The Most Beloved Religion:Primordial and Generous Faith

“The Messenger of God was asked, ‘Which among the religions is the most beloved to God?’ He replied, ‘Primordial and Generous Faith’ (al-hanifiya al-samha).” (Quoted by Ahmad b Hanbal. Authenticated hadith, found in al-Bukhari)

When asked “which among the religions (al-adyan) is most beloved to God” (ahabbu ila-Allah), it is quite significant to note that God’s Beloved Messenger (saw) did not respond to his companion (ra) with the name of any known religion, or even specify in this narration “the final religion revealed through your Messenger”. Instead, the Prophet (saw) responded with a descriptive term which is more of a quality found in genuine faith and in genuine religion. This compound term, includes the words primordiality (al-hanifiyya) and generosity (al-samha), which put together, can be understood to mean “primordial and generous faith”.

It will be noticed by the observant Muslim that these qualities can be seen to make up the very essence of the Messenger of God (saw), also named by God as “The Beloved of God” and a “Mercy to all worlds”. Indeed for Muslims, the Prophet’s very nature and character brought “primordial and generous faith” to its full fruition: “And I was only sent to perfect character”. If we do not embody such Prophetic qualities, then it is possible we are not attracting God’s love as we should, because we are not following more fully the Prophetic model: “Say, If you love God, follow me, and God will love you and forgive you your sins”(3:31). Such a Prophetic definition of “the most beloved religion”, rooted in the Prophetic model of belief and praxis, can have profound consequences for how we view ourselves and our own religion, as well as how we view and interact with others, both intra-religiously as well as inter-religiously in our modern and multi-religious context.

Although this hadith does not exclude the possibility that this “most beloved religion” is Islam as the final religion (as Muslims would believe this to be), the wisdom contained in this hadith points to a more subtle truth than simply acknowledging which extrinsic religious form is most acceptable to God. Rather the Prophet is reminding us to bring our attention to that specific quality which can be said to qualify any given expression of religion and religious devotion, “amongst all the religions” as stated in this hadith, which attracts God’s Love. This spiritual quality is what the Messenger (saw) aptly termed “primordial and generous faith”. Such Prophetically defined faith can be understood to allude to a more universal dimension of religious truth and spiritual awareness. Such faith is more aligned with the “religion of the heart” than with the “theology of the mind”. In other words, primordial and generous faith points more to a spiritual quality of the heart and inner disposition of the soul of a devout (hanifi) person, then mere knowledge or certitude pertaining to the mind of an individual. In this light, such “hanifi” (primordially devout) wisdom as expressed through this Prophetic tradition has implications as to how Muslims should devout themselves to God in order to attract His Love (swt): that is, through awakening within themselves a more sincere and wholesome expression of their innate form of faith in God’s Oneness. The “samha” (generous) aspect of this wisdom implies a generous comportment with “others” (whether others in religion, or others in humanity) through expressing a forbearing attitude of good faith towards them, rooted in the ontological Oneness of God and the spiritual oneness of humanity. For the root of all “Islamic ontology” goes back to “Rahmah” (Mercy) as this is the primary “Quality” of the Divine Nature.  This Rahmah is the very ground of all existence, including the substance of all humanity and all revealed religion.

Such recognition of primordial generous faith quite naturally manifests in an acknowledgment of the inherent possibility of “primordial and generous faith” in the other. This would be “the most beloved way” to view and approach our co-religionists who differ with us, as well as with those in humanity who believe in and practice other religions, or are of different ethnicities. This is certainly possible, if not mandated, upon recognition and thereby adherence to a sense of good faith, generosity and nobility (samha), despite real religious difference and diverse ethnic expressions of religious culture in the other. For as the Qur’an states:

“O mankind! Truly We created you from a male and a female, and We made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another (li ta’arafu). Surely the most noble among you before God are the most reverent of you (atqakum). Truly God is Knowing, Aware.” (49:13, Study Quran).

If the “most beloved religion” is rooted in a recognition of the degree of reverence that an individual has for their Creator, then it becomes easier to transcend religious, ethnic and social boundaries and embrace with empathy any “other”, while maintaining one’s roots in one’s own religion. This writer has observed first hand in his own life and professional career, how many a Muslim and non-Muslim who have differed with us either theologically or in praxis, have had superior qualities of character. Surely, this can easily be related to their ability and grace to attract “Divine Love” by living that “primordial and generous faith” through a reverence to God expressed through a sincere adherence to their own religion.

To the possible objections founded upon a more exclusive understanding of religion and truth, the following question should be asked: Does God’s Love not reach sincere devotees of other religions? This question can be answered in many different ways, all quite legitimately from various Islamic points of view and levels of religious reference. Yet a profound key lies in the above understanding of primordial and generous faith: if such faith is a quality of the heart, then each and every human being regardless of outward religious confession,  has potential access to this primordial faith by virtue of having a heart and inner connection with God. For as we are reminded in another hadith, “God does not look at your bodies or your forms, He looks at your hearts”. By extension, what is “most beloved to God” is not necessarily the extrinsic form or outer body of a given religious practice (however important), but the inner state or heart of the devotee. This “inner heart” is universal and even transcends outer conformity to religious forms. For this reason, this “inner religion” or “religion of the heart”, can be identified with “primordial and generous faith”.

So how can “primordial and generous faith” be the “birthright” of all of humanity, regardless of religious orientation? Both an intuitive knowledge (ilm) of the pure Oneness of Divine Reality as well as a genuine and compassionate forbearance (hilm) towards others can be viewed as an innate quality flowing from a healthy human soul of sound disposition (fitra). This fitra, or innate sense of the sacred, is precisely what is termed “the most beloved among the religions to God” by the Beloved of God (saw), since it is “primordial” (hanifi).  In the Qur’anic worldview, such devout faith in and knowledge of God through “witnessing” is acknowledged as the very substance of our original human nature, an original nature related to our spirit even before it entered our human bodies in a pre-temporal (or primordial) moment of our humanity’s existence. The Qur’an renders it thus:

“And when thy Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their progeny and made them bear witness concerning themselves, ‘Am I not your Lord?’, they said, ‘Yea, we bear witness’…” (7:172, Study Quran)

This verse can be seen to be the essential cornerstone of Islam’s ‘spiritual anthropology’ as it concerns the nature and destiny of human beings, as well as the sacred history of the underlying substance of all revealed religions. For Islam, the essential relationship between God and humanity is premised upon this “unmediated recognition” of God’s Oneness (Tawhid) we bear witness to, through His Lordship over humanity at the moment of primordial creation. In other words, the innate recognition of God’s Oneness is viewed to be the the very essence of being human, even if it lies hidden within our nature or obscured through religious teaching, for various reasons. Notably,  Divine Unity (Tawhid) is also believed to be the essential Truth and teaching of all revealed religion, regardless of the diverse forms or “languages of expression” it has taken. Being imprinted or embedded in the fabric of human nature, such primordial knowledge of God’s Oneness makes us duty bound to uphold this “self-evident truth” when we devote ourselves to God. It naturally compels us all to practice this “inalienable right” in the form of love, compassion and generosity (qualities rooted in the essential substance of the Divine Nature) towards all human beings who by definition share in this same spiritual heritage by simply being human. It is ultimately this underlying primordial nature which may be called “the primordial and generous faith” which the Messenger of God (saw) referred to. It is also this recognition as the underlying substance of all true religion that we strive to realize through the form of revealed religion we find ourselves in or have been guided towards. To sincerely devout ourselves to God alone and by ‘natural’ consequence emanate generosity of soul,  this can only attract the Love of God and make our spiritual orientation and religious expression “the most beloved religion” to the Divine Beloved (swt).

So beyond all the real differences between Islam and other religions, let us strive to recognize how all genuine religion finds its “validity” through being “beloved to God” to the extent that faith and religious practice awakens the awareness of humanity’s original or primordial (hanifi) religion of “Am I not your Lord?”! If we are able to succeed in this endeavor, then we will not be too quick to find “everything right” with ourselves or our own religion, and “everything wrong” with others and their religions–even with those within our own religion who disagree or differ with us. This recognition should immediately engender a sense of humility and sacred awe towards God who is the Origin (Alpha) and End (Omega) of All Truth.  Likewise, we should strive to recognize that all genuine acts of devotion (from religious worship to practicing virtues) are “loved by God” to the extent that they express and realize sincere devoutness (haniffiya) and radiate generosity (samha) towards others. Then accordingly, we will look at others through God’s unconditional love and compassion, engendering generosity, forbearance, and tolerance in the context of religious difference. If we are able to achieve this, we may then live “primordial and generous faith” whose fullest embodiment for Muslims is God’s Beloved Messenger (saw), who was a “mercy to all worlds” even other religious worlds. Such mercy to other religions was manifested in how God’s Beloved (saw) chose to respond in this hadith, to this very question.

And God Knows and Loves Best.

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Suggestions for Further Reading:

  1. Spiritual Teachings of the Prophet: Hadith and Commentaries by Saints and Sages of Islam by Tayeb Chourief, Translated by Edin Q. Lohja–One of the best Hadith commentaries emphasizing the more spiritual sayings of the Prophet (saw) with excerpts of profound Sufi and Philosophical commentaries on the subjects.
  2. The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam, by Dr. Reza Shah-Kazemi
  3. The Study Quran: See the commentaries following this above referenced verse 30:30, as well as 2:135; 3:67,95; 4:125; 6:79, 161; and 16:120, 123, regarding the “religion of the hanif” (primordial monotheist), which is often identified with “the way (millah) of Abraham”.
  4. “Generous Tolerance in Islam”, by Hamza Yusuf, in “Seasons: Semiannual Journal of Zaytuna Institute, 2 (2005), which provides a profound and much needed traditional perspective on the term “al-hanafiyya as-samha”. The etymological references to these Arabic words are discussed as well.
  5. It is this same essential “primordial and generous faith”, and even the same essential question which sparked this most beautiful Prophetic answer, that is mirrored quite exactly in the meaning of the following Biblical Passage conveying the first two commandments in Matthew of the New Testament; the first commandment expressing the spirit of “al-hanifiya” (primordiality) and the second commandment speaking to the spirit of “al-samha” (generosity of spirit):

    “Master, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love your Lord your God with all thy heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love thine neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

     

 

 

 

 

Revisiting “Which Religion is Most Beloved to God?”

 

Narrated by the Companion Ibn ‘Abbas:

“The Messenger of God was asked, ‘Which religion is the most beloved to God?’ He replied, ‘Primordial and Generous Faith. (al-hanifiyya al-samha)’” (Quoted by Ahmad b Hanbal. Authenticated hadith, found in al-Bukhari)

 

The fact that God’s Beloved Messenger (saw), did not respond by claiming that “Islam” in the form of the final revelation was “the most beloved to God” or ‘the most superior religion’, and answered instead with a spiritual quality or innate orientation (al-hanafiyya al-samha) is quite profound in and of itself.  Although this hadith does not exclude the possibility that this “most beloved religion” is Islam as the final religion, we must bear in mind there is an inexhaustible teaching regarding the subtle nature of “the most beloved religion” contained in the Prophet’s words.  The wisdom contained in this Prophetic tradition (Hadith) has personal implications regarding how Muslims should devout themselves to God (primordial faith) and  their comportment with others (generous faith). This Hadith also has Intra-Faith and Inter-Faith implications regarding how we view  “Others”  who do not belong to our religious denomination or the overall religion in general, especially in light of being “generous in faith” towards others through upholding the possibility of the spiritual sincerity in the Other, and a genuine devotion to the One and Only God as the Lord of Mankind, recognizing the inherent nature of primordial faith embedded in the heart and spirit of all humanity and all revealed religion.

We hope that expounding upon certain teachings contained in this Hadith shed light upon how any view of the religious other should be rooted in a humility and good opinion (a generous faith) towards them, which leaves open the possibility that these “others” could be practitioners of “the most beloved religion” in God’s Eyes, due to their sincere intentions and the quality of their inner devotion to God. For any “other” may be “more beloved” in God’s view than ourselves, especially if they inwardly realize and outwardly manifest “primordial and generous faith” regardless of religious orientation. Such wisdom humbles the believer in God and seeker of truth, and prevents anyone from arrogating “the best religion” only to themselves or how they understand it to be, and in which manner they practice it. For the Beloved Messenger of God (saw) the “most beloved religion” is more a recognition of  spiritual qualities than a mere adherence to a particular extrinsic religious dogma or teaching, according to this Hadith.

Let us try to further distill the wisdom contained in this Hadith with what is implicit in the Prophetic narration and then move to what is explicit in the same response.

Implicit in the question asked in this Hadith is both the awareness of religious multiplicity as well as religious unity. Religious multiplicity: that there is a recognition by the companion (ra) that there is more than one religion revealed by God, and that beyond the formal diversity and human vicissitudes of revealed religions, there may be a religion “most loved by God”–hence the question. Implicit in the response given in this Hadith is an awareness of an inner quality of all revealed religion which in a sense transcends religious forms and even determines ‘when’ and ‘if’ a given ‘religion’ or ‘religious adherent’ is most beloved to God. This can be understood as the unifying principle of all true Religion and its expressions. In other words, regarding Religious unity: there is in essence only ‘one religion’ (al-Din) which manifests itself in time and space in diverse forms through the Prophetic founders of a given religion. The more this very essence or heart is realized or manifested by a given religion or follower of a religion, the more beloved that revealed religion or religious follower and his spiritual practice is to God, here and now, irrespective of which revealed religion may be more “approved” or “acceptable” to God. One witnesses such wisdom pertaining to both religious diversity and religious unity in many places in the Quran and Hadith, but the following should suffice:

“Every Religion has a special quality and the particular quality of Islam is modesty”–Hadith/Saying of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).

“Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us, and that which is revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was given unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have submitted. (3:84)

“Truly We have revealed unto you as We have revealed to Noah and the prophets after him, as We revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as We bestowed upon David the Psalms; and Messengers We have mentioned to you before and Messengers We have not mentioned to you–and God spoke directly to Moses–Messengers giving good tidings and warnings, so that mankind might have no argument against God after the Messengers. God is ever Mighty, Wise .” (4:163-165)

“…For each We have appointed a Law and a Way. And had God willed, He could have made you one community. But in order that He might try you by that which He has given you [He has made you as you are]. So compete with one another in good works. Unto God you will all return. He will disclose to you [the truth] about that in which you all differed.” (5:48)

From this inclusive point of view, “islam” as “submission (or peaceful surrender) to God” encompasses all revelations and revealed religions. And since “islam” is the principle and essence of all revealed religions, than to the extent that a given religion manifests “islam”–that is “submission to God “and “peaceful surrender to God”–it is to that extent that it is “most beloved” to God. In other words, since all authentic religions originate with God through Revelation and Prophecy, it is significant to note that what is being considered here as the answer by the Beloved Messenger is recognizing ‘how’ or ‘why’ a given religion or religious follower is ‘most beloved’ to God, and not ‘which’ form of of revealed religion per se, is more superior by point of fact. Again, this can be appreciated by looking directly at the Prophet’s response to his companion which does not relate the name of any revealed religion-even his own–yet relates a general quality or spiritual orientation which can be seen to be the essence and heart of all true authentic religion and religious following: ‘al-hanafiyya as-samha’, that is ‘primordial and generous faith’. This kind of faith can be seen to be embedded in the very substance of the human spirit or spiritual heart, and found at the heart or core of each revealed religion.

Such reflections direct us naturally to recognizing that “islam” as “universal submission” is first and foremost a primordial state of being, an inner, spiritual orientation: an innate disposition (fitra) of creation before one’s Lord who is The Originator (al-Fatir), even before ‘islam’ can be viewed as a revealed form of guidance given to all Prophets in general or the final religion in particular. We find this kind of “islam”, that is a mode of being in perfect harmony, peace and submission with the Divine Intention and Purpose for creation in the following verses:

“…And there is not a thing [in creation] that does not sing His Praise (17:44)

“Seek they other than the religion of God (Din Allah), when unto Him submits [in islam] whomsoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly? (3:83)

It is this level or reality of “islam” which may be identified with “universal submission” or “universal peace”, found only through the awareness of one’s most intimate connection with one’s creator: a connection which precedes all revealed manifestations of “Islam” through the Prophets and their revealed religions. Certainly the Quran in 3:85 which follows this more inclusive and universal verse mentioned above, which reads, “Whoever seeks a religion other than al-Islam (submission to God) it shall not be accepted of him..”, may be read to specify the general or generic “islam” in this verse and restrict its meaning or scope to understand “Islam” as the final religion. As legitimate and normative of a reading as this is, it nonetheless stands that the literal sense of the term “al-islam” need not be restricted to this definition alone, as its more encompassing definition does not violate or contradict both the literal sense of the Arabic wording and its meanings found in a multitude of verses. This more encompassing understanding of the term “al-islam”  would resonate with the overall thrust and message contained in the verses immediately preceding this verse, and speaks more directly to the “inclusive” nature of ‘islam’ as the substance through which “primordial and generous faith” flows quite naturally as “the most beloved religion” as found in the human heart and the heart of all revealed religion.

For these reasons, it is this kind of ‘islam’ (universal submission) which can be seen to be that “religion” which is “most beloved” to God, or the “religion of the primordial monotheist” (din al hanif) who purifies his connection to God in his heart, and sincerely devotes his whole self to the Divine through religion (what the Qur’an refers to as ‘mukhlisina lahud-din’in various places). This Qur’anic term “mukhlis” (purifier/effacer) is often affiliated with the Prophet Abraham, along with the “religion of the original/primordial nature” (din al-fitrah) which is the true “Origin” and true “Goal” of all revealed religion and Prophetic Tradition:

“So set thy purpose for Religion with unswerving devotion (din al hanifi)–in accordance with the original nature which God fashioned (fitra-t-Allah); for there is no altering God’s creation (la tabdillah khalqilla): and that truly is the right religion (dalika din al-qayyima), but most men know not.” (30:30)

To return to our Prophetic statement in light of the above, that which the Prophet of Islam (saw) identifies as “the most beloved religion to God” is also what the Qu’ran refers to as “the right religion” since it is described as the religion through which one “sets one’s face (wajh) with unswerving devotion”. It is this very religion, or spiritual orientation innately within us and within our revealed traditions, that in its essence is immutable, incorruptible, ‘un-abrogated’ and unalterable (la tabdila khalqillah, according to the above verse), because it is identified with our very inner spiritual heart. It is also, this “religion” or “religious essence” beyond all forms of revealed religion or personal devotion which can be said to be the true criterion of sincerity and the true substance of “the most beloved” or “better religion” known only to God. We find this wisdom in the following verse:

“Who is better in religion than one who submits (aslama) his whole self/face (wajh) to God, and who is beautifully virtuous, and follows the creed/way of Abraham the devout in Faith (hanif); for God took Abraham as an Intimate Friend (khalil)”. (4:125)

It will again be noted that in this verse we find very specific descriptors of the practitioners of this “better/more beloved religion”: that the ‘person’ who is better in religion is the one who has devoted his whole being or inner face (wajh) entirely to God–such spiritual intimacy resulting in a beautifully virtuous character (wa huwa muhsin). It is in this way that such an individual “follows” the way of Abraham (millati Ibrahim), who is described as purely devout in Faith/Worship (Hanifan) and thereby an Intimate of God (khalil). This “way of Abraham” is immediately appreciated to be more an inward disposition and spiritual station (maqam),  rooted in what could be called the ‘spiritual archetype’ of purity and sincerity (ikhlas) modeled after the Prophet Abraham’s (as) own personal intimacy with God. In this light it can be appreciated that such a way is “uniquely” expressed for each individual worshiper through their unique inner face (wajh) which “turns” or “faces” God uniquely–a manner of devotion which transcends any limitation one may find in their outward religious orientation.

In other words, there is no explicit specificity that this “best religion” is an actual religious form to be found or proclaimed extrinsically. Such a “religion” then, be can be seen to be more of a psycho-spiritual state of inner disposition of yearning and spiritual realization, then an actually embodied formal religious teaching. It should be noted however, that many Muslim commentators on this above verse advocate Islam in its final form as being the fullest and complete manifestation of “the way of Abraham”. Yet the Qur’an’s literal wording and meanings leave this door open for diverse views, as found in various Sufi commentaries on this and other verses.

Therefore, it can be appreciated that in this particular Prophetic response to the questioner (ra), the Prophet (saw) is identifying the “the most beloved religion” with an inner spiritual orientation described as “al-hanafiyya as-samha”, one of these terms being directly identified in the Qur’an with the Prophet Abraham as the spiritual model par excellence for this kind of spiritual disposition, described as a hanif who is “the better in religion”. So the “better religion” or “the most beloved religion” can be viewed to be the person who has the most sincere inner orientation to the Divine Beloved. This recognition can not but promote humility as it may be possible that a believer in a religious tradition foreign to our own may be “more beloved” to God then we are, due to an inherent sincerity in devotion that God Sees, and we do not…

 

To strive then, with the utmost sincerity of sacred direction (qibla) towards the Divine Reality within the heart, in order to realize our connection to God, is to realize that which is ever-present at the heart and origin of all true revealed religion–and vice versa. For that which the Qu’ran refers to as the “right religion” (din al qayyima), “the better religion”, or “the most beloved religion”, is inextricably linked to the heart of one’s individual being and the heart of one’s revealed religion. It is truly ‘that religion’ (or ‘that which binds’–the root meaning of religare in Latin–in our case, to God), that original, primordially generous and unswerving faith (al-hanafiya as-samha), which is the “most Beloved” to God and found directly buried within our heart. It is the “religion” of the “covenant of Alastu bi-rabbikum” (Am I not your Lord, 7:172), the oath that all of humanity took in pre-Eternity, witnessing God’s Oneness through His Lordship to us: a divine knowledge and primordial faith embedded in the very substance of our hearts.

And ‘that religion’ should not be seen as privy or exclusively bound to one form of a religion in space and time, but rather as the true heart and transcendent essence of all revealed religion and of all humanity beyond any historical and spatial accretion. A truth, which our Beloved Messenger (saw) so succinctly transmitted to us in a single sentence response! A truth which we so direly need to be reminded of now more than ever before in our secular yet multi-religious world seeking to better understand and fully live one’s own religion while being respectful to how others view or and live in the Sacred in our new existential predicament. To call ourselves and others then, to “the way of Abraham” the purely devout (hanif), to the way of “primordial and generous faith” is to call seekers back to their own heart where they may find the Beloved, and thereby “the most beloved religion”, which is none other than the religion of God found within the core of all revealed religion and the heart of all human souls.

So know God in your heart and have “primordial faith”, and through that faith, have “generous faith” towards all others since by the very virtue of their existence, they share in this “primordial and generous faith”. Then perhaps you will be “most beloved” in the Beloved’s Eyes.

And God Knows Best.

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Suggestions for further reading:

1. “The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam”, by Reza Shah-Kazemi. The most succinct and comprehensive evaluation of the Quranic, Prophetic and Historical roots and manifestations of the spirit of tolerance in Islam to date (published 2012). The book opens with this very hadith treated here.

2. “Generous Tolerance in Islam”, by Hamza Yusuf, in “Seasons: Semiannual Journal of Zaytuna Institute, 2 (2005), which provides a profound and much needed traditional perspective on the term “al-hanafiyya as-samha”. The etymological references to these Arabic words are discussed as well.

3. “Ideals and Realities of Islam”, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, especially his chapter: ‘Islam, the Last Religion and the Primordial Religion’. The whole book is a landmark book which is a pure classic and synthesis of Sufi and Philosophical teachings on the universal dimensions of Islam, and is catered to a Western audience.

 

***Note: This is an expanded version of an original blog posted here in 2012.

Gnosis/Ma’rifa as the Willful Suspension of Disbelief:

Knowing God through the Willful Suspension of Disbelief:

“Beware of being bound up by a particular creed and rejecting others as unbelief! Try to make yourself a prime matter for all forms of religious belief. God is greater and wider than to be confined to one particular creed to the exclusion of others. For He says, ‘To whichever direction you turn there is the Face of God [2:115] ”
~Ibn Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam

Even within the context of Ibn Arabi’s multi-layered perspective on the supersession and superiority of “Islam” and the Prophet (saw) over other revealed religions and prophets, he reminds us to not allow our received or acquired religious belief to restrict our awareness of God’s Infinite Presence and Pure Being: which is none other than Mercy. For God transcends our own delimited belief systems, whose Presence and Being–in nuanced, subtle, and often mysterious ways–includes other belief systems foreign to our own. He reminds us that we unconsciously as well as consciously “restrict” God in our minds and thereby in our hearts through “binding” Him to our own limited form of belief: whether those beliefs are derived from revealed sources, or are personal.
What Ibn Arabi challenges us with in this formulation is to willfully suspend our theological judgment of the duality of belief/disbelief towards other belief systems–and even our “own”. He inspires us to realize within us an intellectually intuitive and spiritually reflective opening towards a mode of awareness which transcends (without rejecting) the level of religious discourse where the authority of the exclusive theologies of our faith-based traditions reside. It is an epistemological passage from the level of religious discourse which validates creeds through rationality rooted in revelation, to the level of non-dual awareness of pure Unity: where the only “direction” is God!
To be sure, theology has a positive role to play in revealed religious teachings and in preserving faith in the heart through fortifying the mind for the religiously devout. Yet Ibn Arabi reminds us that God is not only found within beliefs which derive from His Self-Revelation, but He is also found above and beyond them. In this light, Ibn Arabi asks the spiritual seeker to move beyond mental conceptions and willingly suspend their “theological disbelief” of the Other’s doctrines and spiritual teachings, so as not to pass negative judgment upon the Other in the context of striving to know God as He is–in the vastness of His Transcendence and Immanence in all forms of religious belief. Such judgment only serves to restrict or “bind” one’s ability to “recognize God” fully in one’s Self, as self and as other. For, “which ever direction you turn [that is, towards your self or towards the other] there is the face of God”. By binding God to our own belief we end up being bound to the more subtle belief that we are limited, separate selves, distinct from the pure divine Self. Through this denial, we implicitly or explicitly deny that existence and truth to others and reject their sacred beliefs and rights to be, “in God” or in an awareness of “the transcendent unity of Being”. It is the difference between trying to know God through “binding” or “pinning” God to a particular belief, and realizing God as He truly is through the “prime matter” of the Spirit upon which all belief resides in pure consciousness and as pure witness. Such is boundless Truth or ineffable Reality. It can only be “found” in the purified Heart that has become “capable of every form”. It is through such divine love inherent in Being, that one has universal compassion for all forms of religion, humanity and created order, as well as discriminating knowledge of the grades, intensities, and levels of Being.
This acceptance of one’s own belief whilst simultaneously suspending a sense of disbelief in the other allows the seeker of God who yearns to know and love Him more fully, to be more receptive to a higher mode of religious and spiritual awareness regarding Divine Truth and Presence. Such awareness validates the Other “in God” without resorting to accepting the faith of the other as ours to follow, and thereby rejecting one’s own particular faith and practice. In this process, one can begin to appreciate how foreign religious teachings (both intra-faith and inter-faith) have elements of religious truth and spiritual presence in them, even if we do not fully understand them, or even if we perceive to find error in them. One can also appreciate how this process of spiritual openness and “theological suppleness” may prevent an immediate “knee-jerk” reaction towards the intra and inter religious Other, or a wholesale rejection of their teachings which they consider Sacred.

In any case, this spiritual advice (nasiha) by Ibn Arabi is given in the context of one’s path towards “knowing God” (ma’rifa) as He is, and as found uniquely in our hearts: not just what we “ascribe to Him” or as we perceive Him in our minds, or only through our extrinsically received religious (naqli) teachings. For it is through “knowing God” as utter Unity or non-dual awareness, that all personal knots of ignorance are untied, and all extrinsic religious contradictions, resolved.
And God Knows Best.

 

Be A Spiritual Insomniac For God!

“When I am with you, we stay up all night. When you are not here, I can not go to sleep. Praise be to God for those two insomnias! And the difference between them.” ~Rumi —
The caveats of dreaming of one’s beloved as well as anxiously anticipating the beloved’s “arrival” are part and parcel of the drama we call love. Yet in the Sufi tradition, the expression of love in this world is termed “ishqe majazi” (metaphorical love), whereas the reality of spiritual love is termed “ishqe haqiqi” (True Love).  Although this poetic verse can be viewed in many ways, allow us this brief reflection as it concerns union (“when I am with you”) and separation (“when you are not here”) in the spiritual life, and how in this process one remains  spiritually awake and in effect an “insomniac”:
In this spiritual love parable, Rumi captures the meaning of “jamm’a” (spiritual union, togetherness) and “farq” (spiritual distinction, separation) as two modes of “remembering God” (dhikr Allah). The key here is to actually realize that BOTH can be and are modes of Remembrance of God and that is why Rumi praises God for these two “sleepless” states of spiritual being or “moments” with God. The Mevlana (Our Master Rumi) eludes to that subtle truth most beautifully here: that for as long as you are remembering God, in no matter which state of being (jamm’a or farq) you are spiritually “awake” and can never sleep!
As for the spiritual state of being which is termed jamm’a, the Sufis appear to be unanimous yet multi-valent in their descriptions of the subtleties of the this mode of “Knowing” God. In a purely metaphysical sense, “union” or  “being with the beloved” is akin to the transcendent realization of “Supreme Identity” with Al-Haqq (God, The Truth) as As-Shahid (God, “The Witness”) who Witnesses’s ultimately Himself through the “other”. However, many Sufis prefer to use terms such as fana (annihilation of the separative identity of the individual subject through God’s Presence) and subsistence (baqaa through this Presence within one’s subjectivity) as more metaphysically precise and even  “spiritually courteous” explanation of the reality of jamm’a. Moreover,  other Sufis recognize that both jamm’a and farq are part and parcel of the dynamic that a “Friend of God” (wali Allah) has with God–which occurs witin the station of “nearness” (qurb) to God. This mystical realization is akin to the truths underlying the Hadith Qudsi (Sacred Utternace of God through the Prophetic moutpiece) which explains that when the servant draws near to God through obligatory works and then superogratory works, God may choose to  Love that servant and spiritually “…become the ears through which he hears and the eyes through which he sees…”. On the one hand God “is” such a Friend’s “Ears and Eyes” (jamm’a). On the other hand, the same servant’s hearing and seeing are his own (farq)…
As for the spiritual state of being which is termed “farq“, this can essentially be understood as that state of the spiritual wayfarer who is “separated”  from God’s direct Presence and lives more consciously in  one’s separative identity. In this light, it can be said that there are multiple levels or degrees of “farq” (distinction) which may be envisaged–from those degrees of farq which approach jamm’a to those degrees of farq which are very far from the reality of jamm’a. However, Rumi praises God for the very existence all of these states of farq before one’s Lord which he seems to be identifying with the state of “not being here with me”.
The secret here I think is to further appreciate how such a mode of farq can be a blessed state. In any state which defines farq, it appears that as long as the wayfarer to God upholds a genuine attitude of a spiritual  “thirst” and “irada” (willingness) for the “meeting” with God through “jamm’a” and with trust and faith in His Mercy, the seeker is indeed in a blessed state and should “praise God” as Rumi notes.
This appears understandable for those who are actively seeking God’s Nearness, but how about for those seekers who in this context of farq are prone to sinning and are otherwise ensnared by their vices? Perhaps when farq entails “sinning” as a  kind of “separation” from God, the shame which results from this act can and should be viewed as kind of hidden blessing. It becomes an apparent blessing to the extent that one has the ability and the belief to transform a shameful and contrite state of farq into a dhikr of God through tawbah (repentance)! For what is tawbah other than a “return” to God, literally in Arabic?!
Glory Be to God Who is Ever-Returning in Mercy and Forgiveness (Al Ghafur and At-Tawabur Rahim) and All Prasie be to Him for these two kinds of insomnias which indeed are different forms of “remembrance” of God! So always have a “better opinion” (husni zunn) of God in whatever state you find yourself in (“har haal mein”), whether in the “wakeful” state or the “sleepless” state for God will never avail you of His Mercy as He is both Pure Love (Al Wadud) and Pure Witness (As-Shahid). Therefore, be a “spiritual insomniac” for His Sake alone.

Seeking ‘Layla’ in the Nights of Ramadan?: A Reflection on the Blessed Night (layla mubaraka) of Ramadan and the Blessed Night of the Soul

It is quite fascinating to note the usage in the Qur’an and Hadith of the term “night” (layla) as opposed to “day” when discussing the merits of Ramadan–the holy month of fasting in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed–as we see, for example, in the following Revealed and transmitted sources:

“Indeed, We sent it [the Qur’an] down during a blessed night (layla mubaraka)…” (44:3)

and

“Whoever prays during the nights in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from God will have his past sins forgiven. And he  who passes “the Night of Power(laylatul qadr) in prayer with faith and seeking his reward from God will have his past sins forgiven.” (Hadith: Bukhari and Muslim)

Why is the “night” referenced in such verses and hadiths as opposed to the “day”? What is the significance of layla (night) as it pertains to Revelation and to Ramadan in the context of the spiritual life?

In a sense, the night is a time and space when we experience the “absence” of extrinsic phenomena which are multiple, separate, and dispersive to our visual and cerebral perception of them during the time of the day.  As a natural occurrence in which the objects of the world are as if absorbed into a dark nothingness, layla represents that aspect of our consciousness and being which corresponds to the ‘world of  the non-manifested, or unseen” (alam al-ghayb). Layla then serves as a “support” or means for withdrawing from our “outer senses” into the realm of our “inner senses” and entering the reality of the “unseen”. This is contrasted to the “day” which represents the ‘world of the manifested or seen’ (alam al-shahada) in which our consciousness dwells in dispersiveness, in the realm of the “outer” physical senses. It is this transition and arrival of the “day” to the “night” of our consciousness–from the ‘separateness’ and dispersive quality of worldly phenomena to the ‘unitive’ and inward quality of spiritual phenomena– to which the seeking of that sacred moment (waqt) of layla realizes. It is through the mystical instant and transcendent center that is layla that we pass beyond the compressive and enslaving quality of temporal duration and the dispersive and extensive quality of material space which dominates the consciousness of our outer senses. 

Such centeredness in the “unseen” world beyond the confines of our outer senses is the hallmark of many spiritual traditions the world over, from the contemplative states of stillness as found in Orthodox Christian hesychia, to the meditative mindfulness of Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism for example. This spiritual center and moment that is  layla is likewise to be seen as the very mystical substance of reflection (fikr) and inner witnessing (mushahada), as they are referred to in Islamic Spirituality. It is of no wonder that many a Sufi (from the time of Umar ibn al-Farid to the present day) has written so much about “Layla” (a female Arabic name distinct from the Quranic ‘layla’, yet stemming from the same root as layl, meaning night) and also used the “night” as a metaphor or symbol for Divine Love manifested through spiritual “union”, or mystical identity through deep contemplative solitude with the Divine. It is perhaps with spiritual contemplatives in mind that the Qur’an utilizes the symbolism and reality of layla to communicate subtleties of the most significant spiritual events in Islam: that is, the descent of the Holy Qur’an which occured in the month of Ramdan ‘through’ the “Night of Power” (laylatul qadr), and the ascent of the Prophet to the metacosmic Divine Throne, through the “Night of Ascension” (laylatul mi’raj), In regards to the latter, the Holy Qur’an states:

“Glory Be to God Who did take His servant[Prophet Muhammad] for a Journey by night from the Sacred Precinct [in Mecca] to the farthest Mosque [in Jerusalem], whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who hears and sees (all things).” (17:1)

Again, it is to be noted that the “Night of Power” or the “Night of Ascent” is not the “day of Power” or “day of Ascent”. It is as if the Uncreated and Revealed Word of God could only descend from the “non-Manifested” realm (alam al-ghayb) of the “Guarded Tablet” (al-lawh al-makhfuz) to our “manifested realm”, and the Blessed Body and Soul of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) could only ascend from the “manifested ” realm to the “non-Manifested” realm through recourse to an intermediary buffer or barrier (barzakh) of a state or moment that is layla: that which is realized or experienced as “night” in our realm of existence for those who are blessed to “witness” such an event through seeking layla.

The “night” as an ‘outward’ reality and occasion for the Descent of Divine Revelation into the blessed soul of the Prophet (saw) then, also has an ‘inward’ function, corresponding as it does to the realm and occasion of ascent of the yearning soul of the seeker towards the spiritual realization of Pure and Exclusive Oneness (ahadiyya).  Layla then can be seen as a universal symbol for the state of the soul longing for and realizing spiritual stillness and even mystical annihilation (fana), entrenched an overwhelmed as it is by the “illuminating darkness” or “blessed night” (layla mubarika) of ineffable Reality. Layla, is a kind of “gate” or “moment” of Divine Bestowal in space and time when (and where) spiritual concentration and isolation supernaturally lead to an inwardness which transcends the realm of the “outer senses” including the ‘sense’ of individual and “separative” consciousness. It is of no wonder that living spiritual traditions to date use the night (layla) as the most opportune support for contemplative prayer or meditation. This is seen in Christian and Buddhist monks (for example) who even to this day spend the long hours of the late night (corresponding to the time of the Night Vigil–tahajud–of Islam) in meditation or prayer.  In this sense, it is quite remarkable that the Qur’an acknowledges the universality of that spiritual opportunity which layla (the night) affords the seeker, identifying the pious believers of other revealed religions among the People of Scripture/Revelation (ahl al kitaab) as those who prostrate and “recite the Signs (ayaat) of God at night“:

“They are not all alike. Among the People of the Book there is an upright community who recite the revelations of God in the watches of the night, falling prostrate. They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency, and compete with one another in good works. These are of the righteous. And whatever good they do, they will not be denied it; and God knows the pious” (3:113-114).

It is quite fascinating to note that God has Willed the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his spiritual community (ummah) to follow this universal model of ‘Night vigil’ found also in those pious and saintly amongst the “People of the Book” of other revealed traditions who recited (and still recite, according to the Qur’an) the revelations of God, and pray or prostrate “in the watches of the Night”. In a sense, this universal spiritual model of “night prayer” has been particularized and ‘institutionalized’  in Islam, most especially in the month of Ramadan in the form of qiyam  and/or tarawih prayer offered every night in Ramadan (as evidenced by the Hadith of the Prophet (saw) we began with), and also in the form of tahajud (night vigil) prayer which may be offered optionally any night of the year. In many ways, it is the tahajud prayer which is the hallmark of Prophetic spirituality especially in the early stages of the Prophecy of Muhammad (a practice which the Prophet continued for the rest of his Prophetic career and life) as it combines revealed remembrance in the form of prayer and even in the form of devotion to the revealed  Name (ism) of God, all during the ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ moment of the night (layla). Among the earliest verses revealed to the Prophet (saw) was the following injunction involving standing in prayer and invoking the Name of God during the night, an injunction which can be seen as the very basis of the mystical method of Islamic Spirituality :

“Oh you enwrapped in your cloak. Stand in prayer all night, save a little. A half thereof, or lessen it a little. We shall charge you with a weighty word. Indeed, [spiritual] impressions are more keen, and [inspired] speech more penetrating,  during the night. Truly, by the day you have many duties. So invoke the Name of your Lord (ism rabbik) and devote yourself to Him with utter devotion” (73:1-8)

Following in the literal footsteps of the Prophet (saw), many among his spiritual community to this day, along with upholding the daily prescribed canonical prayers, strive to uphold the model of prayer as outlined by God and practiced by the Prophet (saw) in the night (layla), and especially in the nights of Ramadan. Along with night vigil, others of the same community focus on “devoting” themselves to the invocation of the revealed Name of God (ism Allah) as outlined in the above verse: that is, invoking the Name of the Lord with “utter devotion”. As such, the revealed word, that is the Name of God, descends into the hearts of those who invoke the Name of God with utter devotion,  seeking to realize the spiritual state of tranquility (sakinah),  stillness and receptivity to the Divine Love that is layla; just as the pure receptivity of the blessed soul of the Prophet (saw) received the descent of the Revelation, or “weighty word” of God in the form of the Qur’an during the “Night of Power” (laylatul qadr).

May we seek and find that Blessed Night (layla mubaraka) outwardly in the sacred month of Ramadan, and inwardly in the blessed night of the soul at any and ultimately every moment of our lives.

Amen.

Why Do Muslims Fast? By Seyyed Hossein Nasr

I have read many texts on Fasting, and sat in many lectures on this topic–as I am sure many of you have–yet, each time and every year just before Ramadan I return to this perspective on “Why Do Muslims Fast” by Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, I am astounded at the fresh insights and wisdom which is transmitted to me at each and every reading from this very same article found in Dr. Nasr’s “Islamic Life and Thought”. Perhaps the fresh new insights received are due to the lessons learned from emptying ourselves anew as much as God Permits through fasting in Ramadan and throughout the year. May God preserve Professor Nasr, one of the rare Sages of our times whose life and thought embody that Quranic Wisdom which is “Neither of the East nor the West”.–Amen!

Ramadan Mubarik to all.
“Certain truths are by nature evident and need not be discussed in normal circumstances.But, in a day and age when the most evident truths are shrouded by the clouds of doubt and questioned, one is forced to discuss even the most obvious of them.One such truth is the necessity for an ascetic element in human life. Without an element of self-denial and asceticism no religion and therefore no human culture is possible.One must withdraw occasionally from the full life of the senses even in order to be able to enjoy the fruit of sensual perception.As the Taoist saying affirms, it is the empty space of the wheel which makes the wheel. It is only a certain degree of restraint from the material objects of the senses that makes even the life of the senses balanced, not to speak of making possible an opening in the human soul for the spiritual life.One such practice of restraint is fasting, promulgated in Islam as obligatory for the month of Ramadan and recommended for other periods of the year. As the Holy Qur’an asserts, it is a practice which existed in older religions and in Islam it was only revived and institutionalized in the form of the sawm of Ramadan.Fasting during this month possesses, of course, many social and external benefits and features which have been discussed often and in fact even somewhat overemphasized in certain quarters, where the chief virtue of fasting is reduced to charity towards the poor.This element of charity is, of course, there but like all true charity it becomes spiritually significant only when it is directed towards God. And in fasting it is the obeying of the Divine Will which has as its fruit charity towards the poor and the needy and an actual participation in their hunger and thirst.But the most difficult aspect of the fast is the edge of the sword of abstention directed toward the carnal soul, the al-nafs al-ammarah of the Holy Qur’an.In fasting, the rebellious tendencies of the carnal soul are gradually dampened and pacified through a systematic submission of these tendencies to the Divine Will, for at every moment of hunger the soul of the Muslim is reminded that it is in order to obey a Divine command that the passions of the carnal soul go unheeded. That is also why the fast does not include only food but also abstention from every form of lust and carnal passion.As a result of this systematic restraint, the human soul becomes aware that it is independent of its immediate natural environment and conscious that it is in this world but not of it.A person who fasts with complete faith becomes aware very rapidly that he is a pilgrim in this world and that he is a creature destined for a goal beyond this material existence. The world about him loses some of its materiality and gains an aspect of “vacuity” and transparence which in the case of the contemplative Muslim leads directly to a contemplation of God in His creation.The ethereal and “empty” nature of things is, moreover, compensated by the appearance of those very things as Divine gifts. Food and drink which are taken for granted throughout the year reveal themselves during the period of fasting more than ever as gifts of heaven (ni’mah) and gain a spiritual significance of a sacramental nature.

To fast is also to wear the armor of purity against the passions of the world. It is to incorporate even “physically” in one’s body the purity of death which is of course coupled with spiritual birth.

In fasting, man is reminded that he has chosen the side of God over the world of passions. That is why the Holy Prophet loved fasting so much. It was a basic element of that “Muhammadan spiritual poverty” (faqr), about which he said, “al-faqr fakhri” (spiritual poverty is my glory).

This death of the passions cleanses the human soul and empties it of the putrid water of its negative psychic residues. The individual and through him the Islamic community is renovated through this rite and reminded of its moral and spiritual obligations and goals.

That is why the arrival of the blessed month is greeted with joy. For in it the doors of heaven are opened further for the faithful and the Divine Compassion descends upon those who seek it. To have completed the fast of Ramadan is to have undergone a rejuvenation and rebirth which prepares each Muslim to face another year with determination to live and act according to the Divine Will.

The fast also bestows a spiritual perfume upon the human soul whose fragrance can be perceived long after the period of abstinence has come to an end. It provides for the soul a source of energy upon which it feeds throughout the year.

The holy month has therefore been called “the blessed”, mubarak, one in which the grace or barakah of God flows upon the Islamic community and rejuvenates its deepest sources of life and action.”

Suggestions for further reading:
“Islamic Life and Thought” by Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981). This perspective on fasting is excerpted from this book.

“Which Religion is Most Beloved To God”? Reflections On An Explicit Prophetic Response

Narrated by the Companion Ibn ‘Abbas:

“The Messenger of God was asked, ‘Which religion is the most beloved to God?’ He replied, ‘Primordial and Generous Faith. (al-hanifiyya al-samha)’”

Quoted by Ahmad b Hanbal. Authenticated hadith. Also found in al-Bukhari

The fact that God’s Beloved Messenger, Muhammad (saw), did not respond by claiming that the “Islam” brought through him was “the most beloved to God” or ‘the most superior religion’ and answered instead with a spiritual quality or innate orientation, rather than a name of a given religion is quite profound in and of itself. There is an inexhaustible teaching contained here in such a succinct Prophetic response, a teaching which is timeless and universal yet timely and particular to our context of religious pluralism. We shall try to distill some of this Prophetic wisdom below with God’s help, and shall begin with what is implicit in the Prophetic narration and then move to what is explicit in the same response.

Implicit in this Hadith is both the awareness of religious multiplicity as well as religious unity. Religious multiplicity: that there is more than one religion revealed by God and that beyond the formal diversity and human vicissitudes of revealed religions there is an inner quality which determines ‘when’ and ‘if’ a given ‘religion’ or ‘religious adherent’ is most beloved to God. Religious unity: that there is in essence only ‘one religion’ (al-Din) which manifests itself in time and space in diverse forms through the Prophetic founders of a given religion; and the more that this very essence or heart is realized or manifested by a given religion or follower of a religion, the more beloved that revealed religion or religious follower is to God. One witnesses such wisdom in many places in the Quran and Hadith, but the following should suffice:

“Every Religion has a special quality and the particular quality of Islam is modesty”–Hadith/Saying of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).

“Say: We believe in God and that which is revealed unto us, and that which is revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was given unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have submitted. (3:84)

“Truly We have revealed unto you as We have revealed to Noah and the prophets after him, as We revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and the tribes, and Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as We bestowed upon David the Psalms; and Messengers We have mentioned to you before and Messengers We have not mentioned to you–and God spoke directly to Moses–Messengers giving good tidings and warnings, so that mankind might have no argument against God after the Messengers. God is every Might, Wise .” (4:163-165)

“…For each We have appointed a Law and a Way. And had God willed, He could have made you one community. But in order that He might try you by that which He has given you [He has made you as you are]. So compete with one another in good works. Unto God you will all return. He will disclose to you [the truth] about that in which you all differed.” (5:48)

From this inclusive point of view, “islam” encompasses all revelations and revealed religions. And since “islam” is the principle and essence of all revealed religions, than to the extent that a given religion manifests “islam”, that is “submission to God “and “peace with God”, it is to that extent that it is “most beloved” to God. In other words, since all authentic religions originate with God through Revelation and Prophecy, it is significant to note that what is being considered here as the answer by the Beloved Messenger is recognizing ‘when’ or ‘how’ a given religion or religious follower is ‘most beloved’ to God, and not ‘which’ revealed religion per se is more superior by point of fact. Again, this can be appreciated by looking directly at the Prophet’s response to his companion which does not relate the name of any revealed religion-even his own–yet relates a general quality or orientation which can be seen to be the essence and heart of all true authentic religion and religious following: ‘al-hanafiyya as-samha’, that is ‘primordial and generous faith’.

This truth directs us naturally to recognizing that “islam” is first and foremost a primordial state of being, an inner orientation: an innate disposition (fitra) of creation before one’s Lord who is The Originator (al-Fatir), even before ‘islam’ can be viewed as a revealed form of guidance or religion. We find this kind of “islam”, that is a mode of being in perfect harmony, peace and submission with the Divine Intention and Purpose for creation in the following verses:

“…And there is not a thing [in creation] that does not sing His Praise (17:44)

“Seek they other than the religion of God (Din Allah), when unto Him submits whomsoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly? (3:83)

It is this level or reality of “islam” which is to be identified with “universal submission” or “universal peace” which is found only through the awareness of one’s most intimate connection with one’s creator which even precedes all revealed manifestations of “Islam” through the Prophets and their revealed religions. It is in fact this kind of ‘islam’ which can be seen to be the “religion of the primordial monotheist” (din al hanif) who is purely and sincerely devoted to the Divine Reality through Religion (mukhlisina lahud-din) often affiliated with the Prophet Abraham, as well as “religion of the original/primordial nature” (din al-fitrah) which is the True Origin and True Goal of all revealed religion:

“So set thy purpose for Religion with unswerving devotion (din al hanifi)–in accordance with the original nature which God fashioned (fitra-t-Allah); for there is no altering God’s creation (la tabdillah khalqilla): and that truly is the right religion (dalika din al-qayyima), but most men know not.” (30:30)

To return to our Prophetic statement in light of the above, that which the Prophet of Islam (saw) identifies as “the most beloved religion to God” is that which the Qu’ran refers to as “the right religion”. It is this very religion, or spiritual orientation innately within us and within our revealed traditions, that in its essence is immutable, incorruptible, un-abrogated and unalterable (la tabdila khalqillah, according to the above verse). To spiritually strive with the utmost sincerity of sacred direction (qibla) towards the Divine Reality in order to realize the very substance, heart and essence of one’s very inner nature and connection before God, is to realize that which is ever-present at the heart and origin of all true revealed religion, and vice versa. For that which the Qu’ran refers to as the “right religion” (din al qayyima) is inextricably linked to the heart of one’s being and the heart of one’s revealed religion. It is truly ‘that religion’ (or ‘that which binds’–the root meaning of religare in Latin–in our case, to God), that original, primordially generous and unswerving faith (al-hanafiya as-samha), which is the “most Beloved” to God. And ‘that right religion’ should not be seen as privy or exclusively bound to one form of religion in space and time, but rather as the true heart and transcendent essence of all revealed religion beyond any historical and spatial accretion. A truth, which our Beloved Messenger (saw) so succinctly transmitted to us in a single sentence response. A truth which is so direly needed now more than ever before in a secular yet multi-religious world seeking to better understand and fully live with religious diversity in a new existential light.

And God Knows Best.

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Suggestions for further reading:

1. “The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam”, by Reza Shah-Kazemi. The most succinct and comprehensive evaluation of the Quranic, Prophetic and Historical roots and manifestations of the spirit of tolerance in Islam to date (published 2012). The book opens with this very hadith treated here.

2. “Generous Tolerance in Islam”, by Hamza Yusuf, in “Seasons: Semiannual Journal of Zaytuna Institute, 2 (2005), which provides a profound and much needed traditional perspective on the term “al-hanafiyya as-samha”. The etymological references to these Arabic words are discussed as well.

3. “Ideals and Realities of Islam”, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, especially his chapter: ‘Islam, the Last Religion and the Primordial Religion’. The whole book is a landmark book which is a pure classic and synthesis of Sufi and Philosophical teachings on the universal dimensions of Islam, and is catered to a Western audience.