Amin / Student: Reverend, something has been bothering me for quite some time. The more I think about it, the more disquiet it gives me. It frightens me lest I should lose my faith. I can share it with you if you grant me leave.
Huzur / Master: Say it out. I wonder what is it that makes you so restless.
Student: Everything in this created universe is contained in Allah / the Divine Being / God and He has asked us to pursue good. But He is the creator of both good and evil. If good is contained in Him, evil too is part of Him.
Master: Good and evil are both contained in Him. The conflict between the good and evil is His creation too. That too is His pleasure. Your poet Kazi Nazrul Islam called Him, "a big child playing indifferently with the universe." That in a way sums up the truth about the Divine.
We all with our petty happiness and sorrow, pain and suffering cater to His pleasure. What makes you restless is how you can ascribe evil to Allah who is all good. But if you look closely to it, you will find that good is never complete without evil. What would be happiness worth if there were no suffering? Or what would be good worth without evil?
Student: Why then Allah wants us to keep away from evil?
Master: Everything about this universe had its function determined by Allah with the lone exception of man. Everything is dancing its way with the rhythm of a Great Force. If you close your eyes at dead of night and try and feel the pulse of the universe, you will feel that someone is breathing slowly and everything even you are moving gently with its rise and fall.
But there is an essential difference between you and the rest of the universe. Allah has breathed His Spirit in you while He created you. His Spirit in you speaks a particular language, but the language spoken by your flesh and blood is different. Both have hunger, both yearn for something.
One wants to keep pace with the rhythm of the infinite space, the other makes you earthbound. The flesh in contract to the Spirit has its own logic and seeks its own satiety. So in this corporeal frame, man has, on the one hand, the innocence of angels and on the other, the propensity of the beast. This propensity is what we call nafs which is in fact the name of a power.
It has different names and the lowest propensity is known as nafse ammara. This is the power that tempts us, lead us astray. It happily reigns in its world of lust, greed and vengeance. There are five other nafs referred in the Holy Quran: nafse radia, nafse mardia, nafse mutmayinna, nafse lawama and nafse mulhima. Nafse Mulhima has been referred in the Hadith as well. But these are beneficial forces and help men in keeping nafse ammara under control.
Student: Nafse ammara then is deadly sin and fighting it constitutes the essence of ascetic practice and religious devotion.
Master: Yes that's right, but a misconception in this regard is almost universal. In their fight against evil, most people with its complete eradication. But one who does not have this power in him need not undertake any austere ascetic practice. Such practice is irrelevant to a eunuch and saying your prayer behind a eunuch Imam is unlawful in Islam.
You must have seen in the newspaper the other day that an Egyptian youth, driven mad by desire, cut off his male organ in order to punish himself. Sex urge made him deviate from his concentration and he came to the conclusion that the organ was a nuisance and he had better do without it. But unfortunately, no one told him austerity and devotion were of no relevance without this power in man.
Student: Most religious leaders refer to this nafse ammara as though it were despicable thing and as such should at all cost be shunned.
Master: The power itself is not despicable. What is despicable is the deed it succeeds in alluring you to commit. The power lives in the deep recesses of your mind in the form of a desire or wish. The literal meaning of nafs is desire.
Allah has given you the freedom of what path you would allow your desire to take. You could be a debauch and be a slave to your desires. Also, you could fulfil your desires in a lawful way if you so wish. The matter is a kind of ebadat or religious practice. Many pious people consider it hateful to sleep with their wives and live under the delusion that salat, fasting and zikr alone make for religious devotion. But this is a mistake, because every halal act or lawful action is conducive to life and is a form of ebadat or worship.
Remember, Hazrat Ali said that if a Muslim has intercourse with his wife after making necessary ablutions and then dies before taking his obligatory bath, he will have the status of a shaheed or martyr. So Islam, like the concept of celibacy in Christianity or Buddhism, does not support eradication of socially sanctioned sex urge.
Student: Reverend, how can we conquer this evil?
Master: Don't consider it an enemy of yours. If you want, you can make it subservient to you. It will then be loyal to you. For this the most effective weapon is zikr or remembrance of Allah. Even Salat or obligatory prayers are not effective against it. Roza or fasting helps keep it under control and is the second-most effective weapon after zikr.
Student: Reverend, I feel must relieved as you have dispelled one of my misconceptions about Allah. This mistaken idea has caused me much disquiet. But now everything seems to fall into a neat order. And now perhaps we can say man's striving then is not to become angels, but become man in the real sense of the term.
Master: O yes, angels are not greater than man. Allah has bestowed greatness not on angels, but on men. He had created man as the best of creation, as ahsane taqveem, or as the perfect incarnation of beauty. Man does not know himself, that is why he wants to be an angel. If he could know his own self, he would have wished to be man rather than angel. And if you want to know what being a man means, look at the leader of the two worlds, our Prophet Hazrat Muhammad Mustafa (peace be upon him). His life contains for you uswatun hasana or a perfect ideal.
Verse 21 of Surah Ahzab says: Laqadkana lakum fi Rasulillahi uswatun hasanatulli man kana yarjullaha wal yaomal akhira wa zakarallaha kasira which means there is a perfect ideal in the life of the Rasulullah for those amongst you who are afraid of Allah and the Day of Judgment and spend most of their time in the remembrance of Allah.
If we can put that ideal in front of us, our life too would be beautiful, meaningful. Note that here too there is an emphasis on zikr or remembrance of the Spirit.
Student: Reverend, why is zikr being so emphasized?
Master: Because zikr is love - love of Allah. If you take the human qalb or heart as a vessel you have to admit that a vessel is never empty. Even when there is nothing, it has air in it. If you pour water in it, water will get the air our. Similarly, constant practice of zikr gradually drives away all worldly illusions from your qalb. Worldly enchantment and spiritual love cannot be contained in the same vessel.
That is why a mu'min or a Muslim with deep conviction leads a two-fold life. In his earthly life he will live vigorously emulating the virtues of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. But he will have an inner life too which will flow like an undercurrent murmuring the names of Allah and Rasul all the way. When both these lives find a perfect symmetry in an individual, he will have found uswatun hasana. He will then on his own understanding the frontiers of good and evil. For, he will then be immersed in the Universe Self where this manifested drama of good and evil will fade into a complete meaningful whole.
Student: Almighty Allah has stated in the Holy Quran that He is immanent - He is present everywhere, in every object of the universe. Since He encompasses everything, the logical conclusion then is that He is both good and evil and Statan too is His creation. And if I may add Satan is a part of His being. He has given Satan the power to lead men astray and on the other hand He has enjoined on man to pursue good and has sent messengers in all ages to bring erring humanity back to His fold. Is not that something of a contradiction?
Master: I don't know what Allah's existence is like beyond this manifest reality - that is, what they call his Dhat or Essence. With our crude senses we can only call it a nothingness - an endless void which is beyond time and space. Time and space can be explained away only in terms of His creation - His manifestation.
He has manifested Himself out of pleasure. 'I wanted to know Myself, that's why O Muhammad, I created your light,' Allah says in Hadith-e-Qudsi. This act of creation is a singularity which cannot be explained by the rules of causation. Allah said, 'Kun' (be) and everything came into being. The created universe is, therefore, His manifestation. And the manifestation encompasses everything - good, evil, light and darkness - the two opposites that act and react on each other and around this conflict is built the grand play which we call life.
The playwright has assigned roles to the characters on the stage - some avidly follow good, some evil. The characters in a play cannot question the playwright about the validity or otherwise of the roles that have been assigned to them. In life too we cannot question the grand Playwright of the Universe about His will - whatever has been willed by His has got to be accepted. But don't forget He makes a distinction between good and evil and has given man freedom to choose between the two.
The concept of heaven and hell makes senses only in this context of freedom given to man. Angels don't get punished, man does - man gets punished for his misdeeds. But since He is the great designer of the play, He too suffers when His creation undergoes pain and agony. He wants man to come back to His fold - that is His pleasure, His love.
Student: What is the proof that He (God) exists?
Master: You see, you cannot bathe in the sun if you cover yourself with a blanket, can you?
Student: No, that's not possible.
Master: Those proof-seekers are like those blanketed sunbathers. The greatest proof of Allah's existence is you yourself. If you hide yourself under a blanket, you will have a nice little darkness inside. But that doesn't prove the non-existence of the sun.
Student: Revered, there is a difference, I can see the sun with my bare eyes, but I don't see Allah / God.
It is inside a dark cell and it would fail to have any idea about what's outside the cell. The foetus could very well say, 'I don't believe in the one who I don't see.'
Man's condition in this created universe is exactly like that. He is in God - in God's immanence. He finds himself inside this bigger cell which is our earth with its atmospheric protection against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. How would he prove something as long as he is inside that something. From our ignorance we can say like the foetus about his mother - Allah does not exist. When you say that you deny your own existence.
- from the book Dialogue on Islam - Syed Rashid Ahmed Jaunpuri on the Form and Spirit of Islam by M. Harunur Rashid