Ad-Du‘a-wal-Istijabah & Tahrir fi Usulit Tafsir2
by Sayyid Ahmad Khan Sahib, K.C.S.I.
Translation of Persian verses:
O prisoner of your own intellect!
Be not too proud of yourself;
This wonderful celestial sphere
Has brought forth many like you.
One who is alienated from God
Can never find access to His court;
The secrets of the Beloved are revealed
Only to him who comes from heaven.
It is foolish to think that you can fathom
The secrets of the Quran on your own;
Whoever invents meanings from himself
Invents only filth and carrion.
In his booklet with the above heading, Sayyid Sahib has the following to say on the subject of the acceptance of prayer:
Prayer does not mean that whatever is prayed for will necessarily be granted, for if this be the meaning of acceptance of prayer, two difficulties would arise:
First, thousands of prayers are offered with great humility and in extreme anguish, and yet the wish is not granted. This means that the prayer has not been accepted despite the fact that God has promised the acceptance of prayers.
The second difficulty is that whatever is going to happen has already been determined; likewise that which is not going to happen has also been determined, and nothing can ever happen contrary to this determination. If the acceptance of prayer was taken to mean that whatever one asks for is granted, then the Divine promise:
will obviously not apply to the prayers which have been determined never to be granted. In view of this interpretation, the promise of the acceptance of prayer cannot be taken as a general promise, since only those requests will be granted which have already been decreed. And yet the promise of the acceptance of prayer is a general promise and admits of no exception. Moreover, as some verses of the Holy Quran indicate that things which have been decreed not to be granted are never granted, and at the same time it is evident from some other verses that no prayer is rejected and all are accepted — what is more, God Almighty has promised to accept all prayers, as indicated in the verse:
There can be no other way of reconciling this contradiction and inconsistency between the verses, other than to interpret the acceptance of prayer as the acceptance of worship, i.e., to consider prayer as a kind of worship which God Almighty has promised to accept when it is offered earnestly and with humility and submission. Thus the reality of the acceptance of prayer is that it is only a form of worship and it is merely on this account that it deserves merit. Of course, if the granting of something has already been determined and, perchance, a prayer is also offered for it, it will be granted — not because of the prayer, but only because it was predetermined. Nevertheless, a great benefit of prayer is that when one prays one’s heart is overawed by the Majesty and Omnipotence of God, and this feeling overcomes all the apprehensions which had been the source of distress, and the supplicant begins to experience forbearance and fortitude. This is a natural consequence of worship and this is what the acceptance of prayer means. Towards the end of his booklet Sayyid Sahib writes that those who are unaware of the reality of prayer and the wisdom inherent in it might object: What is the use of prayer when we know that nothing can happen that has not been predetermined? i.e., as we know that something which has been determined shall, in all circumstances, be granted — whether one prays for it or not — and that whatever has not been predetermined will not be granted — no matter how many prayers one offers for it; thus prayer turns out to be a futile exercise. In answer to this, Sayyid Sahib says that it is man’s nature to seek help when in distress, and it is due to this natural faculty that he prays without giving a thought to whether or not his prayer will be granted. He prays because it has been ingrained in his nature to seek everything from God. It is obvious from the discourse I have summarised above that Sayyid Sahib does not believe prayer to be the means of attaining an objective, nor does he believe it to be helpful in achieving any purpose. He believes that a person who prays for the sole purpose of attaining an objective is grossly mistaken, because something which has been predetermined does not need any prayers; and crying and beseeching is of no avail when something has not been preordained. It is quite clear from this discourse that Sayyid Sahib believes prayer to be related only to worship, and that he considers it a folly to think of it as a means for achieving any worldly objective. Let it be clear that Sayyid Sahib is seriously mistaken in his understanding of the verses of the Holy Quran. God willing, I shall elaborate on this misconception later on.
Here it pains me to point out that if Sayyid Sahib did not have enough understating to comprehend the verses of the Holy Quran, was also the law of nature hidden from his eyes when he wrote on this subject? How could he have ignored the law of nature while he professes to follow it and regards it as the interpreter of Divine guidance and of the hidden mysteries of the Holy Quran? Was Sayyid Sahib not aware that though there is nothing good or evil in the world which has not been preordained, nature has nevertheless appointed certain means for their occurrence, and no reasonable person will ever question the effectiveness of these means. For instance, if we were to take everything to have been predetermined, it would be as ineffectual to use or not to use medicine as it would be to pray or not to pray. But Sayyid Sahib would never say that medical science is utterly baseless, and that the True Physician has placed no effect in medicine? If Sayyid Sahib, in spite of his faith in the Divine Decree, also believes in the efficacy of medicine, then why is he creating mischief and why he is discriminating in the similar and parallel laws of God Almighty? Does he believe that God Almighty had the power to invest certain medicines such as Turbad, Scammony, Senna and Cottonseed with such powerful effects that one full dose of one of them immediately relieves diarrhoea; or, for instance, that God has endowed Arsenic, Beesh and other fatal poisons with such powerful effects that imbibing a pure extract of these is enough to dispatch a person from this world within minutes; and yet He treats as dead and ineffective the earnest and heartfelt supplications of His chosen ones as if they were without any effect whatsoever! Is it possible that there should be disharmony in the Divine order, and that the Will which God has manifested in medicines for the benefit of His creatures should fail to manifest itself in the case of prayers? This is definitely not so.
The fact is that Sayyid Sahib is himself unaware of the true philosophy of prayer and has no personal experience of its profound effects. He is like a person who uses an old, discarded and expired medicine for a long time, and then, finding it ineffective, declares the medicine to be without any effect. It is a pity that though Sayyid Sahib has reached old age, the system of Divine order has eluded him and he has failed to understand how Destiny and Predetermination has been closely linked to causes, nor does he understand the deep, indispensable and interdependent relationship between cause and effect. This is why he fell into the error of thinking that things can take place without the coming into play the physical and spiritual causes appointed by nature. Of course, there is nothing that has not been Preordained, and all the things that man makes use of, such as fire, water, air, soil, corn, vegetables, animals and minerals, have been ordained for him; nevertheless, if some fool were to imagine that anything can be gained without all the means that God has appointed for the purpose, and without proceeding in the way that has been determined by nature, and without the mediation of physical or spiritual means, such a person seeks only to falsify the wisdom of God Almighty. The only meaning I can give to Sayyid Sahib’s words is that he does not regard prayer to be one of those effective causes whose existence he has proclaimed to the point of exaggeration. For instance, if the properties of fire are mentioned before Sayyid Sahib, he will never deny them and will never say that if burning has been preordained for someone he will burn even without the medium of fire. I am, therefore, surprised that despite being a Muslim he denies the effectiveness of prayer which at times lights up the darkness like fire and sometimes burns the hand of an impertinent foe. Does Sayyid Sahib only think of Predestination when it comes to prayer and forget it when fire and other elements are mentioned? Is it not the same Predetermination that affects both? Although Sayyid Sahib believes in Predetermination, he at the same time vehemently believes in the physical means, and his exaggeration in this regard has even earned him a bad name, why then does he forget the system of nature which he himself professes when it comes to prayer? He considers a fly to have some effect, but he does not believe the same about prayer. The truth is that he is completely unacquainted with this realm. He has neither personal experience in this field, nor kept the company of those who have had such experiences.
Now, for the benefit of the general public, I will briefly set out the facts about the acceptance of prayer. Let it be clear that this subject is part of the larger subject of prayer, and it is a matter of principle that one who is not conversant with the fundamentals of a subject is bound to be mistaken and deceived in understanding its branches. This is why Sayyid Sahib has also been mistaken. Prayer, in essence, means a relationship of mutual attraction between a righteous person and his Lord. This means that God’s grace first draws a person towards Himself, and then, through the magnetism of the person’s sincerity, God draws closer to him. In the state of prayer this relationship reaches a point where it manifests wonderful qualities. When a man in grave difficulty falls down in prayer with perfect certainty, perfect hope, perfect fidelity, and perfect resolve; and when he becomes perfectly alert and advances far into the field of self-annihilation, tearing aside all veils of heedlessness, lo and behold, he finds before him the Divine threshold, and he perceives that God has no associate. His soul then prostrates itself at the Divine threshold and the power of attraction that is invested in him draws the bounties of God Almighty towards him. It is then that the Glorious God attends to the fulfilment of the desired objective, and casts the effect of the prayer on all the preliminary means, which, in turn, produce the means that are essential for the achievement of the objective. For example, if the prayer is for rain and it is accepted, all the natural means which are necessary for causing rain are created as a result of the prayer. If the prayer is for famine, the All-Powerful One creates the opposite means. And this is why the eminent recipients of revelation and men of perfection have proven with their extraordinary experiences that the prayers of a perfect one are endowed with a power of creation. That is to say, under Divine command, prayer influences the lower and higher strata of the world and sways the elements, heavenly bodies, and hearts of men towards the desired objective. There is no shortage of such examples in Divine scriptures. In fact, some kinds of miracles are also the result of the acceptance of prayer. Prayer is the source of the thousands of miracles shown by Prophets as well as the marvels that have been displayed by the saints to this day. And, more often than not, it is through prayers that the supernatural signs of Divine Omnipotence are manifested.
Have you any notion what was the strange event that occurred in the wasteland of Arabia when hundreds of thousands of the dead were revived within a few days, and those who had been misguided through generations exhibited Divine complexion, and those who were blind began to see, and those who had been dumb began to utter words of Divine wisdom, and the world underwent a revolution which no eye had seen before and no ear had heard of. Do you know how all this came about? It was the supplications during dark nights of one who had lost himself in God which caused a revolution in the world, and showed such wonders as could never have been expected from that Unlettered and Helpless one [the Holy Prophet(sa)].
I too have observed from personal experience that the effect of prayers far excels that of water and fire. In fact, nothing in the chain of natural causes is as gloriously potent as prayer.
If someone is in doubt because some prayers are not accepted and are apparently ineffectual, I would say that the same is also true of medicines. Have medicines closed the door of death, or is it impossible for them to fail in their purpose? And yet can anyone deny their effect? It is true that Predestination comprehends everything, but it has neither rendered the sciences useless nor has it shown the means to be unreliable. If you reflect deeply enough, you will see that the physical and spiritual means are not outside the sphere of Predestination. For instance, if a sick person’s destiny is favourable, all the means for the proper remedy become available and his physical condition happens to be such that it is ready to derive full benefit from the remedy, and the medicine also finds its mark accurately. The same principle applies to prayer. All the means and conditions for the acceptance of a prayer only become available when God wills to accept it. God Almighty has bound both the physical and spiritual orders in the same chain of cause and effect. Thus, it is a gross mistake on the part of Sayyid Sahib to accept the physical order and to deny the spiritual one.
I deem it necessary to add that if Sayyid Sahib does not repent of his erroneous assumptions and insists on being given proof of the acceptance of prayers, then let him know that I have been commissioned to dispel such misconceptions and I promise to inform him of the acceptance of some of my prayers beforehand, and I will even go so far as to publish them. But Sayyid Sahib too should affirm that he will give up his false ideas when it has been proved that I am true in my claim.
Sayyid Sahib asks, why is it that all prayers are not accepted when, according to him, God Almighty in the Holy Quran has promised the acceptance of all prayers? Sayyid Sahib is in fact grossly mistaken in this regard. The verse:
cannot help his purpose, because here the prayer which man has been ordered to observe is not the ordinary supplication, rather it refers to worship which has been made obligatory on man. The imperative mood here signifies an obligation, while it is obvious that all prayers are not obligatory, since in some instances Allah has praised those who practice patience and forbearance and commit themselves entirely to Him. The main argument in this regard is that God does not only make this prayer obligatory but, pronouncing it as ‘worship’, warns of the punishment of hell in case of disobedience. It is obvious that such a warning does not accompany the other forms of prayer. Sometimes even Prophets(as) have been admonished for praying. The following verse, for example, testifies to this:
It is obvious that if every prayer was worship, then why should Noah(as) have been reprimanded with the words [Ask not of Me!]. There are times when saints and Prophets(as) consider it disrespectful to pray for a certain thing. At such times, the sages have acted upon the dictates of their hearts; which means that when they were confronted with a trial they would pray if their heart’s dictate was to pray, but if it called for endurance they would endure and refrain from prayer. Besides, God Almighty has never promised to accept all prayers, but has said clearly that He will accept or reject prayers as He desires. The following verse clearly states this point:
(Surah Al-An‘am, Part VII)
Even if we condescend to accept that in this context the word ‘Pray’ refers to prayer in general, we will have to affirm that the prayer referred to here is that which complies with all the necessary conditions; and we know that it is not in the power of man to meet all these conditions by himself unless he is helped by God. One should also remember that humility and anguish alone is not enough for prayer to be accepted, for it also requires righteousness, purity, truthfulness, perfect certainty, perfect love and perfect attention. Moreover, it is also essential that the object prayed for should not be opposed to the Divine scheme of things and should not be against the welfare of the supplicant, or the one on whose behalf he prays, both in this world and the hereafter. It often happens that although all other conditions have been fulfilled, the object prayed for happens to be against the Divine scheme of things with regard to the supplicant, and no good can come of granting such a prayer. For example, if a dear child of a mother should cry and beg her to hand it a burning brand or a snake, or to feed it a poison which seems agreeable, the mother would never fulfil such a wish. Were she to do so, and even if the child were to escape with its life and were to lose one of its limbs, it would certainly grow up with a strong grievance against the foolish mother.
There are, in addition, many other conditions in the absence of which a prayer is not worth its name. So long as a prayer is not inspired by full spirituality and a close connection is not established between the supplicant and the person on whose behalf the supplication is made, there is little hope that such a prayer will be accepted. Unless there is a Divine will to accept the prayer all these conditions remain unfulfilled and the faculties remain devoid of complete attention.
Sayyid Sahib also accepts that the good fortune, the bounties, the delights and comforts of the hereafter, which constitute salvation, are the result of faith and sincere prayers. This being so, Sayyid Sahib is left with no alternative but to acknowledge that the prayers of a believer do have an effect and do become the means of dispelling calamities and of the achievement of objectives. If this were not so how would prayer be of any help on the Day of Judgement? Think and reflect carefully, if prayer is indeed a vain thing and cannot be a means for the removal of any calamity in present life, then how will it become the means for doing the same on the Day of Resurrection? It is only too clear that if our prayers truly possess the quality of safeguarding us against calamities, then this quality should manifest itself in this world also, so that our faith and our hope may be strengthened and we may pray even more earnestly for our salvation in the hereafter. But if prayer amounts to nothing and that which has been predestined is bound to happen, then just as prayer is useless for the tribulations of this world — according to Sayyid Sahib — it should also be useless to pin any hopes on it in the hereafter.
I do not wish to elaborate upon this subject, because all fair-minded readers who study my exposition carefully will understand that I have given sufficient evidence to prove how completely Sayyid Sahib is mistaken in his belief. If Sayyid Sahib still does not abandon his obstinacy, I will give him an alternative which will take the matter to its conclusion. If he is a true seeker after truth, he will surely not back away.
Sayyid Sahib’s other book, Tahrir fi Usulit Tafsir9 stands in complete contrast to the first. It would seem that Sayyid Sahib had written these books in a delirium. In his book which deals with the acceptance of prayers, Sayyid Sahib gives precedence to Taqdir [Predestination] and considers natural means to be useless, and it is on this ground that he goes on to deny that prayers are ever accepted, whereas the fact is that prayer is one of the natural means about which more than one hundred thousand Prophets and tens of millions of saints have given their testimonies.10 What else did the Prophets possess, but prayer!
In this second book, Sayyid Sahib does not seem to consider Predetermination to be of any importance for he describes everything as having a permanent existence, as though all things have slipped away from the Hand of God and He now exercises no control over their transformation or alteration, as if His divinity is confined to a narrow sphere and the manifestation of His power is something that belongs to the past, and the state in which we find things is not due to His Determination — for the concept of Determination requires the control of the Lord of Destiny — but is an innate quality of the things themselves which cannot be changed or transformed. Obviously, characteristics over which God Almighty has no control cannot be called His Destiny. On the other hand, if He does have control over them, there will always be the possibility of alteration. Thus in the second booklet Sayyid Sahib has done away with the governance of the True Lord of Destiny over all things to the extent that in respect of their inherent qualities he considers them to be no longer under the will of the Lord of Destiny. It is like Section 5 of the Act regarding the tenants, in which the British have upheld the rights of hereditary tenants to such a degree that the landlord will no longer have any authority over them. Sayyid Sahib considers all things, for instance fire, to be hereditary tenants of the same category. Sayyid Sahib’s law is, in fact, even more severe than that of the British, because in Section 5 there is a clause which allows for the expulsion of a hereditary tenant if he does not pay his dues for the period of one year, even if it amounts to two annas; but Sayyid Sahib has usurped the rights of the Owner in every respect. One can hardly conceive of greater injustice!
Continue to Part 2…
1 In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
We praise Allah and invoke His blessings upon His noble Prophet(sa). [Publishers]
2 ‘Prayer and its Acceptance’ and ‘On the Principles of Commentary of the Holy Quran.’ [Publishers]
3 Pray unto Me; I will answer your prayer. — Al-Mu’min, 40:61 [Publishers]
5 Send down Thy blessings and peace, O Allah, on him and his people according to the amount of pain and anguish he felt for his umma, and pour down upon him the light of Thy mercy forever. [Publishers]
6 Pray unto Me; I will answer your prayer. — Al-Mu’min, 40:61 [Publishers]
7 I advise thee lest thou become one of the ignorant. — Hud, 11:47 [Publishers]
8 Nay, but on Him alone will you call; then will He remove that which you call on Him to remove, if He please. — Al-An‘am, 6:42 [Publishers]
9 On the Principles of Commentary of the Holy Quran. [Publishers]
10 For the benefit of the reader, I wish to reproduce the text and translation of what Qutub-e-Rabbani and Ghauth-e-Subhani (Qutub-e-Rabbani and Ghauth-e-Subhani are titles signifying the spiritual status of Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jilani(ra). [Publishers]) Sayyid Abdul Qadir Jilani(ra) has written in his book Futuhul Ghaib, regarding the effect of the prayers and attention of the perfect men of God, based upon his own personal experiences. The meaning of the following excerpt is that the only testimony recognized in any field is that of a person who is well experienced in that particular field. Thus, only the person who enjoys a relationship of true sincerity and love with God can truly understand the philosophy of the acceptance of prayer. Therefore, to enquire about this holy philosophy from Sayyid Ahmad Khan Sahib is like seeking the remedy of a human illness from a veterinary surgeon. If Sayyid Sahib were to expound the relationship between a worldly government and its subjects, he would no doubt be qualified to do so; but Godly affairs are known only to godly persons. The excerpt is as follows:
That is to say, if you desire to become an accepted one of God, then believe with utmost certainty and understand that your hands, your feet, your tongue, your eyes, and your whole being, and all its organs, are like idols in your way, and all other creation is similarly an idol barring your path. Your children, your wife, the worldly objectives you wish to achieve, worldly riches, worldly honour and prestige, every worldly hope and fear, your reliance or trust in anyone or anything, your fear of being harmed by anyone, all these are idols in your way. So do not become subservient to any of these idols, and do not lose your way in pursuit of them. That is, have recourse to them within the bounds of the shariah and the way of the righteous. If you succeed in this you will become [precious as] the red brimstone and your status will be raised beyond people’s imagination, and God shall make you heir to His Prophets and Messengers(as), which means that all their knowledge, wisdom and blessings, which had disappeared into obscurity and oblivion, will be granted afresh to you, and you will reach the highest level of sainthood, and none after you shall be able to rise higher. Your prayers, your fortified resolve, and your blessings will relieve people of their anguish; the famine-stricken will be granted rain and crops will grow; the affliction and anguish of every low and high, and even the troubles of kings shall be alleviated through your attention and prayers; the Hand of Providence shall be with you, whichever direction it takes you will be guided in the same way; the Eternal Voice will beckon you to itself, which means that whatever flows from your tongue will be from God and it will be blessed; and you will be made a successor to all the righteous servants of Allah who were granted knowledge before you; a kind of power of creation will be bestowed on you, i.e., your attention and your prayer will exercise control in the world; if you then wish to turn the existing into non-existing, and vice versa, it will come to pass; extraordinary and miraculous things will take place at your hand; Divine secrets shall be revealed to you and you shall be given understanding of subtle and profound matters of Divine knowledge, of which you are considered to be worthy and deserving. [Author]