And with Him are the keys of the unseen….

“And with Him are the keys of the unseen.” (Qur’an 6:59)

The use of unseen in the Qur’an includes vast domains of hidden reality, of worlds beyond the limits of our knowledge, of existences and creations outside the boundaries of our perception, of whole vast realms that are concealed and demarcated so as to deny us awareness and access to them while we are in this corporeal domain.

Yet it also refers to what is locked up within us, sitting patiently inside, waiting for us to do what is necessary to be able to witness it, acknowledge it, and benefit from it. It is that which is part of our metaphysical nature, a range of subtle and hidden potentials. There is a whole unseen universe internal to us of which we are unaware, from which we are blocked by the heaviness of our outlook, and our overwhelming immersion in the mundane world of matter and the suffocating and disturbing views disseminated by a modern humanity that thrives on rejection of connection to what is unseen (or outright denial of the unseen) and therefore to all that lies beyond the limits of the mundane.

Perhaps we have some faint level of awareness of this or perhaps a crisis of the moment, personal to us, or on the stage of the world awakens us to the reality of the dangers of the systems that have taken hold of society and of us. But when a crisis arises, what direction do we take our response? Is it only a worldly response or does it lead us to a deeper response, a deeper seeking from which a stronger, comprehensive rejoinder within ourselves and within the world, arises.

“Soon shall We show them Our Signs on the horizons and within their own inner being (within the depths of their own souls) until it becomes clear to them that it is the Truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is a witness over everything.” (Qur’an 41:53)

It is the inner state, and a deep caring about our inner state that allows us to slowly turn the key. “Or are there locks upon their hearts….” (Qur’an 47:24). The keys to an unseen knowledge within us are with Him and He allows unlocking it as He Wills for whom He Wills. But there is a method to this unlocking, this opening of the treasures He has placed within us.

“Through hearts He unlocks guidance; through concern, through care, through (what proceeds from) tongues, through (truthful) narratives; and through limbs (and what they do), through (beautiful) conduct, and an indication (of truthfulness and deep devotion).” (Jafar Sadiq (a.s) commenting on the verse “And with Him are the keys of the unseen”)

Our dwelling in this world is temporary and our return to the One is assured. So our concern, in the matter of our selves and in the matters of the world, should be infused with awareness of that return and with cognizance that we will be asked about all that proceeded from us and all that is within us.

Our care should be turned towards awareness of the gravity of the consequences that can emerge from our thoughts, words, and actions, since they all have reverberations, not only in affecting our internal states but also in affecting all that we outwardly interact with. Our inner state will guide our outward state. So we seek protection of our hearts, through Him, from turning towards concerns, cares, and actions, that are not suited to the dignity and beauty of the Truth. For that would be like breaking the key (given freely to us) within the lock so that we bar our own way to opening that which He has shown us the way to open.

“Is the one who was lifeless, whom we then enlivened, and to whom We gave a light whereby they walk (in truthfulness) among humanity, like those who have shrouded themselves in the darkness of profound wrongdoing (from which they refuse to emerge). And so We have placed in every society the most wicked to conspire in it. Yet they only plot against themselves, but they utterly fail to perceive it” (Qur’an 6:122-123)

We are lifeless when we refuse to even begin to approach and open the locks that guard and protect what is most deeply human (insan) within our hearts, that part of us connected to something profoundly elevated beyond this mundane existence. We are enlivened when we turn the key and open the locks and begin to transform our inner selves. Our selves transcend this world even as we dwell in it. We have a connection to higher realms, to a sublime domain in which our spiritual state manifests and registers its traces even while that inner state is hidden, unseen within us in this lower existence.

The keys are with Him, and He gives them to those who not only seek His guidance but who incorporate that guidance through their concern, care, love for the truth, through what passes in their thoughts, through what passes over their tongues, through striving to establish a firm and deep beauty within themselves and a beautiful but firm and sincere conduct outwardly. A sincere conviction and conduct that arises from a true attachment to that which is higher than this world and all-encompassing of this world. And a determination to turn the key that opens forever the obstructive locks upon our hearts so that we remove the cause of our own oppression and become uplifters of humanity.

“They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Qur’an 3:104)

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Your soul is sufficient as a reckoning…

Extract from The Wisdom of The Throne (Mulla Sadra)


He – May He be exalted – said:

“And We bring forth for them on the Day of the Rising a Book that they find opened wide. Read your Book! Today your soul is sufficient as a reckoning against you” (Qur’an, 17:13-14). And He – May He be exalted! – said: “And when the Pages are opened wide” (Qur’an, 81:10).

Know that everything a person does with their soul or perceives with their senses leaves a certain trace in their essence. These influences of their (psychic) movements and activities are gathered together in the “Page” of their soul and the treasury of their perceptions. And they are a “Book” which today is closed up and hidden from the scrutiny of (physical) vision. But with death, there will be revealed to them what was hidden from their vision in the condition of (bodily) life, recorded in the Book “which none shall disclose at its proper time but He” (Qur’an, 7: 187).…

“So everyone who has done even an atom’s weight of good or evil will see” (Qur’an, 99:7-8) its trace written on the Page of their essence or on a Page higher than that: this is simply another expression for the opening of the Pages [of their soul, their life] and the unfolding of the Books. Thus. whenever the time comes that a person’s (inner) vision is turned toward the countenance of their essential self, “when the veil is removed” (Qur’an, 50:22) “and the dark covering over their vision” (Qur’an, 2:7) is lifted away, then they will turn their attention towards the Page of their inner being and the Book of their soul.

Then whoever was heedless of their essential self and the accounting of their good and bad deeds will say:

“What sort of Book is this, that leaves no little thing nor any great thing uncounted?!”

And they find whatever they did (no matter how small) present there; and “your Lord deals unjustly with no one” (Qur’an, 18:48). This is because the modality of being of the other world is one that is (essentially) perceptive and alive; everyone there is “keen of sight,” in accordance with His saying: “You were heedless of this. But We have removed your veil, and Today your vision is sharp” (Qur’an, 50:22).

Then whoever is [counted] among the people of blessedness and “the people of the right hand” (Qur’an, 56:27)“they will be given their Book in their right hand” (Qur’an, 69:19; 84:7), from the direction of the “Highest Heavens” (‘Illiyun), because the things which they know [and which they did] are exalted, lofty, universal matters. (This is) just as He said: “Surely the Book of the pious is in the Highest Heavens. And what will make you understand what are the Highest Heavens?! An inscribed Book, witnessed by those drawn near” (83: 18-21).

But whoever is among those wretched ones [who darkened their souls] who are thrown back to the “lowest of the low” (Qur’an, 95:5) and among the people of the left hand – then “they will be given their Book in their left hand” (Qur’an, 69:25) or “from behind their back” (Qur’an, 84:10), from the direction of the “Great Prison” (Sijjin). (This is) because their perceptions are confined to lowly, particular ends, and because their Book comprises lying, slander, [viciousness] and all sorts of raving. So it is only fitting and appropriate that they should be… in the Gehenna (of corporeal being) [a place of abject misery where they encounter their own darknesses], as He said: “Surely the Book of the sinners is in the Great Prison. And what will make you understand what is the Great Prison?! An inscribed Book – Woe that Day to those who call it a lie!” (Qur’an, 83:7-8).

(extract from Mulla Sadra, The Wisdom of the Throne, translation and commentary by James Winston Morris)

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Labels and definitions allow containment…

Definitions are important especially since we tend to be a society that analyzes, categorizes, objectifies, and enforces legal and social control through labels and definitions. Labels and definitions allow containment and shepherding of ideas and concepts. It facilitates communication in some ways but also allows propagandizing and manipulation or politicization of shared mind spaces.

There may be discrete concepts that overlap or conflict in some areas but a system utilizing broad definitions can link originally tenuously related ideas so they become like scattered magnets on a confined surface. You pick up up one but a dozen others come along with it and it is difficult to separate or pry them apart. In other words you accept the premise of one label or definition and are compelled to accept many others to which you may have serious objections. So the setting of labels and definitions that operate at the level of social and legal and political discourse and those which a government adopts deserve careful scrutiny and thought since our acceptance will impact not just policy but even the mode in which a society and individuals begin to think. This clustering of labels and definitions is quickly adopted as a means of political manipulation, political warfare and as an easy path to influence minds and shape the landscape of a nation.

And in our time, more than in any other era, labels and definitions and the structures generated from them when they begin to clump together, proliferate with bewildering speed and impact. And the way our world is shaped changes correspondingly.

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In times of conflict

In times of conflict, language and image are spun to shape perceptions of reality and it is through the characterizations and emotional colouring of the media’s visual language and their choice of terminology that events are interpreted, explained, and experienced. Just as symbolic religious language gives meaning and an interpretation to the world, so also the images and language of the media present a filter through which people view the world and react to unfolding events. To the extent that this language is adopted, accepted, and disseminated by the media and absorbed by the average citizen, it becomes an instrument in defining the role and shaping the response of the general public.

People look to the world around them and derive a significant portion of their concepts of value and worth, benefit and harm, from their interaction with society and from the images of their society and the wider world that are endlessly paraded before them through all the various sources through which they draw their information. This information environment and its content plays a powerful role in shaping and re-shaping viewpoints, eliminating or creating biases and prejudices, and defining boundaries and contexts within which people find their social identity. That identity which was once achieved through family, community, church, temple, or mosque is now driven largely by the media in all of its myriad manifestations.

As a result, the media is probably the most potent modern tool available to those seeking to change or condition a society’s viewpoints, biases, and identity. It has a positive function in that it plays a powerful role in creating a shared societal identity – it has a negative role in that due to economic and political realities, the major media are for the most part, profit-oriented heavily commercialized corporate enterprises. Depending on the ownership and stakeholders, strong biases are expressed so that a news network, especially during times of crisis, disseminates specific points of views, to the extent that it can become little more than a purveyor of propaganda.

And they’re highly networked enterprises in that whatever approach or tactic is seen to draw an audience or is successful in a given area rapidly propagates in slightly different forms across the range of media offerings. Ideas and values are shared, augmented, buttressed, sustained, and reinforced across this range. Despite the fact that there is commercial competition between media entities, that very competitiveness leads them to produce “competitive” variations of each others products which often amounts to little more than a repackaging of what another company has produced – the same news and opinion formula in a new guise or flavour. In times of crisis the same “experts” appear and reappear across the various television and radio networks until, in effect, a fairly narrow and constricted range of interpretations of events propagate across the airwaves, internet, and streaming services.

In this way the visual and aural language of the mass media in times of crisis acquires a real potency and currency – one that is countered only through the growth and accessibility of alternate sources, through grassroots connectivity, and through our growing ability to filter out bias and spin. This is currently a chaotic process still very much at an early stage of development where new social networks and connections are being formed – but there is still a long way to go.

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A prayer

This live-streamed genocide is hard to bear. But far harder to bear is the indifference of so many towards it. It breaks my heart.

So many children suffering and dying before the eyes of the world and yet there is, across the West, a conspiracy of obstinate silence, or worse, obstinate approval of the relentless bombing that deliberately targets civilians, and that is a clear war crime. With the terrible suffering of children and the heartless equation of strategically inflicting suffering on them which Israel is committing and the U.S. is aiding, I cannot help but be reminded of the Biblical verse:

“But whoso shall offend or harm one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were cast into and drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)

And yet it goes on – a Christian President who in violation of every tenet that Jesus taught, is hell-bent on clearing a path for the slaughter. But we know that those in positions of power have given up something of their souls in favor of a kingdom of this world. We do what we can to counter the propaganda, to appeal to people’s conscience and call for an end to this genocide with whatever means are available to us.

But at this time, with a heart rent in pieces by the suffering I am hourly witnessing, with my whole being perturbed and distraught with the horror of what is so coldly executed on the innocent, I find my soul in desperate need of that which will stabilize and balance it in the midst of a world completely out of balance. And that, I think, cannot be found except in turning inward, through prayer and supplication (dua), to the One that encompasses both the inward and the outward, the restorer of balance. Here is a simple petition which I hope may begin to repair hearts cleft by the sorrows to which we all stand painful witness.


A Supplication

Praise belongs to God, the first before a first, the last beyond any last. No imagination is capable of reaching Him, no depiction is capable of describing Him, there is no thing in all the heavens or all the worlds that is like Him. He is the utterly unique. Minds are thrown into confusion and bewilderment and the realization of their own inadequacy and limitation when they contemplate Him. Their takbir (their recognition of His Grandeur) is an acknowledgement of this inability and of His elevation above all that they imagine. And yet He is near to His creation such that He encompasses the hearts, so ‌“know with full knowledge that God stands guard between a person and their heart….”‌ (Qur’an 8:24) He is the Generous Giver, the source of all giving, the source of all sustenance, the support for all existence, the guide and protector of hearts for those who sincerely seek His guidance. To Him we turn for all our needs while we dwell in this world and to Him is the final return.

“For it is He who gives life and death. There is nobody to give life and death besides Him. And to Him alone is the beautiful return of the servants…. (Qur’an 50:43)

Oh God, when we deal with others, guide us to ‌“deal with them in the most beautiful manner”‌(Qur’an 16:125). Let us be among the people ‌“who are faithful to their trusts and to their pledges.”‌ (Qur’an 23:8), ‌“who turn away from vain talk”‌ (Qur’an 23:3), ‌“who walk gently (with humility) on the earth”‌ (Qur’an 25:63), and who, ‌“since good and evil cannot be equal, repel the ugliness of evil with good, with that which is better and more elevated.”‌ (Qur’an 41:34)

Place us among those whose hearts are overthrown with awe when Your name is mentioned:

“For the believers are those whose hearts tremble and quake with awe when God is mentioned, whose faith increases when His revelations are recited to them, who put their trust entirely in their Lord.” (Qur’an 8;2)

Awaken our hearts through the deep realities expressed within Your Qur’an. Increase the wisdom and knowledge awakened within us through the Qur’an. Make this truthful book our constant companion as we move through this world. Make it a healing for our faults and let its verses come alive in our hearts to revive them and to remove our spiritual impoverishment.

And open the vision of our heart’s eye so we can see things as they truly are. Enable us to see the Truth as Truth and give us the ability to follow it. And enable us to see falsehood as false and give us the ability to turn away from it and to disavow it.

Make The Qur’an and not the opinions of the times be our guide. Remove all worries from us as we deal with the vagaries of our times and the confusion and turmoil within the world. Do not let us be like those whose hearts twist and turn with each passing breeze, with each passing opinion of our era, but make our hearts and our feet firm upon Your straight path, the path expressed so beautifully and powerfully in the verses of Your Book and in the lives of Your messenger and Your bondsmen, your mutaqin (Your true unswerving devotees). Make us worthy of Your book and Your path. Open our hearts to Your Presence.

Let us not be among those who take a part of Your book and leave aside the rest. For then we would be like those of whom it is said:

“Do you believe in some of the Scripture and reject the rest?…These are the ones who trade the life awaiting in the higher worlds for the life of this mundane world….” (Qur’an 2:85–86)

Rather, place us among those who follow Your book and Your prophets (all of them) with sincere hearts. Such that we:

“believe in God and what has been revealed to us and what has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the Descendants and what was given to Moses and Jesus and what was given to the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we are Muslims (in wholehearted submission) to Him.” (Qur’an 2:136)

Do not disgrace us by allowing us to be swayed by the foolishness and confusion of the times we live in such that we take pieces of Your book and set aside the rest. How deluded we would be then. Teach us instead to delve deeply into understanding the ayats (the verses/the signs) so they become for us a true guidance and an unswerving light when the times are dark.

Turn harmful destinies away from us and beneficial destinies towards us. Grant us the wisdom to discern between them and to turn only towards that which is of benefit, and unite us with the best, the most beautiful, the most sublime, and the most excellent of destinies.

Help us to be worthy of bearing Your trust – that trust that You offered to the heavens and the earth and the mountains but only humankind accepted it. Let us not be among those who treat the trust lightly, who follow the low aspects of their nafs (their souls) and who, through this, corrupt their own selves and corrupt the hearts of humankind. Safeguard and protect us from such influences. For as it had been said by your Prophets, ‌“scandals and great corruption will come (with increasing frequency), but woe to those through whom they come.”‌ (Matthew 18:7) Turn us away from those who deliberately turn away from Your way or distort Your way and bring about scandal, corruption, and great harm.

Awaken in our hearts the reality of the covenant (in a higher realm of existence before our existence here) mentioned in Your book, where it says, ‌“When your Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam all their descendants, and asked them to bear witness concerning their own souls: ‘Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?’ – We responded: ‘(Bala) Yes! To this we bear witness!” ‌So awaken us to this reality which sleeps in forgetfulness within us so that our hearts again bear witness and say ‌“Yes!”‌ to Your Lordship and to the trust you bestowed upon us as we journey within this world of trials and tests and difficulties. Help us reaffirm, in the depths of our hearts, our fidelity to You O God.

Let us be among those who follow Your guidance, as You have said in Your book: ‌“…surely there will come to you a guidance from Me, then whoever follows and acts upon My guidance, no fear shall come upon them, nor shall they grieve.”‌ (Qur’an 2:38)

Surely we are Your’s and to You shall we return, so make our return a blessing and accept our supplication as You have promised when You said: ‌“I answer the prayer of the supplicants when they call on Me, so they should answer My call and trust in Me that they may walk in the right path.” ‌(Qur’an 2:186) Make our hearts sincere in our asking of You. Place us among the people of tawakkul, those who place their full trust in You and accept Your decrees, knowing that what You give is best, and beyond what we, with our limited understanding of the complexity of cause and effect, can fathom. So our full trust is in You, and We seek the best in Your decrees.

We seek refuge in You from the weakness and the crookedness in our own souls, we seek protection in You against unjust leaders, against injustice in society, against laws which favour the powerful and wealthy and discriminate against those who are oppressed and weak, against the powerful who use their power for oppression and slaughter. Place us among Your friends, those upon whom there is no fear and they are true and faithful to You and Your Book. Set right for us our understanding of our religion and Your book, for it is the guide for our souls.

You are our place of refuge and our strength. Grant us the strength to follow Your path. Take us by the hand and lead us for we cannot walk it without Your help. Grant us fidelity to Your book and let us imbibe its wisdom into our hearts, and through this grant us awe of You for You are the foundation, the source, the sustainer, the support, of all that exists – all who believe otherwise live in delusion.

And if the times we inhabit become dangerous for the believers and for Your bondsmen (Your true unswerving devotees) such that the powerful nations of the world seek to disrupt, harm, overthrow, or sow disorder, chaos, and death among the believers and within their lands, then through remembrance of You, through supplication to You, through turning to You, we seek Your help, assistance, and protection. O Allah, deliver the believers from their enemies, open or concealed, who intend harm against your servants and bondsmen. Defend them from those that plot against them, those that engage in dangerous mischief around the world, whose words are too often lying swords in their lips. Scatter their unity and dismantle their ability to do harm. If they act to harm the believers, turn that harm such that it rebounds instead on themselves. Root out firmness and determination from their hearts and fill their minds with confusion and doubt about the ill-intentioned path they take. And for the lies which they speak let them stumble and fail in their objectives through their own pride and through a humiliating exposure of their lying inventions. As You have stated in Your book, which speaks truth through every letter, word, and verse:

“Nay, but We hurl the true against the false, and truth dashes out the brains of falsehood, and behold, falsehood is an ever vanishing thing. Then woe to you for your lies….”‌ (Qur’an 21:18)

O God be the shield of the believers and of your bondsmen from all who intend them harm through word or deed. Only in You is Our strength, You are our defence, You are our salvation in difficulties and calamities and in times of trial. Open up the door of protection and relief for the believers through Your graciousness and confer the beauty of Your Mercy upon them. And bring Your relief to those who are suffering under oppression, bring them solace and raise them in nearness to you and bestow strength from You upon them.

And just as we detest being wronged by those who show enmity and hostility towards us, so also prevent us from doing wrong towards others.

Oh God, through the protective compact of Your Mercy which You have ordained for Yourself – as you have said in Your Qur’an: “Your Lord hath inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy….”(Qur’an 6:54), so grant for all the men and women seeking Your path, the like of that which we have asked from You in this supplication, desiring Your mercy, Your guidance, Your protection, and Your help. You are truly the bestower of every bounty, the source of every blessing, and the goal of every desire. Draw us near to You and bind our hearts to You so that we will not stray in this world.

And awaken our hearts and the hearts of all Your servants to the truth of this invocation: ‌“La hawla wa kuwata ilah Bila ali Al Azeem.”‌ That there is no power or strength save in God the most Exalted of the Exalted, the most mighty of the Mighty. And He, Allah does as He Wills.

“And Increase us, O Lord, in marvelling at You, in awe of You and the beauty of what You have created.”

May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our master Muhammad and upon his blessed family.

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