Understanding Muhammad SAW as Basheer – Giver of glad tidings

Who doesn’t know the Prophet as the Mercy of the Worlds
Understanding Muhammad SAW as Basheer – Giver of glad tidings
File Photo of Masjid-e-Nabvi (SAW)

For some reasons, we have so far been told mostly of the Prophet as Warner with almost total exclusion of the Prophet as bringer of glad tidings. Let us try to focus today on the latter.

For understanding how the Prophet (SAW) brought glad tidings, note that religion itself is joyful news and a method to bring joy. God grounds all sweetness and is the rasa or existence, the Ah one utters when encountering beauty and majesty. Shariah is the shortest road to the oasis of Spirit, thus mercy; inaugurates birth of a new civilization that embodies equilibrium and peace, equality and fraternity.

Prophet’s intercession delivers people out of posthumous suffering/hell. For Mumineen (believers), the Prophet’s ummah, there is special grace, there are primarily glad tidings only; hell for them would appear like taking a bath in rather hot water to rub off impurities, or spend only a moment in a hell or just led through hell into heaven. Imam Nibhani has assembled at one place in Jawahir al-Bihar fi Fazaili Nabi several traditions that show very special favours – and one can say almost guaranteed entry into heaven for believers. Ibn Arabi uses several arguments to show how mercy extends everywhere even in the depths of hell.

Let us note that Muslim Sufis have extended the notion of Muhammad (SAW) to embrace without exception the totality of being, reality as a whole and one is reminded of Pannikar equating ‘Christophany’ with universal ontology. To be human is to have known Muhammad (SAW) implicitly at least. Everyone who affirms faith in life, hope, love and compassion has implicitly affirmed Muhammad (SAW). The world is divided into two camps those who know Muhammad and those who don’t know. We awake daily thanks to the Light of Muhammad that shines in the sun and the eyes with which they see.

How the Prophet is Mercy for the worlds may by understood by noting that, as Shaykh Isa Nuruddin puts it, “As a spiritual principle, the Prophet is not only the Totality of which we are separate parts or fragments, he is also the Origin in relation to which we are so many deviations; in other words, the Prophet as Norm is not only the “Whole Man” (al-Insan al-Kamil) but also the “Ancient Man” (al-Insan al-Qadim).” And the Muhammadan Substance is “the love of God combined, by the nature of things, with contemplativeness and nobleness of character; as also with a sense of outward or practical values, such as the beauty of forms, and cleanliness, or the rules of propriety infused with generosity and dignity.”

Although much has been written on how the Prophet constitutes the Mercy here and hereafter, many have faced difficulties in reconciling it with the function of holy war, qisas, death and doctrine of hell. I think none explains it better in the history of Islamic tradition in last 800 years than Ibn Arabi who defined his own function as broadcasting mercy. Let us meditate on some points Ibn Arabi puts forth in one of his chapters in Fusus al-Hikam (Bezels of Wisdom), “Wisdom of Breath in the Word of Jonah.”

· Man’s life is supreme end for desecration of which religious fervor or zeal or ideology can’t be invoked. Life is above all ideologies, religious and secular.

· When sha’riah commands to take life, it needs to be remembered it is ultimately because the one executed returns to God and thus is at peace with Him; death is a means to help him return to God. There is no slain or slayer as Gita would put it; all acts are God’s and return to him.

· Life is to be preserved because it is an opportunity to manifest higher potentialities of divine life/Self realization meaning guidance consists of living life to its potential or unfolding one’s treasures or being open to receive revelations of being or reclaiming the wonder of being. Just to be is a blessing as Heschel would put it. To be is to choose life. Choosing life is the ultimate meaning of all commandments to which all must be subordinated. This explains Hafiz’s verse stating that in his sharia the only commandment is not to hurt anyone. Augustine’s formulation of Bible in one sentence as love of God and love of neighbour can be restated as meaning love of life; life is honoured because displays God’s glory or names. Killing is sin because it is to cut short of divine image.

· Since our felicity or eudomonia consists in being ourselves or letting the Real express most fully through oneself, one may surmise that Ibn Arabi invites us, most fundamentally, to nothing but loyalty to one’s true potential. The perfect man is one who allows no obstruction whatsoever to the play of Being or becomes locus of Divine Names. One may recall Aristotle while reading Ibn Arabi on what are we invited to by the Revelation. We are simply invited to by the Name Guide to express our full potential for whatever perfections life is capable of achieving. Muhammad Everyone who affirms faith in life, hope, love and compassion has implicitly affirmed Muhammad (SAW). Everyone who affirms faith in life, hope, love and compassion has implicitly affirmed Muhammad (SAW). is the supreme man/prophet because he chose not to identify with any particular station or milestone or signpost and chose to perpetually travel, transcend all attachments to limiting beliefs and making himself open to all forms – wherever the caravan of love (of life/Being) led. His job was to be pure submitter to the Revelations of the Real/Being and bless whole existence. His very name meant praised being and what is praised is being as compared to nothingness. To love prophet is to bless whole universe of forms, to bless life. Live and let live. And, if it requires, kill in order to let life bloom unobstructed from its killers. In killing the killer (qisas) is life, as the Quran puts it and Ibn Arabi asks us to note.

· Every moment of life is an opportunity to know God or know the joy (ananda/rahma) that is life of Spirit. We must trust everyone is moving towards God and not despair of His mercy enveloping all sinners and even depths of hell. This explains killing is sin. To live is to worship God. Iman may be defined as consent to gratefully accept gift of life/being, “vital appropriation of the whole universe” as Iqbal put it. Kufr translates into ingratitude as Laila Bakhtiar has argued.

· We don’t die since that part alone dies which wasn’t truly existent to begin with; only illusions or peripheral in us dies. The Spirit doesn’t taste death; only nafs (soul/psyche) tastes death.

· Wages of sin are death and if we didn’t sin we wouldn’t die. God can’t die’ God gives only life and gives death to what didn’t earn right to live. Our separate parts return to their origin but our divine spark rises to God and is thus in any case immortal. But to choose to be outside God and pursue any pleasure outside God – this is what worldly life consists of – means death must intervene to reclaim us wholly for God. The choice to live is in a way to live outside God- this fact is illustrated in the doctrine of fana.

· Nothing is really lost in death; everything we treasure is eternally etched in divine life and we thus carry every great or treasured experience of joy that visited us ever in life is preserved.

· Mercy has the last word so hellfire must get cooled or become felicity for its denizens.

· So the mission of the prophets is to safeguard life, to let it bloom (deepest meaning of durood and salam on prophet is this blessing of life), to let thousand flowers bloom, to accept no limitation, to fight weeds that seek to obstruct life’s march, to win a world safe for life against all authoritarian totalistic ideologies that put some idea above life, to seek perfections we are made to court or destined to seek through struggles of all kinds, to move on despite falls, to keep walking as all walking is ultimately or really on a straight path as the path of sin/getting astray is only a circuitous path to destiny/ to Good dimly perceived, a form of illegitimate shortcut to bliss that backfires, a path that is long or difficult because not straight which is the shortest distance between two point, and thus fraught with difficulties and only means a path that doesn’t let life, transpersonal life, community life, progress unhindered and as such it causes discomfort to the pursuer (hell is only the name of this discomfort amplified to its true heinous form).

· We are all destined to return to our Origin, to Felicity. As servants we can’t not be servants; we are condemned to worship Him even while we presume we deny Him. Eckhart meant something similar in his paradoxical assertions about God. Reading the Quranic verse “To Him does the whole matter revert” Ibn Arabi observes that this means “His Identity is the essence of each thing.” If this is so, we are already saved and only suffer from the delusion that we aren’t. Gnosis is overcoming of this delusion and appreciating that providence shapes our ends even if we make every attempt to spoil the broth of life. We may fall and suffer on the way but in any case we fall n God’s lap of Mercy.

Finally a few words from Ibn Arabi for those who aren’t comfortable with God’s vast mercy:

(When you reach this understanding) you will come to know the difference between him who desires the spreading of God’s mercy among His servants – whether they be obedient or disobedient – and him who desires to take God’s mercy away from some of His servants. This second person is the one who prohibits the mercy of God that embraces all things, but he does not prohibit it to himself. Were it not for the fact that God’s mercy takes precedence over His wrath, the possessor of this attribute would never attain to God’s mercy.

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