*This article should be read in conjunction with our earlier article on integration. Its language and examples are
largely from Islamic and Sufi literature but I believe it is of universal application. I have used the term God, Allah and
The Divinity as synonyms.. If the resolution on your computer interferes try to connect to this PDF file.
The process of organising the spiritual faculties so as to ensure the maximum benefit from the ever-
flowing Mercy of Allah has been described previously* by addressing the issue of spiritual sobriety and
spiritual drunkenness. It was established, with the help of Shah Wali Ullah, that it was the organisation of
the faculties that enabled the Divine Flow of Blessings (spiritual wine) to be distributed to the heart,
intellect, and bodily faculty so that the result was neither complete intoxication, in which all the faculties
were fused together, nor complete sobriety in which the flow remains in one or another faculty independent
of the rest. This was done through each faculty retaining an open channel to the core purpose of the soul,
to ‘survive’ spiritually, whilst keeping a degree of autonomy in its own sphere. The flow of Mercy from Allah
is channelled through this core need to survive and grow spiritually into each of the semi-autonomous
Here we seek to apply this parable of inner organisation to a cultural issue that has many branches but, I
believe, a common root. It concerns a dichotomy between the individual and his human environment -
The Nature of the Dichotomy
We will go first to the holy Qur’an to identify the issue more clearly. In the Qur’an there are passages that
clearly state that one has a significant, indeed imperative, duty of care, obedience and respect to ones
parents and implicitly also to other family members, as well as a duty of charity to the wider community.
Charity of course implies not merely financial aid.
The holy Qur’an also has passages that specifically indicate that one’s duty, even to one’s parents can be
overridden because one is ultimately (on the day of Resurrection) answerable only for oneself, and that all
relationships other than that with Allah will be meaningless at that time. As we will see, and as is always
the case, understood properly the Qur’an in these statements provides all we need to know – we just need
to grasp the implication behind the words.
There appears to be a dichotomy between personal responsibility for one's self to Allah on one hand and
social responsibilities to one's fellow men on the other; between the individual's uniqueness and his or her
role as member of a family, tribe, society, country, and culture. To put it another way, between a man and
mankind. (Ladies please accept the use of the masculine gender throughout to encompass both genders,
for convenience sake).
It is worth pausing here and giving some respectful consideration to that great Sufi Saint Ibn Arabi who
throughout his ‘philosophical’ works demonstrates that a dichotomy is inherent in the very nature of
creation. God said ‘Be’ and it becomes, but in becoming ‘it’ becomes both other than God and not other
than God. From this we may take comfort that the dichotomy is intended by God. That however does not
absolve us from the responsibility of so ordering ourselves that we take maximum advantage of His Mercy
in order to be ‘Pleased with Him and He well pleased with us’.
The polarities of individual and mankind is manifest in many forms. Socially this dichotomy can appear
as individualism versus hierarchy ism; politically as socialism versus liberalism; commercially as
competitiveness versus co-operation. Sometimes it can appear in the guise of tradition versus modernity,
or collectivism versus individual freedom and so on. There are so many manifestations of this fundamental
dichotomy that one would be hard put to find any area of life it does not influence. Politically, for example,
the emergence of dictatorships or other forms of authoritarian control across the Middle East reflect a
preference for a strong social hierarchy with clearly established roles into which the individual has to fit.
Many traditional cultures value theirs arts for their ability to be ‘perfect’ in an established culturally accepted
form, whilst much ‘western’ culture values innovation and individual creativity above all else.
Much of the conflicts thought to be between Islam and the 'West' really have at their root the concern of
traditional cultures that these social values, in particular the dominance of family/clan loyalties, are
threatened by the media dominance of western culture and its insidious preference for individualism. What
are traditionally thought of as Eastern cultures have, over the centuries, demonstrated a clear preference
for giving precedence to societal ‘roles’ over the uniqueness of the individual member of society. The
caste structure in Hinduism is an extreme and very unhappy example of this that still exerts an influence. It
is felt in its more modified form amongst the educated classes of some countries with the dominance of
the familial or clan roles over the individual identity of its members. Political Islam has also often appeared
to take this road of assigning priority to these social roles partly because of the cultures it initially spread to.
At a much more local level, so to speak, this dichotomy is experienced on a daily basis by second or third
generation immigrant communities in western countries such as England when their children espouse
individualism in favour of their prescribed roles within their family or clan. This is felt acutely in areas such
as arranged marriages and love marriages.
That, in very, very broad brush strokes is the nature of the dichotomy and its manifestations. The question
is not so much how we can resolve this dichotomy, since as Ibn Arabi suggests it is inevitable, but how we
can so organise our self within to ensure we maximise the beneficial effects of the ever present flow of
Divine blessings for the individual and for mankind and its constituent structures.
The Nature of the Solution
It is not our purpose to present specific solutions to the mass of individual problems that arise from this
dichotomy in the outside world. Instead it is to make a pattern available within our mind that organises our
ability to respond to that dichotomy. To do this we intend to make use of the parable of the city previously
To re-state it:
Initially a core building/structure is established that is able to provide the bare necessities for survival
for everyone. If this functions well additional buildings/structures arise that can facilitate the production
of these necessities and enable them to reach people more effectively. Around these structures more
complex structures begin to appear, providing facilities to enable these support mechanisms to function
better, perhaps an army to protect the resources, housing for labour etc. In short a complete
infrastructure. The process continues until a city emerges; each layer providing support to the previous
layers. Each structure, however far it is apparently removed from the core function nevertheless existing
primarily to support that core purpose of survival. Each structure develops its own specific rules and
develops a degree of autonomy that nevertheless leaves it subservient to the prime function of the
centre. If Allah is pleased and causes an effulgence of divine blessings to flow - perhaps in the form of
improved harvest, the discovery of some valuable natural resource etc - the core function is enhanced
and all the supportive mechanisms are likewise caused to receive their share of the enhancement
which they adapt according to their specific requirements.
The fact of the stratification of mankind into layers is important but the content of each stratum is not
significant for our immediate purpose nor is the ordering of the strata. In terms of our city parable we need
to identify the central building with its primary purpose of survival and the fact that other surrounding
structures that have grown up to support it demonstrate distinctive if irregular layers.
The stratification of mankind could be described (starting from the centre) as self, nuclear family, extended
family, clan, group or profession, tribe, class or caste, region, country, continent, race, religious affiliation
or value system (as distinct from spirituality), and ultimately mankind itself. Whether this order is correct or
pertinent to everyone need not concern us. Indeed the parable of the city is useful here since it would be
rare for any given city to have exactly the same structures in the same order. A broad pattern would
however be discernible. Muslims might reflect on the symbolism presented by the City of Mecca itself with
its central building devoted to Allah.
The Centrality of our Humanity
The core function of the central building in our parable is not the individual selfhood; it is the relationship of
the individual soul with its Creator. This is the way in which we will use the term ‘humanity’ or ‘essential or
true humanity’. The holy Qur’an in Al-Tiin says that man was originally created in the best of moulds – and
this I take to refer to what I have called his true humanity. By mankind we mean the sum of the parts.
All social structures in fact exist to support man’s essential humanity. If those structures assume too much
autonomy so as to restrict that humanity, the flow of blessings from Allah becomes reduced – society in its
various stratum may be effective in its functioning but also oppressive to the humanity of its members and
thus risks alienating the Divinity and losing the flow of Divine blessings on which it depends. ‘Have you
considered who will bring you pure running water, if your water drains away?’ (Qur’an 67:30)
It is also evident that without these social stratum our humanity would be severely restricted and in terms
of the parable the city would never develop. It would be as if the city had only one building and all the rest
were just open fields with perhaps an odd tent here or there and the inhabitants without shelter.
The relationship of each stratum to the next is not central to our theme, but we follow Shah Saheb and
Mevlana Rumi in their description of creation as occurring in distinct phases. Mineral followed by vegetal,
animal and then human. Each phase is first established and then, following a Divine effulgence, the best
parts of it evolves into a higher level. A parallel process in the development of our city is assumed here.
The Parable Expanded and Clarified.
To clarify let us return to the city parable. Firstly it is necessary to recognise that though there is a general
pattern of expanding concentric layers or stratum, these are not neat evenly spaced layers. As in a real
city the various surrounding buildings do not completely encircle the centre but rather nestle against it and
overlap each other often in idiosyncratic ways. More like slabs of clay thrown on by a potter to build up a pot
from a core lump of clay.
The ‘centre’, consisting of one’s personal humanity, is the function of the central building. The building, as
such, would be one’s encasing self hood. Immediately adjacent to this and to some extent but not fully
would be the building or structure we call the nuclear family. In many cases this is a building of some
considerable significance, but not for example in the case of an orphan. The extended family forms
another building or series of buildings butting on to this at some points. In other cases it has hardly any
size or even does not’t exist; similarly with the local ‘community hall’.
‘Society’ represents a usually formidable set of halls and offices that frequently do surround the inner
buildings, and at points abut immediately on the central building itself. The city grows outward in this
hotchpotch fashion incorporating race, religion, caste, class, language, colour, nationality etc. The city as a
whole we call mankind. Each person’s own inner city looks quite different, as do real cities, from other
The important principle we have tried to establish is, despite the size or position of each building or
structures, the purpose and raison d’être of each is to facilitate the function of the central building i.e. the
humanity (spirituality) of the individual or his or her relationship with the Divine source of blessings. It is also
to be a
recipient of those blessings. If these buildings are so autonomous in their functions that they disregard
their core purpose the city becomes simply a collection of independent structures at times competing with
Similarly mankind requires structures to receive the flow of blessings and translate them into benefits
within its distinct spheres. To do this some degree of autonomy in each sphere is a requirement.
We are not talking here about a compromise between the two ends of the polarity – it is to organise
ourselves internally so that the blessings from within flow into our relationship with each necessary social
structure. It is this we have called integration.
The core purpose then of each of us is to develop our personal humanity (our relationship with the Divine).
From this blessings flow to our self and outward to mankind consisting of many semi-autonomous
structures whose primary role is to enhance our humanity whilst maintaining its own function.
The Role of Self-hood.
Clearly as individuals our first and overriding concern is to ensure we facilitate the flow of divine blessings
so that our self hood does not inhibit our humanity. If we do not do so then in a sense we can expect that
our inner city will become starved and cease to function well.
For those on the Sufi Way it is the role of the spiritual guide to support and to help the individual soul to
master their own selfhood and then to help ensure that each of the social structures within his or her city
receive that flow of blessings. Amongst the Sufis the relationship of Love (Ishq) for Allah (The Beloved) is
the relationship aspired to, and in terms of this parable it is the essential function of the centre. The
relationship to people (and therefore to social structures) is characterised as Wudud (one of the qualities
of Allah), The Loving One.
An Illustration of the use of the Model of 'the City Within'
If we take the traditional family as an example of one of the buildings in our city then we need to understand
the rules that need to be followed once we are within that building. Bear in mind this is within us and is
primarily about our thoughts and feelings towards that particular structure. These rules as the holy Qur’an
specifies include respect for roles such as parent or sibling etc. These are part of the semi-autonomous
structure the building requires to function. The respect for the rules however should not be so
comprehensive that we lose sight of our own essential humanity. In this respect as in all others the holy
Prophet (pbuh) is a model in that he had to oppose, under revelatory inspiration, many of the social
institutions of his day where they had lost contact with their central purpose. Many institutions he left in
If we consider a specific issue such as love marriage versus arranged marriage the guidelines are the
same for all parties. First bear in mind the essential purpose of the family is to receive the divine blessings
that flow through its members, not simply to maintain the family at any cost for its own sake. For the
individual of marriageable age it is required that they recognise the importance of the family as a structure
to their entire inner city and as a means for the expression of their own humanity and as evidence of that
humanity on the Day of Judgement.
Each individual involved needs to return inwardly to his or her core building – their self hood, and ensure
that the flow of Allah’s blessings is facilitated within it and that and that any decisions made will not
adversely affect that.
If it is a love marriage then this would involve ensuring it was a marriage so to speak ‘made in heaven’
and not in fact founded on purely physical attraction or on some other transient basis. This requires real
soul searching and utmost sincerity. For a Muslim there is a model for this in the Qur’an with the marriage
of Prophet Moses who struck up a relationship with two women when he watered their flock, and then he
married one after a negotiation with her father (Qur’an 28.22-28).
Similarly if the marriage is an arranged one then the arrangers should have as their primary concern that
the marriage is arranged on the basis of ensuring it will not inhibit the flow of blessings nor be in conflict
with the essential humanity of either party to the marriage. It is necessary that financial or dynastic
concerns are not clouding judgements. The fact of the matter is that if Allah’s blessings are flowing to an
individual then in some way thorny issues are often resolved as happened in the case of Moses in the
story mentioned who had previously prayed to Allah expressing his need for any help that could be given.
Our very, very brief consideration of this issue inevitably leaves out a vast number of significant factors but
the example is cited only to demonstrate the process of using the model of the inner city to structure
thought and feelings which will serve to inform actions.
We have attempted to utilise the parable of a 'virtual' city within us to help structure thoughts and feelings
and thus actions when considering the individual relationship to the human environment. We have based it
largely on our understanding of the work of Shah Wali Ullah of Delhi to whom we are immensely indebted
but even more so to our beloved guide Dr Zahurul Hassan Sharib for his constant guidance and attention
and the ever present help of Nuri Baba Kucukiplikci of Konya.
‘God makes parables for man, and God has knowledge of everything.’ (Qur’an 24.35).
May He remove from this the effect of any suggestions of the evil one inadvertently incorporated and correct in the reader's mind any errors
on our part and forgive us for the same. Amin.
Jamiluddin Morris Zahuri
Feb 5th 2012.
published on the occasion of Milad ul Nabi.
The Application of Spiritual Integration
"...and this city of security..” Qur’an 95.3
From 'The Qur'anic Parables' by Dr Zahurul Hassan Sharib. Sharib Press 2012
Bismillah ar Rehman ir Rahim