Saturday, June 07, 2008

Reincarnation | Islamic Perspective | part.1

1. Reincarnation | Where traditional Islam stands?
In the orthodox / traditional / mainstream Islam at its later version doesn't talk about reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is not discussed in Quran explicitly, the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, never had to confront this idea since the very concept was absent mostly from the arab society and minds of his time. Offcourse the idea of hereafter was there, the idea of final resurrection is there, but the continuing cycle of life and death is simply not discussed openly.

During the time of Quranic revelation, people of Jewish community came to the Prophet and asked about the mystery of soul. Prophet remained silent and waited for answer from God and it was revealed through the Angel Gabriel as inspiration:
And they ask you concerning the soul. Say: "The soul is one of the things, of which the knowledge is only with my Lord. And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little." - The Quran, Al-Israa' 17:85

alternate translation: They ask thee concerning the spirit. Say: "The spirit (cometh) by command of my Lord: of knowledge it is only a little that is communicated to you, (O mankind!)"

Its quite clear, even after so much advances in collective human knowledge - the mystery, the metaphysics of the soul is something which is still beyond rational understanding. It's not a subject that can be theorized, or publicly debated. The subject matter of soul / spirit is a highly sacred mystery of which little knowledge is allowed to the physical plane.

Thus its understandable on exoteric level that the journey of soul from the world of unseen to its manifestation, and whether or not it goes through different cycles as reincarnation or transmutation as part of evolution and as opportunity for self realization - is not a public domain knowledge from Quranic perspective.

2. What is traditional Islam, anyway?
The history of Islam, like all organized religion, has gone through many changes. The traditional or orthodox Islam in the form and ideology that we see today is far more different than the original spirit of Islam of the Prophet, his holy companions and holy family. In earlier days, specially during first few generations, intellectual exchange, love for sacred knowledge and metaphysics, probing into the mysteries of the universe was considered as gnosis of God or means of knowing God, as everything in cosmos spontaneously declares glory to the Creator, affirms Islam.

Just to give an example, at one point there were 135 schools of thought thrived in Islamic wisdom tradition, which implies there were much more openness and acceptance of pluralism, inclusive, more acceptance of different mode to approach sacred wisdom. But now its reduced to about 4 or 5 school of thoughts. As a result both inner and outer knowledge were suppressed over the ages and control freak so called religious clerics continue to play monopoly on sacred knowledge as they wish, by labeling them as heretic or blasphemous, totally ignoring universal spiritual truths shared by whole of humanity.

3. Does esoteric aspect of Islam has room for it?
Now lets go back to the subject matter of Reincarnation and its position in Islamic wisdom tradition. Its worth reminding, i am not an expert or claim to be such on this subject. i am simply presenting few resources which i came across in the journey to understand spiritual truth. i dont place much importance to what majority thinks / believes, because majority rules doesn't apply to seekers. Quran testifies too, that majority never gets it most of the time:
Or do you think that most of them do hear or understand?
- The Quran 25:44

Its quite clear that mystery of soul, including whether reincarnation exist or not, is an esoteric subject. To find whether relevant knowledge exist in esoteric circle, one needs to turn to people of esoteric wisdom in Islamic tradition.

Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, who inherit the holy bloodline of Prophet Muhammad through Fatimah and Ali, is a tremendously scholar figure of Islamic wisdom tradition. Imam Husayn, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was the grandfather of Jafar as-Sadiq. Imam Jafar was not only a religious scholar but at the same time he was a polymath: an astronomer, alchemist, Imam, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, writer, philosopher, physician, physicist and scientist.

Now Mufadhal ibn Umar al-Ju'fi, a prominent companion of Imam Jafar as-Sadiq, is attributed to the book called, Kitab al-Haft wa al-Adhilla. Temple of the Living Imam mentions about the book that discusses Reincarnation from Islamic context. It is an intense piece of gnostic Shiite literature, the book is a kind of Hermetic presentation of ostensibly hidden doctrines. The disciples of Imam Sadiq ask him routine theological questions to which he gives the most perplexing answers. The Shadow-world of preexistence, seven eras each with its own Adam, the reincarnation of initiated souls into better and better human forms, and the reincarnation of non-initiates into baser animal forms, all the hallmarks of the mystery cults are here in Kitab al-Haft, beautifully rendered into an Islamic context. This book alone gives a rare glimpse into that esoteric islam do acknowledge the idea of soul's evolution, its journey from stage to stage.

By the afterglow of sunset,
And by the night and all that it enshroudeth,
And by the moon when it comes to fullness,
That ye most certainly shall journey on
from stage to stage.
- The Quran, 84:16-19

In a number of sufi orders the concept of dawriyyah or cycles, which is almost equivalent in philosophy of reincarnation (tenasukh) do exist. Traditionally sufis have always looked at Quran for inspiration and by Prophetic tradition, its known that Quran contains many levels of meaning. Thus through inspiration of the more esoteric passages of Quran, a number of sufi orders do believe that there are hidden hints of reincarnation / soul's journey from stage to stage is mentioned in Quran.

4. Why the opposition to reincarnation idea then?
From earlier times Islam came to lands where other religions (both in east, where Hinduism, Buddhism as well in west where Egyptian indigenous religion) had the concept of reincarnation so strong, as simple reactionary mind (from cultural reactionary trend), the opposition of the idea of reincarnation came into place. It is also a kind of phobia of exclusiveness, either-or tendency.

Often time there are misunderstanding because of differences in terms of language and culture. For example, when Islam came to India, since reincarnation was something very central idea of Hindusim, through reactionary attitude, religious authority started to label reincarnation exclusively Hindu idea, thus made it automatic outsider. They missed the essential point that Islam neither talk about it, nor does it deny it explicitly (if we take Quranic exoteric, literal meaning as well as Prophetic tradition as primary source of Islamic theology, which is the case).

5. Does Quran hint for soul's journey? For majority are the knowledge of past lives kept hidden for good reasons?
i hope to share this in part.2 of this post. Read Islamic / Quranic perspective on reincarnation, part 2.

# Previous Post:
. Reincarnation / Rebirth | Signs
. Secret of Transmutation of Soul | Rumi

# Reference:
. Reincarnation via wikipedia
. Reincarnation, yes its true
. A Sufi View of Spiritual Rebirth: Bawa Muhaiyaddeen
. Reincarnation in Islam

Inayat Khan's take on Reincarnation
. The Phenomenon of the Soul: Reincarnation
. Karma and Reincarnation
. Impressions Gathered by the Soul Before Coming on Earth
. The Phenomenon of the Soul: The Law of Heredity

Opposing View Point
. Does The Holy Qur'an Support the Reincarnation theory?
by Khurram Shahzad Pin It Now!