The path of pious : External Path and Inner Realities

Reviewed by Nur Fadhilah Wahid

In this age of strife, confusion and delusion about Islam, the concept of piety and its relationship with the path of which the pious predecessors took is now more relevant than ever. Across the world from Egypt to Syria to Lebanon, numerous Muslim countries are in a state of upheaval, undergoing much tribulation and trial. Countless other Muslims watch on, baffled as to why these events are unfolding. During a sold-out event named “Path of the Pious” organized by Sout Illahi, Shaykh Walead Mohammed Mosaad, an educator and researcher in the Islamic sciences and the humanities, shares his understanding of the matter.

“All of us have tribulations and trials,” said the Shaykh, “What happens between the hearts of each one of us as an individual is a microcosm [of what is happening out in the world].”

This understanding of the intertwining relationship between the universal and the individual, the outer perspective and the inner, in the way the pious predecessors viewed religion was what made them exemplars for the generations that follow.

Inability to understand and follow this relationship, in turn, makes an example out of a generation.

Shaykh Walead began his speech with the outer perspective of the pious predecessors. He highlighted their understanding that the reasons Islam remain appropriate for all times and places are due to its constancy and adaptability. Some Muslims today, however, do not have a clear grasp of how this constancy and adaptability is to be understood. Despite all Muslims agreeing that the Qur’an is the Qur’an, and a vast majority agreeing upon the main collections of Hadith as represented by the six or nine books like the Sahih Bukhari or Sahih Muslim, there is still clear confusion, division and practice of sectarianism in the Muslim Ummah.

This confusion, according to the Shaykh, could be attributed to the nature of Islam as a religion that is transmitted from one generation to the next. Transmission of the religion itself is categorized into two parts – the text of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, as well as the methodology used in understanding the text. For the former, doubts need not arise in the transmission process as Allah swt Himself promised its preservation. Today, for example, the entire text of the Qur’an and Sunnah are easily accessible to the average Muslim in mere seconds through the Internet. The transmission of the methodology in understanding the text, however, is a different matter, and one that perhaps will remain out of reach to the average Muslim. After all, in order to understand the methodology of understanding the text, a person would first have to read, embody and imbibe the entire Qur’an and Sunnah – not exactly a simple feat.

Other issues such as the fetish for the idea of a single dalil (ie. expecting an outright singular evidence for a ruling), directing enquiries to the wrong specialists (eg. asking a scholar of hadith about fiqh matters) and not placing importance in who the Deen is learned from, all root from the unawareness of the methodology of understanding the text and the nature of Islam as a transmitted religion.

“The common thing amongst them (ie. Muslims who destroy graves, remove bodies, killing in the name of Allah) for me is they are not taking [religion] from the right authority,” elaborated the Shaykh.

A reflection of the lack of understanding the constancy and adaptability of Islam is the inability to acknowledge the dissent in the religion. As Shaykh Walead stated, “There is much of what the ‘ulama differed and disagreed about… and it’s all legitimate and acceptable.”

The Shaykh went on to explain that there is a general framework of understanding that is more or less uniformed in the four main schools of law and the ones prior, and this flexibility is perhaps the meaning of the verse “… Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you…” (Qur’an 5:6). The pious predecessors and the ‘ulama of the past held this perspective, bringing Islam to non-Muslim countries, leaving alone aspects of its culture that remain within the framework of what is Halal, and adapting that which is not. Insistence on something otherwise, warned the Shaykh, like insisting the Arabian black abaya on Africans accustomed to colorful dresses, is proving very detrimental in many places. One of the beautiful aspects of the religion is its ability to synthesize wherever it goes, making it universal, appropriate and applicable for all times and places… a beauty, unfortunately, unseen by much of the generation today.

At this point, Shaykh Walead moved his focus from the universal to the individual, noting that the transformation of societies root from the personal transformation of individuals. Some studies indicate that it took approximately 350 years for the majority of Egyptians to become Muslims, even as the country was under Islamic rule. True to the verse that “there shall be no compulsion [in the acceptance of] religion” (Qur’an 2:256), there is no history of mass vast forced conversion in Islam; Islamic methodology requires that faith be based on personal conviction, not on provocation.

The transformation of individuals is the inward path that the pious predecessors took, and its essence is two: changing whom an individual is, and changing whom the individual can be. This, as emphasized by the Shaykh, is the essence of the message of the Prophet. The message is not the legal systems per se, eating habits or modes of dresses; the crucial message is the spiritual path, also known as the inner realities.

“It is the path that the pious predecessors, the ‘ulama and the awliya after them followed… It is the path of three things: Shariah, Tariqah and Haqiqah.”, explained Shaykh Walead.

‘Shariah’ is understood as the outward observances like the system of laws such as praying the fardh prayers, paying zakat or completing the hajj. ‘Tariqah’ is implementing that path – doing, maintaining and observing them in the best manner possible. ‘Haqiqah’, however, is the main objective. It is the true inner reality, where Allah swt unveils to an individual why things are the way they are.

These three branches can be taken back to the hadeeth Jibreel on Islam, Iman and Ihsan. Ihsan, as explained by archangel Jibreel, is to worship Allah as if you see Him, and if you do not see Him, then He sees you.  These are the two stations of haqiqah.

Imam Al-Ghazali too once said that the first part of the path is knowledge, and it ends in knowledge, while the middle is action. Hence, the path dictates having knowledge in knowing how to practice (shariah), then practicing that which is known (tariqah), and only then will Allah swt grant knowledge of that which is not known (haqiqah). In the company of great awliya’ who experience haqiqah, Shaykh Walead shared that there is no hope, fear, nor worry amongst them, because they believe and have taqwa, seeing the true realities of the dunia and akhirah.

In conclusion, Shaykh Walead Mosaad emphasized the need to understand the relationship between the outer and inner perspectives of the pious; there is utmost importance in learning from those who are authoritative and authentic in the understanding of the religion due to its transmitted nature, and the utmost importance in embarking on the inner spiritual path of shariah, tariqah and haqiqah. Neglecting these will only bear negative consequences.

“The road to hellfire is paved with the best of intentions,” reminded Shaykh Walead. Reflecting on the state of the world today, the strife and upheavals, from Egypt to Syria to Lebanon, nothing can be further from the truth…

… Except, perhaps, how far we’ve gone from the path of the pious.