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Ahmad Rafique Akhtar - Researching God

Prof. Ahmad Rafique Akhtar

Dr Rafique dedicates himself to giving lectures on various aspects of Islam. He does so all over Pakistan but mainly from his home in Gujar Khan where he receives many students.

Most of his books are published in Urdu except for 'The Argument', a book which outlines his main ideas.

After having been a university professor for many years, Dr Rafique Akthar has retired from his post, dedicating himself to giving lectures and offering advice to all who seek for it. He has a particular following among the middle and upper class circles of Pakistan, which is why some of his ‘students’ (as he calls them) are important politicians and bureaucrats.

One day, I found myself in a room on the roof of his house, surrounded by about ten of his students. I was interested to hear what such a ‘modern Muslim guru’ had to say on God, religion, life and society. What follows is a small part of the long talk we had that day. If the answers of Dr. Akthar sometimes don’t seem to answer the questions, that’s simply because this was how the conversation went. In fact, it felt somewhat more like a monologue than a dialogue.

*

‘God should be the top priority of our intellectual curiosity.’ When I read your texts or look at some of your lectures, it quickly becomes clear that this statement is your main message.

Religion has been changing, from Adam to Mohammed, but one purpose was unique and the same all the time: looking for God. Today, however, if you look at the situation all over the world, it seems that God is only being worshipped as a name or a symbol. The top philosophers and scientists of the modern times, they have only passed opinions on God. They haven’t really looked for him. Scientists spend all their life looking for a solution to one specific problem or focusing on a tiny aspect of reality. Even on minor bacteria they can spend twenty or thirty years of research. But what about God, who created all of it? If we are really serious about knowing why reality was created, we have to devote our lifetime priority to the ultimate reason, which is God.

The top philosophers and scientists of the modern times, they have only passed opinions on God. They haven’t really looked for him.

You often equate the search for God with scientific research. In the West however, people generally make a distinction between ‘the heart’ and ‘the intellect’ and God increasingly becomes a topic of the heart. How do you look at this distinction?

This is a major mistake. Often people think that many aspects of creation are accidental. We think humankind was created by accident, we think art was created by accident, and so on. But once you really start understanding more of the cosmos, you see that there in fact are no ‘accidents’ and that there are very calculated systems around us. It is all based on very solid and definite principles. So it is not the job of the heart. The heart is not intelligible so it is only hearsay that God would be known to the heart. God comes to us in the very quality He has awarded to mankind: our intellect. That is why the mind comes to rest when it believes in God. If it doesn’t, it keeps on telling us that there is something wrong. The heart will just be nostalgic. Blindly nostalgic. You cannot interpret the sadness of the heart. You’re eating, you’re drinking, you’re loving and your physical instincts are being satisfied, but still you feel nostalgic. What is the causes this feeling? It is like someone who’s standing in the desert and who has everything with him, but doesn’t know the direction he has to go in. The truth of the desert lies in the fact that you need a way to the oasis. So the truth of mankind is that you need to figure out why humans were awarded this very special quality that makes it superior to all other creations: intellectual curiosity.

Mysticism exactly means the growth of the intellect. First solving one problem and then going further. I call it a process of ‘outgrowth’. From one state to the other, from one mind to the other, from physical to metaphysical, from psychological to parapsychological and finally you’re only interested to know the blatant Truth. So eventually you have to solve the core question: is God just a proposition or does He really exist?  It’s not all science when we talk of God, but we should be more scientific about Him.

Allah has given us everything. Also the words and the means to study. How would scientists feel if He all of the sudden took those capacities away? Science is just a gift. Allah says in the Qur’an: “We have given you the sciences and ultimate blessings, but you don’t miss and remember me much.” Scientists have too little remembrance of God.

How can we bring such a remembrance into practice? How do you make God your intellectual priority in daily reality? Do you, for example, also imply a remembrance in the form of dhikr, the type of prayer and meditation during which certain names or aspects of God are repeated?

This dome of thought… (Dr. Akhtar points towards the brain.) It has almost eight million cells in it. It records everything: memories, thoughts, etc. But when we think of God, there are no memories. There is no connectivity like when you press your mobile and get an answer. So many people have come up with stupid ideas like ‘God is a fictional creation of people in order to cope with their own insecurity’. Or let’s not call these ideas stupid, because often they were proposed by very intelligent people… But they should not act hypocritical. None of them has really searched for God. It’s not because different cultures created idols of various Gods that this means He’s not there. Naturally, if a man is of lower intellect, he would create a God of mud or stone. Such people sensed that there is something ultimate beyond all reach and they wanted to bring it closer. But later on they made a mistake to allot the powers of God to the stone itself.

Eventually you have to solve the core question: is God just a proposition or does He really exist?  It’s not all science when we talk of God, but we should be more scientific about Him.

In my young years I wasn’t interested in deeper things. I always thought I would waste my life for women, money, culture, reputation, honor and so on. But all these concepts all of the sudden seemed very mundane and stupid to me. So I said to myself: “Let me decide first. If there is a God I am not free. If there is no God, then I rule and I can do anything. I can stand on the road and see an animal in a sexual relation with its own daughter or I can see it murder another animal. If I know these things happen in the animal world and if I think of how I have to survive myself, I could think that I can do it all as well. For if there is no God, to whom would I be answerable?

There is no human society that has ever built moral laws out of itself. We have destroyed all moral laws. If there is no religion, there will be no moral rule because the mind will go secular and amoral. I don’t say our minds will become immoral, but they will become ‘amoral’. They will have no sense of morality and they will think they can do whatever they feel like. But if I’m not free, then I’m responsible to answer back.

All of this is your view of the individual. Would you also think there is a way of focusing society as a whole more on God?

Everybody is interested in God. Everybody is interested in themselves as well. Why doesn’t an atheist believe in God? Some top scientists claim there is no God because they succeeded in creating life. But with what? They used some animal cells that were already there. But who created those animals? They weren’t created by the scientists. So what a fake claim it would be to say that they created life.

We don’t know whether the rules already lie within the universe, or whether what we think becomes a rule. The major enigma of this life is whether it comes from within us or not. I feel very humbled when I think of the fact that I’m created just like everything else was created. Our egocentrism gets hurt when we think of the fact that we are created. We feel smaller if we think about it. That’s good because it takes away our narcissism. Narcissism is the biggest enemy of the human intellect. We tend to feel that we’re better than others for some reason. But how come we think that way? What are the chances that in the 1.80 billion galaxies that surround us, nobody is any better than us?  

Mysticism is the highest accomplishment in religion but the way it is presented these days is almost a hundred percent wrong.

We are tiny. But most people don’t reflect on their tininess. They still hope that one day we will be able to live forever. We know that the earth will eventually be destroyed, but they still hope that we’ll find another planet somewhere. Basically they’re just waiting for the doom. Eventually it will all be destroyed. Noah’s ark is recorded in all the cultures. And that fear is still there within us. We are afraid that today or tomorrow we will see the total destruction. Yet we shouldn’t be afraid to die. We pass through, but we will live again.

The prophet said that the best thing is to die with a good feeling for God and for that He gave us a prayer: “Oh God, give me providence and stability until I die.” I’m not romantic about my faith. Most of the religious people claim a lot of things. But their mental caliber is low.

Do you see mysticism – or the process of ‘outgrowth’ as you called it – as a way of heightening that mental caliber? And if so, do you think the path of mysticism can be followed by everyone?

Mysticism is the highest accomplishment in religion but the way it is presented these days is almost a hundred percent wrong. Today religion is called spiritualism. They speak of Yoga, Shamanism, and so on, yet these are not religious practices. No mystic is looking for clairvoyance, telepathy or telekinesis. Anybody who looks for power is not a mystic. We look for God not for mystic powers.

For God we have to be weak. I have to say goodbye to my strong willful emotions. I have to say goodbye to my greed, my sense of power, and so on. That is why being a mystic is being absolutely normal. A mystic behaves normal and acts normal. And anyone who says he’s a mystic but makes a claim about himself is a liar. Some people might say: “I can convey messages through the mind.” Maybe he can, who knows, but if he claims it, he’s not a mystic. They only claim such things to make you think higher of them. So I often say it is very uncommon to be common and very common to be uncommon. I don’t think anyone is superior to me but I also don’t think anyone is inferior to me. Self-sympathy is the biggest enemy of knowledge in the way of God. Why should I sympathize with myself? Because of being a philosopher or a teacher I would be better than others? Of course I’m not. I just thank God He has enabled me to love him and move closer to Him. And I thank God He accepted me as one of His.

 
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Comments

How beautiful is the language

Charlie

How beautiful is the language ........no words could match what I just read..other than God's love can never be discussed as it just is..............a bond, a rope of connectivity that says in awesome silence......I love you.....knowing He/She loves....is all the peace that one needs to live within universal order.....loves passes through each one of us...to the other. Thank you for that article.....xxx

Interesting article, but I

Rosalinda

Interesting article, but I certainly DON't like some of his remarks.

This remarks is downright dismissive and degrading to women: "In my young years I wasn’t interested in deeper things. I always thought I would waste my life for women, money, culture, reputation, honor and so on. But all these concepts all of the sudden seemed very mundane and stupid to me."

And this also is not true: "They speak of Yoga, Shamanism, and so on, yet these are not religious practices." Yoga is a very old mystical path within Hinduism (4000 years, since yoga is described within the Mahabharata, which was written down 4000 years ago)

And shamanism is also a very ancient religion, in which contact with spirits, other worlds, ancestors, nature and posession by spirits have a key role.

well in no way he was

Anonymous

well in no way he was disregarding woman - he was just mentioning that when he just started to think, these things looked in appropriate to him as life s goal - usually folks spend their life running after such wishes - I find no objection in his statement -

"In my young years I wasn’t

Rosalinda

"In my young years I wasn’t interested in deeper things. I always thought I would waste my life for women, money, culture, reputation, honor and so on. But all these concepts all of the sudden seemed very mundane and stupid to me."

It IS demeaning to women, who are living, feeling, praying, breathing souls and just as human and pious as any man, to equate them with worldy goods, be they material or immaterial. Why in the name of God, are women always MISused as a symbol of the "world" and "wordly things" who distract the so-called pious man of God?

Is it women's fault that many men's biggest goal in life is to conquer as many women as possible? And why is it, that implicitly, men are considered as the standard for being fully human?

I know, these are not literally his words, but his words do show a way of thinking that is purely patriarchal.

No he didn't degrade women,

Atif

No he didn't degrade women, he is just saying that when there is God, and when he created me then he should be my first priority, we shoud not waste our life running after wordly desires, as he mentioned God has to be the top priority for your curisoity about the reality or knowledge, where as number of people waste their life in persuing things which are not there for the taking, Instead when you first deside that you are created being by God, then you must know that he will provide you what is better for you, a better career, a women or a happy peaceful life.

We need to adjust over priority first -- if we make God our first prioirty then he will be closer to us all our life, we would not be derailed in worldy desires and would not become schizophranic, physchotic or depressive, instead we would become normal balanced human beings with having Gods mercy on us all the time.

"We need to adjust over

Rosalinda

"We need to adjust over priority first -- if we make God our first prioirty then he will be closer to us all our life, we would not be derailed in worldy desires and would not become schizophranic, physchotic or depressive, instead we would become normal balanced human beings with having Gods mercy on us all the time."

Making God your first priority is important and well, but I am shocked by the remark that if one just believes enough, one will not become mentally ill. I can tell you that this is not true. By stating this, you're implying that people who become mentally ill have somehow brought it on theirselves.

Some people just have bad luck, bad genes or a bad upbringing that can all lead to diseases and illnesses as psychoses and depressions. Blaming people for those diseases is the same as blaming people with a high blood pressure or cancer for their diseases.

Of course, people can do things to AVOID becoming ill, but mostly if someone becomes ill, it happens to someone.

And this is not just theory or book-knowledge of my part. I have had a psychosis and a depression and struggled with these illnesses for years. I'm a practising Muslim for 9 years now and there is nothing wrong with my faith. My faith certainly helped me to heal, but praying isn't enough to get better.

Professional treatment, therapy, medicines and living a structured life is the key in overcoming any mental illness.

The reason I am writing this quite personal story is to explain how mental illnesses work, remove the stigma and also for all those ill people who just MIGHT read this and will realize that ruqya or Quran recitation isn't enough and will go and look for professional help.

"I have had a psychosis and a

Kaleem

"I have had a psychosis and a depression and struggled with these illnesses for years. I'm a practising Muslim for 9 years now and there is nothing wrong with my faith. My faith certainly helped me to heal, but praying isn't enough to get better....
The reason I am writing this quite personal story is to explain how mental illnesses work, remove the stigma and also for all those ill people who just MIGHT read this and will realize that ruqya or Quran recitation isn't enough and will go and look for professional help.
"

You are wrong in this perspcetive. When Allah claims that

(أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ ﴿الرعد: ٢٨ - "Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured"

then for sure mental problems like psychosis and a depression are solvable thorugh Quran recitation, remebering Allah. But 2 points need to be considered as considered in medical science .
1- Medicine should be appropriate to address the disease.
2- Medicine dosage should should be enough to overcome the disease.

So likewise
1- dhikr/zikr should be appropriate as per problem
2- It should be so much in quantity that it may overcome the problem (under dosage will not work).

By the way, Quran WAS recited

Rosalinda

By the way, Quran WAS recited over me when I was ill. It helped me to calm down and relax a bit, but did not stop the psychosis - medicines and appropriate medical care did.

"When Allah claims

Rosalinda

"When Allah claims that

(أَلَا بِذِكْرِ اللَّـهِ تَطْمَئِنُّ الْقُلُوبُ ﴿الرعد: ٢٨ - "Unquestionably, by the remembrance of Allah hearts are assured""

By the way, a better translation for this verse ("Inna fi dhikrillahi tatmai'inna al qulub") would be: "Verily/truly in the remembrance of God (do) hearts find rest."

For peace of mind and to

Kaleem

For peace of mind and to encouter the menal illnesses like depression, anxiety and the like you may consider reciting Allah names: Ya Salaam Ya Moo'min. (at least 300 time daily)

Also, reciting "La hola wala quwwata Illah billah" (am much as you can recite daily. at least 300 times) helps a lot. As prophet muhammad (pbuh) said that reciting this helps with 99 problems/troubles and among these problems sadness/despression is the lightest one.

Dear people, thanks for the

Rosalinda

Dear people, thanks for the advise on dhikr, but this isn't about me. I'm quite well now, alhamdulillah and have moved on with my life. My point was, is that it not one's fault if one becomes mentally ill, that mental illness isn't a problem of lack of iman, and that zikr, ruqya and praying ALONE will NOT help to overcome these very serious diseases.

i didnt say anything to you

Muhammad Hasnain Ilyas

i didnt say anything to you but just one...you just pray to ALLAH(GOD) that ALLAH(GOD) if YOU listen to me so please YOU just clear my pirorities and give me the right path...you just pray these lines every day and night you think about ALLAH in your mind every time with this prayer...its a simple thesis which i gives to you...just for 90 days then you better judge yourself whts right or whats wrong THANX

no he is not degrading to

faria Asif

no he is not degrading to anyone he is just neglecting to all of his wishes which are attracting to him and keeping him abide to go straight to god..his purpose is just to say by living normal and having an access to god by totally neglecting to the wishes which don't come in way to god..and its really better to get god by top intellectual level as compare to physical postures in yoga which just a body's growth to keep healthy...god is not in these physical postures

An interesting discussion

Jonas Yunus

An interesting discussion unfolded here. Personally I also don't believe that prayer works like a slot-machine. It's not because one recites certain words that a particular outcome will be provided. Even genuine, deep and constant God-focus cannot prevent all sickness. Both in Christianity as well as Islam many saints have endured much misery, sickness and death. If anything, their faith allowed them to bear their burden, it certainly didn't always 'cure' them. 

That being said, the reasoning which can be found in certain of the above comments in fact portrays the same narrowness as I felt I had encountered in the teachings of Dr Akthar. It's not the intention of the Halal Monk project, however, to only give a voice to ideas and teachings I completely agree with. When I have these conversations my intention is above all to listen and discuss, which means that I, personally, might very well disagree from time to time.

In all honesty then, when I left his home after a couple of hours, I felt it was quite difficult to properly assess Rafique Akthar. For a couple of reasons I wasn’t convinced by him, his message or his quite personal view on mysticism. I disagreed with many things he had said. I still do. And ironically enough, I above all had some doubts because, in my eyes, he seemed to lack the very thing he spoke of so highly: intellectual solidity. 

On the other hand, what he didn’t seem to hold in high esteem – that is, the 'heart' within spirituality – turned out to be one of his strongest sides. For when he spoke to his students, I saw how he enveloped them in true compassion and I heard him say wise words which clearly gave solace to those students and which genuinely refocused them on God.

So even though the teachings of Rafique Akhtar might not have much attraction on me, our encounter at least solidified my personal conviction that, in the end, religion isn't about being right, it's about being good.

West is brimming with all

Thinker

West is brimming with all sorts of opinions about effect of religion on life, people are presenting their arguments, counter arguments,number of books have been written, speeches and debates have been conducted all over the world - and what is the result of all this? the answer is simple: the concept of religion becomes more distorted and vague.

Unfortunately, the mind is plagued more then ever by false beleifs and wishful thinking. Clarity of thought is the need of today's time, but the mind is burried under the debris of information pouring in form every where. People are confused!

We are living in a global village, where access to information is so easy that everyone who has some knowledge about religion, science or culture consider himelf as an intellectual - its a fallacy. A confused mind would never achieve the state of wisdom and would never get the real perspect about anything. If someone wants to study religious concepts then he must not do emotional resoning and premature judgements. Without indepth study, a 'personal opinion' or 'feeling' about someone is not a 'fact' but indeed a sign of a distorted thinking.

Furthermore, jumping to conclusions and overgeneralization would not add anything to the intellectual growth.

Not sure what is happen here

Anonymous

Not sure what is happen here

I think GOD sells all

Adnan Butt

I think GOD sells all pleasures but Effort is the price. If you do not bother to disturb even a straw and sit down and start praying you will not get what you want. First you have to deserve and then desire. These are universal truths spread by Almighty ALLAH. Be pragmatic in your approach and also practical. And remember to change your approach with the passage of time because if you always do what you always did you always get what you always got.

And one think more to say for

Adnan Butt

And one think more to say for fact correction. Ahmed Rafique Akhtar sab has never been a Professor at University level. He only taught in college for sometime. To be elevated at Professor grade you have to be a Ph.D scholar or high level experience and Ahmed Rafique sab lack both (experience of few years and qualification M.A). Though he is well known scholar but rules do matter to become Professor.