- The Virtues of the Prophet: A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Greater Jihad: The War against the Passions, and: Reflections of Tasawwuf: Essays, Poems and Narratives on Sufi Themes
In The Virtues of the Prophet: A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Greater Jihad: The War against the Passions, Charles Upton aims to show that Sufi ontology and morality lie at the heart of Islam and that this is exemplified by the life of the Prophet of Islam. The major thesis that Upton presents here is that the greater struggle or Jihad is the war against the passions. He takes exception to the view that sees Jihad in the sense of warfare that is necessary to make this world a better place. At the same time, he objects to the modernist view that fails to appreciate the ideal nature of man. The life of the Prophet is the perfect example of Jihad-e-Akbar (Greater Jihad), and believers not only love him but also imitate his virtues in order to realize the true nature of man. To substantiate his point, Upton presents ten virtues, or a constellation of them, of the prophet in the first part of the book, while in the second part exegeses of some verses of the Qur’an are produced in a vaguely Sufi style.
We are told that an understanding of the character of the Holy Prophet, who is a perfect example of ‘Abd (slave of God) and Khalifa (God’s representative), is the doorway to realizing the true nature of man. The root of all evil, which takes man away from being ‘Abd and Khalifa, lies in the Nafs Ammara (Commanding Self), wherein can be found the root of polytheism, as the gods of various polytheistic religions can be traced here. Conscience or Nafs Lawwama is also present in man, which challenges the Commanding Self in its pursuit of evil. This struggle against the Commanding Self is characterized as Jihad Akbar. If this Jihad is won, one attains peace, and such an attainment is called Nafs Mutmainna (contented self). Jihad Akbar necessarily involves virtues, which constitute the power to be what we really [End Page 133] are. The actions prescribed by Islamic law are a manifestation of virtue, and the life of the Prophet expresses them to the full.
The ten virtues, sometimes more, of the Prophet include mercy, spiritual poverty (along with detachment and humility), courtesy (with modesty and discretion), generosity (and hospitality), trustworthiness (along with veracity and sincerity), fear of God, trust in God (along with patience and contentment), courage (and manliness), justice, and lastly dignity, which Upton considers to be the synthesis of the virtues. He does not explain how he selected these virtues but maintains that the number ‘ten’ enjoys spiritual importance in Islam, yet offers no references to support this. The only reason put forward in this regard is that the number of close companions of the prophet is ten.
Upton quotes verses from the Qur’an and Ahadith (Traditions) extensively and presents a number of stories that one often sees in Sufi writings. Although he provides references for Qur’anic verses, proper references for the Traditions are missing. The discussion of the virtues of the Prophet is followed by two chapters. The first one talks about the perfection of virtues and is mainly concerned with the primacy of intent, while the other is on the role of romance in the development of character. Upton considers primacy of intent to be the perfection of virtues. The chapter on romance occupies an important position because of its Sufi leanings. He leaves it to the reader to work out the connection between these two chapters and the ten virtues discussed earlier. His method is firmly Sufi throughout, and he does not discuss the context of the revelations that he discusses...