No Monasticism in Islam: By Sh. Naeem Abdul Wali

Discussion in 'Tasawwuf / Adab / Akhlaq' started by Believer_of_the_unseen, Sep 24, 2009.

Draft saved Draft deleted
  1. “No Monasticism in Islam”…

    is a popular statement we quote to delineate that in Islam there is no withdrawal from the world. There is no unnaturalness and synthetic in Islam but only the organic and primordial. True, in the Christian and Buddhist expressions, indeed this may be so, but what this statement does mean is that contemplatives (dhakirun/dhakirat) must not withdraw from the world, but that the world must be withdrawn from them, the intrinsic idea of asceticism and meditative contemplation upon Allah is in no way affected.

    Allah the Exalted says:

    O my people, indeed this life, the lower world, is a temporary delight, the life to come; it is the abode of perpetual abiding.

    Allah the exalted used in this verse a derivative of the verb mataa’ which has the lexical meaning of ‘to carry away, to take away’, while also having the meaning of ‘to make joyful, to give joy’. So there is the combined meaning implied in the usage of this word of a joy given temporarily, one that is to be withdrawn eventually.
    The Messenger of Allah (alayhis salam) was asked how one could gain the love of Allah and simultaneously the love of people. He answered:

    Be abstinent in the world, and Allah will love you. Abstain from what is in the people’s hands and they will love you. [Ibn Majah]

    Allah the Exalted in speaking of the peoples of previous dispensations says:

    You shall find the closest to you in love/kindness shown to the believers those who say we are Christians, for among them are priests and monastists, and they are not arrogant. [5:86]

    As for the verses which dispraise monastists, scholars such as Suyuti say it is due to their celibacy primarily, not due to their being contemplative nor due to the service orientation their orders dedicate themselves.
    If monasticism is defined as ‘withdrawal for God’, then indeed it exists in the Islamic tradition, yet in a form that may be described as ‘monasterial-society’. For the traditional monastic orders are based upon: Firstly, contemplation of the Divine, for the monk aspires to preserve a solitude wherein the divine is not forgotten but constantly remembered. The Quran enjoins upon the believers constant reflection and contemplation of the Divine by His statement:

    Those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and reclining upon their sides; and reflect upon the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying),’Our Lord, You have not created this in vain, exalted are You, guard us from the fire’! [3:191]

    When the Messenger of Allah (alayhis salam) was asked about a deed one could do when it seemed that the demands of the Sacred Law were overwhelming, he said:

    Let your tongue be constantly moistened by the remembrance of Allah. [Tirmadhi, Ibn Maja]

    Secondly, most orders have an embodiment of an ideal by which they base their outward practices: their daily prayers, litanies, vigils, etc. For the believers it is the Messenger of Allah (alayhis salam) . There is no need to cite relevant Quranic verses which substantiate this. The Messenger of Allah (alayhis salam) said:

    Allah is pure and only accepts that which is pure, indeed Allah the Exalted has commanded the believers that to which He has commanded the Messengers. [Muslim]

    He said: The one who abandons my way, is not from me.

    Herein he was speaking specifically of celibacy and extreme excessiveness in the practice of austerities. He described himself as:

    What am I and what is the world, indeed the similitude of myself and that of the world is as a rider who takes rest in the shade of a tree then continues his journey leaving it behind. [Tirmadhi, Ahmad: Hasan Sahih]

    Here clearly showing his reality of being dis-attached from the world that would imply any permanence in it. For he advised his companions, such as Salman al-Farsi and Abdullah ibn Umar when he said to them:

    Be in the world as if you are a foreigner, or a sojourner.

    Man was created alone and he dies alone; the Islamic aspiration is to preserve this solitude in its metaphysically irreplaceable aspects. It aims to restore to man his primordial solitude before God, or said differently, it wants to bring man back to his spiritual integrity and to his totality. Islam is in a sense an organized eremitism.

    In the temporal dimension that stretches ahead of us there are only three certitudes: that of death, that of judgment, and that of everlasting life or death i.e., the life of the Garden or the ‘death’ that is the separation from the divine grace found in the Fire. We have no power over the past, except in seeking Allah’s forgiveness for errors committed and His divine acceptance of good attained, and we do not know the future. As far as the future is concerned we have but these three certitudes, yet, be we possess a fourth in this very moment, and that fourth is all: it is that of our actuality, of our present liberty to choose Allah and thus to choose our whole destiny. In this instant, this present, we hold our whole life, our whole existence. All is good if this instant is good if we know how to fix our life in this hallowed instant; for the secret of spiritual faithfulness lies in dwelling in this instant, in renewing it and perpetuating it by comprehensive dhikr, in holding on to it be means of spiritual rhythm, in enclosing wholly within it the time that floods over us and threatens to drag us far away from this “divine moment”. It is as the words of Hasan Basri:

    O son of Adam, you are but a number of days and when a day is gone part of you is gone.

    This condensation of the existential dimensions—insofar as they are indefinite and arbitrary—into a hallowed unity is at the same time the very thing that constitutes the essence of man; the rest is contingency and accident. This a truth that concerns every human being; the believer too is not a being apart, but simply a prototype or a model, or a spiritual specification, a landmark: every man, because he is a man, should realize in one way or another this victory over a world that disperses and over life that enslaves. Too many people think that they have not time to meditate on Allah, to worship Him sincerely, to draw near to Him, but this is an illusion due to indifference (ghafla) which is the worst sickness of the soul. The many moments we fill with our habitual dreams, including our all too often useless reflections, are moments we take away from Allah and ultimately from ourselves.

    The great mission before us as believers is to show to the world that contentment does not lie somewhere far away in a treasure to be sought or in a world to be built, but here where we belong to Allah. The believer represents, in the face of a dehumanized world, what our true standards are; the believers mission is to remind men and women what it means to be human.


Share This Page