Niyyah and the Subtle Deceptions of the Nafs
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
In spite of their dogmatic differences, all religious systems and their adherents tend to follow the same general patterns. Those born and raised in a religious system are generally either:
- Raised to be very entrenched in the religious paradigm of their upbringing, or
- Raised with a relative disinterest in said religion, while still often identifying with it on a sociological level, or
- Outright rejecting all tenants of the paradigm of their family and/or culture in an attempt to rebel against social norms.
As such most interfaith “conversion” from one paradigm to another (that other being filled with people following this same pattern of actions 1 through 3), is provoked by some catalyst, rarely rooted in completely pure intentions (often conversely rooted in that which is impure). When one “finds religion” who has previously not been raised in such a tradition (or who has grown up estranged from that tradition), their patterns are similarly of a general sameness.
- Such a person adopts the “true believer” mentality, where they become the “super” member of said newfound faith. Yet this religiousity is rooted in their desire to exude a superior status, in order to be the envy of their new found religious brethren, or simply gaining acceptance. But in general the latter is followed by,
- Such a person compromising on the same critical thought process that in some cases led them to faith itself, or worse is,
- One who uses religion as a manner of “phase” or “finding” or “defining” them”self” (rather than using it to LOSE them”self” and find the Divine).
The purpose of this is not to demonize or attack, but to observe and allow for critical self-examination and introspection. For as Lao Tzu said, “He who knows others is wise, but he who knows himself is Enlightened.”
With that said, we must be cognizant of the fact that Nature has emerged the ego (nafs) for a very important reason. It is for the same reason that all sorts of negative traits have emerged throughout the Natural Order. We see suffering on an untold level throughout the natural world. Children play to close to a fire and can themselves catch on fire, with no “Divine hand” coming “down” to intervene. This is the way that the natural world works. Pain exists for a reason. Predation exists for a reason. Fear exists for a reason.
For it is no coincidence that all children share the similar fear of a sharp-toothed, clawed “monster” lurking in the shadows, in the woods, in the darkness. These are archetypal images of a predator. Nature itself has hardwired into us such fear of what could naturally threaten us. This was not without purpose and it is certainly not our enemy. In the modern world when a woman walks past a dark alleyway and thinks of using it to cut across to where she needs to go, her seemingly irrational fear kicks in and tells her not to go down the alleyway that appears to be safe. She could override this fear as “irrational” (and at times we are to do this), but often she is supposed to take heed to it. As a rational species – ideally governed by reason, not merely by animalistic instinct – Nature affords us a manner of neurologically re-imprinting ourselves in moments of extreme fear, ecstasy, pain, and the like (for a brief window at the pinnacle of those moments). This same fear that the woman faces when determining whether to go down that dark alleyway and save a couple of minutes walking around the block, also tells a child who has perhaps been slightly discomforted in the past by heat (or received a very small burn, enough so to teach them that excess heat will cause pain), to “fear” getting too close to a camp fire, fireplace or the like.
If these things did not exist then we would go on damaging our bodies with nothing to tell us, force us, to stop. As well, if predation did not exist then vegetation would become so sparse that herbivorous animals would have to battle incessantly for access to the limited food. At higher levels of intelligence this would lead to treachery (even in many species of non-human animal life), and there would be no tribal cohesion in the pack, herd or tribe. Furthermore, if there was no fear then we would wander blindly into danger with no intuitive sense of what would cause us pain or damage. In a short time, if all of such “negative” traits were wiped clean from the face of the Natural world, then we would soon see all life come to an end, through excess hoarding, cut-throat competition and the like.
Thus, it is not by accident or haphazard that the Nafs has emerged. For it too is a successful tool for survival and for evolutionary growth. The key is to transcend its limitations and diminish its influence over you, whilst expanding in awareness more and more towards immersion in the Divine and embodiment of the Universal Mind, rather than a limited, walled-off, pocket of thought. Nevertheless, that which leads one-“self” to embark upon such a journey is always to some extent initially rooted in the nafs itself. It is for this reason that the Qur’an tells us to strive and compete for acts of righteousness, for this is what sets one upon the path towards perfection. In Sooratu-l-Maaidah, Aayaah 48 we read: “And We have revealed to you the Book with the truth, verifying what is before it of the Book and a guardian over it, therefore judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their low desires (to turn away) from the truth that has come to you; for every one of you did We appoint a law and a way, and if Allah had pleased Hu would have made you (all) a single people, but that Hu might try you in what Hu gave you, therefore strive with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; to Allah is your return, of all (of you), so He will let you know that in which you differed.”
وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِّمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَهُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا وَلَوْ شَاء اللّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَـكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم فَاسْتَبِقُوا الخَيْرَاتِ إِلَى الله مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
Thus we are told, that it was not in fact Divine will that there be “one community” or “Ummah” throughout the world. It was not Divinely Willed that all religions would be one with no disagreements. It was not willed that the Ummah itself hold to one view of successorship. It was not Divinely Willed that there be one single “minhaj” or “shar`iah.” It was not willed that all within the divisive “Shiyyan” (sects) of the Ummah hold to one single Madhab or method of approach and action. Why is this? To answer this we must refer back to the patterns of actions 1 through 3, described at the opening of this discussion.
For if all nations and peoples understood the Universal Path with the same understanding as the Prophets themselves, or with the same ABSOLUTE and OBJECTIVE understanding of the Truth, al-Haqq – the Reality, al-Haqiqah – then this would breed a thoughtless, uncritical approach to knowledge (`ilm), and rational deduction (`aql), itself. Thus, we would see future generations in this hypothetical “single community” or “Ummah,” following that aforementioned pattern of action; thus reeling the masses into cynicism and disbelief, (kufr). Thus, the Qur’an tells us in Surat ash-Shura, Aayah 14: “Ironically, they broke up into sects only after the knowledge had come to them, due to jealousy and resentment among themselves. If it were not for a predetermined decision from your Lord to respite them for a definite interim, they would have been judged immediately. Indeed, the later generations who inherited the scripture are full of doubts.”
وَمَا تَفَرَّقُوا إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءهُمُ الْعِلْمُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ وَلَوْلَا كَلِمَةٌ سَبَقَتْ مِن رَّبِّكَ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى لَّقُضِيَ بَيْنَهُمْ وَإِنَّ الَّذِينَ أُورِثُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن بَعْدِهِمْ لَفِي شَكٍّ مِّنْهُ مُرِيبٍ
So the result of the jealousy and resentment of the Ummah was division. This happened time and time again, including with the Islamic Ummah. Thus, this is why the infamous Ahadith about the 73 “Firqah” does not read in `Arabic as the English translations claim. It does NOT say “my Ummah WILL break apart into 73 firqah.” In fact, in the `Arabic of all sources of this Ahadith it says “my Ummah IS breaking apart into 73 firqah.” Yet because this does not speak well for the popular consensus of thought in the Ummah today, liberty is taken with translation as is done elsewhere.
The hadith, attributed to Muhammad says that: “The Jewish people were divided among themselves into seventy one or seventy two sects, and the Nazarenes then became divided among themselves [as one of the] seventy one or seventy two sects. And My Ummah is dividing among itself into [the] seventy third sect.” Abu Dawood, at-Tirmidhi, al-Hakim and Ahmad among several others, reported this hadith. At-Tirmidhi said; “hadithun Hassanun Sahih.”
إفترقت اليهود على احدى وسبعين فرقة وافترقت النصارة على إثنتين وسبعين فرقة وتفترق أمتي على ثلاث وسبعين فرقة
Attention should be paid to the terms “aftaraqat” (has divided into), which is used twice for the division and and sectarianism of the Jews and Christians juxtaposed with the term “taftaraq” (is dividing into) used in the present tense for “Ummatiy” (my Ummah), both of these terms for “dividing” being derived from the root of firqah (sect) itself.
In another variation, the Sunniy imaam Ahmad recorded that Abu ‘Amir `Abdullah ibn Luhay said; “We performed Hajj with Mu`awiyah ibn Abiy Sufyaan. When we arrived at Makkah, he stood up after praying Zhuhr and said; ‘The Messenger of Allah said; ‘The People of the Two Scriptures divided into seventy-two sects. This Ummah is dividing into seventy-three sects, all in the Fire except one, that is, the Jama`ah. Some of my Ummah will be guided by desire, like one who is infected by rabies; no vein or joint will be saved from these desires.'”
إِنَّ أَهْلَ الْكِتَابَيْنِ افْتَرَقُوا فِي دِينِهِمْ عَلى ثِنْتَيْنِ وَسَبْعِينَ مِلَّةً، وَإِنَّ هذِهِ الْأُمَّةَ سَتَفْتَرِقُ عَلى ثَلَاثٍ وَسَبْعِينَ مِلَّةً يَعْنِي الْأَهْوَاءَ كُلُّهَا فِي النَّارِ إِلَّا وَاحِدَةً وَهِيَ الْجَمَاعَةُ وَإِنَّهُ سَيَخْرُجُ فِي أُمَّتِي أَقْوَامٌ تَجَارَى بِهِمْ تِلْكَ الْأَهْوَاءُ كَمَا يَتَجَارَى الْكَلَبُ بِصَاحِبِه، لَا يَبْقَى مِنْهُ عِرْقٌ وَلَا مَفْصِلٌ إِلَّا دَخَلَه
Particular attention should be paid here to the fact that this was reportedly stated following the Hajj of Mu`awiyah the son of Muhammad’s arch-enemy Aboo Sufyaan. Mu`awiyah of course was the ruler of the “Ummah” which the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt reject the authority of. He reportedly instituted cursing `Ali ibn Abi Taalib in the masaajid, and his son was the ruler who ordered the murder of Muhammad’s grandson Husayn at Karbala. It is no wonder why Muhammad said that the Ummah was dividing (present tense), to Mu`awiyah or in his obvious presence (for him to thus relay this).
Aayaah 14 of Ash-Shura is clear, the end result of these divisions for those who inherited the Kitab throughout the various divisions is confusion, uncertainty, and an `aqidah “full of doubts.” Thus, people generally follow those who give them the quickest, easiest answers; those answers that suppress the natural inclinations of their minds to pursue truth and examine data in order to extrapolate the knowledge therein. So these religious salesmen are followed by many, but as the human species continues to follow the Destined course of evolution – towards Reason and away from blind obedience and acceptance – then these short term solutions and suppressions of doubt (and critical thought), will go the way of the dinosaur. They will die off. They will become extinct. For a sophisticated species, superstition, uncritical thinking, blind adherence and the like have no place.
So the Qur’an tells us to follow the natural evolutionary struggle for dominance, competing paradigms are to strive with one another as if in a race. This is the way of Nature itself. But the secret lies in the fact that no variant of a species itself maintains all of the original characteristics of their parent species throughout the course of the process of striving for evolutionary success. The “race” itself changes the species over the course of itself. Thus, is said the ancient Zen axiom that the journey is the destination. For it is the journey itself, this process of striving, that causes us to evolve; transcending and including what came before. Thus it is with sociological memes and paradigms whether religious or ideological. Over the course of societal evolution Allah will “let you know that in which you differed” by the course of Destiny drawing the most successful “minhaj” to the forefront.
Thus, it is only through this process of striving itself that one can approach knowledge critically, rather than dogmatically, based on intellectual inebriation of ones surrounding society rather than critical examination based on objectivity and scientific method.
Thus, it is said in the Qur’an that “Surely they who divided their religion into parts and became sects, you have no concern with them; their affair is only with Allah, then Hu will inform them of what they did.” Al-Qur’an, Surat Al-An`aam 6.159
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُواْ دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُواْ شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا كَانُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ
For the message of the Qur’an was revealed within the context of the Universal Path; not within the context of the 72 Firqah which broke off from the Universal Path, instead choosing to follow their tribalism (`asabiyyah) of Jewish nationalism, `Arabism and Persianism masquerading under the guise of “Yahadut” (the Praising of the Divine through surrender or istislam to the commandments) “Islam” (Submission to the Divine). So the Qur’an tells us that when we see these firqah, these shiyyan, these various sects and divisions, we are to strive with each other for success; thus proving “correctness” by works, by success. But success in this sense is not something short term that can be defined by numbers of adherents. For there is no question that the Qur’an speaks out against the herd-like mentality of the masses time and time again.
So how do the masses get led astray? How is it that so many divisive parties emerge with record high adherents? The Qur’an explains this in Sooratu-l-Room, Aayaah 31, when it is said: “Turning to Hu, and be careful of (your duty to) Hu, observe the Salaah and do not ever fall into idol worship like those who divide their religion into sects; each party rejoicing with what they have.”
مُنِيبِينَ إِلَيْهِ وَاتَّقُوهُ وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَلَا تَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ
So this process of division into sects itself is deemed indicative of taghut, of idol worship. How is this so? It is so because to gain the mass support, to gain majority acceptance, to gain popularity, one must themselves be set up as an “idol” of sorts. Thus, “each party” is worshipping idols when they are “rejoicing with what they have;” when they are intellectually masturbating about their `aqidah (as their `ulema have more often than not pre-packaged it for them to uncritically accept), when they are blindly following the paradigm their societies have scripted for them, they are attempting to limit truth. They are attempting to fuse truth in to the parameters, into the property lines of their paradigms.
We see this as all too common with actors, musicians and the like. They are revered – even by most in the Islamic Ummah today – as nothing less than idols. They are investigated with much more earnestness and intrigue than the lives of the prophets, or the Scriptures themselves.
Thus, there is no question that in both Sunni and Shi`i Ahadith there are disparaging references to music and the like. Most maraaji` have correctly deduced that such prohibitions were contextual to the TYPE of music being performed. Thus, many maraaji` have noted that positive music is halaal, while music glorifying haraam things is haraam. The reason behind this is simple. The music itself will act to influence the listener. Thus, it is thought, if one limits themselves to positive music then there is no danger. One who will deny this is perhaps the most susceptible to such influence.
While it is true that such positive music is not haraam, it is not true that there is no danger. For the very nature of one being a performer is that either one will succeed in pleasing people and thus will sell CD’s, tickets to shows, and the like, or they will fail and will not sell. Thus, by nature of being “known” and thus “succeeding” socio-economically, the performer will be looked upon as a type of “idol,” even if by a limited number of people.
This is often seen with “Contemporary Christian Music.” Christian propaganda later invaded the underground “hardcore” music scene and correlative to that the number of Christian “hardcore” kids increased exponentially. This was surely no coincidence. Yet once these bands diminished so did the size of the “scene” of those who had suddenly acquired this new found or revived “faith.”
Prior to that, the same music scene was filled with people joining up with the Hare Krishna religion. Why did this happen? Again, because of Taghut. A famous icon of that music scene had converted to “Krishna Consciousness” and formed a new and wonderful band. Soon several other “Krishna bands” arose, kids were going to Hare Krishna temples, and Krishna prayer beads became the popular type of tightly fitted necklace.
People were so enamored with his former band that they UNCRITICALLY went out and bought the debuting album from this band which was now doing nothing short of propagandizing their religion. The same happened there just as with the Christian scene. Those who got interested in “ISKCON” did so because of this group (and those which followed). They joined the organizations they band members joined, and when the band members left, they too left. When the band stopped producing albums, so too did most of these people lose “faith” in their path. This is not to say there is no beauty in their path, nor in the music – which was especially positive and focused on rising above the materialism of the dunya. But it is to show just how shallow self-professed beliefs can often be.
So one could say “Yes but this is only bad because they were not propagandizing Islam.” Yet this is naive and untrue. Propaganda is propaganda. It is an attempt to change the belief system of a person without their deliberate desire to have their belief system changed. This is perhaps one of the most heinous of crimes that one can commit against another.
For the same thing has in fact happened many times over with Islam and branches thereof (whether one sees them as valid or deviant, is irrelevant to the point being made here). In the Hip Hop music scene untold thousands became “5%ers” after the explosive popularity of “Rakim” who polytheistically refers to himself as “Rakim Allah.” The man is known for often expressing 5%er ideology in songs by saying things as extreme as “i am God.” Ultimately though, he is right. He is a “god.” He is an idol. Those who followed him ideologically are idol worshippers, who have taken him as their lord. He is right to say he is a “god” an “ilah,” because to claim this is to claim that he is a lie, an illusion. The first Kalimah of Islam says that there is NO “ilah” no “god” except for, and ONLY “Allah” (al-ilah). So to say one is “a” god and not “THE” (Al) “God” (ilah) is to admit that one is a lie, a trick, a deception to mislead you.
Many other hip hop artists emerged following suit with this 5%er dogma of self-deification. Like other forms of musical taghoot, it came and went. People bought it and then another idol came their way with a new way of life to sell them. The same can and does happen with the many Muslim hip hop artists today. Many people who are brazen munafiqoon will proudly listen to the likes of “Freeway,” “Mos Def” or “Brother Ali” or others, and go out and drink, use recreational drugs, act in ways that show their drunkeness on this world of the dunya, with not an ounce of shame for their misdeeds. These people will not let go of their identification with “Islam” as they would chose to call it, and yet they follow few if any ACTIONS of a Muslim.
Years ago, during the tenure of the Taliyah al-Mahdi’s public dawah, many listened to music produced by adherents of our Jam`at al-Fitrah who perhaps gave a “shout out” to the Taliyah, or the like, and yet no sooner than those artists stopped producing music, or went upon more mainstream paths, so too did their interest quickly fade. What then was the depth of their professed belief?
Brothers and sisters, understand that this is how Allah refines us. Many were called to join the ranks of Gideon (Talut), but in the end only 300 remained. When King David was in exile in Gaza, how few remained faithful to him?
So what gain is it for TRUE Islam if there are thousands or even millions of people claiming affiliation without Imaan in their hearts? Does this benefit the Cause of Allah? Why are people so hungry for numbers? Numbers are easy to get if you tell people what they want to hear; if you provide easy answers. These people are like the proverbial Injeeli teaching of a house built upon the sand of a beach. When the waters are calm and their sky is clear there is no problem with these houses. The people live there in happiness enjoying the sunshine and the surf. But when the clouds draw above, the rain pours and the waters rage, then this house is swept away. How different is this than the house of the one who builds upon the solid foundation? Yes, they do not have the beach at their doorstep. They do not have the comfort and convenience of this, but they have a solid, rooted and firm structure.
So too is this the case with our Iman. If our Iman is based upon the sandy foundation of that attractive beach front property, that gorgeous view, that wonderful smell, the laid back, hip atmosphere of the beach then certainly that will attract many people who will also seek to build on this beach front. This is why beach front property is so expensive despite being flooded and often destroyed. Those who own such properties do not care, they can overlook such practical problems, because they enjoy the looks, the appearance, the dunyaa’.
But when the storm comes these houses simply are not build to last. They cannot weather the storm, and thus after the clouds have separated and the waters receded, they must start over and build anew or expend a great deal to make these houses livable again. All the while, those who built upon the solid foundation are untouched by the storm. They merely close their windows, stay inside and wait it out. They have nothing to fear. They know their structure is sound.
To console themselves, those who build upon the sand disparage others. This is seen in manifold expression with rich, elitist beach front communities today in the West. People in such elitist communities often become so absorbed in the scene of their beach front communities that they refer to those who live only miles away as though they are fools and paupers, as though they are some how out of touch with the chic “reality” as their social caste has defined it. Of course this cuts to the core of what this parable is referring to spiritually. For they do not hold this elitism over the physical geography as much as they hold it over the social status of those in less “popular” areas.
The geography merely becomes the focal point of this social elitism. This is directly related to the issue of religious paradigmism in that these popular views, the orthodoxy, will always feel the desire to disparage and look for faults in any heterodoxy that comes their way. There is always a reason why the heterodoxy is problematic and conveniently, the more or less pre-packaged popular view just so happens to be the exactly right view, with no need for critical overhaul, nor reformation.
So which social, political, or religious groups over time have proven to gain the most adherents? Of course it is those which say the things that are easiest to accept either because of the ideological tenants proclaimed themselves, or because of the popularity amongst the herd of those who are propagating such ideas. And nothing changes, for few will take these words to heart reading them “here” and “now.” Yet if these words were written in an interview in “Rolling Stone” magazine, in “The Source” or the like by some famous celebrity, then there is no doubt that they would catch on (albeit in just as shallow a manner as if they would have been ignored entirely, save by a few). And of course, this is the Way of things, and it is as it should be.