is the advice of the Prophet Muhammed (sal) to everyone in the world who is trying to
communicate with another person. In trying to make someone understand what you are
saying you must perceive on what level this is possible and meet him there. There is no
benefit in trying to teach first-graders calculus nor in teaching university students
addition and subtraction.
During the Holy Prophet’s (sal) Night Journey and his Ascension through the seven
heavens to the Divine Presence, Allah Almighty bestowed upon him Divine Knowledge,
and He taught the Prophet (sal) that there are three distinct categories into which this
knowledge is divided. The first category of knowledge taught to him was to be shared
commonly with all mankind. None of this knowledge is going to shock or disturb people:
it is clear and straightforward, can be easily understood by even the simple mind, and it
is expressed in a way people’s minds can easily grasp. For example, when I tell you a
tale I try to make sure that is contents corresponds to your own experiences so that you
may benefit from it.
It is one of the miracles of the Holy Qur’an that everyone who reads it may understand
something from what he has read: it is not so cryptic or unclear that people should say:
“I can’t understand”. But don’t imagine that the meaning of the Holy Qur’an is only what
you have understood and no more! Even scholars must be careful not to make such an
assumption, for the more we improve in our faith the sharper our minds become. The
light of faith brightens our understanding.
If we can understand that our understanding increases with our faith, then we will never
raise objections if we find anything in the Holy Qur’an that seems to conflict with what we
see to be our better judgment. We must not draw hasty conclusions, but wait until
enough of the Holy Qur’an’s limitless meanings are revealed to our minds the Qur’an
contains Meaning Oceans and we must undergo training to be able to extract pearls
from them. Before we assume that we know better than the Qur’an, or even that we
know better than any person, we must pay heed to our Lord’s declaration: “Above every
knower there is one who knows more”, and understand that our perception may be
clouded, and that surely there exist people who are more knowledgeable and wise than
we are. If common people and scholars alike heed this Quranic observation and
understand that others may see and know what they don’t and can’t, then they will keep
an open mind, and, at least, not attack those whose knowledge is of a different realm.
The second category of knowledge the Holy Prophet (sal) was instructed to reveal to
initiates, to seekers of truth, in accordance with their thirst for deeper understanding.
This knowledge was only for those who had become suitable recipients for extraordinary
revelation that would only shock or confuse the uninitiated.
One Great Grandsheikh, Sheikh Muhyuddin Ibn al Arabi, may Allah bless him, received
huge grants of knowledge of this category from the Holy Prophet (sal). He was one of
the first to put into writing knowledge that had previously been passed on only orally
and spiritually. As a result of this he was widely persecuted. Scholars used to be
scandalized by his writings and say: “From where is he bringing these things? We have
looked through the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (sal) but find
nothing in them to support such heretical views.” This they were saying in the spirit of
those who, in his time, rejected the prophet hood of Muhammad, peace be upon him.
From where did that understanding come to Sheikh Muhyuddin? The Holy Prophet (sal)
once said: “Beware of the perception of the true believer, for he sees with the light of
Allah”. It was the light of strong faith, and the resulting clarity of perception and
sharpness of intellect that enabled Sheikh Muhyuddin to delve into that “restricted
area”. So, if you consider yourself to be seeker of truth, don’t be lazy or timid in your
quest, but seek to benefit from the clues provided by those who received initiation into
this second category of knowledge. Don’t be surprised that Sheikh Muhyuddin,
Mevlana Rumi, Abu Yazid al Bistami, Shah Naqshaband or Grandsheikh Daghistani
reveal knowledge that is beyond the pale of the outward or apparent understand of
Islam. But don’t try to force such an understanding on those who are not seeking it, for
it is not intended for all. Even the companions of the Prophet (sal), who loved him
intensely and were always ready to sacrifice everything for him were not all able to
receive knowledge of this type, and among those who were, some could receive more
than others. Sayyidina Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet (sal), was one of
those who received the most in-depth knowledge; he once said to some of the other
companions: “There are two categories of knowledge I received from the Holy Prophet
(sal): one I reveal to you, and the other, were I to even intimate something of it, you
would try to kill me.”
Whoever encounters a jewel but knows not the distinguishing characteristic of gems
may think it to be part of a fossilized coke – bottle and throw it away. There is a famous
diamond in Istanbul, perhaps one of the biggest and most valuable diamonds in the
world. The story of this diamond may help illustrate my point. That diamond was
originally found in a dustbin by a street sweeper. He put it in his pocket and brought it
to a spoon-maker he knew. The spoon-maker saw that it could be valuable, so he
offered the street sweeper a wooden spoon in exchange for the diamond. The street-
sweeper was very happy with the trade, as, in those days it was a sign of distinction to
carry a spoon in one’s belt-just as a cowboy carries a gun in his holster – and to always
be prepared in case rice or soup was served.
Then the spoon-maker took the diamond to a jeweler, who paid him a lot of money for
it. The jeweler polished it and notified the Vizier about the existence of an extraordinary
diamond. The Vizier brought it for a fortune and presented it to the Sultan, who had
never seen its like. But to the street-sweeper its worth was equivalent only to one
So, everyone receives what he needs on his level, and this was a Divine Order to the
Prophet (sal): “Give to those who may receive”, and it is written in the Preserved Tablet
who will be eligible for that knowledge.
The third category of knowledge is that which is between Allah and His Prophet (sal) to
the exclusion of all others. This is the realm of the private confidence bestowed upon
the Prophet (sal) by his Lord, and it is a depth of knowledge that distinguished him from
and sets him above all of the Saints and learned people of his Nation.
Once we have understood this division of Islamic knowledge into three categories, and
especially if we are faithful enough to develop penetrating vision and a share of esoteric
knowledge, it should not be difficult for us to address people in accordance with their
understanding. In his time the Holy Prophet (sal) was working mostly with a very coarse
and unlearned class of people, and he addressed them, accordingly, in a manner
suited to their mentality. He built their understanding, so to speak, from the bottom up,
laying a strong base upon which to build; but for those of them whose hearts were
receptive, their simple origins were no obstacle to their receiving grants of inner
In his time, the Holy Prophet (sal) also addressed more learned people: delegations of
Christian clergy from Yemen and Jewish Rabbis and scholars residing in Medina. He
addressed them on their respective levels too, discussing his mission in accordance
with the contents of their Holy Books. But knowledge of religious scripture is neither a
condition for, nor a disqualification as pride and envy. So those who came with sincerity
and open hearts received amply, but those who came with prejudice could not be
Our time also has its particular conditions and peoples. Certain words or methods may
be acceptable to you but difficult for others. When the Holy Prophet (sal) applied this
wisdom to his manner of approaching people, Islam spread both in the East and West
quickly. Therefore, don’t be oblivious to the reactions of those, whom you address, don’
t run up against a wall, gaining nothing in the process – except a bump on the head.
Find common ground, then build on it step by step.
Islam derives its vitality from its inherent simplicity and universal principles. The basics
may be practiced by all, irrespective of distinctions based on race, nationality, sex, age
or cultural adherence, and it is in harmony with nature-with the nature of Man and with
that of one Earth. But we must be worthy of understanding this and communicating it.
In our time elderly people may often be hard on youth for the way they behave, saying:
“We never behaved so badly even when we were young”. But they must remember what
kinds of conditions and social norms those children are now being brought up in.
Similarly, practicing Muslims who are scrupulously observing the Law of Islam may be
impatient with those who are slowly approaching Islam or whose hearts are drawn to a
circle of believers, expecting those people to conform quickly. If this is the case, it is a
sign that you have not yet understood anything, and that your practices are only
blinders. If you are wise, you will expect or demand only very little in the way of
conformity from newcomers. Don’t try to load your burden on them – and if you are
trying to shift your burden you must consider its causes. Don’t worry about bringing
people “in line” but rather concern yourself with making sure that your own practices are
becoming a means for attaining inner peace and are not becoming an end in
themselves. If your practice brings you inner peace and wisdom others will emulate
those practices voluntarily.
The proper attitude is indicated in a saying of the Holy Prophet: “Make things easy for
people, not difficult; give them good tidings and don’t drive them away”. Now, most
Muslims are only driving Westerners farther away from Islam by ignoring the differences
in the conditions they face. Such an attitude is a sign that they have deprived
themselves of access to that second category of knowledge-wisdom-which brings with
itself profound and penetrating vision; indeed, the blind are not even able to
understand the first category of knowledge correctly. We ask our Lord to grant us
understanding of the Way of Islam, and to help us know in which direction we must go.
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