immanence & transcendence (& shirk) [update]

[updated for clarity]

I have been thinking a bit lately about how people practice their faiths. One of the issues that keeps coming back to me is of one’s vision of God, which should be the defining part of any religious understanding in my opinion. I would categorize the understanding of God into two, not mutually exclusive, categories – the imminent and the transcendent.

I personally consider God’s presence to be one of imminence, which in turn feed my God consciousness (taqwa), and that helps me to realize God’s transcendence.

I understand there are people who feel humbled by God’s transcendence, and cannot imagine the Divine in this world. I see and respect the power in this view of Creation. However, I can’t imagine a world without the beautiful voice of Abida calling out in separation from Allah, and forcing me to a new plane of being. I can’t imagine not looking at the world around me and thinking of God’s perfection. I can’t imagine not having my nightly conversation with God. I can’t imagine not having my intellect, God’s trust (amanah) to humanity.

I can’t speak for those who think of God primarily in transcendent terms, but I think that both approaches are God conscious. God is the center of all approaches to religion in my opinion.

Both immanence and transcendence take a God-centered approach. However, both systems can lead to extremism. In the Islamic tradition, there is a broad category of mystics known as the malamati, those who follow the path of blame. Their practice is the opposite of the norms of their society, they drink, don’t wash, avoid prayer, etc.. The belief is that by being the best that they can be, they will be tempted by the sin of pride, therefore they wish to worship God in private. Of course, this path has lead to those seeking an easy way out of religious discipline. As an organized movement, the institutionalization of certain practices became normative, lessening their mystic meaning.

Those who are apt to see God as transcendent tend to focus on proscribed ritual – or what they perceive as proscribed – and aim for a universal practice of Islam over the development of supplemental local practices. Such an approach favors a much narrower understanding of the faith and focuses on text as being the only defining element of practice. The extremist version of this understanding is a literalist one.

My objection to more literalist interpretations of faith is that the text becomes the center of the faith as opposed to God. In the Islamic tradition, associating something or someone on the same level of God is called shirk. By lifting the words of Ibn Taymiyah or Abd al-Wahhab to the level of the words of God (the Qur’an), the Wahhabis are guilty of such a sin.

Farid Esack, in his book On Being a Muslim, tells of his story of going on Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca. He writes on pages 12-16:

Mecca is referred to in the Qur’an as the ma’ad, the place of return (Q. 28:85).…It is a return to our religious roots because the Cave of Hira’, where the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) encountered his first revelation, is the physical point of the beginning of Islam as a religion.
[a description of his Hajj experience, and the need to arrange for someone to take him to Hira’ as it is not marked.]
The Saudi regime, being very ‘puritanical’ and vehemently opposed to any form of ‘unorthodox’ veneration, does not encourage visits to any of the traditional sacred places. There are, thus, no official signs showing the path to the Cave of Hirah. You’ve got to follow the people. And if there are none around? Follow the Pepsi cans! Thousands and thousands of them, all along the route right up to the mouth of the cave, a few even littering its interior. What a sad spectacle!
[He continues about the graffiti in the interior of the cave, and a fellow “pilgrim” who offers to take his picture for 20 riyals. This “pilgrim” apparently follows people up looking for the buck.]

There is no God consciousness in the Wahhabi approach. Men stand with machine guns at the Prophet’s tomb to make sure people don’t pray for his soul. According to the Wahhabi movement, prayer is un-Islamic. Recognition of the fact that the Prophet is the beloved of God is un-Islamic. Their very approach denies God’s word and God’s existence. They would argue that they see God as transcendent, but guns in the house of God does not indicate taqwa.

As I struggle to understand God in my life, I know it is a struggle (jihad) for myself and others travelers in faith. Each person will have their own understanding of God, and therefore their own faith; to you yours and to me mine. However, when there is an imposition of another belief onto me, I have to fight back.

In the meantime, I’m going to go back to listening to some Sufi music, and recharge myself for the next day.

One thought on “immanence & transcendence (& shirk) [update]

  1. Salam,
    I’m no Wahabi– but what you are saying about them is totally false– and if you are doing it on purpose- fear Allah. how can you say:
    “There is no God consciousness in the Wahhabi approach…According to the Wahhabi movement, prayer is un-Islamic. Recognition of the fact that the Prophet is the beloved of God is un-Islamic.”
    You suffer from the same sickness that a lot of these “wahabi” muslims have- that is your hatred for the other causes you to make up lies about them, and make no effort in trying to understand where they are coming from. You have the same judgemental mind frame as them.
    shame on you

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