“No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free”
—Lyrics of “Let It Go” in Disney’s Frozen (2013)

Columbus’s Imp 

Forgive me, but it is no longer possible to remain silent. 

We all know that Christopher Columbus discovered America. In this he was aided by his trusty compass, which always pointed North and South. With those two known, East and West were also known, and Columbus took up an advice of later generations: “Go west, young man, go west.” 

Now consider the following situation. Let’s say a mischievous imp, call it “Columbus’s Imp,” stole into his quarters one night and transformed the magnetic pointer of the compass into wood, without changing its appearance. The ship is far at sea, they have no possibility of return. What would Columbus have done? 

You guessed it. Columbus doesn’t know which way to go. His ship lies stranded in the ocean amidst bad weather and stormy seas. 

The result? Columbus doesn’t discover America. 

Because we live in a world of distinctions, and it never helps to blur distinctions until they’re indistinguishable from each other. 

Now the same applies to the moral world. If we lose our moral compass, we’re lost at sea, and will surely perish from exposure. 

My point: for decades now, we in the West have been inching away from moral clarity into a quicksand of moral ambiguity. It’s called “moral relativism,” and regarded as a pillar of Postmodernism. A nonjudgmental attitude is encouraged, and this is a good thing, as long as we don’t lose sight of our moral North and South. 

But this is not what we see happening. Rather, the distinctions between right and wrong, and good and bad (I know there are truly evil people in the world, but I prefer to just say “bad”) are becoming, or even have already become, dangerously blurred. And this is the equivalent of seeking sympathy for the devil. 

A Surfeit of Errors 

We see this all across our culture, but nowhere more firmly than in movies and TV series. Consider the following series: A serial killer is doing a good thing when he kills other serial killers (Dexter). Another, who is also a cannibal, is almost idolized because of other, supposedly redeeming qualities, like being a good cook (Hannibal). (The Nazis, too, were known as patrons of the arts.) A Mafia boss is pictured as not all bad (The Sopranos). A chemist turned drug dealer is pictured as almost a role model (Breaking Bad). In the series 24, agent Jack Bauer tortures his adversaries, and his arguments for doing so are used to justify later, even more abominable atrocities in real life. (Practically no TV series goes by without the display of some form of torture—they’re trying to accustom us to it.) 

I could go on, but you get the idea. 

And now, finally, this insidious tendency has found its way into our fairy tales. Disney, which considers itself a company concerned with profits and forgets that it is also a social and educational institution with worldwide social and ethical responsibilities, has succeeded in introducing moral ambiguity into our children’s brains. 

Fact: Fairy tales are the first introduction of children into social and ethical norms. They have to keep their story straight and simple. This is where children first learn to separate right from wrong and good from bad. If their minds are confused on this issue, sooner or later this is bound to have terrible repercussions for society. 

First we had a makeover of the Evil Queen of “Snow White,” in the film Mirror Mirror (2012) and in the TV series Once Upon a Time (OUAT), where the Evil Queen is depicted as oh-not-such-a-bad-person-after-all, struggling to improve herself. 
The Evil Queen in Snow White (left), as Julia Roberts in Mirror Mirror (center), with stepson Henry in OUAT (right).
Now, just to make myself clear, I get it that Hollywood and the media industry have run out of good stories and are going for sequels and prequels. I also get that “No person is wholly good or wholly bad” and “There is hope of redemption even for the worst” are nice ideals. 

But let’s not lose our moral compass in the process. These nuances may be appropriate for an adult audience to consider, but the children are watching along with the adults, and since these are ostensibly “fairy tales,” many more children than adults. And they see things in black and white. They need to. Give them gray, and they don’t know how to process it. They cannot yet discern different shades or colors. In a similar vein, you don’t try to teach college-level physics to a child of five, either. 

I’m sure you remember Pavlov’s dogs and conditioned reflexes?
In one experiment, Pavlov taught a dog to discriminate between a circle and an oval... When the dog pointed its nose at a circle, it received food. When it pointed at the oval shape, it received an electric shock. Gradually Pavlov made the oval rounder and rounder. Soon it was hard to tell the oval from the circle. The dog began showing signs of distress, whining and defecating. Pavlov said this showed an experimental neurosis. (Emphasis added.)
Now we’re blurring the line between good and bad for our children. The best outcome we can expect is moral neurosis. 

Also nowadays, we have college professors posing difficult moral conundrums to students ill-equiped for the task of resolving them. Perhaps there are moral questions that are finally irresolvable, in accordance with Gödel’s Theorem. But the vast majority of moral questions do have solutions. 

What the scriptwriters of the revisionist school are forgetting is that if the wrong messages are fed into young, impressionable brains, we are placing our future, even the future of this planet, in jeopardy. Fairy tales are what they are and the way they are, and have been for a very long time, for a lot of important reasons, one of which happens to be social stability. If you swerve from the well-trodden path, if you strike out into uncharted territory, you’re playing with fire. You tamper with the cultural genes of civilization at your (and everyone’s) peril. Here, there really be dragons. 

Maleficent at the end of Sleeping Beauty (left), at the beginning of Maleficent (center), and as Angelina Jolie (right).
In the meantime, we’ve also learned that the word “God” is banned from Disney movies. And now, as the most recent coup de grace, we have Disney’s movie Maleficent (2014). This is, of course, a prequel for another movie, Sleeping Beauty(1959), again by Disney. But with what a whopping difference! 

In Sleeping Beauty, we have a classic fairy tale beautifully retold. The distinction between good and evil is properly upheld. Maleficent, despite her urbane sophistication, is the very personification of evil, finally exploding as an atomic bomb into a fire-breathing dragon. 

In Maleficent, we have almost a justification of this evil. It’s an apology for what Maleficent is in Sleeping Beauty. She is cast, not as the villain she is in the original story, but virtually as a hero. As The Film Experience blogger Anne Mariewrote, “It’s the new Disney hero: the villain with the heart of gold.” This is nothing but an attempt to cutify and beautify evil, to put lipstick on an ugly thing. 

In a later Disney musical, Into the Woods (2014), (the Witch’s entries and exits are nothing if not dramatic!) we have the sum of it all in the final song:
“Wrong things, right things …
Who can say what’s true? …
You decide what’s right. You decide what’s good.”
This is it. This is where the poison is injected into the subconscious. The decision is left to the ego, the Base Self (nafs al-ammara)—that which is least trustworthy in all creation. Thus, “Thou shalt not kill” becomes equal to “Thou shalt kill.” There’s no difference. And this is where we lose our moral compass. Good is good, bad is good, everything is good. But that’s what the bad guys say already: “We’re good, too.” Even though they’re harming and hurting you, or someone like you. 

Nor is this what our religions tell us. Rather, they say: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). 

Who decides, who makes the rules of ethics? Whoever laid down the laws of nature in the first place. It’s in all the sacred scriptures: “Do as you would be done by.” Just as the laws of nature have consequences, so do the laws of ethics. The difference is that while the laws of nature are demonstrable in the short term, the effects of ethical rules—or their violation—make themselves felt in the long term. That a glass falling on concrete shatters is immediately observable. The effects of alcoholism are not immediately apparent, but no less destructive to the person and society. As the Master observed:
God says, ‘Both good and evil are from Me.’ But He further says, ‘Follow the good.’ He doesn’t say: ‘Follow the evil.’
God says, ‘I created both good and evil. If you follow the good, you will come close to Me. If you follow the bad, you will obey the ego/the Base Self. Don’t hold Me responsible later on.’ He distinguishes between the two, He doesn’t hold them the same.
(The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 85.)
As everyone knows (or should), the devil is the Master of Deceit. And the greatest of the devil’s deceptions in our age is to convince us that he doesn’t exist. 

Now opposites come into existence together, in pairs. Negate one, and you negate its opposite, too. Without the South Pole, no North Pole. Without the devil, no evil. But also, no good, either. And since God wants us to be good, not evil, atheism is only a step away. 

Is Knowledge/Science Enough? 

I've already mentioned that I come from a background of science. Time was when I was infatuated with it. I wanted to share all knowledge with everyone in the world. 

Gradually, however, I came to realize that there were more important things in life than knowledge. Instrumental in this realization were also the following facts:
  • Archimedes, the mathematical and scientific genius of ancient Greece, was killed during a war.
  • Lavoisier, the famous French chemist, was guillotined during a revolution.
  • Evariste Galois, a promising young mathematician, was killed in a duel when he was only 21.
These highlighted for me that when there is danger to life and limb, knowledge isn’t safe either, nor can it save you. 

Later, however, I became aware of something even more important. In the absence of a moral hand to guide it, science is used to, well, build a better bomb. But the possession of knowledge exponentially increases the capability to harm others. A primitive caveman could slay only a few people using his bow and arrow. A hydrogen bomb can kill millions. Weaponized bird flu, perhaps hundreds of millions. So the more knowledge we have, the more crucial it becomes for everyone to be outfitted with superior morals. 

Let us at least agree that five things need to be protected:
1. Life and limb
2. Sanity
3. Religion (Because it is a source of ethics, peace and happiness for human beings.)
4. Progeny (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife” is included in this.)
5. Property
In principle, everyone agrees on the Ten Commandments (Twelve in Islam—17:23-37). You won’t see any believer knocking those. It is the practice that counts, for “actions speak louder than words.” Our faith is not what we profess to believe, it is the code by which we live as exemplified in our life actions, our deeds. 

I’m not saying that we should go about riding a moral high-horse trumpeting our righteousness, since the Base Self is capable of converting even the most innocent deed into an exercise in self-adulation. I’m just saying that we should simply do what is moral when the occasion presents itself, quietly and without fanfare. 


The most fundamental thing is ethical behavior. This is the foundation, the root. Omit this, and your other religious practices won’t help you either, no matter what your religion may be. It’s like a barrel with an inlet and an outlet faucet, and the outlet always runs faster than the inlet. The barrel will never get filled. 

And the really interesting thing here is, you don’t have to convert to another religion in order to do this. (Here, I’m also reminded of the Master’s saying: “Now only the Japanese remain in the world who hold on to religion. No matter what they worship. They’re the only ones who possess a religion” (p. 13).) All of us can be more ethical while remaining in our own. The Master elaborated on this as follows:
Our world is very sweet. But we don’t know how to use it. We leave ourselves and the world in ruins. There’s unrest in the world now. Why? Everyone is sundered from their Books. The Peoples of the Books are all enemies of one another. The Books say: ‘Don’t do it, don’t kill one another,’ but they don’t listen, that’s why they’re at each other’s throats. If the people of Moses were to adhere to the Torah, the people of Jesus to the Gospel and the people of Muhammad to the Quran, they would all come together and be brethren. Everything would be solved. (p. 58. Emphasis added.)
Isn’t this just great? Isn’t this what we’ve been looking for? Just observe the ethical rules of your own religion properly, and the whole thing is solved! This could apply even to atheists with high moral standards, for they too (whether wittingly or unwittingly) borrow those standards from religion.    


All religions are designed to teach us how to live,
joyfully, serenely, and kindly,
in the midst of suffering.
Karen Armstrong

Part I: Clearing the Cobwebs
Sharia, the Divine Law of Islam and Mohammed, is frequently misunderstood. It is accused of many ills, without regard to a deeper understanding of what it really is. Before we debate anything, however, wouldn’t it be better to get the facts of the matter? Below is a very simple introduction to this subject, offered in the hope that it will shed some light on the issue. 

I know that Sharia has by now become a loaded term and is a subject on which lots of people have preconceptions. I merely ask that readers be patient, preserve an open mind, and withhold judgment until they have reached the end of this article. What I want to do is encourage the reader to think deeply and dispassionately about a subject too often condemned to empty slogans.

God's “finger” inscribing the Tablets in The Ten Commandments (1956).

What is Halakha? 

Perhaps we need to understand what Halakha, the Divine Law of Moses, is, before we can broach the question: “What is Sharia?” My source for the following is Wikipedia:
Halakha ... is the collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the Written and Oral Torah...
Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and non-religious life... Halakha guides not only religious practices and beliefs, but numerous aspects of day-to-day life. Halakha is often translated as “Jewish Law”, although a more literal translation might be “the path” or “the way of walking”. The word derives from the root that means to go or to walk.
Historically, in the diaspora, halakha served many Jewish communities as an enforceable avenue of civil and religious law. Since the Age of Enlightenment, emancipation, and haskalah in the modern era, Jewish citizens are bound tohalakha only by their voluntary consent. Under contemporary Israeli law, however, certain areas of Israeli family and personal status law are under the authority of the rabbinic courts and are therefore treated according to halakha. Some differences in halakha itself are found among Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardi, and Yemenite Jews...
The name “halakha” is derived from the Hebrew halakh ... meaning “to walk” or “to go”. Taken literally, therefore, “halakha” translates as “the way to go” rather than “law”. “Halakha” is used to refer to a single law, the corpus of rabbinic legal texts, or to the overall system of religious law...
Halakha constitutes the practical application of the 613 mitzvot (“commandments”, singular mitzvah) in the Torah, as developed through discussion and debate in the classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud (the “Oral law”) and as codified in the Mishneh Torah or Shulchan Aruch (“Code of Law”).
The halakha is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of human life, both corporeal and spiritual. Its laws, guidelines, and opinions cover a vast range of situations and principles... They cover what are claimed to [be] better ways for a Jew to live, based on what is not stated, but has been derived from the Hebrew Bible.
Because halakha is developed and applied by various halakhic authorities rather than one sole “official voice”, different individuals and communities may well have different answers to halakhic questions.

Moses delivering the Ten Commandments to his people (same movie, later scene).

What is Sharia? 

Now please read the same text substituting “Sharia” for “Halakha” and applying other necessary changes:
Sharia ... is the collective body of Islamic religious laws derived from the Written Koran and the Oral Koran (the words and deeds of Mohammed, also known as the Way of the Prophet)...
Islam classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and non-religious life... Sharia guides not only religious practices and beliefs, but numerous aspects of day-to-day life. Sharia is often translated as “Islamic Law”, although a more literal translation might be “the path” or “the path to a wellspring”. The word derives from the way to a waterhole.
Historically, in the Islamic world, Sharia served many Moslem communities as an enforceable avenue of civil and religious law. Since the Age of Enlightenment, emancipation, and globalization in the modern era, Moslems in most countries are bound to Sharia only by their voluntary consent. Under contemporary Islamic law, however, certain areas of family and inheritance law are under the authority of the Islamic courts and are therefore treated according to Sharia. Some differences in Sharia itself are found among the four Sunni and one Shi’ite schools of law...
The name “Sharia” is derived from the Arabic sharia ... meaning “pathway to be followed”. Taken literally, therefore, “Sharia” translates as “the way to go” rather than “law”. “Sharia” is used to refer to a single law, the corpus of Islamic legal texts, or to the overall system of religious law...
Sharia constitutes the practical application of the commandments in the Koran, as developed through discussion and debate in the classical scholarly literature, especially with the aid of the Way of the Prophet, and as further supported by Analogy and Consensus.
The Sharia is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of human life, both corporeal and spiritual. Its laws, guidelines, and opinions cover a vast range of situations and principles... They cover what are claimed to [be] better ways for a Moslem to live, based on what is stated in and has been derived from the Koran.
Because Sharia is developed and applied by various Islamic authorities rather than one sole “official voice”, different individuals and schools of law may well have different answers to Sharia questions.

I hope this brief exercise has demonstrated that Halakha and Sharia do not have different goals. Certainly they are not identical, but neither are they entirely at odds. Both are religious legal systems socially, and a set of divinely ordained rules to be followed privately. If anything, Islamic Divine Law is less stringent and more lenient than Jewish Law in many respects. What is the difference betwen a faithful Jew who wants to live his religion properly and a faithful Moslem who wants to do the same?

Is the Koran a Law Book? 

If Sharia is based on the Koran, what are the legal injunctions of the Koran? Various authorities have given different estimates for Koranic verses dealing with legal matters. Depending on the interpretation, some claim as few as 80 and some, 220 verses. If we accept the larger figure, this constitutes 3.5 percent of an approximately 6236-verse text. 

What immediately springs out from this is that the Koran is not a legal text. It is a book of religion and ethics, not a book of law. Hence, human intervention is indispensable for achieving a codified legal system. There are simply not enough precepts in the Koran to build up a legal framework without human agency. God revealed the Koran—the rest is man’s work. I’ve said this before: Islamic law developed because it was deemed proper to have laws based on Godly ethics. (The Secret of Islam (2003), p. li.) As the noted scholar Joseph Schacht pointed out, in early times there were no known punishments for such things as imbibing alcohol, and people were merely exhorted to change their ways for the better. Moreover, most of those verses considered to be legal in nature deal with family and inheritance law. 

In Islamic countries, Sharia was supplemented by customary law (urf) in many respects, simply because it was insufficient on its own. (To give a simple example from contemporary life, you will find nothing about traffic rules and regulations in the Sharia.)
Furthermore, there was never a church or a clergy, and thus never a theocracy, in mainstream Islam. As the famed French orientalist and sociologist Jacques Berque insisted,
I defy anybody to find an example in Islamic history of a faqih (a specialist in Muslim law) holding power. The Umayyad Caliphs, the Abbasid Caliphs, the Mamlukes, all masters of war, and the Ottoman sultans, the solemn and conquering Asiatics, none of them were faqihs!... But, seriously, religious power has only been held, falteringly, by sects: the Hashashiyyin ('assassins') or the Qarmatians. Mainstream Islam has never experienced direct political power from religion.
(Quoted in François Burgat, Face to Face With Political Islam, London: I.B. Tauris, 2003 [1996], p. 133. Emphasis added.)

Rulings Are Subject To Change With Time 

Further, as the 19th-century Ottoman attempt at codification known as the Majalla notes, “rulings are subject to change with time.” Rulings can be divided into essential and secondary. For essential or primary rulings (nassusul), such as Koranic verses or Prophetic Traditions, the wording cannot change but their interpretation can. For secondary rulings (furu’), both the wording and the interpretations can change. 

The Prophet told his Companions:
You live in such a time that if any of you abandon even a tenth of what you are enjoined, you will be ruined. But a time will come when, if a person fulfills only a tenth of what is enjoined, they will be saved.
(Tirmidhi, Book 34: Fitan (Sedition), Section 79, No. 2267; an English version is here. See also Juynboll, Enc. Canonical Hadith, p. 436.)

Furthermore, according to the Koran, “For every time there is a judgment” (13:38). This proves that rulings are subject to change with time. 

On this basis, the Master said of modest dress: “We can’t dress them up. So we have to dress up our eyes.” (In other words, “see no immodesty.”) Of the ruling that a thief’s hand should be cut off (5:38), he said: “This can’t be done in this day and age. We’re going to understand that as cutting off his hand from stealing.” That is, take measures to prevent them from stealing again. 

(Interestingly, the same punishment is found in the Old Testament—though for a different crime. Deuteronomy 25:12—“you must cut off her hand. Show no pity.”) 

I hope this has demonstrated that the Sharia issue is not as cut-and-dried as some people think it is. Sharia is not the law in all Islamic countries, nor is it the law at all in the rest of the world. Sharia is applied in full only in 12 out of 49 Islamic countries, with a population total of 26.6 percent. So roughly three-quarters of Moslems do not live under Sharia as a legal system. But from the religious point of view, Sharia is not primarily a legal system anyway. It is a program for living religiously, where the religion happens to be Islam. It is the do’s and don’ts of the Koran and the Sayings of the Prophet. The reckoning for these is squarely in the afterlife. 

It is true that there are countries which practice a harsh and forbidding version of the Sharia. This merely illustrates the fact that, if the wrong hand uses the right means, the right means can work in the wrong way. But to change the Koran itself? That is unthinkable. 

Today, in most of the world, Sharia is binding on Moslems only by their voluntary consent. It furnishes guidelines for conduct, such as abstention from alcohol, gambling, and eating pork. It also details how religious observances are to be fulfilled. These are the essentials of religion that cannot be abrogated. This is a covenant between God and oneself: retribution, if any, belongs to the afterlife. As for the misuse or abuses occurring in certain countries, Moslems in general can neither be blamed for them, nor can they be enlisted for serving other people’s agendas of Islam-bashing. Everyone has their own life to live, and life, as you may have noticed, is short. The many cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of the few. 

In fact, the case can be made that Moslems today are cast in the position of the earliest Companions in Mecca. There was then no legal system, no rulings of punishment. They believed out of their love and respect for the Prophet, and they obeyed him not out of any legal obligation, but because they had faith in his message. Today we may have come full circle, and are now back in some respects at that point of origin. In an age when the law has become a secular legal code in most nations, the Divine Law is a set of obligations from God which every private individual is free to follow—or not, if that is one’s wish. It is not socially enforceable, and its only sanctions are divine ones. 

Part II: The Crux of the Matter
Having—hopefully—cleared away at least some of the cobwebs surrounding the debate, let us take a closer look at what is really involved when we speak of the Divine Law.

The Divine Law as Law 

This is the most obvious level, because it is stated explicitly in the English translation of the term. For example, alcohol and gambling are prohibited, even while recognizing that there may be some benefit in them (2:219). Alcohol can relieve stress, make you mellow, and assist socializing. And you can sometimes win when you gamble. But: alcohol is a universal solvent for organic matter, and from the moment it is imbibed, there is not one organ it touches that it does not harm during its passage through the body. 

Plus: our aim should be to reach higher consciousness. Yet not only does alcohol not help us achieve this, it actually prevents it, because it dulls the senses. The Arabic name for wine (the most widely used form of alcohol at the time the Koran was revealed), khamr, derives from the same root as khimar, veil. So it veils the senses, clouds consciousness, and deadens wakefulness. (The Prophet said, “Every intoxicant is khamr (wine) and every intoxicant is forbidden.”)

As for gambling: lucky streaks never last. Sooner or later, the house wins and you lose. This is a mathematically established fact. It results in the ruin of the family, of friends whom you can’t pay back (and thus of friendship), and ultimately may culminate in suicide.

The Divine Law as Ethics 

All law is predicated on ethics, on morality. Law is the codification of ethical principles, and the assignment of incentives or disincentives to them. For instance: “Do not kill yourselves or others” (4:29). What is this but the Commandment: “Thou shall not kill”? “He who saves one human, saves the world entire. And he who kills one human, kills the world entire. We have informed the Jews of this in their book” (5:32). And indeed, in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin, 37a), as well as in the Jerusalem Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin, Order: Damages, 4, 5), we find the same thing. 

Why is killing a human being like killing all humanity? First, because any human being represents all of humanity, just as every cat represents all cat-dom. Second, because there is a divine spark, a divine secret, in every human being that makes it sacrilegious to murder anyone. And third, because God made man in His own image, both according to the Prophet and the Torah. 

While secular laws are ostensibly made without regard to religious laws, they actually rest on the latter in their lower strata. Is there any code of law, whether secular or religious, where murder is condoned? 

Another point: can we achieve higher consciousness without ethics? No, we cannot. Because ethics is the foundation on which the edifice of superconsciousness rests. We cannot have the superstructure without the substructure. That is why all those prophets were always preaching ethics. And they all preached the same thing: earlier versions of God's law. 

This leads to an interesting conclusion. Because Islam recognizes all prophets before the Prophet up to and including Jesus, a Moslem is also implicitly a follower of Jesus, a follower of Moses, and the follower of other prophets who are and are not explicitly named in the Koran. The only difference is that of following the final, universal version of God's law, wherein everything harmful to human beings has been called a sin, and everything beneficial, a virtue.

The Divine Law as Love 

Here is an average perception of what the Master taught:
Law and justice exist because of conscience, and conscience exists because of love. If you love someone, you cannot violate that person’s rights. And that’s what the Divine Law is all about. It gives you the guidelines of how to behave as you would if you loved that person. I have seen no one else who preaches this fundamental fact.
(Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), p. 17. Emphasis added.)
This is the essence of the whole enterprise we call the Divine Law. I know this is what the uninformed mentality will find most difficult to accept, so here are some examples.
(The Golden Rule:) No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself. (Tradition of the Prophet)
You will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another. (Tradition)
Do not spy on, nor backbite one another. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother [or sister]? You would find it abhorrent. (49:12)
Do not gossip. If your brother/sister has that attribute, it is backbiting. If they do not, it is slander. (Tradition)
When should a worker be paid his due? Before the sweat on his brow has dried. (Tradition)
There is a key to everything. The key to Heaven is to love the poor. (Tradition)
Let not a people ridicule other people, for they may be better than them. Nor any women ridicule other women, for they may be better than them. Do not mock one another, nor call each other names. (49:11)
Do not lie (deceive others). (22:30)
Do not say what you will not do (i.e., Keep your promise). (61.3)
Give to your relatives, to the poor, and to travelers in need. (17:26)
Kind words and forgiveness are better than charity followed by injury. (2:263)
God enjoins justice, and doing good to others. (16:91)
Do not sow discord in the land. (7:57)
Show kindness to parents, and to relatives and orphans and the poor, and speak kindly to people. (2:84)
Do not repulse anyone who seeks your help. (93:10)
Did you know there were such verses in the Koran? Is there anything objectionable in any of the above?


The Koran cannot be altered. But then, it doesn’t need to be, for it is not a book of law. It is a book of religion and ethics . The Divine Law—which is based on the Koran and the Way (example) of the Prophet—attempts to order human relations so that there is no cause for enmity to arise between human beings, so that they may live happily ever after at peace with each other. Anything other than that is a misunderstanding or outright slander if claimed by a non-Moslem. It is downright ignorance if asserted by a Moslem.


In recent years, I've learned that a movie was made to accompany the book. Click above to watch Walt Disney's “The Fisherman and the Genie.” (You may need to click Replay on the bottom left corner when it appears.)

 I cannot exonerate my self, 
for it always commands to evil.
—Abraham (12:53)
The Prophet of God was sitting, surrounded by his Companions.
He said: “Every human being has a genie (devil).”
They asked: “Even you, Messenger of God?”

He replied: “Yes, and mine is the most formidable of them all.”
The Companions exchanged glances among themselves, surprised. 
Then they said: “But Messenger of God, we can’t see anything devilish in you.”
He replied: “That’s because God has helped me against my devil, 
and it has surrendered to me. Now it only commands me to do good.”
(Muslim 39.6757; alt. 52.62; 2814. Also Tirmidhi, Rada 17; Musnad, 3. 309.
Aslama shaytani: see Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 113.)

When I was a child, my uncle gave me a book as a birthday present. It was Our Friend the Atom (1956), a Walt Disney book written by Heinz Haber. It was perhaps my first introduction to the marvels of science. The book started with a tale from the Arabian Nights: “The Fisherman and the Genie.”
I opened the book and began to read (I've updated the language a little bit):
There once lived an aged fisherman, who dwelt in poverty with his wife and three children. Each day he cast his net into the sea four times, and rested content with what it brought forth.
One day, after three vain casts, the old fisherman drew in his net for the fourth time. He found it heavier than usual. Examining his catch, he found among the shells and seaweeds a brazen vessel. On its leaden stopper was the ancient seal of King Solomon.
In Sufi lore, it is said that the seal of Solomon was inscribed on his ring, and stated: “From Solomon, and In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” (27:30). King Solomon would press the seal on his ring in dealing with his affairs.
“A better catch than fish!” he exclaimed. “This jar I can sell. And who knows what thing of value it might contain?”
With his knife he pried open the stopper. Then, as he peered into the jar, smoke began to pour from it. He fell back in astonishment as the smoke rose in a great dark column and spread like an enormous mushroom between earth and sky. And his astonishment turned into terror as the smoke formed into a mighty Genie, with eyes blazing like torches and fiery smoke whirling about him like the ominous cyclone of the desert.
“Alas!” cried the old fisherman, falling to his knees. “Spare me, O Genie. I am but a poor man, who has not offended you!”
The genie glared down at the trembling old man.
“Know,” he thundered, “that because you have freed me, you must die. For I am one of those condemned spirits who long ago disobeyed the word of King Solomon. In this brazen vessel he sealed me, and he commanded that it be cast into the sea, there to lie foreveror until some mortal should, by unlikely chance, bring up the vessel from the depths and set me free.”
The old fisherman listened in silent fear as the Genie's eyes flamed.
“For centuries,” the great voice of the Genie continued, “I lay imprisoned deep in the sea, vowing to grant my liberator any wisheven to make him the master of all the wealth in the world, should he desire it. But no liberator came. At last, in my bitterness, I vowed that my liberator, who had delayed so long, should have no wish granted himexcept how he should die. You, old man, are my liberator, and according to my solemn vow, you must die!”
Now the fisherman, having pleaded in vain, thought of a ruse in his plight. He said that he did not believe the tale, seeing that so huge a genie could never have come out of so small a jar. “Prove it!” he said.
Whereupon the genie made smoke of himself, and re-entered the vase. Instantly the fisherman stoppered it, and would not let the genie free until it had promised to spare his life.
“O fisherman,” the Genie implored, “Release me, and I give my solemn vow to grant you three wishes.”
So the fisherman decided to free the Genie. He opened the stopper of the brazen vessel.
The Genie's fiery smoke again swelled up to the sky, and the fisherman once more fell back in terror, fearing for his life, wondering if he had made a terrible mistake.
But the Genie bowed down before the fisherman.
“Fear not,” he said. “You heard my vow. O Fisherman, my master, name your three wishes...”
“I have made my devil surrender (to me).”—The Prophet of God

But What Does It Mean?
The book goes on to compare the power of the atom to a genie: a nuclear bomb resembles the genie's wrath, whereas the potential of the atom to serve humankind corresponds to the three wishes.
That's the fable. Now for the interpretation.
I have, on some occasions, mentioned how Sufi materials are interspersed throughout the Arabian Nights (also known as the 1001 Nights), and given some examples. The present fable is, perhaps, one of the best proofs of this.
Let's unpack the meaning of the fairy tale in terms of Sufi psychology:
The fisherman represents our spirit. And the Genie corresponds to our inner demon, the Base Self (nafs al-ammara, 12:53). Unless we tame it, constrain it, confine it, it will spell doom for us. Properly confined, however, it has the power to grant us things that are “undreamt of in our philosophy.”
We cannot kill the Base Self, for that would mean suicide. Rather, we need to restrain it and cleanse it. We have to purify the self. Only after that will its latent powers come to the surface. Otherwise, it will use the means available to it for our destruction.
I have seen this happen so many times, in close acquaintances and distant ones. Let's say they wish for a nice drink. And, sooner or later, it happens: someone brings it and puts it on the table in front of them. They reach out to take it. At that instant, the Base Self lashes out, uses their own hand to strike the glass, and knocks it off the table. The drink is wasted. But they had really, really wished for that drink, and God in His grace had given it to them. The Base Self makes them ruin their chance with their own hands. Which is probably one of the reasons why the Prophet said: “If you knew what I knew, you would laugh little and weep much.”
As the Turkish Sufi poet Yunus Emre sang,
A fly swung and threw, an eagle to the ground—
It's no lie, it's true, I saw its dust too.
The fly is the Base Self, and the eagle is our spirit, or a great person. As the Master remarked, “An eagle equals fifty thousand flies in strength.” And yet, that fly is enough to vanquish the eagle.
So there is really no alternative in this life: if only to find some peace of mind, you have to tackle the Base Self. (And also in the next life, but that's another story, though a continuation of this one.)
I have also mentioned the Two Doors that need to be closed if we are to tame the Base Self: Illicit Gain and Illicit (extramarital) Sex. Unless we close these two doors, no attempt to subdue the Base Self will succeed. This is where we put the Genie back into its vessel. Once this is done, we have to perfect our ethics in order to give this vessel exactly the right shape: the shape of a human, or more precisely, a Perfect Human.
Master Kayhan explained it this way:
There are four elements in man. What disturbs the body, the spirit most is air [caprice] and fire [anger]. If one restrains them, one will be in comfort. When you cut off fire and air, water and earth [life-affirmative elements in the human constitution] remain. It is a fertile soil, and when rain falls, it’s done!
The spirit is not bound by the four elements, the four elements are bound by the spirit. The Base Self does not die, it is reformed. They [the wise] work hard until they reform it. They put it in a bottle. If the bottle is not sealed properly, air will blow, the fire inside will flare. The fire boils over. Once they seal off the fire, they reform the air as well. It can’t affect the fire. What remains is water and earth. When rain falls on fecund soil, a rosebed, a rose garden is produced.
It is then that the spirit begins to move. Then, the spirit begins to sing like a canary bird. Then we will have planted the flag, and the fortress stands conquered. Then we will have some peace.
(The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 83. Emphasis added.)
The practices of Sufism slowly bring the spirit, and with it the spiritual body, out of suspended animation. (This can also occur spontaneously, but it is very rare, and will swerve off course at some point.)    

Fission and Fusion
Is there any way, then, in which the processes of the self can be compared to the processes of the atom?
If the Base Self is uncontrolled, it can explode just like an atomic bomb. It will lay waste to whatever lies within its reach.
If, however, it is controlled, it can be used as a source of, well, “energy” (a better word might be “transformation”), just like a nuclear reactor.
A similar analogy holds for thermonuclear fusion. At temperatures of about 100 million degrees (doesn't matter which scale you use!), matter enters the plasma state, where neither atoms nor their nuclei can survive, but form a furious swarm of individual protons, electrons, and neutrons. Uncontrolled, this can give you an explosion that dwarfs an atomic explosionthe hydrogen bomb.
Scientists are still working to confine this awesome power. One design is to confine the plasma in a magnetic bottle. They have not quite succeeded yet, because nonlinearities in the plasma burst the confines of magnetic bottles. But if they succeed one day, that will be the equivalent of putting the Genie in the bottle. The deuterium in the Earth's seawater will then ensure that all of humankind's energy needs will be met for the foreseeable future.
Here, too, we see an analogy with controlling the self. For without control, power is not powerit is a liability. And an uncontrolled Base Self is not freedom, but rather, our doom.
Let's subdue that genie. Let's put the Seal of the Prophet (who is himself “the seal of the prophets”) on that stopper.

2001, 3001, AND THE CUBE - PART 2 of 2

Part 2 of 2
On the deepest psychological level the film’s plot symbolizes the search for God, and it finally postulates what is little less than a scientific definition of God.
—Stanley Kubrick (to Rolling Stone magazine, on 2001)

The Esoteric Aspect

The Pilgrimage signifies the return to the Origin—not only the origin of Islam, of monotheism and of humanity, but the Source of all that is, namely, God. 

We may start our investigation with the Sufis, who are loosely known as the mystics of Islam. Every true religion consists of exoteric teaching, i.e. external rules and procedures, and esoteric teaching which reveals inner meaning. The literalist or exoterist is concerned only with the outward, the esoterist only with the inward. The Sufis are followers of the Middle Way, upholding both the inner and the outer. In this sense, then, “Sufism = true Islam.” 

According to the Sufis, the Kaaba on earth is a symbol for the Heart in man. We capitalize the word “heart” in order to distinguish it from the blood pump made of flesh; the Heart the Sufis mean is not your physical ticker, but its spiritual counterpart. The heart is located at the center of the human body, just as the Kaaba is located at the center of the world (more about this below). Just as the Kaaba was cleared of idols when Mecca was conquered, all idols, associates, and anything other than God should be cleansed from the Heart if we wish to conquer Paradise. According to Fritjof Schuon: “The pilgrimage is a pre-figuration of the inward journey toward the kaaba of the heart...” [15] The famous mystic poet Rumi notes in his Discourses that the Kaaba stands for union with God. We have already seen that the elevated, purified Heart of the Perfect Man corresponds to the House of Splendor, the Heavenly archetype and counterpart of the Kaaba. “Build a Heart,” say the Sufis, “and you build the Kaaba; ruin (break) a Heart, and you wreck the Kaaba.” 

Why have the Sufis accorded such great importance to the Heart? And why have they compared it to the Kaaba? Because the Heart is the dwelling-place, the seat, of God. “The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me,” says God in a Holy Tradition, “but the Heart of my Faithful servant does.” Hence, when God declares: “Purify My House” (22:26), the exoterist understands this to mean the physical building of the Kaaba. The Sufi does not deny this, but claims that it has a further meaning, namely, “Purify your Heart,” so that the divine light may shine through. 

This light has often been compared to the light of the sun, the sphere of which, as we have seen, has the same symbolic significance as the Cube (Kaaba). According to the famous Sufi sage and author of The Perfect Man, Abdulkarim Jili, the sun is analogous to the heart (qalb). Gold, as we know, is the solar metal, and according to another great Sufi sage, Ibn Arabi, gold is the symbol of the original purity of the soul. Each child is born with that purity, [16] and it can be regained by great effort. Since equivalent symbols can be substituted for each other, we can exchange the sun with gold to obtain “a heart of gold,” or vice versa to obtain a “soul of light” or “enlightened soul.” 

The number 7 occurs in the seven counterclockwise (viewed from above) circuits, the seven trips between the Twin Hills, and the seven stones thrown at the three pillars (symbolizing the three appearances of the devil to Hagar, Abraham, and Ishmael). [17] This is the number of levels of selfhood in Sufism: 1. the Base Self, 2. the Critical Self, 3. the Inspired Self, 4. The Serene (Contented) Self, 5. the Pleased (with God) Self, 6. the (God-)Pleasing Self, and 7. the Purified (Perfected) Self. In other words, one circumambulation, trip, or pebble corresponds to each stage in the development of the self. [18] 

The Arabic word tafa, from which tawaf (circumambulation) is derived, can mean “to attain the summit of a thing by spiraling around it.” [19] The circumambulation, according to Jili, “signifies that we must attain to our selfhood, origin, root, point of union.” [20] 

Now the sense of an ascent by spiraling immediately suggests a vertical dimension. But since one does not climb to the top of the Kaaba during circumambulation, but remains circling at ground level, this vertical elevation must involve, not the third dimension of height, but another dimension. We shall shortly return to this subject. For now, let us move on to consider the meaning of the sacrifice. 

According to Ibn Arabi writing in the Meccan Revelations (Futuhat), as with Shakespeare and Schopenhauer later on, “life is but a dream.” This is supported by the Saying of the Prophet: “Men are asleep; when they die they wake up.” In that case, says Arabi, the events occurring in one’s life can, and should, be interpreted exactly as one interprets symbols in a dream. He has written elsewhere (Fusus, “the Bezels of Wisdom”) that Abraham should have interpreted his sacrifice dream symbolically, in which case he would have seen the truth, that he would be sacrificing a ram rather than his own son. 

All this goes to show that the sacrifice of the ram in real life is itself a symbolic act. Sacrifice has been a part of religion all over the world, and has signified people’s adoration of their Lord (or in polytheism, which is a degeneration of monotheism, of more than one deity). Its meaning, however, lies deeper. 

“Sacrifice,” sacrum plus facere, means “to make sacred.” In Arabic as in Hebrew, korban means “closeness” (to God). Of course, this cannot mean that the sacrificial animal is somehow being sacralized or becoming closer to God. Rather, the offerer of the sacrifice is himself attaining sacrality, is by this act becoming close to God. And finally, it is the sacrifice of himself to God that is involved. What is meant by this is not that one should commit suicide—for otherwise the Faithful would cease to exist, which is obviously not what God intends—but that one should purify one’s self of all things displeasing to the Lord. One should sacrifice the things that are most pleasing to one’s self in order to draw closer to God. In Abraham’s case this was his son, whom he loved most. But since this is a tall order—how many of us ordinary mortals are prepared to sacrifice the things we love?—God has accepted, from us, the sacrifice of a substitute in their stead. This has been specified and institutionalized in order to avoid confusion. 

The sacrifice, then, is symbolic of our sacrifice of our selves, or of those things associated with the self which prevent us from attaining closeness to God. 

As for the Zamzam water: water symbolizes life, purity, and nourishment. By drinking the Zamzam, one purifies oneself, both materially and spiritually. 

Being bathed in sunlight while standing still at Arafat is symbolic of the pilgrim’s being “washed” and “clothed” in divine light. According to a saying of the Prophet: “The (Major) Pilgrimage is Arafat,” while according to another of his sayings, Abraham set the precedent in this case as well. 

Finally, let us consider the meaning of shaving the head. In Christianity as well as in other religions, the tonsure has been a distinction of priests and the pious. Hairlessness is characteristic of both old age, signifying wisdom, and of extreme infancy, signifying the innocence and purity of a newborn baby (the author of the Tao Te Ching was called Lao Tzu, widely claimed to mean “old boy”). In a very real sense, the Pilgrim has died to his old self and been reborn: has donned a “shroud” during the Restriction, has gone through what is even now an ordeal, and come out intact—and, hopefully, transformed—on the other side. Further, a shining head is a solar symbol representing spiritual enlightenment, depicted by the halos of saints. Hence, the shaving of the head denotes the completion of the Pilgrimage, and signifies that one has been rewarded by the Lord for one’s troubles—has been promoted to an exalted station. Like Clarke’s monoliths, the Kaaba is a “door of transcendence”: it uplifts the spirit of the pilgrim in the same way that they transform ape-men into man or man into Star-Child. 

Signs and Similitudes 

Each age must perforce understand religion according to its own conceptions. This does not mean that the basics of religion can be changed, but rather that our mentality is different from that of our ancestors, as indeed our children’s will be from ours. This means that the same truths will be retold in every age in an idiom specific to that age. Is there anything in our age that would help us better understand the details of the Pilgrimage? 

The Koran constantly exhorts human beings to investigate the phenomena that surround us. This emphasis led to Islamic interest in all fields of knowledge, which, as science historian George Sarton (of Harvard) and others have reminded us, laid the basis for the Renaissance and modern science. God Himself declares that He has created signs in all things (6:95-9) for human beings. Among such signs are the forces of nature (89:1-5). “We will show them our signs on the horizons and their own souls” (41:53), He says—signs “on earth, in your own selves, and in Heaven” (51:20-3). God also proclaims that He will not hesitate to draw a simile from even a gnat. As Goethe said:
One aspect of these signs and similitudes is that they also have symbolic significance in the spiritual realm (in our selves). Every object and every process in the universe has a hidden meaning, and science, in the full unfolding of its discoveries, has also—when viewed in a different light—been cataloguing “the knowledge of hidden things” (Ar. ilm ladunni). This is meant not only in the sense that science is discovering previously unknown things about the physical world, though it includes this meaning as well. If we knew, in addition, what these physical truths corresponded to in the spiritual/psychic and symbolic realms, we would then be in possession of “hidden wisdom.” For example, the transformation of carbon into diamond under great heat and pressure represents the transmutation of an ordinary human being, after great ordeals, into the “divine body” of a Perfect Man. What other lessons might be drawn from the discoveries of modern science and technology for our present purposes? 
Everything perishable Is but an allegory
—for the Eternal, that is. 

Accelerated time-frame picture of the Kaaba showing Pilgrim flow. Note the whirlpool or vortex effect. For the scientifically-minded, the counterclockwise direction of flow is the same as that of low-pressure weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere (due to the Coriolis Effect).
The first analogy that the circumambulation of the Kaaba brings to mind is the circling of the planets around the sun. In physics, an object in orbital motion is understood to be undergoing acceleration, even if its angular velocity does not change, because its direction is continually being altered by a force (in the case of the planets, gravitation). Another interesting correspondence is to be found in the realm of electromagnetism.Electrons move in a circular path under the influence of a magnetic field; or, conversely, the circular motion of electrons gives rise to a magnetic field perpendicular to the plane defined by the circle in which the motion takes place. The transverse fields of electric and magnetic force are in fact intimately related, so that it makes more sense to talk about an electromagnetic field rather than to consider the two fields in isolation. The helical motion of electrons in a coil gives rise to a strong magnetic field directed along the axis of the coil. 

This relationship between the electric and magnetic fields made possible the first particle accelerator: the cyclotron, invented by Ernest O. Lawrence. Electrons emitted from a central point were kept under the influence of a constant magnetic field and an alternating electrical field to spiral outward in a plane, accelerating as they did so. 

The Accelerator

These early attempts to obtain highly energetic particles have culminated in the giant particle accelerators of our day. Consider, for example, the CERN facility at Geneva, Switzerland. Its Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) accelerates protons around a circular path up to energies of 24 billion electron volts (GeV). Even more impressive, however, is CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a mammoth ring-shaped tunnel with a 27-kilometer circumference, where gigantic superconducting electromagnets whip particles up to within a fraction of the speed of light, and their collisions are monitored by supercomputers to unlock the secrets of the primordial fireball and the Big Bang. 

Two points may be singled out for examination from these examples. The first is the relationship between circular (or spiral or helical) motion and acceleration, which means, in the end, an increase in energy. The second is that the circular motion of electric charges is coupled to a magnetic force field in the third dimension. 

Now, there is no need to insist on the differences. Nothing could be more obvious than the differences between an elementary particle and a human “particle,” which are enormous and obvious at a glance. Yet one might, perhaps, be forgiven for wondering whether some kind of force field may not in some way be involved in the circumambulation of the Kaaba—not necessarily a physical force field, but a spiritual force field that either creates, or is created by, but is in any case inextricably linked to the ceaseless circular motion of untold millions of human beings. By an application of the principle of equivalence, the descent of God’s Grace may, perhaps, be viewed as a bestowal of, and thus an increase in, spiritual/psychic energy. Furthermore, the circular motion would be linked to a force field in a higher dimension than the plane in which the circular motion occurs—not necessarily the third dimension. 

The Fifth Dimension 

Higher dimensions have become a stock-in-trade of modern physics. For instance, quantum physics uses a mathematical space of 3n dimensions in order to describe the behavior of an ensemble of n particles. In high-energy physics, string theory has used 11 dimensions with interesting results. Infinite-dimensional phase spaces and Hilbert spaces are not uncommon. The ordinary world we inhabit, however, has hitherto been successfully described by the three spatial dimensions, plus—ever since Einstein—the fourth dimension of time. 

Nevertheless, we now have to consider the existence of at least a fifth dimension in order to account for the spiritual dimension in man (and the universe). [21] (In the diagram, x stands for the three spatial dimensions xyz; t for time; and S-C for spirituality or consciousness.) This dimension, though accessible to man’s consciousness, is not reducible to the four dimensions of space-time, and phenomena occurring within it are not necessarily measurable in physical terms. Man, then, is a five-dimensional creature, not four. He is an amphibious being that inhabits two worlds: the physical world with his body, and the spiritual world with his soul. A bird needs two wings in order to be able to fly. Remove one wing, and it cannot. Remove one of man’s two worlds, and he will become a cripple, a stunted creature, no matter how proficient or successful he may be in the other. 

The Laser 

We shall soon return to the subject of the fifth dimension. Before we move on, however, we must consider the second part of the Pilgrimage. We have already mentioned the circumambulations. What metaphor, what simile, does science suggest regarding the Labor between the Twin Hills? 

Another extraordinary discovery of modern science and technology has been the laser. This involves, not elementary particles of matter as in the case of the accelerator, but particles of energy—electromagnetic photons, or light. 

Ordinary light consists of photons of differing wavelengths, directionality, and phase. The comparison was early made that this corresponds to a choir where everybody is singing a different tune, at a different time, and with a different pitch of voice—a cacophony, in fact. The object of the laser is to ensure, as it were, that all the members of the choir sing the same tune at the same time, and with the same pitch. 

The “lasing medium” has two mirrors at both ends, one semitransparent. Light enters this medium and moves back and forth (at the speed of light, naturally) between these two mirrors, exciting the atoms or molecules of the lasing medium. Light of a different directionality escapes through the walls of the cylinder. This back-and-forth movement continues until the atoms discharge exactly in lockstep, producing a light ray of great “purity” in which all the photons are exactly in phase and monochromatic (of the same color or frequency). When a sufficiently energetic beam is built up, it escapes through the semitransparent mirror, yielding a pencil of “coherent” light—with the same directionality, frequency, and phase. 

Here again, we must be careful to observe that there can be no comparison between a beam of laser light and a human being emerging from the seven trips between the Twin Hills. Yet an analogy does suggest itself, in that perhaps the spiritual energy of the Pilgrim is being further focused, intensified, and rendered coherent during this process—which is the same thing as saying that the Grace of God is somehow being further tempered and improved. 

One must be extremely cautious not to overdo such metaphors, or to draw the wrong parallels. The subject must be approached with a gravity commensurate with the occasion. In any case, the simile of the laser, like that of the accelerator, is an interesting one—an allegory [22] that excites the imagination, and suggests that there may be more things in heaven and earth “than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” 

Re-enactment, Participation, Regeneration 

The story does not end there, however. As Mircea Eliade has convincingly argued, [23] religious ceremonies are an attempt to re-create the original situation considered to be sacred, and the sacred he has shown to mean the real—or at least, the more real. Everything we experience in our profane, four-dimensional space-time is finite, evanescent, fleeting, temporary. The sacred, on the other hand, is permanent, eternal, ever-present and everlasting. Sacred time is eternally present; it is the eternal now or—to use Alan Watts’ coinage—”nowever,” as indeed sacred space is the eternal here or “here-ever.” Our ordinary space-time is in some way a subset of this sacred space-time—a surface of lesser dimension, as it were, in a space of higher dimension. This space is coextensive with, but not limited or bounded by, our own continuum, and its structure is such that it can be, but is not usually, accessed from every point in our world. [24] 

Hence, when a religious person performs a ceremony, he is attempting to draw closer to the primordial event that occurred either solely in sacred space-time, or in its intersection with ours. This means that the “surface” of our continuum is not a smooth plane; it is an undulating surface of both crests and troughs, peaks and valleys. This is the reason why the Kaaba is considered to be “the highest place on earth,” in spite of the fact that the mountains surrounding it are there for all to see. This clearly indicates that the “height” in question is not the physical height of the third dimension.

The Kaaba as it may be conceived of in spiritual space.
What all this means is this: the events experienced by Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael happened in both ordinary space-time and in sacred space-time. They happened on a “mountaintop,” as it were, and precipitated the descent of Divine Grace. Hence, when a pilgrim implements the procedure of the Pilgrimage, he is also attempting to draw closer to that point in space-time by means of this implementation, in order to share in the “rain” of Grace. (Ideally, though impossibly, this wouldabolish the interval separating the here-now from the there-then.) This follows a three-stage process: Re-enactment, participation, and regeneration. 

By re-enacting the details of the original ordeals, the pilgrims place themselves in the condition of, the same state-space as, Abraham and his family. They are thus led to participate in the very actions they are emulating by reason of this emulation. (Induction may be an appropriate physical simile for this.) Finally, they harvest the same auspicious results as their archetypal role-models did, since God has here opened an avenue—a channel—to the reception of His Grace. This isregeneration or sanctification, involving a death to the old self and rebirth of a new, pure self, due to which the pilgrim has been promised that “all his earlier sins will be cleansed (forgiven), and he will be as if newborn,” like a Star-Child. 

Anila Q. Agha: Intersections, ArtPrize 2014. The cube is lit from within. The intricately laser-cut patterns
cast shadows on the walls and ceiling, 
evoking the sacred space of the Alhambra Palace.

The Black Stone 

Of the complex of symbols and processes surrounding the Pilgrimage, one remains to be dealt with: the Black Stone—the heart, as it were, of the Black Cube that comprises the Kaaba. 

All pilgrimages are, to borrow a phrase from Jules Verne, a “Journey to the Center of the World.” (“World” here does not, of course, mean the physical globe of the earth.) In a certain very real sense, the pilgrim is returning to the Origin, both in space and in time, of the universe. The North Pole—pointing toward the North Star—is a fitting image for this “still point of the turning world.” Since Adam, the first man, was the first to visit the Black Stone and circumambulate it, this event is an archetypal model for all subsequent journeys by all human beings to all other sanctuaries conceived of as being “the Center of the World,” [25] for which, in turn, the Black Stone constitutes the archetype. This is not all, however. The Kaaba also “faces the center of Heaven” [26], which means that a vertical axis connects the Center of the World with the Center of Heaven. This can be represented if we lump the three spatial dimensions x, y, z into one axis and show the dimension of time t on a second axis, thus reducing space-time to a plane. (This is, in fact, nothing other than adding a third axis to a space-time diagram—as we just saw above.) Again, it should be stressed that this vertical dimension is not the third physical dimension of height. 

This axis, then, is in fact the path of “descent” or projection of the Black Stone from its heavenly counterpart onto the earth. It is also the invisible axis around which the counterclockwise circuits occur, and toward which Moslems in concentric circles prostrate themselves in Formal Prayer all over the world. (We have already mentioned the force field occurring perpendicular to the plane of circular motion, which if existent would coincide with this axis.) 

The Black Stone is the foundation stone of the Kaaba, in the sense that it was originally at its center and was the first stone to be “laid.” Later, however, it was moved from the center to the corner for easy access (since the House of God is seldom entered), and during the reconstruction of the Kaaba at various times it was the cornerstone, the last stone to be lifted into place. And “the cornerstone is at the exact center of the world.” [27] 

The Black Stone, then, is the keystone in the sense that it is both the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. At first, its displacement from the center of the Kaaba (the vertical axis) to the corner may appear to be a discrepancy. The alif, however—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, as is aleph in the Hebrew—consists of a vertical stroke slightly curved to one side at the bottom. 

Now the significance of this alif is threefold. First, it is the first letter of the Supreme Name of God (Allah), and hence represents that Divine Name. Second, it highly resembles the numeral “1”, and reminds us that God is One. And finally, it represents the vertical axis, the axial pillar. Its upper point represents the Secret of Secrets, reaching all the way up to the Archetypal Stone in Heaven and passing, perhaps, even beyond, to the Paradise of the Essence. And on the other hand, its lower end corresponds exactly to the position of the Keystone, the Black Stone of the Kaaba. [28] 

Now we have already associated the seven circumambulations with an increase in spiritual/psychic energy, and the seven trips with a refinement, a coherence, of this energy. One question, however, remains: energy for what? 

Almost thirty years after 2001, Arthur C. Clarke published 3001: The Final Odyssey. [29] His plot was as imaginative as ever. Astronaut Poole dies, is resurrected a thousand years in the future, goes to Star City (the “Heavenly City”—remember New Jerusalem and Wells’ Time Traveler), up to which leads, from the earth, the “Space Elevator.” There are four of these elevators contained in towers reaching up to “the Heavenly City,” which girdles the earth like a ring (refer back to the symbolism of the ring and the circle). This Tower is a “gigantic, sky-piercing cylinder” which, as Clarke tells us in his “Sources,” until recently could only be made of diamond. But this is precisely Plato’s “axis of diamond” which he describes as the World Axis, another description for which is the “pillar of light.” [30] (Since the book was published, there have been concrete proposals to build real-life space elevators using ultrastrong materials.) 

Now the primeval Pen (the Qalam, mentioned in 68:1) is light in Islam. According to a Tradition, the Pen, of which the pencil-like minarets of a mosque are symbolic, was the First Light and the First Spirit to be created. [31] Likewise, the writing by the Pen on the Guarded Tablet is a light of God. 

At this point we might remember that there was another House of God besides the Kaaba, for which, as we have seen, the latter provides the archetype. Jacob, in his dream at Haran, saw a ladder reaching up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it, and heard the Lord speaking from above it, saying: “I am the Lord God of Abraham.” Jacob woke up, and said: “This is none other but the house of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven” (named the “Sun Door” in other traditions—recall the “Star Gate” of 2001). He took a stone that had been serving as his pillow, set it up as a monument, and called the place Beth-El: “the House of God” (Genesis,28:12-19). 

Moreover, Eliade has collated evidence from all over the world that this cosmic pillar, or “Jacob’s Ladder,” has been known to all people of all cultures and all places. Here are some of the names it has been called: Pillar of the Universe (which supports heaven and all things). World Axis. Universal Column. Sacred Pillar. Door to the World Above. Cosmic Pole. Pole of Heaven. Center of the World (located “in the Middle,” at the “Navel of the Earth”). Post of the World. Universal Pillar. Jedi Column. Link between Heaven and Earth. As Eliade is careful to note: “The multiplicity, or even the infinity, of centers of the world raises no difficulty for religious thought. For it is not a matter of geometrical space, but of an existential and sacred space that has an entirely different structure, that admits of an infinite number of breaks and hence is capable of an infinite number of communications with the transcendent.” [32] 

Furthermore, this Cosmic Pillar forms the axis of the Cosmic Mountain (the Magic Mountain that represents the universe), the Sacred Mountain (e.g. Mt. Meru, Mt. Alburz, Mt. Gerizim, Mt. Olympus), the cone that represents this mountain, the evergreen Christmas tree with a star at the top which resembles the mountain, the Wheel of Life, the World Tree, the Tree of Life, of which—for example—the shinbashira (“heart pillar”) column at the center of Japanese pagodas is symbolic. In the upward direction are ordered the various heavens. Its base is in our four-dimensional space-time continuum. In the negative direction, towards the underground roots, are the various hells and infernal regions. 

Now, the laser would probably be the best simile for this world axis. Two facts, however, militate against it. First, the laser is monochromatic (of a single frequency or color), whereas the pillar is always composed of white light, which is a composite of all colors. Second, the axis is curved at the bottom, which never occurs with a laser. So, as our final symbol or metaphor from modern science and technology, we shall choose: the fusion reactor. 

The Tokamak

 Left: The tokamak fusion reactor design seeks to confine plasma using powerful magnetic fields. Right: The experimental Korean tokamak KSTAR achieved plasma state in 2008. In 2012, it confined plasma for 17 seconds@50 million degrees Celsius.
Two schemes have been proposed for achieving thermonuclear fusion: inertial confinement and magnetic confinement. Of these strategies, we select magnetic confinement as our model, and more specifically the tokamak design, first proposed by Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov. 

The four classical elements of earth, water, air, and fire have today found their counterparts in the four states of matter recognized by modern physics: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. When matter is heated to temperatures that exist within the sun’s core—say, a hundred million degrees—the ordinary structure of the atom can no longer be maintained, and a fourth, “plasma,” state is reached where electrons and nuclei exist freely without bonding to each other. The nuclei, thus stripped of their electrons, are able to “fuse,” liberating immense amounts of energy. 

This plasma would, of course, instantly vaporize anything it came into contact with, so the idea has been proposed of confining it in a “magnetic bottle.” In the tokamak design, this bottle consists of a toroid, or doughnut-shaped ring. Although tokamaks of the same circumference as the LHC have not yet been built, one can imagine such a device, a short segment of which—while still curved—would then approximate a straight line. 

In this device, a shaft of white-hot plasma is separated from all external things by means of an insulating wall, and is confined by magnetic field lines that prevent the plasma from touching the wall. Here, too, would be a sign for those who wish to consider such “signs on the horizons and in themselves.” 

The Inner Space Elevator 

Most important of all, the cosmic pillar is the axis along which the Ascension to Heaven occurs. We hasten to add that this Ascension, also known to all peoples, does not refer to a physical elevation into outer space, but again to a spiritual elevation in inner space. This Ascension to Heaven and to God is called miraj in Arabic. The latter word should not be confused with “mirage,” meaning an optical illusion and deriving from the Latin mirari (to wonder at) as well as the French mirer (to look at, to aim at). On the contrary, miraj means “ladder” or “stairway,” and in our day would mean “elevator” or “escalator.” Its plural, maarij, is the name of a chapter in the Koran and is mentioned in the same chapter (70:3-4). This implies that there are more than two “stairways”—in fact, a plurality of Ascensions, the greatest and most famous of which is Mohammed’s Ascension.

Thus, Clarke’s “Space Elevator” in psychic reality corresponds to the Inner Space Elevator, called miraj in Islam. And this elevator itself is symbolic of the Ascending [33] Straight Path of Islam, which, when carried out faithfully, constitutes the foolproof algorithm for sanctity and happiness. We thus begin to see how right Moslems have been in claiming that Islam is the perennial religion, the archetypal religion that combines and incorporates all religions, philosophies, and mysticism. 


We see, therefore, that the spiritual/psychic energy granted by God during the Pilgrimage will help pilgrims, in the future life, to ascend to a level in accordance with their accomplishments. This is one of the greatest boons of God that can be bestowed on a human being—any human being. 

A good analogy for this process by which people are “beamed up” might be the model of the atom provided by modern physics. The atom pictured as a miniature solar system came to Niels Bohr (like Kekulé’s benzene ring, and the DNA double helix) in a dream. Although this view has long since been superseded, a part of Bohr’s model is still with us, in which the electrons orbiting an atomic nucleus are conceived of as inhabiting different energy levels. Each “shell” surrounding the nucleus corresponds to a different step on the “energy staircase.” An electron absorbing a quantum of energy (a photon) jumps to a higher energy level, and any electron receiving enough energy to be knocked out of the upmost level becomes “liberated” to wander as a free electron. In the present analogy, the steps of the energy staircase would correspond to the various levels of heavens, and the liberated electrons would correspond to the saints (or “friends of God,” or “the Free”) who are drawn near to the Divine Presence. (Proximity to God is preferable to any heavenly state, no matter how wonderful.) 

But the Pilgrimage is a journey which, after all, only a comparatively few can embark on. What about all the rest who cannot make the trip in their lifetimes? 

Fortunately, the Pilgrimage is not the only way that one can attain to Ascension. For the Prophet of God returned from his Ascension with the great good news that human beings can purify themselves and come closer to God by another method,which he enjoined on all Moslems: namely, the Formal Prayer. “The (Formal) Prayer,” he said, “is the Ascension of the Faithful.” And, further: “Who has no (Formal) Prayer has no Ascension.” This means that God has folded up the possibility of Ascension and placed it in the Formal Prayer. 

All this, and much more besides, is dealt with in the Koran, which incorporates and goes beyond (represents the culmination of) the previous three books (the Bible), and which constitutes God’s Final Testament to mankind. 

[15] Fritjof Schuon, Understanding Islam (London: Allen & Unwin, 1976) [1963], p. 79.
[16] Titus Burckhardt, Alchemy (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1972) [1960], p. 85, 126.
[17] In connection with the esoteric aspect of the journey, it is also said that the three pillars stand for satanic manifestations that prevent the Unification of Actions, of Attributes, and of the Essence. Or, again, satanic manifestations at the level of Sacred Law, of Spiritual Schools, and of Gnostic Knowledge (the culmination of which is the attainment of Reality).
[18] According to Ibn Arabi, 7 represents the Seven Essential Attributes of God: Power, Will, Knowledge, Life, Hearing, Sight and Speech.
[19] Fritz Meier, "The Mystery of the Ka‘ba," in Joseph Campbell (ed.), The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press (Bollingen Series), 1990) [1955], p. 164n41.
[20] Jili, The Perfect Man, quoted in ibid., n42.
[21] See the article on Superheroes on this website.
[22] "Allegory is the interpretation of experience by means of images"—Dorothy Sayers (in her Introduction to the Divine Comedy, quoted by Philip Wayne in the Introduction to his translation of Faust, Part Two ).
[23] Eliade, op. cit.
[24] See the discussion of a fifth dimension in the “Superheroes” article.
[25] Eliade, p. 183.
[26] Quoted in Eliade, p. 38.
[27] Ibid., p. 54. (Italics in the original.)
[28] René Guénon, Fundamental Symbols (Cambridge: Quinta Essentia, 1996) [1962], p. 192n19.
[29] A. C. Clarke, 3001: The Final Odyssey (New York: Ballantine Books, 1997).
[30] Guénon, p. 196.
[31] “First” here corresponding to “Mohammedan.”
[32] Eliade, p. 57.
[33] Sirat al-mustaqim: “The ascending path.” Guénon, p. 156n7.