”To deny or to ignore all pure and super-rational knowledge was to open up the path which logically could only lead on the one hand to positivism and agnosticism, which resign themselves to the narrowest limitations of intelligence and of its object, and on the other hand to all those sentimental and "voluntarist" theories which feverishly seek in the infra-rational for what reason cannot give them.” René Guénon, East And West, p.24

On The Significance Of The Teachings Of René Guénon Shaykh Abdu-l Wahîd Yahya

For Every Seeker Of Truth

By Omar K Neusser

  1. Introduction
  2. The Message Of Islam Is Universal
  3. Orthodoxy oF R.G. & Correspondence With The Islamic Tradition
  4. How René Guénon Restored Some Key Concepts
  5. New Concepts - Necessary In Our Epoch
  6. A Warning - What the Teachings Of René Guénon Are Not
  7. Significance oF The Teachings Of René Guénon For Muslims
  8. The Doctrinal Heritage oF René Guénon
  9. Questions And Answers
  10. Footnotes

1.) Introduction

René Guénon's writings can benefit every searcher of truth and meaning in an otherwise - as it might appear - meaningless world.1 Even Muslims, especially those brought up in the West or with a Westernized, i.e. modern, non-traditional background will gain in understanding, inshah Allah.

”We may add that his role and importance is constant and many people came back to Christianity, others left Protestantism for Catholicism and many occidental minded Muslims by name returned back to their own Islamic tradition.” A.V.

René Guénon has clarified many important metaphysical concepts which relate to the religious (or: traditional) worldview, but which have been stripped of their original meaning. Such as tradition, metaphysics, intellect etc.2 First of all to state the distinct definition of tradition which clears the way from a lot of debris:

Tradition has nothing to do with peoples' usages or customs from old, but is understood as revealed tradition, that is truths and principles of divine order revealed or unveiled to mankind.

He also conducted a fundamental and necessary critique of dominant modern society, which goes far beyond the misleading - because one-dimensional - theories by non-traditional philosophers, who don't conceive the transcendental questions of humanity and God. Before setting out to erect some "new system", it is necessary to understand what is wrong with the present one-dimensional, materialistic one and how it influences everyone one of us.

2.) The Message Of Islam Is Universal

Islam is A UNIVERSAL RELIGION, as one can live according to its tenets at any place at any time and it will offer functioning solutions for ancient man as for modern man. The foundation remains the same, but the applications vary. And Islam is also a universal way of life, because it takes its point of departure from the natural, original condition of man (al fitrah ), not from a wishful, utopian idea.

Furthermore is Prophet Muhammad, Mhmd sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam - the blessed prophet for the whole humanity and for the entire universe.

On the one hand it is clear that the message of Islam is directed to every human being. On the other hand - and this is another aspect of the universality of Islam - also we Muslims have to learn from other religions' experiences in historical times, for example from the case of the Christian West, from their decadence and their deviations from the eternal, divine Tradition.3 This is where René Guénon can assist every seeker of truth to recognize the early signs of such deviations, and especially the loss of doctrine.4 But in any case it is Islam which is the religion that reigns in the world today, despite problems from inside and outside5. Allah (swt) advises this way:

{ And dedicate yourself whole heartedly to the pure original faith as a true monotheist…} Sura 10-105

No single person in our epoch of spiritual delusions and tribulations formulated the universal principles as did Shaykh Abdu-l Wahîd Yahya René Guénon, when he elaborated on the true, eternal tradition (al-Dîn al-Qayyim )6, which is at the root of all world-religions. Shaykh Abdu-l Wahîd Yahya René Guénon researched also into many other aspects of spiritual realization, which – among other things – lead toward an understanding of the different levels of Ultimate Reality.

3.) The Orthodoxy oF R. Guénon And Correspondence With The Islamic Tradition

3.1) Islam As Faith And Practice

For his faith and practice he chose Islam and one of its spiritual paths (turúq ) and lived as a respected Muslim scholar for the rest of his life in a Muslim country.7 Shaykh Abdu-l Wahîd Yahya connected with the Shadhiliyya tariqa via Shaykh Elish8, but he was one of the Afrád, i.e. someone by himself. This means he gave advice and good counsel about Sufism or tasawwuf and about questions, which were related to tradition, but he himself had no disciples in a taríqa.[3.2]

We take from René Guénon what can facilitate our understanding of the process of decline of the various world religions over time, as well as an understanding of our postmodern era. From this follows a better appreciation of the value of a living tradition, which is the role of Islam in this world.9

3.2) Importance oF Eastern Traditions

When studying the different so-called spiritual movements of the West in the early 1900s he was inspired by the teachings of Eastern traditions, as it has been said in Ancient times: “Ex Oriente Lux”:10

“It is the study of the Eastern doctrines which has made us see what the West lacks and the falsity of many ideas which are current in the modern world.” 11

Concerning the usage of Hindu concepts by R.Guénon, Hamza Agostino wrote:

Hindu concepts “are used mostly among people who take part of his works, simply because he used them. Another reason is because the Hindu system is rather well-known. The Islamic teachings about the cosmic cycles which was formalized by Ibn Arabi, but no-one knows about it, hardly the Muslims themselves.”12

Apart from his studies in many religions and wisdom traditions, he actively followed a taríqa (i.e. a spiritual path in Islam).

4.) How René Guénon Restored Some Key Concepts

Three examples:

4.1) Restoration oF Correct Etymological Meanings

Shaykh Abdu-l Wahîd Yahya René Guénon restored the correct etymological meaning of different concepts, first and foremost of 'Tradition', because it constitutes the core of Islam and of every genuine religion.13

The word 'tradition' is derived from Latin 'tradere', i.e. to hand over, deliver, entrust something from God - Allah via His prophets (upon them be peace). What is handed over is the Quranic revelation, the âyah (Quranic verses) and - through those - the baraka, Divine blessings, which are heavenly powers, all of these leading to sacred knowledge. Islam is fundamentally and originally Tradition - its timeless, divine message, and this is why the Islamic Tradition defines the Islamic religion, not the other way round. They constitute one of the ongoing wonders of Islam.

Two other examples:

4.2) The Difference Between An Authentic Religion And An ’Invented’ One

René Guénon:

”There is continual talk about morality14, while doctrine15 is scarcely mentioned on the pretext that one cannot expect it to be understood; religion nowadays amounts to little more than ‘moralism’.”16

Here he refers to the Christianity of his time, but there are corresponding examples from any religion, such as Judaism and even Islam. What is meant here, is that the decadence of a religion changes the focus in such a way, that the focus is being laid mostly on morality and obeying of rules with less instruction of the underlying reason, i.e. a shift of focus on the form (súra), appearances in contrast to the meaning (ma'na).

René Guénon understood that in reality a religion has to include three essential elements, without which it does not fulfill its function. These three elements are the following: - a doctrine (the intellectual component), - a rite (the ritual component) and - a moral, i.e. an ethic, (the social component) but not any ethical system based on human, rational thought but deriving from the super-human level. 17

Here the reader can draw his (her) own conclusions: Every religion which lacks one or more of those basic elements have to be rejected. The fact that Islam has preserved all three elements, is proof that it is authentic and Islam reigns supreme, meaning it is the summit of the earlier divines messages. It is today the only functioning way for the spiritual ascent of man, while confirming the original message of the earlier world religions.18

4.3) The Difference Between The Spiritual And The Psychic

This difference is very important, as the spiritual and the psychic are constantly interchanged and confused, especially by those who are outside a religion or tradition.

The difference between the two can be at first presented as follows:

”According to almost all ancient traditions, including traditional Christianity and Platonic philosophy, the human being is composed of three levels of being: Spirit, soul and body - in Greek, Pneuma (or Nous), psyche and soma; in Latin, Spiritus (or Intellectus), anima, and corpus. (Arabic: rûh, nafs and jism ).” 19

5.) New Concepts - Necessary In Our Epoch

Apart from the concept of Tradition, which has been mentioned above50, three examples of concepts which were introduced by the teachings of R. Guénon will be mentioned here:

5.1) Metaphysics

”Metaphysics is the study of 'first principles'. These principles are permanent truths, statements about eternal realities.”20

5.2) Anti-Tradition

Anti-Tradition is what ignores the teachings of tradition, such as modernity, positivism, materialism, democracy, and secular humanism.21

5.3) Counter-tradition

Counter-tradition is what takes the place of tradition, but is only a caricature of spirituality, misguiding many.22

6.) A Warning - What the Teachings Of René Guénon Are Not

It is worth reminding ourselves that René Guénon's teachings do not constitute a spiritual path or taríqa and that it should not be confused with such.

Mr. Fawzi Sqali (a Budshishi muqaddam in Maroc) explained23:

“Traditionalism is one expression of spiritual truth but is not in any way a spiritual path.” In his view it is confused with a spiritual path “only by those who have insufficient spiritual experience, who have not properly encountered a real spiritual path.” Sqali argues that it is not only the works of Guénon that present the risk of being taken for the definitive spiritual doctrine, that even Ibn al-Arabi can (but should not) be taken in this way. In his view, to take any single corpus as a definitive doctrine is incompatible with Sunni Islam; “the definitive guide is the shaykh,”

This means that the determining spiritual leader is the shaykh and in reality Prophet Muhammad Mhmd sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam.

7.) On The Significance oF The Teachings Of René Guénon For Muslims

On the one hand is it alright to be Muslim today without being acquainted with the teachings of René Guénon or of other authors of Tradition (such as S H Nasr), but on the other hand do we (Muslims) need the intellectual tools for the solution of the problems which have came into being in postmodern, nihilistic societies. We have to evolve into an atmosphere of dispassionate, rational dialogue with each other and with Non-Muslims, which far surpasses such issues as hijab and the like.

While no-one is forced to take the teachings of Tradition to heart, they are for those brought up and conditioned in a Western, one-dimensional mentality, for who would need them. Anyway, one should speak to people in a language they understand. In René Guénon's case, it is the intellectual language - but it isn't an absolute need (or a wájib), it is only for some, and it is better so.

Let us be clear that the teachings of Tradition constitute a necessary tool of faith and intellectuality against spiritual stupor24, which threatens many good people.

This is the case of today’s rapid globalization with its technological inventions, its spread of an (originally) Western consumer mind-set throughout the whole world, penetrating into and destroying the last remnants of traditional societies. This has become an acute problem in every country especially with the late process of globalization, which is nothing less than global cultural imperialism at the end of the 20th century.

In view of this development are the teachings of Tradition a means of understanding – but not accepting – (post-)modernity and its bleaching process of profanation [fn not relating to that which is sacred or religious; secular] and as such safeguarding faith in Absolute Truth. In his teachings René Guénon addresses himself to the adherents of all world religions, and not the least to those of unconscious "disbelief" (a kind of kafir). However, he refrained from categorizing people and their leaders - personal matters were not in his focus anyway. In his writings René Guénon are an excellent support for those who desire to transcend the positivistic thought patterns of materialism, anti-tradition and anti-intellectualism in which modern man has been cast into - this poor creature who has (almost) lost the intuitive knowledge of the sacred. – As a start a few of his books can be recommended, such as Crisis of the Modern World, eller East And West.25

Allah says in the Holy Quran:

{Yakhtasu bi-rahmatihi man yashâ’u.}

8.) The Doctrinal Heritage Of René Guénon

Without providing a complete analysis, we can describe the focus of his teachings on four areas:

The core elements of his teachings could be summarized as such:

9.) Questions And Answers

  1. What is ”traditionalism” and what is “philosophia perennis?”

In any case it is not a well-formed, uniform group or organization, but quite disparate currents of thought, which refer in greater or lesser degree to what they found with René Guénon. Whereas they may be critical to the materialistic development of the modern West, not all of them abide by the principles of Tradition.

The perennialist outlook is characterized by raising all religions and traditions to an equal footing as if it would not matter which one to follow. more:“Sh. Nazim Al-Haqqani: “Christianity, Judaism and Islam…”.

  1. This text here is not meant as a survey over the work of René Guénon, but as a set of answers to questions posed by readers who may benefit of his writings, - inshah Allah.

  2. He also shows how to differentiate between authenticity and fallacy in spiritual and religious issues, how to disclose impostors and other fortune hunters who are to be found in all human activities, unfortunately even ‘within religions’, and not the least among those modern organizations and sects. These are all the symptoms of the age.

  3. There are similar examples from other religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddism.

  4. On the loss of doctrine: Crisis of the Modern World > “doctrine” > esp. p. 58: Several steps occured over time in a process of decline:
    – 1. doctrinal dissolution
    – 2. disappearance of the intellectual elements of religion
    – 3. decline into sentimentalism
    – 4. no longer religion, but ‘religiosity’ = vague sentimental aspirations, unsanctioned by any real knowledge (compare William James and the Subconcious)

  5. This has been elaborated at another place: On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns

  6. ”The true, eternal tradition (al-Dîn al-Qayyim)” from the quranic verse:

    Quran And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, (being) sincere to Him in religion – as true monotheists, and to establish prayer and to give zakah. And this is the true, eternal religion. Sura 89-5

    Concerning tradition, this word has two significations: a general and a specific one. However it does not have the meaning which it has acquired today, such as ‘customs’ and ‘usages’. –– In its general meaning, tradition has to be understood in the sense of transmission of an element of the suprahuman level, as explained by René Guénon.

    In its more specific sense the term tradition also signifies the words and sayings reported from the Prophet Muhammad Mhmd - may Allah bless him and grant him peace - which have been recorded in the hadith collections. So when speaking of the Islamic Tradition we do not only mean the sayings and words of wisdom by the Prophet of Islam Mhmd, but also the entire Islamic religion (Qur'ân, Sunnah, schools of law, spirituality, saintity, etc.)

  7. About his life in Egypt: “Despite this continued interest in Hinduism and other religions, however, Guénon’s own practice was (as far as we know) purely Islamic. He … introduced many to Islam.” Guénon the Egyptian:, in: Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World and:

    “In Cairo Guénon lived as a pious Muslim and a Sufi. All reports indicate that he scrupulously followed not only the requirements of the Sharia*, but also the recommendations of the sunna, the voluntary practices of Islam.” *Note: The Sunna is part of the Sharia and he followed the Sharia with all the adab belonging to it.

  8. wikipedia.org: His initiation into Sufism was effected by Ivan Aguéli (Abdul Hadi) and performed in accordance with Sheikh Abder Rahman Elish El-Kebir, an important representative of Islam in Egypt at that time, in both its exoteric (outward) and esoteric aspects. Sheikh Abder Rahman Elish El-Kebir was the head of the Maleki Madh'hab (one of the major lineages of Islamic jurisprudence) at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Guénon later dedicated his book The Symbolism of the Cross to him.

  9. S.H. Nasr, What Is Traditional Islam? “Two centuries ago, if Westerners were to study Islam, they would have encountered but a single Islamic tradition.”

  10. Out of the East comes the light: Ex oriente lux (Lat., ‘out of the East, light’). The belief that greater wisdom and deeper spirituality can be found in Eastern religions than in the materialistic West. …It led (after ca. 1870 onwards) to an extensive and serious academic endeavour to study the religions of the East, and to publish texts and translations.

  11. About what had happened in the modern West, esp. the falsification of doctrine leading to a belief in (perfect?) man instead of faith in God, Who alone is Perfect, True and Who loves beauty. Tradition And Civilization, Some Quotes from René Guénon in “East and West”

  12. Hamza Agostino continued on the usage of Hindu concepts: Islam i Europa: ”If one would want to seek for a Muslim explanation of those laws, one has to turn to Ibn Arabi. But his writings are tremendously complicated and difficult to penetrate. There are teachers in the school of the Akbariyya, who know about those subjects and who can teach them, but they are very scarce. The Hindu system is easily accessible and good.”

    ”When we are talking about the epoch of darkness - we are talking about a reality, a truth. The laws of time are precisely as real as f. ex. gravitation. That’s why they found their expression in all religions. When Muslims talk about physics may be the are using Latin or Greek words, so when we are dealing with the cycles (in time) why should we not use Hindu words? The laws of time are neither Islamic, nor are they Hindu, they are real. Which terminology is used is strictly speaking secondary. The laws of time are real, this is the essential fact.”

  13. More on Tradition: Are Non-Islamic Religions Valid?: It should be understood that while Tradition, here explained as the eternal, immutable Truth, has been applied over the ages through different religions of mankind - bearing in mind that the Truth is One - that this does not mean that all those applications of this Tradition, i.e. all those religions as they appear today are on the same level or have the same authenticity or the same divine blessings, because there is the function of time, and with it the renewal of divine authentication, which Allah gave to Islam. ”So all paths return to look to the Prophet’s path Mhmd  (Allah bless him and give him peace): if the prophetic messengers had been alive in his time, they would have followed him just as their religious laws have followed his law.” Ibn `Arabi

  14. morality: right and wrong or good and bad behaviour; Apple Dictionary

  15. doctrine: from Latin doctrina ‘teaching, learning’; Apple Dictionary

  16. quoted from “Crisis of the Modern World”, page 62, CMW62:

    ”Doctrine is thus in fact forgotten or reduced almost to nothing, an attitude which brings one remarkably near to the [Christian] Protestant position, since it is indeed a result of the same modern tendencies, altogether opposed as they are to any kind of intellectuality; and”

    ”what is most deplorable is that the instruction which is commonly imparted, instead of reacting against this state of mind, on the contrary favours it by adapting itself only too readily to it: there is continual talk about morality, while doctrine is scarcely mentioned on the pretext that one cannot expect it to be understood; religion nowadays amounts to little more than ‘moralism’, or at least it would seem as if nobody wished any longer to recognize what it really is, which is indeed something quite different from that.”

    ”If, nevertheless, doctrine still happens to be talked about sometimes, the result is only too often to debase it through discussing it with its opponents on their own ‘profane’ ground, which inevitably leads to the making of the most unjustifiable concessions; it is for this reason in particular that people imagine themselves obliged to take account, to a greater or lesser extent, of the supposed discoveries resulting from modern ‘criticism’, whereas nothing would be simpler, by placing oneself at a different point of view, than to demonstrate their shallowness; under those conditions how much can really survive of the genuine traditional spirit?” CMW62

  17. Étude Des Doctrines Hindus; Guénon, René; EDH82+8

  18. Sh. Nazim Al-Haqqani: “Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All of them have vessels, but the vessel of Christianity is 2000 years old, the vessel of Judaism 4000 years old, the Islamic one is the newest one. If you had to choose for a long and dangerous travelling, would you use the oldest or the newest vessel? That is the question I would like to raise to the people of …! They must accept the newest vessel which is most intact, powerful and strongest, not the rusty old ones.” Interview with Shaykh Nazim 01.01.1997, in: Interview: Bayat, Kissing of Hands, Touching Women, Islamic Clothes

  19. Metaphysical Foundations

  20. SAC69 and Text on metaphysics

  21. more on anti-tradition

  22. more on counter-tradition

  23. F. Sqali: in chapter: Moroccan Traditionalism

  24. stupor: a state of near-unconsciousness or insensibility; Apple Dictionary

  25. more references are at :Texts René Guénon

  26. What Is Traditional Islam? edited from Islam In The Modern World, S. H. Nasr