Rusmir Mahmudcehajic from Ýstanbul Ýlim & Kültür Vakfi on Vimeo.
In the light of perennial philosophy
The seven heavens and the earth, and whosoever in them is,
extol Him; nothing is, that does not proclaim His praise, but
you do not understand their extolling.
Now there has come to you a Messenger from among yourselves; grievous to him is your suffering; anxious is he
over you, gentle to the believers, compassionate.
And who is there that has a fairer debt than he who finds in Peace his face with God being a good-doer, and who follows
the creed of Abraham, the pure one?
This paper has been written as the basis of the author’s presentation at the conference on The Role of Justice in Building a Better World (Istanbul, 18-20 October 2007). The paper is unfinished, and may therefore be distributed only to those attending the presentation; it may not be published in any form for any other purpose without the author’s prior agreement.
If some knowledge of justice is to be proffered, with both terms pertaining to a person who knows, and acts justly or unjustly on the basis of that knowledge, the necessary introduction to the undertaking is a discussion about justice as such.
There are two kinds of knowledge – transmitted and intellectual. Transmitted knowledge is dependent on an external authority, and it is rare that the recipient is able to verify it.
All that one is asked to do on receiving or discovering such knowledge is to accept or reject it. Intellectual knowledge presupposes independence from any outward authority or means of discovery. The human self, our original nature, is designed to know our Creator, without any mediatory force, be it within or external to us. The living source of every traditional teaching may be said to be intellectual knowledge. In this kind of knowledge there can be no verification of external knowledge independent of the self that knows it. In contrast, the modern or post-Renaissance world-view rules out the role of the knower as decisive.
In the Muslim intellectual heritage, bearing witness to God’s unicity and the prophethood of Muhammad is the key to and source of all knowledge. The testimony takes effect, however, only when it is realized in the self of the one bearing witness. When it is so realized, that self acknowledges the truth/rightness/responsibility of all that is in the inner self and the world around us, since God created all things in truth, which means with rights, dues and responsibility. This is to know what we want to be and to be what we know. For such knowers, everything within them, in society and in the world at large has rights over them; and they acknowledge this right to everything: to themselves, to their Lord, to all people and all things. It is their way of testifying to Unicity. This Unicity manifests Itself through Its names; and if we are to realize ourselves, we must discover these names, which were given to us as our original nature.
Our Creator is Just, and our relationship with Him is through justice and rectitude. The testimony of the unicity of God may thus be expressed in these words: “I bear witness that there is no just one but the Just and I bear witness that the Just is the Just’s Messenger.” Two things may be seen in the testimony of God’s unicity and Muhammad’s prophethood, when expressed in these terms. First, justice constitutes our attitude to God as the Just. The paragon of justice is Muhammad, as the just who realized himself in regard to God as the Just. But whenever the source of justice is reduced to anything from the world of multiplicity, one or more things from the multitude of phenomena begin to compete for authority. Ideology seeks to present and protect one of these chosen phenomena as the “source of justice.” Invariably, this source is human, and is thus secular and subject to consensus and ideological imposition. This was the critique of rights from the perspective of the traditional affirmation of the precedence of intellectual knowledge over any dogmatic thinking, the necessity of absolute unicity as the warrant of human dignity, and the need to transcend all human limitations.
These are the issues with which this paper deals. It includes reflections on some of the views of Said Nursi on rights, law and justice. The study presented in this paper is part of a wider project on the relationship between traditional intellectuality and modern ideologies in the modern Muslim world.
These observations are made in the light of the perennial philosophy. The reason for this approach is the premise that the problems of Muslims are inseparable from those of humankind, and that they cannot therefore be discussed without a comprehensive language within which the terms of different, distinct intellectual heritages can be understood. It is widely held that the philosophia perennis is as old as humankind itself. It is central to many and diverse religions and traditional philosophies. The wisdom is always the same, but it is expressed in different languages and ways.
We are created originally with the finest rectitude – which means that when in that condition, our inner self was fully open to the world around us, so that the Intellect encompassed all things as a whole. We have sunk from that original perfection to the lowest of the low. Concealing or revealing our centre to the Intellect is our constant potential, as Frithjof Schuon says:
The inward and timeless Revelation is present still, but it is hidden away beneath a sheet of ice which necessitates the intervention of outward Revelations; but these cannot have the perfection of what might be termed “innate Religion” or the immanent philosophia perennis.
It should be noted that the philosophia islamica is the philosophia perennis in the full sense of the term. The language of every true tradition is both all-embracing and exclusive: all-embracing, for there is nothing that can be said about God, the world and humankind without being capable of expression in that language; but since it is one and the same wisdom that is capable of expression in all languages, the language of any given tradition is exclusive because it lacks nothing in relation to others.
Justice is a key issue in all forms of the perennial philosophy or “eternal love of wisdom.” In this apparently simple statement, the meaning of three terms – justice, love and wisdom – seems obvious to us moderns. This should immediately be qualified by the observation that in the modern image of the universe and humankind they have become so eroded by ignorance (or by knowledge of a different kind from their original semantic field) that little or nothing remains of the original meaning they had in the perennial philosophy. If we are to discuss them with the intention of contributing to changing the human self – which means liberating it from anger, greed and ignorance – we should begin with these terms.
What is most obvious and indisputable in human consciousness?
The answer to this question is so familiar to us that we all too easily forget both question and answer. Does not God say in the Recitation (the Qur’an), that we are forgetful creatures?
If the world and all things in it, including ourselves, are inseparable from human consciousness, and thus the very expression of all-encompassing consciousness, the Unicity of God Who manifests Himself to the world and humankind is the most obvious and indisputable truth in all that we are capable of witnessing. This is so because this manifest truth is the heart of the human self. Wherever we are, we face the revealed Unicity. When we distance ourselves from It, we forget God, as He says: “Be not as those who forgot God, and so He caused them to forget their souls; those – they are the ungodly.”
Our realization, therefore, is in our saying: “I bear witness that there is no god but God.” This testimony is contingent on nothing but that which the One God bestowed upon us, thereby rendering us indebted.
The totality of existence – as a whole and in all its individual manifestations, both latent and outwardly manifest – reveals God. It is His sign; and in the human consciousness this sign directs us towards the Designated. But the sign is not the same as the Designated, though without Him it can have no reality. We recognize and acknowledge the sign when we take it as a window or doorway to the Designated, when we speak to it only of Him. We are then turned towards God through His signs which we recognize.
We testify to God through His signs; which we are able to do because all the signs in the outer horizons, the world around us, correspond to knowledge in the inner self, which we receive by virtue of our createdness and being innately taught. It is thus possible to bear witness because the human self has been given knowledge that renders it a witness. This potential has been bestowed on us, and makes us what we are. If we come into existence as its corner stone or fulfilment, this means that we are the purpose of creation in God’s love to make Himself known.
But when we deny these signs as God’s, we attribute meaning to them external to God; in this view, they become gods or realities independent of God. The self then becomes closed or corrupted, for it cannot speak in the name of God, but only “in the name of the gods.” God says of this state of the self: “ Those that cry lies to Our signs and wax proud against them – the gates of heaven shall not be opened to them.”
Bearing witness to the signs in the outer horizons and the inner self as anything other than the manifestation of the One Whom they designate causes the world to become confined within the limits of human sensate knowledge. Our inner self is also sealed off in this closed world, as a result of which anything in this world, anything that manifests itself in multiplicity, can be adopted and interpreted as God. But God is the Truth of every sign. When we deny the Truth of the createdness of all things, and thus contest them as signs, our inner self becomes obscured or veiled, and thus separated from God Who creates all things with the Truth. Things are then understood, in this obscured or veiled self, as deformed or corrupted, even though their reality in relation to God is ever one and the same.
There is nothing in existence that is not in motion. All things in existence have their time. God says that all things perish, except His Face. Thus nothing in existence, other than God, can be a full and perfect source of Peace. The consequence of this is that those of us of the closed world and the closed self are constantly seeking quiescence, our quest taking us from one thing to another, one manifestation to another, one god to another, as we count on being able to find that which is greatest in the world and which could be the indisputable centre and authority for all things. The closure of the soul is located in an unlimited multiplicity of things in which the testimony to Unicity as First Principle is excluded.
It is first attributed to the testimony to the multiplicity of the confined world. But this is not all. The closed self is walled off from the closed world. These two, humankind and the world, originally a single entity with two manifestations, become separated into two distinct entities – the individual who acquires knowledge and acts as subject on the one hand, and the world as the object of knowledge and action on the other. The question of changing the self no longer arises in this duality. Whatever the state of the self, its confirmation lies in the acquisition of knowledge about the world for the purpose of acting within and dominating it. Such people cannot be vicegerents of any principle. They are themselves the principle or measure of all things, making their action superior to their knowledge, for action in a world that is incomplete and thus corrupted, action designed to rectify it, affirms the axiomatic, absolutized self. This brings about a complete ontological inversion. Every state of the soul is accepted as proper and perfect; and the world around us is turned into deficient matter and disorder, which the self is able to change and rectify in line with its image of the reality of which it is the first principle.
But in fact, every question about God, the world and humankind is from the human self; and there can be no answer without the self. The state of the self, however, is mutable – there are as many states of the self as there are people – whereas the Self of God is perfect. He says: “ Verily I am God; there is no god but I; therefore serve Me, and perform the prayer of My remembrance.”
If one wishes to determine the position of the self in this differentiation between the proper and the corrupted, the true and the false, it is impossible without saying: “I bear witness that there is no self but the Self.” In so testifying, we acknowledge that our inner self can be only a sign or image of the Self; and the discovery of That Self, through the self as image or sign, is the purpose of both the world and humankind. In this undertaking, the human self remains ever needy by comparison with the Divine Self as the All-sufficient. Our actualization lies in cleansing ourselves of everything that is not our testimony that there is no self but the Self. Understanding this as our purpose cannot be contingent on anything but the Self that manifests Itself in the self, for if this potential is lacking within us, everything is in vain.
God as Self has the most beautiful names.
He is God; there is no god but He. He is the Knower of the Unseen and the Visible; He is the All-merciful, the Ever-merciful.
He is God; there is no god but He. He is the King, the All-holy, the Peace, the All-faithful, the All-preserver, the All-mighty, the All-compeller, the All-sublime.
Glory be to God, above that they associate!
He is God, the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper. To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the All-mighty, the All-wise.
Our inner self was originally shaped in relation to God Who taught it all the names. The knowledge of these received names is our supreme potential. Our bond with the One to Whom they belong is through them; and the same is true of the world as a whole. These names are the original human nature, and to discover them in our inner self is to realize our original nature, or to remember God through His manifestation in creating the world and humankind.
Justice or righteousness is the discovery of God’s name as the Just in the self as God’s revelation to us. Once we have realized our inner self, our nature, by means of these names, we are just in relation to God as the Just through justice or righteousness. But this discovery of the original nature of the self, or our realization within it, is possible only if we are at peace and makers of peace, which is to say that we are in a relationship with God as Peace through peace. We are capable of distinguishing the true from the false and of adhering to the truth of our own free will. But we are not capable of attaining Peace in the world of phenomena, for all things perish except His Face; and that which perishes cannot be absolute Peace, be it as source or confluence. This is why all the horizons of the world and our inner self are the way to Peace.
This revelation opens us to being true, to being faithful, or to a relationship with God as the Truth through faith. This means that confidence is the relationship between us as true and God as the Truth. This includes free will: both ours and God’s. We have accepted this relationship on the basis of the free will bestowed on us; but we could also have rejected it, as others have done. God says of this: “We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they refused to carry it and were afraid of it; and man carried it. Surely he is sinful, very ignorant.”
The heavens, the earth and the mountains refused it because they were afraid: and fear results from not knowing what is to happen. Even the angels do not all know the purpose of our creation; only God knows it, and tells them: “Assuredly I know that you know not.” Not even we know it, but we accept the trust as our relationship with God, Who is Merciful and Compassionate. God says of us that even though humankind accepted the trust, we are violent and unjust, for all our actions come from obscurity or ignorance, and as a result we are deformed by those actions. But the only way to transcend this human condition is in our relationship with God through confidence, through trusting Him as the One Who knows all things and Who embraces all things with His mercy.
The fact that we are violent and aggressive means that to achieve our aims we have to adopt both knowledge and love, which blend within our being into faith. But any knowledge we have is limited, and can never be sufficient for us to rely upon solely in our actions towards ourselves, our Lord and the world. The pledge for our happiness is in accepting the trust. Our limited knowledge of God is sufficient to direct us towards Him, to bring us back to Him. What knowledge does not give us is compensated for by love, and we thus love the One Whom we barely know and grow in our knowledge of the One Whom we love greatly.
Faith is our relationship of fidelity to the one we know and love. But God is the only knowledge that makes possible the realization of the self in its original perfection. To love God means to strive to return the self to Him or to realize oneself in the testimony that there is no self but the Self.
But human realization, or the return to God through faith in Him, which is to say through loving Him as revealed through His signs, requirs knowledge of the way back. Can we know that way without God’s revelation?
There are countless ways, countless paths before us. If the world around us is taken as the sign of this multiplicity, all these ways may be reduced to three, each of which has two directions: forwards/backwards, right/left, and up/down. It should at once be said that for each of us these ways, these paths emerge from and return to our inner self. The source and confluence of all these paths is the centre, which is one and the same. Although infinitely small, one must acknowledge that this centre is absolutely crucial to us. It is within us, but we cannot locate its position.
Without this centre in the human self, all multiplicity remains without a First Principle, at all times and in all places. Nothing in the world is in a relationship of trust with God except humankind. But everything in the world is in a relationship with Him through peace: “And they have found peace in Him whoso is in the heavens and the earth.”
The prayer revealed by God to us as the Opening indicates these three paths: “Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour. Guide us onto the upright path, the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray”“
When we utter this prayer, we acknowledge two things – first, that we have reached our present condition from the sublimest elevation, and second, that we have fallen from this original condition to the lowest of the low. God says of this: “We indeed created Man in the fairest stature then We restored him the lowest of the low – save those who believe, and do righteous deeds.”
The upright path, the path of those whom God has blessed, has its counterpart in the opposite direction as the path of those against whom God is wrathful. The human self is differentiated along that path from the lowest of the low to the sublimest elevation or rectitude. The way passes through every level of existence, through the visible and the invisible world. On this path, we discover or realize ourselves in the most beautiful Names of God as we ascend towards them. The purpose of this ascent is to return to God with a self that is realized in Peace.
God is on this upright path: “There is no creature that crawls, but He takes it by the forelock. Surely my Lord is on the upright path.”
To ascend the upright path is to grow in knowledge or the discovery of what was laid down in our nature by the act of original creation. Those who ascend this path love God for they know Him through His signs in the world around us and the inner self. They want nothing but Him, for everything that is not Him owes its existence to Him, and thus serves Him. Our human dignity or openness towards Him presupposes and demands that we refuse to serve anyone other than God. Realizing this desire is our supreme potential. It is the Messenger as a “mighty morality,” as a “good example,” as a “light-giving lamp,” and the original covenant of all the prophets.
This good example is always the higher potential of the self on its ascent or return. Our return to God, or the realization of the original covenant with Him, means to follow the Messenger as the one who is on the upright path, as God attests of him: “Thou art truly among the Envoys on the upright path; the sending down of the All-mighty, the All-wise!”
This is why God tells us that this potential is manifested in His Messenger to all of us who know God through His signs in the outer horizons and the inner self, and loves Him as Known, as dearer than our own self – dearer, because the self of those on the ascent can never overtake the mighty morality of the Praised. This is why the Messenger is the seal of all the earlier prophets – all 123,999 of them, from Adam to Jesus son of Mary – who were sent at various times to all peoples to speak to them in their own tongues of the one essence of human knowledge that God has bestowed upon every human self – dearer than everything that the self of each individual encompasses. This treasury in the human self is none other than the Spirit breathed into it by God, or the knowledge of all the names inspired in us by God.
God says to the Praised: “Say, ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you, and forgive you your sins; God is All-forgiving, Ever-merciful!’”
Those who follow the Messenger acknowledge him as their higher potential, or as the best example to follow on the return to God. God too is on the upright path; and wherever we are on that path, we are needy and God is All-sufficient. The Messenger is always our finest example of the ascent from poverty towards all-sufficiency. It is clear, therefore, that there can be no path to God without the Messenger. Not one of the states we attain on the upright path can exhaust the potential of ascent, since it is the way back to God. This is the meaning of the revealed words: “The Prophet is nearer to the believers than their selves.” Those who bear witness that there is no self but the Self are on the path of return. As long as we are on that journey, we are expected to deny the state of our inner self at a lower level for the sake of a higher state. But the self of the Messenger is always at a higher level still.
The human self, with the entire visible and invisible world as its extension, is in a state of emerging from and returning to the invisible, for the sake of a clearer vision of the truth of creation. The totality of existence is just a part of the descent from or the ascent towards God. Our original nature is designed for both descent and ascent. This experience, however, cannot be confined within any bounds, or within any limited station. Although the self manifests itself within bounds, its return is a breaking of those bounds. Both witnessings, therefore – the first on the Oneness of God and the second on the prophethood of the Praised – are ahistorical or suprahistorical. Their manifestation in history are merely shapings, capable of receiving an infinite multitude of forms.
Witnessing to the Oneness of God and the perfection of the Messenger are in the human centre. Adam had this witnessing as the plenitude and undifferentiation of the self from the world. Both witnessings, to the Oneness of God and the prophethood of the Praised, were within him.
The father of mankind, who is the lord of He (God) taught (Adam) the Names,
hath hundreds of thousands of sciences in every vein.
To his soul accrued (knowledge of) the name of every thing, even as that thing
exists (in its real nature) unto the end (of the world).
No title that he gave became changed: that one whom he called ‘brisk’ did
not become ‘lazy’.
Whoso is (to be) a believer at the last, he saw at the first; whoso is (to be) an
infidel at the last, to him it became manifest.
Do thou hear the name of every thing from the knower: hear the inmost meaning
of the mystery of He taught the Names.
Adam’s violation of the tree bearing the forbidden fruit concealed this innermost depth of the self – but did not destroy it. This is why prophets were sent to the descendants of Adam, to remind them of what had been in them since the origins of humankind. The prophets had the seal of the Messenger, for God preserved their awareness of him as their covenant with Him in pre-existence.
God is All-praised, but He received His praise from no-one. It is the expression of His Essence and His Name. Since God reveals Himself in creation, His being All-praised is in all of creation. The totality of creation is thus Praised, as the recipient of the Creator’s praisedness. One could say that the first manifestation of God as the All-praised is the Light of the Praised or the Truth of the Praised.
When the sum of existence is within us, our perfection is the Praised, as the perfect recipient and gatherer of God’s revealed praisedness, all of which is manifest within him as its receiver.
Praising is the relationship between ourselves as the recipients of praise and God as the bestower of praise. The perfect man is the one who is perfectly in such a relationship with God – he is the Finest Example, the Light-giving Lamp, the Mercy to the Worlds, and the Fairest Nature. With the Messenger as our supreme potential, we realize the original pledge within our inner self, which is contained in the expression: “I bear witness that there is no god but God and that the Praised is His Messenger.”
The Messenger is the seal of all the prophets, who were sent to all nations and peoples with news of God in the languages of the peoples among whom they were chosen. This is why the name of the Messenger is different in each of these languages, but it may be hard to discern his nature as seal and praised at all times, in all places and in all languages. He is the innermost centre within us, the one through and with whom we return to God, as He says: “How can you cover, seeing you have God’s signs recited to you, and His Messenger within you?”
Denying the signs in the outer horizons and our inner self, the signs with which God reminds us of knowledge in our original nature, prevents us from discovering within ourselves that which constitutes our original nature, which is our original knowledge. Since the Messenger is God’s mercy to all the worlds, and is in perfect sympathy and compassion with those who suffer, the human self cannot escape the mercy and compassion of the Lord, for there is no state in which the self lacks the presence of the Messenger: “But God would never chastise them, with thee within them.”
The Truth of Creation
The createdness of all that exists is acquired, and like the guidance of existence as a whole and of every individual thing that exists, it was bestowed by God. Both creation and guidance are with the truth: “It is He who created the heavens and the earth in truth; and the day He says ‘Be’, and it is; His saying is true, and His is the Kingdom the day the Trumpet is blown; He is Knower of the Unseen and the Visible; He is the All-wise, the All-aware.”
God as Creator is the Truth, and His creation is with the Truth, for it manifests Him truthfully. Although His creation is visible between the beginning and the end – His “Be!” and the last trump – He is the first and last, the alpha and omega of all things.
The whole of existence is indebted to God, and the whole of existence and all things in it are with the Truth, so one could say that the debt is to the Truth: “And who does greater evil than he who forges against God falsehood, when he is being called unto surrender? And God guides never the people of the evildoers.” Injustice is action in ignorance. Light corresponds to knowledge, and darkness to ignorance. The Qur’anic discourse on justice is thus inseparable from discourse on knowledge and light; and discourse on injustice is inseparable from discourse on ignorance and darkness. Whenever we act in ignorance, we commit injustice; injustice can never be separated from ignorance. But only God has full and perfect knowledge, and in consequence, His action is always just. And this means that He encompasses all things with His knowledge, and that He is Light.
The verse on God’s creation in truth precedes the following verse on the injust, or people who act out of ignorance: “They desire to extinguish with their mouths the light of God; but God will perfect His light, though the coverers be averse. It is He who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the debt of truth, that he may uplift it above every debt, though the coverers be averse.”
A debt is a relationship between giver and receiver. All things that exist owe their creation to God, from Whom as Bestower they receive it. Existence is thus indebted, and it is God to Whom they are in debt. We are the sum of this totality, for we know all the names – which precede phenomena, and are their first principle in the treasury of the Creator. There is nothing, whether hidden or revealed, that does not have its own name. Each phenomenon is indebted through the manifestation of one of God’s names, and all of them together by the revelation of the Creator.
God taught Adam all the names – note that He says in His revelation “all the names,” not “some of them.” The treasury of all things, hidden and revealed, is in Him, and phenomena are sent down into existence from that treasury; hence their return is there, towards the plenitude of their names.
Whenever false names are attributed to anything on the whim of those who make this attribution, by doing so they distort their original nature or their inner self, as the original treasury of the knowledge of all names. God says: “Naught is there, but its treasuries are with Us, and We send it not down but in a known measure.”
To distort the original self is to cover it, or to be veiled from the Real. Being veiled prevents us from seeing His signs clearly. When we act out of this lack of clarity, or ignorance, we misrepresent the signs of God, or commit violence against our original nature, and hence against our Lord, other people and the world as a whole. God says: “And those who cry lies to Our signs We will draw them on little by little whence they know not.”
Our realization in the knowledge of all the names corresponds to our original state of sublime elevation, which is our original perfection, or standing in a position in which our reality is our original nature or knowledge of all the names. This is the condition to which God’s name of Upright corresponds. Our standing is thus our relation with God as the Everlasting. God calls upon us to stand up in rectitude, or to discover ourselves in that original condition. The final return to God is our standing in rectitude before our Lord.
Our original state, or being in the finest rectitude, is our original perfection, our supreme potential by achieving which we fulfil our debt to ourselves and our original nature, and hence to God as Upright. “That which you serve, apart from Him, is nothing but names yourselves have named, you and your fathers; God has sent down no authority touching them. Judgment belongs only to God; He has commanded that you shall not serve any but Him. That is the right debt; but most men know not.”