Merry Christmas and Merry Mawlid: ‘Light Upon Light’

Merry Christmas and Merry Mawlid as “Light Upon Light”:

“He said, “Thus said your Lord, `It is easy for Me. We will render him (Jesus) a sign/revelation (ayah) for mankind , and a mercy from Us. This is a matter decreed.” Holy Qur’an 19:21

As a “sign for mankind”, Jesus Christ’s (as) miraculous birth is celebrated by his followers and the “revelation” he brought (that is, his very self) and the religious traditions he inaugurated are honored throughout the world to this day by both his followers, and the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).
As “a mercy from Us”, he is spiritually present for his followers “here and now” through the Holy Spirt, and shall be present for them, “there and then” as a means of intercession insha’Allah (God-Willing). Similarly the Prophet Muhamamd (saw) is a “Mercy from Us” and is present for us “here and now, through the Baraka Muhammadiya (Muhammadan Blessing) and “there and then” as a means of intercession (shifaa) for Muslims as well as for “all of mankind”, according to certain Prophetic reports.
As a “Word of God” (KalimatuLlah, in the Qur’an), and as “revelation (ayah) for mankind”, Jesus Christ (as) is the Incarnation of the Word and Spirit of/from God. He is the founder of the World’s largest Religion to date, whose Prophecy and religion is honored by the Prophecy of Muhammad (saw) in the Qur’an (which is the “Speech of God”, Kalaam Allah). The Christ (as) is thereby “included” in Muhammad’s Prophecy which for Muslims, completes and seals the cycle of Prophetic Guidance, whose Prophecy has been “sent as a mercy to all worlds”–even “other” religious worlds.
For these reasons, it can only be “Light upon Light” to use Qur’anic metaphor, that the occasions of the celebrations of these two Divinely Revealed Lights coincide at the end of the Solar Gregorian year 2015 and the Lunar Hijri year 1437. And there is “no distinction” between one spiritual light from another spiritual light when they are put together–as they have been put together this year by God’s Decree. As Rumi says:
“If ten lamps are present in one place, each differs in form from the other. Yet to distinguish without any doubt the light of each, when you turn your face toward their light, is impossible….In things spiritual there is no division and no numbers; in things spiritual there is no partition and no individuality.” (Mathnawi verses 678-679 and 681).
So when the two greatest and most influential Prophetic Lights–who have founded and inspired the two largest world religions–eclipse each other and coincide, it can not but create a synergism of Light, or “Light upon Light”: a Light which inwardly is One and indivisible, despite their sacred outwards distinctions.
And this is all “a matter decreed”…
Merry Christmas and Mawlid Mubarik of Sayiduna Isa (as) and Sayiduna Muhammad (saw) to All!

“Right Guidance” (Rushd) and the Three Levels of Islam

One of  the best ways to appreciate the different levels or dimensions of Islam is the tripartite definition given to ‘the Religion’ (al-Din) by the Angel Gabriel when he was discoursing with the Prophet Muhammad (saw) in front of his Companions, known famously as the “Hadith Jibril”. The tripartite division is categorized as: 1. ‘Islam’ or “following revealed praxis”; 2 ‘Iman’ or “faith and intellectual/creedal belief”; and 3. ‘Ihsan’ or “spiritual excellence, purification and virtue”.

The first level is defined by the Prophet upon being asked by the Angel Gabriel as “to accept the Shahada (the testimony of Faith in the Divine Unity and Prophecy), and the rest of the 5 pillars of Islam, that is, Prayer, Fasting, Charity/Alms due, and Pilgrimage. The second is defined as faith in God, the Angels, the Scriptures, the Prophets, the Day of Return and Divine Destiny. The third is defined quite elusively by the Prophet (saw) as “to worship God as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, know that He Sees you”.

Perhaps the most profound and universal way to view each of one these levels is to recognize that each dimension of Islam pertains to a particular mode of  ‘correctly’  or ‘harmoniously’ engaging the human being in one’s connection to Divine Reality. The first level of ‘islam’ is more formal and can be seen to engage the Divine reality through the means of the ‘body’. The second level of ‘iman’ can be seen to the engage the Divine reality through recourse to the ‘mind’, and the third level of ‘ihsan’ through the reality of the ‘heart’ or ‘spirit’. Hence the first level or dimension of Islam is related to “correct”, “harmonious” or “right practice”; the second to “right understanding” and the third to “right relationship” with God, self and others.

Seekers or Practitioners of Eastern Wisdom, especially as found in Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist paths shall appreciate the terms “right/correct/harmonious” as adequate descriptors for the terms ‘way’ or ‘nature/law’ (as in the terms Tao or Dharma respectively). The beauty of the English term “right” as a descriptor is that it is very ‘non-confessional’ or universal in scope and points to an objective quality which can be seen to be in ‘the nature of things’. Whether it relates to “right practice”or “right thinking”, it does not have some of the restrictive connotations that the terms “orthodox” and even “dogmatic” may have  in their respective Western Christian contexts, yet are wide enough to include the positive function and significance of these same terms which are sacred in certain forms of Christianity. From this point of view, it is interesting to note that the Quranic term “rushd” is probably best defined in English as “Right Guidance” and fits perfectly into the spirit of one of the intended meanings of the Quranic verse, “There is no compulsion in Religion (al-Din); Right Guidance (rushd) is clear from error/misguidance” (2:256). In this light, it is worthy to note that there is no formal Quranic equivalent in Arabic of the Western term “orthodox” as one finds in certain Western traditions, although the ‘meaning’ of the term ‘orthodoxy’ can be grasped through the Quranic term ‘rushd’.

As such, these three levels or dimensions of Islam can be viewed as levels of  ‘right guidance’ which is revealed from the Prophets to humanity on high, but recognized naturally and realized willfully from within the heart of human beings without any need for extrinsic coercion. Hence there is “no compulsion” in following “right guidance” according to this Quranic verse: by definition following ‘right guidance’ should occur naturally. When a human being recognizes Truth and Rightful Guidance in whichever revealed form it manifests itself in time and space, by their very nature that same human being naturally and freely starts inclining and orienting themselves towards “right guidance” (rushd) on the levels of ‘understanding’ (iman), ‘practice’ (islam), and ‘realization’ (ihsan).

And God Knows Best.

Suggestions for further reading:

1. “Vision of Islam”, by Chittick and Murata. This whole book is the most comprehensive introduction to Islam in the English language and runs like a traditional commentary on the aforementioned ‘Hadith Jibril’.

2. “The Sage Learning of Liu Zhi”, by Murata, Chittick and Tu Weiming. A very deep and penetrating book which is a translation of a Chinese Sage named Liu Zhiu’s teachings on Islam (died crica 1700’s) which uses the revealed wisdom of Neo-Confucian thought to explain the verities of Islam to the Chinese.