I’m pretty sure that mine is an unpopular opinion.
I learnt the hard way to trust my instincts when it comes to aqeedah. A group of people tried to tell me that Allah and Prophet Muhammad SAW is one and inseparable, and to pray with “Ya Muhammad” and “Ya Adam” as well. In the blur of those moments, I didn’t know I needed to save myself, so Allah rescued me and took me out of that group of people. The liberation gave me a lot of pain at first, but looking back, I know that Allah only wanted the best for my soul.
I am grateful that I started reading this book together with the book Tafseer Soorah Al-Hujurat by Dr Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, published by International Islamic Publishing House. The tafseer clarified aqeedah issues that I found in Divine Love.
It is mentioned in Divine Love that “He blew His spirit into your mould of clay” (page 29), we are “fashioned with the breath of God’s spirit” (page 46), “God then tells the angels to prostrate not to the form of Adam, but to the spirit of God reflected within him” (page 50) and “we are reminded that had Allah not blown His breath into us we would be nothing but dead earth” (page 189).
She then mentioned this verse from the Quran, surah Saad verse 72 which she took this translation: “I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit.”
I believe that we should be very careful with saying that the ruh (spirit) we have in us is a piece of God. In Tafseer Soorah Al-Hujurat, pages 172 to 173, Dr Philips said:
[Such was the legacy of the latter generations of Sufis build on the false premise that we are one with Allah. The early generation of pious individuals like Abdul Qadir Al Jeilani and others whom later generations claimed to be Sufis and saints clearly understood the importance of distinguishing between the Creator and the created…
Perhaps the most misunderstood verse related to the union with God concept is that in which Allah said in reference to Adam, “The He fashioned him and blew in him from His spirit…” from surah As-Sajdah, verse 9. Also in surah Al-Hijr verse 29 and surah Saad verse 72.
This verse does ot mean that Allah blew a part of His spirit into Adam and that this spirit yearns to rejoin the main spirit from whence it came as has been claimed. Nor does the verse in referece to Maryam, the mother of Eesa, “She was chaste so We blew in her from Our spirit” from surah Al-Anbiya’, verse 91.
Possessive pronouns (my, your, his, our, etc.) in Arabic as in English have two meanings depending on the context in which they are used. They may describe an attribute which is part of its owner as in the phrase “This is my ilfe” or they may describe a mere possession as in the phrase “This is my car”.
In the case of the Creator, all creation belongs to Him and so it is all His creation. All spirits are His spirits for they were created. The Islamic concept of God is not one of a spirit as in Christianity. The spirit came into being by Allah’s creational command, be (Kun), as is evident in the following verse 85 in surah Isra’, “They ask you concerning the spirit, tell them, the spirit is from my Lord’s command, and you have only been given a very small amoount of knowledge.”
In order to indicate the suporiority of some aspects of creation over the groups to which they belong, Allah refers to some of them as His, while others He does not.
Or sometimes Allah uses the possessive form to remind us that everything belongs to Allah. Thus, by referring to the Spirit as His, Allah gives it a special place of honour among the spirits which He has created, not that He, Allah, has a spirit and blew a piece of it into the Prophets Adam and Eesa.]
I believe we should also be careful on how we describe Allah’s attributes.
There are a few instances in the book that the author wrote phrases like, “the storehouses of His grace” (page 138), “before we step into the holy banquet of God” (184), “we bow to the signature of God, to the divine fingerprints left upon every spirit of man” (page 186), “when we repetitively turn to God our spirit become wrapped in Allah’s colorful qualities” (page 194), and “we’re floating peacefully along the river of God’s decree” (page 224).
I know that linguistically, we can beautify our essays with metaphors, or high-sounding and flowery words. However, I recently learnt that we should only describe Allah with the words that He used to descibe Himself, that is from the Quran and the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad SAW. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not know that Allah’s grace has a storehouse, that Allah has a holy banquet, that Allah has signatures and fingerprints, that Allah has colorful qualities, or that God’s decree has a river. Again, if we’re describing a mother’s love, or writing a romantic novel, perhaps we can say all these beautiful words. But from what I understand, we should only use the words that Allah and His messenger (SAW) has used when we’re describing Allah’s attributes.
This book claimed to celebrate the spiritual similarities within different sects in Islam, as well as welcoming people from various religions to read this spiritual book. I do agree that we need to be more inclusive with each other, but the author did not appear to walk the talk. She mentioned sufi teachers and poets like Rumi, Shams Tabrizi, and Hafiz. She wrote a few verses from the Bible and from an Indian poet named Rabindranath Tagore, quotes from Pablo Picasso, Mahatma Gandhi, Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, mentioned names of some modern scientists, and even stories from the 13th century satirist, Mullah Nasruddin.
However, despite mentioning the fourh caliph, Ali (RA), there did not seem to be any mention of the first, second, and third caliphs. I noticed some hadith that were narrated by, for example, Umar Al Khattab (RA), on how he teared up to see that the mat Prophet Muhammad SAW slept on left marks on his body, while kings of Persia and Rome lived in luxury and comfort (page 163). This comes from Sahih Muslim, but in the book, the name Umar Al Khattab (RA) was not even mentioned.
In the notes, there is a mention that “a wife of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) described him by saying ‘Verily, the character of the Prophet of Allah was the Qur’an’.” (page 329) It is taken from Sahih Muslim, and was actually narrated by Aisyah (RA). There are a few other instances of which the author says “the wife of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)” but did not specify who that wife is.
If the reason for not mentioning specific names is to save some space for the wordy book, well, perhaps that’s acceptable. However, having claimed that this book is “inclusive” and having mentioned all other names, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, I feel that it is a little unfair to not include these famous companions themselves. I believe we should respect everyone, and with that, we should include every person’s names. These are the people who struggled in the name of Allah, the inspiring people who did their absolute best for the name of Islam, the people whom the fruits of their efforts can be seen up to this day. It would only be respectful to mention who they are, especially when you have the space to mention others.
I feel a little uncomfortable when the book talks about the companions/sahabah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) as “followers of the Prophet (SAW)”. These are Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) companions, and we have been using the term “sahabah” (companion) since the beginning, saying “followers” doesn’t sound right. It also didn’t feel right to follow the du’a that the author suggested, asking Allah to “allow my soul to drink from the holy light of Your Prophet (SAW)” (page 172), since I’m not sure that there’s such a thing in Islam.
With the little knowledge and understanding that I have of Allah SWT and Prophet Muhammad (SAW), these are my arguments on why I would not recommend this book to anyone. Yes, it is full of beautiful, instagrammable quotes. Yes, there are some good contents as well (but many book reviewers and instagrammers have already talked about it, so I’m not going to write them here). However, we do need to be alert on what we’re reading, and more importantly, what we’re absorbing.
Lesson from this book is, we should try as much as we can to read books from religious scholars who have had formal education in Islam. This is not just an issue with religious books/knowledge, but the problem is rampant in any forms of knowledge, including health/medicine. We know that many people follow the advice of health bloggers, instagrammers or influencers, instead of real qualified doctors. Of course, we know that there are some health bloggers who give good advice. However, some of them simply have good communication skills and have superior language skills compared to qualified doctors, therefore are more attractive, despite having patchy knowledge. Hence we need to be more careful with what we read, digest and practice.