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IB Extended Essay

Subject: History
To what extent are Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo's views on Islam, particularly those
addressed in his book Purification of the Soul: Concept, Process, and Means, similar to
or different from the Islamic understanding of the early generations of Muslims?

Date of Exams: May 2016


Word Count: 3970

Abstract
The research question of my essay is To what extent are Jamaal al-Din M.
Zarabozo's views on Islam, particularly those addressed in his book Purification of
the Soul: Concept, Process, and Means, similar to or different from the Islamic
understanding of the early generations of Muslims?
In order to investigate and answer this question, I will first introduce the concept
of spirituality in Islam and how it is important and relevant in the modern context. Then I
will unpack the research question and explain the significance of the early generation of
Muslims, particularly the role of their Islamic understanding in setting the Islamic
standard. The views of Zarabozo that contradict the Islamic understanding of the early
generations of Muslims will be represented through brief quotes and then critiqued in the
light of Quranic verses, Prophetic traditions, and sayings of Islamic scholars in the past.
In regards to any issue that cannot be compared to the views of the early Muslims, mostly
because that issue arose later on, I will cite Islamic texts directly.
The conclusion reached is that Zarabozo differs from the Islamic understanding of
the early generations of Muslims in regards to two main issues: dealing with the
classifications of hadith and the role of Sufism in purification of the soul. As for dealing
with classifications of hadith, he takes the the rules of classification from the early
Muslims but rejects their understanding of these rules. Thus, he believes that hadith
classified as weak should not be cited. As for Sufism, he presents a biased representation
of its roots and reality despite acknowledging that Sufis are not all the same. He fails to
distinguish between orthodox and heretic Sufis, thus judging all of them under one label.
Word Count: 288

Contents
INTRODUCTION

WHY DO YOU ASK? ALLOW ME TO EXPLAIN.

QURAN, HADITH, AND SUNNAH: A GAME OF SEMANTICS

TO ACCEPT OR NOT ACCEPT WEAK HADITH: THAT IS THE QUESTION

SUFISM: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

BLASPHEMY!

THE STATES OF THE SUFIS

THE DHIKR OF THE SUFIS

THE JIHAD OF THE SUFIS

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THE REALITY OF THE SOUL

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THE REALITY OF FEELINGS AND EXPERIENCES

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CONCLUSION

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Introduction
The research question of my essay is To what extent are Jamaal al-Din M.
Zarabozo's views on Islam, particularly those addressed in his book Purification of
the Soul: Concept, Process, and Means, similar to or different from the Islamic
understanding of the early generations of Muslims?
The religion of Islam can be broken down into three branches, or sciences: fiqh
(jurisprudence), which deals with outward deeds, aqidah (creed), which deals with inner
beliefs, and tazkiyah (purification), which deals with inner purification. This breakdown
of Islam is based off of the Prophetic tradition, widely known to Muslim scholars as the
tradition of Gabriel (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah). In the book mentioned above,
Zarabozo focuses mainly on the third science of tazkiyah.
This research question is worthy of investigation because purification of the soul
is necessary today more than ever before. In an age of war, bloodshed, and materialism,
and as the rates of depression, suicide, and divorce increase day by day, people want to
find peace and contentment. Zarabozo echoes this sentiment by dedicating the first
chapter of his book to the discussion of the importance of purification of the soul for all
of mankind, Muslims as well as non-Muslims (Purification of the Soul 7). The Quran
is clear in that this can only be achieved through remembrance of God and inner
purification when it says, Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest
(Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 324). However, even more important than inner
purification itself is that the method be correct, otherwise the tazkiyah would result in
more harm than benefit. In the light of this concept and in support of it as well, it is

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important to unpack the research question and understand the reasoning behind its
wording.

Why do you ask? Allow me to explain.


For Muslims, the discussion of purification of the soul, or spirituality, must take
place within the context of Islamic law, since we believe that the purpose of life is to
obey God and following any religion other than Islam is not acceptable to God (i.e., after
the advent of Islam), as the Quran (the holy scripture of the Muslims) clarifies in many
places (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 84, 714). Taking into consideration the
importance of obeying God and thus the role of Islamic law as the bounds within which
any Islamic discussion of spirituality must take place, the only issue left on the table is
how to determine what is obedience to God and what is not, or which aspects of
spirituality fall within the bounds of Islamic law and which do not.
My research question is significant and relevant to the book in question because it
provides a basis of determining what obedience to God is and what Islamic law is: the
way the early generations of the Muslims understood Islam. The use of this basis as a
comprehensive way to determine Islamic law is evident from the Quran and the sayings
of Muhammad (the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him).
For example, God says in the Quran, So if they [i.e., people] believe in the like
of that which you [i.e., the Companions of Muhammad] believe, then they are rightly
guided; but if they turn away, then they are only in opposition (Khan, M. M., and M. T.
Al-Hilali 27). In this verse, God established the Companions of Muhammad as the
standard of belief, thus proving that the early generations of Muslims counts as a standard
for the later generations.

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Another example is when Muhammad once said, The best of people are my
generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them, then those
who come after them, then those who come after them, then people will come whose
oaths will precede their proof and their proofs [will precede] their oaths [i.e., they will be
corrupt] (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah). Thus, since the early generations of Muslims are
better than the later ones, according the abovementioned verdict of Muhammad, it only
makes sense to use them as a standard in determining Islamic law.
A final example is the tradition of Muhammad, Whoever among you will live
after me will see many differences [of opinion between people], so hold fast to my way
and the way of the Rightly Guided Caliphs after me, grab hold onto it [i.e., my way and
their way] with your molar teeth (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah). This tradition proves that
the early generations of Muslims are the standard for all Muslims not just within
spirituality but also within any science that belongs to the religion of Islam through its
wording. Muhammad mentioned that holding fast to both his way and the way of the
Rightly Guided Caliphs is the only way to avoid differences of opinion and reach a
conclusion on any Islamic issue. That he mentioned the two ways together proves that
they are the same, and that following Muhammad is true and necessary is agreed upon by
all Muslims agree and also evident in the Quran (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 72,
117, 564). These three proofs from the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad prove
that the way of the early generations of Muslims is a reliable standard for judging the
Islamic legality of any aspect of life.

Quran, Hadith, and Sunnah: A Game of Semantics


In the light of the above discussion, that anything Islamic must have precedent in
the ways of the early generations of Muslims, we understand that the true interpretation
of the Quran, which is the book of God, the hadith, which is the narration of the life of
the Prophet, and the sunnah, which is the mode of the life of the Prophet and a term
often used interchangeably with the term hadith, is that of the early Muslims (Azami 8).
It is through this lens that we analyze two of the statements with which Zarabozo
introduces his book. The path described by the Quran and Sunnah is the only path that
can result in a true purification of the soulHence, any discussion of the purification of
the soul must rely heavily and exclusively on the Quran and Sunnah and what can be
correctly derived from those two sources (Zarabozo, Purification of the Soul 1). This
first statement of Zarabozo echoes a sentiment that seems to be in line with the above
discussion. However, he later clarifies, in a second statement, his view of the correct
method and the standard of deriving from the Quran and the Sunnah when he says,
Another point that should be made in this introduction is that this author, to the best of
his ability, has used only authentic or acceptable hadith and narrations in this work. In
this authors view, this is an approach that should be followed no matter what the topic
is Therefore, again, this author has done his best to avoid any hadith that is clearly
unauthentic according to the principles of the sciences of hadith (Zarabozo, Purification
of the Soul 6-7). In this second statement, the reader is given insight into the method
Zarabozo uses to determine Islamic law. His method is not line with that of the early
generations of Muslims for many reasons.

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Firstly, the sciences of hadith and their principles were formulated long after the
passing of Muhammad. It is recorded that the first person to write about the sciences of
hadith was Abu Muhammad al-Ramahurmuzi, who died 350 years after the death of
Muhammad (Siraj al-Din 16). Thus, it is impossible to find even a definition of the
principles of hadith, much less any indication toward impermissibility of using
unauthentic hadith, in the any verse of the Quran or any authentic hadith, the standard by
which Zarabozo approaches the Quran and hadith. On the other hand, if one were to
interpret the Quran and hadith in accordance with the method endorsed by Muhammad,
that is, to reference the early generations of the Muslims, then one finds proof for the
legitimacy of the sciences of hadith in the mere fact that the early Muslims approved of
it. For example, the abovementioned al-Ramahurmuzi, as well as al-Naysaburiyy, who
died 395 years after the death of Muhammad, and the famous al-Hafiz al-Khatib Abu
Bakr al-Baghdadi who died 453 years after the death of Muhammad, all wrote about the
sciences of hadith (Siraj al-Din 16). Thus, to use the sciences of hadith and their
classifications of hadith as authentic or unauthentic despite the absence of a definition for
the sciences of hadith within what he considers the boundaries of Islamic law, that is, the
Quran and authentic hadith, cannot be called anything but hypocritical.
Secondly, even if the reader were to overlook this fundamental mistake of
Zarabozo, then there is still a problem that remains unsolved. Even among the scholars of
the sciences of hadith, there is consensus on the permissibility of using weak hadith when
used in the context of explaining the virtues of deeds. In the words of al-Nawawi, the
famous scholar who died 666 years after the death of Muhammad, in his book alArba`een, Verily, the scholars have unanimously agreed upon the permissibility of

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acting upon a weak hadith in [the context of] virtues of [good] deeds (al-Nawawi 4,6).
This problem can be understood more easily by flipping it around: why should a person
only accept authentic hadith?

To Accept or not Accept Weak Hadith: That is the Question


Zarabozo deals with the dilemma of accepting weak hadith in depth in his
commentary on al-Nawawis Arba`een, where he claims that there does not seem to be
any support for al-Nawawis claim (Commentary 69). He mentions that a hadith must
meet five conditions in order for it to be considered authentic, and these five conditions
are mentioned in every primer on hadith principles, such as the al-Manzoomah alBayqooniyyah, and are often memorized by small children, such as myself. The only
difference between Zarabozo and the small children, however, in citing these five
conditions, is that Zarabozo claims not to use rely on anything beyond the Quran and the
authentic hadith, much less the sayings of pious people in the past, in order to determine
the true and pure Islamic methodology, while the children acknowledge that even these
five conditions are nowhere to be found in the Quran or any type of hadith, but they are
to be recognized, acknowledged, and memorized merely because they were accepted and
agreed upon by the early Muslims. I personally find it ironic how Zarabozo has a habit of
citing almost everything he writes, but these conditions, despite their importance in the
formulation of his argument, are not cited.
Following the mention of these five conditions that a hadith must meet in order to
be considered authentic, Zarabozo explains that the scholars of Islam differ in regards to
the permissibility of accepting weak hadith, and they fall into three categories: those who
permit their use without restriction, those who permit their use with restriction, and those

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who do not permit their use. Ironically, in explaining the view of the scholars who belong
to the second category, Zarabozo writes, This definitely seems to be the view of the
majority of the scholars from the third or fourth century until modern times
(Commentary 73). In the light of this statement, it would be logical for the reader to
follow the majority opinion, but Zarabozo criticizes those who do so in that the most
common argument offered for this view is the argument to authority, which means that a
person quotes known and respected scholars who hold that view. This in itself is not a
proof (Commentary 75).
I find this claim particularly intriguing as there are quite clear verses in the
Quran that indicate otherwise. For example, the Quran states, And whoever
contradicts and opposes the Messengerand follows other than the believers way, We
[i.e., God] shall keep him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell what an evil
destination! (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 128). In this verse, it is clear that just as
opposing the Messenger (i.e., Muhammad) is sinful, so is opposing the majority of
believers. Thus, consensus among scholars is a legitimate proof. This idea is further
supported by another verse in the Quran, O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the
Messenger (Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him), and those of you (Muslims)
who are in authority (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 117). Thus, authority is a
legitimate proof.

Sufism: The Elephant in the Room


Sufism is an issue that is important yet surrounded by much confusion. It is a
subject that is especially important to me, on a personal level, since I am a Sufi. One
commonality among all of Zarabozos arguments against the Sufis is that they are blanket

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statements, even though he himself acknowledges that all Sufis are not the same
(Purification of the Soul 442). This is unfair because one will find that there are many
misrepresentations of Sufism, and to label all of them as deviant or blasphemous is not so
different from the ignorant practices of some people nowadays in labeling, for example,
all Jews as miserly, all Muslims as terrorists, or all African Americans as criminals. The
act of criticizing Sufism is not blameworthy in and of itself; in fact, Islamic scholar have
historically encouraged criticism. It is blameworthy, however, to label all of them as
heretic and to view them as distinct and separate from all other scholars (Zarabozo,
Purification of the Soul 442).

Blasphemy!
Zarabozo begins by criticizing Sufis for heretical and blasphemous, such as
claiming to have met God or to have received direct revelation (Purification of the
Soul 441). Similar to how he failed to provide any citation in quoting the five conditions
that a hadith must meet in order to be considered authentic, he also fails to provide any
example of someone who makes such claims, for I have never heard any of my teachers
make such claims nor even indicate that such occurrences are possible. It is quite likely
that this critique is misdirected toward all Sufis but actually in reference to a true heretic
who merely calls himself or herself a Sufi but follows neither the Sufis of the early
generations nor their writings.

The States of the Sufis


In addition, Zarabozo critiques Sufis for their designation of different stages or
states that a person experiences by saying, almost mockingly, The pathis a lengthy
and arduous journey for the Sufis. A person must pass from state to state (Purification

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of the Soul 444). However, Muhammad clearly stated in many traditions that a persons
ranks rise due to performing certain deeds, such as walking to the mosque for prayer, or
remembering God in a market (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah). This concept of advancing
through stages and states is also quite clear in the tradition of Muhammad when he
described a person who begins by fulfilling obligatory deeds, and then performs
recommended deeds, and then voluntary deeds till eventually God becomes the eyes with
which he sees, the ears with which he listens, and the feet with which he walks, and the
hands with which he touches (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah).

The Dhikr of the Sufis


A specific objection that Zarabozo puts forth the Sufis is their practice of their
own special forms of dhikr [remembrance], such as to repeat Allahs name over and
over again (Purification of the Soul 445). This is not so much special to Sufis as it is
to every Muslim, as God states clearly in the Quran, And remember the Name of your
Lord (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 797). The name of God in Islam is Allah, and he
commands Muslims to remember His Name in this verse, so there is justification for
repetition of the Name Allah. Upon this, he objects that it the mere repetition of
Allah is not a complete sentence, while every expression of dhikr taught by the
Prophet (peace be upon him) was a complete sentence with an understandable meaning
(Zarabozo, Purification of the Soul 445). As for the condition of remembrance being in
the form of complete sentences, this cannot be established through the lack of a tradition
from Muhammad in which a form of remembrance is narrated that is not a complete
sentence. Rather, many such circumstances exist today the permissibility of which is
clear through the lack of Prophetic prohibition in their regard, even though Muhammad

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did not explicitly express that they are permissible, such as praying on a cemented
sidewalk. Similar is the case with remembrance in the form of incomplete sentences. One
could even argue that repeating Gods name over and over again is in fact a complete
sentence, the subject being Allah, and the predicate being omitted, a sentence format
that occurs quite often in the Arabic language. Besides, the mere mention of Gods name,
by itself, in an incomplete sentence, with ones tongue, is significant and commendable
based on many traditions from Muhammad. One such tradition is that The Hour will not
be established until Allah, Allah is not said on the earth (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah).
Thus, Muhammad specifically mentioned the repetition of the name of God over and over
again, and through the mere repetition of this single word, which is not a complete
sentence, the entire universe is sustained and continued.

The Jihad of the Sufis


Zarabozo continues critiquing the Sufis, saying, In general, the Sufis (in
particular the later Sufis) were not fond of jihad since they saw in it a kind of displeasure
with what Allah decreed for them (Purification of the Soul 459). This is also a clear
example of how Zarabozo labels all Sufis under one banner but actually refers to only
those who fall into extremes. Countless examples exist throughout history when the Sufis
were in fact at the forefront of jihad, and possibly even more so in the later generations.
Imam Shamyl, the famous Sufi of the Naqshbandi Khalidi tradition, and the Leader of all
the Caucasus, defended his homeland against the Russians, the superpower of the time
(Fenari). Syed Ahmed Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed declared jihad against the Sikhs
of Punjab but adhered closely to Sufism and the Sufis of their time, such Shaykh Al-Haj
Abd al-Rahim, who actually died fighting alongside them in the famous battle at Balakot

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(Abu Unaysah). In our current day, Shaykh Muhammad Ilyas Ghumman, the famous
scholar in Pakistan, participated in jihad for eight years, and is also authorized in Sufism
from contemporary Sufi masters, such as Mawlana Hakeem Akhtar Sahib and Mawlana
Abdul Hafeez Makki. No doubt, the abandonment of jihad is a serious lack of religiosity
and a characteristic of only those who misrepresent Islam and its sciences to the world.

The Reality of the Soul


Regarding the Zarabozos statement, There are no special exercises or rituals that
require one to virtually injure oneself or do damage to the natural feelings of the soul,
we find some contradicting evidence in the lives of those who lived with Muhammad
(Purification of the Soul 279). There was once a Companion of Muhammad who was
of African descent and had curly hair. Upon seeing that Muhammad had wavy hair that
was parted down the middle, he also tried to part his hair but could not, so he placed a
burning iron rod on his head in order to have a parting in his hair like Muhammad (AlMaktabah al-Islamiyyah). Another Companion by the name of Abu Lubabah tied himself
to a pillar in the Prophets Mosque after having committed a sin, and he took an oath to
remain tied to the pillar till God forgave him (Al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah). To this day,
the area where that pillar existed in the Prophets Mosque is marked in memory of his
repentance. Although Zarabozo is correct in that no one is required to injure oneself, and
to do so in vain is in fact prohibited, the difficulties that the Companions of Muhammad
put themselves through for the sake of attaining closeness to God, which might appear to
the outsider as inflicting harm upon oneself, was in fact purposeful and not condemned
by Muhammad. This serves as a clear basis for the sacrifices of the Sufis and its
permissibility in the religion of Islam. Also, it is interesting that the author discouraged

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damaging the natural feelings of the soul, his translation of nafs, as is apparent in the
title. This is because the Quran generally refers to the soul as the origin of evil feelings
and inclinations; God says, Verily, the (human) self [i.e, the nafs] is inclined to evil
(Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 310). It is the origin of stinginess, since God says,
And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness [i.e., the covetousness of his nafs],
such are they who will be the successful (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 754). It is
the origin of the desire to murder, since God says, So the Nafs (self) of the other (latter
one) encouraged him and made fair-seeming to him the murder of his brother; he
murdered him and became one of the losers. (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 147). It
commands a person to deviate others as well, as it did to Samiri when he misguided the
people of Moses; he later proclaimed the reason for his doing so by saying, Thus my
inner-self [i.e., my nafs] suggested to me (Khan, M. M., and M. T. Al-Hilali 422). It is
due to the evil nature of the soul itself that it must be purified of its evil; hence, the title
of the book. Thus, if a person were to discourage damaging the feelings of the soul, then
that is akin to encouraging the cultivation of evil feelings within the soul. Restricting the
soul was the objective of these actions of the Companions, and the reason was in order to
purify it of its evil.

The Reality of Feelings and Experiences


One clarification is worthy of mention regarding the Zarabozos statement, The
goal is in no way some kind of mystical experience wherein one feels that he has
experienced or witnessed the reality (Purification of the Soul 336). While the
statement is absolutely true without an iota of doubt, one must remember that such
experiences or feelings are not foreign to Islamic contemplation, meditation, and

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remembrance. This entire concept is clearly explained through the incident of the two
Companions of Muhammad, Hanzala and Abu Bakr, when Hanzala declared hypocrisy
on the basis of feeling different while in the presence of the Prophet versus while in the
presence of his family. The Prophet corrected him, saying that the objective is not to
feel good or to witness Heaven and Hell, but he also tacitly acknowledged that such
experiences and feelings do occur when in the presence of the pious (Al-Maktabah alIslamiyyah). This reality surrounding the remembrance of God, that it causes the one
engaged in remembrance to feel at peace, is even mentioned in the Quran when God
says, Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest (Khan, M. M., and M. T.
Al-Hilali 324). So while such feelings are not the goal, their reality is proven through the
Quran and the traditions of Muhammad. That the Sufis experience these feelings is in
fact a proof that their remembrance is the same remembrance that God refers to in the
Quran.

Conclusion
So to what extent are Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo's views on Islam, particularly
those addressed in his book Purification of the Soul: Concept, Process, and Means,
similar to or different from the Islamic understanding of the early generations of
Muslims? While the majority of Zarabozos views are in accordance with the views of
the early Muslims, and this makes sense since the verses and traditions that deal directly
with spirituality are quite clear, he makes some fatal mistakes in regards to certain
specific issues. In regards to following the Quran and hadith, he wrongly assumes that
those hadith that the early generations of Muslims classified as weak should not be used,
while the early generations themselves used them and felt the need to transmit them. In

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regards to Sufism, he acknowledges that they are not all the same but discusses them as
such, finding the biggest faults of the deviant Sufis and criticizing all Sufis on that basis.
Thus, his views on Islam are similar to those of the early Muslims in most issues and
radically different from them in regards to accepting weak hadith and Sufism.

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Word Count: 3970

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