Mu`adh ibn Jabal narrated: “One morning at Fajr time, the Prophet delayed on us for the dawn Prayer until we could almost see the sun’s eye when he emerged in haste. The call for starting the Prayer was made. He led in the Prayer,2 shortening it. After he had said the termination formula, he addressed us and said in a raised voice, ‘Hold on to your rows as you are.’ Then he turned to us and said, ‘Let me tell you what held me back this morning; I rose up at night, performed ablution, and Prayed as much as I was destined to. Then I dozed off in my Prayer, until I felt heavy. And lo! I was in the presence of my Lord,3 the Exalted, the Supreme –in the best form.4 He said, “O Muhammad!” I said, “Here I am, O my Lord!” He said, “What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?” I said, “I do not know, my Lord!” He asked three times. (And I replied in the same manner). Then I saw Him placing His palm between my shoulders until I felt the coldness of His fingers over my breast.5 Everything became clear to me, and I knew.6
‘Then He asked, “O Muhammad! What are the angels of the upper-most constellation disputing over?”7 I replied, “Over expiations and ranks.” He asked, “What are the expiations?” I replied, “Moving the feet towards the congregations (for Prayers), remaining in the mosques after the Prayers, and doing the ablution well despite discomforts.” He asked, “Then in what others?” (According to Ahmad, [what are the] “ranks”). I replied, “Feeding (the poor),8 softness in speech,9 and Prayers while people are asleep.” He said, “Ask.” I asked, “O Allah! I ask You: performance of good deeds, steering clear of evil ones, love of the meekly poor,10 that You forgive me and show me mercy; and, if You wish to try a people, send death upon me untried. And, I seek Your love,11 the love of those who love You and love of the deeds that take one nearer to Your love.’” Then the Prophet added, ‘This is the truth, therefore, learn it and study it.’”12
1. This hadith is also known among the scholars as “Hadith Ikhtisaam al-Mala` al-A`laa” meaning, “Report Concerning the Dispute between angels of the upper-most Constellation.”Further, it is an example of the third kind of Revelation: that is, one which happens in a dream.
2. The Prophet was a spiritual as well as a temporal leader of the Muslim community, and so, led in all Prayers. This morning, they were held back until he stepped into the mosque from his chamber which was adjacent to it.
After him and after the Companions, although Islam could not be split, leadership of its adherents split into two: religious and temporal. The religious leadership (which includes the spiritual) remained with the scholars while the temporal was taken away by political aspirants. Subsequently, temporal leadership split into two: political, and secularly intellectual. The leadership of these two however, having lost its contacts with Islam, was unable to produce men of qualities, and hence, in our times, has slipped into the hands of sub-standard men who have been bringing upon their people, in every Muslim country, disaster after disaster.
To weaken the parallel religious leadership, especially in our contemporary world, this leadership buys off loyalty of some of the scholars, and, on the other hand, enters into league with the enemies of Islam, and quite often sells off national interests. By this stratagem, it manages to hold on to power. Consequently, the loyalty of the Muslim masses has also split. At heart it is for religious and spiritual leadership, but for all practical purposes, it is – unwillingly and grudgingly – for the tyrannous temporal leaders. They despise each other. As a result, the rulers pretend to serve the masses, and the masses pretend to obey them. Between the two nothing ever works.
3. For want of words, we can refer to a vision of Allah as the Beatific Vision, that is, in the technical sense. Otherwise, any vision of beatitude can be referred to as the beatific vision.
That all believers will be granted this vision, once they are in Paradise, is a matter settled by consensus. Several Ahadith speak of it as the most blissful things that can happen to the inhabitants in Paradise.
4. We do not know what form it was. No description by the Prophet would have given us any idea of it since there is nothing like unto Allah for the Prophet to rely on similitudes. For example, he described `Isa (asws) after having seen him in the heavens. But how was he to describe Allah?
As for Allah showing one of His creations a form, He has power over everything. He might have chosen a particular form for the convenience of His slave. In the words of Mullah `Ali al-Qari (as in Tuhfatu al-Ahwazi), since it was a dream, form loses its significance. In dreams, a man sees a thing in a form other than that in which it exists in reality, while his mind gives forms to things that have no form at all. That is the reason why Prophets are not affected by forms. They get the message, and interpret them rightly, without their minds bogged down by questions concerning the reality of the forms.
In short, when someone experiences a dream of this kind, it is Allah who chooses the form for Himself, not the dreamer. Somehow the perceiver knows He is seeing Allah. Allah, in any case, is above a form that we can imagine or describe.
5. The information about the Prophet seeing His Lord, or His Lord placing His Hand between his shoulders, or he feeling the coldness of His fingers, are all of the nature of متشايهات (‘Mutashaabihaat’– the uncertain). We are required to believe in them as they are reported, without adding, without deleting anything. To ask why and how is innovation in religion. The first generation Muslims did not ask how and why. (Ibn Rajab)
Our Lord is not like humans. He has not got hands and fingers like our hands and fingers. There is nothing like unto Him (Au.). Allah alone knows the truth of this statement. We are prohibited from committing any anthropomorphism. We accept the words in the apparent sense: without any interpretation, explanation or declaring similarity. That was the safe method adopted by early Muslims. Nevertheless, coldness indicates non-physical contact. ‘Touches’ always produce warmth. Coldness is entirely spiritual and is the other word for the soothing effect.
Our souls are thirsty, disturbed and restless. A cold touch, soothes it, offers tranquility. This is what we see on the faces of the pious: tranquility.
6. That is, it became clear to him what it was that the angels of the upper constellation were disputing over among themselves; and he knew the answer to the question he was being asked. Or, according to other versions of this hadith, he knew everything. That is, pertaining to human guidance. In other words, he knew everything that had anything to do with human salvation; and not of the physical world such as mathematical calculations or molecular biology (Au,).
In addition, it could mean he saw all the evidences of Allah’s Oneness and His powers just as Ibrahim (asws) was shown evidences. Allah said about Ibrahim (Al-An`aam, 75): “That is how We showed Ibrahim the signs of the kingdom of the heavens and the earth.”
In any case, the effect of the Divine Attention was that, in an instant, the Prophet knew the answer to the question he was being asked. This should refute the idea prevalent among a section of the masses that the Prophet knew all the open and secrets of the world. Some say he knew the Unseen (الغيب Al-Ghayb). On the contrary, here we can see that he did not know the answer to the question he was asked. Nor can we say he knew all and everything thereafter since the Qur’an declared “No one knows the Unknown except Allah.”
The method by which he was taught in this instant could be one of the several kinds of علم اللدني “`Ilm al-Ladunni” that has been mentioned in Surah Al-Kahf (v. 65). To be sure, the concept, as it is found in Sufi circles, of an esoteric “knowledge” that is obtained directly from Allah, without the recipient ever needing to open a book, is false. There is no way open for anyone except Prophets and Messengers to obtain knowledge directly from Allah. The only exception could be of an illiterate person who is too old to learn how to read and write, and so depends for knowledge on verbal transmission alone. He does everything possible to remove his ignorance through the channels available to him, including journeys to lands where scholars are found, but does not succeed. In this manner he may obtain “wisdom” but knowledge may still remain out. Or, where a man is literate, but has specific problems, questions, or doubts, for which he is unable to work out answers from the primary sources, and so goes about looking for scholars who could help him, but finds none. It is in such situations that a true سالك Saalik might expect Allah to open his heart, and inspire in him the right answers. Otherwise, the route to knowledge is not through إلهام “Ilham” (inspiration), but rather study of the Qur’an, Sunnah and the ways of the righteous predecessors. The Qur’an opens with the words, “This is a Book there is no doubt about it (that it is) a guidance for the god fearing.” Those who break the rule and choose to neglect the Book and other sources should not expect knowledge to come to them through special means.
Another point may be kept in mind. Knowledge that is obtained by a person of the above kind, which he manages to achieve by means other than the true sources, can at best be trustworthy for that person alone. Knowledge claimed to have been obtained by such means has no validity in religion or in scholarly circles. If the person involved strongly feels that the knowledge he obtained through his own efforts or reasoning is trustworthy, and that it does not contradict any part of the Qur’an and Sunnah or practices of the Salaf, he may use it for himself, others cannot. For them, the Qur’an, Sunnah and ways of the righteous men of past remain the sources.
7. Contrary to beliefs given by other religions, where the spiritual world is a huge expanse of chaos in which devils, ghosts, fairies, ghouls, angels, evil spirits, witches, human souls and demons of all sorts fly about like bats in a dark night, Islam gives us the concept of a highly organized universe. Firstly, there are only three types of rational beings: Jinn (the evil ones are referred to as Satans or Devils), angels and human beings.
As for the created world, it is not merely a vast expanse of space. But rather, it consists of seven constellations that we know of. Each of them has well-defined borders, and is enclosed from all around, with gates and gate-keepers. Countless numbers of angels are assigned to each constellation, who maintain order within.
The angels are themselves not free to move about beyond the areas allocated to them. Those who ever move, do it in obedience to a command. The devils on the other hand cannot reach up to even the first constellation, far from going any further. There are no ghosts, ghouls, demons or evil spirits flying about in space, neither during the day nor at night. Human souls of the dead are not allowed to fly about freely. They are in the custody of angels that are assigned to handle them. Angels of the upper-most constellation ملأ الأعلى (Mala’ al-A`la) are presumably superior to the rest. Among them there are a few that occupy important positions. Some we know by name, e.g. Jibril, Mika’il, Israfil, Malik etc. Most others we do not know. They are the closest to Allah, receiving commands directly from Him, without an intermediary. They pass on the commands to those below them, both in space as well as in rank.
They seem to take interest in human affairs. They seek their forgiveness (the Qur’an, in two places: Ghafir, 7 and, Al-Shura, 5). The hadith on hand speaks of a group of them discussing issues that can take people closer to Allah, and closer to His rewards. How friendlier can any creation be to human beings?
In contrast to the modern man’s perpetual fear of this world, of nature and its fury, of the tides of time, which exposes him to constant tension: to act, work and produce, in order to defeat the merciless nature, against which he stands alone, filling his days with unending work, and nights with tension and anxiety,… in contrast to all this the concept of this-worldly life that Islam gives a Muslim is that he may not be afraid of it or its constituents. He has a Lord who is Most Kind, Most Merciful, who has power over all things. Angels seek the betterment of the humans. So, they can relax. They need not be afraid of Satan either, so long as they obey the commandments.
8. Allah has placed great emphasis on feeding the poor. He said (76: 8-10), “They offer food, despite it being dear to them, to the poor, the orphan and the imprisoned; (saying),‘We only feed you for Allah’s sake. We wish not in return any reward or gratitude. Indeed, we fear from our Lord a Day, austere and fearful.’”
Our Prophet also greatly stressed on feeding the poor. In fact, the first thing he said when he entered Madinah after his migration journey is, “O People! Spread the Islamic greeting, offer food, join the kin, pray when people are asleep, and enter Paradise in peace.”
Feeding is also the best way to avoid entry into Hell-fire. The Prophet said,“Save yourselves from the Fire, even if it is with half a date.”
Indeed, feeding from whatever little one has is so important that the Prophet said to Abu Dhar as in a hadith of Muslim, “Abu Dharr. When you prepare soup, add on a little extra water and gift some to your neighbor.”
It is for these reasons that we find the Salaf taking great care to feed others. Ibn ‘Umar, for instance, would never break his fast unless he had the poor and orphans with him. Sometimes, as Ibn Hanbal reports, when he came to know that his home folk had returned a poor unfed, he refused to break his fast that evening. There were other people who would never have food unless they had a guest with them. For example, some people of Banu ‘Adiyy never had their meals alone. If one of them found someone to share his food with, he did it; if he could not, he would take his food to the mosque and eat with those sitting there. There were others of the earliest Muslims who would feed others while they themselves were fasting. One of them was Hasan. Another was Ibn al-Mubarak. Of the latter it is reported that when he wished to eat a dainty, he would order it prepared for the guests, and then share it with them. Some others got special dishes prepared to feed the poor saying, “These people never have a chance to eat these kinds of things.” Yet others got special foods prepared, but would not eat out of it saying, “By Allah! I have no desire for it. I only got it prepared for you.” One of them got prepared a very special sweet dish and then fed it off to an insane. Somebody remarked, “This man doesn’t know what he is eating.” He replied, “But Allah knows.”
Rabi` b. Khaytham felt like eating some sweets. He ordered it prepared. When it was brought to him he distributed it all among the poor. His home folks complained to him saying, “You gave us a hard time but didn’t eat yourself?!” He answered, “Who else but me ate it?” ‘Ali is reported to have said, “That I should get ten men to share dinner with me, is preferable to me than that I should enter the market, buy a salve and then set him free.”
9. A hadith says, “A man attains the level of someone who fasts during the day and Prays during the night, by virtue of his good behavior.”
It is narrated of one of the righteous predecessors that he was seen in a dream. He was inquired about another of the pious brothers (as to where he was). He answered, “He? Oh! He has been raised to (higher level of) Paradise because of his good behavior.”
Good behavior also includes good manner of preaching the Islamic word. One should entirely avoid harsh words. It is said that Hasan (al-Busri) was invited to a dinner. He was presented sweets in a silver bowl (although silver utensils are banned in Islam). Hasan took out some and put it on a piece of bread to eat therefrom. Somebody remarked: “This is (the manner of) preaching without words.” When Sufyan al-Thawri passed by people playing chess, he would inquire (although he would know), “What are they doing?” He would be told by his companions, “They are looking into a book.” He would shake his head and move forward. The (chess-players) would know he had disapproved of their game.
The earliest Muslims have said in explanation of Allah’s words, “Respond to the evil with good,” that it means to say to someone who had said some harsh words, “If you are truthful, may Allah forgive me. But if you are not true then may Allah forgive you.” It is said that a woman told Malik bin Dinar, “O, the show-off man.” He exclaimed, “How did you know my true calling? No one knows that in Basra except you.” It is also reported that a soldier asked Ibrahim b. Ad-hum the way to people’s dwellings. He pointed towards the grave yard. The man hit him on his head and walked off. Somebody told him that the man he had hit was no less than Ibrahim b. Ad-hum. He went back to offer apology. Ibrahim said, “I have left the head that needs your apology back in Balkh (the city he was born and raised in).”
10. Love of the meekly poor (Masaakeen) is another of the great deeds in Islam. Love can only be out of the heart. What does anyone gain out of loving the meek and the poor? If someone loves them, surely, it can only be for the sake of Allah. Is there a deed better than love for Allah and hatred for Allah? The Prophet advised many Companions to love the meekly poor. Abu Dharr said in a Hasan report preserved by Ahmed, “(The Prophet) advised me to love the meekly poor and remain in their company.”
Sufyan Thawri wrote to some of his friends, “Remain in the company of the meekly poor and the destitute, for the Prophet used to supplicate his Lord that He grant him love of the meekly poor.”
In fact, the Prophet was instructed from on High to keep himself in the company of the meekly poor Muslims. The Prophet always accorded special status to the meek and the poor. He visited their sick, participated in their burial, and was not at all averse to going about to meet with the need of the widows and poor ones. His Companions too followed him in this practice. They befriended them and served them. In fact, Ja`far b. Abi Talib was so often found in the company of the meek and the poor that he was nicknamed “Abul Masaakeen” (Father of the Poor). One of the Prophet’s wives also interacted so often with the meek and the poor that she came to be identified as “Ummul Masaakeen” (Mother of the Poor). She died during the life of the Prophet.
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, Ibn Mas`ud, Ibn ‘Umar and several others preferred to share their food with the poor. Ibn ‘Umar used to say, “Perhaps one of them will be a king on the Day of Judgment.” Sufyan Thawri accorded them a special status and kept the meek and poor closer to himself than the richer folks. It is said that the poor were rich in his assembly while the rich, poor. The practice of treating the poor in a very special way was so common among the earliest generation of Muslims that Sulayman al-Taymi used to say, “When we were looking for our most important men, we searched them among the poor. (They could be found sitting among them).”
Why not, when most of the dwellers of Paradise would be those that were poor? The Prophet said, in a hadith of Bukhari, “I stood by the door of Paradise, and lo, most of those entering were the meek and the poor.”
In another report, found in Muslim, the Prophet said, “…the poor of the Immigrants will – on the Judgment Day – enter Paradise 40 years earlier than the rich.”
They will be the first to cross the Bridge. According to a report in Muslim, the Prophet was asked about who would cross the Bridge first. He answered, “Poor immigrants.” They will be the first to arrive at the Pond. Says a report declared trustworthy by Haythami, “The first to arrive at the Pond would be the poor immigrants – those of dirty clothes and unkempt hair… Those who do not marry the affluent and for whom the way is not opened.”
That is, when they pass by, they are not accorded the right of passage. According to most scholars, the meek and the poor are superior to the rich. They are men of such order, that if they swear by Allah over an affair, Allah will do as they swore. This is stated in a hadith of the Sahih works which says, “(The dweller of Paradise is anyone) who, if he swore by Allah, Allah would do as he swore.”
Loving the meek and the poor therefore, is a virtuous act. It is a sure sign of sincerity towards Allah. To love them, and to spend time in their company, also helps dissolves one’s pride and arrogance. It softens the heart. Somebody complained to the Prophet of his hard-heartedness. He advised him, “If you wish to soften your heart, feed the meek and the poor, and pat the orphan’s head.”
Of the meek and the poor, there are two kinds: one who is recognizable, and the other who conceals his condition and, instead, makes belief that he is well-off. For example, Ibrahim Nakha`i went about in decent clothes so that people thought he must be well-off. It is only his close associates who knew that he was one of those whom the Law allowed that he could eat carrion. There were some others who put on nice clothes, and carried a bunch of keys – to mislead the people – while his only shelter was the mosque.
There was, of course, another class which wore old, patched up and shabby clothes despite their ability to wear better. They wore them out of humility, such as, e.g., the four Khulafa.’ Ali was once criticized over his torn clothes. He replied, “It works against pride and is closer to being imitated by the Muslims.” In fact, the Prophet has said, in a hadith Sahih, “Dishevelled appearance is (a sign) of faith.” (That is, true and strong faith makes one neglectful of one’s appearances).
Nevertheless, the Salaf also realized that sometimes wearing a shabby dress can be out of hidden inner feeling of belonging to a certain ‘other-worldly’ class. Therefore, many of them disallowed themselves such apparel in order to avoid being identified as ascetics. It is said that SayyarAbulHakam of Basra decided to visit Malik b. Dinar. As he entered the mosque, he offered two beautiful cycles of Prayer. When he was finished, Malik b. Dinar said, “O Sheikh, I feel attracted to you because of your prayer, despite your (expensive) clothes.” Sayyar asked, “Do these clothes lower my status in your eyes, or raise it?” Malik replied, “They lower it.” Sayyar said, “Such clothes are clothes proper that help reduce your worth in the sight of the people. But, look at your own Sufi clothes. They raise your status before the people, but do not raise it before Allah.” Malik was in tears. He stood up and embraced him. Then he remarked, “You must be Sayyar Abul Hakam.” Sayyar said, yes.
Therefore, some of the Salaf, such as Ibn Sirin, did not approve of the Sufi clothes. The Prophet himself did not restrict himself to either: good or bad. He wore what came along: sometimes old shabby clothes, while at other times rich embroidered ones. When there was need, he tended to camels, like any common man. The important thing is the condition of the heart, no matter how the body is carried. A Jewish report says that Musa asked Allah, “Where can I find You.” He replied, “Among the broken-hearted.”
11. That is, these are the religious truths that people search for. Some people study every religious literature in search of the so-called “universal truths,” the “religious experience,” etc. Their search takes them to the Tibetian mountains, Gangetic planes, the most distant monasteries to meet naked insane men in forests. They think that “since all of them are seeking the same ‘religious truths,’ they must all be on the same ‘universal track’ to the Truth. In some way or another, they all find God, to their satisfaction. Somehow, everyone is on the right course,” despite the fact that none of them has anything authentic from God, and everyone of them thinks and acts in complete contrast to the so-called several other ‘rightly-guided ones.’ They say these are various disciplines that lead to the same truth, the same one God. What an intelligent idea? It is like saying, “Medicine, astronomy, physics, necromancy and fine arts are various disciplines that lead to the same truth!” or, “Capitalism and communism are expressions of the same economic truths!”
The error is too obvious for elaboration. The most essential qualification of a word of truth is: how authentic it is? Who said it? If the person can be identified, then the next question asked would be: did he have the authority to speak on behalf of God? Finally, and as importantly, if he could be proved to have had the authority: are the words attributed to him, really his? Without these essential points cleared, it is imbecility to run after every claimant to sainthood, to take notes of what he said, and what he meant to say (since most of what they say can be classified as a chaotic jumble of half-truths and falsehood).
The Prophet did not say, “This is the truth, and so are so many other paths, all of them leading to one Universal Truth.” He merely said, “This is the Truth,” excluding all others. And hence, “Learn and teach it.”