You know everything. What You have granted of me of knowledge is very little.
I have a tendency to separate out discrete modalities of knowledge acquisition, but they have begun collapsing into one hermeneutic. For lack of something more sophisticated, I will call it, “Knowledge, Faith, Action.”
William James, in his book “Pragmatism,” describes how all human beings are engaged in the process of making sense out of the totality of reality. He touches on this when he states:
“The world of concrete personal experiences to which the street belongs is multitudinous beyond imagination, tangled, muddy, painful and perplexed. The world to which your philosophy-professor introduces you is simple, clean and noble. The contradictions of real life are absent from it. Its architecture is classic.”
Is not our daily life a process of knowledge acquisition? Is not my son an entity whose existence is filled with knowledge to be gained about epistemology, psychology, biology, spirituality, and so much more?! Is not the abstract, discursive field of my books and articles a concrete reality – they came from somewhere and were published by someone!
Yes, my Lord, we are all, always, as long as we have intellect (‘aql), engaged in the acquisition of knowledge. Hence the profundity of Shaykh al-Kulayni’s (d. 940) choice for the first hadith in his text:
“When God created intellect, he gave it the faculty of language and said, ‘Come forward,’ whereupon it came forward. Then he said to it, ‘Go back,’ whereupon it went back. Then he said, ‘By my might and my majesty, I have not created a creature more beloved to me than you, and I have not perfected you except in whom I love. Let it be known! You alone do I command, and you alone do I forbid. [According to] you alone do I punish, and [according] to you alone do I confer reward.'” [translation by Shaykh Rizwan Arastu, p. 1]
The young are not bound by taklif, the moral and spiritual responsibility that is the basis of reward in al-Jannah and punishment in al-Nar. Nor are the insane, or the mental deficient. So I stand before You, my Lord, asking that You accept the inevitable imperfections in my worldview, knowing that I am bound by taklif due to the formation and preservation of my intellect by You!
And in this moment, I can take approximately 1/6th of my books, and organize them in a fashion that represents my emerging worldview. There is the “America since 1945 section,” which also includes CDs and DVDs that influenced our shared culture. There is the “Islam from 600-1000 ” section, modified heavily over the years since I took a comprehensive exam on the subject with Prof. Michael Cook (may You guide him). There is the “Whispers of the Transcendent” section, which reminds me most directly of the Unseen (al-ghayb) and the ultimate journey back to You. There is the “Eschatology, as represented by books by fallible men on Imam Mahdi” section, by means of which I ponder the relationship between Islamic theology and the future of human life on planet Earth. There is the “World before the Qur’an” section, which brings together topics as vast as the formation of the Milky Way galaxy and Roman political history. Soon I will add the “I don’t know anything about China and have never been there” section, whereby my deep ignorance about an entire civilization and billions of souls is revealed due to the paucity of titles. There are the books on spiritual wayfaring (suluk) scattered throughout.
To others, it looks just like some books on a shelf. But to me, it is the story of my life. The story of love of home, and hatred for injustice. The story of faith and doubt. The story of historiography and biology and sociology and theology and everything else, brought together as best I can. But most of all, it is the story of how little I know, how little I have seriously pondered, and thus my eternal need for Your Mercy.
I cannot crunch all the data, my Lord, and determine the best course of action in life. Only You know how all things fit together.
How Karbala in the 7th century meets New York City in the 21st.
How Iraq meets America.
How Arabic meets English.
How the Big Bang meets Adam.
How my love for my wife and son meets my love for You.
How the Earth meets Heaven.
Only You know how many more days I have left to breath. I seek your protection from the punishment of the grave, the accounting and trials of the Last Day, and the punishment of the Fire, O Most Merciful of those who show mercy! While I still breath, help me to choose the right books to read, the right time to read, the right way to read, and the right way to act on everything I have read. Make my life to be beneficial for others, and save others from being harmed by the inevitable mistakes I will make.
I thank You for providing me with a reliable babysitter this summer, so that I could spend a decent amount of time studying. Going into the fall, that time will diminish, but I accept that. Even a whole lifetime in the library would not be enough for the burning need in my heart to know. And besides, what I really want is the moon itself, not books about it.
“The whole moon’s always present”
May Your blessings and peace be upon Muhammad and his family
May my breaths be a continual service to my master ‘Ali b. Abi Talib
may my prayer, my sacrifice, my life and my death be all for You
Lord of all worlds
يا أرحم الراحمين
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