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
modular philosophy. The result is
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
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
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) ?
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
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
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
Izutsu, T. : Creation and the Timeless
Order of Things, White Cloud Press - Oregon, 1994, p.1.
The Arabic term "sûfî" or "mystic" derives from
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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.
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
right doing = body of
Islam = the prescriptive commands of the Sharia ;
right thinking = mind
of Islam = creedal teachings & philosophy ;
right seeing = spirit
of Islam = seeing things as they are with a pure heart and an
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
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
Abdel-Kader, A.H. : The Life,
Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, Gibb Memorial - London, 1976,
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
results of the comparative study of the mysticism of
the historical Jesus,
the Areopagite, Beatrice of Nazareth,
Read also :
Love-Mysticism (Dutch - 1994 -
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
"Allâh", the Name of the all-comprehensiveness of the Divine Names and the
Oneness of Being. For a complete remembrance implies :
("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)
("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
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
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".
Unity of the Divine Essence ("dhât")
the One Alone
inclusive unity ("ahadiyya") or unitary principle
The Unity of Being
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 &
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
"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"
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).
unity of being
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
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,
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
Rûmî : Discourses, 193/202
(translated by Chittick, W.C. : The
Sûfî Path of Love, SUNY - New York,
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.
created & not creating
& unity of being, Face of the Absolute, Lord of all Being
created & creating
of Divine Self-disclosure, Divine Names
cloud, all latent potential of a cosmos
& not creating
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
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,
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,
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").
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,
especially that of Ibn'Arabî, is
indeed revolutionary. That the "orthodox" legalists and theologians would counterreact was
"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
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
(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
Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam,
SUNY - New York, 1992, p.66, my italics.
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
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
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,
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
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,
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
Activity & reception, a Divine
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 :
distance through incomparability &
greatness (dim = 10 - the Real is "independent of the worlds" -
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
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
"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."
Kâshânî, 333-334 (translated by Murata, S. : The Tao of Islam,
SUNY - New York, 1992, p.194, my italics).
The One Alone
Unity of Being
Oneness of Names
Manyness of the Knowledge
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.
result from the active will to be known and then urge towards manifestation.
Knowledge is impossible without reception.
did you attain that which you attained ?
Say what you like, but I think that it is due to the consent of the
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.
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
Addas, Cl. : Quest for the Red Sulphur,
The Islamic Text Society - Cambridge, 1993, p.293, my italics.
initiated : 28 X 1999 - last update : 9 IX 2003 - version n°13