Armoire

THE DEGREES

Spiritual motives were poorly represented in many of the conversions which now took place; and it was not long before there came the following further Revelation: The Arabs of the desert say: We have faith. Say thou: Faith ye have not, but say “we submit”, for the faith hath not yet entered your hearts. And if ye obey God and His Messenger, He will in no wise withhold from you your meed for what ye do. This verse completed the hierarchy of Islam, submission without faith being the lowest degree. The higher degrees, that is the degrees of faith, are the theme – or rather one of the themes – of the Verse of Light which had been revealed to the Prophet some months before the truce of Hudaybiyah. Throughout the Qur’an light means faith, and four degrees of enlightenment are here mentioned: God is the Light of the heavens and of the earth. His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass; the glass is as it were a shining planet. It is kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the west. The oil thereof well nigh blazeth in splendor even though the fire have not touched it. Light upon light. God guideth to His light whom he will; and God citetb symbols for men; and God is of all things the Knower?

There is first, in ascending order, the niche, that is illuminated but not in itself luminous. Then there is the crystalline glass, above which is the splendor of the oil; and finally, there is the flame itself. The mention of symbols recalls another verse which begins with the same sentence: God citeth symbols for men, but which adds the reason: that they may meditate and the whole of the Light Verse is clearly a summons to meditation. But as regards the different degrees, the Qur’an is here only implicit. Elsewhere, starting from some of the earliest Revelations, it is more explicit. In one of these’ mankind is divided into three groups, those of the right, those of the left, and the foremost. Those of the right are the saved, those of the left the damned. As to the foremost, that is, those of the highest degree, who is also called the slaves of God,’ it is said of them that they are brought near to God, this epithet is also used of the Archangels to distinguish them from the Angels.

Other early Revelations introduced a third degree into the hierarchy of the faithful, the righteous, who are between the foremost and those of the right. The relationship’ between these three degrees may be inferred from what the Qur’an says about their blessings in Paradise. Whereas those of the right are given pure flowing water to drink, it is the foremost alone who have direct access to the highest fountains, but the righteous are given a draught which has been blended at one or another of these fountains, which suggests that they are those who follow in the footsteps of the foremost.  Degrees of superiority is also implied by the Revelation in its mention of the heart. In speaking of the majority, it says: Not blind are the eyes, but blind are the hearts within the breasts:’ The Prophet on the other hand, like Prophets before him, said that his heart was awake, which means that its eye was open; and the Qur’an indicates that this possibility can be shared, if only in some measure, by others also, for it sometimes addresses itself directly to those who have hearts? It is reported that of Abu Bakr the Prophet said: “He surpasseth you not through much fasting and prayer but he surpasseth you in virtue of something that is fixed in his heart.”:

The Prophet often spoke of the superiority of some of his followers over others; and in Mecca, at the time of the victory, when in his presence Khalid retorted angrily against ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, who had rebuked him, he said: “Gently Khalid, let be my Companions; for if thou hadst Mount Uhud all in gold and didst spend it in the way of God thou wouldst not attain unto the merit of any man of my Companions.” According to the Revelation the differences between one degree and another are vaster in the next world than in this: Behold how We have favored some of them above others, and verily the Hereafter is greater in degrees and greater in hierarchic precedences.’ And the Prophet said: “The people of Paradise will behold the high place that is above them even as they now behold the bright planet’ on the eastern or western horizon.”

The disparities between man and man were also reflected in the manner of his teaching, some of which was reserved for the few who would understand it. Abu Hurayrah said: “I have treasured in my memory two stores of knowledge which I had from the Messenger of God. One of them have I divulged; but if I divulged the other ye would cut this throat,” and he pointed to his own throat.

During the return march to Medina after the victories of Mecca and Hunayn, the Prophet said to some of his Companions: “We have returned from the Lesser Holy War to the Greater Holy War.” And when one of them asked: “What is the Greater Holy War, O Messenger of God?” he answered: “The war against the soul.”:” The soul of fallen man is divided against itself. Of its lowest aspect, the Qur’an says: Verily the soul commandeth unto evil.” The better part of it, that is the conscience, is named the ever-upbraiding soul; and it is this which wages the Greater Holy War, with the help of the Spirit, against the lower soul. Finally, there is the soul which is at peace, that is the whole soul no longer divided against itself after the battle has been won. Such are the souls of those who have reached the highest degree, at the level of the foremost, the slaves of God, the near. The Qur’an addresses this perfect soul in the words: a thou soul which art at peace, return unto thy Lord with gladness that is thine in Him and His in thee.’ Enter thou among My slaves. Enter thou My Paradise.’

The two-fold nature of this blessing recalls the Qur’an’s promise of two Paradises for the blessed soul, and also the Prophet’s reference to his own ultimate state as “The meeting with my Lord and Paradise”. For the soul which is at peace, the entry into My paradise corresponds to “the meeting with my Lord”, whereas the entry among My slaves corresponds to “Paradise”, which is the second accompanying Paradise. The Supreme Paradise, that of God, “the meeting with my Lord”, is none other than Ridwan. The following verse had recently been revealed: God hath promised the believers, the men and the women, gardens that are watered by flowing rivers wherein they shall dwell immortal, abodes of excellence in the Paradises of Eden. And Ridwan from God is greater. That is the  Infinite Beatitude?

The Prophet also spoke of the supreme degree insofar as it can be reached during life on earth, and this saying is one of those which are called holy traditions because they transmit the direct words of God: “My slave ceaseth not to draw near unto Me with devotions of his free will until I love him; and when I love him I am the hearing with which he heareth and the sight with which he seeth and the hand with which he graspeth and the foot on which he walketh.” The chief of the voluntary devotions is dhikr Allah, which may be rendered “remembrance of God or calling upon God”. In one of the first Revelations, the Prophet was commanded: Invoke in remembrance the name of thy Lord, and devote thyself to Him with an utter devotion? A later Revelation says: Verily the ritual prayer preserveth from iniquity and abomination; but the remembrance of God is greater:” With reference to the heart’s blindness and its cure the Prophet said: “For everything, there is a polish that taketh away rust, and the polish of the heart is a remembrance of God.” And when asked who would rank highest in God’s esteem on the Day of Resurrection he answered: “The men and the women who invoke God much in remembrance.” And when asked if they would rank even above the man who had fought in God’s path he answered: “Even though he wielded his sword amongst infidels and idolaters until it was broken and smeared with blood, yet would the rememberer of God have a more excellent degree than his.

President

The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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