Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Veil of Fire and the Holiness of Allah

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In Islamic theology, Allah (God) is both Al-Zaahir (Imminent) and Al-Baatin (Transcendent).
The concept of Tanzeeh (transcendence or God being apart and distinct from His creation) is central to the Islamic understanding of the Almighty. It is this concept that I would like to focus on in a new series on my blog.

Some other religions of the world are pantheistic, some more than others. Pantheism is the idea that God is synonymous with the cosmos, that God’s essence pervades throughout the world, and that there is no distinction between God and the material universe. Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Sikhism have a strong pantheistic tendency within their respective theologies or philosophies.

But in Islam, God is clearly distinct from the creation of which He is the Creator. While His power, knowledge, vision, and hearing encompass all that exists, He in His Essence is above and apart from His creation. This is what I refer to as the Holiness and Purity of God. It is reflected in His attributive Names Al-Quddoos (The Holy), As-Subooh (The Holy, Purified, Glorified), and At-Tayyib (The Pure).
The Holiness and Purity of God is reflected in the fact that He is separate, distinct and not intermingled with His creation in His Essence.
Islam has gone one step further and explained the wisdom and rationale behind this separation and distinction between Allah Most High and the created world.
عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى ، قَالَ : قَامَ فِينَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِخَمْسِ كَلِمَاتٍ ، فَقَالَ : " إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ ، لَا يَنَامُ ، وَلَا يَنْبَغِي لَهُ أَنْ يَنَامَ ، يَخْفِضُ الْقِسْطَ وَيَرْفَعُهُ ، يُرْفَعُ إِلَيْهِ عَمَلُ اللَّيْلِ قَبْلَ عَمَلِ النَّهَارِ ، وَعَمَلُ النَّهَارِ قَبْلَ عَمَلِ اللَّيْلِ ، حِجَابُهُ النُّورُ " ، وَفِي رِوَايَةِ أَبِي بَكْرٍ : النَّارُ لَوْ كَشَفَهُ لَأَحْرَقَتْ سُبُحَاتُ وَجْهِهِ ، مَا انْتَهَى إِلَيْهِ بَصَرُهُ مِنْ خَلْقِهِ
Translation: Abi Musa (Allah be pleased with him) narrates: Allah’s Messenger (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) was standing among us and told us five things: “1. Verily Allah Azza wa Jall does not sleep, nor does it befit Him to sleep, 2. He lowers the scale and raises it, 3. The deeds of the night are taken up to Him before the deeds of the day, 4. And the deeds of the day before the deeds of the night, 5. His Veil is Light” and in the narration of Abi Bakr (the Prophet said): “His Veil is Fire. If He were to remove it (the Veil) the Holy Radiance of His Face would burn up everything of His creation within the extent of His Vision.”
Reference: Sahih Muslim; Kitab al-Eeman
The value of this Hadith, especially for theology, cannot be overstated. Even a cursory reading of it is sufficient to demonstrate how radically different the theology of Islam is from virtually all other world religions and philosophies. In fact, many sects and schools of thought within Islam are both disturbed and perplexed by the purport of this blessed Hadith. Many sects outright reject it, such as the Mu’tazilites and some Shi’ites.
It is the nature of Allah’s (God) Essence which mandates this separation between Him and the created world which cannot sustain if it were to be exposed to the burning glory of the Almighty. It is this fact that is alluded to in the Holy Qur’an itself regarding the request of Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) to see God:
وَلَمَّا جَاءَ مُوسَىٰ لِمِيقَاتِنَا وَكَلَّمَهُ رَبُّهُ قَالَ رَبِّ أَرِنِي أَنظُرْ إِلَيْكَ قَالَ لَن تَرَانِي وَلَـٰكِنِ انظُرْ إِلَى الْجَبَلِ فَإِنِ اسْتَقَرَّ مَكَانَهُ فَسَوْفَ تَرَانِي فَلَمَّا تَجَلَّىٰ رَبُّهُ لِلْجَبَلِ جَعَلَهُ دَكًّا وَخَرَّ مُوسَىٰ صَعِقًا فَلَمَّا أَفَاقَ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [Allah] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.” (Surah 7:143)
Imam Tirmidhi has brought a narration in his Sunan which explains this amazing verse of the Holy Quran:
عَنْ أَنَسٍ ، أَنّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ " قَرَأَ هَذِهِ الْآيَةَ فَلَمَّا تَجَلَّى رَبُّهُ لِلْجَبَلِ جَعَلَهُ دَكًّا سورة الأعراف آية 143 ، قَالَ حَمَّادٌ : هَكَذَا وَأَمْسَكَ سُلَيْمَانُ بِطَرَفِ إِبْهَامِهِ عَلَى أُنْمُلَةِ إِصْبَعِهِ الْيُمْنَى قَالَ فَسَاخَ الْجَبَلُ : وَخَرَّ مُوسَى صَعِقًا سورة الأعراف آية 143
Anas (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) recited this Ayah: “So when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He made it collapse to dust.” – Hammad said: “Like this.” Sulaiman held his thumb over the tip of his finger on the right hand – and he (the Prophet) said: “So the mountain fainted, ‘And Moses fell down unconscious.’”
In the version reported by Imam Ahmad in his Musnad:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فِي قَوْلِهِ تَعَالَى فَلَمَّا تَجَلَّى رَبُّهُ لِلْجَبَلِ سورة الأعراف آية 143 ، قَالَ : قَالَ : " هَكَذَا ، يَعْنِي أَنَّهُ أَخْرَجَ طَرَفَ الْخِنْصَرِ "
The Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) said regarding the saying of He the Most High “So When his Lord manifested upon the mountain…” (7:143), “like this” that is, he (the Prophet demonstrated by) taking out the tip of his little finger.
What these narrations are explaining, in the words and hand gestures of the Prophet (Sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam), is that Allah manifested Himself (Tajallee), that is, the Light of His Holy Essence. But the quantity of the Light of God manifested was not much, only about the measure of the size of the Prophet’s small finger. Yet even that small quantity of God’s Light manifested on a massive mountain resulted instantly in the mountain crumbling to dust!
So if only the Light of God in such a small quantity is enough to reduce an entire mountain to smithereens, then just imagine what would happen to this temporal and unstable world if God were to remove the Veil and appear in His full glory!
This incident, as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, is mirrored in the text of the Torah also:
וַיֹּאמַ֑ר הַרְאֵ֥נִי נָ֖א אֶת־כְּבֹדֶֽךָ׃
 וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֲנִ֨י אַעֲבִ֤יר כָּל־טוּבִי֙ עַל־פָּנֶ֔יךָ וְקָרָ֧אתִֽי בְשֵׁ֛ם יְהוָ֖ה לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וְחַנֹּתִי֙ אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֣ר אָחֹ֔ן וְרִחַמְתִּ֖י אֶת־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲרַחֵֽם׃
וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לֹ֥א תוּכַ֖ל לִרְאֹ֣ת אֶת־פָּנָ֑י כִּ֛י לֹֽא־יִרְאַ֥נִי הָאָדָ֖ם וָחָֽי׃
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה הִנֵּ֥ה מָק֖וֹם אִתִּ֑י וְנִצַּבְתָּ֖ עַל־הַצּֽוּר׃
וְהָיָה֙ בַּעֲבֹ֣ר כְּבֹדִ֔י וְשַׂמְתִּ֖יךָ בְּנִקְרַ֣ת הַצּ֑וּר וְשַׂכֹּתִ֥י כַפִּ֛י עָלֶ֖יךָ עַד־עָבְרִֽי׃
וַהֲסִרֹתִי֙ אֶת־כַּפִּ֔י וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵרָאֽוּ׃ ס
He (Moses) said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence!” And He answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show. But,” He said, “you cannot see My Face, for man may not see Me and live.” And the LORD said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and shield you with My Hand away and you will see My back; but My Face must not be seen.” (Jewish Study Bible; Exodus Ch.33 V.18-23)
Here the Torah is stating that “You cannot see My Face, for man may not see Me and live.”
Although this is clearly stated in the Torah, modern day Jews and Christians have, due to the toxic historic influence of Greek Hellenism on their religions, glossed over the pure theology of the Torah. Modern day Jews believe that God cannot be seen as there is nothing to see. Christians are even worse in this regard as they believe God manifested Himself in a human incarnation and was seen in this world by thousands of people who did not die by beholding God in His Essence (rather the Christians believe that those same weak and fragile human beings succeeded in murdering God!)
For the most part, it is only Muslims who possess this ancient theology imparted to mankind through the Torah and now the Holy Qur’an that God cannot be seen in this world, that if God were to manifest Himself the world would be utterly burnt.
However, even the Muslim Ummah is not entirely agreed upon this theology, that too due to the toxic influence of Greek Hellenistic philosophy and rationalism.
Returning to the subject of Allah’s Veil, it a bright and fiery barrier which separates Him from the created world. The Holy Qur’an alludes to this Veil:
إِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِأَهْلِهِ إِنِّي آنَسْتُ نَارًا سَآتِيكُم مِّنْهَا بِخَبَرٍ أَوْ آتِيكُم بِشِهَابٍ قَبَسٍ لَّعَلَّكُمْ تَصْطَلُونَ 
 فَلَمَّا جَاءَهَا نُودِيَ أَن بُورِكَ مَن فِي النَّارِ وَمَنْ حَوْلَهَا وَسُبْحَانَ اللَّـهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ 
 يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنَّهُ أَنَا اللَّـهُ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ 
When Moses said to his family, “Indeed, I have perceived a fire. I will bring you from there information or will bring you a burning torch that you may warm yourselves.” But when he came to it, he was called, “Blessed is Whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it. And exalted is Allah, Lord of the worlds. O Moses, indeed it is I - Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” (Surah 27:7-9)
According to classical commentators, the phrase “Blessed is Whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it” refers to Allah, Who is screened by the Veil of Fire, and the Angels, who surround it:
وفي رواية عن ابن عباس : نور رب العالمين . فوقف موسى متعجبا مما رأى ، فنودي أن بورك من في النار . قال ابن عباس : [ أي ] قدس .

( ومن حولها ) أي : من الملائكة . قاله ابن عباس ، وعكرمة ، وسعيد بن جبير ، والحسن ، وقتادة

Reference: Tafsir Ibn Kathir; Surah 27:8


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