The dhikr that we have just done – “Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah” and “ALLAH” – these are related and there is enormous usefulness and blessing to understanding the connection between these two. Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah means – there’s no power and there’s no strength other than by Allah. Now, there are a number of ways in which one can see this dhikr.
..all things that happen, happen with Him, through Him, from Him, to Him – by His Idhn, by His permission.
The one is that Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala gives out parcels of power and the ability to act and if He doesn’t give you a little parcel to act then you can’t act. That’s a primitive way of seeing this. That’s not quite, I think, the usefulness of the dhikr and what I think it is reminding us. Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah suggests that we exist in a matrix of qadar, a matrix of power, of energy, like force and all created things are, in a sense, pickled in it. And that matrix, that power is an attribute of Allah because He is al-Qadir, He is Power, which means that all things that happen, all things that carry energy, all things that are about movement, happen by Allah, from Allah, within Allah. Nothing can be separate from Allah. Nothing is other-than-Allah.
So, laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah, means that all things that happen, happen with Him, through Him, from Him, to Him – by His Idhn, by His permission. It is not like little parcels of energy are being given out. It is like you are floating in the sea and the sea is Him and all of us are different refractions of that sea and that any power that you have is not your power. All ability to act, all ability to animate, all ability to move is Him.
The issue is: how is it then that we have an experience of an independent existence because what that suggests is that nothing that happens, nothing is independent of Him. Why do I experience that I have independent power? Because, I do! You do! You make a decision now to walk out that door and not that door and you think that you’ve made the decision and you’ve mobilized your own power, your independent power. If there is only one sea of energy moved by One Will, where is my will? Where is my power? The shuyukh have taught us that the truth of the matter is that your sense of an independent existence is an illusion, it is not how things are. It is like when a man takes a drug and he sees a door where there’s a wall and a wall where there’s door. That doesn’t mean to say that that’s how it is. He is deluded. He is mistaken.
Now, understand the profundity of this! It means that really we don’t have license to judge, I mean judge deeply. You can see something that’s bad in front of you but, everything is by Allah. Everything is by His Will. So, to look out at the world and say, “O that’s bad!” is not appropriate. So we come back to the problem and the problem is if I exist in a light which is His Light, and that’s all that there is, why is it that I experience myself as independent?
Now, I’m going to read to you from a qasida of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, which addresses exactly this problem and it’s the same qasida that we sang during this dhikr of Allah. It is called “Withdrawal into the Perception of the Essence”. The Shaykh says:
The face of the Beloved appeared and shone in the early dawn.
His light pervaded my heart, so I prostrated myself in awe.
He said to me: “Rise! – and ask of Me! You will have whatever you desire.”
I replied: “You. You are enough for me! Away from You I cannot live.
He said: “My slave, there is good news for you, so enjoy the vision.
You are a treasure of My slaves and you are a dhikr to mankind.
Every good and every beauty in man is spread from Me.
The attributes of My essence were hidden, and they were manifested in the existence-traces.
Truly created beings are meanings set up as images
All who grasp this are among the people of discrimination.
What the qasida is telling us is that we get given this platform of independent existence, apparently independent existence, so that Allah Himself can, in a sense, experience Himself. He says, “The attributes of My essence were hidden, and they manifested in the existence-traces.”
..our experience of differentiating existence, of me being separate from the world, is an apparition.
So, how does what is hidden become known, become to be perceived? To come to be perceived has got to be the one who perceives to see it, which means to say that our experience of differentiating existence, of me being separate from the world, is an apparition, but that apparition is by Allah and it is made by Allah so that you can be the one who witnesses Him. How can that which is beyond estimation, that which is incalculable, that which is vast beyond description, that which contains the entire existence, if it wished to be witnessed, how can it be witnessed other than to create a spot which is very small from which it can be witnessed. That spot, which is very small, is man.
However, other-than-Him is impossible because He is all things, which means that this very small place called man is nothing other than Him, veiling Himself from Himself. Because, it only as that which is very small that can He truly witness that which is incalculably vast. So in a sense, the darkness of our beings, our sense of being cut-off, is like a mirror that twists in on itself and it twists in on itself to create this place of apparent separation, this apparent place of smallness, so that that which is truly majestic can be witnessed. That is why is has happened! Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah helps us to remember that that is our sense of smallness, our sense of being tiny beings faced by a massive universe which is fundamentally threatening, apparently. That is an apparition. There’s only one bed rock of existence. There’s only one bed rock of energy through which all things are woven.
The dhikr of Allah and how we do the dhikr of Allah – “Allaaaaaaaaah!” When you do it like this in a jama’at, what happens is its like one sound that carries-on, that continues – “Allaaaaaaaaah” – everybody does the same sound. Most of the voices do that sound and that is a metaphor for how things are. This bed rock, this continuity that connects all things, that continuity is Allah and it is the matrix that all things flow out of and go back into. It is like the ocean, out of which the wave takes form, then goes back into again – “Allaaaaaaah!” The voice that does the qasida, or does the tune on top of that dhikr only has license to do so if it’s going to harmonize.
So, this “Laa ilaha illa’Llah” – you only have license to alter, to change and you are only allowed to do that if it goes with the dhikr. If it is going to clash you don’t do it. Why? Because it says that from the one sound the individual arises – Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah – that only has license to be there if it still resonates, if it is still connected and if it still confirms. If it becomes off, if it no longer resonates, then the person shouldn’t be singing.
There’s only one bed rock of existence. There’s only one bed rock of energy through which all things are woven.
So it means that, the universe abhors that which clashes, which is fundamentally not in harmony. The universe will destroy that which is not in harmony. So you are given license to be an apparently different thing, to stand out, to not be connected, you have license to stand out under the proviso that you use the standing out as the place from which you affirm the continuity. So I stand in a place called “individual”. I have my own energy. Why I am given this place is so that I can affirm Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. So I can also say, I can announce to that which is apparently separate, that there is only one continuity.
It is the same thing with the dhikr of Allah. Whenever you do this dhikr allow the sound to penetrate you as much as you can. Become one with this thing. Allow that playing to be like a matrix, the vibration of “Allah”. You are infused with, you become one with it. And use that as an opportunity also to reflect on the responsibility of being an individual, of being apparently separate, by looking at what the one voice, or the two voices are doing, singing with this dhikr.
What do you want them to do when they are harmonious? You want them to carry-on. You affirm them. What do you want to do with them when they are noisy? You want them to shut-up, to stop making that noise. So, all of these dhikrs that we do of the Darqawa are incredibly profound. Within each one of them, – Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. Allaaaaaah! – is a small technique and within it is a bottomless well of meaning that takes you right to the core of existence, allows you to explore the key issues of what it means to be human.
We really are absolutely extraordinary beings.
We really are absolutely extraordinary beings. We were chosen to be the ones to carry an independent will, to be the one that stands out, that isn’t a part of, that considers himself independent. But we are only given that unspeakable privilege that no other beings have been given for one reason only. And that is to confirm the continuity.
Now, this insight is something that we should use to reflect on all of our practices and as a comment on the whole of Tasawwuf and in fact, the whole of the Deen, the whole of Islam. Why is it that we have mithal? Why is it that if you look at the dhikr of Allah as we do it, as a metaphor, a mithal for all spiritual activity, for all “religious” activity – what is this about?
This is not about us. This is not about us being separate and distinct and special. You understand? It is about confirming that the Significant One is there, it is not here – Allaaaaah! Laa hawla wa laa quwwat illa billah. There’s none other that is significant, there is no other worthy of worship. Allah means God – illah. What is Allah? Something that is worthy of worship. Something that is truly Significant. There’s nothing that is truly significant except that!
So, who says you are significant because you are muslim?
So, who says you are significant because you are muslim? Ha! Who says you are significant because you carry Islam? Ha! Who says you have license to dominate, stand-out, to be significant? And, we’ll do that! We’ll say that, with sword in one hand and a green flag with shahadah in the other hand, chopping the head! Isn’t it bizarre? Alhamdulillah. We don’t know what we are saying! We just don’t know what we are saying! We are like children in a machine gun shop, playing with these things.
So, the whole of Deen, why do we collude, why do we collude in religious communities if it is true – Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah. Let us say that Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah is true. Let’s assume that it is true. That means – why do I need religion? Why do I need to be with other people? Why do we need to do this together? Why do I even have to say it? Because, it is immediately apparent that I’m not separate from Him!
There are two reasons for this. The one is that it is very difficult to escape the cage of your apparently independent existence without the help of others. And if this is not true, you can scratch every single inner tradition since the dawn of man and say it is all nonsense, it’s a puzzle! Hinduism, Buddhism – the reason why all these traditions exist is because the assumption is that to escape the illusion of an independent existence is very difficult without help. So, first of all, one colludes with others, with groups, for your own good.
Secondly, we do it out of compassion because not only is your own isolation intolerable, your own sense of independent existence intolerable, it is intolerable to watch the suffering of others. Because that is how Allah created us. He made us peculiar. When you stand on a thorn and you winch, I winch without even knowing I’m winching! Why don’t I say, “Good!” (Some of us do, you know!)
So, what has given us this capacity to have empathy, to feel deeply connected with other people, feel their discomfort, feel their pain? It is part of our condition. We are truly made to be ‘one with’. It’s another expression of the intolerableness of an independent existence. The first way we escape our independence is to connect with other people and then we connect to Allah.
If you think about Sura ‘Asr, “Wa’l ‘asr, inna’l-insana lafi khusr, illa’l-adheena amanu wa ‘amil-us-salihaati wa tawaasaw bi’l-haqqi wa tawaasaw bi’s-sabr.” In other words it’s not just a case of your own belief and your own right action, but encouraging others to belief and encouraging others to right action. It’s not just about your own life. In fact, your own life doesn’t happen if you are helpful to others. It’s immediate … like one hand washes the other.
..it is very difficult to escape the cage of your apparently independent existence without the help of others.
So, why do we collude? It is not because we want to be special. It’s not because we want to be significant. It’s not because we are, “you know, the Darqawa! the tariqa!” and all the rest of the nonsense. It’s not that at all. And, God forbid, “Ah! This man is the qutb of the age! I’m chosen because I’m connected with this crowd.” This is just a bit suspect! The reason why we connect with groups and are involved in activities of this nature is because it is a way of not becoming different and significant. It is a way of escaping significance. It’s a way where we can get guidance so that we can take our own individual song – “Laa ilaha illa’Allah” – and sing it in a way that harmonizes with the rest. It’s not odd. It harmonizes. It helps to build. It’s not dissonant. It confirms. It contributes.
Now, if this is the criterion, the reason why we connect with groups and the reason why we are involved, why we call ourselves Muslim, first, and why we call ourselves Sufis, why we call ourselves Darqawa or Shadhili, or whatever – the reason is that it is about confirming Allah’s Significance and not our own. It is about confirming the field of existence out of which we have all come – and to be the platform from which the witnessing of that can happen – and to make that platform a beautiful platform. You know, something is really beautiful if it is stunning. We can either do something in a clumsy way or we can do something in an eloquent way. It’s another capacity He has given us. He’s given us the ability to affirm Him, eloquently. So if you use this as a criterion, use it to identify the error of the age.
So, let’s just talk about the errors in Tasawwuf. Wherever you see someone claiming to be the qutb, know this is error and have nothing to do with it. As soon as there is a Shaykh who says: “I’m the pole of existence for the age” or his immediate murids are claiming that for him, it is already a criterion to know that these people are busy with issues of significance. They are not actually busy with the job. It doesn’t mean you have to go out and critique these people and make the fight a worse fight, but just stay away from them because it’s error and it’s harmful.
Wherever you see someone claiming to be the qutb, know this is error and have nothing to do with it.
Related to this is the claim of one tariqa over another. I remember this really nice story that Shaykh Fadhlalla once told in a gathering. He was in Pakistan and he was invited to some great Shaykh, some great Pir – big turban, lots of rings! He was holding court and all of his murids were there touching him and the Shaykh said, “Every night I have a dream. I’m in the company of all the awliya.” And all his murids go – “Aaah! Ooooh!” And he said, “All of the awliya were there. And all of the prophets were there – Sayyiduna Muhammad (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam) and Sayyiduna Issa – they were all there. And all of the great lights of the Chishtiyya were there. But, you know who wasn’t there! It was Shaykh Shadhili!”
This is ridiculous! And Shaykh Fadhlalla said he’s sitting next to this man and instantly the whole audience turned on its hostility!
Wherever you see this, folks, this person claims significance because of this – “Our tariqa is the best.” “Our Shaykh is the best!” All error! Stay away. This is just with Tasawwuf. Let us talk about the people of Shari’a, you know, with the end of time – there’s going to be how many sects? 73. There’s going to be 73 sects and one of them will be rightly guided. “You know what? We’re of those!” Because the Rasul (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam) said, “At the end of time the only people who will be rightly guided are those who support the bastions.” “I support the bastions!”
As soon as you get a smack of that, as soon as a person is saying, “I am this and they are that!” – then stay away. This is error. This is not useful to you. It’s not useful to anyone else. It just causes damage and harm, which is one of the reasons why we as Muslims don’t need the kuffar as enemies, thank you very much! There are more Muslims that died at the hands of Muslims than others since the beginning of Islam, than what have died at the hands of the kuffar. Right from the start the Muslims were killing the Muslims. We were killing each other in Madina. Who killed Sayyiduna Umar? We killed Sayyiduna Umar! So, as soon as it is about anything like that, you know. The obvious thing about the Wahhabis! So, wherever you get these things that are obviously bizarre and they ask you to affirm things that are outrageous, your fitra tells you to stay away! Anything that makes a group claim significance over others.
So, we examined the error of us – the Sufis. And one of the reasons why the Wahhabis are right and kill half of us is because we’ve got up to unbelievable mischief and we are still getting up to it!
..we as Muslims don’t need the kuffar as enemies, thank you very much!
The error of the Muslims, now let’s look at the Muslims against the rest of the world. When we were with the Murabitun it was amazing, you know, you see a man walking down the road with a yarmulka, it became an opportunity to sow derision. I don’t know if you remember so-and-so – he’s walking down the street and a man walks past him with a yarmulka and he goes, “Ah! You!!!! Ahh!” This man might be a great surgeon you know and so-and-so might have a heart attack that day and this is the guy who’s going to do the heart surgery! This is unacceptable. Who says that you, the Muslim, are ahead of that Jew? Who says? Who says? What gives you the license to say that? What do you know what’s between him and his Rabb? You don’t know. Because from that it’s very close to the Christian error of saying because I am a Christian I can basically do what I like. Understand! Just because you’re a Muslim doesn’t mean you can do whatever you like! Nobody ever had a conversation with the man!
What do you know what’s between him and his Rabb? You don’t know.
So, anything which is concerned with “my significance”, “I am different from, superior to!” This is error. So, if you say “Laa ilaha illa’Allah“, if you do “Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa billah“, “Allaaaaaah” and on the one hand you confirm these things and on the other hand you hold onto these erroneous and dangerous beliefs, you are busy loading a grenade from one side of yourself to the other side of yourself. You will blow yourself up! Playing with fire!
The same rules that account for your relationship with Allah and with existence are the same rules just in a small form that account for you and other people. But, if you deal with someone who does a great error but does it by mistake, is that different from if someone does a great error deliberately? Of course it is! The man looks the other way and drives over your foot. I mean that’s not nice. You should scream at him, but the man who looks right at you and then drives over you – this is quite different. You should kill this guy!
An error is wherever there is a claim to significance.
Understand that it’s that order of error that you make when you are claiming significance at the same time as doing sajda! That is the order of error you are making – it is highly and deeply punishable. We are playing Russian roulette with these things and it is not the practice of the rasul (SallAllahu alaihi wasalam). If there is anything that is true for him and for his Sunna it is humility. So where do we get this arrogance? So where does this come from? So, if you are going to the Rasul on the last day and you’re going to come to him with this! He’ll say, “Who are you? How can you deceive?” If you’ve been so demonstrably arrogant the heart is in darkness, in error. An error is wherever there is a claim to significance.
Now let’s look at the other extremity of that. How does one identify guidance? Well, in the first instance wherever you see kindness to the weak and the poor, and genuine kindness, you know, someone who can genuinely say “Thank you” to a waiter in a restaurant, someone who isn’t too high and mighty to polish his own boots. Whenever somebody can act outside of the prescription of the role, whatever the role he’s assigned. There you’ll find guidance.
So, if you’re talking to a man and you follow him into the four star hotel and follow him out of the four star hotel and you’re sitting on the floor in the makuku and this is the same man; there’s no sense of discomfort. He can sleep on the floor in the makuku and have his tea and he’s as pleasant as in the four star hotel and nothing has changed. There’s an interesting man, because he’s not defined by that which is arbitrary. And that’s one of the signs of guidance. When you find people like that, people who have this sense of being somehow outside of hierarchy, you can’t place them, those people are useful – and if you find a man like that and he’s a Jew, learn from him. Or a Christian, don’t say “O! God!” (Oh, he doesn’t do istinja so I can’t sit on the same chair!!!) SubhanAllah!
Another attribute of guidance, if you’re seeking guidance, is the ability to spin meanings. Shaykh al-Alawi spoke about that a lot. If the person can take that which is apparently insignificant and trivial and mediocre and take that object and spin meanings out of it, that become bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, almost like a magician, out of nothing, that person is interesting, because that person no longer walks in a world of objects. He’s walking in a world of meaning.
“All created things are meanings set-up as images.”
So, as we discovered yesterday, the amount of meaning that has been woven together like the individual strands of yarn in fabric to create an object, is immeasurable. “All things are congealed light.” (Shaykh Fadhlalla). All things are meanings that have been woven together to create a solid object. In order to produce one solid object requires a coming together, an orchestration of meanings, which is infinite. We spoke about, this is my hand, the skin, it looks like an ordinary thing. But if you think about the vascular system that makes it work, the muscles, the bones – this is miraculous. This thing has enough meanings, there are enough meanings here to keep you entertained for the rest of your life. So, another attribute of a person who is going to be useful to you, is their ability to spin meanings out of whatever is apparently trivial.
We spoke about error. So let’s understand guidance. Any one of these things we’re saying – “I met this Communist in a pub in Sydney. This man could spin meanings so I followed him!” – don’t blame me. These are like aspects of the diamond. So, if you’re looking for guidance these are the things you look for, and if you don’t find these things then go find someone else who does have them. We’ve spoken about two things so far – compassionate common touch, no sense of own significance or not too much of it anyhow, the ability to spin meanings. If you find someone like that take them seriously, listen to them.
The third attribute is – do you feel that the person is there for you or are you a foot soldier in his campaign? If you look particularly at the shuyukh that have taken on stature, you know, one really gets the sense from the murid, he is a foot soldier in the Shaykh’s campaign, he’s busy doing something, sometimes it’s good stuff like ending banking or whatever – if you are just a foot soldier in his campaign and aren’t the point of the activities, why on earth are you there? So, get a sense that this transaction is about me. It is not about this guy!
Understand, if you are associated with these sets of themes that we’ve been blessed with, these themes around intent, you will yourselves become transmitters soon. If you start transmitting then these are the rules – the rule is start spinning meanings, take this statement seriously: “All created things are meanings set-up as images”. Find the meaning. Look for it, because it’s not going to suggest itself to you if you don’t look for it.
This discourse was given by Shaykh Ebrahim after a dhikr session at the December Gathering in 2008.