Sunday, 21 July 2019

Parable of the Brick (Part 2)

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
وأفضل الصلاة وأتم التسليم على سيدنا محمد وعلى آله الطيبين وصحبه الغر المحجلين ومن والاهم واتبع هداهم إلى يوم الدين

Several months ago, I discussed the Hadith of the Brick, in which the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wa-aalihi wasallam) said:

إِنَّ مَثَلِي وَمَثَلَ الأَنْبِيَاءِ مِنْ قَبْلِي كَمَثَلِ رَجُلٍ بَنَى بَيْتًا فَأَحْسَنَهُ وَأَجْمَلَهُ، إِلاَّ مَوْضِعَ لَبِنَةٍ مِنْ زَاوِيَةٍ، فَجَعَلَ النَّاسُ يَطُوفُونَ بِهِ وَيَعْجَبُونَ لَهُ، وَيَقُولُونَ هَلاَّ وُضِعَتْ هَذِهِ اللَّبِنَةُ قَالَ فَأَنَا اللَّبِنَةُ، وَأَنَا خَاتِمُ النَّبِيِّينَ
“Verily, my parable and the parable of the prophets before me is like that of a man who built a house• He beautified it except for the place of a brick in the corner• People circle it in wonder, but say: ‘Would that this brick be placed’• I am that brick, and I am the Seal of the Prophets”

This Hadith is often presented as the strongest proof from the Sunna in the arsenal of that tendency which argues for an absolute, unqualified chronological finality to the prophesy of Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam)• My own interpretation, however, is somewhat more nuanced and enlightened; hence I wrote: “This parable clearly illustrates that the purpose of the final brick is to complete the perfection and beauty of the house, without which the latter has an obvious flaw despite its general attraction at which people stare at it in appreciation and wonder”
Keep in mind this Hadith of the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) is a parable, meaning it is not meant to be taken literally• The Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) is not literally a brick made from clay, lime, concrete or some other material• Likewise, in the parable while it is the brick that is placed last chronologically which completes the building, this does not necessitate that sayyidina Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) completes or perfects the edifice of prophesy by virtue of being the last prophet to come chronologically• It is critical to understand this point, because unlike a material building which cannot be said to be complete or perfect until the last gap is filled with a brick, the edifice of prophesy is completed and perfected by such a prophet who is the culmination of the best qualities of the other prophets, irrespective of whether he appeared at the beginning of the chain of prophesy, or somewhere in the middle or at its very end• Know that it is the greatest of the prophets in whose person the institution of prophesy reaches the pinnacle of beauty and excellence who has the most right to be compared to the last brick through which a material building is completed• That is, after all, the purpose of the parable, to illustrate how the edifice of prophesy is perfected through the person of Prophet Muhammad in the way a building is perfected when the space for a final brick is filled•
The celebrated historian and medieval Islamic thinker, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), mentioned this nuanced and accurate understanding of the Hadith of the Brick:
إشارة إلى حديث البخاري في باب خاتم النبيين، قال صلى الله عليه وسلم: " مثلي فيمن قبلي من الأنبياء كمثل رجل ابتنى بيتاً وأكمله، حتى إذا لم يبق منه إلا موضع لبنة فأنا تلك اللبنة " . فيفسرون خاتم النبيين باللبنة التي أكملت البنيان، ومعناه النبي الذي حصلت له النبوة الكاملة. ويمثلون الولاية في تفاوت مراتبها بالنبوة، ويجعلون صاحب الكمال فيها خاتم الأولياء أي حائز الرتبة التي هي خاتمة الولاية، كما كان خاتم الأنبياء حائزاً للمرتبة التي هي خاتمة النبوة. فكنى الشارع عن تلك المرتبة الخاتمة بلبنة البيت في الحديث المذكور. وهما على نسبة واحدة فيها
“With reference to a tradition reported by al-Bukhari in the chapter on the Seal of the Prophets: Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) said: I and the prophets before me are like a man who built a house and finished it save for one brick still to be placed. I am this brick’• Therefore, the (scholars) interpret the Seal of the Prophets as the brick needed for the completion of the building. It means the prophet who has obtained the perfect prophecy. Sainthood in its different degrees is compared (by the Sufis) to prophesy. The perfect (saint) is considered to be the seal of the saints, that is, the saint who is in the possession of the rank that is the final (sealing) stage of sainthood, exactly as the Seal of the Prophets was the prophet who was in possession of the rank that is the final (sealing) stage of prophesy. In the tradition quoted, the lawgiver used the phrase the ‘brick (that completes) the house for that final stage The two things correspond to each other•” (Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun, v1 p536):

Ibn Khaldun has written this in the context of his discussion on the Sufi concept of the Mahdi, whom they regard as the ‘Seal of the Saints’ just as the Prophet Muhammad is ‘Seal of the Prophets’• The Mahdi is given the title of the Silver Brick, while the Prophet is the Golden Brick• Now it is quite obvious that the Mahdi being the Seal of the Saints is not in a chronological sense, for no one denies the possibility of sainthood after him•

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