The following excerpts are from a book titled “Classical Islam and the Naqshbandi Sufi Tradition,” by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani.
“The outer behavior of the disciple should mirror the inner attitude of trust and submission toward the shaykh…(s)he must be willing at all times to ‘receive the orders of the shaykh, just as the Prophet awaited the coming of Gabriel with revelation for God Almighty and Exalted’. He must have… ‘the conduct of anticipation,’ which means that the murid is at all times awaiting the orders of the shaykh. He must adopt the attitude of a humble household servant ready to perform even the most menial task at the drop of a hat. The disciple’s readiness to act and carry out orders is a barometer of his degree of submission and progress. Hence, inattention or lack of compliance is considered a fall from grace for an advanced murid and a disgrace upon him.”
We are nearing the end of Project Illumine. This has been quite the journey, and I want to share some reflections. In truth, I feel fearful because the journey is about to begin. It feels that with each surah we have covered the chasm between me and the ummah grows. I wish I could say that it has gotten smaller, but the truth is it has widened and the sense of responsibility I feel grows with it. And that is because Muslims have lost their Qur’an. Anyone who has sat through each halaqa of Project Illumine will know what I am talking about, but most have not. I believe that we think the translation of the Qur’an is enough, or that social media accounts that share hadith and Quranic verses will keep the lights of our soul on just enough to get us to the finish line. We assume that everything will just turn out okay in the end, but Allah tells us this attitude is sadly wrong. Anyone who has listened to all the halaqas will know what I am talking about.
I have been around Usuli since the beginning. And long before that I have had the honor of a front row seat to my father’s career. The number of emails from people reaching out to him to have their questions answered still astonishes me. Eventually you see the questions are not unique, they are all the same. Hijab, marital disputes, etc. Some are pedantic and others are heartbreaking pleas for help from voices caught in abusive cycles. I pray that everyone’s questions can be answered, and that is why I committed myself to the Usuli Institute. I believe education is the answer. Yet the amount of people sincerely wanting an education are few. I have realized there is a large difference between those on the path to knowledge versus those who want their questions answered. The difference is that one wants to find Truth, while the other only wants to alleviate their anxieties.
Something great was lost when our civilizations fell—when Islamic civilizations fell. It is something that Western society does not offer, and it is something that cannot be developed through one’s own intellect: character. Islam in western society is akin to a vending machine that provides for the lazy and anxiety prone, but otherwise is forgotten when we feel good or are earning money. It is an Islam of ritual and superstition boiled down to biting bits of hadith and singular Quranic verses while completely ignorant of a larger ethical purpose in life. The most important lesson that has been implanted in me from Project Illumine is that there is an answer to every question, but I must be willing to weather the confusion. There is a Muslim community for me to enjoy, but I must patiently persevere through the loneliness. There is a transformation to be had, but I must surrender myself completely. I have learned that half measures will avail nothing, I must bring Allah into every aspect of my life. And to do that, I must understand His revelation. This is my jihad, and it is difficult.
Those of you who have stuck with us through Project Illumine remember the story of how I waited for seven years for an explanation of Surah Rahman. I now understand why it was necessary for me to wait. To patiently serve and work for that knowledge. Knowledge cannot be treated cheaply and with an expectation that all my questions be answered when I demand it. And unfortunately, that is how most people who come to the Usuli Institute treat this knowledge. I understand the urge, I feel it myself, but I want to impart this lesson: waiting, and sitting with your question, while studying the halaqas will develop something great within you. This is the path of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
“…who is the teacher of Prophet? It was Gabriel. Why did not the Prophet say, I took wisdom directly from God? Why do you need a Prophet? The Prophet did not say, ‘Gabriel, I don’t need you.’ He needed Gabriel. He was asking him what he has to say and what he has to do… So Gabriel was his teacher, and he was teaching him. Why did not the Prophet say he did not need Gabriel? Why did he insist he was his teacher? He was teaching us we need a teacher. Allah does not need Gabriel to go to the Prophet because Allah called Prophet to His presence. He said he is ‘the distance of just two bows’ length,’ (53:9) from the Divine Presence… he was teaching us, all mumins, all Muslims, all human beings. Without a teacher, you cannot reach anywhere.”
I think that so many of us believe that the problem in our lives is not having our questions answered. But the truth is that the problem in our lives is that the one asking the question remains unchanged. The question doesn’t matter. The character of the questioner, the development of their patience and reverence, and destruction of their self-centeredness is what truly matters. Because only then can God have room to enter your life.
This is why I wanted to take this weekly update on Usuli to remind us that the suspension of judgment, perseverance in surrendering to knowledge as it sees fit to present itself to us, and the active destruction of self-centeredness is far more important than any questions you may have. If you are not striving for this, then do not be surprised if nothing changes in your life. I pray for your surrender, because I am confident that this is the only organization that will not sugarcoat its content for you in order to increase its own followership.
Cherif Abou El Fadl