In 571 BCE, the Ch’ang Sage, Lao Tze wrote the Tao te Ching, which is an extraordinary text dealing with the inward dimensions of man. His contemporary was the great statesman Confucious who wrote the Annalects which were concerned with outward issues facing man such as proper etiquette due to friends, family and the government. China is the earliest culture known to this author to produce two schools of thought which aimed to address man from their own vantage point.
Circa 100 BCE, a tradition developed which split Buddhism into two separate schools. There was the Mahayana, the Greater Way, which was concerned with a inner dimensions of man. Theravada Buddhism, on the other hand, was concerned with the outward aspects of Buddhism – the size of the begging bowl, the correct dye to be used for one’s garments and so forth. Thus the inward school split from the outward school.
In Jerusalem, Christ proclaimed that he did not come to do away with the Mosaic Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) – to reintroduce the inward, spiritual teachings of Judaism to a rabbinical tradition that had ossified to being an hollowed out cask. But he was rejected by the rationalist rabbis and the Jewish community split into two. Firstly, there were those who continued to follow the harsh outwardly legalist teachings of the rabbis. The second group followed spiritual the teachings of Paul who believed that if one accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour, it would be impossible for him to err, thus making laws unnecessary. Thus the spiritual and the legal were separated.
In 410 A.D, St. Augustine wrote The City of God, written in response to the sacking of Roman Empire. In his book St. Augustine argued that there are two cities, the City of God and the City of Men. The former is the domain of the spiritual and the latter the domain of the political. Augustine notes that political authority is necessary to tame humanity’s natural wickedness, so the state is a divinely sanctioned institution needed to curb man’s fallen nature. Augustine did not argue for a theocracy because he thought that the two cities should necessarily be separate. He believed that rulers should follow Christian principles and govern justly. So the celestial and the terrestrial were separated.
The Holy Roman Empire would succeed Rome. This brought new questions about how to run the polity. There were two camps – the Church saw itself being above the Emperor in both ecclesiastical matters and those of governance. The Emperor, on the other hand, saw himself as above the Church in both celestial and in terrestrial affairs in what is called Caesorpapism. Victory over this disagreement swung to the Church at certain times and to the Princes at another. This disagreement violently escalated from debates in colleges to the battlefield until it bathed Europe in a tsunami of blood known as the European Wars of Religion. From the German Peasant’s War (1524-1525), these wars intensified after the Papacy started to prosecute Protestantism which culminated in the horrendous Thirty Years’ War and ended in the Toggenburg War in 1712. All these wars left Europe, according to some estimates, with over 18 million corpses.
The pendulum violently swung from the extreme claims of Christianity- turning God into man – and it violently swung to smash to the opposite extreme of turning man into God. Thus Human Rights acquired capital letters. Man’s rational faculty could thenceforth command in absolute terms. Humanism would debut during the French Revolution where its advocates plunged France deeper in blood. It was called the Reign of Terror where the state would eliminate anyone suspected of being an enemy of the Revolution. During the 10 months of the Reign of Terror at least seventeen thousand were officially killed and ten thousand died in prison without trial. Thus ‘les extrêmes se touchet.’
The French Revolution aimed to remove the celestial from the terrestrial. They called it the Cult of Reason. But in so doing it removed and denied the inward aspect of man, his spiritual, celestial dimensions. Jaques Lacan would later note, “We are a balance between consciousness and unconsciousness. And when we lose this balance, we do foolish things, then we are totally unconscious.”
The first attempt to export this foolishness to the rest of the world was led by Napoleon who conquered and occupied Egypt in July 1798. Alan Moorehead noted that ‘The citizens of Cairo now found they had to have license for everything in life, for buying and selling, for the registration of a birth, a marriage or death, for the transfer of property – and these licenses had to be paid for. The discussion of politics was forbidden… at last the Egyptians were beginning to know the true nature of western occupation, which was bureaucracy enforced by military law. A canon shot woke up the city every morning at daybreak.”
A year later Napoleon would march to France to be inaugurated as the Emperor of France. Thenceforth the canon once used to wake the Egyptians would awake Europe to more bloodshed – estimates say that the death toll was between 3, 250,000 – 6,500,000.
The second attempt to export this foolishness was via colonisation. During the Berlin Conference of 1881, in which European powers discussed how to share the territories of the continent of Africa amongst European powers. During the conference Bismarck’s own words could be cited, “All this colonial business is a sham (swindel), but we need it for elections.”
The third attempt to maintain this foolishness as our weltenschuug is via neo-colonialism. Historian E.H.Barnes notes, “It may be safely be said that the guiding motive in contemporary imperialism today is an economic one; that however emphatically the “white man’s burden” and the religious motives may be put forward, they are in part only disguises for the economic realities beneath. Africa, the Near and Far East, and South America are vital factors in the industrial and commercial system. of the Western world. From them come highly important commodities, including rubber, manganese, copper and gold.”
In his work The Engines of the Broken World, Ian Dallas writes, “The world system, which is an abstract mathematical grid dominating all transactions and based on an irrational fantasy of perpetual increase run by a hidden, not secret but well hidden, handful of utterly worthless, amoral gamblers and thieves – group functioning as high priests of the numeric itself – that system is doubly doomed. It is doomed, mathematically, as system. It is doomed because these Titans, as Jünger called them, are in reality despicable dwarfs…
…Have they not poisoned the ocean? Have they not polluted the air? Have they not stripped bare the oxygen giving forests? Have they not taken from the poorest peasant the seed with which he grows his crop but then sold him a genetically modified one which a year later will be bare, forcing him to buy seeds from his new masters? Man is no longer enslaved by sword and gun but the seed which should grant him independence.”
In light of the above description Sidi Ali al-Jamal of Fez’s words are a powerful reminder: “Know that man is the Khalif of Allah in His earth. Allah has made existence a slave to the Khalif who is man. The essence of existence only emerges according to man’s essence. The attributes of existence only emerge according to man’s attributes. The high things of existence only emerges according to man’s high things. The low things in existence only emerges according to man’s low things.”
Yet it is the denial of the above described reality which facilitated colonial exploits, like the French occupation of Morrocco. The French were intent on replacing religion with their Cult of Reason. Shaykh Abdalqadir As-Sufi noted that his teacher, Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, ‘“lived for over a hundred years, his life spanned the many troubles of French occupation and persecution of Islam, to be followed by the persecutions of the nationalists who in turn attacked the Sufis who stood in the way of their newly acquired power. With the irony of this world’s ways, the Shaykh was first harassed by the French governors, and then, later, by the ambitious politicians who wanted to take the very position that the French had held before them of elitist control. At one point all of his fuqara were under attack and went in danger of their lives.”
Imam Malik famously stated, “Whoever takes on tassawuf without taking fiqh becomes heretical and whoever takes on fiqh without taking tassawuf becomes a transgressor: Only he who combines the two will attain the truth.” In other words the one who can take the inward and outward, without splitting them, is on the path of truth.
Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib wrote in the Long Du’a, which was recited by the fuqara within the tariqa and those from without:
‘O Allah! I ask You for a sound Islam
accompanied by submission to Your orders and prohibitions;
and for pure Iman, firmly established, enduring,
protected from all ambiguities and dangers;
and for Ihsan that will drive us into the presence of the Unseen
and by which we will be purified from every kind negligence
and all other defects’
That is, the Shaykh asked for sound Islam (the outward) which are the four islamic schools of jurispudence – Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi and Hanbali.
A pure Iman (the inward) refers to the three theological schools which are the Atharis, the Ash’aris and the Maturidi and for and Ihsan (the hidden) – Junaydi Tassawuf.
This journey has shown how civilisations have split knowledge of the inward and the outward. In the West, this split has produced horrendous acts by those who had the inward knowledge and disregarded outward knowledge. Intending to correct them, the rationalists also spilled blood and continue to cause misery and are threatening the very collapse of the ecosystem. The problem does not lie without, it lies within. Up until man can synthesize both the inward and the outward, his inward imbalance will continue to manifest in creation. But if he synthesize these two then he can be a Khalif . And this creature, according to Ibn Arabi, is a “khalif in safeguarding the universe, and it continues to be guarded as long as this perfect man is in it.”
Dallas, I. (2016). The Engines of the Broken World. Cape Town: Mormaer Books.
Moorehead, A. The Blue Nile. London: The Reprint Society.
Pakenham, T. (1992). The Scramble for Africa. Johannesburg: Jonathan Ball Publishers.
Barnes, H. E. (1935). the History of Western Civilisation (Vol. 2). New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
al-Husaini, S. A. (2012). The Practical Guidebook. Norwich: Diwan Press.
Fez, S. A.-J. (2005). The Meaning of Man. Cape Town: Madinah Press.
al-Arabi, M. i. (2005). The Seals of Wisdom. Cape Town: Madinah Press.