TRADITIONAL ISLAM as understood by the vast majority of ulama' of the Ahli Sunnah wal Jamaah


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيمُ


نحمده ونصلى على رسوله الكريمُ









What appears to the present writer as tauhidic intellectuality is the development of intellectual paradigm and temper of an individual believer in the Islamic tauhidic world-view, epistemology or axiology, including the collectivity, and the pursuit of life-goals either proximate or ultimate, individual or collective, family, societal or civilizational, based on those perimeters. Certainly the development begins with the individual and then the influence and the process radiate into the wider circles and finally into the ummah.


We may begin with the human intellect for it is the center of the human substance that is addressed by the Qur’anic revelation which constitutes the direct revelation as the “al-wahyul-matluww” and then the other revelation which is non sonoral, the “ghair al-mauluww” in the prophetic phenomenon. The human intellect is the center-point which is to receive the ‘rays’ from revelation and prophecy, in its process of intellection. In traditional discourse it is expressed that just as the human eyes can see in full only in the illuminating light of the sun so the human intellect can only see things in fullness in the illuminating light of revelation and prophecy.


We may refresh our memory with Ghazalian discourse on the intellect. He reminds us that the intellect (al’aql) can be seen in four dimensions of meanings. The first it can be seen as the faculty in man which is the instinct, making him capable of theoretical and axiomatic knowledge, setting him aside with this special faculty, in the animal kingdom. The second is the intellect as the dawning of understanding in the child which develops slowly as the rays of dawn, gradually, making him more mature. Third, the intellect in man which makes him knowledgeable, with experience and reflection, and excel in theoretical and practical knowledge, with its branches. Fourth, the intellect in the mature man of wisdom, the highest development of the intellect, making him understand things and beings, end events, to the farthest reaches in time or space, until he understands theses things into eternity, and hence he becomes mellowed with wisdom, controlling his appetites and desires in such an effective manner. This is the ultimate in intellectual development.


We can see in this discourse the idea of the highest intellect related to the development of the ethical or moral and spiritual personality, and not separate from it. We can call this spiritual or moral intelligence or whatever. The point is the integration between knowing, being, and acting. 


This is related to the triad, also in al-Ghazali: that knowledge first appears as understanding things as ideas, in terms of definitions, characteristics, virtues, results, (say ‘charity’ or ‘compassion’) and so on; then there occurs the colouration or the “sibghah” of the intellect and the soul with this knowledge; hence there is an inner situation or “hal”; there is being – in-knowledge; then there is the consequent acting according to that knowledge. This is knowing, being, acting in knowledge and according to knowledge.


In the Khaldunian discourse, we can discern the terms of discerning intellect (‘al-‘aqlul-tamyizi’) making man discern things, experiential intellect (‘al-‘aqlul-tajribi’) making man learn knowledge and wisdom through experience-hence the adage that the man who does not learn from tradition or parents he is schooled by time-; then there is the theoretical intellect (‘al-‘aqlul-nazari’) making him skilled in seeing theoretical matters in knowledge; there is the practical intellect (‘al-‘aqlul-‘amali’) making him act in suitable manner in life. The gathering of all forms of skills and intellectual activity of the highest order in a civilization or society by reason of the availability of experts in all fields intellectual, industrial, and the crafts, is termed by him as added intellect (‘al-‘aqlul-mazid’).


In his time people were talking about the people of the East like the Egyptians being more intelligent from birth, and the people of the Maghrib being born unintelligent or less intelligent. His explanation is that the people of the East were skilled in all manner of crafts and sciences because of the availability of added intellect in their civilization. People can be trained to be skilled in all fields provided there are experts and teachers with effective teaching skills.


Ibn Khaldun also speaks of the development of ‘malakah’ in students and men of learning. ‘Malakah’ sometimes translated as ‘habit’ or can be translated as skill means to him the skill in a man of learning or expert in any field which has become so ingrained in the person and so imbedded in his soul that he acts in his field as a real expert, and his work is perfect. The present writer likes to put it in this way: it is like swimming in water for fish and flying in the air for the bird.


And this malakah is used by ibn Khaldun in all fields: physical, intellectual, spiritual, moral, mechanical, linguistic and whatever. To him the ‘aqeedah of a man should be with ‘malakah’; his tauhid should be with ‘malakah’; his prayer, fasting, and so on; his virtues, his service, his morals, his administration; his thinking and writing. We can even add: research and development should be with ‘malakah’.


To go back to the development and operation of tauhidic intellectuality:


Tauhidic intellectuality begins in Islam by the inculcation of tauhid or the Oneness of Allah, and the other articles of faith; in the hereafter, the angelic world, the revealed books, the Prophets, the Divine Pre-Measurement. This is to believe that all things come from the cause of all causes, concentrating the spiritual attention on the First cause, irrespective of the secondary causes or the intermediaries. It is the conviction that all other causes come from Him. Everything is in His control; when one has this faith, says al-Ghazali rd “his anger on others, hatred and jealousy for them will vanish away, and His will remains supreme in his mind’. This ideal can be attained only by those of perfect faith by His Grace. Others can attain something nearer or less in relation to this ideal. However it is not unattainable.


To such a person the means or intermediaries become as it were “like hand and pen”, he does not express gratitude to the pen as he does it to the hand; certain faith is highest in rank; then he understands that the sun, moon, the stars, the animals, plants and the creatures are subject to His Order. The pen moves according to the Writer Who moves it. A man of this faith will avoid disobedience-either relating to his relationship with God or His creatures- just like a man avoids poison regardless of its quantity. The more faith a person has the more cautious is his actions in relation to his Creator and His creation. Such a person will feel strongly that Allah watches over him in all circumstances, and he is careful in his thoughts and deeds. This is the meaning behind the statement “Spiritual excellence-which is the fruit of strong faith-is that you worship Allah (and you live your life) as if you see Him and if you do not see Him He sees you”. Such a person will observe propriety either when he is alone or he is among people in the society.


Apart from understanding tauhid by learning the proper explanations according to the authentic intellectual tradition of mainstream Islam, Muslim scholars speak of nurturing this faith by performing spiritual duties like prayer and fasting and the others, reciting the Qur’an, performing invocations, and good deeds.


Apart from this the scholars speak of contemplation: like contemplating on the Attributes of Allah so as to mould our love and faith towards Him, contemplate on our good deeds so that we will be motivated to perform them, and contemplate on our sins so that we will be moved to reform ourselves. The Ihya’ of al-Ghazali rd is replete with these matters.


Concerning contemplation on the creation of God, al-Ghazali rd has discussed this at length in the fourth volume of the book.


He invites us to reflect on the world and its contents: Think of the world as your habitation and think of the rivers, oceans, mountains, mines and other things, and then think of the regions of the heavens (this is for the common man and also the geographer and the astronomer-uem) …think of the region of the heavens. God has fixed the world, so that it cannot move (in the ordinary daily observation of man-uem), and He has placed mountains in it, so that it may not toss, He made some places so high that nobody can move round them. Think of the earth. It remains dead. When rain falls upon it, it becomes swollen and then grow therein plants, grass and creepers with which animals of various kinds sustain their lives…(for the common man and the agriculturalists-uem). Some plants give food, some give strength, some save life, some destroy life, some give coolness, some irritate, some uproot jaundice, some increase it. Some circulate blood, some bring sleep, some give strength, some weaken it. So there is nothing which grows out of the earth which does not bring benefits.It is beyond the power of men to comprehend all the benefits. These are foods for reflection for the intelligent (for the common man and also men of knowledge-uem)…


About the mountains:


He says: There are under the mountains and underneath the ground wonderful signs of God. There are mines of gold, silver, pearls, and emeralds therein. Some are mixed with other mineral substances, such as gold, silver, iron, lead. Some are not mixed like emeralds and rubies. Look then to the mines underneath the ground. Out of them salts, sulphur, tar etc. are found. If there is not salt, the taste of food goes. God therefore creates some kind of saltish earth which mixed with water and burnt by sun-light produces pure salt


Therefore God created everything with some object or other. He has not created it out of sport. God says :I have not created the heavens and the earth and what is therein out of mere sport. I have created them with truth.


Gods’ signs in the creatures:


God created some animals which fly, some with four feet, some creep on their bellies, some with four feet, some with hundred feet. You will find in it insects. Their forms, nature and constitution are also different, You will find in them wonderful signs which show the craftsmanship of the Creator. If we describe the wonderful workings of flies, ants, bees, and spiders, etc (for the lay man and those specializing in study of insects-uem) each has got its particular characteristics, you will see wonders in them. Look how they construct their habitations, how they collect food, and how they love their mates, how they store up food. We could not have done their works with all our might. Do you think that the spider does it of its own accord and that it has got no teacher? Do all these things not prove that the Creator is the Mighty, the Wise?


Man is the most wonderful among the animals. He does not express wonder after seeing himself. How Mighty is He Who created man, the wonder of creations.


Sings in Allah’s wonderful creations:


Land of the earth is surrounded by vast expanse of water. The earth is an island in the vast expanse of water which surrounds it. The Prophet said: As is the horse’s house in a vast field, likewise is the earth in oceans. So a horse’s house has been compared with the earth. Think of the ocean. There are some water animals therein which are like islands. If you burn something with fire thereon, you will find the island moving. Then you understand that it is not an island but a water animal.


Signs in the air and things therein:


The organs which can touch cannot touch the air when it flows. The eyes cannot see it; the horizon of air is just like an ocean. The birds fly therein just as fish in water. Everything in the air vibrates just as the waves of the sea. If something filled up with air is drowned in water, it will not drown. On the contrary, if something filled up with water is thrown up in the air, it will come down to the earth. Then look to the gravity weight and strength of the air.


Take a piece of iron, it will not float, neither above water, nor in air, but it will go down the water. So air does not go down the water inspite of its light weight. God keeps the boat above water as the boats are full of air. Then look to the things in the air-clouds, rain, thunder, lightning, snow, ice. God says: The clouds that are well-controlled between heaven and earth .The clouds bear vast expanse of water and they are driven and scattered to distant lands to deliver the benefits of water and rain.


Heavens and the stars:


Heavens and its stars, sun and moon: Look at the sun which revolves round its axis for one year. Each rises each day and sets in. Had it not risen and set in, there would not have been night and day and time could not have been ascertained. It would be all day or all night. Owing to the revolving of the sun, there appear summer, winter, spring and autumn. When the sun declines to one side from its axis, then comes the winter season. When it remains in the meridian, there appears summer season. There is not a star the creation of which has no purpose. The astrologers are unanimous that the sun is greater than 160 times of the size of the earth. Then think of the stars. The smallest star is greater than eight times of the earth. The greatest star is more than 120 times of the earth. The greater the distance of the star the smaller it appears to us…Think of the horizon how great it is in which contains the sun, moon and stars…. Look at the abode of the earth how He created it and sustains it. As an ant living in a corner of a palace, does not keep information about the grandeur of the palace, and its attendants and majesty of its owner, so also we live as an ant in the corner of this vast earth and do not keep information about the mighty Creator and His Attributes. Now you cannot conceive the wonderful creations of God and His Power and Prowess, because you have been given a very little wisdom with which you cannot grasp everything as you gave been given a little power of sight and hearing. God says: You have been given but very little knowledge. (Al Qur’an - 17:85). These are the foods for reflection and ponder. You must think of God’s wonderful creation and not of His Being. The more you think of His creation the more you will learn His Glory, Prowess and Power.


The above quotations from the book of reflection in the Ihya’ gives as an aspect of the portrayal of the tauhidic intellectuality in relation to thinking about the world of nature in the cosmic order.


In the present times, Harun Yahya is writing extensively about this tauhidic intellectuality in a popular, convincing and attractive manner. This is apart from what some reputable scientists are doing in the Muslim world like Prof Zaghlul Najjar and S.H.Nasr and others. Of course the seminal work of the late Ismail al-Faruqi in Islamization of knowledge has got to be acknowledged.


Concerning the degrees of tauhid al-Ghazali explains as follows:


First tauhid means to believe with certitude that there is no diety but Allah, He is the One, there is no partner for Him; to believe in His Power, and His Kindness. Tauhid is a vast ocean and has no limit.


He says: The first stage is like the outer shell of the coconut; the second is like the inner cover of the coconut; the third like the kernel of the coconut; the fourth like the oil of the kernel.


The first stage is the recitation of the statement: ‘There is no deity apart from Allah’. The second is the stage of those drawn near the Divine Presence confirmation with the heart. The third is like the kernel, which sees the faith and truth with the inner light or by way of spiritual unveiling. The fourth is like the oil in the kernel. He sees nothing but God. This is fana fit-tauhid or losing oneself in tauhid. Such a person may forget even himself in that state.


Concerning the state of tauhid analogous to this Dr al-Buti says:


What is the meaning of the expression "oneness of perception"?

When I interact with causes with full respect to Allah's ways, His orders, and His Law, knowing that the sustenance that comes to me is from Allah; the felicity that enters my home is from Allah Almighty; my food is readied for me by Allah - I mean even the smallest details; the wealth with which I have been graced, comes from Allah; the illness that has been put in my being or that of a relative of mine comes from Allah Almighty; the cure that followed it is from Allah Almighty; my success in my studies is by Allah Almighty's grant; the results which I have attained after obtaining my degrees and so forth, are from Allah Almighty's grant - when the efficacy of causes melts away in my sight and I no longer see, behind them, other than the Causator Who is Allah Almighty: at that time, when you look right, you do not see except Allah's Attributes, and when you look left, you do not see other than Allah's Attributes. As much as you evolve in the world of causes, you do not see, through them, other than the Causator, Who is Allah. At that time you have become raised to what the spiritual masters have called oneness of perception. And this oneness of perception is what Allah's Messenger expressed by the word ihsan [which he defined to mean]: "That you worship Allah as if you see him." You do not see the causes as a barrier between you and Allah. Rather, you see causes, in the context of this doctrine, very much like pure, transparent glass: the glass pane is present - no one denies it - but as much as you stare at it, you do not see anything except what is behind it. Is it not so? You only see what is behind it. The world is entirely made of glass panes in this fashion. You see in them Allah's efficacy in permanence, so you are always with Allah Almighty. None has tasted the sweetness of belief unless he has reached that level of perception.


May Allah make us strong in tauhid. Amin.


The spiritual experience of the spiritual leaders of the East is considered analogous to the experience of the quantum physicists with their experience in their domain; and they seem to meet. This is expressed by Frithof Chapra in his classic work “The Tao of Physics”. He states: “The basic oneness of the universe is not only central characteristic of the mystical experience, but is also one of the most important revelations of modern physics”. (p.142). So the tauhidic intellectuality of the non-scientist can merge with that of the scientist.


Imam al-Ghazali mentions 6 spiritual and intellectual stages in the way of developing this tauhidic personality and intellectuality, apart from studies, devotions, remembrance, and reflection. These are the stages of:


1.                  Placing conditions on oneself in the way of actions and struggling to realize them. (Musharatah).

2.                  The stage of guarding oneself while acting and examining one’s desires. (Muraqabah).

3.                  The stage of taking stock of one’s actions and thoughts (Muhasabah).

4.                  The stage of punishing oneself in cases of omissions or commissions. (Mu’aqabah).

5.                  The stage of striving in might and main to be on the right path (Mujahadah).

6.                  The stage of rebuking oneself in cases of mistakes, errors or sluggishness in actions (Mu’atabah).


May Allah make us successful in bringing about positive changes in our personality and environment. Amin.


Then of course we can say something about being a tauhidic personality, with tauhidic intellectuality, thinking and acting; then we can extend it to our work, our engagements, and relationship with others. Then we can speak of our society and institutions reflecting this tauhidic world-view, knowledge, and values; we can even speak of our cultural, and civilizational paradigms as tauhidic. Iqbal, may Allah has mercy on him, has expressed this in this way:


In Islam the spiritual and the temporal are not two distinct domains, and the nature of an act, however secular in its import, is determined by the attitude of mind with which the agent does it. It is the invisible mental background of the act which ultimately determines its character. An act is temporal or profane if it is done in a spirit of detachment from the infinite complexity of life behind it; it is spiritual if it is inspired by that complexity. In Islam it is the same reality which appears as Church looked at from one point of view and State from another. It is not true to say that Church and State are two sides or facets of the same thing. Islam is a single unanalysable reality which is one or the other as your point of view varies. The point is extremely far-reaching and a full elucidation of it will involve us in a highly philosophical discussion. Suffice it to say that this ancient mistake arose out of the bifurcation of the unity of man into two distinct and separate realities which somehow have a point of contact, but which are in essence opposed to each other. The truth, however, is that matter is spirit in space-time reference. The unity called man is body when you look at it as acting in regard to what we call the external world; it is mind or soul when you look at it as acting in regard to the ultimate aim and ideal of such acting. The essence of Tauhid, as a working idea, is equality, solidarity, and freedom. The state, from the Islamic standpoint, is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an aspiration to realize them in a definite human organization. It is in this sense alone that the state in Islam is a theocracy, not in the sense that it is headed by a representative of God on earth who can always screen his despotic will behind his supposed infallibility. The critics of Islam have lost sight of this important consideration. The Ultimate Reality, according to the Qur’an, is spiritual, and its life consists in its temporal activity. The spirit finds its opportunities in the natural, the material, the secular. All that is secular is, therefore, sacred in the roots of its being. The greatest service that modern thought has rendered to Islam, and as a matter of fact to all religion, consists in its criticism of what we call material or natural - a criticism which discloses that the merely material has no substance until we discover it rooted in the spiritual. There is no such thing as a profane world. All this immensity of matter constitutes a scope for the self-realization of spirit. All is holy ground. As the Prophet so beautifully puts it: ‘The whole of this earth is a mosque’. (“The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, in


This is in keeping with the prayer of the believer facing his Lord in his secret whisperings: “Truly my prayer, my acts of sacrifice, my life and my death are for the Lord of the worlds. That is what is being commanded of me. And I am one of those who submit my will to Allah together with other Muslims”.


Wallahu a’lam.



*note – This paper was presented in the Education Seminar organized by International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) at the Crown Princess Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, 17th September 2003.


Dikemaskini pada : 24-Jan-04 08:34 PM

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