Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
When one examines the relationship between kufr and belief, it seems as if there is three variations to a theme. Commonly referred to in English as the distinction between belief in a Creator, in a God – as one variation – complete atheism, as another variation, and theres a third possibility – agnosticism, which is basically not bothering to decide whether its the one or the other.
In so far as an atheist is alive, he is in a sense an agnostic of a kind, because to be completely honest with your atheism, you would recognise that being alive is not at all sustainable, and that being alive is a completely alienating and horrifying prospect. The reason for this is that we are, of all creatures that we know of, the human being is the most individuated being there is. We have an immense sense of standing separate from the rest of the universe. We are quite capable of being self conscious, which means we can individuate, to stand apart from the universe.
That standing apart from the universe is based on a sense of being cut off from the universe, being separate from the universe. Its taken creation all events from the beginning of time to produce this was of looking at the universe. From the very first universe, all things that have happened have worked together to produce this scaffolding of your being, your body and your physiology. Its a place that can house the light of your consciousness. And your consciousness is a very particular kind of consciousness. Its a consciousness that looks at the world as distinct and radically different.
So the question is – why? Why is there this phenomenon of your sense of the separate existence form the rest of the universe? Why has that arisen? What is the purpose of that? If it was a deliberate achievement to produce the human being that has a sense of a separate existence, its quite an involved process! In the beginning there had to be just the chemistry to make mammals possible, then this peculiar mammal that learnt to speak. Insofar as that it learnt to speak, it had to radically differentiate between subject and object because all languages distinguish between subject and object. And in speaking and discoursing with other people, it had to start to have a very distinct sense of a separate existence. So its taken all things including developing the ability to speak to produce this human phenomenon.
..its taken all of time to produce this phenomenon of your body which holds the light of your consciousness..
The question is: “To what end?”
So here you are, a tiny speck of wakefulness. In galactic terms, floating around in a piece of rock the size of a grain of sand, which has a little bit of green fur on it. Looking out at this vastness, this alienating, deep, huge emptiness of the rest of the universe.
Why have you been put here?
Clearly, it is that you can see it, because its taken all of time to produce this phenomenon of your body which holds the light of your consciousness which can see the world separate from itself. That experience of seeing it can create one of two experiences.
The one is when you look out at it and you see how empty and vast and huge this is. The only reasonable way to look at is the terror of being overwhelmed. Most people have that terror of being overwhelmed at the root of their being. They just hide from it. So when you speak about death, for example, they think its a subject in poor taste. Because this terror sits there.
The other way to look at this is to see that this is extraordinary. This is truly amazing. But the difference between the terror and the amazement and the awe is fundamentally that you don’t see this universe as wild and empty, but you see there is a designing hand behind the whole drama. We didn’t choose to be here, we didn’t choose to be this alienated being on this side of existence. We were made to be here. And by who? Not by own cleverness. My cleverness did not produce my body, my name or my identity. This has all been manufactured from Him.
So there is a design, which I cannot account for which has produced me, and as soon as I say that, there has to be a designer. So maybe this little speck of my consciousness looking out at this vast universe has purpose, so that I can be amazed at it. That I can see that it is truly the clothing of He Who Is Beyond Compare. Allahu Akbar – The Greatest.
The only sensible atheist is a suicidal one.
If you say that this is to assume that there is a designer to this drama is unscientific, naive, or primitive. To take that element out, what are you left with? You are left with the meaninglessness of deep emptiness and space. Then kill yourself. The only sensible atheist is a suicidal one. Because there can be no purpose. And if there is no purpose, to hide yourself from the deep sense of meaninglessness and the alienation of that experience, what do you do? You busy yourself with games, you play in the corner so you don’t have you look at this looming emptiness that’s about to swallow you like a snake.
You have to understand that the kufr that is being propagated today in the name of scienfiticity is deeply hostile to the human spirit. You can only be properly human if you believe, specifically that there is a designing, conscious genius behind the existence.
The truth of the matter is that we will all be overwhelmed. But if you have only claimed to yourself that you exist as this material object defined by this body, then being overwhelmed and the overwhelming that death implies is horror. There is no other way of looking at it.
You can only be properly human if you believe, specifically that there is a designing, conscious genius behind the existence.
But being overwhelmed doesn’t have to be horror. It could be discovering your own nature, and what you’ll discover is that you, the apparently small one, put against the rest of the universe – which is that which is overwhelmingly vast – you are only apparently separate from it. You are not at all different from it. In fact, your true nature, is its nature. Your true nature is as vast, as fathomless, as incalculable, and as overwhelming as the whole universe. But in order to discover aha tour true nature is, you have to befriend the universe, because it is the symbol of who you are.
How can you befriend that which you think is deeply hostile to you? You cannot develop this understanding of who you really are. You cannot explore your own vastness, if you do not, right at the outset, accept that there is a designing genius behind all things. That Allah subhana wa taala exists. That He is Real.
It sounds like such a naive thing to say. But we live in a world, where for many people, to have the view that there is a designing genius in charge of the universe is not only naive, its uneducated. All good educated, scientific people are atheists. Charles Darwin explained how life works – its all just random accidents. How primitive of you to believe that there is a God?
So why is it that this subject occurred to me as I sat this evening, working with these two binary opposites of belief and non-belief, Atheism and belief in a designing genius to existence, because we all struggle with that distinction on an ongoing basis. Its easy enough to say in arabic, “Ash hadu alla ila ha illAllah”, but how deeply does that penetrate? You can translate it into english, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah”, but does that hit the spot?
Its easy enough to say in arabic, “Ash hadu alla ila ha illAllah”, but how deeply does that penetrate?
The fact of the matter is that all of us are quietly struggling with this problem. On one hand, you wake up and you look at the universe and you say, “Its frightening! And I’m alienated, and I’m scared! And its only me! What does it all mean?” This is the most horrendous set of mistakes. And you want to go and hide under the bed. Every human being has attributes of that but there are different things that cause us to want to hide under the bed. Being overwhelmed gets presented to us in different ways.
This person is frightened their child is going to die. That person is frightened that they are going to lose their career. The third person is frightened that the bank is going to take the last few little bits of money that they have got in the bank. We all carry our own dread of being overwhelmed. Surely all dread of being overwhelmed is an attribute of kufr.
If you truly believed that there is a designing genius, then nothing that can happen to you is outside of the plan. And that you’re always in safe hands. So it is useful to understand just how dangerous how the atheists are. But its also useful to understand, how helpful they are. They objectify for you your own kufr, your own faithlessness.
Surely all dread of being overwhelmed is an attribute of kufr.
In a sense the struggle between faith and atheism is a struggle that every human being has to conduct on a day to day basis. Because for you to be human, you have to be constructed in such a way that you’re the apparently small being confronted by the overwhelmingly vast. That is the condition, that is how He has made you, so that you can contradict that condition, to realise that there is something more to this. You can’t demonstrate it, that’s why its called belief. If it were demonstrable, it wouldn’t be belief.
So the demonstrable fact is that you are tiny, confronted by a universe which is going to overwhelm you, and that you’ll be forgotten, that your life is meaningless and you’ll die and be as if you have never lived. That is the explicit truth of the matter. You have to do something opposite to that explicit truth of the matter. You have to posit something which is irrational from one point of view: to recognise that there is a designing genius to this.
A useful thing to bear in mind whenever we struggle with our own sense of smallness, our own sense of vulnerability and a sense of meaning and meaninglessness in our lives, is to understand that our very vulnerability, our smallness, the apparent meaningless and arbitrary nature of our existence is a necessary precondition to produce the amazement at that which is truly vast, that cannot be stopped, which is all powerful, and that which has all significance and meaning, which is Allah subhana wa taala. The garb that He puts in front of you which is the dress that demonstrates that is the universe that He presents in front of you in any moment that you’re in. He said, “Wherever you look is My Face.” So wherever you look is Him presenting Himself to you. This is..is reality.
..how can you remember if you hadn’t forgotten?
In order to claim that, and then escape the horror of your vulnerability is a question of remembering. Its so interesting that faith – Iman – in our context is related to the idea of dhikr, the idea of remembering. Its like you’ve forgotten something. Its almost as if you get confronted with the world which is put up in such a way that causes you to forget, so that you can remember. The delight happens in the moment of the remembering. But how can you remember if you hadn’t forgotten?
So the forgetting has a role. The apparent weakness, the smallness has a role. It is not contrary to the design. Your very depression has a role. Your vulnerability has a role. So that you can at some point, contradict and act opposite to it, and have the epiphany of remembering.
We can be patient with our own vulnerability. Its that patience with your own vulnerability which really becomes the engine to the path. Increasingly, the path will be experienced by you as a sense of a loss of boundaries, of becoming more and more vulnerable, more and more open. That then means that you discover that that which is there and that which is here is the same. I am convinced that ecstasy and depression has two phenomena: they actually feel the same and I’m sure the blood chemistry and physiology are very similar. The only thing that differs is your interpretation of the meaning of the experience.
..we can be patient with our own vulnerability.
Over a period of time, the very thing that is apparently your suffering, becomes the delight of your life. That very vulnerability becomes the light that helps you through the darkness of your alienated state to arrive at who you really are, which is the vessel that contains the entire universe. You are not in the universe, the universe is in you. You are not in the world, the world is in you. You are not the product of this, in fact it is your product, because He operates most profoundly from the deepest recesses of your own being. And the outward expression of that is the world that you see. That has not produced you, you have produced that.
You are vast beyond belief.
May Allah grant us nearness to Him.
May Allah grant us annihilation to Him.
May Allah grant us death before we die.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session on the 13th of April, 2013.