Faith in the Unseen – Part One
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
18 March, 2015
The Quran (2:3) says:
This is the Book; there is no doubt in it. It is a guide for those who are mindful of God, who believe in the unseen […]
Faith in the unseen is not only a matter of belief. It is also directly related to guidance. Only if you believe in the unseen will you receive God’s guidance. If you do not believe in the unseen, you will not receive God’s guidance.
By ‘unseen’ is meant a reality that cannot be seen but still is present. This is so with God. Although God is apparently invisible, in reality He is more present than all existing things. In the above-quoted Quranic verse, faith in the unseen actually refers to faith in God, but in consequence it includes all those aspects of faith which a believer is required to believe in—for instance, Divine revelation, angels, hell and heaven, etc.
We know things in two ways, firstly, through observation and secondly, through inference. From the scientific point of view, both these methods are equally reliable.
Today, science is considered as a reliable means for analysis. Science consists of theoretical science as well as technical science. Technical science looks only at the appearance of things. But everything that appears to be visible is, in the final analysis, invisible. For instance, you can see a flower, but you can’t see its fragrance, not even through the most powerful microscope. This is so even though the flower’s fragrance has an existence of its own in the same way as the flower does.
According to science, all things are collections of atoms, and, ultimately, all atoms are collections of electrons, which are not visible to the naked eye. Referring to this fact, a scientist commented that the entire universe is an invisible ‘mad dance’ of electrons! Another scientist describes it as a collection of ‘waves of probability’.
In this sense, one can say that it is not only the apparently invisible Creator who is in the unseen but also the apparently visible creatures. The British scientist A.S. Eddington wrote a book on this subject, titled Science and the Unseen World around a century ago.
The fact is that we see only the external appearance of the things that are visible to us in this world. Their actual reality remains invisible to us. This is true with God as well. In terms of His being, God is unobservable, but in terms of His creation, God becomes visible for us. The existence of the creation is itself evidence of the existence of the Creator. The universe is so meaningful that it is simply impossible to explain it without accepting the existence of the Creator.
God’s being invisible to us is, in one sense, in line with the requirements of the test to which we are put. The test is to discover God while He is in the unseen. If God were plainly visible, there would have been no test at all. Because God is in the unseen, faith in Him is an ‘examination paper’ for us. If God were visible, believing in Him would not have been an ‘examination paper’ for us.
For God and other articles of faith to be in the unseen is a great blessing for man. It is because of this that our process of thinking continues and that we are led to continuously reflect and ponder on things. It makes it possible for us to find God at the level of discovery. It is because of this that God-realization can become a self-discovered reality for us. And it is a fact that there is nothing greater in this world than a self-discovered reality. For God and other articles of faith to be in the unseen is for us an endless source of intellectual development.
Faith in the unseen as a condition for God’s guidance is no arbitrary condition. In fact, it is a very reasonable condition for a creature like man. To understand any great reality, you need an awakened mind. Only someone whose mind is awakened is capable of understanding a profound truth. God is, undoubtedly, the biggest and most profound Truth—Absolute Truth. And so, only someone can truly have faith in God and or truly realize Him whose mind has awakened, through study, reflection and deep pondering. Someone with an un-awakened mind flounders in intellectual blindness, and in such a situation can hardly hope to arrive at God-realization.
Clarity of Expression
If you speak or write something, you need to consider how clear you are in your expression. The person who hears you or reads what you have written should be able to clearly understand what you have said or written. Your words—spoken or written—must be free of confusion. They must be easily understandable.
This world abounds in both material things and ideas. Nature has bestowed material things with their own separate shapes and forms. But it is different in the case of ideas. People have to shoulder the task of sorting out ideas separately. In the natural or physical sciences, material or physical objects are automatically separated from each other and sorted out. It is different, however, in the case of the humanities, which include religion, spirituality and the social sciences. In the humanities, categorization and distinctions between ideas require reflection and deep thought.
In the physical sciences, descriptions are generally clear. These sciences demand clarity and precision. But in the case of the humanities, this is not so. People can look at the same human-related issue in different ways, and this can lead to much confusion. This is true in the case of discussions of both secular as well as religious issues. This difference is because in the physical sciences, things are sorted out, separated and delineated by nature itself, while in the case of the humanities, people with different opinions and worldviews see things in very different, and often contradictory, ways, and so such easy and automatic categorization does not happen.
Milk contains a huge amount of bacteria. These bacteria are not visible to the naked eye, but they can be seen if you examine just a drop of milk under a microscope. Similarly, our galaxy, the Milky Way, appears to our naked eye to be like a white stream, but if you view it through a telescope, you will notice that it consists of a vast number of stars, which, because of their enormous distance from us, appear like one large white stream.
In contrast to material objects, like the bacteria in milk of the stars in the Milky Way, ideas do not exist separately. They exist in our minds mixed up along with other ideas. Our minds are a jungle of a huge number of different ideas that are often all jumbled up together. So, when you speak or write on any subject, you should be capable of sorting out the different ideas that coexist in your mind and clearly presenting the particular idea that you want to convey. This does not happen naturally. You have to do this yourself, using the power of analysis. If you lack this power, your words will only confuse people, because they will lack clarity.
To clarify this issue, consider this matter: Islam is taught as a subject in madrasas as well as in universities. But there is a clear distinction between the two in this regard. In madrasas, Islam is taught in terms of belief. In contrast, in universities the Islamic Studies curriculum is taught as a historical phenomenon. If you don’t understand this difference between madrasa education and university education and you talk or speak on this subject, you are bound to create confusion.
Consider another example—the question of the freedom of expression. There is a crucial difference between the approach of many Westerners and many Easterners on this question. If someone were to adopt the general Eastern approach and talk or write about freedom of expression, he might interpret some example of the exercise of this freedom as an expression of ‘anti-Islamic’ sentiments, and, in this way, cause much confusion.
When we talk of issues related to different conceptions about mankind and life, how do we make sure that we do not create confusion?
The answer is that in this regard we should do precisely what nature does in the case of subjects related to physical objects. In other words, we should develop sufficient power of analysis to sort out matters in our minds, and our minds should be so awakened that we can immediately recognize the distinctions between things. We should be capable of clearly distinguishing between different conceptions and ideas without much effort.
For this purpose, we need what is called ‘objective thinking’. This is possible only for someone who has freed himself from all sorts of prejudice, has kept himself apart from all sorts of distractions, is above and beyond all sorts of compromises, and is a fully ‘de-conditioned’ person. Such a person must be completely realistic. For him, the truth alone is of importance. Nothing else matters.
Such qualities may be found in ‘secular’ people, but not in a complete sense. The complete expression of these attributes is found only in a God-conscious person, someone whom the fear of God has completely cut down to size.
It is not enough, then, to have knowledge in order to speak and write and express yourself clearly. God-consciousness is also an indispensable condition for this. Without God-consciousness, the clarity of your expression can only be very partial.
It is when knowledge and God-consciousness combine in someone that his expression truly gains clarity.
The Period of Muslim Degeneration
There are many narratives in the books of Hadith that talk about the period of the degeneration of the Muslim community. These are, in a way, advance warnings of what was to come. Their purpose is that the leaders of the community should learn beforehand the signs of this degeneration and actively engage in working for reform. However, in this regard, the Muslim community’s case was the same as that of earlier communities—that is to say, failure to reform their conditions despite receiving advance warnings.
One of these Hadith reports is as follows:
The bonds of Islam will break apart, one by one. Whenever a bond will break, people will join the remaining ones. The first of the bonds to break will be al-Hukm (judgment), and the last will be al-Salah (prayer). (Musnad Ahmad)
‘Revolutionary’ leaders among present-day Muslims have described the malady afflicting the community in the period of Muslim degeneration as what is called ‘separation between religion and politics’. On the basis of this wrong identification of the problem, the entire community was dragged into completely pointless political strife.
The perversion that sets in among a community in the period of its degeneration is not the separation between religion and politics. Rather, it is about the separation between religion and the external aspects of religion. In other words, it is about the inner spirit of the religion being lost, with whatever remaining being only the external forms of religion. Because of this separation between the spirit and the form of the religion, it seems as if great many religious activities are happening among Muslims today, but as far as the reality of the religion is concerned, in practical terms there is actually nothing at all. Hence, despite the apparent religiousness among Muslims, the Muslims come to be bereft of that mercy and those blessings that are decreed for true piety.
No community suddenly slides into a period of degeneration. Rather, this happens gradually. It is a gradual shift. Accordingly, people slowly get accustomed to their state of degeneration. They gradually get so habituated to it that they regard the conditions of degeneration as normal and normative.
This gradual shift is expressed in various forms, including:
a. A shift from ‘ideological Islam’ to ‘cultural Islam’
b. A shift from the spirit of religion to the external forms of religion
c. A shift from reflecting on the Quran to only reciting it
d. A shift from creativity to blind conformism
e. A shift from true piety to external religiosity
f. A shift from reform of the community to engagement in politics
g. A shift from peace to violence
h. A shift from true jihad to war
i. A shift from concern about the Hereafter to worship of this world
j. A shift from silent engagement to aggressive agitation
k. A shift from pragmatism to unrealistic approach
l. A shift from simplicity to ostentation
Owing to these shifts in the period of degeneration, degeneration occurs in people’s understanding of the divine religion, which is expressed in the following Hadith as follows:
There will come a time when nothing will remain of Islam except its name and nothing will remain of the Quran except its script. (Baihaqi)
In other words, the state of affairs will be such that only the external shell of the faith remains but the kernel is missing.
There is just one way to reform the Muslim community in its period of degeneration: and that is, to go back from the ‘shell’ to the ‘kernel’ through wise exhortation and admonishment.
Difference between Scholars and Thinkers
There is a crucial difference between a scholar and a thinker. A scholar is someone who possesses much bookish knowledge. In contrast, a thinker is someone with creative knowledge. A scholar is formed in a library. In contrast, a thinker’s circumference is the entire universe. The ‘success’ of a scholar is measured by his fulfilling certain professional criteria. On the other hand, a thinker establishes his own criteria. He is not limited by any sort of professional criteria or standards.
A scholar hankers after, and often very easily secures, a job in a conventional institution. But the case of a thinker is different. He does not conform to any external standard or fit into any external mould. That is why he is unacceptable to conventional institutions.
A scholar’s ‘progress’ depends on conforming to the terms and conditions of the institution where he works—for instance, proficiency in certain languages, knowledge of certain conventional disciplines, objectivity, and so on. But it is different in the case of a thinker. The most important attribute of a thinker is creative thinking.
In the modern period, there have been many Muslims who are called ‘Islamic thinkers’, but according to my estimate, not one of them was an ‘Islamic thinker’ in the true sense of the term. All of them had an understanding of traditional knowledge, but none of them possessed a deep insight of the modern age and so, none of them was capable of playing the role of a thinker in this age.
A thinker is one who can transform different thoughts into one reality. He can turn scattered facts into an interrelated whole. On account of this, he is able to interpret the conditions that prevail in a given period in such a way that people are able to achieve their goals. He knows how to develop a positive way of thinking in the midst of various kinds of negativities.
In line with the law of nature, the world always remains a jungle of various, often mutually-contradictory, ideas and conceptions. It is possible to separate stones of different hues, but it is extremely difficult to separate different types of ideas. The hall-mark of a thinker is that he is able to do just that. He sorts out relevant ideas from a big heap of mutually-conflicting ideas. This skill develops in the thinker what is called ‘focused-thinking’.
Consider, in this context, the case of Muslims today. Today, Muslims all over the world find themselves embroiled in all sorts of external problems: the problem of Israel, American interference in Muslim countries, propaganda campaigns against the Quran and the Prophet of Islam, negative reportage about Muslims in the media, Hindu revivalism, the challenge of Western civilization, external interference in the Shariah, Orientalists’ critiques of Islam and Muslims, and so on.
If, taking all these many problems, a vast campaign is launched, it will produce just one result—and that is ‘agitational journalism’ or ‘agitational leadership’. Even if this sort of so-called struggle continues for a thousand years, it will not produce any positive result at all. It will not cause any harm to others, but it will only further suck the Muslims into the whirlpool of hate and violence. It will only further damage and destroy Muslims themselves. Nothing else can be expected from this sort of effort.
In such a situation, a thinker’s task is to sort out things properly. In the midst of the jungle of different ideas he must discover the point of unity. This will enable the community to discover the right starting-point for making efforts to reform itself and to journey in the right direction and arrive at the desired destination.
If you reflect on this issue in the light of the Quran and the practice of the Prophet of Islam, you will realise that today there is just one right starting-point for Muslims all over the world: and that is, inviting people to God. This fact is clearly evident from the Quran and the Hadith.
In matters such as this, discovering the proper aim to work for must go along with awareness of negative aspects that need to be carefully avoided. You must be as aware of what is to be done as of what is not to be done. If you know only the former but not the latter, you will not be able to attain what you seek, no matter what efforts or sacrifices you might make.
In some parts of northern India, it gets very cold in winter, resulting in thick fog. Trains are sometimes held up in the fog or move very slowly. To solve this problem, Indian Railways have developed what is called a ‘fog-safe device’. This device now enables train drivers to drive trains at a high speed even in dense fog.
This is something that relates to material fog. But there is also something that can be called ‘intellectual fog’. Everywhere, all across the world, people are expressing themselves—through writing and speaking. And now with new forms of communications and media, the volume of such expression has increased enormously. It is like being stuck in an immensely dense and dark ‘intellectual fog’.
If you are not careful, it is easy to be trapped in this ‘intellectual fog’. And if that happens, whatever you think and whatever you do gets determined by the thick fog that surrounds you.
How do you keep yourself safe from this fog? How do you maintain right thinking in the midst of such intellectual darkness?
The ‘fog-safe device’ that trains use illustrates a solution to this problem. And that is, we need to have our own ‘intellectual fog-safe device’. We need to prepare ourselves internally, so that our thinking remains untouched by the intellectual fog that is present all around us. In line with the laws of nature, this external fog will never end. All that is possible for you to do, then, is to take appropriate measures to keep yourself safe from its negative effects.
The Hudaybiyah Revolution
In ancient times, many people believed that the most powerful way to attain their goals was through fighting and war. They considered the fighter to be the most powerful and influential person. History, however, shows that war does not produce any positive results at all. The party that is defeated in a war never accepts its defeat. It always thirsts for revenge. And so, it gathers its forces, and then, some day or the other, it seeks to exact revenge from the victorious party. This leads to an endless vicious circle of war-defeat-revenge-war-defeat-revenge.
Muslim history is no exception in this regard. In the early history of Islam, in the year 2 A.H., a battle took place—the Battle of Badr, in which the believers were victorious. But the matter did not end there. The defeated party lusted for revenge. They returned to Makkah and began making preparations for another battle. Then, in the year 3 A.H., they attacked Madinah. This resulted in the Battle of Uhud, in which the believers were defeated and 70 believers were slain. When the battle was over, the leader of the opposing party, Abu Sufyan, stood atop a mountain and declared, ‘Today we have taken revenge for Badr.’
Experience shows that throughout history, people have been blind to the fact that war and the thirst for revenge simply cannot produce any positive results. The fact is that the only practicable approach to solve differences is to seek reconciliation, instead of resorting to war. Reconciliation establishes a climate of peace between two parties. This makes it possible to search for and discover hidden opportunities and to use them for positive purposes. This wise policy can make it fully possible for one’s goals to be met, because using available opportunities is but another name for success.
In order to give proper guidance to humankind in this regard, God decided to intervene in history. This happened in the first half of the 7th century C.E. God made the Prophet of Islam a means for this. It started with a dream. At that time, the Prophet was in Madinah, and here he saw a dream. In line with that dream, in the month of Dhu al-Qa‘dah in the year 6 A.H., he left Madinah, along with his Companions, for Makkah. After this, various developments took place. Finally, after long negotiations, Muslims and the opposing party agreed to a pact, which is known in history as the Hudaybiyah Agreement.
This Agreement contained numerous conditions. Its basic condition was that for 10 years, there would be no war between the two parties. It was a 10-year no-war pact. The climate of enmity that prevailed between the parties had made it appear impossible for such a pact to be agreed upon. Yet, what might have seemed impossible was made possible only when the Prophet of Islam unilaterally accepted the harsh conditions of the opposing party. For instance, one condition was that if any Makkan embraced Islam and went to Madinah, the Muslims would have to return him to Makkah; however, if a believer from Madinah went to Makkah, the people of Makkah would have the right to not let him go back to Madinah. Another condition was that the believers would return that year to Madinah from Hudaybiyah and not enter Makkah for the Umrah, or the minor pilgrimage.
The Hudaybiyah Agreement was written on paper. Hazrat Ali, a companion of the Prophet, wrote down the terms of agreement. In line with what the Prophet had commanded, he wrote was: ‘This is what Muhammad, the Messenger of God, has agreed upon…’ The representative of the other party, Suhayl ibn Amr, objected to this. He said: “We do not believe that you are a messenger of God, and so you should simply write ‘Muhammad, son of Abdullah’.” Hazrat Ali did not agree to delete the words ‘Messenger of God’ from the piece of paper. After this, the Prophet deleted these words with his own hand.
After the Agreement had been completed, the Prophet and his Companions went back to Madinah. Before the Agreement, there had been a continuous state of war between the two parties. Because of this, the Dawah mission of Islam had been practically stalled. But after the Agreement, peace was established between the two parties. Now, the Prophet and his Companions worked out a new plan for Dawah. They began doing Dawah work in an organized way in the areas around Madinah. The Prophet sent delegations to various tribes living in different parts of Arabia to engage in Dawah work. Such delegations were event sent to some rulers outside Arabia. Even in Makkah there was continuous movement of people from among relatives from Madinah. In this way, the message of monotheism reached Makkah.
As a result of such Dawah activities engaged in in a peaceful climate, large numbers of people began entering the fold of Islam, so much so that in only two years, the number of believers had so greatly increased that it became possible that the strength of their numbers proved enough for the victory of Islam, without there being any need to engage in war. As a result, after this, the Prophet peacefully marched towards Makkah, along with 10,000 Companions. In this way, without any war, the believers were able to establish their dominance over Makkah.
The voice of monotheism is the voice of human nature. If Dawah work is engaged in in an environment where normalcy prevails, then peaceful Dawah is enough to win people’s hearts. It is said that when suddenly one day the people of Makkah saw that the Prophet and 10,000 of his Companions had entered Makkah, the leader of the Makkans declared, ‘O people of Quraish! Muhammad has entered Makkah in such a way that you do not have the strength to counter him.’ (Seerat Ibn-e Hisham, 4/23)
The Quran (110: 1-2) refers to the historical events that took place as a result of the Hudaybiyah Agreement in these words:
When God’s help and victory come, and you see people entering God’s religion in multitudes...
The phrase ‘Nasrullah’, or God’s help, that appears in this verse refers to the same thing that elsewhere the Quran (48: 1-2) terms ‘Nasr Aziz’, or mighty help. The Quranic verse, ‘people entering God’s religion in multitudes’ (110:2) refers to the event that took place after the Hudaybiyah Agreement. That is, so many people entered the fold of Islam that their vast numbers itself became a cause for victory over Makkah.
Wisdom of Hudaybiyah
In ancient times, many people thought that in the event of a conflict there were just two choices: war or defeat. This view was a result of a dichotomous thinking. In line with the law of nature, however, there is actually a third choice that people can opt for. But people almost throughout human history have been unaware of this. This choice or option is—to establish peace through a unilateral reconciliation, and then, through wise planning, to fully use available opportunities. In other words, it entails neither entering into confrontation with the other party, nor accepting defeat. Instead, it involves using the power of peace in a well-planned manner. Through the historical event of the Hudaybiyah Agreement, God arranged for a practical demonstration of this wise approach to resolve conflicts.
That said, it is a strange tragedy of human history that despite this eminently successful demonstration of ‘Hudaybiyyan wisdom’, people, both Muslims and others, remain unaware of the immense possibilities and value of this approach. ‘Hudaybiyah wisdom’ has been used just once in the whole of history—and neither before, and nor after, the Hudaybiyah Agreement.
We humans often think and talk about peace. There is even a whole ism based on peace—Pacifism. A great many books have been written on peace, and there is even an Encyclopaedia of Pacifism. Yet, till now, no one has been able to invent a practicable ideology of peace. That practicable ideology of peace is well illustrated in the Hudaybiyah Agreement and in the wisdom of Hudaybiyah.
A Clear Victory
The Hudaybiyah Agreement was entered into in the year 6 A.H. Soon after this, the Quranic chapter titled Al-Fatah (‘The Victory’) was revealed to the Prophet. The first three verses of this chapter (48:1-3) read as follows:
Truly, We have granted you a clear victory so that God may forgive you your past and future sins and complete His favour to you and guide you to a straight path, and so that God might bestow on you His mighty help.
According to tradition, the chapter Al-Fatah was revealed to the Prophet while he was travelling from Hudaybiyah to Madinah after the Hudaybiyah Agreement. What had happened at the time was only a peace treaty. As far as victory was concerned, it was still to come in the future. Then why did the Quran say that God has granted a clear victory to the Prophet and the believers?
This style of expression was actually to highlight the importance of peace. It meant that when, in the true sense, peaceful methods are adopted, it is certain that favourable results will follow.
The Hudaybiyah Culture
The Hudaybiyah Agreement was not just simply a pact. Through this Agreement, a profound wisdom was opened up to humanity—knowledge of a successful method or approach to adopt in social life. It indicated that war is not the solution to differences between people.
War only stokes the fires of revenge on the part of the defeated party, which then plots to engage the victorious party in another war, hoping this time to defeat it. In this way, one war leads to another and then to yet another, and then to incessant war. And so, guided by God, the Prophet showed humanity a new method to solve the problem. This method can be termed ‘Hudaybiyyan wisdom’. It entailed, as we have seen, entering into a no-war pact with the other party and unilaterally accepting the latter’s conditions.
The Prophet, as we mentioned before, entered into the Hudaybiyah Agreement and was returning to Madinah when, on the way, the chapter Al-Fatah was revealed to him. His Companions had not been happy with the Agreement. When the Prophet recited the chapter Al-Fatah to his Companions, they developed some misgivings. Hazrat Umar said in surprise: “Is this a victory, O Prophet of God?” The Prophet replied: “Yes, by Him in Whose hands is my soul, this is indeed a victory.” Another companion said: “This is not a victory!” At this the Prophet said: “This is surely a victory, rather it is the greatest of all victories.” (Tafsir Qurtubi).
Why was a pact like the Hudaybiyyan Agreement termed as a “clear victory” in the Quran? Why did the Prophet say that this was a great victory, even though when this verse was revealed no incident of victory had, in reality, come about? The fact is that this comment of the Quran on the Hudaybiyah Agreement was not in the sense of political victory. Rather, it was in the sense that as a result of the Agreement, the believers had gained an upper hand over their opponents. That is to say, the believers had come into a position of advantage vis-à-vis their opponents.
At the time of the Hudaybiyah Agreement, the other party commanded only the power of the sword. The Agreement obliged them to not wield their swords against the believers. In this way, they were rendered powerless, as it were, vis-à-vis the believers. But the believers had one more power apart from the sword, a power that their opponents lacked. And this was the power of the ideology of Tawhid, the oneness of God. This ideological power could be fully used even after the Agreement had been entered into. After the Agreement, the other party was no longer capable of doing anything in practical terms. In contrast, with peace having been established, the believers got the opportunity to utilize fully their energy toward conveying their ideology to others.
And this is what happened. On the one hand, the other party was obliged not to use its swords against the believers. And on the other hand, in an atmosphere of freedom, the believers completely focused themselves on communicating the ideology of Tawhid. They conveyed the message of Tawhid across Arabia, and even to rulers of some other lands. It was a result of this ‘Hudaybiyyan wisdom’ that in just two years the whole of Arabia entered the fold of Islam.
The spread of Islam in a very short span of time across Arabia in the 7th century C.E. in a virtually bloodless revolution was not the only beneficial result of the policy of Hudaybiyyah. Another important result of this policy was that the revolution that took place through it in Arabia set off, for the first time, a process in human history, which, passing through several stages, arrived in the modern age. In this sense, the modern age can be called the culmination of the ‘Hudaybiyyan process’.
The ‘Hudaybiyyan wisdom’ was all about putting an end to war as a means of resolving disputes and establishing a climate of peace and using peaceful means to convey the natural message of Islam to people. The transformations that have occurred in human relations in modern times have led to the ‘Hudaybiyyan culture’ being established all across the world with the consent of all peoples. In this sense, then, the present age can be called the ‘Age of Hudaybiyah’. In earlier times, ‘Hudaybiyyan culture’ was only a local phenomenon. But today, without paying any sacrifice, as the Prophet and the believers of that time had to by accepting the unilateral conditions of the other party; this culture has become established at the global level.