The Humble "I"

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

A Perennial Problem: Is Islam the Only Valid Path to God?

umbrella_spokesIs Islam (the religion and way of life the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with) the only path to God? Does the Qur’an extend the validity of religions beyond Islam; to any who believe in God and act rightly? Or does the Qur’an insist that Islam is the exclusive and only path to God? And what of the idea that some have culled from their personal reading of the Qur’an that at the heart of the world’s major religions and faiths, there is an essential unity of truth? This, Islam and the idea of salvic exclusivity, is our topic for discussion.

Our discussion concerning the above delicate and, in our current time, controversial questions are addressed through the following points:

1. The Qur’an is categorical when it says: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers. [3:85] Elsewhere it states: The [true] religion in Allah’s sight is Islam. [3:19] Whatever other verses may be marshalled in this issue, these two must surely lie at its heart.

2. Turning to the words of the Prophet ﷺ, we find him informing: “By Him in whose Hand is the life of Muhammad! Anyone from this nation, be they a Jew or a Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have come with, shall be among the inhabitants of Hell.”1 Fleshing out the hadith’s theological implications, Imam al-Nawawi said: ‘It contains [a proof] that all religions have now been abrogated by the prophethood of our Prophet ﷺ. Also, in its explicit meaning is a proof that those to whom the call of Islam does not reach, are excused.’2

3. Not only has the religion of Islam that the Prophet ﷺ was sent with superseded all previously revealed heavenly teachings, this last dispensation or “version” of Islam is a universal one too. The Qur’an says: Say: ‘O Mankind! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.’ [7:158]  Al-Ghazali said in his magesterial Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din – “Revival of the Religious Sciences”: ‘Allah sent the Qurayshi unlettered Prophet Muhammad ﷺ with His divinely-inspired Message to the entire world: to Arabs and non-Arabs, jinn and mankind. The Prophet’s Sacred Law has abrogated and superceded all earlier revealed laws, except those provisions in them that the [new] Sacred Law has reconfirmed.’3

4. Over the past eight decades or so a view has arisen which alleges that Islam affirms the validity of other religions, denying or failing to mention that they have long since been abrogated. Recourse has been taken to the following passage to justify the claim: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans; whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right, shall be rewarded by their Lord; no fear will come upon them, nor shall they grieve. [2:62] This verse, it’s claimed, extends the validity of religions beyond just Islam, and the possibility of salvation beyond just Muslims, to whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day. The error of such a claim can be gauged from the next three points:

5. Apart from ignoring the above proof-texts to the contrary, this view stands against Islamic orthodoxy which states, as per Imam al-Nawawi: ‘One who does not consider a person who follows a religion besides Islam – like a Christian – to be a disbeliever, or doubts that such a person is a disbeliever, or deems their religion to still be valid, is himself a disbeliever – even if, along with this, he manifests Islam and believes in it.’4 Such, then, is the enormity of the error and the magnitude of its misguidance. Qadi ‘Iyad affirmed a consensus about this, saying that: ‘there is a consensus (ijma‘) about the disbelief of one who does not consider as disbelievers the Christians, Jews and all those who part from the religion of the Muslims; or hesitates about their disbelief, or doubts it.’5

6. How then should the above verse [2:62] be read? Scholars of tafsir, along with their belief that the Qur’an’s message now supersedes all previous heavenly teachings, offer these interpretations for the above verse: [i] It is said to refer to those seekers of truth who believed in the imminent arrival of the final Prophet – like Habib al-Najjar, Qays b. Sa‘adah, Waraqah b. Nawfal, Zayd b. ‘Amr b. Nufayl, Bahirah the Monk, Salman al-Farsi and Abu Dharr al-Ghiffari. Some of them reached the Prophet ﷺ and accepted Islam at his hand. Others didn’t reach him, but are nonetheless included among those who believe in Allah and the Last Day. [ii] It refers to the believers of previous nations, following the prophets of their respective times. [iii] It’s claimed to refer to those Jews and Christians who, prior to accepting Islam in the time of the Prophet ﷺ, followed the unaltered teachings of Moses and Jesus; peace be upon them both. [iv] A few say it refers to the hypocrites; which is somewhat odd.6 Whatever the correct intent of this passage is, the view which extends salvation unrestrictedly, to include even those who deny the Prophet Muhammad’s prophethood ﷺ, is conspicuous by its absence in the classical tafsir literature.

7. Ibn Kathir helps put the above verse into context with his customary hermeneutics; he explains: ‘The faith of the Jews was that of those who adhered to the Torah and the way of Moses, peace be upon him, until the arrival of Jesus. With the advent of Jesus, those who followed the Torah and the Mosaic Laws, not leaving them to follow Jesus, were doomed. The faith of the Christians was that of whoever adhered to the Gospel and to the teaching of Jesus. They were believers and their faith valid till the advent of Muhammad ﷺ. Those who rejected Muhammad ﷺ, by not leaving the Gospel and Jesus’ way are doomed … This doesn’t conflict with what ‘Ali b. Abi Talha relates from Ibn ‘Abbas that: Those who believe [in the Qur’an], the Jews, the Christians, and Sabaeans; whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day was followed by Allah revealing: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and in the Afterlife he will be among the losers. For what Ibn ‘Abbas is simply informing is that no path is acceptable from anyone, nor any deed, unless it conforms to the shari‘ah of Muhammad ﷺ now that he has been sent. Prior to this, anyone who followed the particular prophet of his time was upon right guidance and the path of salvation.’7

8. In the above light, philosophies that speak of the “Essential Unity of Religions”, or “Perennialism”, are disbelief (kufr). The metaphysics of these philosophies is such that they insist the world’s major faiths: Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity, like Islam, all contain at their heart a core set of esoteric truths, despite them differing immensely in their external appearance, forms and practices – and even in many of their beliefs. They also believe that these major religions, again like Islam, still retain their validity even today. The metaphor used to describe the Unity of Religions is that of a bicycle wheel. The spokes represent the different religions; the hub symbolises God, the Supreme Being, the Transcendent Reality. Just as the spokes come closer to each other as they near the hub, so too, as each path comes closer to the One Reality, it comes closer to all other paths. Now as appealing as it sounds to some, it can never pass for authoritative, orthodox Quranic teachings – as has been shown.

9. Asserting that such Perennialist philosophy is clear disbelief (kufr) does not amount to an accusation that each specific individual who holds such a belief is necessarily an unbeliever (kafir) – as is well attested to in mainstream Sunni theology. The maxim in this matter runs as follows: laysa kullu man waqa‘a fi’l-kufr sara kafir – ‘Not everyone who falls into disbelief, becomes a disbeliever.’ The shari‘ah upholds the distinction between a general charge of disbelief (takfir ‘amm), and the charge of disbelief upon a specific individual (takfir mu‘ayyan). Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘They have not given proper consideration that making takfir has conditions (shurut) and impediments (mawani‘) that must be actualised if it is to be applied to a specific individual. Because a general declaration of takfir doesn’t imply takfir on a specific individual – until conditions are fulfilled and impediments lifted.’8

10. The Perennialist Philosophy (religio perennis) was first propagated in the late 1930s. It was Frithjof Schuon who would bring this idea to its fruition. Among those who came under Schuon’s influence were those like Martin Lings, Gai Eaton and Seyyed Hossein Nasr (the first two also being converts to Islam). Such Muslims who, through a hugely errant ta’wil or interpretation that misled them into perennialism, are part of a highly learned body of authors and academics who offer some of the finest critiques of modernity from a traditional perspective, and profoundest spiritual expositions of Islam to modern beleaguered hearts and minds. That their writings have, by Allah’s grace, brought so many Westerners into the fold of Islam is beyond doubt. Perennial beliefs aside, their writings are a reminder that to hold to a simple faith without much intellectual and spiritual content is no longer possible in our modern world. For the spirit of our times asks questions, questions for the most part hostile to faith, which demands answers. And those answers can only come from informed and thoughtful faith; from adequate familiarity with modernity’s philosophical underpinnings; and from reflective study, introspection and meditation.

11. Interestingly, the late Martin Lings wrote in The Eleventh Hour about the theory of man’s evolution that if it is indeed true, why didn’t God tell believers about it to begin with, or at least gradually bring them into it? Why did He allow religion after religion to repeat the same old ways of thinking, and prevent prophet after prophet from ever divulging its true nature? Yet He allowed a mere non-prophet to discern its reality and propogate it in defiance of all spiritual authorities of the time.9 And yet a similar line of argument can equally apply to the belief in perennialism. For using the same rhyme and reason one could ask: Why didn’t Allah tell believers about this to begin with, or wean them steadily onto it? Why did Allah allow prophet after prophet to repeat the same ways of thinking, or prevent them from disclosing its true nature? And yet, we are to believe, He allowed a mere non-prophet to arrive at this great existential truth, propagating it in disregard to a scholarly consensus of the past sages and present-day spiritual authorities. The point being is that if Islam’s religious authorities all deemed the belief to be kufr, on what basis should Perennialism be accepted?

12. What of those to whom the message of Islam has not been conveyed, or they have heard about Islam and the Prophet, but in a distorted form? Here the Qur’an presents a far wider, ecumenical scope: Nor do We punish until We have sent a Messenger. [17:15] Also: Whenever a fresh host is cast into it [Hell], its keepers ask them: ‘Did a warner never come to you?’ They will say: ‘Yes, a warner came to us; but we denied.’ [67:8-9] The idea of bulugh al-da‘wah, “conveyance of the message,” therefore, is vital in this issue; typified by the words of Imam al-Nawawi (which have already preceded in point 2) that ‘those to whom the call of Islam does not reach are excused.’

13. Some to whom the message of Islam is communicated refuse to believe in it out of wilful rejection (juhud) of it or because of belying (takdhib) it. Others, however, choose not to hear the message, but instead turn away from it (i‘radan ‘anha) out of arrogance or prejudice against it, or hostility towards it – in some cases doing so knowing it is the truth: And they rejected them [Allah’s signs], although they inwardly recognised them, through injustice and arrogance. [27:14] Now it’s quite possible that many non-Muslims today fall into this predicament, in that some of them are capable of discerning the revealed truths of Islam. But whether out of not desiring to forsake familiar habits; or losing their standing among people; having contempt for Muslims; arrogant prejudice against them; or just out of sheer folly and misguidance, many turn away from even considering the Qur’an. Unless there are other factors to mitigate this kufr of theirs, such people will have no excuse on Judgement Day.10

14. As for those who have heard about Islam, but in a distorted form, I’ll suffice with what Imam al-Ghazali wrote about the matter: ‘In fact, I would say that, Allah willing, most of the Byzantine Christians and the Turks of this age will be included in Allah’s mercy. I’m referring here to those who live in the farthest regions of Byzantium and Anatolia who have not come into contact with the message. These people are of three groups: [i] A party who have never so much as heard the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ. They are excused. [ii] A party who knew his name, character and miracles he wrought; who lived in lands adjacent to the lands of Islam and thus came into contact with Muslims. These are blaspheming unbelievers. [iii] A third party who fall between the two. These people knew the name ‘Muhammad’ ﷺ, but nothing of his character or his qualities. Instead, all they heard since childhood is that a liar and imposter called ‘Muhammad’ claimed to be a prophet; just as our children have heard that an arch-liar and deceiver called al-Muqaffa‘ claimed Allah sent him [as a prophet] and then challenged people to disprove his claim. This party, in my opinion, is like the first party. For even though they’ve heard his name, they heard the opposite of what his true qualities were. And this does not provide enough incentive for them to investigate [his true status].’11

15. That some non-Muslims will be excused for their disbelief in the Hereafter doesn’t mean that they are not judged as disbelievers in this world. All who have not declared the Two Testimonies of Faith, the shahadah, are non-Muslims; disbelievers. Some are actively hostile against Islam and Muslims; most are not. While it behoves a believer to wisely and sincerely seek to guide into faith those who disbelieve, it does not befit a believer to blur the distinction between faith (iman) and disbelief (kufr). Al-Ghazali gives us this rule of thumb: ‘Disbelief is to reject the Prophet ﷺ in whatever he came with, while faith is to affirm as true all that he came with. Therefore the Jew and the Christian are disbelievers due to their rejection of the Prophet.’12

16. As for the honourific distinctions given to the Jews and Christans in the Qur’an, in that they are referred to as People of the Book (ahl al-kitab), their chaste womenfolk are lawful to marry, and their ritually-slaughtered meat may be eaten, then this in no way excludes them from being a category of disbelievers. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi wrote, citing al-Qaffal, that ‘although the ahl al-kitab have acquired the virtue in this world of [us] being able to marry their women and eat their slaughtered meat. Yet this does not set them apart from the idolators in matters of the Afterlife, in terms of rewards and chastisements.’13

To wrap up the discussion: The Qur’an insists that every prophet came with a core set of universal truths centred around Allah’s Oneness (tawhid). The Qur’an says: We have sent to every nation a Messenger [proclaiming]: ‘Worship Allah and shun false gods.’ [16:36] It is possible, therefore, for Buddhism and Hinduism to have been, in the ancient past, divinely-revealed. Yet it is equally true that the Qur’an insists of previously-revealed religions and their scriptures that they have long suffered alteration and corruption at the hands of men, and that whatever revealed truths were once present in them have long since been forgotten, changed, compromised or overshadowed by corrupted and idolatrous beliefs and practices. So while the world’s major faiths do show similarities with Islam, this does not prove their essential unity with it as they currently exist. For they haven’t only been altered, but have also been abrogated and superceded by what was revealed to the final Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This is why: He who seeks a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be among the losers. Now whether such an explanation is passionate or dispassionate, narrow and unecumenical, or born of a “madrasah mentality,” it is the unanimous belief of Islam’s eminent sages, jurists and theologians. It is, in other words, the Quranic truth.

That said, I think it befitting to close with these words from Shaykh Bin Bayyah, one of contemporary Islam’s most revered and learned jurists: ‘Of course, a devotional life in this world should be lived in peaceful co-existence with others.’14 O Allah! Bless us with iman and aman – with faith and security; and make us of benefit to Islam and to humanity, and not a harm or a hindrance to them. Amin.

1. Muslim, no.240.

2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1995), 2:162.

3. Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din (Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifah, 2004), 1:120.

4. Rawdat al-Talibin (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2003), 7:290. Its like is seen in  al-Buhuti, Kashshaf al-Qina‘ (Beirut: ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1983), 6:170.

5. Qadi ‘Iyad, al-Shifa’ (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 2002), 450.

6. Cf. al-Baghawi, Ma‘alim al-Tanzil (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2010), 1:57; Ibn al-Jawzi, Zad al-Masir (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 2002), 65.

7. Tafsir Qur’an al-‘Azim (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifah, 1986), 1:107.

8.  Majmu‘ Fatawa (Riyadh: Dar ‘Alam al-Kutub, 1991), 12:487-8. Also see the article on this blog: Takfir: Its Dangers & Rules.

9. Lings, The Eleventh Hour (Cambridge: Archetype, 2002), 28.

10. See: Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

11. Al-Ghazali, Faysal al-Tafriqah (Damascus: 1993), 84.

12. ibid., 25.

13. Al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1981), 11:151, on Qur’an 5:5.

14. Bin Bayyah, What of Those to Whom Islam Does Not Reach?

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30 thoughts on “A Perennial Problem: Is Islam the Only Valid Path to God?

  1. Anwar A on said:

    Masha’Allah very thoughtful and provokes more understanding.

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  2. Jazakallahu khayran for your comment. I’m glad you felt it helped provoke greater understanding. That was the intended aim.

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  3. السلام عليكم
    ماشاء الله
    Beautiful and very balanced explanation may Allah bless you and increase your contributions to the service of the deen. Looking forward to seeing more of such articles.
    آمين يا رب العالمين

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    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      May Allah grant you the likes of your du‘a for me. If there is any benefit and balance in my article, then I acknowledge such goodness is all from Allah. Its mistakes and shortcoming are, undeniably, entirely of my own doing and the devil’s prompting. May Allah grant us all tawfiq to serve the din and be in service to humanity.

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  4. Ma sha Allah, well written and sheds clarity on an oft confused topic in light of mainstream Sunni teachings. May Allah bless and reward you.

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  5. Martin Lings is not perrenialist, though his teachers are. there is a direct statement from him that deny belief of perrenialism, that he could never believe in any religion except Deen Al Islam. His seerah Nabi is a good one (better than the Saudi ones!). Gai Eaton wrote good books and is a great thinker, not to be dismissed.

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    • Undoubtedly, Martin Lings’ Sirah is a sheer labour of love, adab and beauty. Although not free of errors, it is, in the opinion of many, the finest exposition of the sirah thus far written in English.

      As for his Perennialism, if you have any public statement of his wherein he denounced his former belief, or a well-attested to private statement from him, then please do share it. I’m sure it’ll bring immense joy to a great many. But as far as I’m aware, and according to those I’ve spoken to (including some who have been initiated into the same Maryamiyya sufi order that Martin Lings was part of), he maintained his perennial beliefs to the very end.

      Here is an interesting link to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s tribute to Martin Lings. It mentions how Shaykh Hamza met Lings towards the very end of the latter’s life, and how Lings – even though firmly committed to the Islamic faith and its teachings – affirmed the validity of other religions even in this day and age. It is a beautifully written tribute, as well as very telling in the issue: Hamza Yusuf, “A Spiritual Giant in an Age of Dwarfed Terrestrial Aspirations,” Q-News, No. 363, June 2005/Jamad al-Ula 1426, 53-58.

      Finally, I’d like to stress that my article was less about personalities associated with Perennialism, and more about the actual belief and its ruling as per mainstream, orthodox Islam. And yes, I totally agree, Gai Eaton wrote marvellous works. And even though he, like his mentor Martin Lings, was not an ‘alim, I can’t think of a writer whose spiritual style and poetic penmanship has influenced me more in my writings than his. And for that I am truly indebted to him.

      May Allah have mercy upon the late Martin Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din) and Hasan le Gai Eaton. May Allah guide us all to the Straight Path and guide us in the Straight Path.

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  6. Andrew Booso on said:

    Salam

    I pray that you are well.

    Nice write up on PP, masha Allah.

    The question that is not addressed is what is the original ruling (hukm) upon perennialists – Muslim or non-Muslim, in principle and as a group (of course, individual cases may differ)?

    For instance, is a perennialist treated like a Qadiyiani, i.e. non-Muslim in principle (due to having a scriptural interpretation (ta’wil) which is not validly excused)? Or as Muslims who have not had the proof (hujja) of the religion’s essentials placed upon them (although this is hard to apply to the learned of them)?

    Regards

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    • Wa alaykum al-salam Andrew, wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu.

      I’m well, by Allah’s grace and kindness. I pray it’s the same for you. Thanks for the thumbs up on the article.

      As you’re no doubt aware, the belief that the Islam which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came with is the final “dispensation” of Islam, abrogating all previous other dispensations and “versions” of Islam, is a core tenet of the faith. In fact, it is one of those matters referred to as al-ma‘lum min al-din bi’l-darurah – “Necessarily known to be part of the religion.” This is the type of knowledge every Muslim mukallaf is reasonably expected to know and not be ignorant of. Denial of such a well-known and clear-cut tenet is kufr. For it is a denial of something considered to be decisive and clear-cut in the Qur’an, the well-established Sunnah, and the scholarly consensus (ijma‘). All this is the job of the theologian – to point out what beliefs are right or wrong, orthodox or heterodox, or heretical and to what degree of heresy.

      The rest is left to the qadi or mufti. The qadi must determine if the misinterpretation excuses the specific individual from apostasy or not. He must decide whether ‘udhr bi’l-jahl – “the excuse of ignorance” – applies in this case or not. He must decide if the implications of his false belief implies takfir of him or not. For these are matters related to shari‘ah rulings.

      From what I’ve seen, and from the few that I’ve asked, most scholars seem to not be keen in getting into specific charges on specific individuals. In fact, it seems to me that the caution and pious reserve exercised by such scholars is unfortunately absent from some of the lay people who are obsessively eager to express a final ruling. A case of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”?

      As for why Qadianis are, in principle, non-Muslims, while those Perennialsits who ascribe to Islam are/seem to be, in principle, deemed Muslims, I have asked one of my teachers about that and am awaiting his response.

      Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq wa’Llahu a‘lam.

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      • Salam. Requesting you to write in objective detail about the Qadiyanis and how should we approach them. Is their food halal for us? Can Muslim men marry their women, and vice versa? Asking because increasingly, in my country, the line is becoming blur. Muslims care little about their theology and marriages are happening between Muslims and Qadiyanis. Here the rhetoric of Ulama is more emotional than factual. Your reasoned writing would be an eye opener for many, inshaallah.

        Jazaakallaah Khair.

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        • Salams br Yusuf,

          May Allah guide us all to the paths of His good pleasure. I always felt that there was an abundance of articles and books written about Qadianis and the deviancies as to make things crystal clear. No doubt, some of the material is better than others. And sone of the material is written more factually and dispassionately than others.

          As for your request to me, I feel humbled that you feel that way about my work. I’m sure I’ll probably will get around to writing something about it one day. But given my other commitment and priorities, and given the wealth of material already written on the topic, that won’t be for the foreseeable future.

          If you do a more thorough search on the net, I’m confident you will find something that meets the standard that you, quite rightly, seek.

          Your brother,
          Surkheel Abu Aaliyah

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  7. F.Chishty on said:

    Your efforts are appreciated, but ultimately this a flawed analysis that fails to directly engage with the texts that advance a more universal and merciful dimensions of Islam by those termed under “perennial philosophy,” or consider those sources of wisdom that look to the depths of Islam’s theoretical gnostic annals, and its interpretations. Hence, your critique is invalidated on one level; and it is invalidated on another level since “perennial philosophy” is reduced and distorted to the straw-man argument of “validating all religious path” without appropriate or justified citation of sources, or consideration of the full expansive perspective perennial philosophy affords to what is considerd “religion” or the “sacred” (i.e. hierarchy of being and knowledge, transcendence and immanence, symbolism and sacred rites, etc.). Therefore, any one that has seriously read, or studied the intellectual and spiritual traditions of Islam beyond particular confines of geography or its theological thought, or ethical Sufism–which all have important and valid functions–or is acquainted with just history as well of intellectual streams in Islam that all have their niche in prophecy, or even is familiar with the intellectual trends of modernism–the socio-cultural milieu to which some of the perennialists were responding, hence that particular mode of expression and deployment of ideas– would quickly recognize the partial and subjective nature of your post (even if they do not subscribe to a perennialist perspective). Hence, you either preaching to your choir, or preying on the ignorance of some, who due to the cacophony of social media and anathematizing via theologically charged terms and rhetoric of late, regarding this subject, are prejudicially inhibited to envision Islam–a way of faith that has stretched from Morocco to the Malay Archipelago, manifesting itself in a variety ways–beyond the domain and range of those that arrogate the entirety of orthodoxy to themselves to the exclusion of other perspective that though assent to the creedal nodes of Oneness of God, the Finality of The Prophet Of Islam, and the Salvation through the means of Islam alone, and the like, yet have variant interpretations and applications, framed within a variant hermeneutical and metaphysical tradition, along with a variant mode of epistemology. Thus, if anything, this piece is a nice summary of a particular perception from a certain vantage point on the subject of what is imagined on the part of the author of what is perennial philosophy, and consequently also reveals its lack; but it also reveals a level of trepidation such a subject has generated, and emergent disinformation and misinformation, casting of aspersions and suspicion on a group of Muslims, who granted are a minority, even perhaps a minority of a minority in the Mansion of Islam, nonetheless uphold and establish the pillars of Islam, and Iman, and struggle with their souls via the means of Ihsan. Indeed, the Mansion of Islam is vast, and though one may live on one level of this Mansion, on cannot assume that it is the whole of the Mansion. But, if one does, that person cannot be blamed per se for that is all they have experienced and thus apportioned by God. Hence, from my understanding, Muslims of the “perennialist” perspective, are very understanding that they will be rejected by the majority–in other words your points are well taken and, really, expected (i.e. nothing new is presented that has not be said from other quarters in the past, or will be anticipated in the future when they will (re)cycle back on the main stage of popular mass Muslim consciousness); again, although the majority will reject them, they are understanding of their rejectors, and, however, accept their fellow Muslim rejectors as their fellow brethren, and hold no rancor, ill-will, or suspicion on the level of people or ideas. Hence, you will never see them compose “refutations” or seek theological determinations; and far as I can tell, they usually uphold the highest level of adab in life, discourse, and exchange. In closing, in addition to the above-mentioned creedal nodes that Muslims of a perennialist perspective uphold, they are deeply invested in practicing the outward and inward sunnah of the Prophet as a means of perfecting their Souls; and spiritually and experientially they are also interested in perfecting the ability to see One Truth and Reality, since that is in reality all there is–unless those amongst us believe there is more than One God, Reality and Truth–and vision of One, also goes for the Other–hence, to use a title of a book, they are even interested in perfecting their vision of “The Other In Light of the One.” Anyway, thank you, again, for writing this piece, and affording the opportunity to share these brief comments.

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    • M.Mahmud on said:

      Yeah I cant imagine the Sahaba RA talking like that or being gentle with a Perrenialist. They were busy keeping aqeeda simple and clear. “Muslims” of perrenialist faith…well thats just a bit funny sounding. Due to impediments of ignorance and tawil we refrain from labelling you folk kuffar but that doesn’t mean much in the long run it is just a fiqh issue of caution. If the King on yawn al Qiyaamah judges you and grants you no excuse then our forbearance of your ilk in this life will not have benefited you.

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    • Thank you for sharing your many comments and criticisms. I’m sorry you felt the article was flawed. Leaving aside that the article was never intended to be a full blown engagement with Perennialism, let alone a comprehensive rebuttal, I do wish to make the following three points:

      Firstly, No where did I state that Perennialism validated all religions. What I said about its metaphysics is clearly mentioned in Point 8. Please do reread it; it may not be such a straw man argument after all. And while it doesn’t flesh out the metaphysics in full glorious technicolour, it does I believe adequately sum it up for the purpose of this article.

      Secondly, having insisted on how I failed to engage directly with the various texts used by perennialists to show universality, it would have perhaps been been better for you to clarify what texts you had in mind, and to even have cited one or two.

      Finally, if by texts you imply the Qur’an, the Hadith, and/or classical Muslim scholarship, then I didn’t feel I needed to. I thought the few texts I cited were a fair representation of the issue as a whole – as per authoritative Muslim interpretative scholarship and hermeneutics. If, of course, you believe otherwise, it’s vital to cite your authorities to the contrary.

      Again, thank you for taking the time out for commenting, as well as affording me the opportunity to reply.

      Like

  8. Ameen Demidem on said:

    Assalamu Alaykum,

    Thanks for this insightful article! It actually answered quite a few questions I had.
    One question is still remains: what is it exactly meant by “excused” ?

    Thanks!

    Like

    • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

      The term “excuse” means that some non-Muslims will have an amnesty from the Hellfire for their disbelief, and so will be admitted into Paradise. This, of course, is predicated on them not genuinely hearing the message and not stubbornly turning away from its presentation, or only hearing it in a highly garbled form (as per al-Ghazali).

      Some Quranic commentators, like Ibn Kathir (explaining Qur’an 17:15), opine that such people will not have an amnesty as such, but will be given a “test.” This is based on certain hadiths that speak of those incapable of hearing the message (the deaf, the senile, the insane and the ahl al-fatarah – those who lived in period between prophets such that they missed the tail end of the former’s message and died before the coming of the next prophet) being tested by Allah. They will be told by Him to enter the Fire, whoever obeys and enters it, will find coolness and safety; whoever does not, will not.

      Like

      • As Salaamu alaykum Sheikh.

        May Allah reward you for this useful article.

        My empirical observation is that:

        1) Current media representation of muslim communities and societies is that we/they are riddled with nihilist violence, domestic abuse, discrimination, tribalism, tyranny, slavery , authoritarianism, arbitrary justice, corruption and general anarchy etc.

        2) Often, Muslim spokespeople reinforce (rather than undermine or mitigate) the above prejudices. For example, Shaykh Muhammad Nizami states ‘ The (muslim) ranting style that is becoming commonplace on national television not only undermines the political objectives of the faithful, but also contravenes the method of political and social interaction established by prophetic tradition.’…………’defenders are to exhibit a degree of judicious statesmanship and religious learning that might serve as some utility rather than enunciate self-patting rants that further entrench an already misinformed public.’

        On the basis of the above, is there any legitimacy to the view that this is an era where the message of Islam is ‘in a highly garbled form’ and your ‘average joe’ or ‘average Mo’ might very well have strong grounds to be excused for being ‘misinformed’ and ‘put off’?

        N.B. – I am seeking a more discerning sharia based input as to whether this view has any legs.

        JezakAllahu khayr!

        Like

        • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah. I think many, if not most, Muslims would share the perception of media distortions against the collective Muslim image (although some of our co-religionists out on the extreme fringes have, more often than not, been the relentless fuel for such portrayals). I also concur with with what you cite from Shaykh Nizami.

          Many scholars that I have spoken to throughout the past two decades or so have said that the public in the West have a very distorted image of the din – both for historic reasons, as well as for contemporary ones. That some have only heard of a garbled version of the faith is, to me, certainly beyond doubt. And if that is so, an amnesty is hoped for them.

          As for the shari’ah basis to such an amnesty, I do believe the proofs for it have been cited in the article.

          I also prefer not to spend too much time on the ins and outs of this issue. I believe greater time should be spent in reaching out to the wider non-Muslim public to show them (more through deeds than through words) the beauty and wisdom of the Islamic teachings. But one does not seek to look good in the eyes of others, without first seeking to look good in Allah’s eyes. Allah would put much light and beauty into our lives if we put Him first. The idea that one bends over backward to try and improve our image with others, without deepening our closeness to Allah, is probably more a product of hawa than it is hidayah.

          And Allah knows best.

          Like

  9. Nasiru Deen A. Jabbar on said:

    Very insightful and factual. May Allah give us clear understanding to his religion and be at peace with ourselves.

    Like

    • M Shazlee on said:

      Dear Abu Aaliyah,

      Al Salam u Alaikum,

      I enjoyed reading your well-researched article and it is clear that you have striven to be respectful and fair-minded towards the perennialists by distinguishing the individual perennialists from the doctrine they espouse. However, I also believe that, with the passage of time, when the memory of the perennialists’ personal reputations and personalities begins to fade, their writings will be assessed more objectively and on their own merits. At that time, I think it will be more and more difficult to maintain that any person whose core and governing belief of Perennialism is kufr can really be considered “learned” from an orthodox Islamic perspective or possess a “profound” spiritual understanding of Islam. For anyone who knows anything about Fritjof Schuon’s beliefs and life history- the man who is the “founding father” of the Perennialist school- the spiritual judgement and discernment of his devoted and long term followers is, to put it diplomatically, rather dubious.

      Like

      • M.Mahmud on said:

        May Allah rid the Ummah of them and Quranists in my lifetime.

        Like

      • May Allah rid the Ummah of them and Quranists

        Like

      • Wa alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullah.

        Forgive me for using such a poor and ambiguous turn of phrase. When I referred to them as being learned, I only meant it in the secular sense of learning. I didnt intend to imply, nor is it my belief, that they were or are from the ‘ulema or fuqaha.

        Again, their profoundness is in terms of how they articulated the right points about faith, its inner dimension, and the challenges posed to it by the encroachment of modernity.

        As for profound in terms of perennial beliefs, then kufr is deserving of scorn; not praise.

        May Allah reward you well for according me the opportunity to clarify what I meant. May Allah forgive me for my poor penmanship.

        Like

  10. Humanist on said:

    Why narrow that which Allah made wide?

    I find it interesting how you contradict the Quran verse [2:62] – which is very clear in its text and message – with what Imam Nawawi – May Allah be pleased with him – said [point 5]. Which one should I believe, Allah Almighty and His Word – the Quran -, or Imam Nawawi’s opinion?!

    In light of your hypothesis, how do you reconcile the following verses? As you may know, these verses were revealed in response to an event when one day some Muslims were with groups of Christians and Jews, whereby each group was boasting and stating why their religion was more superior to the others.

    [4:123] Paradise is not [obtained] by your wishful thinking [Oh Muslims] nor by that of the People of the Scripture. Whoever does a wrong will be recompensed for it, and he will not find besides Allah a protector or a helper.

    [4:124] And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged, [even as much as] the speck on a date seed.

    [4:125] And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to Allah while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And Allah took Abraham as an intimate friend.

    At the end of the day, God does not see us as Sunni, Shiite, Jew, or Christian. He will look in our hearts and at our deeds. Faith and actions are the ultimate criteria.

    Like

    • M Shazlee on said:

      The comment by Humanist is actually quite a representative example of the practical result of the perennialist approach and attitude. On the one hand they seem to believe themselves to be very scrupulous about “adab” and “orthodoxy”. However, in practice, they see no contradiction in placing their own opinions above and in direct contradiction with the actual paragons of Islamic orthodoxy such as Imam Nawawi!

      Actually, from the point of view of true adab, to brazenly state that that the opinion of an authority like Imam Nawawi “contradicts” the Quran in itself constitutes a serious accusation and lapse of adab for someone who is not the calibre of scholar who can even think about making such a statement.

      Also, to state that the explanation of one the greatest Imams of Ahl al Sunnah wal Jama’ah of a Quranic ayah is an “opinion” which contradicts the Quran is in effect to state that “my” opinion of what the ayah means is the right one. All things are possible, but no Perennialist author (and much less their followers or sympathetic readers) no matter what his reputation or celebrity in western academic circles, is in a position to dispute or contradict the pronouncements of the true Mujtahid Imams of the Ahl ul Sunnah wal Jama’ah.

      Another serious error and deficiency in perennialist thought is to subtly reduce the status of Sayyiduna RasoolALLAH Salla ALLAHu alayhi wa Sallam and the Din of Islam to be valid and effective only for certain territories and mentalities (this actually is a central and explicit doctrine of perennialism, which considers the currently existing “orthodox” religions as all being appropriate and “valid” for certain sectors of humanity and no one religion to be valid for all). This assumption is evident in the statement :”Why narrow that which ALLAH made wide?”

      Actually, such a question should be answered by the perennialists themselves: “why (and on whose authority) narrow the universality of the message of Sayyiduna RasoolALLAH, who was sent as a mercy to all the worlds and to all of humanity ?”

      ALLAH will most definitely look at the Faith in our hearts, and one of the essential elements of such Faith is full acceptance of Sayyiduna RasoolALLAH Salla ALLAHu alayhi wa Sallam and the Din he was entrusted to bring to all humanity.

      Like

      • Humanist on said:

        I did not know that I became a perennialist simply because of questioning the hypothesis of the article. In fact, I never knew that such a school of thought even existed, much less being a subscriber. So your stereotyping as expressed in the first paragraph is neither adab nor orthodoxy. I am neither a scholar of theology, nor I claim to be. However, Allah has endowed me with enough intellect to question, so why can’t I?!

        As to Imam Nawawi, Rasdia Allah Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him), I did not challenge his character or put my opinion above his. I simply asked someone to explain his opinion in light of the verses I indicated. However, we should remember that we all – including the giant Nawawi – are human and thus fallible.

        To answer your question as to “why (and on whose authority) narrow the universality of the message of Sayyiduna RasoolALLAH, who was sent as a mercy to all the worlds and to all of humanity?” I am not. It is precisely because of the message of Rasool-ul-Allah SAAWS that I find it in my heart to tolerate those who subscribe to other religions. We are not asked to judge people but to be a witness, so leave the judging to Him SWT. Let’s remember the following verses, which give and respect everyone’s right to freedom of worship:

        La ikraha fee alddeeni (2:256 THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith)
        Lakum deenukum waliya deeni (109:6 Unto you, your moral law, and unto me, mine !” )

        Waquli alhaqqu min rabbikum faman shaa falyumin waman shaa falyakfur inna aAAtadna lilththalimeena naran ahata bihim suradiquha wain yastagheethoo yughathoo bimain kaalmuhli yashwee alwujooha bisa alshsharabu wasaat murtafaqan – (18:29 And say: “The truth [has now come] from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.” Verily, for all who sin against themselves [by rejecting Our truth] We have readied a fire whose billowing folds will encompass them from all sides; and if they beg for water, they will be given water [hot] like molten lead, which will scald their faces: how dreadful a drink, and how evil a place to rest!)

        Like

        • M Shazlee on said:

          I am struggling to find either consistency or coherence in your postings.

          You first accuse Abu Aaliyah of contradicting the Quran by citing Imam Nawawi’s opinion and then claim all you were doing was asking for someone to explain his opinion to you?

          If you accuse someone of contradicting a Quranic verse (which you clearly did in your post) then you are indeed claiming that your opinion of what the Quranic verse means is more correct and superior to the interpretation of someone else who you claim contradicts (your opinion) of what the Quranic verse means.

          Abu Aaliyah has patiently explained to you that Imam Nawawi is in fact echoing the ijma’ position on this issue, but this vitally important point seems to have been totally ignored by you as you persist in your demeaning characterisation of the ijma’ authority as a “hypothesis” of Abu Aaliyah’s article.

          In reality, to even reach the status of someone who is qualified to have his own “opinion” on the Quran is not easy but I doubt whether you will understand or accept this point as your other comments place you squarely in the “hum rijaal wa nahnu rijaal” camp.

          By the way, the main issue being examined in the article was the Perennialist claim that religions other than Islam have current validity and not whether Muslims should “tolerate” or “judge” people who subscribe to other religions.

          Like

    • Thank you for taking the time out to comment, Humanist. I admire your desire to cast the net of salvation as far afield as possible. Undoubtedly, there is much narrow mindedness in today’s world and meanness of spirit. And yet I wonder if it’s a case of where the Arabs might proverbially say: nahnu fi wadi wa antum fi wadi – “We are in one valley and you are in another.”

      Allow me to explain (not intending to pit one part of the Qur’an against another):

      Firstly, you claim al-Nawawi’s words have been used to contradict the Qur’an 2:62. But you’ve chosen to overlook that al-Nawawi is just echoing a unanimous scholarly consensus (ijma‘) on the point. And consensus, as I’m sure you know, is a binding authority in both theology and law. A rich scholarly conversation over the various Quranic verses and hadiths that bear on this matter crystallised in a unanimous, univocal voice that all previous “versions” of Islam have now been superseded and abrogated by the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Being unaware of a consensus is one thing. Choosing to put one’s own opinion above it is another matter altogether.

      Secondly, putting aside the reason behind the revelation of Qur’an 4:123-25 (a classical scholarly difference exists over what people it refers to), you are right to insist that what ultimately counts is being a believer and doing good deeds: But as for those who believe and do good deeds, We shall cause them to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein perpetually. [4:122] Yet we cannot neglect what belief/faith (iman – to use the indigenous Quranic language) comprises. The Qur’an says: … but righteousness is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the Prophets. [2:177] To believe in “the Book” – the Quran – and to believe in “the Prophets” – including the final prophet Muhammad ﷺ – is all a conditional requirement of iman. Do Jews and Christians really fit that build?

      Thirdly, Surely those verses from 4:123-25 should be read along with what was revealed just eleven verses on: O you who believe! Believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book which He sent down to His Messenger, and the Book He revealed before. Whoever disbelieves in Allah and His angels and His Books and His Messengers and the Last Day, has gone far astray. [4:136] Do Jews and Christians actually believe in the Qur’an as being divinely-revealed to the Prophet? If not, how are they included among the people of iman?

      Fourthly, that is why the Prophet ﷺ said: “By Him in whose Hand is the life of Muhammad! Anyone from this nation, be they a Jew or a Christian, who hears of me and dies without believing in what I have come with, shall be among the inhabitants of Hell.”

      Fifthly, it was why the Prophet ﷺ sent letters inviting various rulers to Islam; to even Christian rulers! In his letter to the Christian Emperor of Byzantine, the Prophet ﷺ wrote: “I invite you to the Call of Islam. Submit [become Muslim] and be saved (aslim taslam).” [Al-Bukhari, no.7; Muslim, no.1773] Surely this prophetic act would be utterly redundant (and grossly repugnant) if – according to you – Christians were already Muslim believers?! He wrote a very similar letter to the the Christian Negus of Abyssinia (aslim taslam). I could go on, but I’m sure your understood my point.

      Sixthly, what about the verses that mention the actual disbelief of Christians, like: They have disbelieved who say: “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary.” [5:72] And: They have disbelieved those who say: “Allah is the third of three.” [5:73] How can they then b e believers?!

      Finally, what I’ve cited above is not my “hypothesis”; these aren’t matters that you and I can have suppositions and half-baked opinions about, and then throw it out as if they were the actual intent of God’s words. God forbid! Rather, this is a matter of consensus of the pious and godly souls who were deeply learned in Quranic knowledge and Prophetic teachings. With what scholarly authority do you insist otherwise? With what scriptural integrity do you claim to the contrary? Furthermore, you’ve failed to notice that 2:62 has a number of authoritative scholarly interpretations, but none of them being the one you insist on. Again, where is the scholarly precedence for such an interpretation?

      With that said, Humanist; I implore you as a fellow traveller seeking truth, to reexamine your mistaken convictions in the light of a more holistic reading of the texts.

      Your brother, and at your service,
      Surkheel Abu Aaliyah.

      Liked by 1 person

    • M.Mahmud on said:

      You find it interesting because you, Humanist, contradict the Quran unlike Abu Aaliyah, Imam an Nawawi and the rest of the Ummah.

      Now since you contradict the Quran(despite your delusions otherwise) and they don’t, you are clearly wrong and deviated.

      Evidence that you contradict the Quran is this=your kufri and batil view of 2:62 would mean that the Quran contradicts itself and that Rasulullah sallahualayhiwasalam didn’t speak the truth. It would also mean that all the Sahaba RA understood it wrong.

      So refrain contradicting the Quran, repent from that and say the Shahadah, it is better for you, Humanist. I love how you went totally silent when Abu Aaliyah ripped your Quran contradictory views to shreds(as any view contradictory to the Quran like yours is easily ripped to shreds. The Quran is right that you are wrong because the Quran is contradicting you and you are contradicting the Quran.)

      Like

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