Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
Muhammad is the only one among the prophets the account of whose life is to be found in history. Born of the family of Ishmael, Muhammad had in him the prophetic heritage, and before him the purpose to be fulfilled, which Abraham had prophesied in the Old Testament. The Prophet became an orphan in childhood, and knew what it was to be without the tender care of a mother and without the protection of a father. And this experience was the first preparation for the child who was born to sympathize with the pain of others. He showed a sense of responsibility even in his boyhood, when looking after his cows. A cowherd came and said, 'I will look after your herd, and you may go to the town and enjoy yourself. And then you must take charge of my cows, and I will go there for a time.' Young Muhammad said, 'No, I will take charge of your herd. You may go, but I will not leave my charge.' The same principle was shown all through his life.
Some say that once, others say twice, others say three times, a miracle happened: that the breast of the Prophet was cut open by the angels and that they took something away, and instantly his breast was healed. What was it? it was the poison, which is to be found in the sting of the scorpion and the teeth of the serpent; it is the same poison, which exists in the heart of man. All manner of prejudice, hatred, or bitterness in the form of envy and jealousy, are the minor expressions of this poison which is hidden in the heart of man. And when this poison is removed, then there remains the serpent with its beauty and wisdom, but without its poisonous teeth. And so it is with man. Man meets with hardships in life, sometimes too hard to stand for the moment, but often such experiences become like higher initiations in the life of the traveler on the path. The heart of man, which is the shrine of God, once purified of that poison, becomes the holy abode where God Himself resides.
As a youth Muhammad traveled with his uncle when he went to Syria on a business trip; and he learned the shortcomings of human nature, which have great scope in the world of business; he found out what profit means, what loss means, and what both mean in the end. It gave him a wider outlook on life, when he saw how eager people are to profit by the loss of others, and that human beings behave no better in this world than the large and small fishes in the water who prey upon one another.
When the time came to defend the country against a powerful enemy, young Muhammad stood shoulder to shoulder with the young men of his land to defend his people in the terrible strife. His sincerity in friendship and the honesty of all his dealings endeared him to all, both far and near, who called him by the name of Amin, which means trusty or trustworthy. His marriage with Khadija showed him a man of devotion, a man of affection; an honorable man as a husband, as a father, and as a citizen of the town he lived in.
Then came the time of contemplation, the time of fulfillment of that promise which his soul had brought into the world. There came moments when life seemed sad, in spite of all the beauty and comfort it could offer. He then sought refuge from that depression in solitude. Sometimes for hours, sometimes for days or weeks, sitting in the mountains of Ghar-i Hira, he tried to see if there was anything else to be seen, if there was anything else to be heard, or to be known. Patient as Muhammad was, he continued in the search after truth. At last he began to hear a word of inner guidance, 'Cry out the sacred name of thy Lord;' and as he began to follow this advice, he found an echo of the word which his heart repeated in the whole of nature. It seemed as if the wind repeated the same name, as if the sky, the earth, the moon, and the planets, all said the same name that he was saying. When once he was in tune with the infinite, realizing his soul to be one, within and without, the call came, 'Thou art the man. Go forward into the world and carry out our command. Glorify the name of God. Unite those who are separated. Awaken those who are asleep, and harmonize one with the other, for in this lies the happiness of man.'
Often Khadija found that Muhammad had covered himself with a mantle, so that he might not see himself, trembling at the sight of the responsibility that was thrown upon him. But she constantly told him, 'You are the man, a man so kind and true, so sincere and devoted, forgiving and serving. It is your task to perform this work; fear not, you are destined for it by the Almighty. Trust in His great power, and in the end success will be yours.'
When Muhammad gave his message, however, to his surprise not only his enemies but also his friends who were near and dear to the Prophet turned against him, and would not listen to the teaching of a new gospel. In spite of the insults, the harm and injury they caused him and those who listened to him, he still continued, although exiled from home three times; and proved in the end, as every real prophet must prove, that truth alone is the conqueror, and to truth belongs all victory.
THE GOD OF ISLAM
In every period there were people who held the idea of a formless God. This idea was called Islam, literally 'peace.' Sometimes it disappeared and then it reappeared during the time of the different prophets. It materialized fully during the time of Muhammad, when a nation was formed which became the custodian of a religion whose main spirit was this idea. And this religion was called by the same name: Islam. Proof of this fact can be found in the name of the holy city Dar-i Salam, that is the Gate of Salam, or Islam, which is known in the West as Jerusalem. Thus this name existed long before the coming of Muhammad, but in the period of the Prophet Muhammad's message especially, great stress was put upon the idea of a formless God.
It is difficult for man to make God intelligible without giving Him a form. And yet a step higher in God-realization is to make Him intelligible beyond the limit of form. Therefore, in Islam God was made intelligible by His attributes. He was conceived of as the Creator, as Father, as Mother, as Sustainer, as Judge, as Forgiver, as the source and the Goal of this whole manifestation, as the One who is always with His creatures, within them, and outside them, who notices all their feelings, thoughts, and actions, who draws the line of man's fate, before whom man must appear to give his account – this is the God of Islam.
Islam believed in only one God, who has many attributes but is yet beyond any attributes; invisible and beyond the comprehension of man, almighty, incomparable, no one save He having any power beside Him, the Knower of all things and pure from all impurities, free from all things and yet never far from them, all abiding in Him and He living in all. The whole essential teaching of Islam, which is called Kalamat, tends to explain clearly the oneness of God. And yet the attributes are suggested, not in order to explain God, but with a view to making God intelligible to the human mind.
These attributes form what is called Sifat, the external part of God, which is intelligible to man. But that part of the divine Being which is hidden under attributes and which cannot be intelligible to the human mind is called Zat, which means the real Being. The whole tendency of Islam has been to disentangle man's heart from such thoughts as limit and divide God, and to clear man's heart from duality which is the nature of this illusory world, bringing him to that at-one-ment with God which has been the real aim and intention of every religion.
FORMS OF ISLAMIC WORSHIP
Islamic worship shows an improvement upon the older forms of worship in human evolution, for Islam prefers nature to art and sees in nature the immanence of God.
The call of the Muezzin to prayer before sunrise, and his call when the sun is at its zenith, his call at sunset, the prayers in the afternoon, in the early evening and at midnight, all suggest to the seer that, while worshipping God, a revelation was sought from Him through the tongue of nature. It is said in the Quran, 'Cry aloud the name of the Lord, the most beneficent, who hath by His nature's skillful pen taught man what he knew not,' which means: who has written this world like a manuscript with the pen of nature.
If one desires to read the Holy Book, one should read it in nature. There are several surahs, which support this thought. As is said in the Quran, 'By the night when it covers, by the day when it brightens, by what created the male and female, verily your aims are diverse.' We read in the manuscript of nature that diversity is natural; the very covering and brightening of the light in nature and the difference between male and female, show that our aim should be diverse.
The laws of cleanliness are strictly observed in Islam. And no one is to offer prayer without an ablution, which is taught as a preparatory part of his worship.
The worship of Islam contains a universal code of humility: that the customs existing in all parts of the world of bowing and bending and prostrating are all devoted to the one Being, who alone deserves it, and no one else. There is beauty in these customs. Man is the most egoistic being in creation. He keeps himself veiled from God, the perfect Self within, by the veil of his imperfect self, which has formed his false ego. But by the extreme humility with which he stands before God and bows and bends and prostrates himself before the almighty Being, he makes the highest point of his presumed being, the head, touch the earth where his feet are, and thus in time he washes off the black stains of his false ego, and the light of perfection gradually manifests. Only then does he stand face to face with his God, the idealized Deity, and when the ego is absolutely crushed, then God remains within and without, in both planes, and none exists save He.
THE DUTIES OF THE FAITHFUL IN ISLAM
There are four duties of the faithful taught in Islam. The number four mystically signifies squareness and balance.
The first is Salat, the prayers which are said five times a day; the continual balance between work and rest, and rest especially in God, in whom is the only rest of every soul. Life in the world is such that it absorbs every moment of man's time, and the innate yearning for peace of every soul is never satisfied. Therefore, to pray five times a day is not too much, considering how far life in the world removes a soul from God. To my mind, if it were a hundred times as day, it would be too little.
The second is Zakat, charity. However pious and godly a person may be, however much time of his life he devotes to piety, he cannot deserve the blessing of God unless he is charitable, for charity is the only test of selflessness. All love and friendship are proved by service and sacrifice, and to the extent one is able to do this, one is selfless. And the self-being the only barrier that stands between man and God, charity is the only means to break down that barrier, in order that man may come face to face with God.
Once someone asked the Prophet, 'Who is the most blessed, the prayerful, the one who fasts, the pilgrim, or the charitable one?' The Prophet answered, 'The charitable one, for he can pray and build a mosque for others to pray in; he can fast and help those who fast by giving them rest and peace, by providing for the families that depend on them for maintenance. He can go on pilgrimages and send many on pilgrimage. Therefore, all these four blessings are included in the charitable one.'
The third duty is Roza, fasting. Man is so dependent on food that even in his infancy, when he is an angel, a king in himself, he hungers after food. This shows that what man needs most in life is food. He will give his diamonds and gold and all his treasure when there is lack of bread. Therefore, abstaining from food is like abstaining from the dearest thing in life, and sacrificing all comfort, joy, rest, and happiness. As renunciation of lower things is the only means of attaining higher objects, there can be no better means to attain spiritual life than fasting. Fasting crushes not only the appetite, but also the root of all desire that binds the soul, which is the bird of paradise, to the earth's lower regions. Jesus Christ went into the desert and fasted for forty days, and at the end of his fast, he conquered the temptations of the devil.
The fourth duty of the faithful is Hajj, or pilgrimage. It is said in the Quran that Abraham, the father of the nations and the fountain from which such streams as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad came, had offered a prayer when leaving his son Ishmael in the barren desert of Arabia. His heart was broken, and there came forth from it a prayer, 'O Lord, bless this land, that it may become a center of attraction to the whole world.' And so it happened in the course of time that the Word of God was born again among the descendants of Ishmael, Muhammad who glorified the name of the Lord of Abraham aloud. This was heard from the depths of the earth to the summit of heaven, and re-echoed from the North to the South Pole. It shook the nations and stirred up races, and so pierced the hearts of men that this desert which bore no fruit, no treasure of any kind, which had no beauty of scenery, no charm of climate, became the center of attraction for numberless souls; and they came from all parts of the world and assembled in that land of bliss, king and pauper standing shoulder to shoulder, both recognizing the equality of men in the Presence of God. The strong and the weak, rich and poor, high and low, civilized and uncivilized, all come year by year on pilgrimage to Mecca in this land. They all are clad in one piece of cloth, that all may look alike to show before God and humanity the equality of the human brotherhood. This is Hajj.
THE FOUR GRADES OF KNOWLEDGE IN ISLAM
In Islam there is no caste, as the message was meant to unite humanity in one brotherhood, and yet it was found necessary to train individuals according to their evolution in life. A training was given in four grades, namely Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat, and Marifat.
Since the world of Islam became engaged in national and social affairs, the religious authorities held on to Shariat only, and a few pious ones to Tariqat. It was the latter who sought the door of the Sufi, wanting an initiation into the Inner Light, which was contained, in the two remaining grades, Haqiqat and Marifat.
Two immediate disciples of the Prophet, Ali and Siddiq were initiated by the Prophet, and they became the great masters of the inner teachings of the knowledge of God. The Sufis who lived at the same time as the Prophet were benefited by his presence and the inspiration they gained in Sufism, which is soon reached through the path of Shariat, Tariqat, Haqiqat, and Marifat.
Shariat means the law which is necessary for the generality to observe, in order to harmonize with one's surroundings and one's self within. Although the religious authorities of Islam have limited this law to restrictions, yet in a thousand places in the Quran and Hadith one can trace how the law of Shariat is meant to be subject to change, in order to suit the time and place. The law of Shariat, unlike any other religious law, deals with all aspects of life, and that is why the Prophet of Islam had personally to experience all aspects of life. The Prophet as an orphan, as a warrior, as a politician, as a merchant, as a shepherd, as a king, as a husband, as a father, as a brother, as a son and a grandson, had to play different parts in various aspects of life in the world before he was ready to give this divine law.
Tariqat means the understanding of law besides the following of it. It means that we must understand the cause behind everything we should do or not do, instead of obeying the law without understanding it. Those who are less evolved are supposed to have faith and to submit to the law. The law is for those whose intelligence does not accept things that cannot be explained by reason.
Haqiqat means knowing the truth of our being and the inner laws of nature. This knowledge widens man's heart. When he has realized the truth of being, he has realized the one Being; then he is different from nobody, distant from no one, one with all. This is the grade in which religion ends and Sufism begins.
Marifat means the actual realization of God, the one Being, when there is no doubt anywhere.
When these four grades are accomplished, then Sufism comes into full play. Sufi comes from Saf meaning pure; not only pure from differences and distinctions, but even pure from all that is learnt or known: that is the state of God, the pure and perfect One.
THE IDEA OF HALAL AND HARAM IN ISLAM
In Judaism there were very definite ideas about eating and drinking and about certain things being allowed and others forbidden. And the same ideas were perhaps developed even more in Islam. Those who have followed them have obeyed the law of religion, and those who have understood them have found the truth. Of edible things, in particular the flesh of certain beasts and birds and of certain creatures living in the water was forbidden. The only reason underlying this law was to protect man against eating anything that might hinder his spiritual evolution. In Islamic terms that which is lawful is called Halal, and that which is unlawful Haram.
As everything that man eats and drinks has its cold or warm effect on man's body, and to a certain extent on man's mind, so, especially with animal food, it is natural that man should partake of the quality of the animal he eats. The pig was particularly pointed out, both by Judaism and Islam, as a forbidden animal. Chief among the many reasons was that if one compares the life of the pig with that of other animals it proves to be the most material, regardless of what it eats, blind in passion and without the faculty of love and affection. Also the dog, the cat, in fact all carnivorous animals, were considered from the hygienic point of view Haram, unwholesome, and the people who have used their flesh as food have realized that its effect upon their bodies and minds was harmful.
Then there was a law among Islamic and Judaic people that the animal, which was used for food, should be killed in a certain way which is called Zabh. People believed in this as a religious tenet; they did not understand the truth behind it, and refused to eat meat coming from people not of their religion. The reason for this law was that people should not eat animals or birds, which had died a natural death, on the assumption that their flesh was as wholesome as that of freshly, killed animals. And behind it there is a philosophy: that it is not only flesh that benefits man as a desirable food, but that the life that still exists in the flesh is the secret of the vigor and freshness that flesh food gives to man; to eat it when the life is gone out of it is not the same. It is flesh, and yet there is no life in it. That is why it was made a religious custom, so that if the people did not understand its scientific and philosophical basis, at least they might follow it because it was their religion.
Then intoxicating drinks were made Haram, especially during the time of the Prophet, who, it is related accepted milk from an angel who had brought him two bowls, one of wine and the other of milk. Milk was considered, as it was by the Vedantists, as a Sattva food, a food that gives rest, comfort and wisdom, whereas wine was considered as a Tamas food, which gives momentary joy, pleasure, confusion, excitement, and happiness. It has been clear to all peoples in all ages, that the drinking of wine could have very bad results, which explains why it was forbidden. But added to this it is a philosophical fact that everything made of decayed substance, whether flesh, herb, or fruit, has lost the life that was in it. And the idea is to touch life in eating, in drinking, and in everything that is done, until one is able to touch the life eternal, which alone is the innate yearning of the soul.
Namaz, or prayer is an inherent attribute in every soul. Whatever and whoever appears to man to be beautiful, superior, or precious, wins him; and he surrenders himself, conscious of his imperfection and dependence upon the object or being that has conquered him. This is why so many objects, such as the sun, moon, planets, animals, birds, spirits, and men, have been worshipped by different individuals, according to their evolution and to what appealed to them. But the inspired souls have realized from the first day of creation that all the objects and beings which caused the admirer to bow before them, are only many in appearance, but in existence they are one. Therefore, the One is idealized as the Supreme Being, as the Sovereign of both worlds, as God. While all appeared to worship many, they only worshipped the One, and they have always taught, in whatever religious form it may have been, the same truth, bowing to that One who alone deserves all worship.
As there have been so many kinds of people in the world, and so many customs and manners, so one bowed differently from another. In one country people bowed down, in another country they folded their hands; in one country people knelt, in another they prostrated themselves. The Namaz, therefore, was a form adopted to reconcile all, and to combine all customs in one form of worship, that the people might not fight over the forms of worship when in reality they all worshiped One and the same God.
In order that any object or affair should be fulfilled, its highest point should first touch the utmost depth. The soul which has descended on earth from its existence in the heavens, and which has temporarily supposed itself to be this material body, rises again to its former glory through laying the highest part of itself upon the ground. Also, the mechanism of the body is kept in order by the regular action of the breath through every part of the body. And by the regular circulation of the blood in all parts of the body; this can only be properly done by placing the highest part of the body, the head, on the ground.
The world of living beings consists of egos, one Ego assuming
several forms and becoming several egos. Among this variety
of egos everyone claims perfection, for this is the nature of
the real ego within. Upon examination this ego proves to be
imperfect, for it is the imperfect division of the perfect ego.
It is not perfect, yet it claims perfection in its ignorance,
and longs for perfection when wise. The imperfect ego can only
attain this perfection by practicing worship and by his life
in the world, in which he may show such humility, meekness,
and gentleness that this false presumption which has formed
the imperfect ego may be crushed. What then remains will be
the perfect ego. Namaz is the first lesson for this attainment.