Divine Recollection As the Essence of Islam
Someone proposed to me recently that love of God and love of neighbor is the essence of Christianity, and they asked what was the essence of Islam. Here are some thoughts on this question:
When all is said and done the Islamic revelation, and Islamic spirituality in all its forms, comes down to two things:
*The disclosure of the Divine Names and
*Remembrance of God.
Jewish spirituality is based upon the withholding of the Divine Names and the mysteries thereof. In Second Temple Judaism the Divine Names were a secret of the priesthood. In Rabbinic Judaism they are withheld “until Elijah cometh..” The Koran, on the other hand, provides a full disclosure of Names, including the Name of the essence, ALLAH. This disclosure is the most striking thing about the Islamic revelation. The Divine Names punctuate the whole revelation.
As well, the Islamic revelation dwells upon the theme of remembrance. The Koranic covenant is this: “Remember Me and I will remember you!” This is the very core of the Islamic revelation, and in practical terms is the whole modus operandi of Islamic spirituality: everything else is footnotes.
The disclosure of the Names and the covenant of remembrance amount to one and the same thing because it is through the Divine Names that we remember God. This is the means of remembrance that has been given to us. The whole method of spiritual transformation in Islam is through remembering God by His revealed Names. The remembrance of God by the means of His Names is what is essential in Islam.
Contra Christianity Islam is not, in the first instance, about love of God or love of neighbor, except that love of God and neighbor follow from remembrance of God, and ‘The Compassionate’ and ‘The Merciful’ are the primary Divine Names after the Name of the essence.
In Islam the one essential commandment is ‘Remember God!’ The remembrance of God is the whole of the Law. Sin is a forgetting; righteousness is recollection.
Remember your Lord much – Koran 3:41
Remember ALLAH, standing, sitting, and reclining. – Koran 3:191, 4:103
So remember the Name of your Lord and devote yourself with a complete devotion – Koran 73:8
And do you remember your Lord within thyself humbly and with awe, below your breath, at morn and evening. And be not you of the forgetful. – Koran 7:205
I always return to the following hadith. For me, it sums everything up:
It is reported – but Allah knows best – that a man said to the Prophet Muhammad – upon whom be peace – “Messenger of Allah, the laws of Islam are too much for me. Tell me something I can cling to.” He said, “Your tongue should remain moist with the remembrance of Allah.”
Dr. Rodney Blackhirst is the author of Primordial Alchemy and Modern Religion: Essays on Traditional Cosmology