A One More Knowing, Chapter 11, The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books

Wa fawqa kulli dhi ‘ilmin ‘alim—a phrase occurring, after a proclamation, in verse 76 of Surat Yusuf (Joseph) that resonates throughout every Conference and every night. “So he searched their saddle-bags before his brother’s, then produced the cup from his brother’s bag. This is how We planned for Joseph, for he could not take his brother under the law of the king unless God so willed. We raise in status whom We please. And over everyone endowed with knowledge is one/One more knowing.”


In the strained hours of nightly reflections, this phrase taunts, torments, and comforts you. The scholars would debate whether it means that over everyone endowed with knowledge is a person more knowing, or that over everyone endowed with knowledge is the One who is All-Knowing. The one does not exclude the other. In either case, the impact upon you is the same. When it comes to knowledge, you are tormented by your status, taunted by the status of others, and comforted by the status of God.


If you could struggle with problems of your own construction, the hours of reflection would not be so strained. You would control the problem and its solution. You would no longer be taunted and, at times baffled, by the way others think of and resolve problems. If only you could filter all the problems through your own unitary and individualistic perceptions, you could escape the long agonizing hours of incoherence. If only you could speak to yourself—if you could be the speaker and the audience, you would make perfect sense.


But every morning as you emerge from your sanctuary, you are taunted and tormented by the endless stream of challenges to your coherence and lucidity. Your convictions remain solid. It is your very lucidity that is challenged. A student tells you that the only way she can afford repaying her father's debts and going to school is to objectify herself every night into an item of consumption on a dance floor. She asks, how is that different from the way men and women are objectified and consumed every day in their corporate jobs? A woman tells you that she feels objectified and consumed in her marriage. She is no longer an individual with feelings and emotions, but she is simply a functional role—a role that she plays without dignity or pride. Doesn’t that give her the right to seek after one who does make her feel as an individual and humanizes her dead soul?


A man, after fifteen years of marriage and three children, tells you that he has now found a woman who is “better for his religion.” She brings him closer to God than his present wife. He asks, “Don’t I have an unequivocal right to divorce, granted to me by God?” Then he adds, “As to the children—children are resilient, and when they grow up they will understand.”


A kid has become convinced that the devil has blue eyes and that on the Final Day all the evil ones will be resurrected with blue eyes. Doesn’t that tell us something about the worth and nature of races? Another kid has become convinced that the heart of Islam is the Khilafa (Caliphate) and until there is a Khilafa everything is haram. Doesn’t that create an unwavering duty upon all of us to focus on the singular goal of re-establishing the Khilafa on this earth?


A woman argues that what she does with her body is her business. Her body is her canvas; it is where she asserts and expresses herself. The man arguing with her seems to think that every woman’s body is his business, his canvas, and his means to self-expression.


Life confronts you with absurdities. Layers of problems that demand not only clarity of thought but expression. To know what is right needs only conviction, but to be able to communicate what you believe to be right needs lucidity. Yet, lucid expression demands lucid thought, and the clarity of a thought is inseparable from the clarity of the expression that communicates it.


Knowledge belongs to God, and coherence is your duty. You carry the burden of lucidity in understanding and expressing God’s knowledge. The infinite ability of human beings to produce absurdities only reminds you of your status. Over everyone endowed with knowledge is The One who is more knowing. The burden of lucidity taunts and torments you. The knowledge of The All-Knowing comforts you. And you pray, “God, ease the burdens of my heart and lift the impediments of my tongue so that they may understand what I say” (20:25-8).