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"And that you should keep your course
religion uprightly (as a hanif); and you should not be of the
This verse is addressed directly to the Prophet (s.a) and indirectly to us. On the surface it is asking the Prophet to be upright in his religion, and to not be one of the mushriks - one of those who associate gods with God. But, in verse 104, the Prophet's worship was distinguished and raised in purity above the worship of all mankind - so it is likely that this verse refers to something more than simply not being a polytheist?
The Arabic for the word that is generally translated as "upright" is "hanif". Hanif in general usage refers to those people who, in pre-Islamic times, maintained monotheistic beliefs when the society around them had slipped into polytheism. They followed the true nature and disposition given to mankind, which points to a belief in One God. Sura 30:29 says: "So direct your countenance to religion as a hanif, in accordance with the predisposition God has given man. Allah's creation can not be altered. This is the true religion."
Throughout the Qur'an, mention of Ibrahim(a.s.) is
with the term hanif. Sura 3:67 says: "Ibrahim
was neither a Jew nor a
Christian, but a 'Hanif', a Muslim, one who is not among the
And here in verse 10:105 our Prophet is referred to as hanif in the context of a verse that immediately follows a declaration of the extraordinary purity of the Prophet's worship of Allah. It has already (in verse 104) been made clear that the Prophet is free of the various types of shirk that the rest of us fall into - whether that shirk is a major or minor shirk. There are many levels and forms of shirk and most of us are not free from some form of it, however mild that form may be. But here, the one who is the seal of the prophets, the bearer of the final revelation, the declarer of the absolute, unbreachable unity of God - this man is told by God to be hanif.
So what is it that may distinguish a hanif
from other believers in God?
Hanif is a term that the qur'an uses as an elevating, distinguishing term for Prophet Ibrahim. In the instances that Ibrahim is called hanif, the surrounding verses provide clues to the uniqueness of one who is hanif. For example in sura 6:74-79, the qur'an says:
showed Ibrahim the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he
might be of those who are sure.
So when the night over-shadowed him, he saw a star; said he: Is this my Lord? So when it set, he said: I do not love the setting ones. Then when he saw the moon rising, he said: Is this my Lord?
So when it set, he said: If my Lord had not guided me I should certainly be of the erring people.Then when he saw the sun rising, he said: Is this my Lord? Is this the greatest?
So when it set,
he said: O my people! surely I am
clear of what
you set up (with Allah). Surely I have turned myself, being hanif,
Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not of the
polytheists." (see "On
seeing beyond forms")
These verses describe the spiritual vision and
state of certainty
granted to Ibrahim as a gift from Allah in which a series of
perceptions occur that take Ibrahim beyond all the forms of this world
to an encounter with the Divine Light.
Only after Prophet Ibrahim has been granted this revelatory experience does the verse go on to say: "Surely I am hanif, and have turned myself wholly to Him Who originated the heavens and the earth, and I am not one of those who commit shirk (polytheism)."
He has not turned away completely from shirk until he has journeyed through all the illusory veils and reached a vision of the Source. He is hanif when he has done this because his own true inner nature has awoken and he is able to perceive things as they truly are (their inner reality). "He has visited his own inner planets" (his own inner moon, stars, and sun) "...ascending in this way from heaven to heaven towards the summit..." of his own true nature and disposition...his hanif nature "...until the infinity of God is revealed to him." (Henry Corbin).
Elsewhere in the qur'an, the title of hanif is accorded to Prophet Ibrahim and immediately following this the qur'an has him make the declaration of absolute surrender and tauhid: "My prayer and my sacrifice, my life and death are only for Allah, the Lord of all the worlds...." (6:162)
A hanif is the one who through personal realization, through an inner awakening, places aside all forms of association (of shirk) and arrives at a pure tauhid and a total and absolute surrender - one based on experience and true knowledge, not on imitation and blind following.
Many follow religion as a formula, a series of
have been handed down to them and which are followed without full depth
understanding. There is a comfort (and a benefit) in performing rituals
but the goal of
ritual is not the ritual itself.
The ceremonies and rituals are symbols, they are indicators, or shadows of greater realities, they are an invitation to embark on the road to discovery of these greater realities - to experience of and verification of these realities - to actual personal knowledge of them. This is why the verse says that the way, the direction, the correct course to the religion (to the din) is through the disposition God has given us - to approach it as a hanif. And it is this approach that will keep us safe from shirk - that will elevate us above all forms of shirk - both apparent and concealed - as it did for Prophet Ibrahim and for others who followed the way of tauhid before the time of our Prophet.
A hanif is one who verifies - so no matter what society or time he lives in, he arrives at the truth through awakening and cultivating the nature that God has placed within him - so the hanif does not deviate when society deviates - he does not follow where society leads - he is not drawn this way and that by the trends and fashions in thought and religion, nor does he bend to the inclination of the times in which he lives, but cleaves to the truth that he knows with certainty (through verification, not guesswork) - the truths learned by means of the internal journey upon which he has embarked.
If you are hungry, you won't be satisfied with a photograph or someone else's description of food - your internal nature and need will drive you to seek out real food, to taste it, experience it, and gain satisfaction and nourishment from it. A hanif is one who is not satisfied with the shadow of religion, the exterior of it, the mere description of it - he is hungry for true religion, and so seeks out the reality which casts the shadow, and beyond that, the Light before which all things are insubstantial shadows.
"Islam’s outlook on the world is religious, and in a religious outlook the physical world is but a part of reality – the other part being beyond the physical realm and in the metaphysical realm. The physical and metaphysical domains are variously referred to in religious terminology as “earth” (the present world) and “heaven” (the hereafter); “visible” (shahādah) and “unseen” (ghayb); mulk (the corporeal world or “kingdom”) and malakūt (the spiritual world or “dominion”).
In the ontology of religion, the physical is not disconnected and divorced from the metaphysical; nor are the two situated on one level – in a “horizontal” relation, so to speak. They are rather, part of a single hierarchy, which integrally connects them in a “vertical” manner; such that the physical world falls under the dominion of the metaphysical, and the spiritual (malakūt) dominates the corporeal (mulk). Hence, the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical is essentially of a different order than the relationship between physical objects themselves.
The metaphysical comprehends the physical in such a way that the latter comes to be known as lower and outward, or manifest, while the former is higher and inward, or immanifest.
The relation between the manifest and the immanifest is not of the order of two things on the horizontal plane. It is, rather, a transcendental relation, which when compared to normal worldly relationships, appears mysterious and quite incredible.
The metaphysical realm is the inward, unseen and higher level of the physical realm itself, and due to the type of relationship that it has with physical objects, it “colours” them, giving them the appropriate quality. It is for this very same reason that the religious perspective does not see the natural physical world as a homogenous and uniform multiplicity. Rather, each and every part of the physical world – in line with the type of relation it has with the metaphysical and unseen realm – assumes a metaphysical aspect.
The relation between the physical and meta-physical is similar to the one between the words of a script and their meanings. From the physical point of view, words are nothing but sounds and things that are interrelated only horizontally. But every word that is uttered or written conveys a particular message due to the relation and connection that it has with its meaning. In this way, every word – with a view to its meaning – acquires particularities that it would not otherwise have had without its semantic (ma’nawī) relation. Needless to say, the relation between words and meanings is an arbitrary one, in that it is established by cultural context and the exercise of human freewill.
(quoted from Shuja Mirza's translation of "Existence
the Fall" by Hamid
The connection between the physical and metaphysical worlds on the other hand, is real, pertaining to the order of existence.
Words and expressions, set in various cultures, are accompanied by differing meanings and messages. These meanings, in those very same settings, have real and tangible effects – both individual and social. Some words cause pleasure and elation, while others, result in anger and distemper. From the religious perspective, every part of the natural world, depending on the type of relation and connection it has with the metaphysical – and hence its own inner or unseen aspect – is subject to particularities and categorizations of its own and peculiar to itself."
Anyone who reads the Qur'an is likely to be struck by the unique
nature of its construction, its unusual and constantly shifting rhythms
and the sudden transmutations and displacements in its subject matter.
At first this ever changing literary terrain seems an obstacle to
understanding, but the more time one spends with this book, the more
organic, the more natural the flow of its words feel. It is almost
like flying over an ever-changing landscape - rolling valleys
punctuated by jagged rocks, forests and plains giving way to upthrust
mountains, high plateaus broken by deep lakes, deserts sprinkled
with oasis' and cleft by canyons. Despite the variety of the forms,
despite the startling contrast of adjacent features, a complex organic
beauty underlies and unites all the various elements. These "tafsirs"
emerged from numerous brief scattered notes made while reading the
qur'an (along with numerous commentaries and the works of various
scholars whose profound analyses strongly effected my views) and
reflecting on its content. As well, for a number of years
I have participated in a hallakha, a qur'anic study circle, and many of
tafsirs presented here were originally researched for presentation at