Knowing: The sequel

It's not only examination, introspection, and thoughtfulness, that makes life worth living.

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It has been said: "The unexamined life is not worth living." But it's not only examination, introspection, and thoughtfulness, that makes life worth living. We would have to add to Socrates' meditation that to "drink in" and imbibe that meaning at the heart of the contemplative exercise, that is what gives life its value and increases quality over quantity. We pick up the thread where we left it the week before last with the second theme of our four-point programme for the positive Muslim agenda. We spoke of faith, the first of the four points, and how its dynamic is gratefulness. Currently we've been speaking of "intimate knowing" and how it's based on a consciousness of four dimensions of being; the personal world, which demands self-knowledge; and the second, the world of dominion (mulk), the opaque material world. This week we will unveil the angelic world (malakut) and the sovereign realm (jabarut).

The angelic malakut is the space of existence just beyond the opaque veil of the physical world. It is the space in which the angels operate. The human soul, our intellectual reasoning, the life of the mind also function in this unseen space. Our ability to explore abstract theoretical concepts is an intangible yet present and accountable reality. Anger, love, bewilderment, confusion, and resolve are all unobservable to the five senses. What we see are the effects of these driving emotions. This is what it means for a thing to be intelligible as opposed to tangible. Grace (barakah), spiritual reward (ajr), divine success (tawfiq), divine support (madad), all of these are essential forms of sustenance that we receive from beyond the unseen.

The fourth of the consecutive levels of existence is the sovereign realm. Early Muslim culture coined the term jabarut to denote the dimension from which the presence of Allah could be beheld. In one narration: "Those of the heavens (malakut) seek out the divine presence just as do those of the earth (mulk). Even if the angels don't see Allah, we all witness the effects of His names and attributes in the world around us."

In a narration of the compendium of Muslim we find: "His veil is of light, were He to lift it, the splendor of His countenance would incinerate everything in the path of His gaze." We read in the Quran that: "To Allah belongs the East and the West, so wherever you turn there you will find the countenance of Allah." To whatever the direction a person turns their face and body, their heart is always facing Allah.

In chapter 33 we are told that: "Allah has not made for a man two hearts in his breast." So that heart can only have room for One beloved. This is the "love supreme". It is interesting to note that one of the wives of John Coltrane was a Muslim woman. Happening upon one of his companions one morning, the Prophet asked him how he was. "I awoke this morning a true believer," the man said. "Every statement has its reality; what is the reality of your statement?" the Prophet inquired. The man responded saying: "I have become disinterested in the material world, I fast my days, and stand in prayer vigil by night; and its as if I am seeing the throne of my Lord." To which the Prophet said: "You have understood, now stick to it."

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.