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Balance at the Heart of Islam: A Message From Medina in Light of Benghazi

When you step into the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina--at the heart of the Islamic world, shoulder to shoulder with people of every ethnicity on earth--the deep subtle brilliant beauty is resounding. Everything is in perfect balance.
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Balance was the first thing that attracted me, a decade ago, to the Islamic deen--the comprehensive spiritual and practical life system of Islam. Balance between worldly structure and beautiful essence.

When you step into the Prophet Muhammad's mosque in Medina--at the heart of the Islamic world, shoulder to shoulder with people of every ethnicity on earth--the deep subtle brilliant beauty is resounding. Everything is in perfect balance.

Yet, out there, in the world, balance seems nowhere to be found. Muslims are either extremists or secular. Salafis or Sufis. Sunnis or Shiites. And the non-Muslims? Many observe in fearful incomprehension; others act and react negatively.

Recently, I got a message from a friend from Medina--a clear outline of the balance intrinsic to the deen. I was simultaneously amazed that such clarity continues to emanate from this illuminated city and inspired by the reminder that we all have the potential to attain the ultimate balance: being mindfully present in the world, with our hearts immersed in the Divine. Balance within is the place to begin if we want to contribute to a world in balance.

So, at a time when the world is hurting from the actions of the unbalanced ones, I wanted to share this inspired reminder:

"Our deen is built on three rocks. The first rock is the 'technical rock. It deals with the details of daily life starting with the five pillars of Islam, the oneness of God, the prophethood of Muhammad, the five daily prayers, the zakat, fasting during Ramadan, and performing Hajj for the capable. It also covers economic and social rulings, such as trading, marriage/divorce and inheritance. A person who is deeply knowledgeable about this rock is traditionally called a faqih. The most famous faqihs in our history are the four Imams of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence (madahib). The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era) follow one of these madahib in their daily routines.

The second rock is the 'faith' rock. It deals with the details of the unseen starting with the six corners of faith (iman), to believe in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, the Day of Judgment, and that fate, both good and bad, is from God. The creed that clarifies these articles of faith is called aqida. The most famous scholars of aqida in our history are Al-Ash'ari and Al-Maturidi. The majority of Muslims (no less than 95% in every era except for some blips in our history) believe in this creed.

The third rock is the 'self-improvement' rock. It deals with the ways of elevating the human condition to become true to God and treat all His creatures with Prophetic standards. The knowledge of how to get one's self to these standards is called the knowledge of tazkiyah, the process of transforming the self from ego-centeredness through various spiritual stages towards the level of purity and true submission to the will of God. It is also called tasawwuf, or sufism. The person who comes close to reaching the pinnacle of these standards is called a sufi. The most famous scholars of tazkiyah in our history are Al-Ghazali, Al-Junaid, Ibn Arabi, and Al-Jilani. With the exception of the past 60 years or so, tazkiyah was part of every type of education in the Islamic world.

These rocks are academic classifications that have helped Muslims, since the third or fourth century, develop the sciences of turning human beings into Prophetic beings; those who Prophet Muhammad longed for when he said, "I wish I could have seen my brothers..."

As time progressed, these sciences matured and kept connecting new generations to the salaf, which refers to, in the traditional sense, the people who lived during the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and the next two generations, through unbroken chains of scholars. So a 'salafi' is someone who projects the essence of these early Muslims.

Additionally, scholars cannot excel in their own rock without achieving a masterful command of the sciences behind the other rocks too. So, a master salafi is a master sufi, is a master scholar, is a master faqih. In other words, at the level of mastery, the words 'salafi,' 'sufi,' 'scholar,' and 'faqih' are essentially synonymous. And they all point to the essence of the Prophet Muhammad.

Turbulence has occurred, throughout our history, when someone decides to raise a flag of deen that is based on an incomplete, or deformed, set of rocks. Or, when people see these rocks as independent competitive camps instead of seeing them as parts of a whole. Both occurrences happen, exclusively, because of breaks in the chains of scholars.

The groups that have a solid first rock but a deformed, or missing, second and third rock, for example, tend to be detail oriented, dry, argument oriented, narrow, and sometimes violent.

On the other side of the spectrum, groups that have a solid third rock but a deformed, or missing, second and first rock tend to be mellow, perceptive, tolerant and lost.

The first extreme of the spectrum explains the "kill first, judge later" jihadi, the politically obsessed shiite, the "My way or you're doomed" salafi (which is also the wahabi mentality), and the power hungry Muslim brotherhood. The other extreme of the spectrum explain the disenfranchised Muslim liberal, the "above the need for obligation" sufi, and "let's keep the deen only in the heart" advocate.

This is why we ask God, at least 17 times in our daily prayers, to "Guide us to the Straight Path, The way of those whom You have favored; Not of those who have incurred Your wrath. Nor of those who go astray."

So in short, given the proper definitions, it is my wish to be a salafi, my dream is to become a sufi, my hope to be a faqih--and I would love to see, follow and kiss, every footstep, expression and deed of the beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

But, instead, I'm still stuck at trying to achieve a moment, let alone an hour, let alone a lifetime, of what the masters call Al Khalwa fil Jalwa. Which means being, both at once and without contradictions, fully involved with the world with your heart completely immersed with God.

May God give us a taste of that, followed by enough servings to get back Home. Safely.


P.S. Kindly notice that the deen-hijacking criminals who kill treacherously, demean women and children, destroy mosques, dig up graves, and behead people were not mentioned in the spectrum above. Because they are beneath it. They call themselves many things--from salafis, to messiahs, to cowboys--but these behaviors do not belong to any Divine deen."

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