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Islam: quintessential and universal submission. Part (8)

May 14, 2010, 3:20 PM | Article By: Alhaji Ousman M. Jah

Thefitrah is described as being the result of the "most holy effusion" (al-fayd al-aqdas) of the Divine Essence; and no one who remains faithful to this original nature can deviate from tawhid, or be veiled from God?s reality by the present of phenomena. Kashani cites the hadith, "Everybody is born according to the fitrah; its parents make it a Jew, a Christian." But then he adds this important point: "it is not that this underlying reality changes in itself, such that its essential state be altered for that is impossible. This is the meaning of His words: there is no altering God?s creation. That is the right religion, but most men know not."

The following verse (30:31) reads: "Turning to Him; and do your duty to Him, and establish worship and be not for those who ascribe partners." The "turning" to God implies for Kashani a turning away from all otherness, from the "demons of fancy and imagination" and from "false religions"; it implies also the disengagement and detachment from the "shrouds of created nature, bodily accidents, natural forms, and psychic properties." As regards the last part of the verse, he comments as follows: "Be not of those who ascribe partners (or 'be not of the polytheists')... through the subsistence of the fitrah, and the manifestation of I-ness (zubur al-ana?iyya) in its station. Here the ontological limitation of the fitrah and its "station" is indicated by Kashani. For the fitrah presupposes an individual soul, of which it is the most fundamental model, pattern, or prototype; as such it cannot but uphold that I-ness or egoic nucleus that must, from the point of view of absolute oneness, be transcended; and it is only transcended by fana'. Despite this ontological shortcoming attendant upon the operative presence of the fitrah, it is clear that for Kashani it is only through fidelity to the fitrah that one can open oneself up to that ultimate form of Islam which is constituted-or rather sublimate - by fana'.

At the level of human knowledge, however, the fitrah is conceived as a fundamental, or "constitutional", affinity between the deepest dimension of the human soul and the ultimate realities expressed through Divine revelation; it is the purest texture of the substance of the soul that resonates harmoniously with the most profound truths conveyed by the revealed word. This harmonious reverberation translates spiritual affinity into mystical unity- the realization, through fana', of the ultimate degree of tawhid, as described above in reference to Ghazzali?s exegesis of "everything is perishing except His Face" (28:88).

The mystery of this affinity between primordially and revelation-between the knowledge divinely embedded a priori within the soul, and the knowledge divinely bestowed a posteriori upon the soul- seems to be alluded to in the following verse: "Truly there hath come unto you a Prophet from yourselves" (9:128). The literal meaning here, as addressed to the immediate recipients of the revelation, is that the Prophet is one of them: a man, not an angle, an Arab, not a foreigner, and so forth. But the word minkum, "from you", also carries a deeper significance. One also has this verse: "The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves" (33:6) Again, the literal meaning refers to the precedence of the Prophet, his greater right or claim over the believers than they have over themselves. But the deeper meaning emerges as a different, and equally legitimate, reading of the words min anfusihimm. The word 'minkum' also appears, as noted earlier, in a verse with a similar import: "For each We have appointed from you a Law and a Way (shir'atan wa minajan)" (5:48). Not only the Prophet, but the revealed Law and the spiritual Way he brings-all seem already to be, in essence, within the human soul. To follow the Prophet, to abide by the Law, to follow the Way he traces out is to follow, not some rules arbitrarily imposed from without, but a call from within; it is to follow one?s own deeper nature. It is for this reason that the Quran refers to itself in several places as "reminder" or as a remembrance (dhikr):

And it is nothing but a reminder to creation (68:52and 81:27).        

We have not revealed unto thee this Quran that thou should be distressed, but as a reminder unto him that feareth (20:2-3).

Nay, verily this is a reminder, so whoever will shall remember it (74:54-55).

This understanding of the meaning of the word minkum is a possible but by no means exclusive one. It does flow naturally, however, from a fundamental principle of Sufi spirituality. For out purposes here it suffices to cite the engaging simile offered by Rumi, by which he explains the verse:

In the composition of man all sciences were originally commingled so that his spirit might show forth all hidden things as, limpid water shows froth all that is under it... and all that is above it, reflected in the substance of water. Such is its nature, without treatment or training. But when it was mingled with earth or other colors, that property and that knowledge was parted from it and forgotten by it. Then God Most High sent forth prophets and saints, like a great, limpid water such as delivers out of darkness and accidental  coloration every means and dark water that enters into it. Then it remembers; when the soul of man sees itself unsullied, it knows for sure that so it was in the beginning, pure, and it knows that those shadows and colors were mere accidents. Remembering its state before those accidents supervened it says, "This is that sustenance which we were provided with before." The prophets and the saints therefore remind him of his former state; they do not implant anything new in his substance. Now every dark water that recognizes that great water, saying, "I come from this, and I belong to this," mingles with that water ... It was on this account that God declared: "truly there hath come unto you a Prophet from yourselves."

Near the end of the Discourses, this theme is expressed again, this time in more intimate terms:

Those who acknowledge the truth see themselves in the prophet and hear their own voice preceding from him and small their own scent proceeding from him. No man denies his own self. Therefore the prophets say to the community, "We are you and you are we; there is no strangeness between us."

It is clear from these passages that Rumi, referring to the prophets in the plural, regards the prophetic mission as one and the same, despite the different forms taken by that message. In the Mathnawi, this principle is expressed in many different places. One striking example is his poetic comment upon the words of the Qur'anic verse "We make no distinction between any of them (God's prophets) (2:136; and at 3:84). Under this verse as a heading come the following couplets:

If ten lamps are present in (one) place, each differs in form from the other: To distinguish without any doubt the light of each, when you turn your face toward their light, is impossible. In things spiritual there is on division and on numbers; in things spiritual there is no partition and on individuals.

The conception of essential or absolute religion, explicitly affirmed by Kashani and implicit in so much of Rumi's writing, is predicated on a clear vision of the sprit of faith which transcends all the forms that religious traditions assume. Before elaborating upon this vision with reference to particular Qur'anic verses, it is important to mention very briefly the Qur'anic encounter between Moses and the mysterious personage, not mentioned by name in the Quran, but identified by tradition with al-Khidr. Even in its literal aspect, the story alludes to the distinction between the form of religion and its transcendent essence, between exoteric and esoteric knowledge. In this encounter certain forms of the law and social convention are violated by al-Khidr, who is questioned and criticized as a result by Moses. After committing three acts that flour outward norms, al-Khidr tells Moses of the realities hidden beneath the surface of each of the situations in which the act take place, realities revealed to al-Khidr by direct, Divine inspiration.