inner experience of the divine reality. Sufism is defined as the path to human perfection. Sufism provides an example of the extent to which the human being can become God’s servant and representatives through a balance of tanzih and tashbih.6 Human perfection is achieved by realizing God’s Will though a manifestation of His
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William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25.

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attributes such that the characteristics of Muhammad and eventually God Himself shine through the heart. Sufism reveals that the ultimate aim of human development in Islam is to “manifest the fullness of God’s generosity and mercy.”7 It explains the struggles that man experiences between tanzih and tashbih. It stresses the importance of different human faculties in the path towards human perfection in order to attain a perfect knowledge, and experience of God. Sufism stresses the importance of iman, faith, islam, submission, ihsan, doing what is good and beautiful, and sincerity ikhlas in cultivating an awareness of God.8 This section discusses how Sufis have extended regular Muslim practices aimed at cultivating a complete awareness of God through techniques of Dhikr or remembrance so that they may remember and be with God at all times. It highlights a deeper aim of human development in Islam, beyond the creation of a society of economic justice, the attainment of human perfection and unity with the Divine mercy, compassion, generosity and love from which all things came and therefore a complete harmony with, God, society, and the universe.

SECTION 1
SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND RELIGIOUS TRANSITIONS IN THE JAHILIYYA The Prophet Muhammad’s revelations, while universal, certainly addressed and responded to the social, economic and religious conditions of the time. Since the birth of Islam both Muslims and Islamicist historians have often referred to pre-Islamic Arabia as William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path Of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 21.
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William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4.

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Jahiliyya meaning “Time of Ignorance.” Technically the Jahiliyya refers to the time just before the emergence of the religion and community of Islam. The Jahiliyya was by no means a static or ignorant period of time. It was in fact defined by change. According to the Islamic perspective Jahiliyya was defined by social and cultural collapse (a gradual dissolution of tribal values); moral depravity and religious idolatry in the form of paganism; a divergence from the true monotheistic religion of Abraham. Although this description of Pre-Islamic Arabia is very simplistic and ignores the complexity and diversity of Pre-Islamic Arabian religions and society, it provides the description of what Muhammad was called by God to rectify through the socio-religious complex that became known as Islam. It also clarifies the multidimensional nature of Islam as socioreligious complex that sought to change the course of human development on social, economic and religious levels. The existing social, economic and religious conditions in 6th century Arabia during the genesis of Islam were all in a state of progressive transition. The social and individual developments were changing drastically. The tribal society in which dedication to ones tribe and clan was the backbone of its ethical framework was being eroded by a society and culture based on the advancement of individual material accumulation and wealth, or what Karen Armstrong calls “a rampant and ruthless capitalism.”9

Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (United States: Alfred A. Knopf: 1993), 220. 9

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During the 6th century in Arabia there existed two general categories of tribal people, the nomadic Bedouin and the sedentary people. 10 The Bedouins were nomadic tribal people who lived in the harsh, bleak and barren desert steppes. They herded sheep and camels and depended mostly on their animals’ milk and meat for sustenance with occasional trading at agricultural oases for grains and dates.11 Bedouins would also conduct raids if needs were dire. The sedentary towns people were wealthier than the Bedouin and had houses built of mud-brick and stone. Some of them were agricultural cultivators who settled near oases, others were traders or craftspeople in trading towns, or practiced a combination of these occupations. 12 Sedentary towns were typically near the coasts and borders where specific trade relationships had continually developed since antiquity. Both the Bedouin and the sedentary townspeople of the Arabian Peninsula had been, for several centuries, surrounded by and either directly or indirectly connected to several Empires who competed for wealth, power and religious dominance. Towards the end of the 6th century various sedentary tribes had become increasingly dependent on the commercial competition and trade of the surrounding Sasanian, Abyssinian and Roman Empires. Earlier stages of this progressive change had contributed to the diversification of Arab society and the growth in the numbers of sedentary Arabs as nomadic Bedouins

Some scholars have reserved the words Bedouin for the nomads, but others do not. For the sake of clarity I will use the distinction. Johnathan Bloom, Sheila Blair, Islam: A Thousand Years of Power and Faith (United States: Yale University Press: 2002), 10.
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Albert Hourani, A History of the Arab Peoples ( New York: Warner Books,

1992), 11. 10

began to settle in trading towns.13 The Empires supported different tribes for trade purposes and to exert their control over Arabian territories. As a result many tribes began to accumulate an amount of material wealth and power that generations earlier had been unforeseen for the people of the area. Many of the tribes near the borders of the large empires became trade centers and tribes that existed on or in between trade routes also benefited. The increased commercialism had a profound impact on the society, culture and religion of these tribal groups because it replaced tribal values, rituals and ethics with new ones that held individual wealth to be more important than tribal unity. The gradual changes in the economic demographics of the region characterized by increased trade were made most manifest in town called (Makkah) Mecca that belonged to the tribe of Quraysh situated in the Hijaz, a western coastal area. Mecca not only provided a perfect example of the progressive transition occurring in Arabian society, but was Muhammad’s birth place and the source of the emergence of the religion Islam. Mecca became the most import religious pilgrimage and most important financial center in Arabia because of its possession of a very important shrine called the Ka’bah that hosted a huge variety of statues and representations pagan deities such as Hubal, AlUzza (the mighty) Al-Lat (the goddess) and Manat (the goddess of fate, or dahr. as well
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as important representatives of Christianity such as Jesus and Mary. It not only drew pagans but also drew monotheists such as Christians and Hanifs (an early Arab from of monotheism, practiced by many including Muhammad based on the rejection of

Marshal G. S. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1974), 107.

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polytheism.) Before the emergence and spread of Islam, Arabia was a religiously diverse place teeming with many different kinds of monotheism, Christianity, Judaism, Hanifism, Zoroastrianism (questionable), and many different kinds of paganism. The Quraysh had acquired this highly respected shrine under the leader Qussay five generations before Muhammad. All trading caravans, merchants and dealers wishing to enter the city of Mecca were required to have all their goods tallied and their trading missions surveyed. Meccan officials surveyed the values of the textiles, oils, grains and dates that the traders had accumulated. For their services, officials collected the fee for entering Mecca, a tax on the commerce that took place in and around the city. All business ventures had to be conducted before entering the Ka’bah.15 The intense and bustling trade that existed on the outskirts of Mecca and the Ka’bah was a result of specific rules and regulations that kept the sanctity of the shrine intact. As Reza Aslan puts it: “Like all Semitic sanctuaries the Ka’bah transformed the entire surrounding area into a sacred ground, making the city of Mecca a neutral zone where fighting among tribes was prohibited and weapons were not allowed. The pilgrims who traveled to Mecca during the pilgrimage season were encouraged to take advantage of the peace and prosperity of the city by bringing with them merchandise to trade. To facilitate this the great commercial fairs of the Hijaz coincided with the pilgrimage season, and the rules for one complemented those for the other.”16 The location of Mecca between two major trade routes made it one of the most important trading centers of Western and Central Arabia. Trade routes coming from the Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2006), 24.
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Ibid, 26. 12

East and the South crossed through the town of Mecca bringing it increased commercial and material interaction. As the tribe of Quraysh, and the city of Mecca grew economically it changed socially and culturally, the important communal values once upheld by tribal society were replaced by a greedy and materialistic ethic of self-sufficiency and private fortune. These values stood in contrast to the more traditional tribal lifestyle that emphasized the ideas of communalism, material obligation and relative egalitarianism, a vengeful system of justice and an overall dependence on others for survival. The pagan religious systems of the traditional Bedouin Arabs did not have an overtly ethical character. Religious beliefs were secondary to tribal beliefs. There was no “absolute morality dictated by a divine code of ethics” as Reza Aslan puts it.17 The most important concept in tribal society was maintaining communal solidarity and unity. In a world that was based not on material accumulation and trade, but constant movement through the harsh and barren desert steppes of Arabia, survival required a constant dedication to tribal solidarity and unity on behalf of all the tribal members. “Economics” as a system of profit making was an impractical conception in the tribal world of pre-Islamic Arabia. The closest thing to a religious code of ethics was called belief in muruwah on which tribal values were based. The traditional Bedouin concept of muruwah or “generous manliness” or chivalry promoted the virtues of bravery, patience and endurance in suffering, honor, hospitality, strength in battle, concern for justice, complete dedication to the tribe over the individual and a generous and relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth and possessions among the members of the tribe by the chief

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Ibid, 42. 13

(Sayyid or Shaykh).18 The Sayyid or Shaykh either inherited his position or was elected as “the greatest of equals” for embodying the ideals of murruwah. The main job of the Shaykh or Sayyid was to protect the life of everyone in the tribe, as best he could against death, especially those people who could not easily protect themselves, such as the very young, the elderly, the orphans and the widows. 19 The Bedouins used the word karim to refer to someone who was noble. The designation karim not only praised the individual link to his illustrious ancestors but represented the most important virtue of Bedouin, extravagant and unlimited generosity as it was the most blatant and concrete example of nobility. A karim would always be ready to fight to preserve his community and his ancestral honor. 20 This conception of honor and kinship was the cohesive force of Bedouin society. The concept of nobility and honor in the Jahiliyya however was also closely linked to a sense of personal dignity that was defined by a refusal “to accept anything whatsoever that might degrade his personal dignity, a fierce passionate nature to hurl back with scorn anything that might make him feel humbled and humiliated even in the slightest way.” 21 This characteristic seemed to be more prominent after increased commercialism altered the Bedouin lifestyle.

Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 24. 19 Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 29. Michel Sells, Approaching The Qur’an: The Early Revelations. (United States: White Cloud Press, 1999), 36. Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qur’an: Semantics of the Qu’ranic Weltanschauung (Malaysia: Islamic Book Trust, 2002), 220. 14
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Despite the emphasis on personal dignity, in Bedouin tribal society everyone was valuable and had to contain a large element of humility, especially toward the Shaykh.. To play their part in the survival of the tribe each member was required to follow every command of the chief and to hold steadfast to muruwah, but important decisions were made on a communal basis. However, other tribal members also held specific and important positions within Bedouin societies. The Qa’id was the military leader, the Kahin, who played the role of poet and soothsayer, and the Hakam who settled domestic and intertribal disputes. The Bedouin system of justice was based on “The Law of Retribution”.22 “The Law of Retribution” was based firmly on the communal ethic. It dictated that for every committed crime an equal retaliation was taken. For example “the theft of a camel required payment of exactly one camel” or the death of one tribal member was avenged by the Shaykh or Sayyid by killing a member of the murderer’s tribe.23 To facilitate this law, “blood money” was established for all goods and assets, as well as for every member of society and even every body part.24 As Karen Armstrong points out, “The vendetta or blood feud was the only way of ensuring a modicum of social security in a region where there was no central authority, where every tribal group was a law unto itself and where there was nothing comparable to a modern police force.”25 This system of justice often drove the tribes into continual warfare and may have been a problematic result of the
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Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 30. Ibid, 30. Ibid, 30.

Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 134. 15

communal ethic, but the concern for justice was still strong and the virtues of generosity, patience, hospitality, and endurance in suffering became central to Muhammad’s socioreligious complex. Unfortunately, the commercialism of Meccan society was creating new hierarchies that were destroying the positive virtues of tribal society leading a transition from a communal lifestyle to “a rampant and ruthless capitalism.”26 To be fair, many people in the tribe of Quraysh saw their new wealth as a salvation from the harshness of nomadic life, “cushioning them from the malnutrition and tribal violence that were endemic to the steppes of Arabia.”27 However, this could only be said by the emerging nouveau riche. The new social and economic stratification of society eroded the social egalitarianism of tribal society. However, despite whatever cushioning the people of Quraysh and Mecca experienced there was an over all decline in moral standards. And in reality tribal violence continued to persist and was being exacerbated and complicated by new social and economic divisions due to unequal levels of material accumulation and the disintegration of communal values. Hodgson explains that the attitude of the majority of Meccans during Muhammad’s time was based on “ individual and group pride and point of honor- pride in birth, pride in one’s wealth and prowess, pride which lead when crossed, to an unremitting pitiless vengeance; to a passionate and heedless (if sometimes magnificent) pursuit of self centered, inherently trivial ends.”28 The extravagant and

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Ibid, 132. Ibid, 133.

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unlimited generosity of the Shaykh became an extravagant and magnificent hoarding of individual wealth. The Shaykhs of Quraysh and other people of growing wealth and power had kept honor as a most important principle. However nobility and honor lost their cohesive force and became more reflective of the individual dignity based on the refusal to be humiliated or to maintain a level of humbleness in the face of any perceived threat. Increasing individual wealth began to dissolve the tribal values of social egalitarianism. Shaykhs were too busy in matters of trade to care any longer for protecting the poor, weak and disenfranchised. Wealthier members of the tribes, those who were part of the ruling tribes, began to build capital without the interests of the weaker and poorer members of the community in mind, creating large gaps between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak. Within the tribes, each clan (families within the tribes) began to fight each other for their piece of Meccan wealth and individuals within each clan became greedy and did not share their revenue. Even the Law of Retribution was ineffective when no one could stand up to the authority of the wealthiest members of society. Primitive feuds of vengeance began to take on a vicious and unpredictable ferocity. In this context intertribal relations were hard to keep balanced and the survival of less wealthy clans such as Muhammad’s Banu Hashim were severely threatened. The pursuit of self-centered ends was promoting, among the men an increased indulgence in pleasures of the flesh, gambling, and usury (money-lending with interest rates). Extra-marital sex was contributing to the increasingly dissolution of family and Marshal G. S. Hodgson. The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam, 173, 174. 17
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communal ties that were once the key to a good life. There was also a growing lack of patience and growing impulsivity as people struggled for worldly significance and pleasure, placing value on material accumulation and individual judgment. The ruling families had not only an economic monopoly over Mecca, but as owners of the Ka’bah they had a religious monopoly. As Reza Aslan tells us, “Consider that the Hanifs, who the traditions present as severely critical of the insatiable greed of their fellow Meccans, nevertheless maintained an unshakable loyality to the Quraysh, whom they regarded as the legitimate agents of the Abrahamic sacredness of Mecca and the Ka’bah.”29 In a place like Mecca where religion and economics were part of the same system, the progressive transition was not only defined by social and economic changes, but religious and spiritual changes as well. In a broader historical context the surrounding Empires had introduced monotheistic beliefs such as Judaism, Christianity and Zoroastrianism into Arabia and propagated them. Even the polytheistic paganism of the sedentary Bedouins had become henotheistic, that is, held a high god, (in most cases Allah the Creator) above all others. Furthermore, the practice of hanifism, an attempt at renouncing polytheism in favor of a return to the pure religion of Abraham had developed in the area of the Hijaz. However, a majority of Meccan and of Arabians for that matter were still pagans until Muhammad spread the religion of Islam and many submitted to become the servant of One God, Allah. Bedouin tribal paganism, even in its henotheistic sedentary formulation, remained as bleak as their traditional existence as desert nomads when they had to fight each day

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Reza Aslan, No God, but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, 32 18

for survival. As Izutsu explains it, “The pagan view of life is conceived as a series of calamitous events, governed not by the natural law of growth and decay, but by the inscrutable will of a dark, blind, semi personal Being, from who’s strong grip there can be no escape.”30 Because of frequent death due to blood-feuds and tribal turbulence, they had a firm belief in Dahr, Time, which translates as Death, or Fate. The pagan belief system had no explicit conception of human development, such as the one that exists in Islam. There was no teleological significance to the continuance of man’s existence, beyond the various cultural elements of self-sufficiency and capitalism. Generally, there was no meaning or goal to a human’s life beyond what he or she had as a member of the tribe. As tribal values of social egalitarianism and generosity, were being replaced by material greed, unpredictable barbarism, and the trivial pursuit of self centered aims, the meaning of life was increasingly measured by individual wealth and power. The emphasis on Dahr, the pagan belief system, gave the poor and the unfortunate people little hope in, or faith about the potential possibilities of this life and denied all pagans any hope or faith of a better life after death. Karen Armstrong notes that the “pagan pantheon of deities…had not developed a mythology that explained the relevance of these gods and holy places to the life of the spirit.”31 Many people like traders or chiefs who accumulated wealth, did not care for the life of spirit, and considered their prayer to the pantheon of pagan deities central to the subsistence and

Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qu’ran: Semantics of the Qu’ranic Weltangschauung, 132. Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4, 000 Year Old Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 135. 19
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creation of their fortune. For those who had the blessings of wealth this semi personal Being was sufficient, but for the poor and disenfranchised this semi personal Being did nothing for their dim futures other than end them forever. In this context some people began to search elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment that gave them significance beyond Death through the presence of monotheism. Others, who were not so fortunate, just longed for it. One can only imagine that there was a lack of faith, especially for poorer and more unfortunate people whose prayers to the various deities proved effortless in light of growing social and economic inequality and injustice. A lack of faith also stemmed from a general feeling of inferiority. As is common the pagan polytheistic Arabs, especially the desert Bedouins, were mistreated by alien monotheists and constantly threatened. There was also a feeling of inferiority among the Meccan monotheists (hanifs) such as Muhammad. Many of them asked themselves why they had been blessed by the presence of the Ka’bah and this great wealth but not by a Prophet.

SECTION 2
THE SOCIO-RELIGIOUS COMPLEX OF ISLAM From the laissez-faire culture of pre-Islamic Arabia, in which one could choose from a variety of religions and gods, a menu of evolving cultural systems and an underlying emphasis of individual self-sufficiency in a city dominated by trade and commercialization, Islam emerged as holistic alternative paradigm of human development, a comprehensive socio-religious complex. It was at once a new religion, it

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created the framework for a new society, and provided the guidelines for systematic human development. The socio-religious complex of Islam through a fundamental rejection of selfsufficiency and idolatry set about restoring and purifying Abrahamic monotheism, extending the central concept of tawhid, the Oneness of God into every realm of social, economic and political interaction. The concept of a community of believers, the ummah, proposed a vision of society in order to counter act the problems of Jahiliyya. The socioreligious complex introduced an explicit conception of human development on individual and societal levels. The central tenets of Islam, iman, faith and trust in God, and islam, submission to God, actualized the moral qualities allowing man to fulfill the ultimate goal of human development and realize his role as a servant and representative, or khalifa of God. A new system of values evolved in which prosperity was the sum of man’s positive virtues, and good deeds towards God and others. These values on a cultural level were part of a restoration and revitalization of tribal values and virtues that had been dissolving in the Jahiliyya and was part of arevitalization of the true religion of Abrahamic monotheism. Man was urged to strive (jihad) to bring this prosperity about within society at large and within the individual. The concepts of Paradise and Gehenna (hell) served as an incentive and a warning. Ultimately this world-view permeated aspects of economics and governance so that the socio-religious complex of Islam absorbed both church and state and created a whole new identity above and beyond tribe and nation. It all began with one man, and one experience. Muhammad (ibn al-Ahmed), a man from the tribe of Quraysh, the clan of Banu Hashim, had an experience that called

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him to prophecy. Muhammad was a merchant and participated in the growing economy of Mecca. He himself had experienced the changing worldview and lifestyles of the Meccans. Muhammad had been born an orphan, and had a deep empathy for the disenfranchised. Muhammad was a man of moral stature and was deeply concerned with the social and economic inequality of Meccan society, the dissolution of tribal values and virtues and the idolatry of the polytheists. It was a ritual for Muhammad, a practicing monotheistic hanif, to take spiritual retreats and meditate on God, moral responsibility, social and economic inequality or on whatever may be ailing or awing him. During one of these retreats while Muhammad was meditating in a cave on Mt. Hira he had a religious experience in which God came to Him through the angel Gabriel. God spoke these words through the angel: Recite: In the Name of Thy Lord who created, created Man out of a blood clot, Recite: And Thy Lord is the Most Generous, Who taught by the pen, Taught Man what he knew not. No indeed; surely man waxes insolent, For he thinks himself self-sufficient, Surely unto thy Lord is the returning. (96, 1-8 A.J.) This experience began a series of revelations (called the Qur’an, meaning recitation) that validated the Reality of his monotheistic God, Allah. These revelations also validated Muhammad’s role as a prophet and a messenger of God, as well as the leader of a radical social and religious movement. As a result of its holism and multidimensionality the socio-religious complex of Islam was able to bring about changes on various different levels, notably on the individual level and on the societal level. At their very core all of these changes are

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developmental changes because at its very heart Islam is concerned with the ultimate conditions and aims of humanity, in other words human development. The socioreligious complex of Islam, was able to create an explicit conception of human development through a dramatic reorientation of the beliefs, values and practices that existed in the Jahiliyya. Using a term derived from the discipline of Development Studies, the socio-religious complex of Islam is based on a structural adjustment of the value systems of society and the individual as a means of reorienting its developmental trajectory.

Tawhid The emergence of the socio-religious complex of Islam arose as a result of divine revelations that dictated to Muhammad the religious and social demands that reoriented the course of human development. The introduction and reorientation of human development on social and individual levels rested on the restructuring of value systems. At the top of the new orientation of values, Muhammad placed the transcendental value of One God. Muhammad’s God was not a new God. Part of Muhammad’s divinely inspired mission was to restore the pure monotheism of Abraham that had existed in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity. The polytheistic pagans, and the hanifs were, due to the henotheistic currents of the time, already familiar with a High God, Allah, who was the Creator of the World. Muhammad’s revelations dictated that Allah was the God of Abraham and the One and only true God in existence. In the new socioreligious complex of Islam self-sufficiency and idolatry were replaced by faith and

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submission the Will of a single God, Allah, and a commitment to a society based on social and economic justice and egalitarianism. In the new system nothing was of value unless it was oriented towards the One God, Allah. In this new value system nothing is of value unless it is oriented towards the One and only God, Allah. Simply put: Allah sits on His Throne at the top (or the center) of the hierarchy of values because he is the source of all existent, and non-existence things. Muhammad’s revelations continually reminded him and the listener of the omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence of God. One aya, or verse from the Sura of the Cow emphasizes this reality clearly. It says: “God, there is no God but He the, Living, the Everlasting. Slumber seizes Him not, neither sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heaven and the earth. Who is there that shall intercede by Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them and what is after them, and they comprehend not anything of His knowledge save such as He wills. His Throne comprises the heavens and earth; the preserving of them oppresses Him not. He is the All-high, All-glorious.” (2:259-274). The principle of tawhid implies that there is a greater unity that exists above and beyond the individual reality of each seemingly independent entity, and person, and the point of existence is to realize this larger unity on an individual, societal and universal level. As a result the socio-religious complex of Islam, is at base an other-oriented system of human development that shifted the focus away from over indulgence with one’s self towards the unifying reality of God, as well as toward the unity of the community. As such the other-oriented system necessarily focused on the values of compassion, mercy and generosity among other important virtues such as patience, sincerity and humility, through faith and submission to the Will of God.

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The unity of the ummah is a reflection of God’s unity. On a purely theological level, the ummah is community in which all things were oriented toward God, while on a sociological level, this re-orientation also placed a pressure upon the individual to realize God’s Will through a commitment to individual and community well-being. Human development in the socio-religious complex occurrs on both the individual and societal level as both are part of the divine reality of God. Fazlur Rahman makes clear the importance of human development on both individual and societal levels in Islam when he says: There is no doubt that a central aim of the Qur’an is to establish a viable social order on earth that will be just and ethically based. Whether ultimately it is the individual that is significant and society merely the necessary instrument for his creation or vice versa, is academic, for individual and society appear to be correlates. There is no such thing as a societiless individual.32 Faith In the socio-religious complex of Islam, a large emphasis is placed on individual moral responsibility, defined by faith, iman and submission, islam to the Will of God. Faith and submission replaced the heedlessness, idolatry and self-sufficiency that defined the Jahiliyya, and provided the basis for servant-hood and represenation. In the early Muslim community Muhammad revitalized the communal tribal values of, sincerity, patience and mercy and re-interpreted them into the socio-religious complex of Islam. As part of this new system they were no longer values derived from a godless sense of community commitment and forced allegience to the tribal Shaykh, but

Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of The Qur’an, (Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), 37. 25

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values that came from the demands of a divine authority, Muhammad, and through the voice of God Himself. In the socio-religious complex of Islam, faith in God, demands the values of patience and sincerity and mercy. The individual has to be sincere in his beliefs and merciful in his actions towards God and other people, as God and Muhammad Wills. He also has to exhibit patience both as an act of self-restraint, as well as part of his faith and trust in God, the acknowledgment that God’s Will dictated the past, present and the future.33 The Qur’an indicates that, iman , faith or trust in God, includes belief in the principles tawhid, prophecy, and eschatology. Faith in tawhid means an acknowledgement that God is One. Faith in prophecy entails a belief in the lineage of the Abrahamic prophets or messengers, the final and most purified being Muhammad, and His Books (the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths). Faith in eschatology means a belief in the Last Days, when each individual is judged by God and sent to Paradise or Gehenna.

Submission In the socio-religious complex of Islam, iman, faith, was accompanied by islam, which means, submission, surrender or servitude, and comes from the same root as the word peace. As Karen Armstrong points out about the early Muslim community, “In practical terms, islam meant that Muslims had a duty to create a just and equitable society

Marshal G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam, 174. 26

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where the poor and vulnerable are treated decently.”34 Quite literally then, Islam is the religion of submission, peace and equality. Submission, as the word implies, meant acknowledging that the individual was dependent on God, and obedient to Him. It was an existential surrender to God’s omnipotence, omniscience. Therefore submission, not only defined the relationship between God and the individual, but also the relationship between one Muslim and his fellow Muslims. Submission, in Islam entails an active duality, based on the rejection of self-sufficiency and idolatry, and commitment to the community of the faithful. When submitting to God Muslims have a commitment to the community of the faithful, the ummah as well. As John L. Esposito says, “…the submission incumbent on the Muslim is not that of mere passivity or acceptance of a set of dogmas or rituals, rather it is a submission to the divine command, to strive (jihad) to actively realize God’s Will in space-time, and history.”35 The active realization of God’s Will in space, time and history was the defining characteristic of being God’s servant and representative. Like the values of patience, sincerity and mercy that followed from a sense of faith in God, the values of humility and generosity that followed from submission to God were appropriated from the tribal Bedouin context and given new significance in the socio-religious complex of Islam. Submission to God and the ummah bestowed the values of humility and generosity to the believer. The individual had to be humble in the face of God, but also generous toward Him. On societal level these qualities had to be

Karen, Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest for Judaism Christianity and Islam, 142. Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. By John L. Esposito, (United States: Oxford University Press, 1983), 4. 27
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expressed towards other individuals as well.36 The values of humility and generosity replaced the egotism, greed and arrogance that were blatant in the Jahiliyya. Iman and islam function as a symbiotic system within the ummah. That is, they depend on each other for strength and continuity. True submission can only be attained if one has true faith and trust in God. True faith and trust in God requires submission to God’s Will. The unification of iman and islam led to ihsan, doing the beautiful.37 As a team iman, and islam helped the individual develop taqwa, God-wariness or Godconsciousness which sharpened his awareness of the omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent Allah.

Paradise And Gehenna Muhammad, following his revelations presented to the people of Mecca and the surrounding areas a choice between two different relationships. In the Islamic context the menu of religions and lifestyles had been simplified to a right religion and lifestyle, Islam, on the one hand, and a large pool of wrong ones on the other. Islam accepted Christians and Jews as people of the Book, and therefore gave them a certain amount of respect, but the various types of pagans and polytheists, often called “unbelievers” in the Quran were considered to be ignorant, heedless and wrong. Ambiguous conceptions of human development that differed from the Islamic conception failed to understand the very nature and purpose of humanity, the very

Marshal G. S. Hodgson, The Venture of Islam, Volume 1: The Classical Age of Islam, 174.
37

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William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4.

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teleology of human existence. It can be said that Islam introduced a definitive conception of human development and a beneficial teleological philosophy, in a culture that may have lacked a cohesive one, based on the idea of the human being as a servant and representative of God. In the socio-religious complex of Islam, on one hand, an individual can submit and have faith in God and accept his moral and social demands, in which case God will accept him out of his mercy and guide him in the straight path of moral purity and ensure social harmony. In the Quranic context the realization of these moral and social demands is described as “doing good deeds.” Doing good deeds if followed properly is what makes someone a good servant and representative and allows the individual to live eternally in Paradise after the Day of Judgment. This is the only right choice in the Islamic context. It allows the human being to develop to his fullest capacity. On the other hand, in contrast to the idea of Paradise, people can turn away from God, and become absorbed in their own personal wishes and fortunes, in which case God would turn away from them, and they would by punished by burning in the hell fires of Gehenna as heedless “evil doers.” Muslims can also be heedless and ignorant and hypocritical, if they claim to be Muslims but fail to do good deeds and therefore fail to be good servants and representatives. However, the Qur’an also emphasizes that God is forgiving to those who repent, as a result of His ultimate mercy and compassion. Unbelievers are considered to have ingratitude (kufr), but if they repent, remember God, and the path they were created for, they are forgiven.

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The conception of Paradise was central to the reorientation of human development particularly on an individual level because it changed the fate and destiny of man. Firstly, it replaced the pagan notions of Dahr, that emphasized the tragedy of life and the imminence of final and total death, with the more rewarding conception Paradise. As Izutsu puts it so beautifully, “In fact the Qur’ an offers an entirely different picture of the human condition. All of a sudden the sky clears up, the darkness is dissipated and in place of the tragic sense of life there appears a bright new vista of the eternal life.”38 Secondly, the concepts of Paradise and Gehenna places a pressure of ultimate consequence on the actions, thoughts and intentions of the individual. The beautiful descriptions of Paradise and the horrible descriptions of Gehenna make individuals fear God, and places greater emphasis on the importance of dependence and obedience, and faith and submission.

Prosperity One of the defining characteristics of the Jahiliyya was the increased commercialism and capitalism that gave rise to a culture that emphasized individual selfsufficiency and wealth accumulation. Therefore, prosperity was measured by the accumulation of material goods. In the socio-religious complex of Islam the idea of prosperity is completely reoriented. Ideas of material prosperity are replaced with prosperity that implies giving as opposed to gaining. Prosperity in the Islamic context does not entail making as much money, or accumulating as many material possessions as possible, but entails a strict adherence to God’s moral and social demands, and an Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Qu’ran: Semantics of the Qu’ranic Weltangschauung, 136. 30
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understanding of tawhid. The greatest type of prosperity, eternal prosperity is experienced in the afterlife if the individual lived a good enough life. The Qur’an says quite explicitly: Prosperous are the believers who in their prayers are humble and from idle talk turn away and at alms giving are active and guard their private parts save from their wives and what their rights own then being not blameworthy (but who-ever seeks more than that those are the transgressors) and who preserve their trusts and their covenant and who observe prayers. those are the inheritors, who shall inherit Paradise therein dwelling forever. (23 1- 12 A.J.)

In A.J Arberry’s interpretation of the Quran, the source of these ayas, also provides us within another example of a similar re-orientation in his use of the word “wage”. In many places the word “wage” is used in reference to the good judgment an individual will receive on the Day of Judgment as opposed to a material wage or a paycheck. The Quran says: Those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, And perform the prayer and pay the almstheir wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall theysorrow. (2: 275-280 A.J.)

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The Ummah In the socio-religious complex of Islam the ummah, the community of the faithful, is a defining element because it brings together the social and religious dimensions of the complex, bridging the illusive gap between individual and societal development. The ummah is the time and space where God’s Will is realized, and where the jihad, or striving, takes place.39 The ummah provides a community where Muslims experience and fulfill their representation and servitude to God. As John L. Esposito says, “the ummah serves as a dynamic vehicle for the realization of the divine mandate in society.”40 The personal devotion to moral responsibility, through submission and faith in God is asserted and experienced by individual and communal acts within the ummah. Complete sincerity in faith and submission implies a purification of the body, the mind, and the heart of each of the individual. Every single thing an individual acts, thinks and intends within the ummah had moral and spiritual significance. The Quran says, “We have created the best society known to man, enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong”(3, 10). God demands that society and the individual had to be put into a social harmony so that the environment was ideal for the realization of God’s Will, for fulfilling the role of servant and representative of God and for the proper `39 The word ummah, has been used to refer to several different things. It is always a reference to the unified body of Muslims, or the ummah al muminin, the community of the faithful. However it is also used to refer specifically to the first Islamic polity, Medinat-al-nabi, the City of the Prophet, or more simply Medina, the city. This is because Medina was separated from Meccan and Qurayshy society, and was able to become subject to its own rules, regulations, practices and rituals. It was in Medina that the ummah was solidified into a coherent social complex, and Islam into a cohesive socio-religious complex. In fact the Jahilliya ends with the migration of Muhammad and his followers to the area of Yathrib where he founded Medina. Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. By John L. Esposito, (United States: Oxford University Press, 1983), 4. 32
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development of a perfect society. In reality the ummah has never been the utopia that Muslims and scholars wish it could be. The ummah is increasingly divided and has been that way since shortly after Muhammad’s death. As Islam expanded the ummah began to become more institutional, political and more hierarchical becoming guilty of its own initial critiques of greed, self-sufficiency and idolatry. But its basic foundations of the first Islamic polity, Medina, were based on ideas of social and economic justice and egalitarianism that emphasized mercy and compassion. These were values that were held by tribes before the transition to commericialization, therefore the first ummah was in many ways much more like a traditional Bedouin tribe, but with a reformed understanding of social and economic justice and egalitarianism within a new socioreligious framework. Although this discussion looks at the ummah, in a theoretical and idealized manner, it does so in order to reveal the intrinsic love, mercy, compassion and generosity within it. The ummah as a community serves as the collective embodiment of the rejection of self-sufficiency and idolatry. These individual and collective rituals is based on the rejection of shirk. Shirk is the worst sin as it implies putting others in the place of God. The Meccan predicament was one where people not only placed pagan deities above God, but also themselves. This predicament tended to make the individual interested only in his personal issues at the moment. Shirk divorces one from realizing tawhid, and the humility of individual significance. In the ummah, shirk is destroyed by a social and religious piety. Piety is not an act of pride or caprice, but an act of humility towards God and others. Individual piety without a service to the community led to greed, egotism and

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a false sense of independence and self-sufficiency that corresponded to evil. A Qur’anic passage indicates that: It is not piety, that turn your faces to the East and to the West. True piety is this: to believe in God, and the Last Day, the angles, the Book, and the Prophets, to give of one’s substance, however cherished, to kinsmen, and orphans, the needy the traveler, beggars and to ransom slaves, to perform the prayer to pay the alms. And they who fulfill their covenant and endure with fortitude, misfortune, hardship and peril, these are they who are true in their faith, these are the truly god-fearing. (2:177 A.J.) In the ummah Muslims are not only dependent on God, but they are dependent on other Muslims. Within the ummah the intrinsic mercy and compassion of Islam become manifest in a society based on justice and social and economic egalitarianism. The early ummah acted as an alternative to the social and economic problems of the Jahiliyya. In this way it reoriented the course of human development on a societal level. Unlike the tribal societies of the Jahiliyya and pre-Jahiliyya, the ummah is not based on tribal ties, but religious solidarity. Society is no longer governed by tribal law, but by God’s Law, the Sharia, revealed through Muhammad. Justice was no longer administered by man-made judgment, but by the judgment of God. The ummah functions with the idea the earth belonged to God, and people were its stewards and caretakers, and God’s servants and representatives. In the early ummah tribal vengeance and retaliation were subordinated to a belief in an all merciful and all compassionate God.41 Muhammad, as the most perfect representative of God, became the chief (Skaykh), the military commander (Qaid), the lawgiver (Hakam), and the settler of all disputes in the first Islamic polity in Medina.

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In the Jahiliyya society became increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots as tribal values of social and economic egalitarianism were replaced by capitalism and individualism. The poor, weak and disenfranchised had little hope to lead a good life as they were pushed to the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy and for many, their religious beliefs did not provide them with the spiritual sustenance they needed to transcend their poverty. Theoretically, in the community of the faithful, all people, as Muslims, are equal, belong to the same identity group, are subject to the same laws and rules and share the same individual and communal rituals. According to the Qu’ran people are the same under God and differ only in terms of virtue and goodness. So, perhaps in this situation equity is a better word than equality. Specific social and economic rituals such as prayer, alms tax and fasting and pilgrimage are demanded in the ummah for the specific purpose of placing all humans on the same level before God, as a way of unifying them in their roles as servants and representatives of God. These rituals are used to turn humans away from their individual selves in order to realize that they were not self-sufficient entities, but are dependent on both each other and on a greater unifying reality, God. In this way, the ummah has a high level of conformity to build social and spiritual cohesion and to enhance a feeling of unity and dependence. The early Muslim community provided socio-economic reforms that benefited the poor, the weak, orphans, slaves, widows and women. One of the most characteristic elements of the Jahiliyya was the social and economic inequality. This inequality was rectified in the early ummah through various social and economic reforms in the form of prohibitions and community obligations. These reforms become defining elements of the

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ummah. Usury, or money lending with interest is outlawed along with gambling, intoxication, bribery, the abuse of women, false contracts, and individual hording of wealth. The creation of individual wealth is not forbidden, hard work is seen as God’s pleasure and is good, but it is limited by other demands that had more importance. Reflecting the important tribal values of social and economic egalitarianism the Qur’an forbids individual hoarding of wealth. It says: Consume not your goods between you in vanity; neither proffer it, to the judges, that you may sinfully consume a portion of other men’s goods, and that unwittingly. (A.J. 2:184) The true reward for hard work is not material prosperity but social responsibility toward the community as an expression of mercy, compassion and generosity. The most important socio-economic reform in the creation of the first Islamic society was the institution of zakat, an alms tax distributed to the poor and disenfranchised, and the act of voluntary charity (sadaqa). The Qur’an says, “The free will offerings are for the poor and needy. Those who work to collect them, those whose hearts are brought together, the ransoming of slaves, debtors, in God’s Way and the travelers; So God ordains; God is All-knowing All-wise” (A.J. 9:60.) The importance of zakat is revealed in the Qur’an. But, as a cultural practice, zakat was adopted from earlier practices conducted by tribal Shaykhs involving the equal distribution of resources among tribes and clans. Zakat is one of the characteristic elements of social and economic egalitarianism within the ummah. However, in Islamic society zakat, which means purity, was not only an socially and economically egalitarian action, but one that prevents man from evil and forced him to re-evaluate his ultimate

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becoming and significance. This action purifies the will of individual and gave them sincerity by parting with something that they held dear. It is an assertion of compassion, generosity and mercy toward other people, as well as humility and sincerity. In the act of giving up something, individuals learn the importance of self-sacrifice for the greater good of humanity, while at the same time ensuring a place in Paradise for themselves by following God’s demands. Zakat, provides the perfect example of the social and economically egalitarian foundation of the ummah. It maintains the intrinsic compassion and mercy of the socio-religious complex of Islam. It also shows the extent to which the reorientation of human development occurred. Within the ummah prayer is among the most emphasized acts. Prayer is a method of integrating the faculties of body, mind and heart into a single gesture towards God and Muhammad. Prayer is conducted by prostrations followed by various praises to God. Prayer is done both individually and communally. The unified prostrations of communal prayer provide a great example of the equality of the human being under God. During the act of prayer man is prevented from evil. Prayer clarified man’s dependence on God and goodness. It provides the human being with a way to worship something of greater significance than themselves, while others were doing the same. Among the other most emphasized acts are the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, and fasting during the month of Ramadan and. During these rituals Muslims experience individual sacrifice, and individual spiritual growth in, as well as collective harmony. The Hajj provides an excellent example of the ritual equality of the ummah. During the Hajj people adorn traditional Muslims dress to create a visible uniformity. Looking at pictures of millions of Muslims prostrating before the Ka’ba all at once, creates an image of

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universal humility, as people of all races, colors, ethnicities, and financial status’ are blended into a sacred ocean of prayer. The practice Fasting forces one to experience what it is like to not have food and sustenance, placing one in a state of both physical and metaphorical poverty. The act of fasting forces all Muslims to empathize with the disenfranchised, the weak, and the poor. As well, a full stomach gives people a sense of self-satisfaction and indifference, and hunger is an acute reminder of one’s dependency on God. 42 The socio-religious complex of Islam brought forth a new system of values based on faith and submission to One God, and a commitment to social and economic justice and egalitarianism within the ummah. In the ummah, the intrinsic love, mercy, compassion and generosity of Islam is understood as central to the development of the human being and the development of society.

SECTION 3 SUFISM

Sufism As A Critique And A Road Map Of Human Development In Islam William Chittick in Sufism: A Short Introduction, explains, “The early Sufi masters held that they spoke for the animating spirit of the Islamic tradition. From their point of view, where this spirit flourishes, Islam is alive to its own spiritual and moral ideals, but to the extent that it languishes, Islam becomes desiccated and sterile, if it

Carl Ernst. The Shambala Guide To Sufism, (Boston: Shambala, 1997), 99. 38

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survives as all,”43 According to Chittick, Sufism refers to a reality that stems from the heart of the Islamic tradition, so there are those who may not call themselves Sufis, but are alive to the spiritual and moral ideals of Islam. Although Sufism refers to an esoteric reality at the heart of Islam, that transcends history, Sufism is a cultural phenomenon linked to a cumulative tradition that came to prominence in the 8th century, and became institutionalized in the 12th century. As Chittick points out, “On the first level – which is the primary concern of the Sufis – Sufism has no history, because it is an animating presence within the community of the faithful. On the second level – which concerns both Muslim observers and modern historians – Sufism’s presence makes itself known through certain characteristics of people and society or certain specific norms.”44 Sufism, both as an inner reality and a cumulative tradition are grounded in important critiques of the ways humans develop within Islamic society, and the world at large. After Muhammad’s death, the ummah soon became increasingly divided, as did the socio-religious complex of Islam itself. The unification of politics and religion in the ummah ultimately proved to be one of its most problematic elements. People consistently used God’s Will as an excuse for self-centered and egotistical aims. The personal and sectarian motivations within Islamic society fragmented the initial religious solidarity and social and economic justice and egalitarianism of the ummah. Throughout history, Sufis have claimed that Islamic ideals have not been upheld with enough sincerity, as they observed the ethical bankruptcy of Islamic society.

43 44

William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 21. Ibid, 4. 39

If we accept Chittick’s explanation that Sufism lives up to the spiritual and moral ideals of Islam, than the Sufi critique of human development within Islamic society and the world at large, is that human beings have failed to live up to their potential as servants and representatives of God, failed to reflect the ultimate knowledge, goodness and beauty of their original disposition, failed to allow God’s attributes of mercy, compassion, gentleness, generosity and love to shine through their hearts, and that the ummah has failed in its mission to create a perfect and harmonic society. The evolution of Sufism, both as an inner reality of Islam, and a multifaceted cumulative tradition, has through various means tried to revitalize and re-establish the reality of God’s mercy, compassion, generosity, and love in Islam, and the importance of gaining nearness to God through an assumption of these attributes. Sufis have consistently been accused by other Muslims as being, unorthodox, blasphemous, and even heretical, because they practiced various forms of worship that were not dictated in the mandatory Shariite laws and practices of the ummah. The great theoretical Sufis were grounded in the sciences of Islam such as jurisprudence (the study of law) and dogmatic theology, or kalam, as they held rationality and intellect to be a God given gift, however Sufis were critical of a purely rational approach to understanding and obeying God, because it tended to stress tanzih, God’s transcendence, distance, incomparability, wrath, and majesty.45 For the Sufis, God had to be experienced through other forms of knowledge such as the faculty of imagination, and through methods of creative expression, that stressed God’s imminence, nearness, similarity, mercy and beauty, tashbih.46

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William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. Ibid, 25. 40

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In trying to transform human development on individual and societal levels, the tradition of Sufism is somewhat analogous to the rise of Islam as a means to endow the human being and society with a higher moral tone and a deeper sense of faith and submission to God. Sufism attempts to live up to the moral and spiritual ideas of the Islamic tradition, as well as to dispel, reject and unveil the evil, oppressive and limiting forms of its external manifestations within society and the world at large. Sufism attempts to return and deliver Islamic society, and the Muslim from the clutches of God’s wrath, to the embrace of His mercy.

Sufism As The Path To Human Perfection Introduction The tradition of Sufism is vast and diverse, and can be explained, understood and experienced in various ways. However at the heart of every description of Sufism, and every Sufi teaching, is a deep concern with the proper development of the human being, and the betterment of humanity as a whole. Within the context of the Islamic tradition, Sufism provides the most complete example of human development, as it concerns itself with the attainment of human perfection. In order to explain Sufism as the path to human development I explore various themes. I begin with the most important principle of Islam, tawhid. Tawhid suggests that God is one, but he manifests himself in various ways. The human being defines his relationship to God based on his struggle between tanzih, God’s incomparability, mercy, wrath, severity, and majesty and tashbih, God’s mercy, beauty and generosity and gentleness.47 The Sufis tend to stress tashbih.48

47

Ibid, 25. 41

This struggle is clarified in the next section by an explanation of man’s original disposition, his innate duality between incomparability and similarity to God, and his unique role as the servant and representative of man. This section also emphasizes the sincerity with which the Sufis take the role of servant-hood and representation. For the Sufis servant-hood and representation is not only a way of fulfilling the will of God, but actualizing His divine image and form through an assumption of His attributes. The next section emphasizes the fulfillment of man’s dual role as a servant and representative on the Sufi path. Servant-hood is associated requires the acknowledgment of man’s imperfection and associated with tanzih.49 This section also discusses the poverty, humility and fear that commonly appear at the beginning of the path. Representation is associated with tashbih and is a way to explain man’s nearness, similarity and love of God.50 Together servant-hood and representation provide the basis for manifesting God’s mercy and generosity, as they are the forces of creation and reality. A brief explanation of the system of masters and disciples follows to give a sense of how this relationship is reflected in Sufi orders. Following the discussion of the fulfilment of servant-hood and representation, I discuss the important of iman, faith, islam, submission and ihsan.51 These three dimensions help clarify the importance of the perfections of action, thoughts and intentions. This section plays particular attention to ihsan as a reflection of Sufism
48 49 50

Ibid, 25 Ibid, 25 Ibid, 25 William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4.

51

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because it cultivates awareness of God through the heart. After this I discuss the importance of perfecting the human faculties of reason or rationality, imagination, and sensuality, or creative expression. I speak to the importance of all these faculties, but emphasize the superiority of imagination in gaining a direct knowledge of God’s names and the benefits of the faculty imagination in experiencing God’s self disclosure. A discussion of sincerity, ikhlas and bewilderment follows in order to demonstrate the various states, stages and stations on the Sufi path, as the heart opens up to God’s self-disclosure.52 It also clarifies the Sufi’s struggle between nearness and distance, fear and love. To emphasize the tension of the paradox between tanzih and tashbih, I remind the reader of the misleading linearity that occurs as a result various explanations of the Sufi path and of human development in the Islamic context. The Sufi path is really a pendulum that swings back and forth to and from God.53 Then, I discuss the various ways Sufis remember and invocate God through Dhikr in order to emphasize the importance of remembering God in order to attain total awareness of God’s love, mercy, compassion towards God and others. I end with an explanation of assuming the character traits of God in order to paint a picture of perfect man as manifesting the mercy, compassion, love and generosity of God above all other attributes. Through manifesting God’s names in their proper order man experiences a state of complete unity and harmony with God, society and the universe. I provide quotes from different Sufis, classical and contemporary, in order to suggest the diversity of the expression of these attributes within Sufism. I clarify that

52 53

Ibid, 6. Ibid, 6. 43

unifying message of human development in Islam, that mercy, compassion, love and generosity are the most important characteristics of God, of man, in society and in the universe.

Important Themes on the Sufi Path to Human Perfection Tawhid And The Path To Human Perfection The path to human perfection in Islam is rooted in the principle of tawhid, the oneness of God. Tawhid asserts that God is one, but He manifests Himself in many different ways. Although all things in the cosmos are other than God, they all derive their reality from Him. The human being’s relationship to God is defined by the way he experiences God’s attributes in the self, and in the world. The Qur’an describes God as distant and incomparable and therefore wrathful, severe and majestic, tanzih, as well as near and similar and therefore merciful, and, beautiful and generous, tashbih.54 On the Sufi path, human development is defined by a struggle to create a balance between the various ways in which God reveals his attributes in the soul and in the world. This is rooted in the importance of developing an awareness of God that is so central to the religion of Islam. The Sufis tend to stress God’s nearness and similarity, and his mercy and generosity, as these are the more personal and positive characteristics - the ones that live up to the intrinsic mercy and compassion of the socio-religious complex of Islam. The Sufi’s adhere to a saying that clarifies this: “God’s mercy predominates His wrath” and believe that all things are a result of God’s ultimate mercy, even His wrath.

54

Ibid, 25 44

Within the Islamic tradition there are various different paths of human development and of attaining human perfection. Each path, as a result of its particular methodology and approach, tends to focus on specific attributes of God. For example, the kalam experts who study dogmatic theology use rationality to understand the relationship between the human and God, and as a result of the differentiating and discernment involved in rationality, they inevitably stress God’s distance and incomparability, and his wrath, majesty and severity. Sufism, although equally as diverse in methodology and approach provides a more holistic approach to the path towards human perfection that requires using each human faculty to both understand and experience the totality of God’s attributes. However, Sufis believe that the heart is the center of consciousness, and that knowing and experiencing God’s attributes through the heart is the ultimate human experience, as it is through the heart that the human will is purified and replaced with the Will of God. With a purified heart, the human being becomes a true servant and representative of God. Various Sufis disagree as to the final outcome of living with God’s Will. Some theories seek more of a balance than others, but as a whole Sufism presents the predominance of mercy and generosity that shines forth in infinite splendor through perfect man.55

The Original Disposition Of Man And His Innate Duality Sufi’s take the role of servant-hood and representation with the utmost sincerity. In Sufi theory, it is made explicit that man was the most important of creations, and the most unique. The fundamentals of human development in Sufism are based in the Islamic William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination. (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989), 28. 45
55

description of man’s important and unique position in relation to God and the world. In the Qu’ranic understanding of the origins of humankind, (insan) man (Adam) was created out of clay, like the other animals that appeared on earth. However, God also blew into him of His Spirit, the angelic quality, thereby giving them a unique potential that no other creature had been endowed with.56 The spirit, since it came from God, gave man an inherent nearness and similarity to Him, however at the same time the quality of clay denoted a distance, and incomparability to God. This composition gave man the capacity to sink lower than the level of animals, characterized by self-serving instinct and primitive sensuality, or higher than the angels, characterized by pure goodness, beauty and intellect.57 According to Ibn al Arabi,, this composition also defined the struggle between God’s simultaneous incomparability, and similarity. He said, “So it was these two relationships- the relationship of incomparability and that of similarity-which turned their attentiveness toward the creation of man.”58 The Qur’an also explains that, “He taught Adam the names, all of them.” (AJ.2, 31). Sufis interpret this to mean that Adam was given the knowledge of everything in created existence. God made the angels bow to Adam as a result of his unique position of spiritual exaltation and his knowledge of the names. All of the angels bowed to Adam, except Iblis who thought he was better, and had too much pride. Iblis was sent to earth as

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1983), 61-73.
57 58

56

Ibid, 61-73.

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, 277. 46

a result of this sin and became Shaytan, (the devil) the evil force that influenced pride, egotism and envy.59 The Adamic story clarifies the self-centered desires and heedlessness of man. Adam fell to earth, because Iblis tempted him and he became forgetful and unaware of God as well as the angelic spirit within him. He lost his originally good and beautiful disposition and his initial knowledge of all the names. Man’s angelic intellect had fallen victim to his self-serving animal instincts, and he became egotistical in his desires and prone to the impulses of sensuality, and evil and devilish deeds. However beneath the ugly coat of man’s egotistical disposition, still lay an inner spiritual garment with the potential to transcend his very predicament. It is this inner spiritual garment that the Sufis wish to actualize by a purification of the will through the opening of the heart. Although Adam and Eve did disobey God, God made them do it because he wanted to place a servant and representative on earth. The Qur’an says, “ I am setting in the earth a viceroy.”(A.J. 2:28) According to a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, commonly quoted by Sufis, originally, man (Adam) was also created in the form or image of God. In the Sufi context servant-hood and representation is more than a mere stewardship, or a dominion over the various creatures, and the earth itself, but a realization of God Himself in the soul and the world, and actualization of the divine image and form. For Sufis, true servant-hood and representation means becoming, “his hearing, his sight, and his hand.”60 Thus, true servant-hood and representation occurs by embodying

59

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi,

82-95.

47

the Will of God, through manifesting His attributes in the soul and the world. Man’s position of servant-hood and representation is known as the Trust. Man accepted the Trust at a meeting between man and God called the Covenant of Alast. However, man’s heedless nature often leads him to forget this primordial agreement with God. The famous Sufi, Jallaludin Rumi reminds us of the importance of remembering our role and position on earth, as a servant and representative of God and as the basis for human development, and the basis of the Sufi path to human perfection: There is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you forget everything else but not that one thing, than have no fear. But if you perform, remember and do not forget all things, but you forget that, you have done nothing…We have offered the Trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it; and man carried. Surely he is sinful, very foolish… (XXXIII 72).61

Fulfilling the Roles of Servant and Representative of God Fulfilling the roles of servant and representative of God requires cultivating an awareness of God’s various attributes. The roles of man as both a servant and representative of God embody an inherent duality that provides a preliminary example of what is required on the path to human perfection in the Sufi context. The relationship between servant-hood and representation is laid out clearly in this passage by William Chittick.

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, 176.
61

60

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love: The Spiritual Teachings of Rumi,

63. 48

Human beings in function of their dual relationship with God have two main roles: to be God’s servant and to be his vicegerent. In order to become a vicegerent, which implies nearness to God, they must first accept their servant-hood - their distance from God - and act in accordance with it. God in his mercy desires that human beings not remain distant but rather gain nearness, but they have to choose nearness of their own accord. The Sharia is the straight path that leads to the waters of life.62 The acknowledgement of servant-hood in Sufi theory is rooted in the conception that the human being is imperfect in relation to God’s Absolute perfection. In a similar fashion, human reality and existence, is in fact un-real and non-existent in relation to God’s Absolute existence and His absolute reality. With the realization of the imperfection of the human being comes a feeling of humility, poverty and fear on behalf of the Sufi. A Sufi on the path is often given a name that denotes poverty and humility such as the Persian darvish, or Turkish dervish, and the Arabic, faqir, or as adapted into English, fakir, both of which mean “poor man.”63 A position of fear is commonly an initial stage on the Sufi path usually defined or followed by an escape from society, or a denunciation of various outward norms, and intense ascetic practices. The role of man as God’s servant asserts and reflects God’s, distance, incomparability and His wrath, severity and majesty. The role of man as God’s representative presents a closer relationship with God, and reflects His more personal characteristics. As a representative of God man has to choose to gain nearness to God on his own. Through a systematic process of embodying

William C. Chittick and Sachiko Murata, The Vision of Islam, (New York: Paragon, 1994), 128.
63

62

Carl Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism (United States: Shambhala, 1997),

3 49

the attributes of God, man reflects these attributes, and represents them in their proper times and places. Representation asserts God’s nearness, similarity, and His mercy, compassion and gentleness, beauty and generosity. Sufis towards the end of the path are often given the title of lover, or lover of God, to denote a position of representation, and emphasize their nearness and similarity to God. In all Sufi paths to human perfection total love for God is the ultimate aim. As servants and representatives of God, and as the vessel for the manifestation of his attributes, the aim of the individual on the Sufi path is, as Ibn al Arabi states, “To manifest the fullness of His generosity and mercy,” within the soul and the world.64 Sufis often quote the hadiths that say, “I loved to be known so I created the world,” and “I was a Hidden Treasure and I longed to be known.”65 From the perspective of the human being creation itself was an act of His ultimate love, mercy, compassion and generosity. The Qur’an states many times the God’s Mercy dominates His wrath, and every chapter but one beings with Bismillah al Rahman al Rahim, which means “In the Name of God, the All Merciful and Compassionate. Ultimately, in the Islamic context the end of a human being’s life, is defined by a return to God. Based on how well he has fulfilled his role as servant and representative, and how sincere he was in faith and submission, he goes either to Paradise or Gehenna. However the Sufis seek to “die before they die”, and be near to God at all times. For Sufis a return to God is not the end of life, but the beginning of human perfection.

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination. (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 21.

64

50

Masters and Disciples Sufism, despite its claim to creating a direct relationship with the divine, have fostered a master and disciple relationship. Dervishes were and still are, distinguished from, Prophets, Shaykhs and saints (wali ’Allah, or friends of God) and placed on a cosmological hierarchy that transcends space and time, traced back by Sufi genealogies to the Prophet Muhammad. Masters act as mediators between Sufis and their goal. The master and disciple relationship within Sufism perpetuates the importance of servanthood, and the qualities of humility, poverty, imperfection and fear that create a foundation for a long and difficult path to human perfection and love of God. It also perpetuates the importance of servant-hood and representation, as the dervish is under pressure to be obedient and to reflect the qualities of his master, and gain nearness to him, through love and devotion, and to Him through love and devotion. Worship however, is reserved solely for God. The master and disciple relationship creates a simulacrum of the relationship between God and man, as well as between Muhammad and his disciples as a reflection of the hierarchy of perfection.

Islam, Iman, And Ihsan The great theoretical Sufis stressed the importance of a systematic approach to human development and a path to human perfection that was grounded in an adherence to the Islamic laws and practices and modes of understanding. This systematic path was needed in order for the human being to recognize his position in relationship to God as a servant and representative and to create a deepened sense of awareness of Him.

51

William Chittick, a scholar of Islam and Sufism, using as a model the Hadith of Gabriel, provides a clear and insightful explanation of Sufism within the Islamic context through a discussion of islam or submission, iman or faith and ihsan or doing what is good and beautiful. 66 These dimensions also correspond to the various faculties that require perfecting. These three faculties were perfected by the prophet Muhammad, thus the perfection of these faculties are strengthened by following his model of behavior, the Sunnah, as he is the ultimate guide and messenger. The first dimension Islam, or submission corresponds to the perfection of right action and the realm of the body.67 Islam, which means submission, teaches people what to do and what not to do as a Muslim. 68Islam requires fulfilling the laws of the Sharia, and the Five Pillars and acting in accordance with God’s moral and social demands within the ummah. According the classical Sufi theoreticians, the acceptance of the Sharia and the Five Pillars: the recitation of the shahadah (the witnessing of God’s oneness), zakat (paying of alms tax), the five daily prayers, fasting during Ramadan, and making the pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) emphasize right actions and are essential to the attainment of human perfection. The dimension of islam stresses the importance of servant-hood and obedience to God. It also reaffirms man’s imperfection in relation to God and creates the necessary conditions for humility, and servant-hood and representation.

66

William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 4. Ibid, 4. Ibid, 5. 52

67 68

The second dimension, Iman, or faith, corresponds to the perfection of right understanding and speech and the realm of the mind. This dimension teaches people how to understand themselves and the world around them through knowledge of the objects of faith.69 Belief in tawhid, His Prophets, His Book and the Day of Judgment and emphasizing right thought, and as assertion them through speech, are all essential to attaining a balance because God has commanded that individual realize His Will. The third dimension ihsan, or doing what is good and beautiful, corresponds to the perfection of right intention and the realm of the heart.70 According to the Sufis, the heart, not the body or the mind, is the center of true consciousness and intelligence as it is the vessel through which the human embodies God’s names, and achieves true representation of God. This is the most important dimension to the Sufis. Ihsan asserts that “blind faith” and “blind submission” are not sufficient in cultivating an awareness of God. According to the theoretical Sufis, those who simply follow the Sharia without internalizing and interiorizing the external forms of worship, or who acknowledge God without experiencing Him in themselves and the world, are not engaged with the reality of God, and are not alive to the spiritual and moral ideals of Islam. Simply put, according to Sufi theorists, they are not good Muslims - they are hypocrites. The dimension of ihsan, “teaches people how to transform themselves so that they may come into harmony with the ground of all being,” and refers to “an inner awareness of the reality of things that is inseparable from our mode of being in the

69 70

Ibid, 5. Ibid, 4.

53

world.” 71 Ihsan refers to the processes of creating a harmony between inner and outer realities. Ihsan is what actualizes the human potential that was given to Adam. Doing what is good and beautiful, or ihsan returns the human being to his original state of goodness and beauty, and allows him to truly serve and represent God.72 Ihsan is also often understood as the expression of love, both love for God and love for fellow human beings. Doing what is good and beautiful means that one needs “To worship God as if you see Him because even if you don’t see Him, He sees you.”73 The assertion that God can always see you, places an intense pressure on any human action, thought or intention. This is because beyond the external reality of God’s law, in which God judges and measures man’s external actions, the Sufis were aware of an internal reality of God that judges and measures man’s intentions, and inner instincts and emotional impulses, at the level of the heart. An acknowledgment of God’s omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience forces the individual to dig deep into his soul, to the realm of the heart and realize the true intentions behind all of his actions. Islam and iman do cultivate an awareness of God, and involve the body, the mind and the heart. Within society islam and iman, create an awareness of both tanzih and tashbih as they connect the human being to God, but also emphasize his difference and distance.74
71 72 73

Ibid, 5. Ibid, 5.

William C. Chittick and Sachiko Murata, Vision of Islam (New York: Paragon, 1994), 296.
74

William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. 54

However, this awareness is limited if it is not experience directly through the heart, before any physical, or psychical activity. The purification of intentions at the level of the heart will purify the actions and thoughts of the human being, opening his heart to the mercy, compassion and generosity and beauty of God. If the human being is concerned with good and beautiful activities and filled with love for God, He will love them back, and show them his merciful and compassionate nature. The unawareness, heedlessness, ignorance and idolatry or the human being cannot only be replaced through an awareness of God based on individual and social obligations, but by an awareness of God on all levels, and in all realms of self and society. God must be understood, and experienced in all the ways he manifests himself in the world, but ultimately for the Sufis tashbih is the most important. 75 According to the Sufi perspective ihsan verifies and vivifies islam and iman.76 In this context the symbiotic relationship between islam and iman become part of the animated organism of ihsan which becomes the path of attaining an awareness of God, through an experience of his internal and external reality, and cultivates a heartfelt sincerity, that is essential to both servant-hood and representation of God, and the manifestation of His names.

Knowing, Finding And Experiencing God: Reason, Imagination and Love Sufis often describe the process of becoming an “al-insan al-kamil” to use Ibn alArabi’s term, as knowing, or finding God. Various Sufis also describe the path to human

75 76

Ibid, 25. Ibid, 21. 55

perfection as self-knowledge. Ultimately, however the process of knowing and finding God, and therefore the path to human perfection, is a process of annihilating the self, or replacing it with the Will of God. Therefore knowledge of the self, and knowledge of God are part of the same process. In the Sufi context, the discussion of islam, iman and ihsan clarified that knowing, finding and experiencing God must be attained by a perfection of activities, thoughts and intentions.77 The Sufis question the place of rationality and abstraction in the realization of God’s Will and in the achievement of human perfection. They question whether adherence to the law, the performance of ritual duties, and the studying of religious texts can leave one with the satisfaction of having reached God. Knowing, experiencing and finding God, through a blind adherence to Shariite norms, and through the use of pure rationality is insufficient. Imagination and creative expression are needed to bring the Sufi closer to God. Influenced by Greek philosophical methodologies, the purely rational and intellectual approach to understanding and experiencing God, will, as a result of its nature to abstract, discern and differentiate, emphasize the dominance of tanzih - God’s distance, incomparability, wrath, majesty and severity.78 According to those who held rationalism over other modes of experience, and understanding, God is defined by His ultimate separation from humanity, and his transcendent power that is beyond perceptive detection. Within this context God cannot be found within the self, or in the most extreme cases, in the world. The Kalam experts and the theologians who took this approach

77 78

Ibid, 4. Ibid, 25. 56

focused on islam, and iman, but ignored, ihsan.79 There approach to human perfection was thus, limited to a biased experience of God. In Sufism there is an underlying rationality to the Sufi path. For Sufis attaining nearness to God is also a rational and reasonable choice rooted in their Qur’anic exegesis. The interpretation of the Qur’anic verse “where-ever you turn, there is the Face of God” (2:115) provides us with a good example of these differing interpretations. Those who use reason and rationality would attempt to explain that the Qur’an does not really mean what it is implying. According to reason, God cannot be seen, nor have a face because he is distant and different from humans. A Sufi exegesis may explain that indeed God, is incomparable to some extent, but He can be seen and even experienced everywhere, and that God’s face is an expression of this truth. Rationality, intellect and discernment are very important to the Sufis, they are gifts from God that gave humans their angelic spirits, giving the human being the ability to understand the objects of faith. This is why the most famous Sufi theoreticians have been grounded in the rational Islamic sciences such as jurisprudence, Islamic philosophy and dogmatic theology, but have not stopped there. Sufis have had to rationalize their divergence from Shariite norms, and their extension and interiorization of various forms of worship, as they have often been considered heretical. In the Sufi context rationality and intellect are used to understand both tanzih and tashbih.80 The intellect is needed to destroy the ego, through discerning the true nature of reality, and of man as a dichotomous duality. Rationality, and intellect are also needed to

79 80

Ibid, 4. Ibid, 25. 57

distill the various inspirational experiences of the divine attributes in order that they become manifested and active in a proper manner, and order. For the Sufis, however God must be known, found and experienced in and through the heart, through the use of imagination, khayal, and forms of creative expression, that involve sensual perception. The use of imagination, and various forms of creative expression are of particular importance to the Sufis because they see a purely rational approach to God, as a limit to understanding, finding and experiencing the inner reality that exists in the realm of the heart. According to Ibn al Arabi’s hierarchy of reality, the world of imagination exists on a plane of existence that is closer to God’s Reality and is therefore more real.81 Imagination brings the Sufi closer to the internal reality of divine presence, and emphasizes the importance of tashbih, God’s nearness and similarity, and His mercy, compassion and generosity, love, beauty and gentleness.82 Imagination and creative expression are needed to become aware of God’s divine reality that lies hidden beyond the world of forms. Imagination and creative expression provide a more vivid and visceral experience of the unified reality of God, as they create hybrid realities that are not easily perceived in the external world. The ineffable feeling of being near to God, and the indescribable feeling of love, can be expressed and felt through the imagination and acts of creative expression.

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination. (New York: SUNY Press, 1989), 15.
82

81

William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25.

58

In addition the bewilderment of being simultaneously near to God, and far from Him are more easily expressed through processes of imagination and creative expression. Imagination and creative expression are central to Sufism as an alternative mode of human development within the larger socio-religious complex of Islam, as well as the heart of the tradition, that challenged the validity of orthodoxy in attaining human perfection. Sufism as it both affirms and challenges the validity of orthodoxy is a beautiful paradox united by a common quest for unity, and love. However, all forms of Sufism contextualize the use of imagination, creative expression, giving them specific places and purposes in the path towards God, and Love, and limit those forms, that are deemed evil and wrong. Some Sufi groups are more open then others in terms of the freedom of creative human expression in the experience of divine love, and unity. The use of the imagery of love and the use of the metaphor of the relationship between the lover and the beloved as a symbol of that between the seeker and God, in some Sufi music and literature has also made some of the more abstract concepts more accessible to the public. In some cultural settings this has drawn many non Muslims to respect and acknowledge Sufi masters. Too much creative expression however, is thought to allow self-indulgence, and impulsive sensuality. Sensuality is to be curbed by the intellect and creative expression used in its proper manner through balancing it with rationality and intellect. In the end rationality and intellect, action and sensuality, and imagination and creative expression are all essential to the Sufi path of human perfection. However, in many cases imagination and creative expression are more rewarding as a vessel for an intimate experience of the divine, as they bring the Sufi closer to God.

59

The Sufi path is concerned with creating a unity between the abstract and the concrete, the physical and the metaphysical. It is important for Sufis to explore the various ways God manifests Himself within the soul and the world, in order to come into harmony with them all. Within the vast tradition of Sufism, although most Sufis emphasize imagination and creative expression, more than rationality, they still disagree as to the level of its importance. This disagreement has given rise to a general categorization of Sufis as either sober or intoxicated. Sober Sufi’s like Ibn al Arabi stress the importance of maintaining a cold sobriety in the experience of God’s self-disclosure. Intoxicated Sufis, such as Rumi are willing to express their experience of God’s self-disclosure through periods of emotionally expressive and ecstatic rapture. The type of deeper knowledge, experience and finding developed at high stations and stages of the path, is often called wisdom, or gnosis and is achieved through processes of unveiling. Unveiling often occurs through imagination and acts of creative expression and is the process through which the Sufi gains nearness to God, and is able to receive revelations of God’s Will, like the prophet Muhammad. Unveiling is a process of removing the illusions of external reality, and tapping into the truth of divine revelation. Through unveiling, God discloses Himself through manifestation of his attributes within the soul, and through warnings and demands that guide the Sufi on the path. Through unveiling the soul becomes connected to the divine presence. Although the Sufi hold unveiling, and imagination to be a superior mode of knowledge than reason, in processes of unveiling and revelation reason is needed to make sure these things are given their

60

proper due, so that the Sufi is sure that these revelations are coming from God, and not from the ego, or the devil. It is the emphasis on imagination and creative expression that separates various types of Sufism from orthodox Islam. It is important that on the one hand Sufism is presented as the heart of Islam, as a force that is alive to the spiritual and moral ideals of the religion, and its intrinsic mercy and compassion. On the other hand it is important to acknowledge that various forms of Sufism, and models of human development are a response to the limits imposed on specific forms of human expression and creativity, as a result of the strictness, rigidity and conformity of the Sharia, and various prohibitions within society derived from the Qur’an. The power, popularity and efficacy of Sufism, regardless of its position in terms of Shariite laws are derived from the human experience of the divine presence, and the ultimate mercy that pervades the universe.

Sincerity And Bewilderment Sufi literature often speaks of a specific stage or station that allows the dervish to become more aware of God. It is at this point where the individual is able to act inwardly and outwardly for God’s sake alone. It is a state that denotes that God’s will has entered the human being and has become an active reality, and that the servant has exhibited an adequate level of purity. Chittick uses the Qur’anic word ikhlas, or sincerity, to denote such a status.83 This is perhaps the stage or station, that allows the Sufi to begin ihsan, doing what is good and

83

Ibid, 6. 61

beautiful, and opens his heart to a clearer realization of God’s omnipresence, the reality of His mercy, and the mercy of His reality.84 What Chittick calls sincerity, marks a very important change in the life of the Sufi as he becomes more aware of the inner reality of God within the soul and the world. However, this moment, regardless of how tantamount it may be to the Sufi path, is often characterized by a feeling of complete confusion and bewilderment. This growing awareness may not necessarily be a moment of complete clarity as the inspiration of divine knowledge and will that the Sufi may receive simultaneously negates and affirms his imperfection, his non-existence and un-reality. Thus the Sufi at this moment of realization is caught, between fear and love, God’s mercy, and wrath and most importantly between his nearness and distance to God. At this stage the bewilderment may not necessarily be a sense of being lost, but rather the bewilderment of both understanding, knowing and experiencing God, and not understanding, knowing or experiencing God, at the same time. In fact the Sufi path itself can be seen as a path of progressive bewilderment, and even the perfect human is often described as bewildered. Ibn al Arabi states that, “The perfect human is he whose bewilderment has intensified and his regret is continuous- he does not reach his goal because of that which is his Object of worship, for he strives to achieve that which cannot be achieved and he threads the path of Him whose path is not known.”85

84 85

Ibid, 4.

. William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, 349. 62

It becomes very hard to speak generally of stages, stations and states, of this sort, because there are so many Sufi paths, but sincerity and bewilderment are essential episodes on the path towards perfection. Sufis go into detail about specific stages and stations, often differentiating between the terms, stages, stations and states, but a general explanation of the stations or stages of sincerity and bewilderment provides a sense of what happens between an acknowledgment of servant-hood and of representation and between tanzih and tashbih. 86

Sufism, A Cyclical and Oscillating Path The experience of tawhid, is a confusing and paradoxical one that occurs through continual oscillations between tanzih and tashbih.87 In an explanation of the process of human perfection a misleading linearity occurs as a result of having to describe things in a logical and sequential manner. The paths between, fear and lover, wrath and mercy, servant-hood and representation are more like a pendulum swinging from tanzih to tashbih, than a straight line from one to the other. Sufism reveals that there are infinite veils separating us from complete nearness to God, the Sufi path progresses but does so in cyclical processes that continue to place the human being nearer to and more distance from God, as the manifestation of his names and attributes are expressed. Some Sufis see God’s wrath, majesty and severity as unimportant and concentrate solely on His mercy, compassion and gentleness. For them it is not about

86 87

William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25. Ibid, 25. 63

balance particularly, but actualizing the attributes that allow for nearness and love of God. For example many Sufis feel that fear of God’s wrath is not a necessary part of life. Rabia, the most famous woman Sufi, and Attar, as well as many other Sufis rejected or devalued the pressures brought out in concepts such as Paradise and Gehenna, as they deterred individuals from loving God, and gaining nearness to his pervasive reality in the soul and the world. Love of God, after all is associated with the nearness and similarity implied by representation of God and is therefore the ultimate aim of the path.

Dhikr The Sufi path to human perfection requires discipline and rigor. Sufis interiorize and internalize external expressions of faith and submission through the remembrance of God, or dhikr (in Arabic) or zhikr (in Turkish). The etymological roots of the word dhikr in the Qur’an show that the word also means to mention or to invoke. This process of remembrance, mentioning and invocation is part of the process of manifesting God’s names within the soul and the world, in order to gain nearness to God, and to become alive to His mercy. Through the expression of God’s attributes the names of God can be felt and experienced viscerally and vividly. Dhikr involves the mind, the body and the heart, placing them into a harmonic resonance of divine remembrance. On the Sufi path every action, thought and intention, whether it is calligraphy, poetry or singing, it is a form of Dhikr and should remind the Sufi of God’s omnipresence and invoke Him within the soul. Even such seemingly mundane practices such as sleeping were considered essential acts of prayer and remembrance of God. Dhikr, as a form of continuous prayer, and the processes of manifesting and experiencing

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the names of God within the soul, legitimized, for the Sufis creative forms of human expression, not demanded by the Sharia. Practices such as poetry, music and dancing developed within Sufism as a reaction to the rigidity of religious expression that seemed to hamper the capacity for an inner experience of the divine, as opposed to enhancing it. In fact the most globally popular symbols of Sufism are associated with intoxicating love poetry, qawwali music venerating Muhammad and Sufi saints and the whirling dance of dervishes. The Qur’an speaks against the use of music and poetry, however Sufis believe that all human capacities must be used to foster awareness and remembrance of God. These emotive forms are ultimately directed away from the self and toward God, Muhammad and Sufi saints. For Sufis it is not enough to distance one’s self from the world, but to attempt to remove the self in its entirety and become a part of the reality of God’s unity and mercy, love, compassion and generosity. Practices of dhikr such as renunciation, solitude, meditation, intense fasting, continual travel and even self mutilation are meant push the limits of the body, and the mind, and the heart in order to transcend the ego, the self and reality in an attempt to be in union with the divine Reality, and to cultivate a sense of love for and unity with God and other people. The practice of dhikr is often a group activity involving a collective prayer involving the repetition of prayers and praises to God and Muhammad, and a focus on the use of breathing techniques and physical movements to create an ecstatic feeling of love and unity.

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Assuming The Character Traits Of God Sufis teach that the achievement of true servant-hood representation of God occurs through the sacrifice of human will for divine Will, through an embodiment of the divine names within the soul, and an external manifestation of these attributes in the world. God cannot be known in His Essence. However he can be known through the manifestation of his names, which exists on a lower level, and can be experienced through His acts, which constitutes the level of everyday human experience. For all Sufis the end of the path is defined by a manifestation and expression of God’s, love, mercy, compassion and generosity, often characterized by an overwhelming feeling of love and harmony with everyone and everything in existence, and a terminal nearness to God. This harmony allows them to transcend everyday human experience and attain a higher level of reality while continuing to live in society and among fellow human beings. The highest level of servant-hood and representation is “to manifest the fullness of his mercy and generosity”, as Ibn al Arabi puts it.88 This is a result of the notion that God’s mercy precedes his wrath, derived from the Qur’an and the Hadith. In Ibn al Arabi’s understanding, God’s mercy and generosity, is beyond human mercy and generosity. It is not a form of agape love. God’s mercy is like that of a father to his son. God’s mercy may demand that people be punished sometimes, if it is for the better. Therefore an the embodiment of God’s mercy by perfect man, may not always seem merciful to the human being, who is imperfect in his knowledge and experience of God’s

88

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path Of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, 21.

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attributes. However, other Sufis may envision the assumption of God’s mercy and generosity in different terms, in some cases, preferring the names, love and compassion. Still, even those questionable Sufis or groups, who may use the term Sufi but reject various Qur’anic conceptions and Shariite norms, the idea of an all-merciful, all compassionate, all loving and all generous Creator is maintained, emphasized and illuminated. It therefore follows that all Sufis agree that the names associated with tashbih, God’s similarity and nearness hold a higher place in the hierarchy of names, and are more prominent and important than the others.89 This reflects an understanding that the most powerful forces in the universe are mercy, compassion, generosity and love, because it was out of these qualities that God gave rise to human beings and all of creation. According to classical Sufi theorists, and scholars such as William Chittick and Ibn al Arabi, the achievement of representation of God, and therefore human perfection requires a complete balance or equilibrium of all the names and attributes of God, both tanzih and tashbih, as the self has been completely annihilated and replaced by the Will of God. Equilibrium does not mean that everything is the same, equilibrium is a state of harmonic balance between opposing forces. Complete harmony of all human faculties means that the Will of God has replaced all the actions, thoughts and intentions of man. As Chittick points out in the Sufi Path of Knowledge, Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination: “….. assuming the character traits of God, which precisely is the Sufi pathequilibrium is everything. The divine names must be actualized in proper
89

William C. Chittick, Sufism A Short Introduction, 25.

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relationships, the names of beauty preceding those of wrath, generosity dominating over justice, humility preceding over magnificence and so on. The perfect equilibrium of the names is actualized by the assumption of every trait in the form of which human beings were created. In a word perfect equilibirium is to be the outward form of the word “Allah,” the Divine Presence. The person who achieves such a realization is known as perfect man (al-insan al kamil).”90 According to Ibn al Arabi’s model, human perfection, a state of complete harmony between thoughts, actions, and intentions between the inner dimensions and the outward dimensions, as a result of a creating a balance of God’s names does not in the end manifest itself as an external difference. Ibn al-Arabi states that when the perfected human reaches the “station of no station” he appears to be completely ordinary.91 He is able to act as a Muslim in the ummah without being noticed as a superior being because he has attained complete harmony with everything and everybody inside of him and around him. Ibn al-Arabi and many other Sufis assert that this harmony is not only a personal and social harmony, but also a multidimensional, cosmological and universal harmony, a complete reflection of God’s oneness, tawhid. Ibn al Arabi, and many other classical Sufis characterize the path to human perfection, as a reflection of the hierarchy of the universe. Just as God has given everything its proper due (haq), so to, by nature of having been made in the image of God, the perfect human gives all names and attributes their haq, with mercy, and generosity dominating over all others. He attains the primordial knowledge, goodness and beauty that belonged to Adam the archetypical man, and fulfills the role proposed in the Trust, as a servant and representative of God. William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination, 28.
91 90

Ibid, 28. 68

In this context, the perfect human is completely transparent, as his duty is to be the servant and representative of God. “As an existent thing who lives at once on every level of the cosmos, perfect man embraces in himself every hierarchy. But as a human individual who must come into existence and then return to his creator, he has tied together the origin and the return.”92 This is what Chittick is referring to when he mentions that on its deepest level Islam is a religion that “transforms the individual so that he may be in harmony with all being.”93 It is a true expression of ihsan, and a position of overwhelming love for God and from God. Sufi M.R. Bawa Muhaiyadeen eloquently expresses the social and universal implications of human perfection through assuming the character traits of God: “When these ninety-nine powers of Allah, His three thousand divine attributes, and the qualities of His Messenger begin to resonate within the heart of man, he will not have any enemies…and when his heart sings out in supplication for God’s blessings upon the prophets and upon all mankind, he will see all lives as his own life. When patience, contentment, trust in God, praise of God, and the affirmation that God is great shine from within him, his innermost heart will resplend with unity, humility, and harmony. He will have no prejudices or differences. When the constant remembrance of and contemplation on God begins to resonate in his heart, that resonance will give forth millions and millions of explanations that will bring peace to millions of hearts. Such a person will care for his neighbor as himself. He will have the ability to hold everyone in an embrace which makes them all one. He will never see anyone as an enemy. Allah has no enemies.”94

William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination,
93

92

William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 5.

M.R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Islam and World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi, “foreword by Annemarie Shimmel” (Pennsylvania: THE FELLLOWSHIP PRESS, 1987), 127-128. 69

94

Ultimately the Sufi path, attempts to lead human beings from a state of imperfection, to a state of human perfection, defined by servant-hood and representation of God, achieved through gaining nearness to him by the embodiment of attributes, and the manifestation of His ultimate mercy and generosity, resulting in a complete harmony with the true nature of the human being, God, society and the universe, and a feeling of complete and total love going both out of him and into him. Very few humans attain a level of perfection, but the Sufi path to human perfection exists as way to try and urge people to be better human beings. Is there a better ultimate goal for human development? As the great Sufi Jalaluddin Rumi says, in his poem titled, “The Inner Garment of Love”: A soul which is not clothed, with the inner garment of Love should be ashamed of its existence, Be drunk with Love, for Love is all that exists, Where is intimacy found if not in the give and take of Love, If they ask what Love is, say: the sacrifice of will, If you have not left your will behind, you have no will at all.95

CONCLUSION
The socio-religious complex of Islam provides a holistic vision of human development on both individual and societal levels. On a societal level the socio-religious complex of Islam seeks to create a society based on faith and submission to one God and

95

The Rumi Collection, ed. Kabir Helminski, (United States: Shambala, 1998),

40. 70

a commitment to the ummah, a community based on social and economic justice and egalitarianism. The emergence of the ummah reformed the idolatry, religious stagnation, self-sufficiency and social and economic divisions of the Jahiliyya through social and economic reforms and religious solidarity, by re-orienting individual and collective actions toward God. Within the socio-religious complex of Islam, human development is defined by man’s role as servant and representative of God. As a servant and representative of God, the human being is demanded to practice good deeds through individual and collective rituals, and to cultivate the qualities of mercy, generosity, humility, sincerity, and patience in order to create an increased sense of dependence on and unity with God and the ummah. On an individual level Sufism provides the most complete example of human development in the Islamic context as it seeks to perfect the human being. Sufism addresses the role of the human being as a servant and representative of God with great depth and commitment. It is a path that seeks to actualize the full potential of man, as he was made in the image and form of God. The path to human perfection requires a tedious balancing act between God’s distance, incomparability, wrath majesty and severity tanzih and his, nearness, similarity, mercy, compassion, love, beauty and gentleness tashbih.96 This balancing act requires a perfection of the actions, thoughts and most importantly intentions. The perfection of intentions occurs at the level of the heart, and purifies actions and thoughts, creates a heightened awareness of God’s inner and outer reality This allows the human being to do what is good and beautiful, as actualize his innate goodness and beauty. Sufis extend beyond mandatory Muslim practices through

96

William C. Chittick, Sufism: A Short Introduction, 25. 71

dhikr, remembrance, and invocation of God, to deepen this awareness. The achievement of human perfection also requires a balance of rationality, sensuality and imagination in order to discern, experience, and know the manifestation of God’s attributes within the soul and the world. Eventually, if the human being experiences total balance, he manifests God’s total mercy and generosity and achieves harmony and unity with God, society, and the universe. From its origins as a response and alternative to the Jahiliyya, through the revelations and recitation of the Qu’ran, through its efforts to understand the complexity of God and to establish a proper relationship with Him and other human beings, the socio-religious complex of Islam has laid out a holistic paradigm of human development based on the importance of mercy, compassion, love, generosity, gentleness, unity and dependence. Through the extraordinarily evolved understandings of Sufism, from deep within the heart of Islam, the development of the inner human is taken to an ultimate level of meaning, filled with humility, wonder, bewilderment and love. The translation of the realization of God’s Will through the twin roles of servant-hood and representation, are marked by heart felt intentions, placing a paramount emphasis on assuming and cultivating the merciful, compassionate, loving, generous and gentle attributes of God. In the contemporary world, Islam has been stigmatized by various violent and intolerant manifestations in the form of radical fundamentalisms. This paper is a humble effort to explain a vision of human development in Islam that is rooted in the qualities of love, mercy, compassion, gentleness and generosity. And is fortified by a commitment to

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social and economic justice and egalitarianism and enhanced by a deep sense of unity, dependence, and harmony on individual and social, and universal levels. Surely we all, non-Muslims and Muslims alike have much to learn from the human development paradigms of this great socio-religious complex, Islam. And there seems no better time to begin manifesting these lessons if we are to resolve great conflicts of growing individualism, selfishness, and “I” oriented societies, and the various other tensions that are threatening peaceful co-existence and love between neighbors on earth.

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Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of The Qur’an. Chicago: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980. The Rumi Collection, ed. Kabir Helminski. United States: Shambala, 1998.

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