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In the present Articles on Sûfî themes, the little that is known to me in Dutch, French & English critical publications (often accompanied by the Arabic text) on the topic of the multi-dimensional worldview of the Sûfî's is re- & deconstructed in the light of a possible modular philosophy. The result is a 10-dimensional matrix, or the measure of all being, involving one absolute dimension (dim = 10) and an ennead of relative being (dim = 9 ... 1). The study of qabalah & mystical theology offer handles to enlarge the 8-dimensional model (representing the cosmos) with 2 additional dimensions (representing the Absolute). The study of Sufism in general (cf. Abû Yazid, Mansûr Hallâj, Junayd and others), and the work of Ibn'Arabî in particular helped to review & modify the dynamics of the proposed ontological scheme.

I am aware of the difficulties involved when studying critical translations in this field. I'm certain that thousands of books would not suffice to give a satisfactory outline of Sûfî wisdom, endlessly vast. 

Are comparative studies & contemporary hermeneutical techniques (which are not exclusively Western) able to reflect a glimpse of what this gnosis ("ma'rifat" or "irfân") -distinguished from ordinary knowledge ("'ilm")- and this union ("tawhîd") are about ? Probably not. Can one smell a rose with the letters R.O.S.E. (cf. Rûmi) ?

"I define the word sûfî in wide terms by applying to it anyone who believes that it is possible to have direct experience of God and who is prepared to go out of his way to put himself in a state whereby he may be enabled to do this. Many will not be happy about this definition, but I find it the only possible way to embrace all the varieties of people involved in the orders."
Trimingham, J.S. : The Sûfî Orders in Islam, Oxford University Press - Oxford, 1998, p.1.

Sufism took seed directly from Islam, was nurtured by it and has reached maturity in Islam. Sufism has been called the soul of Islam, its mystical flower (Schimmel, 1976). These five articles aim to sketch to the reader the metaphysical framework involved in the Islamic conceptualization of mystical experience.

"It is my conviction that the realization of a true international friendship or brotherhood among the nations of the East and West, based on a deep philosophical understanding of the ideas and throughts of each other, is one of the things that are most urgently needed in the present-day situation of the world."
Izutsu, T. : Creation and the Timeless Order of Things, White Cloud Press - Oregon, 1994, p.1.

The Arabic term "sûfî" or "mystic" derives from "sûf" or "wool", probably in reference to the woolen clothing worn by the first ascetics of Islam. Sufism (appearing in the ninth century - the third Islamic century) is a totality of mystical practices rooted in Islam enabling Muslims to attain Divine knowledge (cf. Hermetical "gnosis") & love through the direct experience of "Allâh", The God ("al-ilâh"). Hence they were called "followers of the Real" ("ahl al-haqq").

"The characteristic Sûfî institutions -the 'orders' or 'paths' (tariqa)- did not begin to play a major role in Islamic history until about the twelfth century, but even after that time Sufism does not necessarily entail affiliation with an order."
Chittick, W.C. : Sufism, a short introduction, Oneworld - Oxford, 2000, p.19.

Sufism consists of a variety of mystical paths. The most prominent of these being "remembrance" ("dhikr"), or the continuous awareness of the all-comprehensive Name of The God.

"One may conduct this remembrance in thought or word and at any time. However, the Sufis have evolved certain congretational practices for this, which have come to mean the sitting in the circle of dhikr. It is perhaps this practice that has gained more attention than all other activities of the Sufis in various parts of the world."
Chishti, H.M. : The Book of Sûfî Healing, Inner Traditions - Vermont, 1991, p.142.

More than one Western scholar claimed that Sufism is as an organized movement arose among pious Muslims as a reaction against the worldliness of the early Umayyad period (AD 661 - 750). Yearning for individual union with The God (on the basis of the Qur'ân, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the example of the great Saints), these mystics found the externalities of the law, divorced from a living spirituality, unsatisfactory and increasingly asserted a Way ("tarîqah" or "path") and Realities ("haqîqah") other than those proposed by the Sharî'ah, or traditional law. Sufism similarly opposed its intuitionism ("ma'rifah" or "interior knowledge", "gnosis") to the rational deductions of philosophers, formal theologians & legalists ("'ilm").

"No doubt Ibn al-'Arabî possessed one of the greatest philosophical minds the world has ever known, but philosophy was not his concern. He wanted only to bask in the constant and ever-renewed finding of the Divine Being and Consciousness. He, for one, had passed beyond the veils, though he was always ready to admit that the veils are infinite and that every instant in life, in this world and for all eternity, represents a continual lifting of the veils."
Chittick, W.C. : The Sûfî Path of Knowledge, State University of New York Press - New York, 1989, p.3.

Was the initial phase of the Sûfî movement characterized by the same spiritual ascetism and quest for the ultimate spiritual experience (without intermediary) that adorns the early Christian desert mystics (cf. the Egyptian "desert fathers") ? These ascetics had traded the formalized religious and pious beliefs & practices (of the Imperial Church and its clergy) for the personal, solitary experience of the Divine Christ and initiated Christian monastism which probably influenced early Sufism. Later, in the High Middle Ages, European Cistercian spirituality and its mystical interiority (influenced by the "Orientale Lumen") would also rebuke the formalism of Cîteaux. Each time these spiritual movements had to fight the established orthodoxy and often they were silenced by it.

"Most scholars draw a sharp line between mainstream Islam and Sufism. This is rather easy to do when one is dealing with figures such as al-Hallâj, Ibn al-'Arabî, and Rûmî. But the teachings of such masters do not necessarily focus on what Sufism actually meant for the vast majority of the members of Sûfî order, or for the vast majority of Muslims."
Chittick, W.C. : Faith and Practice of Islam, State University of New York Press - Albany, 1992, p.7.

Is it possible that Sufism was present from the beginning ? Law, philosophy & mysticism are discernable in the Qur'ân itself. Islam and Sufism can be distinguished by the fact that the latter takes it orientation from the third aspect : spiritual emancipation (liberation) and mystical annihilation (realization through survival & sobriety). In that sense Sufism is the Living Water of Islam, the proof that unveiling is unending.

Based on the "hadith of Gabriel" Sufism is the "spirit" of Islam. Gabriel came to teach them their religion ("din"). Islam has three basic dimensions, namely "submission" ("islam"), "faith" ("iman") and "doing the beautiful" ("ihsan"). The last dimension is not mentioned by the jurists ("fuquha'") and the theologians ("mutakallimun"), the lawmakers. 

  1. The jurists focus on the Five Pillars, voicing the testimony of faith ("iman"), meaning (according to one of the hadiths) "to acknowledge with the heart, to voice with the tongue, and to act with the limbs". This constitutes the "body" of Islam, telling people what to do and what not to do, namely voicing the testimony of faith ("shahadah"), daily prayers, paying alms tax, fasting during Ramadan & making -if possible- the pilgrimage to Mecca.

  2. The theologians, or experts in dogmatic theology ("kalam") articulate & defend creedal teachings ("sharia"). Together with the philosophers they help understand the world and can be seen as the "mind" of Islam. 

  3. Jurists & theologians show little interest or competence regarding "doing the beautiful", defined by the Prophet as to "worship Allâh as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you." This is the object of Sufism which teaches people how to transform themselves and become what they fundamentally are. It is the "spirit" of Islam. 

So we arrive at :

  1. right doing = body of Islam = the prescriptive commands of the Sharia ;

  2. right thinking = mind of Islam = creedal teachings & philosophy ;

  3. right seeing = spirit of Islam = seeing things as they are with a pure heart and an enlightened spirit.

Hence, law, philosophy & mysticism are the spirito-social embodiments of the servant, namely as work/law (body), thought/philosophy (mind) & imagination/mysticism (emotion, intuition). Only if the specialists of each expression (i.e. the lawyer-theologians, the scientist-philosophers and the mystics) solidify their positions in dogmatic extremes and subsequently attack each other, divisions may occur which justify the distinctions between "orthodox" and "heterodox". 

Clearly this happened. According to some later historians because of the heretical teachings of the champion of speculative mysticism, the Greatest Master of Sufism, Ibn'Arabî. 

"For who would deny that Ibn'Arabî indeed treated the cosmos not as created from absolute nothingness, but rather as an empirical realization of the preexistent mental images that are immutably fixed in God's foreknowledge ? This metaphysical proposition is starkly at odds with the creatio ex nihilo axiom of the theological mainstream in all monotheistic traditions."
Knysh, A.D. : Ibn'Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition, State University of New York Press - New York, 1999, pp.109-110.

So, if the Sûfî are not "heterodox", then surely their approach (encompassing all approaches) is more prone to deviate than that of the lawkeepers, theologians and speculative philosophers (favoring the system of Aristoteles known to them as an Aristotelic summary of Plotinos' neo-platonism ! - cf. the Theologia Aristotelis).

"The Christian Syriac theological writers, who flourished widely in the centuries preceding the rise of Islam, were deeply steeped in the neo-platonic current of thought. One may think of Dionysius the Areopagite, and of Stephan bar Sudaili, a Syrian Christian mystic and pantheist (considered a heretical by contemporary churchmen), who taught and wrote before and about 500 A.D. in Edessa and Palestine."
Abdel-Kader, A.H. : The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, Gibb Memorial - London, 1976, p.13.

In the textbooks, Sufism is divided into three dimensions : knowledge ("'ilm"), works ("'amal") and reality ("haqîqah"). First comes the Law in its widest sense, embracing all theoretical teachings of Islam. Then "the Way" is the method of putting the Law into practice. Finally, the spiritual realization of the ascending stages of human perfection results in proximity to The God. Sûfîs take their orientation from the third dimension and maintain a balance between all dimensions, taking the Prophet as their spiritual example.

I seek to integrate (a) the speculative insights of Ibn'Arabî in (b) a 10-dimensional matrix of reality, taking into account (c) the results of the comparative study of the mysticism of Patañjali, the historical Jesus, ps.-Dionysius the Areopagite, Beatrice of Nazareth, Jan van Ruusbroec

Read also : 
Knowledge & Love-Mysticism
(Dutch - 1994 - 1012 KB)


The mainstream of Sufism strove to remain within the boundaries of "orthodoxy" and declared that the observance of the Sharî'ah was indispensable. From an early period they attempted to develop a scheme of opposing coincidences and partly antithetical versus partly complementary categories (cf. "annihilation & subsistence (survival)" ; "intoxication & sobriety" ; "fear & hope" ; "gathering & dispersion" ; "contraction & expansion") to achieve a synthesis of the external (the nearness of The God) and the internal (the remoteness of The God). 

The spiritual process can be reduced to "remembrance" ("dhikr") of "Allâh", the Name of the all-comprehensiveness of the Divine Names and the Oneness of Being. For a complete remembrance implies :

  1. ("fanâ") a total annihilation of the sense of identity within consciousness except for the Self-disclosure of the Absolute as my Self or "my Lord" (the disappearence of the phenomenal demarcations of the objects and the occurence of an absolute stillness) and 

  2. ("baqâ") the survival of a new conscious identity which observes multiplicity except in the absence of Divine Self-disclosures (all forms are so many self-determinations of the Absolute Unity, the One Alone Itself). Before "fanâ", object & subject are definitely separated, each observed seeming a self-subsistent reality with an essence of its own, independent of anything. Those who have their two eyes open realize a consciousness which transcends ordinary cognition based on the dyad (shaping multiplicity). They witness how each element of  variety is an expression of an implicate, underlying order or unity ... how the waves are but self-expressions of the ocean.

In Sufism, the concept of God is pan-en-theistic. The Absolute as such (in its absoluteness) is truly transcendent and incomparable. No relation with creation prevails for the One Alone is without a second (cf. the transcendence of theism). The Absolute is truly "actus essendi" and so definitely & persistently refuses objectification. 

But, this sheer essentiality of the unity of being Self-discloses as an infinite number of Divine relationships with an infinite number of possible cosmoi (cf. the immanence of pantheism). Each of these Self-disclosures preexist at this level in Divine Existence & Divine Consciousness (encompassing all possibilities or dim = 9). This preexisting, eternally fixed Divinity is an unmanifested articulation of the Absolute of Itself, Herself, Himself in all potentiality. Nevertheless, it is an unveiling, revealing the hidden treasure of Divine possibilities. As the last unveiling belongs to Allâh (to Him belongs His Face), no Divine Existence subsists without the Essence of Being ("dhât"). Hence, the internal quiddities of Divine Existence call for their own externalizations in factual, phenomenal worlds (dim 8 ... 1). Hence, insofar as the Absolute is Alone the Absolute is transcendent (dim = 10). Insofar as the Absolute is Self-disclosing the Absolute is immanent (dim = 9 > 8 ...1). The first instance of this immanent factor is the Oneness of the Divine Names (dim = 9) amidst the manyness of the knowledge (cf. "I was a hidden treasure and wanted to be known"). The God as all-comprehensive Consciousness "of the worlds".

The God

dim = 10 Absolute Unity of the Divine Essence ("dhât")
the One Alone 
inclusive unity ("ahadiyya") or unitary principle
The Unity of Being
dim = 9 relative Oneness of the Divine Names of the Majesty of the Worlds
exclusive unity ("wâhidiyya") or principle of firstness
The Manyness of the Knowledge under Oneness
"other than The God"

dim = 8 ... 1


During the late 12th & early 13th centuries, under the influence of speculative mysticism, Ibn al-'Arabî (1165 - 1240) Sultan of Gnostics, Greatest Master, Seal of the Saints, produced a formidable philosophy of mysticism ("tasawwuf al-falasifa") which -according to his virulent critics- seems to make a chasm between the law and Sufism. His work became highly polemical although he became known as "the Greatest Shaykh". Has the intellectual importance for ontology of his philosophy of mysticism come to the attention of Western scholars ? Is the work of Ibn'Arabî the pinnacle of Islamic speculative mysticism ? Its complexity, depth, scope & spiritual prehension are so tremendous that he can be easily misunderstood or misused to prove certain sectarian notions which in reality are absent in the more complete picture of the arabesque system of his thoughts. 

"The reader should keep in mind that all my own explanation is tentative, and much of what Ibn al-'Arabî himself says is modified by what he says in other contexts. (...) I too have been forced to offer but a few table scraps from the Shaykh's inexhaustible kitchen."
Chittick, W.C. : The Sûfî Path of Knowledge, SUNY - New York, 1989, p.xxii.

Let us first focus on some major issues raised by the critics of Sufism, the so-called "orthodox" Islamic legalists & theologians. Especially virulent and authoritative was the attack of the Hanbalî legalist Ibn Taymiyya (d.1328) who in his legal responsa and polemical treatises denounced the monism of Sufism as an offense against primeval Islam. For him, the goal of Sufism was not unity with The God but perfect service. Ibn'Arabî and his school were critized by him in the following works :
"The Exposition of the Falsity of the Unity of Being and the Refutation of Those Who Adhere to It"
"The Denunciation of the Acts of Disobedience Through the Doctrine of Divine Predestination"
"A Letter from the Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya to the Divine Gnostic Shaykh Nasr al-Manbiji"
"The True Reality of the Teaching of Unificationists, also known as the Unity of Being"

"Although Ibn Taymiyya undoubtedly had some misgivings as to Ibn'Arabî's exact position vis-à-vis Sunni orthodoxy, he did not allow them to cloud his final judgment of the Andalusi master. For Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn'Arabî is a shameful heretic whose teachings led astray a great many Muslims."
Kynsh, A.D. : Ibn'Arabî in the Later Islamic Tradition, SUNY - New York, 1999, p.99, my italics.

Spiritual philosophy (always touching mystical theology) was considered to be a too radical departure from the precepts of the "authentic" Sûfî masters of the first Islamic centuries. Ibn'Arabî, according to his most virulent critic, tends to obfuscate the demarcation between man & The God, between cosmos & Creator. I agree with Ibn Taymiyya that this tendency is present. It surfaces when Ibn'Arabî tries to explain the perplexity of the final station of perpetual transformation (the station of no station) and his insistence on the fact that all is an isthmus between nonexistence (relative reality has no substantial reality, i.e. is not real) & absolute being (or the real).

The unity of being 

Ibn'Arabî's followers coined the term "wahdat al-wujûd" or "unity of being" (cf.Farghânî). Although this dictum can surely be ascribed to the philosophy of Ibn'Arabî, his main concern was not philosophy & metaphysics but the "tasting" ("dhawq") of sheer Being. 

This "unity of being" or one-fold nonduality can not be described & understood without the different worlds, planes, strate or "modes" of being, i.e. duality & discontinuity. 

"The Essence, as being beyond all these relationships, is not a divinity. Since all these relationships originate in our eternally unmanifested essences, it is we in our eternal latency who make Him a divinity by being that through which He knows Himself as Divine. Thus, He is not known as Allâh until we are known."
Ibn'Arabî : Fusûs al-hikam, V (translated by Austin, R.W.J. : The Bezels of Wisdom, Paulist Press - New Jersey, 1980, p.92).

Different "levels of being" emerge and the intensity of their reality depends on their degree of absoluteness or preparedness. Although all being is unified, not all modes of being share in the same degree of absoluteness or preparedness.

"Before the level of Divinity we have the level of the Unity of All-Comprehensiveness, where the Unity of Being and the Manyness of Knowledge are identical with each other ... Within this Presence, oneness and manyness, Being and Knowledge, entification and nonentification are all identical with each other and with the Essence, without any kind of separation or distinction."
Farghânî : Mashâriq al-darârî, 344 (translated by Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.67).

In several passages Ibn Taymiyya equates this
"wahdat al-wujûd" with the Christian theology on the incarnation of Christ, considered as sheer unbelief. Some mystics like Hallâj were radically opposed, although excused.

"When Hallâj's love for God reached its utmost limit, he became his own enemy and naughted himself. He said, 'I am God', that is, 'I have been annihilated ; God remains, nothing else.' This is extreme humility and the utmost limit of servanthood. It means, 'He alone is.' To make a false claim and to be proud is to say, 'Thou are God and I am the servant.' For in this way you are affirming your own existence, and duality is the necessary result. If you say, 'He is God', that too is duality, for there cannot be a 'He' without an 'I'. Hence God said, 'I am God.' Other than He, nothing else existed. Hallâj had been annihilated, so those were the words of God."
Rûmî : Discourses, 193/202 (translated by Chittick, W.C. : The Sûfî Path of Love, SUNY - New York, 1983, pp.191-192).

For the legalist Ibn Taymiyya "tawhîd" (cf. the "shahadah") means that one does not focus on the multiplicity (of creation) but on The God, considered absolutely incomparable. Hence, to understand everything as Divine Self-disclosure seems to refute incomparability (The God can absolutely not be compared with anything except The God). Ergo, a radical distinction between cosmos & Creator is the submission prescribed by the Qur'ân & the Sunna.

Not so according to the Sufi, for whom -not unlike the qabalists- immanence (Divine Existence, the Hebrew "Elohîm") is the complement of transcendence (Divine Essence - cf. "YHVH"). They witness that creation is a Self-manifestation of the Absolute to Himself for the sake of Himself. We all exist in the ocean of this "divina comedia" (cf. Dante) and play our part therein (cf. Vondel). The dyad prevails in the form of 99 Names in the Oneness of infinite Divine Existence. The unity of being is only ascribed to the Face of Allâh, i.e. His Essence. Hence, the monad is exclusively reserved for Allâh.

dim type of realm short description
10 pre-
not created & not creating essence & unity of being, Face of the Absolute, Lord of all Being
9 not created & creating existence of Divine Self-disclosure, Divine Names
8 ante-
created & creating the cloud, all latent potential of a cosmos
7 > 1 cosmic created & not creating the cosmos : 4 seen (horizontal of East, South, West, North) & 3 unseen (vertical of Nadir -7-, here & now -5-, Zenith -6-)

"The unity of the Sufis is the integration of paradoxes and ontological contrasts ; it is the union of all the diverse qualities which characterize the order of multiplicity and has nothing to do with philosophical monism of which Ibn'Arabî and others have been accused."
Nasr, S.H. : Three Muslim Sages, Caravan - New York, 1997, p.105, my italics.

This is especially true in the case of Ibn'Arabî, who had both eyes wide open, i.e. both nearness & remoteness of The God were part of his operative perspectives or modes of witnessing (tasting). This also explains the elusiveness of the patternings of his mystical discourses, irritating his critics and misunderstood as inconsistent & misleading as to his genuine intentions. 

The abstract, non-figurative arabesque foliages, seemingly introduced to avoid, veil, curtain & bypass the difficulties & the complexities involved in fashioning a grand coherent philosophy of mysticism making elaborate use of a metaphysical language to depict the various ways humans may be "touched" by the Absolute and especially the universal mystical truth of the "coincidentio oppositorum" (cf. Cusanus), i.e. the joining & the blending of opposites to express in perplexing terms the bewilderments of the nondual "Station of No Station" were interpreted by the charismatic Ibn Taymiyya as a deceptive tactic. From the standpoint of discursive (syllogistic) reasoning, the teachings of the Seal of the Saints were, according to him, totally indefensible. When we accept that ordinary science ("'ilm") is the foundation of "gnosis" and we maintain that Ibn'Arabî was a didactical philosopher, then Ibn Taymiyya's view is not completely untrue (but I find no deliberate deception in the Fusûs). But Sufism knows that rapture may silence knowledge and Ibn'Arabî was not a philosopher but a genuine mystic. And there is a difference. 

"Ibn'Arabî used the theological arguments concerning the divine image and attributes and transformed them through the meaning event symbolized by the polished mirror. Rather than offering a logical solution to the key dilemmas, he pused the theological arguments to their extreme to reveal the essential irresolvability of the dilemma outside of mystical union."
Sells, M.A. : Mystical Languages of Unsaying, University of Chicago Press - Chicago, 1996, p.102, my italics.

Ibn'Arabî foresaw the line of argument based on exclusive remoteness and developed one of his own to counter its untruths. The Absolute determined or limited by Its own Forms is in all beings for there is nothing other than The God, there is no second, only One, only He. This is assimilation, nearness ("tashbîh"). The nondelimited Absolute is only for the Absolute (His Face is only for Him to witness). This is purification, remoteness ("tanzîh"). 

Now, against the formalists (who stress remoteness) Ibn'Arabî argues that if the Absolute is purified to such an extent that creatures fall outside of the Absolute, then we limit the infinitely vast and profound Divine Existence by the form of creation itself and/or the form of the Selves. This is "shirk" (as ideolatry). With the imaginal eye blinded (unable to witness nearness), the "declaration of unity" becomes then a declaration of duality, for the notion of the "unity of being" is replaced by a too radical distinction between The God & the cosmos. This situation makes The God dependent of something else, namely of a cosmos (which is a fact) wherein He never and in no way appears. Ontological & cosmological arguments are replaced by legalistic & moralistic authority. On the other hand, the same water of life is poison at the instant one assimilates its many forms (the waves) as gods & goddesses with their own rule and in some way self-subsistent and on their own ("causa sui"). This is also "shirk" (as idolatry). 

Despite of what his fierce critics claimed, neither positions were held by Ibn'Arabî, who nevertheless operated in a historical context characterized by a firm grip of theology & law on Islamic life (explaining why his arabesque tends towards "assimilation" ?).

"So, beware lest you restrict yourself to a particular tenet concerning the Reality and so deny any other tenet equally reflecting Him, for you would forfeit much good, indeed you would forfeit the true knowledge of what is the Reality. Therefore, be completely and utterly receptive to all doctrinal forms, for Allâh, Most High, is too All-embracing and Great to be confined within one creed rather than another, for He has said, Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of Allâh, without mentioning any particular direction. He states that there is the face of Allâh, the face of a thing being its reality."
Ibn'Arabî : Fusûs al-hikam, X (translated by Austin, R.W.J. : The Bezels of Wisdom, Paulist Press - New Jersey, 1980, p.137).

Otherness and The God ("shirk") 

According to Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn'Arabî contrived to erase the distinctions between the polytheists and the faithful by introducing a radical monism which eclipsed the gap between The God and creation and so led to radical assimilation opening the way to idolatry. Did the Greatest Master, a "true knower" ("ârif") of the Absolute, in all instances use both eyes ? Nearly 760 years after Ibn'Arabî's death some conclude that his claim to be the "Seal of the Saints", the story of his ultimate importance in the spiritual evolution of humanity, probably is the best reason to also doubt him (these claims were fraught with political & social implications). Must we admire that in some instances the Greatest Master failed ? What makes the arabesque perfect ? 

Again the bi-polarity of the Divine comes to the fore. The ineffable essence of the Absolute ("dhât") is hinted at in the Qur'ân and witnessed by the gnostics. If the signs, the faces & the properties of the Divine Names are witnessed without the Majesty that is their Oneness, i.e. when they pretend autarky and otherness, then polytheism ensues and a war between the gods & the goddesses becomes likely. This is a conflict between entities claiming to subsist on their own ! The lawyer blinded by the ideal of purity ONLY posits submission & service to The God. He remains silent about our viceregency. The "true" gnostic combines both polarities in one attitude. Only this avoids all forms of "shirk", free to take up the position of "unification" ("jam" - cf. "tanzîh") or "dispersion" ("farq" - cf. "tashbîh"). 

"If you insist on incomparability, you bind,
and if you insist on similarity, you define.
If you maintain both, you hit the mark -
you are an Imâm and a master in gnosis."

Ibn'Arabî : Fusûs al-hikam, third chapter

All-comprehensive Oneness-in-Variety 

Sûfî theology, especially that of Ibn'Arabî, is indeed revolutionary. That the "orthodox" legalists and theologians would counterreact was inevitable. 

"But even those Muslims who place great stress upon similarity normally give priority to incomparability. They do this in order to prevent deviation from the Islamic norms and rejection by the Muslim community. Moreover, the Sufis are the first to point out that human beings must take into account the limitations that rule over all created things. Because of these limitations, the divine reality takes precedence over the relative reality of created things."
Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, pp.53-54.

In Sufism, the distinction between the Essence of The God (His Face) "before" Divine Self-disclosure (incomparable, unknowable, no relations with the cosmos) and the same Absolute-in-process (demanding a servant in respect to which the Absolute is Lord) animates the gnosis which maintains the balance between veiling & unveiling. 

To disclose something hidden behind a veil ("tajallî") is Ibn'Arabî's expression for Divine Self-manifestation. The Absolute before Self-disclosure or the First Presence ("hadrah") of the Absolute also called "absolute mystery" ("ghayb mutlaq") is primordial, absolutely unconditional, simplicity of Sheer Being ("al-wujûd al-mahd"), being qua being or essence ("dhât"). Also : the Unity of Being, the notion that there is nothing outside Sheer Being.

"The Real alone is singled out for Unity. This is the Unity of the Essence, not the Unity of Manyness, which is the unity of the names. For the unity of the names makes the One two, since Allâh, in respect of His Essence, 'is, and nothing is with Him'. Hence, nothing makes His Unity two but the unity of creation. Thereby the quality of making two becomes manifest.

Nothing enters engendered existence save doubling.
Look - the Lord comes to be from the vassal !"

Ibn'Arabî : Futûhât al-makkiyya or Meccan Openings, IV 276.33, my italics (translated by Chittick, W.C. : The Sûfî Path of Knowledge, SUNY - New York, 1989).

Possibly "heretical" are the speculations concerning the Real above the Divine Names (namely the Essence of the Absolute, "dhât", "Unity of Being" and "Unity of the Essence") and its relationship with these Self-disclosures (cf. the most sacred emanation). The "hidden treasure" (a closed and locked chest of jewels representing the Divine Names and nonmanifest) is not a different ontological order but a modification of this Sheer Being, a turning 'outwards', leaving Aloneness.

In the order of being, the Absolute in its absoluteless comes first in the logical (not the temporal) sequence of the beings. However, in Ibn'Arabî's spiritual cosmology the Name "Allâh" of revelation also expresses (besides incomparable Essence) the second Presence ("hadra") of the Absolute, namely the Divine Existence of an infinite number of Names & (eternally fixed) essences in the Oneness of the Consciousness of the Lord of the Worlds constituted by the Many. Hence, the Name "Allâh" also contains the urge to constitute a relationship outside the Absolute Aloness of the Essence

This "urge" is the principle of differentiation which Farghânî finds in Divine Knowledge. The hidden treasure can only be completely emptied if it manifests totally. The creatures are the receptacles, places or loci which display (externalize) the Divine Names. They are the objects reflected "behind" the surface of the mirror of Divine Self-disclosure. Eventually, each one of them may be adorned with the unique jewel of its own essential wholeself or Lord. This is nothing less that one of the infinite number of forms assumed by The God as all-comprehensive Lord of Lords. It is to be a real in the Real. 

"(...) many of the divine names -the possibilities latent in the very nature of Being- cannot become manifest until the worst imaginable evils are displayed in existence. Neither vengeance nor forgiveness have meaning outside of sin, and neither can achieve its full splendor without the deepest depths of moral depravity. All this takes place midst of relationships between the absolutely Real and the relatively real."
Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.66, my italics.

For orthodox minds this was (and still is) the devil's teaching. Because they understand the teaching with one eye closed, they fail to perceive the underlying arabesque intention, which -like in the Zen "koans"- tries to mobilize & fire the spiritual force of its reader. The Sûfî attempts to unlock the heart (of the Self) praising the Real source of all possible being continuously (cf. Ibn'Arabî on to be a "qur'ân"). For if that happens, humans will directly prehend that no Name is able to limit the Absolute in its Absoluteness, namely in Its own Essence. Ibn'Arabî affirms the conclusions of negative theology (cf. neo-Platonism, ps.-Dionysius, the qabalah) : the Absolute in its Absoluteness, the essence of being, the Unity of the One, the Unity of Being is ineffable, incomprehensible, incomparable, in short : proof of the extreme remoteness of the Absolute qua Absolute and the Aloneness of this ONE ALONE. 

"... none is poorer towards the cosmos than perfect man, since he witnesses it subjected to himself. He knows that if he did not need the cosmos, those things that are subjected to him would not have been subjected to him. He knows in himself that he is more in need of the cosmos that the cosmos is in need of him. His all-inclusive poverty stands in the station of the all-inclusive divine Independence. In respect to poverty, he takes up a position in the cosmos like the position of the Real in respect to the Divine Names, which demand the displaying of effects in the cosmos. He only becomes manifest in his poverty by the manifestation of the Names of the Real."
Ibn'Arabî : The Meccan Openings, chapter 339, my italics (translated by Chittick, C.W. in Hirtenstein, S. & Tiernan, M. : Muhyiddin Ibn'Arabi : A Commemorative Volume, Element - Dorset, 1993, p.107).

By affirming the ultimate negation concerning the Absolute, Ibn'Arabî echoed the experience of numerous mystics everywhere. Instead of being disrespectful to The God, he performed the highest possible act of service, namely putting off the beautiful robes of the Divine Names themselves for the sake of the simplicity of Sheer Being or The God for Himself.

"He sees Himself by Himself ; He conceives Himself by Himself ; He knows Himself by Himself. None other than He can see Him. None other than He can know Him. That which hides Him is His oneness. None but Himself can hide Him. The veil that hides Him is His own being. He hides His being with nothing other than His being the Only One ; therefore, none other than He can see Him."
Ibn'Arabi : Kitab al-ahadiyyah or A Treatise on The One Alone (translated by Tosun, B. : Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, Fons Vitæ - Louisville, 1997, p.234, my italics).

Nevertheless, Sheer Being, the Essence of The God, manifests as the Divine Existence of that selfsame "Allâh" who is the highest and most perfect Form assumed by the Absolute qua Absolute as it "steps out" of Aloneness in Divine Existence. It is Divine Existence within Divine Essence. If Sheer Being is the Unity of Being without any divisions or complexities, then the Oneness of the Majesty of the Worlds is the all-comprehensive Name of "Allâh" which encompasses an infinite number of infinities, truly called : "Lord of Lords" and "Lord of the Worlds". 

Activity & reception, a Divine marriage ? 

Sufism develops the bi-polarity of the Divine which is part of the message of the Qur'ân. This play of antinomies is at work within the Absolute Itself (dim 10 versus dim 9) and also between the Divine and its creation (dim 9 versus dim 8 ...1). 

The first two dimensions of being ("wujûd") measure the same Real (namely the Absolute Without A Second) as a unity of differences, namely between : 

  1. distance through incomparability & greatness (dim = 10 - the Real is "independent of the worlds" - 3:97) and 

  2. nearness through generosity (dim = 9 > 8 ... 1), i.e. the Divine Names urging towards complete manifestion. Divine Existence, receiving (reflecting, describing) the inner purity and Sheer essence of Being through an infinite number of forms (names, attributes, eternal objects) is "nearer to you than the jugular vein" (50:16).

"To conceive of God as distant, through His greatness, power, majesty, holiness, and so on, is to understand Him as the yang element in a yin/yang relationship. We have no effect upon Him, while everything we are and everything we do derive from His activity."
Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.53.

In terms of the quality of the polarity, the Essence of "Allâh" is active but withdrawn whereas Divine Existence is receptive (passive) but outgoing & creating. As we are unable to know Sheer Being, the possible "receptive" balancing-point which in principle is part of the activity of the Essence remains for ever veiled & only for The One Alone to know for only He knows Himself. But, as each human being has been created to worship The God, all Divine Names are part of each human being. When the Law of one's Self is followed and one's eternal object is completely conscious (the interval of being bridged), then the jewel may be witnessed and put on. This is nothing less than the Divine Presence of the all-comprehensiveness Name as the "Mother" of us all (cf. the Jewish "shekinah").

"The Prophet loved women only because of their level and the fact that they are a locus that receives activity. In relation to him they are like Nature in relation to the Real. For within Nature He opened up the forms of the cosmos through the attentiveness of desire and the divine command."
Qaysarî : Kâshânî, 333-334 (translated by Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam, SUNY - New York, 1992, p.194
, my italics). 



dim = 10
The One Alone
exclusive unity
Unity of Being


active field
in activity


receptive point
in activity
dim = 9
Oneness of Names
inclusive unity
Manyness of the Knowledge

active point
in reception
Unveiled Jewels
receptive field
in reception
Hidden Treasure



dim = 8 Cloud (of Freedom)
dim = 7 receptive field
in reception
dim = 6 active point
in reception

Rûmî associated receptivity with love & movement. Ibn'Arabî with the Sigh of existentiating Mercy ("nafas rahmânî"). He says that this Sigh -reflections of the Divine Names (the hidden treasure) on the mirror of disclosure- gives rise to the complete "subtle" passive, receptive mass of a primordial existentiation termed "cloud" ("amâ"), which he associates with Divine Imagination. "I wanted to be known" (Hadîth Qudsî) explicidly suggests that the perfection of the Essence wanted to be displayed outwardly, implying an activity. 

"Thus in this cloud are manifested all the forms of being from the highest Archangels, the 'Spirits ecstatic with love' (al-muhayyamûn), to the minerals of inorganic nature ; everything that is differentiated from the pure essence of the Divine Being as such (dhât al-Haqq), genera, species and individuals, all this is created in the Cloud. 'Created', but not produced ex nihilo, since the only conceivable nonbeing is the latent state of beings, and since even in their state of pure potentiality, hidden within the unrevealed essence, beings have had a positive status (thubût) from pre-eternity."
Corbin, H. : Alone with the Alone, Princeton University Press - Princeton, 1998, p.186.

The Names result from the active will to be known and then urge towards manifestation. Knowledge is impossible without reception.

"How do did you attain that which you attained ?
Say what you like, but I think that it is due to the consent of the mother."

Abû Yazid : Shatahât, 53 (Meddeb, A. : Les Dits de Bistami, Fayard - Paris, 1989, p.50.)

As Essence, The God is HE. His Self-Disclosure however is the She within this HE. Her reception has two sides : an overall field (of receptivity) and a polarizing balancing-point offering an opening or door between the quality at hand and its complement. Hence, the receptivity of Divine Existence (symbolized by the unveiling of the jewels taken out of the chest) is complemented (balanced, harmonized) by the unending wealth of Sheer Being filling the hidden treasure perpetually. HE accomodates Her. It goes without saying that the logic of this arabesque involving Divine marriage does not eliminate the core paradox of apophasis (unsaying), namely : HE is Her.

"Because all men worship God whether they know it or not, because it is the Sigh of the Merciful who has brought them into existence, because each of them bears within him the imprint of one of the infinitely multiple Faces of the One, it is to eternal bliss that they have been and are being guided from the beginning of eternity."
Addas, Cl. : Quest for the Red Sulphur, The Islamic Text Society - Cambridge, 1993, p.293, my italics.

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 initiated : 28 X 1999 - last update : 9 IX 2003 - version n°13