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Sunday, September 20, 2020

In pursuit of the Muhammadan perfection: Of sects, saints and narratives of a prophetic nation

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What does it mean to achieve that feat of being the walking reflection of the names and attributes of God? How is such a being supposed to look, act and think like? The archetype for the answers to those questions and reality according to Ibn ‘Arabi and a host of other Sufis is none other than Muhammad, that messenger and prophet from the heartlands of Arabia. The culmination of the prophetic mission that emanated from the heavens above.

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However we are not going to be dwelling on mystical themes too much, instead we will be looking at what made him such a beacon for both mystic and common man and how we can as people of the 21st century postmodern dwellers can learn and take from his example, and how is it that we drifted far from such beauty and grace; for the Muhammadan perfection has dazzled the most brilliant minds of humanity over the many centuries. It has garnered commentaries from both orient and occident, through China to black Africa. 

The consummation of the prophetic perfection which is a usual theme in the Semitic scriptures was completed in the being of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). He embodied the various attributes of perfection, from chivalry to a deep seated ethical life balanced with constant companionship, much removed from the ideal Nazarene Saint who seeks the Divine through isolation and a strict monastic lifestyle. That is why the Muhammadan saint is like no other for he is amongst men and with men in all his doings, save the fact that he is constantly in communion with the celestial realm, but which again is not a cause for him to seek seclusion, and the one who subsist on seclusion (khalwa) is doing so based on a celestial authorisation. The perfect archetype for this reality is the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad to the highest heavens, going to a place where no human or angel have ventured, coming face to face with the Lord Most High. Yet the amazing thing is he indeed did return to his people, and continued his mission amongst them and for both saint and mystic this is a supreme moment in the culmination of proximity and prophetic history. For the saint this is to be his prime example that when he annihilate in the Divine beloved he still comes back to humanity through his subsistence, which again is typified with the culmination of the Muhammadan ascension when he came back to his suffering people to guide them, after enjoying the power and light of being in the Divine presence. 

The prophetic presence literally transformed the people of that time and place into gold stones and rubies. If we are to look at his perfection, we must first look at how he impacted the people who were around him. It’s through such study and observation that we can come to a clearly and scientific understanding of the Muhammadan perfection that have enraptured lovers throughout the ages; for it was no ordinary thing that made the great poets of the Islamic civilisation sing and wrote countless odes about him.

At the core of his message as any student of sacred history will ascertain is the conflict resolution which he embarked upon. He found the Arab tribes fighting and killing each other over the most trivial matters. Like one of the Qur’anic verses that extol his virtues, talks about how he united the hearts of his people after they have been warring and disunited people. Now the irony or the paradox presents itself as to how the most fragmented and disunited community in this day and age is the Prophetic Muhammadan nation. On the one side you’ve the Wahabi/Salafi movement who are at the forefront in their sectarian endeavour and self righteous claim in further dividing the rank and file of the Muslims. Extreme elements amongst them, declaring many normative and traditional Muslims as disbelievers, thereby enacting the rise of the ancient demonic sect of the Khawarij.

Recently, we see the rise of very extreme elements like Boko Haram, Al Shabab al Mujahidin and the ISIS of Iraq, who are but the overheated form of Wahabism. They break command upon command of the exalted sacred law of Islam in the pursuit of their misguided interpretation of the creed of Sunni orthodoxy. Like I mentioned above, one of the achievements of the Prophet was the fact that he was able to resolve the conflicts of his people which has been raging for centuries. So if conflict resolution is part of the prophetic bequest, then why is it that there must be so much conflict within his inheritors? Questions as this can only be resolved when we look at the various creedal ramifications that came with stepping away from the canons of mainstream Sunni orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Reducing spirituality which is at the core of this community from the beginning, to a mythical and demonic concept, the Wahabi sect has desacralised most of the sacred places of Muslims. And for the first time in about a millennium of Islamic history, Sufism, the mystical path of the religion, was demonized and diabolised. It was with the advent of the Salafi call that Sufism on a wide scale became seen as a heretical innovation that contravenes the dictates of the faith. Otherwise throughout the centuries, Sufism has always been seen as a part of the well trodden path of Islam, with the eponymous leaders of the various legal and creedal orthodox schools saying beautiful things about it and many others developing among other things various schools and sciences that engender its accessibility for the everyday Muslim.  

So in divorcing spirituality from the teachings that they follow, they became nothing but ritualistic robots that have made the letter supreme whiles killing the spirit. In following such dialectics that are not in touch with feeding the soul its spiritual sustenance, they became gradually constricted and suffocated, which then became manifested in rage and anger, finally erupting in the violence we see all around us.

On the other side of the spectrum you have the ordinary Muslim, who belongs to one of the spiritual paths that more or less characterize the Islamic faith. He sees himself as one person in a whirlwind of ideas and contentions, and tries ever so hard to seek felicity whiles in this transient abode. And for him is the boon of this path; for in simplicity and greatness of purpose will the unveilings and unfolding of reality occur. The promise and fullness of the religion was achieved by those people who realised the inherent benefits in never parroting away but in silence and constant remembrance of the Divine.

Away with sectarian problems that beset this community. Let’s talk about the path to the realization of the perfection that was detailed in the teachings of the Holy Prophet himself. From the metaphysics of the Sufi path has been the emphasis on reciting abundant prayers of peace and blessings upon the being of the Holy and Chosen one (Peace be upon Him). The outpourings of the Muhammadan spiritual gifts according to all eminent spiritual masters have been tied to the blessing of constantly invoking a formula of prayers upon the Prophet. In persisting upon this, the spiritual aspirant is granted a waking vision of the Prophet himself, so in being in the splendor and power of the prophetic presence the aspirant is catapulted to the holiest of presences, thereby absorbing the qualities and attributes thereof. 

The saint in Islamic hagiography is someone who has literally absorbed the qualities of the beauty and rigor of the Divine being; the veils for him have being rent asunder. For him the covenant that was made on the day of the primordial cosmic event at the gathering of the souls has been actualised. He has come to the consummation of the promise that was extracted on the day when God most high reveal Himself full of glory to the souls of all of humanity from the beginning to the end. That’s the time when he is a perfect soul, and is unto humanity as a sign and exemplar of the truths embodied in the various revelations from the heavens on high.

When the Islamic tradition and civilisation was at its peak in providing guidance to the world the saint was revered and his luminosity was so powerful it was a catalyst for the reformation of peoples from lands afar. The sacred space was a reality, a sign and symbol for the calm and equanimity that pervade the place that is ordered on a sacred pursuit. The agitation that has encircled the world is the absence or rarity of such souls and places. An example that too readily spring to mind as I write this the destruction of the resting place of one of the greatest saint of the Islamic tradition, the tomb of Uways al-Qarni in Iraq by the Wahabi extremist ISIS. 

For the Sufi each person has the potential to become one brought close to the effulgent presence. To realise that Muhammad is not any distant stranger but one that is indwelling in your innermost being. For him the path is one of love and none other, knowing that the whole of creation is one love story. But this realisation according to the enraptured ones is accorded to the one who have left dogma behind and seek only the face and countenance of the Divine beloved; for the dogmatic one see no less than what has been fed to him and have a little capacity to live by the dictates of the polymath path of mystical love.

To arrive at that point where the Muhammadan sainthood is a reality, one must as a necessity leave behind all otherness, – more like Majnun annihilating in Layla – and come as a poor and broken one before the masters that have arrived and are redolent in the light of a loving God. If dogma is the one dangerous barrier and veil then sectarianism is to be left behind with the aspirant taking upon himself the freedom of mind and the emptiness of the cup.

 

With Alieu A. Bah (Immortal X)

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