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In the Name of God بسم الله
SoRoUsH reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, The Divine Will
The first creation of Allah is His will (mashi’a). The mashi’a is a created light that operates on the realm of the creation and interacts with the rest of creation. Since the mashi’a is subject to change and affect, it is separate from His Unified and Unknowable Essence.
علي بن إبراهيم، عن أبيه، عن ابن أبي عمير، عن عمر بن اذينة، عن أبي عبد الله عليه السلام قال: خلق الله المشيئة بنفسها ثم خلق الاشياء بالمشيئة.
Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq (as) said, “Allah created the will (mashi’a) by its self. Then, He created the things by the will.”
The mashi’a is one entity (ذات بسيطة) with four degrees (معلقات). These four degrees are His will (mashi’a), His desire (irada), His determining (qadr), and His actualization (qada).
3يا يونس تعلم ما؛ المشيئة قلت لا قال هي الذکر الاول فتعلم ما الارادة قلت لا قال هي العزيمة على ما يشاء فتعلم ما القدر قلت لا قال هي الهندسة و وضع الحدود من البقاء و الفناء قال ثم قال و القضاء هو الابرام و اقامة العين
Imam ar-Rida (as) said, “O Yunus! Do you know what the will (mashi’a) is?” Yunus said, “No.” Imam ar-Rida (as) said, “It is the first utterance (الذکر الاول). So do you know what the wish (الارادة) is?” He said, “No.” The Imam said, “It is the invitation to what He wants. So do you know what determining (qadr) is?” He said, “No.” The Imam said, “It is designing and organizing the parameters from beginning to end. And actualization (qada) is the confirmation and the establishment of the thing.”
The mashi’a and the desire (irada) both denote the same object. However, when used together, they refer to different degrees within the mashi’a’s process. The first degree is the wish for a thing, the second degree is the assertion of that wish, the third degree is the organization of the parameters needed to bring about that wish, and the fourth degree is its execution. All of these levels are really one process, but in our understanding, it takes place in four stages.
Mashi’a is a unity of action (fi`l) and reception (infi`al). While irada, qadr, and qada are masculine activities, the mashi’a is feminine in its receptivity to all of these active phases. This way, the mashi’a constitutes both self-acting and self-receiving. This reality is called the Great Depth (العمق الأكبر). Shaykh Ahmad al-Ahsa’i uses the term “the Kaf that Encircles Itself” (الكاف المستديرة على نفسها) to describe the duality of the mashi’a, because a circled letter Kaf resembles the yin-yang, and a yin-yang represents the complementary nature of contrary forces. The mashi’a is compared to Adam and Eve, the first promulgators of their species, through whose dimorphic reproduction all people came into existence.
There are two types of divine actions (ja`l ilahi) in the Quran: formative action (جعل تكويني) and designative action (جعل تشريعي). Formative action refers to creating, establishing, and building. Allah says, “[He] who made (ja`ala) for you the earth as a bed and the sky as a ceiling” (2:22). Designative action refers to divine selection and legislation. Allah says, “Allah has made the Ka`ba, the Sacred House, an establishment for mankind.” (5:97) These two actions are further duplicated inversely in a dialectical process, which we will describe later.
The mashi’a exists on the sempiternal plain (سرمد), which is a created level of infinity that is beyond the rest of creation. Allah, however, is Eternal (أزل), and therefore beyond sempiternity. In Allah’s Essence (ذات), there is no action; and He is beyond understanding. In the hierarchy of creation, the mashi’a is the first barrier (hijab), and there is nothing beyond it.
SoRoUsH reacted to Islamic Salvation for a blog entry, God = A Body Unlike Other Bodies?
كان من غلمان أبي شاكر الزنديق، وهو جسمي ردي
He was a student of Abi Shakir the Zindiq and a wretched corporealist
- Sa’d b. Abdallah al-Qummi (d. 301) was not a fan of Hisham
A Body Unlike Other bodies
Would not considering God to be a body be likening Him to his creatures (who happen to be bodies)? It is to avoid this that Hisham formulated his compromise as demonstrated in the report below:
محمد بن أبي عبدالله، عن محمد بن إسماعيل، عن علي بن العباس، عن الحسن ابن عبدالرحمن الحماني قال: قلت لابي الحسن موسى بن جعفر عليهما السلام: إن هشام بن الحكم زعم أن الله جسم ليس كمثله شئ، عالم، سميع، بصير، قادر، متكلم، ناطق، والكلام والقدرة والعلم يجري مجرى واحد، ليس شئ منها مخلوقا فقال: قاتله الله أما علم أن الجسم محدود والكلام غير المتكلم معاذ الله وأبرء إلى الله من هذا القول، لا جسم ولا صورة ولا تحديد وكل شئ سواه مخلوق، إنما تكون الاشياء بإرادته ومشيئته من غير كلام ولا تردد في نفس ولا نطق بلسان
Muhammad b. Abi Abdillah – Muhammad b. Ismail – Ali b. al-Abbas – al-Hasan b. Abd al-Rahman al-Himmani who said: I said to Abi al-Hasan Musa b. Ja’far عليهما السلام: Hisham b. al-Hakam asserts that ‘Allah is a body - there is nothing like Him. All-Knowing, All-Hearing, All-Seeing, All-Powerful, Master of Speech, Speaker. Speech, power and knowledge are of the same type (essential attributes), nothing of them is created’. He (the Imam) said: Woe be upon him! Does he not know that a body is limited, and that speech is distinct from the Speaker. I seek refuge in Allah and disassociate to Allah from this doctrine. (He is) Not a body nor a human form. No delimitation (applies to Him). Everything apart from Him is created. The things are brought into existence by His intention and will, without speech, or deliberating in Himself, or intoning by tongue. This indicates that while Hisham maintained that God was a body he tried to escape the error of Tashbih (likening God to His creatures) by defining God as a body incomparable to any thing else and therefore beyond imagination. While we should affirm that He is a body (because God is something) we cannot describe the body further. This makes it clear that all the lurid anthropomorphic descriptions attributed to him are false.
In fact, he was a severe opponent of some of the traditionalist among the Shia and the school of Hisham b. Salim which relied on spurious narrations to ascribe Human form (shape) to God i.e. they understood ‘God creating humans in His image’ literally.
أبي، عن البزنطي، عن الرضا عليه السلام قال: قال لي: يا أحمد ما الخلاف بينكم وبين أصحاب هشام بن الحكم في التوحيد؟ فقلت: جعلت فداك قلنا نحن بالصورة للحديث الذي روي أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله رأي ربه في صورة شاب! فقال هشام ابن الحكم بالنفي بالجسم. فقال: يا أحمد إن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله لما اسري به إلى السماء وبلغ عند سدرة المنتهى خرق له في الحجب مثل سم الابرة فرأى من نور العظمة ما شاء الله أن يرى، وأردتم أنتم التشبيه، دع هذا يا أحمد لا ينفتح عليك منه أمر عظيم
My father – al-Bazanti – al-Ridha عليه السلام who said: O Ahmad, what is the difference between you and the followers of Hisham b. al-Hakam concerning Tawhid? I (Ahmad) said: May I be made your ransom - we hold the position of ‘the human form’ because of the report which is narrated from the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله that he saw his Lord in the form of a youth! While Hisham b. al-Hakam denies that and upheld ‘the body’. He said: O Ahmad, when the Messenger of Allahصلى الله عليه وآله was made to ascend to the heaven and reached the ‘Furthest Lote tree’, the veils were rent for him the size of a needle’s eye, and he saw of the Light of sublimity what Allah wished him to see. But you seek by this Tashbih (ascribe an image to him). Leave this O Ahmad, lest something dreadful befall you on account of it. Hisham’s views came to be summed up in the famous dicta:
He is a body unlike other bodies (هو جسم لا كالأجسام)
An Example of Hisham’s Argumentation
None of Hisham’s written works, including his Kitab al-Tawhid (كتاب التوحيد), are available to us. This makes it difficult to speak of his thought as a whole. Instead, we have to rely on fragmentary evidence, such as the report below, to provide insight into his mode of argumentation.
This is done with the caveat that generalizations must be avoided because the narrators might not be conveying the nuance of Hisham’s complex system accurately. Furthermore, Yunus b. Dhabayn is a particularly unreliable narrator (accused of Ghulu) and could very well be biased against Hisham.
محمد بن أبي عبدالله، عن محمد بن إسماعيل، عن الحسين بن الحسن، عن بكر بن صالح، عن الحسن بن سعيد، عن عبدالله بن المغيرة، عن محمد بن زياد قال: سمعت يونس بن ظبيان يقول: دخلت على أبي عبدالله عليه السلام فقلت له: إن هشام بن الحكم يقول قولا عظيما إلا أني أختصر لك منه أحرفا فزعم أن الله جسم لان الاشياء شيئان: جسم وفعل الجسم فلا يجوز أن يكون الصانع بمعنى الفعل ويجوز أن يكون بمعنى الفاعل فقال أبوعبدالله عليه السلام: ويحه أما علم أن الجسم محدود متناه والصورة محدودة متناهية فإذا احتمل الحد احتمل الزيادة والنقصان وإذا احتمل الزيادة والنقصان كان مخلوقا قال: قلت: فما أقول؟ قال: لا جسم ولا صورة وهو مجسم الاجسام ومصور الصور، لم يتجزء ولم يتناه ولم يتزايد ولم يتناقص، لو كان كما يقولون لم يكن بين الخالق والمخلوق فرق ولا بين المنشئ والمنشأ لكن هو المنشئ فرق بين من جسمه وصوره وأنشأه، إذ كان لا يشبهه شئ ولا يشبه هو شيئا
Muhammad b. Abi Abdillah – Muhammad b. Ismail – al-Husayn b. al-Hasan – Bakr b. Salih – al-Husayn b. Sai’d – Abdallah b. al-Mughira – Muhammad b. Ziyad who said: I heard Yunus b. Dhubyan saying: I entered in to see Abi Abdillah عليه السلام and said to him: Hisham b. al-Hakam holds a grave position. I will summarize it for you in a few words - He claims that ‘Allah is a body, because there can only be two things: ‘body’ and the ‘action of a body’. It is not possible for the Maker to be defined as an action, but it is permissible to define him as an actor’. Abu Abillah عليه السلام said: Woe be upon him - does he not know that a corporeal body is limited and transient (comes to an end), and that a human form is limited and transient. When he allows the possibility of limits (bounds) then he has allowed the possibility of increase and decrease, and if he allows the possibility of increase and decrease then that one is a created. He (Yunus) said: What should I believe? He said: Not a corporeal body nor a human form. He is the embodier of bodies and the fashioner of forms. He has no constituent parts nor does He perish. He does not increase nor decrease. If He were as they say then there would not be any difference between the creator and the created, nor a difference between the originator and the originated. However he is the originator who differentiated between those whom he made into a body, and others to whom He gave form and those He originated, for nothing is like Him nor is He like anything. To Recap: Hisham’s view was that God is ‘something’ and as such ‘an existent body’. As a body, God can be a carrier of ‘characteristics’, namely His attributes (Sifat) which, are neither He Himself nor are they not He Himself; therefore, they have no independent existence and according to their nature are action.
Or put somewhat differently: there is nothing except bodies and their action (fiʿl). But action is also always caused (fiʿl); for this reason God cannot be action (fiʿl). Therefore, He is a body. One can also turn this the other way round; action, can only come forth from a body; therefore, God must be a body.
The Influence of Abu Shakir al-Daysani
The argument above is so close to what is attributed to Abu Shakir al-Daysani that a link between the two cannot be avoided. Consider the words of the latter reproduced below (from Qadi Abd al-Jabbar’s Mughni):
وحكى عن أبي شاكر انه ... يثبت الحركة ويزعم أنها صفة للتحرك لا هي هو ولا غيره وأنكر ان تكون شيئا او تكون لا شيء وقال ان التغاير والقول بأنه شيء لا يقعان الا على الأجسام والحركة ليست بجسم
He held that there is action (movement) and maintained that it is an attribute of acting (by the Actor) and is neither identical with the latter (the Actor) nor different from Him. He would neither concede that it is something nor that it is nothing. By way of explanation he said: Mutual difference and being designated as ‘something’ are only valid for bodies; action, however, is not a body. Note the same dichotomy between body and the action of a body, as well as the notion that only a body can be referred to as ‘thing’.
It is not surprising then to encounter a report that makes their association explicit:
علي بن محمد، قال: حدثني محمد بن أحمد، عن العباس بن معروف عن أبي محمد الحجال، عن بعض أصحابنا، عن الرضا عليه السلام قال: ذكر الرضا عليه السلام العباسي، فقال: هو من غلمان أبي الحارث يعني يونس بن عبد الرحمن، وأبو الحارث من غلمان هشام، وهشام من غلمان أبي شاكر الديصاني، وأبو شاكر زنديق
Ali b. Muhammad – Muhammad b. Ahmad – al-Abbas b. Ma’ruf – Abi Muhammad al-Hajjal – one of our companions – al-Ridha عليه السلام. al-Ridha عليه السلام mentioned al-Abbasi and said: He is one of the students of Abi al-Harith, that is Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman, and Abu al-Harith is one of the students of Hisham, and Hisham is one of the students of Abi Shakir al-Daysani, and Abu Shakir is a Zindiq. This example of shared language should not be taken to mean that Hisham was a blind-follower for he was a theologian in his own right. Hisham sought to re-frame the statements of the Imam into a coherent system while interacting with other thinkers of the time. Proof of this can be demonstrated by the fact that he authored the book Radd ‘alal-zanadiqa (كتاب الرد على الزنادقة) refuting Abu Shakir and his peers.
In fact, the main influence of Abu Shakir on Hisham was confined to his theories on the natural world, what we might label ‘physics’. His theory of the interpenetration (mudakhala) of bodies corresponds, as is known, to the dualist belief in the mixture of light and darkness. Hisham’s support of this theory entailed the rejection of atomism in favour of infinite divisibility of matter and the thesis that bodies may pass from one place to another without moving through the intervening space (tafra).
Who was Abu Shakir?
It is appropriate at this juncture to delve a bit more into this enigmatic person. Abu Shakir figures in many debates with Imam al-Sadiq in our literature. The historicity of these encounters cannot be confirmed. He is presented as a proto-Atheist who doubts the createdness of the world. The most popular question he is supposed to have asked the Imam was whether God could fit the whole world in an egg without enlarging the egg or making the world smaller.
Abu Shakir has been labelled a Zindiq. The exact connotation of this term is open to debate as it lacks a precise definition and has been used in different contexts over time. The word generally means apostate or freethinker but can also have a much more precise meaning of ‘Manichean’ (followers of Mani). The latter was a religious movement well-known for its Dualist cosmology as a model for explaining the world i.e. the idea of two principles which ‘mixed together’ and caused everything to emerge from them.
In this case, the latter interpretation seems better supported in light of the fact that Abu Shakir has been referred to with the title ‘al-Daysani’. The Daysanites were distant followers of one called Bardesanes (Ibn Daysan) who died six years before Mani was born. Ibn al-Nadim says that Bardesanes ‘was called Daysan after the river near which he was born’. Bardesanes (d. 223) had indeed lived in Edessa as ‘the son’ of the Daysan which flowed through the city and occasionally overflowed its banks. His school lived on in Edessa into the late 7th or early 8th century.
Bardesanes was a major influence on Mani and his followers became virtually indistinguishable within the larger Manichean tradition. All these streams subscribed to variations of the same dualist cosmology.
Abu Shakir lived in a Kufa that was a boiling pot wherein diverse traditions mixed. It was a mileu without rigid boundaries between different sects and where borrowing was rampant. What were seen as heresies and persecuted by certain rulers were tolerated by others. Abu Shakir became infamous for his polemics and was finally crucified in the Khilafa of the Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi before the year 785.
The Correct Position
What was the Aimma’s position in this debate? The answer is very clear from the reports presented. They never spoke using Greek-influenced neo-platonic terminologies. They rejected the use of the term ‘body’ for God, pointing out the fact that any ‘body’ would by definition be finite and mortal - qualities which do not apply to God.
What is not understood is how Hisham answered this charge. How was he able to reconcile between the truism that every body by definition has constraints (limits) with his conception of God? It is possible that he felt his statement ‘a body unlike all other bodies’ was inclusive of transcending the limits inherent in other bodies. But if that were case then what would be the the sense of holding God to still be a body. Does not the term lose significance? God must share one or some aspects with other bodies for the word to retain meaning. What aspect would that be?
It is possible that his acceptance of the system of Abu Shakir and Jahm was so complete that he felt that the definition of any ‘thing’ (shayy) as ‘existent body’ (jism mawjud) was axiomatic. A starting point which must be accepted before any further theological speculation can continue. God had to be a thing because if He was not then he was nothing, from which follows ‘God was a body’ in his system. What kind of body? A body unlike any other body. But still a body in at least some sense. And that is the rub of the problem.
To be continued ...
SoRoUsH reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, The Four Elements
The idea that the world is composed of four or five elements (fire, water, earth, wind, and aether) was almost universal in the ancient world. The science and mythology of many ancient civilizations, from Greece to Japan, operated on this understanding.
While Islam is not really married to the idea of four elements (it is not supported in an explicit way in the Quran or hadiths), it is interesting to note that Islamic metaphysics and cosmology use this system.
This is especially the case in the spiritual world. The jinn are made from a smokeless Fire, the humans are made from Earth (Teen), and the soul (ruH) comes from the word for Wind (reeH). The Throne of Allah was settled upon Water (11:7), until that water was separated into the heavens and earth. The angels are from light (Noor, a word related to Nar).
Allah does not raise a prophet except that he speaks the language of his people. He may have used these literary devices to explain a realm that is ultimately beyond our understanding (ghayb). The Quran is a book that needs to be intelligible to people, especially when speaking on the unseen and unknown.
While the universe is simply not made up of H2O, the image of Water as a fluid, clear, shapeless structure is befitting to understanding the world. In physics, the concept of fields (gravitational, spatial) operate largely on fluid mechanics. “Water” is a chaotic substance that was then categorized, compartmentalized and distinguished into the world we know today.
Similarly, a simple sample of the water (saliva) in your body can create an entire profile of who you are: your DNA, and therefore, your family lineage, your appearance, your susceptibility to diseases, and even parts of your personality.
There are some things that are beyond literal and metaphorical. The dichotomy of literal and metaphorical is sometimes not just inaccurate, but harmful to our readings of scripture.
SoRoUsH reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, Devolution
This is part three in my series on postmodernism. For part two, click here, and you will also find the link to part one there.
Many Muslims begin doubting their religion after surveying the evidence for evolution. Prior to Darwinian evolution, the Muslim civilization was usually not keen on hindering scientific progress, and in fact did what it could to propel it. With modern evolutionary biology however, there appears (at least on the surface) to be a clash between science and scripture. What are the forces at play here? What variables must we consider when dealing with this problem?
The common stem from which these doubts sprout is an epistemology grounded in naturalism. The scientific method obviously has a place in truth-seeking: it draws its conclusions from sensory observation, and gives us indubitable truths about the universe in which we live. I would never abandon the scientific method as a tool in the quest to understand reality, but it is a tool after all. Science is always at the drawing board, revising old research, devising new methods, and challenging old conclusions. The basis of science is reason, which is why an experiment begins with a hypothesis (an educated guess of what we logically expect to take place) and a null hypothesis (what we expect will not take place). This presupposes cause and effect, and the law of noncontradiction; the idea that our universe operates in an orderly way, and that events do not happen at random. In the same way that logic is the foundation of science, it is also the foundation of our kalaami arguments for the existence of God.
The scientific method as a tool will not be able to answer every question on ethics, anthropology, cosmology, purpose, metaphysics, consciousness/life/being, and epistemology - and although these areas are more uncertain and immaterial than the hard sciences, they are ultimately what we live for. So when I see New Atheists dismiss philosophy, or religion, I find it to be quite naive, because philosophy is the incorporeal foundation of science, and religion is the incorporeal foundation of society; with science being a tool with its own scope. New Atheism merely grew out of the carcass of occidental Christianity, and its logical conclusion is postmodernism, which is nihilistic, hedonistic, confused, and suicidal.
So with that in mind, when science, which is sensory observation with inconclusive fluidity, becomes the criterion by which convention is confirmed or denied, there will naturally be clashes. Sometimes, those clashes exist only in the mind, because they are a clash between an interpretation of convention and a perceived reality. Other times, the clash can be based on flawed or incomplete scientific research. I'm not someone who denies evolution, as I think the position of denial becomes more discredited every year. But there are gigantic discoveries that occur periodically, discoveries that challenge previously-held beliefs in evolution and clash with existing hypotheses, discoveries that may have their own flaws that are exposed in the next discovery. This is partly why I find it difficult to answer questions on evolution - it is like the big bang: some are quick to find references to the big bang in the Quran and hadith, but if the big bang theory were ever superseded by science (and alternative hypotheses do exist), then that would throw those interpretations out as well. What I've realized after my third university degree is that these educational institutions have their own faith-based biases, assumptions, and ideologies, which guide their research - this is far more pronounced in the social sciences of course, but isn't limited to them.
Ultimately, we won't achieve 100% scientific certainty in either the present evolutionary conclusions nor in the Adamic story. This then poses a question: is there any conventional value to the Adamic story? Whether or not it physically took place (and I believe that it did, in some way or another), it is an origin story that resonated with billions of people worldwide for thousands of years, with profound psychological truths and practical sociological lessons. Of course, the Islamic version is a bit more in line with naturalistic thinking - with the nasnaas, the thousands of Adams, the earthly setting of the story, the earthly origins of mankind, no mention of timeline/genealogy, and no "original sin" - but one has to go deeper into the story. The Quran avoids historicizing events, and so it lacks many dates, names, and places, and instead, encourages us to reflect on the lessons taught in each story. On one side, the story talks about humanity's vicegerency of God on Earth, humanity's ability to comprehend the aql (Logos), and humanity's eloquent mastery of language; on the other side, it talks about humanity's naivety, humanity's base desires, and humanity's sorrow after its fall. The story highlights the dualistic nature of man: that we are both celestial in one sense and earthly in another sense; spiritual and physical, supernatural and natural, "human" and animal. It is a story about the great natural telos of man, followed by his tragic fall, followed by his humble ascent. On another level, it talks of humanity's common, meek, and worldly origin, so as to avoid tribalism, racism, and chauvinism.
According to the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt, Adam lived in this very same world that you and I share. His "garden" was the state of his faith; he was living in the higher consciousness of the mind and the heart. Eventually, he "fell" into the lower, base desires of man (the stomach and genitals/nakedness), which made him shameful and regretful, because God created man for spiritual ascension and not decline. That regret brought him back to God in a corrective effort. This same story is reflected in mankind both on a microcosmic and macrocosmic level. We all have our own individual falls, where we immaturely decline into heedlessness. But on a civilizational level, we continue to fall vertically, from holistic celestial worldviews to our base desires. Philosophically, we have fallen from religious philosophy (philosophy of the spiritual hierarchy), to rational philosophy, to naturalist philosophy, to contemporary relativism (philosophy of the base human self). The problem with the evolutionary worldview is that it views mankind simply as bonafide tool-making animals. Evolution replaced the perennial notion of man’s fall with a theory of material progress. It gives us the guise of progress. But the reality is that we are falling from the divine to the mundane. The Christian world went from the leadership of prophets, to apostles, to false apostles, to pseudo divine kings, to secular materialist rulers, to the current White House spectacle. They went from traditional Christianity, to Protestantism, to capitalism and socialism, to modern base identities (vegetarians / what one eats, gays / who one has sex with, race / what colour we are born as). Islam went through a similar fall, from prophethood, to imamate and false caliphate, to colonialism, to militant secular states, to chaos. While this time is certainly noted for the rise of its science and technology, I see mankind falling into dogmatism, nihilism, social decadence, frivolity, vanity, impatience, and depression. Jahiliyya was a Fall to the bottom, where from which the Prophet stood his people back up. The hadiths describe the degeneracy of the End Times, but the night is darkest just before the dawn, and as soon as even the dimmest of light appears on the horizon, the very nature of people will pull them towards it - the Mahdi.
In this sense, conventional truths, which is the sifted and sieved amalgamation of human thought and experience, has a meta-historical archetypal nature that is often more authentic than sensory truths. It would be foolish to disregard either one, because one deals with how, and the other deals with why. With a purely evolutionary worldview, man is a toolmaking animal, and our progress as a species is measured in the linear paradigm of scientific and technological advancement. But this says little about our quality of life, purpose of life, why we live, how we should live, where we come from, what it means to be human, the power of thought and conscious experience, and whether we really are "better" or more developed than our ancestors. It gives the illusion of upward ascent, but I see a downward regress during what should be humanity's most enlightened time, and that regress comes from our killing of our father - tradition, convention, religion, and ritual.
The Fall gives meaning to human anxiety, depression, and alienation; and a promise of an ascent through effort, hope, promise, responsibility, and a return to being, vicegerency, sainthood.
"And from the evil of darkness when it overspreads" (113:3)
SoRoUsH reacted to Islamic Salvation for a blog entry, Reliable Narrations: Intellect and Knowledge
A small collection of 82 reliable narrations concerning Intellect and Knowledge translated into English with annotated footnotes.
Download PDF: https://www.scribd.com/document/361632457/Book-of-Intellect-and-Knowledge-Mu-jam-1-1
This is an UNSECURED version to aid copy and paste.
The first book of the first volume is the book of Intellect and Knowledge. Some short words on the Islamic conception of both is in order.
Aql is the vehicle through which the initial queries about the reality of life and nature of the world is made. It is also an essential component towards the Ma’rifa [recognition] of Allah. Thus it becomes the preliminary ‘inner prophet’ which can lead to ‘outward’ guidance and consequently obedience of Allah. It has been attributed to al-Sadiq that he said when asked to define Aql:
ما عبد به الرحمن واكتسب به الجنان
That by which the Rahman [Most Merciful] is worshipped and by which the Gardens are acquired
Aql is what will be held accountable. The more perfect the Aql of the one doing the deed the more complete it becomes and vice versa. The messenger of Allah is supposed to have said:
إذا رأيتم الرجل كثير الصلاة كثير الصيام فلا تباهوا به حتى تنظروا كيف عقله؟
If you see a man who prays a lot and fasts a lot then do not be overly impressed with him until you observe how his Aql is
Knowledge and its pursuit has been given such importance in Islam that a Western Scholar like Rosenthal could speak of the ‘Empire of Reason’. Knowledge is of many types, but the one which has been obligated is acquiring the knowledge which will make one succeed in this world and hereafter i.e. knowledge of the creator and one’s obligations towards Him.
It is not enough to gain knowledge in theoretical terms, in fact the very definition of knowledge is the one which is put into practise. This is best summed up in a narration attributed to the Commander of the Faithful:
حسبك من العلم أن تخشى الله، وحسبك من الجهل أن تعجب بعلمك
It is enough to be considered knowledge that you be in awe of Allah, and it is enough to be considered ignorance that you feel proud with that which you know
 al-Kafi: 1/11
 al-Kafi: 1/26
 Amali of al-Tusi: 1/62
SoRoUsH reacted to Islamic Salvation for a blog entry, Did the Sahaba become Kafir?
هلك الناس أجمعون قلت: من في الشرق و من في الغرب؟ قال: فقال: إنها فتحت على الضلال
All the people were destroyed. I said: whomever was in the east and the west? he said: it (the whole earth) was opened up to misguidance
هلكوا إلا ثلاثة ثم لحق أبو ساسان و عمار و شتيرة و أبو عمرة فصاروا سبعة
All were destroyed except three - then they were joined by Abu Sasan, Ammar, Shatira and Abu Amra, so they became seven [Ja`far al-Sadiq]
Did the Sahaba Apostatize?
There are narrations which indicate that all the companions were destroyed except three, these were then joined by four others, so they became seven who were saved. However, most of the scholars have understood this Halak [destruction] to be that of Dhalal [misguidance] i.e. perished in Salvific terms, not Kufr [disbelief] - which is the opposite of Islam.
Who are the three?
They are the pillars of the Madhhab. They are explicitly named in some of the narrations below:
أبي بصير قال: قلت لأبي عبد الله عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلا ثلاثة: أبو ذر، و سلمان، و المقداد؟ قال: فقال أبو عبد الله عليه السلام: فأين أبو ساسان، و أبو عمرة الأنصاري؟
[al-Kashshi] Abi Basir said: I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام: all the people turned back except for three - Abu Dhar, Salman and Miqdad? Abu Abdillah عليه السلام said: so where is Abu Sasan and Abu Amra al-Ansari?!
أبي بكر الحضرمى قال: قال أبو جعفر عليه السلام: ارتد الناس إلاثلاثة نفر سلمان وأبو ذر والمقداد. قال: قلت: فعمّار؟ قال عليه السلام: قد كان جاض جيضة ثم رجع ... ثم أناب الناس بعد فكان أول من أناب أبو ساسان الانصاري وأبوعمرة وشتيرة وكانوا سبعة فلم يكن يعرف حق أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام إلاّ هؤلاء السبعة
[al-Kashshi] Abi Bakr al-Hadhrami said: Abu Ja`far عليه السلام said: the people turned back except three individuals - Salman, Abu Dhar and Miqdad, I said: what about Ammar? He عليه السلام said: he wobbled a bit then he returned [to the truth] … then the people repented after that, so the first ones to return [to the truth] were Abu Sasan al-Ansari, Abu Amra, Shatira, and they became seven, none recognized the right of the commander of the faithful عليه السلام except these seven.
'then the people repented after that, so the first ones ...' This shows that it was not just these seven, rather, these were the foremost of them. علي بن أبي طالب عليهم السلام قال: خلقت الارض لبسبعة بهم ترزقون وبهم تنصرون وبهم تمطرون منهم سلمان الفارسي والمقداد وأبو ذر وعّمار وحذيفة رحمة اللّه عليهم. وكان علي عليه السلام يقول: وأنا إمامهم وهم الذين صلوا على فاطمة صلوات الله عليها
[al-Ikhtisas] Ali b. Abi Talib عليه السلام said: the earth was created for seven, because of them you are given sustenance, and because of them you are assisted, and because of them is rain made to fall on you, among them are Salman al-Farsi and al-Miqdad and Abu Dhar and Ammar and Hudhayfa - may Allah have mercy on them. Ali عليه السلام used to say: and I am their Imam, and they are the ones who prayed [Salat al-Mayyit] upon Fatima صلوات الله عليها
The Three had a higher status than the Four
حمران قال: قلت لأبي جعفر عليه السلام: ما أقلنا لو اجتمعنا على شاة ما أفنيناها قال: فقال: ألا أخبرك بأعجب من ذلك قال: فقلت: بلى قال: المهاجرون و الأنصار ذهبوا إلا (و أشار بيده) ثلاثة
[al-Kashshi] Humran said: I said to Abi Ja’far عليه السلام - how few we (the Shias) are! if we gather to eat a sheep we will not be able to finish it, he (Humran) said: so he عليه السلام said: should I not inform you of something even more bewildering? he (Humran) said: I said: yes (do so), he said: the Muhajirun and the Ansar all diverted (i.e. went astray) except for - and he gestured with his hand - three.
In al-Kulayni’s variant the narration continues:
قال حمران: فقلت: جعلت فداك ما حال عمار؟ قال: رحم الله عمارا أبا اليقظان بايع وقتل شهيدا، فقلت في نفسي: ما شئ أفضل من الشهادة فنظر إلي فقال: لعلك ترى أنه مثل الثلاثة أيهات أيهات
Humran said: may I be made your ransom - what is the status of Ammar? He said: may Allah have mercy on Ammar Aba al-Yaqdhan, he pledged allegiance and died a martyr, I said in my heart: what thing is better than martyrdom, so he [the Imam] looked at me and said: perhaps you think that he [Ammar] is like the three [in status], how far! how far! [from truth that opinion is].
Does this mean all others became apostates?
The crux is the meaning of Ridda (ردّة) in these narrations. Whether it is to be understood in a linguistic sense or the technical sense of apostasy. If the latter is taken then it means all the Sahaba became Kafir [out of Islam] for not sticking to Ali.
Irtidad in the linguistic sense refers to ‘turning back from something’. It has been used with this meaning in a number of verses such as:
فَلَمَّا أَن جَاء الْبَشِيرُ أَلْقَاهُ عَلَى وَجْهِهِ فَارْتَدَّ بَصِيرًا قَالَ أَلَمْ أَقُل لَّكُمْ إِنِّي أَعْلَمُ مِنَ اللّهِ مَا لاَ تَعْلَمُونَ
(i) So when the caravan herald [fore-runner] came he threw it on his face so he returned to seeing, he said: did I not say to you that I know from Allah what ye do not (12:96)
قَالَ الَّذِي عِندَهُ عِلْمٌ مِّنَ الْكِتَابِ أَنَا آتِيكَ بِهِ قَبْلَ أَن يَرْتَدَّ إِلَيْكَ طَرْفُكَ
(ii) The one who had knowledge of a part of the Book said: I will bring it to you before your glance returns back to you [i.e. you blink and open your eyes again] (27:40)
مُهْطِعِينَ مُقْنِعِي رُءُوسِهِمْ لاَ يَرْتَدُّ إِلَيْهِمْ طَرْفُهُمْ وَأَفْئِدَتُهُمْ هَوَاء
(iii) Racing ahead, their heads bowed down, their glances not returning back to them [i.e. unblinking] and their hearts void (14:43)
Whenever Irtidad from the Diin - ‘turning back’ from the Diin i.e. apostasy in the technical sense is meant, the Qur`an qualifies it by explicitly mentioning Diin.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ مَن يَرْتَدَّ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَسَوْفَ يَأْتِي اللّهُ بِقَوْمٍ يُحِبُّهُمْ وَيُحِبُّونَهُ
(i) O you who believe, whoever turns back from his Diin from among you then Allah will bring about a people whom He loves and they love Him (5:54)
وَمَن يَرْتَدِدْ مِنكُمْ عَن دِينِهِ فَيَمُتْ وَهُوَ كَافِرٌ فَأُوْلَئِكَ حَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ
(ii) And whoever among you turns back on his Diin and dies whilst being a Kafir then those are they whose deeds have been nullified in the world and the hereafter (2:217)
It is clear that the narrations about the Irtidad of the Sahaba are not qualified by Diin. To understand that meaning from it would require further proof.
The Chosen Interpretation
The Irtidad in the narrations should be understood [in light of other narrations] as people turning away, after the messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله, from what they had made incumbent on themselves in his صلى الله عليه وآله lifetime, when they gave the Bay`a to Ali b. Abi Talib as the leader of the believers i.e. Irtidad from Wilaya not apostasy from Islam.
Instead, they decided to give the Bay`a to someone else because of expediency and other reasons. This was a betrayal of epic proportions that opened up the door of misguidance and innovation in the Diin, however, they had not exited the apparent Islam, nor were all on the same level of liability for this.
This interpretation is aided by the following texts:
أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: كان الناس أهل ردة بعد النبي صلى الله عليه وآله إلا ثلاثة. فقلت: ومن الثلاثة؟ فقال: المقداد بن الأسود، وأبو ذر الغفاري، وسلمان الفارسي، رحمة الله وبركاته عليهم، ثم عرَف أناسٌ بعدَ يسير. وقال: هؤلاء الذين دارت عليهم الرحا وأبوا أن يبايعوا، حتى جاؤوا بأمير المؤمنين مكرَهاً فبايع، وذلك قوله تعالى: وَمَا مُحَمَّدٌ إِلاَّ رَسُولٌ قَدْ خَلَتْ مِن قَبْلِهِ الرُّسُلُ أَفَإِن مَّاتَ أَوْ قُتِلَ انقَلَبْتُمْ عَلَى أَعْقَابِكُمْ وَمَن يَنقَلِبْ عَلَىَ عَقِبَيْهِ فَلَن يَضُرَّ اللّهَ شَيْئًا وَسَيَجْزِي اللّهُ الشَّاكِرِينَ
(i) [al-Kafi] Abi Ja`far عليه السلام said: the people were the people of Ridda after the prophet صلى الله عليه وآله except three. I said: who are the three? He said: al-Miqdad b. al-Aswad, Abu Dhar al-Ghiffari and Salman al-Farsi, may Allah’s mercy and blessings be upon them, then the people came to know after a while [the truth], these [three] are those around whom the banner revolved and they refused to give Bay`a [to Abu Bakr], until when they brought the commander of the faithful عليه السلام by coercion and he gave the pledge of allegiance, and that is His words the Elevated - “Muhammad is not but a messenger, messengers have come and gone before him, if he dies or is killed, will you turn back on your heels, and whoever turns back on his heels then he will not harm Allah a thing and Allah will recompense those who are grateful” (3:144).
The narration indicates that the uniqueness of the three was that they did not give the Bay`a to the usurper because of knowing the true status of Ali, it was only when Ali was forced to give the Bay`a, and he did [for the Masliha which Allah willed], that the three also agreed to do it. The meaning of 'then the people came to know after a while ...' is that some people recognized their fault, and acknowledged that the commander of the faithful was the most rightful person to assume leadership. That all the others apart from the three were paralyzed by fear is shown in the narration below:
أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: جاء المهاجرون والأنصار وغيرهم بعد ذلك إلى علي عليه السلام فقالوا له: أنت والله أمير المؤمنين وأنت والله أحق الناس وأولاهم بالنبي عليه السلام هلم يدك نبايعك فوالله لنموتن قدامك! فقال علي عليه السلام: ان كنتم صادقين فاغدوا غدا علي محلقين فحلق علي عليه السلام وحلق سلمان وحلق مقداد وحلق أبو ذر ولم يحلق غيرهم؛ ثم انصرفوا فجاؤوا مرة أخرى بعد ذلك، فقالوا له أنت والله أمير المؤمنين وأنت أحق الناس وأولاهم بالنبي عليه السلام عليه السلام هلم يدك نبايعك فحلفوا فقال: إن كنتم صادقين فاغدوا علي محلقين فما حلق إلا هؤلاء الثلاثة قلت: فما كان فيهم عمار؟ فقال: لا؛ قلت: فعمار من أهل الردة؟ فقال: إنّ عمارا قد قاتل مع علي عليه السلام بعد ذلك
(ii) [al-Kashshi] Abi Ja`far عليه السلام said: the Muhajirun and Ansar and others came after that [the coup at Saqifa] to Ali عليه السلام and said to him: you are by Allah the commander of the faithful, and you are by Allah the most rightful person and closest to the prophet, put forth your hand so that we can pledge allegiance to you, for by Allah we are going to die in front of you [in your defense], Ali said: if you are truthful then come to me tomorrow having shaved your head [which would visually identify the ‘rebels’ to the authorities], so Ali shaved, so did Salman, Miqdad and Abu Dhar, and no one else did, then they came a second time after the first and said: you are by Allah the most rightful person and closest to the prophet, put forth your hand so that we can pledge allegiance to you, and they swore an oath, he said: come to me tomorrow having shaved your head if you are truthful, so no one shaved except three. I said: Ammar was not among them? He said: No, I said: Ammar is from the people of Ridda? He said: Ammar fought together with Ali after that.
This reaffirms that the uniqueness of the three is related to them not giving in and remaining with Ali to the end as far as his right is concerned. Note also how Ammar is not included among the Ahl al-Ridda, even in a historical sense, because of his later support for Ali. In fact, one of the reasons behind Ali accepting to give Bay`a after his show of dissent was so that the masses do not renounce the faith totally. Recall that the Islamic polity was still unstable and there were a lot of Arab tribes whose allegiance had been personally to the prophet and not the Diin per se, the Jahiliyya was not far from their psyche.
أبي جعفر عليه السلام قال: إن الناس لما صنعوا ما صنعوا إذ بايعوا أبا بكر لم يمنع أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام من أن يدعو إلى نفسه إلا نظرا للناس و تخوفا عليهم أن يرتدوا عن الاسلام فيعبدوا الاوثان ولا يشهدوا أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وكان الاحب إليه أن يقرهم على ما صنعوا من أن يرتدوا عن جميع الاسلام وإنما هلك الذين ركبوا ما ركبوا فأما من لم يصنع ذلك ودخل فيما دخل فيه الناس على غير علم ولا عداوة لامير المؤمنين عليه السلام فإن ذلك لا يكفره ولا يخرجه من الاسلام ولذلك كتم علي عليه السلام أمره وبايع مكرها حيث لم يجد أعوانا
(iii) [al-Kafi] Abu Ja'farعليه السلام said: When the people did what they did - when they gave allegiance to Abu Bakr, nothing prevented the commander of the faithful عليه السلام from calling to himself (i.e. gather support to rival them publicly) except his fear for the people - that they would apostate from Islam, and begin worshiping the idols anew, and reject witnessing that there is no God but Allah, and that Muhammad is his messenger; and it was more beloved to him to acquiesce to what they had done rather than them apostatizing from the whole of Islam. Verily, those who clambered upon this (opposing Ali for rulership) have been destroyed. As for the one who did not contribute anything to that (opposing Ali for rulership) and entered into what the people entered into without knowledge (about his status) nor enmity towards him then this act of his does not make him a disbeliever, and it does not remove him from Islam, and this is why Ali kept quiet about his matter (status), and gave allegiance while displeased, when he could not find any supporters.
The narration makes it clear that had the Imam fought for his leadership i.e. a civil war it would cause irreparable damage, this is because of the tenuous position that Islam had, even the outward Islam (the Islam of the Shahadatyn) would have been wiped out. There were a lot of external and internal enemies waiting for this infighting to make sure that the whole foundation of Islam crumbles.
The Umma became, for the most part, misguided after their prophet. This is something that had also happened to the communities of past prophets. But this misguidance should not be understood to have taken all of them out of Islam as a whole, rather, by ignoring a central commandment of the prophet they have done a great sin which struck a blow to the pristine Islam.
Furthermore, the protagonists differ relative to their role in the fiasco. Some were quite unaware of the whole thing and lacked full knowledge of the Haqq of Ali and his Ma`rifa, this could be because they were blind to the order of the prophet (total ignorance); had some doubts; did not have the ability to influence the outcome because of some constraints [swept away by the wave of events]; or because they showed cowardice and faltered in coming to Ali’s aid. Others later acknowledged their mistake and made up for it in the following years. All these in their different categories can be said to be the majority. Their fate in the next world of “realities” is left to Allah
On the other hand, there were those who administered the whole thing. They had full knowledge of what the prophet had ordered them and what the divine commandment required them to do. They also knew the position of Ali. Despite this, they fought against this explicitly. These are those who should be treated as apparent Muslims in the daily life in this world [according to most scholars]. This is, after all, how Ali himself treated them, praying in their mosques, visiting them in sickness, helping them out when they faced challenges, eating with them etc. part of which is Taqiyya and safeguarding the greater principles of Islam, but they are undoubtedly people of the fire in the next world.
Note that this interpretation is dependent on the position of differentiating between the Dharuriyat of the Diin and that of the Madhhab and considering the Shahdatayn alone to be enough in making someone a Muslim [unless taken out for some other reason]. Whilst this is a popular position among scholars today, it has had its detractors among the scholars of the past, one of them being someone like Shaykh Yusuf al-Bahrani, who considered the rejectors of the Wilaya as Kafirs with the fullest implication this has [even in this world].
SoRoUsH reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, Love and Suffering
Love and suffering is a match made in heaven. Love is breathlessly heart-wrenching, as it snares the mind of the lover and controls his actions. Any loving relationship will be filled with trial and tribulation, selfless sacrifice, selfish protectiveness, and frequent heartbreak. We both live and die for even a moment of true love. It is thus no coincidence that suffering is a component of many Arabic words for love. `Ishq (عشق), which is a fervent type of love, was originally a vine that winds itself around a tree, squeezing it until it withered. Shaghaf (شغف), which was the passion that Zulaykha had for Yusuf (12:3), was a form of heart disease. Muhjata qalb (مهجة قلب), an expression used to describe a lover, is actually the blood of the heart. Huyum (الهيوم), meaning passion, is a type of insanity. The Persian poem of Layla and Majnun comes to mind.
Most of the Quran is relative-comparative. Its stories usually lack names, dates, places, and chronologies, and are instead filled with archetypal symbols that can be flexibly applied to other situations. It tries to tell the stories in a timeless and universal manner.
The Husayni tragedy in Shii literature is similar. It is mourned by other prophets long before the event, it is mourned by nature (blood rain, blood earth, owls), it is mourned over by millions of angels, and it will be vindicated in the eschatological narrative. Karbala is described in Kamil al-Ziyarat as a piece of heaven on Earth, and as the conduit between heaven and earth (majma` as-samawati wal ard). Its soil is described as a cure, and it is given to the sick, and it is used for prostrations. In Shiism, the visitation of Husayn by one who correctly recognizes his status is considered a Hajj (or seven Hajj, or thousands of Hajj, or more), because the principle of Hajj is total submission and sacrifice, commemorating the sacrifice of Abraham; and Husayn cut his Hajj short to fulfill its end by going to Karbala and willingly giving himself to God. It is said that every grief in Islam is disliked, except for grief over Husayn, and so people forego their personal tragedies to mourn for the primordial epic tragedy. They wear black, abstain from makeup and dye, abstain from laughing, abstain from weddings and festive activities, sometimes for forty days.
The love of Husayn is not just lip-service. It is the intense gallantry that a mother has over her child, the undying loyalty that a person has for their spouse, the forsaken mourning of a widow, and the adoration of a boy for his father. It is a bond closer than family and thicker than blood. His tragedy is the quintessential love story, with Abu Fadl al-`Abbas, Qasim b. al-Hasan, `Ali al-Akbar, `Ali al-Asghar, Habib b. Muthahir, and many other gems bravely followed their beloved into the engulfing abyss.
Interestingly, there is no record of a relationship between the Imams and the historians of the tragedy, but there is much record of a relationship between the Imams and the poets. The Imams would invite poets to speak on the tragedy, make many supplications for them, add to their poetry, and gift them very generously. This to me says that the aim of the Shii is to find a meaningful and meta-historical route to Husayn, as the horrors of that day were unfathomable, and directed only at those who deserved it the least.
Love and suffering are often paired in Islamic literature. There isn't really a concept of "happily ever after" in this world, it is rather seen as a prison of the believer, an abode of trials (dar al-bala'), a fleeting world (dar al-fana'), where the lovers of Ali will suffer the most, so that they may be refined and purified like gold in a furnace. The tradition says that those who suffer the most are the prophets and their successors, then those similar to them, and so on. The constant trial strengthens the faith of a true believer, who learns to lean on God alone.
The timelessness of Islam's symbols emphasizes the finality of its message and the universality of its principles. Our religion uses relatable similitudes that resonate with our very core, making Islam not a seventh century Arabian phenomenon, but an expression of the nature in which we were created.
SoRoUsH reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, Hoor al-`Ayn are not White Chicks
There is a common misconception among modern Muslim men that they will be rewarded with white women in Paradise. This attitude has even caused some to justify their preference of light-skin women and Western women through Islamic texts that describe beautiful women in this world and the Hereafter. They put white skin on a pedestal, which both sidelines women with darker complexions, and objectifies women with lighter skin. I would like to investigate the claim that the heavenly maidens of Paradise are essentially "white girls".
Heaven is unlike anything
In the hadith literature, Paradise is described as what the eye has not seen, what the ear has not heard, and what the heart has not imagined. ( مَا لَا عَيْنٌ رَأَتْ وَ لَا أُذُنٌ سَمِعَتْ وَ لَا خَطَرَ عَلَى قَلْبِ بَشَرٍ ). You will be an entirely new creation in Paradise, which will cause those who suffered most in this world to completely forget their suffering. Therefore the descriptions of the pleasures of Paradise are, at most, symbols of things that we cannot exactly know.
The meaning of abyad
The word that modern Arabs use to refer to the colour "white" ( أبيض ) has certainly been used to describe the women of Paradise. In one narration, the Prophet (s) says that the women of Paradise will be every shade of "white" ( ان في الجنة نهرا حافتاه الابكار من كل بيضاء ). In another narration, Imam ar-Rida recites a poem in which he describes beautiful "white" women ( أَرَى الِبيضَ الْحِسَانَ يَجِدْنَ عَنِّي ). Other narrations associate this "whiteness" with pleasure ( سعادة الرجل أن يكشف الثوب عن امرأة بيضاء ).
But what does all of this mean? Abyad comes from the root word bayada ( بيض ), which means "to lay eggs". An egg is a bayda ( بيضة ), and eggs can be white or brown, depending on the colour of the feathers of the chicken. In Arabic, there is no special word for either type of egg, both are given the name bayda, which is related to the word for "white".
Several Arabic dictionaries have interpreted abyad to mean pure, fair, and without blemish; rather than strictly "white". Here are a few references:
In Lisan al-`Arab:
إذا قالت العرب فلان أبيض، وفلانة بيضاء، فالمعنى نقاء العرض من الدنس والعيوب لا يريدون به بياض اللون، ولكنهم يريدون المدح بالكرم، ونقاء العرض من العيوب وإذا قالوا: فلان أبيض الوجه، وفلانة بيضاء الوجه، أرادوا نقاء اللون من الكلف والسواد الشائن
“When the Arabs say that a man is white or a woman is white, they mean that he has an appearance that is pure and clear from defects. They don’t mean that he has a white complexion, but they mean that someone has an appearance that is pure from defects. When they say that a man or woman has a white face, they mean that their colour is pure from blemish and darkness.
”العرب لا تقول : رجل أبيض من بياض اللون إنما الأبيض عندهم الطاهر النقي من العيوب”
The Arab does not say that a man is white in terms of the colour white. Rather, the "white" for them is he who is pure from any defects.
Abu Tayyib al-Lughawi says in Kitab al-Idad al-`Arab:
” و انما الأبيض من الناس البعيد من الدنس، النقي من العيب“
The whitest of people are those who are far from impurity, and are purified from defects.
Ibn Atheer says in an-Nahaya fii Ghareeb al-Hadith:
الغر : جمع الأغر ، من الغرة : بياض الوجه ، يريد بياض وجوههم بنور الوضوء يوم القيامة
The innocent (al-ghurr); its plural is al-aghur, from al-ghurra: a white face, meaning, a face whitened by light and illumination on the Day of Resurrection.
al-Dhahabi says in Siyar A`laam an-Nubala':
“إن العرب إذا قالت: فلان أبيض ، فإنهم يريدون الحنطي اللون بحلية سوداء”
When Arabs say a person is white, they mean tawny in colour with black hair.
So according to these dictionaries, "whiteness" in a person is either: (1) purity in their reputation, (2) purity in their appearance with no blemishes or defects (scars, birth marks, discolouration, wrinkles, moles, bumps), (3) tawny or wheat-coloured skin, (4) light and illumination, (5) a strong contrast between their face and hair colours.
The meaning of hoor al-`ayn
The Quran describes the houri (hoor al-`ayn) as a heavenly beauty that has been gifted exclusively to a good, believing person. The Quran does not provide much more detail than that. The hoor al-`ayn can be translated as "one with contrasting eyes", and it is often tied to the related word hawra', which refers to a person who has a strong contrast between her dark pupil and white sclera (white part of the eye). If this is the meaning of hooriya, then her "whiteness" may have more to do with her eyes than her skin. The word hawar can also mean "to bleach", but also "to tan". The same word is used in the Quran to refer to the apostles of Jesus, who were "purified" from evil ( فَسُمِّيَ الْحَوَارِيُّونَ حَوَارِيِّينَ لانَّهُمْ كَانُوا مُخْلَصِينَ فِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَمُخْلِصِينَ لِغَيْرِهِمْ مِنْ أَوْسَاخِ الذُّنُوبِ ). The word therefore may also be an indication to the maiden's spiritual purity and not just her physical beauty.
The word hoor also means to change, alter, remodel, and modify, so perhaps one feature of this heavenly beauty is constant rejuvenation and transformation.
Another related word means to converse and discuss - it is possible that there is more to the houri than her looks!
I have heard that there may be a relationship between hooriya and hayara, which means "to be confused, bewildered, perplexed, baffled, embarrassed", because the believer will be perplexed by the startling beauty of the hoor al-`ayn.
Remember that we cannot imagine Paradise, so the skintone of the heavenly beauty would also be beyond comprehension.
The word for "pale" in Arabic is actually yellow
When Arabs describe a pale complexion, such as a pale face of an ill person, they use the word musfar (مصفر), which means "yellowed", rather than saying he has been whitened.
The Prophet's colour
Many hadiths describe the Prophet Muhammad (s) as being abyad, but these could be descriptions of the fairness of his skin or the purity of his character. Other hadiths say that the Prophet was reddish. To reconcile both sets of narrations, one can say that he had a tawny or wheatish complexion, which was light in Arabia but unlike the pale western Europeans. While modern Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Germanic peoples have a monopoly on "whiteness" today, most people in the Middle East would have never met such people by the 7th century.
White faces on the Day of Resurrection
The Quran describes the believers' faces on the Day of Resurrection as "white" (3:106), but this will be due to their illumination. Some hadiths describe that the body parts washed in wudu will glow in the Hereafter, which includes the face, and other hadiths say that the wudu washes sins away from a person. Similarly, other narrations discuss the illumination of the faces of those who stay up to pray at night. These are not references to pigment.
"Whiteness" will be due to light, and the colour of light, which was found in the Sun, Moon, and fire, ranges from orange to light yellow.
Lady Fatima was a human houri
Several narrations describe Lady Fatima (as) as a human houri. Her houri nature in Paradise was a dazzling light ( نورا ساطعا ) - first she was beneath the Throne, and then she resided within a fruit in Paradise - both in the form of a beautiful lady of light.
Paradise is much more than this world
In conclusion, there is much more to look forward to in the next world than conquering a colonial inferiority complex. Muslims have a very complicated relationship with white folks - from lust, to hatred, to jealousy, to emulation - and our relationships with other races are no where near as complex. The first step to overcome something is to realize and understand it. Allah gave us all of our hues so that we may learn about one another, and understand that the Creator of spectrums is beyond all spectrums Himself. If the hoor al-`ayn is simply a pretty white girl, then she would not be a sufficient reward for the believers, since there are plenty of them in this dunya. Paradise is more than a brothel, open bar, and buffet. It's a chance to gain true proximity to Allah, through His Prophet and Ahl al-Bayt, and to gain gnosis. The journey into timelessness starts in this world, and it culminates in the Hereafter.