Contention 38

“If you have not seen the saint, you have not seen the Sunna.”

Commentary:

Most believers are superstitious. These are the ones who hang a miniature Fatiha from their rear-view mirror, before cursing their way through the traffic. They live their lives in the same fashion, seldom reflecting. The gears of their minds are not engaged with religion; they are conformists, the fog of their inner lives punctuated very occasionally by feelings of guilt or fear.

An intense believer can also be superstitious. Islam is ‘aql and naql, intelligence as well as scripture. Some half-Muslims believe that the latter’s completeness makes reason suspect or unnecessary. This imbalance has persevered intermittently since the age of the Kharijites, who annoyed even the Sahaba with their mindless ad merciless externalism. Such people insist on every jot and tittle of the Law; but without deep understanding. The result is always disaster, like the man who rides a bicycle claiming that one pedal is enough.

The ‘saint’ (this being the uncomfortable but conventional translation of wali) is the opposite of this. For him (or her), religion is not superstition but knowledge. Iman is a secure vision of how things are, not the repetition of the need for boundaries driven by insecurity or convention. The Muslim who follows the Sunna out of unreason, or resentment, or protest, or despair, or because he cannot discover what else he wishes to be, is an engine of tanfir, driving humanity away from Islam by turning it into a language for proclaiming his inward traumas. But the Muslim who follows the Sunna out of love for the Chosen One ﷺ, intuiting its beauty and wisdom, is its most unarguable proof.

(Source: Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions, Contention No. 38, Pgs. 66-67)

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