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 On the Polished Mirror 

©  Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2017.

On declaring Unity

On the Opening

On Oblivion

On Survival 

On Sobriety

to the angel of inspiration (malak al-ilhâm)

And He taught Adam the names, all of them.
Qur'ân 2:31 

Allâh said : "I was a Hidden Treasure, so I loved to be known."
attributed to the Prophet - according to Ibn'Arabî proven through unveiling 

Though all the trees in the earth were pens, 
and the seas - seven seas after it to replenish it,
yet would the Words of Allâh not be spent.
Qur'ân 31:27 

And be wary of Allâh, and Allâh teaches you.
Qur'ân 2:282

"The Real gives this and He gives that,
so through Him take both this and that,
and when He gives some things to you,
hold not yourself back from it.
He who recognizes "this" 
will be a great imâm,
but no one who says "this"
can escape from saying "that".
Between the two appears what turns him from this and that.
Some believe in this,
some believe in that.
Just so you should know the truth of things - just so."

Ibn'Arabi : Futûhât al-makkiyya, IV 166.30 - translated by Chittick, 1998, my italics.

To understand the metaphysics involved in the endless spiritual arabesques the mystics of Allâh which were developed to elucidate their mystical experiences, I focus on the teachings of Abû'l-Qâsim al-Junayd of Baghdad (ca.827-909 CE - cf. the Rasâ'il Al-Junayd, his letters) & Ibn'Arabî (1165 - 1229 - cf. his Fusûs al-hikam of 1229). These teachings are distinguished from those of Abû Yazid Bistâmî (born in 848 - the Shatahât) and Hallâj (ca.857-922 - cf. the Dîwân).

"Al-Wâsitî, writing about A.D.1320 when the Ways were fully established, says that there were two distinct primitive sanads (support) to which all the then existing khirqas (orders) went back, the Junaidî and the Bistâmî."
Trimingham, J.S. : The Sûfî Orders in Islam, Oxford University Press - Oxford, 1998, p.

Al-Junayd wrote a commentary on the sayings of Bistâmî and found them of little merit. He considered Hallâj to be a madman in whose words are much folly & nonsense. Al-Junayd's systematic model has four important elements, namely a particular definition of "tawhîd" (unification), the theory of the return or convenant ("mîthâq"), a state of sobriety ("sahw") after oblivion ("fanâ"), and the formula of variety-in-unity. The latter became part of Ibn'Arabî's magisterial synthesis of the philosophy of mysticism of Sufism, circumambulating his mystical vision of the unity of being ("wahdat al wujûd").

"The circle of the Sûfî School of Baghdâd was at the time very much in the centre of spiritual life in general, and as a central point of this spiritual circle of friends and students we find the personality of al-Junayd."
Abdel-Kader, A.H. : The Life, Personality and Writings of Al-Junayd, Gibb Memorial - London, 1976, p.47.

What is the "place of humanity" in the spirituality of Sufism, the mystical rose of Islam ? 

We can see that in the Sufi arabesques the metaphor of the mirror is amply used to indicate the fundamental bi-polarity between the Absolute and creation, each pole expressing a tripartite relationship which ontologically defines the polarity at hand.

"The divine attributes come into actuality in the polished mirror. The attributes are actualized at the point of intersection of human and divine, cosmologically in the role of Adam as the polishing of the mirror, mystically in the polishing of the mirror of the heart that occurs in mystical union or fanâ."
Sells, M.A. : Mystical Languages of Unsaying, University of Chicago Press - Chicago, 1996, p.84.

On the one side stands the Absolute (the Real, actually a Real-Ideal, namely essence plus existence), on the other side creation (relatively real, a delusion of reality). The latter is like the surface of an unpolished mirror, a sign, signifier, mark or image, but in all cases but a reflection or shadow of the Real, declaring the remoteness of the Divine. 

Nevertheless, according to Sufism, in the heart of humanity (which is part of creation) the surface of this mirror may be polished. In this way the true, i.e. universal Orient (cf. the North Pole) may be unveiled, reflecting that which was before anything became, namely the attributes of the Absolute, the most beautiful Names of the Divine, and their associated eternal essences (or Selves) of all things. 

"... the possibility of reaching the cosmic north, the Emerald Rock, is essentially linked to the bi-unitary structure of human individuality, potentially including a transcendent dimension of light (...) The night of rejected demonic depths, or on the contrary the horror of the day inspired by the fascination of these depths - these perhaps are the two impotences to which occidental man succumbs. It is not by compounding them that one finds the luminous Night of the 'Oriental', that is to say, of the 'northern man,' nor the night of the intra-divine heights."
Corbin, H. : The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, Omega - New York, 1994, p.49.

Even the Divine attributes themselves are accidents of the essence of Allâh, the Real core of being or Sheer Being. The Names are an infinite number of perfect descriptions, disclosures, unveilings, emanations, cosmoi & worlds (a Divine Dance or Comedy) from all sides & at all times implicitly engulfed, enclosed & embraced by the sole, self-subsisting essence, the Alone Self of Allâh, an ocean without shores. This One encompasses all of existence and hence all essences. It is therefore impossible to objectify this essence of being (or "dhât"). Why ?

"Abû Yazid spoke about the attributes. 
You see him joyous and tranquil. 
Speaking about the essence, he rose and said : 
'Etern ! etern ! etern ! ... By the secret of eternity !'"

Abû Yazid : Shatahât, 43 (Meddeb, A. : Les Dits de Bistâmî, Fayard - Paris, 1989, p.50.)

Only dolphins momentarily leap outside the ocean to experience the not-water.

It is only for The God to know Himself Face to Face. 

This Ultimately & Unique Face is irreversibly, uncompromisingly and absolutely the eternal Difference, the Radical Other and so Utterly Transcendent.

In Sufism, this radical difference between creation and the Absolute is situated within the all-comprehensiveness of The God who is both essence & existence (Sheer Being & Divine Consciousness). Hence, only the essence of The God is truly Real. And this Reality is so perfect that it includes imperfection (cf. the terrible Names, like the Punisher & the Humiliator). 

As a rule, radical apophatism, i.e. a theology of the unsaying, is coupled with this : what really exists, namely Sheer Being (the essence of everything and of Itself) is ineffable. Nevertheless, arabesque logic demands that this ultimate transcendence be confirmed by accepting that The God favours that He wills with whatever He likes ... 

Under such a strong apophatic & transcendent principle no pantheism is able to keep its constituent elements self-subsistent and hence substantially together. For transcendence denies the building of a unified, continuous (i.e. "one") autarkic cosmos.  At best the cosmos happens in the Absolute (qabalah & Sufism), is an overflow of goodness (Christianity) or continues by itself after is has been created (deism). 

In my opinion, no monistic pantheism is indicated in Sufism (cf. Husaini, 1970). A rather exceptionally complex form of pan-en-theism ensues. Namely, the affirmation of both the irreversible transcendence of the Absolute (the core of theism) and the irradiating immanence of the Absolute as Divine Consciousness of and Divine Presence in all of existence (the core of pantheism). This destroys & recreates everything constantly and eternally. Identical structure can be found in ps.-Dionysius & qabalah (cf. the philosophy of Spinoza). The notion of the pre-existence of the Divine, namely a Divine order before creation, as well as different "stages" or "modalities" within the Absolute can be found as early as the first dynasties of the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt (2600 - 2100 BC), namely in the Pyramid Texts and the Memphis Theology (cf. the complex personality of Ptah, called "Ptah" before He created the primordial hill and also "Ptah" after He created the world with His words).

Sufism advocates radical apophatism, which -at the upper dimensions of being- desubstantializes existence completely (except for Allâh nothing self-subsisting exists).  Moreover, the sheer unity of being ("wahdat al-wujûd") is hidden behind veils of infinite multiplicity. The latter are unreal from the perspective of the Real in the Real, namely the Face of Allâh or Sheer Being which is also The Truth. The people of reality (the "Gnostics" - "arif") experience these veils as a multitude of Self-disclosures of the Absolute and hence as relatively real (the "loci" of Divine Self-manifestations). The "Lord" served by the Sûfî is only one of the Divine Names. Nevertheless, each Divine Name contains all the others, and Adam has been taught all the Names. This gnosis leads to the state of perplexity, for the ultimate essence of all is a one-fold nondual Sheer Being beyond duality (beyond both affirmation & negation) and hence prevails as a paraconsistent coincidence or unity of all possible opposites (cf. Ibn'Arabî on the "station of no station" & the "coincidentio oppositorum"). 

In the perfect mirror he who praises and He who is praised merge, so that worshipper & Worshipped temporarily coincide. Never does this lead to a permanent identification with the Divine. Nor is the worshipper in the highest stage identical with Allâh (cf. "ittihâd"). The Perfect(ed) go along with things and because of their spiritual station (be it "of no station" as in the case of Ibn'Arabî or "of sobriety" as taught by Al-Junayd) they are able to guide their fellow human beings. When the mirror is polished (occurring in the eternal moment), the Perfect(ed) reflect the Divine completely with exception of necessary existence.

In the Sufi version of the classical bi-polarity of the Divine (namely the tension between the Absolute & the relative), the Absolute pole is divided in :

  1. dim = 10 : unknowable one-fold, nondual essence of being, sheer being & truth, Face of Allâh

  2. dim = 9 : everlasting infinite & varied pre-existence before all possible manifestation or creation ... Oneness described as "Divine" or the endless veils of Allâh

  3. dim = 9 & 8 : limitless Mercy, creating all possible worlds & beings or the all-comprehensiveness of Allâh

The relative, cosmic pole is divided in :

  1. dim = 8 : a "cloud" containing all possible forms of a given cosmos

  2. dim = 7 ... 1 : an infinite number of beings limited by the form of the cosmos

  3. dim = 6 : the Compassion of sentient beings enabling the return of all to what it was before it became

The particular anthropological Sufi-factor introduced by Ibn'Arabî are the double intervals between :

  • on the one hand the eternal essence (face) or (higher, inner) Self of a human being (dim = 6) and its empirical, relative personality or body-ego-complex (dim = 1 ... 5) and 

  • on the other hand the identity between the unveiled (polished) face or eternal essence of the "Self" (dim = 6) and the eternal essences of all pre-creation things pre-existing in Divine Consciousness & Awareness. The Selves abide in the vastness of He who is essentially Alone but steps into existential Self-manifestation (dim = 9 > 1). This fact will be studied elsewhere (cf. Sed-festival, Eucharist, Hermetism & Royal Art).

The system of dimensions used is explained elsewhere and a pictorial representation of the various functions measured by these 10 dimensions is also given. This is a summary helpful to understand their placement in this text.

dim =


short description



essence & unity of being, Sheer Being, the one-fold nondual, ocean without shores, Face of the Absolute


existence of Divinity, Self-disclosure, veiling & unveiling, Divine Names, attributes of the Absolute



the cloud, roof of the world, perfect state of the world, all possibilities present in the world, form of the destiny of everything wordly



Gnostics existing through their Selves only abide as the Knowledge He has of Himself 


by always existing in their Selves, higher intellectual functions become operational, contemplation is habitual and direct intuition very common 


neohuman kingdom : when touched by the Self & conscious of the eternal now, our ability to reshape things & circumstances and to add something to the physical world prevails over our egology. In this way we hope to arrive at a lasting global justice & an intense joy for all beings (in truth, beauty & goodness)


human kingdom : principle of language being meaningful outside of context (formal), voluntary existence in a physical world driven by emotions & needs like safety, protection, psychosocial integration & esteem, capable of education & culture but low creativity


animal kingdom : principle of movement, instinct, territory, survival of the race, sense of social hierarchy, rapid adaptation to changes but rudimentary language (with no culture)


vegetal kingdom : capable of photosynthesis, assimilation, fast growth, but slow adaptation to circumstances


mineral kingdom : propensities towards permanent form, proportion, but slow growth

 On declaring Unity 

there is no god only The God
and Muhammad is the Prophet of The God

This so-called "declaration of unity" (or "tawhîd") is the actual affirmation (performance) of two distinct adhesions, each in two parts :

  • say : 'there is no god only The God' or 

    • (a) 'there is no god'

    • (b) 'only The God is' ;

  • say : 'and Muhammad is the Prophet of The God'

I) there is no god only The God = the Truth
nullus deus, nisi Deus !

The first statement (the so-called "sentence of ikhlâs", i.e. free of admixtures) is theological and constitutes the firm foundation of the whole of Islam, or "submission" (to "Allâh").

"Say ; 'He is Allâh, the One' (Qur'ân 112.1) is equivalent to a third of the Qur'ân."
Abû ad-Darâ (Tabrîzî : Mishkat al-Masâbih, hadîth 2127, Muslim source)

"Being free of admixtures" refers to the fact that the statement holds true for all spiritual practices, religions, faiths or churches. Being universal, it does not suggest a particular community or geo-sentimental belief but belongs to the spiritual philosophy of humanity.

"All beings are beings in virtue of unity."
Plotinos - Enneads, VI.9.1 (my translation)

The first statement refers everything back to Allâh (annihilates everything except the Absolute). It affirms that nothing has self-subsistence except The God, implying that -on the fundamental level of being- the essence of a thing is not distinct from that of another, for both are a Self-manifestation or expression (modality) of Sheer Being. On the deepest level all distinctions are merely accidental. 

"So I say, those who divide fail to divide ; those who discriminate fail to discriminate. What does this mean, you ask ? The Sage embraces things. Ordinary men discriminate among them and parade their discriminations before others. So I say, those who discriminate fail to see. The Great Way is not named ; Great Discriminations are not spoken ; Great Benevolence is not benevolent ; Great Modesty is not humble ; Great Daring does not attack. If the Way is made clear, it is not the Way. If discriminations are put into words, they do not suffice. If benevolence has a constant object, it cannot be universal. If modesty is fastidious, it cannot be trusted. If daring attacks, it cannot be complete. These five are all round, but they tend toward the square. Therefore understanding that rests in what it does not understand is the finest. Who can understand discriminations that are not spoken, the Way that is not a way ? If he can understand this, he may be called the Reservoir of Heaven. Pour into it and it is never full, dip from it and it never runs dry, and yet is does not know where the supply comes from. This is called the Shaded Light."
Chang Tzu (translated by Watson, B. : Chang Tzu, Columbia University Press - New York, 1996, pp.39-40.)

The sentence free of admixtures is like the words spoken more than once by the prophet Isaiah : 

"To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like ? (...) I am God, and there is none else ; I am God, and there is none like me."
Isaiah, 46:5 & 9, italics mine.

The first statement refers to the core of Islamic theology. It has two parts :

(a) = OBLIVION (fanâ) : there is no god ("la ilaha") - negation

Insofar as a "god" is a being to be worshipped the negation shows that there is no being to be worshipped, for there is no "god", "gods","goddess" or "goddesses". All entities have limitations. They are abstractions, forms or ideas which are given an independent essence subsisting sui generis.

These idols (or fetishes) are often incensed, praised & venerated for their own sake. They are a "pars pro toto" and may even take on a human form (cf. Pharaoh, Son of Râ or Jesus as witnessed by the Catholics, namely God). This also holds for possible fetishes like philosophical universals, like truth (falsehood), beauty (ugliness) & goodness (evil), by some revered as things on their own. To set up a god (a powerful, influential idea, notion, word, whisper ...) against Allâh is to create a god-out-there that stands above the worshipper (thinker, speaker) and is a second to the Worshipped. So universals have always to be put in the context of all other possibilities, and these are endless. Hence only the Absolute has the "last word" about all matters and to Him everything returns. 

To isolate universals and revere them for themselves gives to that god (perfect idea) his/her power. It transfers individual noble/base qualities to a limited entity begetted by repeatedly and blindly willingly attributing  all kinds of most excellent/repugnant qualities to it as if it were an independent and self-subsisting superior being (physical, notional). This god is hence objectified in some form, image or representation and given certain distinct qualities. Clearly this ends in everybody creation his or her own "god", namely by the law of their own empirical ego's ("I am the Lord" instead of "my Lord has me") or by spirito-communal distractions (the orthodoxy of "our Lord" instead of "my Lord"). This is the only capital sin in Islam. Do not associate The God with a second.

"Narrated Abû Huraira : Allâh's Messenger said : Allâh said : Among all partners, I am the most dispensable with association. So anyone who performs a deed in which he ascribes to Me others ; I will abandon him and his act of polytheism."
Hadîth reported by Muslim (translated by Masood-ul-Hasan, S. : 110 Hadith Qudsi, Darussalam - Riyadh, 1996, p.16.)

Clearly, by affirming negation all of this is radically done with. The 360 independent gods of "Arabia deserta" are abolished. The Most High has no daughters and no sons. There is no "son of The God". There is no "mother of The God". Jesus was a Messenger. All pantheons are eradicated and all pluralism is banished out of the Divine Essence. There are no gods or goddesses. Nothing is worth to be worshipped except the Face of Allâh, the essence of being. Kneeling down & prostrating before Pharaoh's throne of an imagined self-subsistence is abolished and as such useless. This consequent negation leads to nothing less than a perpetual spiritual revolution, namely the secret recurrence in sobriety of annihilation and survival.

(b) = SURVIVAL : only The God is ("illa-Allâh") - affirmation

To translate "Allâh" as just "God" does not away with the wrong idea that the Supreme Being of Islam is only a former idol of idols "invoked & worshipped" and raised by Muhammad to the highest Divine rank ("Allâh" thus implying "God of gods").

Sufism teaches that all Divine ranks are but attributes of the inexpressible unity of being. I translate "Allâh" as "The God". The awkwardness of this construction being suggestive of the difficulties involved when dealing with the Absolute within the confines of written words. Moreover,  the singular word "God" ("Theos" in Greek and "Deus" in Latin) is actually the translation of the original Hebrew plural word "Elohîm" ! The singular of "Elohîm" is "Eloha" which in Arabic is pronounced "Allâh". "Elohîm" -this extremely important word- is used to introduce the Divine at the beginning of the Torah (cf. Genesis, 1.1). In the New Testament this grave error (involving the main player) has been repeated. Is the plain word "God" not too muddled (cf. Chouraqui, 1995) ? It is clear to me that the Allâh and "Eloha" stand for two different aspects, namely The God (both essence & existence) versus "one of the Elohîm" ("Elohîm" refers to the exterior of the Absolute).

As there is no "god" there is no "God" either, except The God. 

All this to make clear that the word "Allâh" denotes something completely different, namely in essence that nondual sheer being which can not be denoted.

Allâh, The God, is not a god, a goddess or God. 

This paradox lies at the heart of Muslim theology. We can say nothing about the essence of Allâh, for to say something would imply a process of objectification, which in this case can never occur for there is only Allâh. Allâh can not be situated outside or inside, above or below. Not unlike mathematical space itself, Allâh can not be defined but nevertheless The God underlines & encompasses all possibilities (all happens in that space). Not unlike the empty set, Allâh is every possibility (dim = 9) but also an absolute absence of affirmation & negation, a one-fold nondual Sheer Being (dim = 10), absolutely without any determinations. 

God asks for worship, but The God servitude. A crucial difference learned at the Opening.  

II) Muhammad is the Prophet of The God = the Law
('Alî is the beloved of The God !?)

The second statement is cosmo-anthropological. It is the complement of the first. On the formal side note that the first statement was about the Absolute and the way to reach the "mystic Orient", namely through oblivion (annihilation) & survival (restoration, return). In Iranian Sufism this so-called "Emerald Rock" was seen as the vertical connecting the Sufi with the North Pole. A vertical direction is therefore indicated. However, once this is firmly established, one is forced to ask to what this may lead ? The vertical inner relationship between the servant and His Lord is complemented by the horizontal four outer quarters of space between the worshipper and his natural & cultural environments. Hence, theology naturally leads to politics. This is what the second statement is all about : the actualization of the individual's connection with Allâh in just cultural forms praising Him.

The God is not only a transcendent Sheer Being but also the immanence of Divine existence. Because He wants to know Himself, the Divine Names describe Him. He steps outside Aloneness of sheer essence and witnesses how His reflection was, is and will be a multiplicity of worlds encompassed by Oneness. This anthropomorphic & cognitive view on the reason of creation (influenced by neoplatonism) can only be a figure of speech. Although we already know that only the Face or essence of The God truly "is" Real, we do learn that relative existence may be attributed to creation. It is this sphere of existence that this second part of the "shahâdah" works.


History evidences that after Muhammad passed away the original community of Islam got divided very quickly.

"On the authority of Abû Najîh al-'Irbâd ibn Sâriya, who said : The Messenger of Allâh gave us a sermon by which our hearts were filled with fear and tears came to our eyes. We said : O Messenger of Allâh, it is as though this is a farewell sermon, so counsel us. He said : 'I counsel you to fear Allâh and to give absolute obedience even if a slave becomes your leader. Verily he among you who lives long will see great controversy, so you must keep to my sunna and to the sunna of the rightly guided ones - cling to them stubbornly. Beware of newly invented matters, for every invented matter is an innovation and every innovation is a going astray."
Hadîth related by Abû Dâwûd & at-Tirmidhî (translated by Maktabat Dar-us-Salam : An Nawawi's Forty Hadith, 1994, p.93.)

The Sunnites focused on the life of Muhammad (the "sunna" of the original "umma") and derived their way of life from the examples he left behind (cf. hadîth). We know that before he died Muhammad was worried that the religion of the Arabs would relapse into their former state of polytheism.  The emergence of a male elite (cf. Mernissi, 1991) introducing a "codex" (and a written Qur'ân) is illustrative of a movement away from an individual vertical relationship between a believer & Allâh to the advantage of a horizontal, Sunnite spirito-communal attitude which reinforced adherence to a powerful community instead of an individual submission to the Most High. This could have eclipsed the living mystical core of Islam (it did not), and explains why the Sunna (stressing remoteness & incomparability) has always opposed Gnostics who also invoked the similarity between the Absolute and creation and between themselves and the Most High (like Hallây who said : "I am the Real").

"I learnt with certainty that it is above all the mystics who walk on the road of God ; their life is the best life, their method the soundest method, their character the purest character ; indeed, were the intellect of the intellectuals and the learning of the learned and scholarship of the scholars, who are versed in the profundities of revealed truth, brought together in the attempt to improve the life and character of the mystics, they would find no way of doing so, for to the mystics all movement and all rest, whether external or internal, brings illumination from the light of the lamp of prophetic revelation, and behind the light of prophetic revelation there is no other light on the face of the earth from which illumination may be received."
Al-Ghazâlî : Deliverance from Error (translated by Watt, W.M. : The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazâlî, Oneworld - Oxford, 1994, p.63.)

In the Sunnite view, the Prophet of Islam is ranked above all other past & future prophets (and thus called the "seal of the prophets") because Allâh is The God of creation as a whole (humanity included). All creeds "east & west" are part of Islam, for all aspects of Divinity are One in The God, who is All in all. The Prophet as human Messenger brings a revelation for the whole of humanity (like Christianity before him) but combines it with absolute transcendence (no Trinitarian complexity in unity and no theology of filial mediation) and the inherent dignity of each human man & woman (being a potential perfect human being).

"Men and women who have surrendered,
believing men and believing women,
obedient men and obedient women,
truthful men and truthful women,
enduring men and enduring women,
humble men and humble women,
men and women who give in charity,
men who fast and women who fast,
men and women who guard their private parts,
men and woman who remember Allâh oft -
for them Allâh has prepared forgiveness and a mighty wage."

Qur'ân, 33:35 (translated by Arberry, A. J. : The Koran, Touchstone - New York, 1996.)

Creation is introduced through its most perfected form : humanity. Muhammad was first and foremost a human being. To those belonging to his community, Muhammad was the most perfect(ed) human being that walked on the face of the Earth. He is not Divine. He is the best of humanity. In a theological sense, Muhammad is the archetype of all possible perfected members of the human family, irrespective of their possible distinguishing forms & habits. His name stands for the spiritual excellence each one of us is capable of realizing. He is the best example of human spirituality serving the Divine. This does not exclude other prophets and the importance of the saints. Jesus is considered a Messenger, the word of Allâh and the seal of universal sainthood (Ibn'Arabî claimed to be the seal of the saints in the light of Muhammad). Neither does the importance of the Sunna after Muhammad passed away exclude other traditions.


Muhammad is the ultimate human Messenger of The God. Hence, the interval between humanity and the Divine is bridgeable. The revelations descending upon Muhammad evidenced the Divine Wish, the Law provided for humanity to "return" to the ultimate : submission to The God. But -in essence- The God is and remains forever absolutely transcendent and so even Muhammad did & does not witness the essence of Allâh. This provides the basis for the notion that no creature can be deified in an absolute way. Perfection being the continuous Oneness of the Divine Names in one's consciousness (i.e. to polish the mirror of the heart), not the identification with the essence of The God (as in the vedantic approach of Sankara). If the latter would be acknowledged, then "islâm" (submission) would be incomplete and the teachings of Muhammad wrongly understood & applied. The importance of this distinction should again and again be stressed. The full comprehension that only Sheer Being truly "is" (all the rest being a relative kind of existence) leads to the annihilation of creation.

"Ali's Nahj al-balaghâ represents a third form of expression that is totally distinct from the Koran and the Hadith. If the Prophet delights in the earthly and the everyday, Ali tends to soar into the heavenly and the awesome. (...) The Nahj al-balagha presents Ali as a person intimately conversant with all the wisdom of the Koran and the Prophet. More generally, Ali is looked back upon as that companion of the Prophet who was most familiar with the deepest and most hidden dimensions of the divine revelation."
Murata, S. & Chittick, W.C. : The Vision of Islam, Tauris - New York, 1995, p.241.

Next to Muhammad (who left Mecca for Medina in 622 CE = 1 AH and died 10 years later), the "followers" ("shîah") of 'Alî considered 'Alî to be the most perfect and excellent of men. He was the first cousin of Muhammad and the husband of his daughter Fâtimah, the only offspring of the Prophet that survived him. The followers, or Shiites (party of 'Alî - "shî'at 'Alî) declare that 'Alî was the first legitimate successor ("khalîfah") to the Prophet. They justify this claim by his nearness of kindred to Muhammad and maintain that the Prophet himself declared him successor. Moreover, this Khalifate is considered to be a Divine institution, making the successor without blemish and incapable to sin. They rejected Sunni "consensus" ("ijma'") of the religious authorities and put in its place the doctrine of infallible leadership or guidance ("imâm"). Hence, the pre-existent creation of 'Alî became a Shiite dogma. 

They reject Abu Bakr (632 -  August 634 CE), 'Umar (634 - November 644 CE)  & 'Uthman (644 - 655 CE), considering them usurpers. When 'Uthman was assassinated (655 CE = 35 A.H.) 'Alî was elected (June 656 CE). He called back Mu'âwiyah who claimed the Khalîfate for himself supported by 'Ayishah (the wife Muhammad had loved most). After 'Alî was murdered at Kûfah five years later, his first son Al-Hasan was elected but he resigned it in favour of Mu'âwiyah till the latter died. The actual historical schism occurred when Yazîd "the polluted", the son of Mu'âwiyah, became "imâm" without election in 60 AH or 681 CE, i.e. only 50 years after Muhammad died). 

After Ali's murder in January of 661 Mu'âwiyah proclaimed himself caliph and established his capital in Damascus. This former governor of Syria during the early Arab conquests, a kinsman of 'Uthman, was a member of the Quraysh lineage of the Prophet but belonged to a branch of the tribe, the so-called Banu Umayya, which were rivals of the Banu Hashim, to which 'Ali belonged. From Damascus he conquered Muslim enemies to the east, south, and west and fought the Byzantine to the north ! He is considered by some as the architect of the Islamic Empire and a political genius. Under his governorship Syria became the most prosperous province of the caliphate. Mu'âwiyah created a professional army and won the undying loyalty of his troops (like Alexander the Great, he paid them their generous salaries on time). Heir to Syrian shipyards built by the Byzantine, he established the caliphate's first navy. He also conceived and established an efficient government. 

There is no fifth orthodox caliph. The selection by agreement among a small group of ruling elite was over. With Mu'âwiyah political Islam became dynastic. By 732 the dynasty he founded had conquered Spain and Tours in France and stretched in the east to Samarkand and Kabul. It exceeded the greatest boundaries of the Roman Empire.

With the rise of Sunni Islam the Shiites eventually centred their activities in Iran and by intention set themselves apart from the majority of Sunnis. 

These divisions were already at work before Muhammad's death, but they became manifest shortly after. They supply the precedent for a variety of horizontal differentiations iffy of the vertical spiritual relationship between each individual and the Absolute within the totality of Islam. This was a very important step, for it proved that the Sunna of Muhammad had no exclusive rights and hence could not claim monopoly although they remained in the majority throughout history.

By and large only two main different principles of organization of the horizontal spirito-communal component emerged (minority variations also existed - cf. the Ismaelis, the Druzes) :

  1. the example of Muhammad & the consensus of the authorities (Sunni) versus

  2. the solitary example of the Shiite "imâm" (or "pole of the age"), returning as the "rightly guided one", "the directed one" (cf. "al-Mahdî"). Meanwhile, the Ayatollahs ("signs of Allâh") are the joint caretakers of the office of this Imâm who returns at the end of time ...

To canonize this important schism, the Shiite version of the second statement of the declaration of unity became "'Alî is the beloved of Allâh" ... Hence, they developed their own theology, commentaries, legal system and manner of performing the Islamic rituals, etc.


An ecumenical approach is suggested by the role played by the angels ("malak"), the traditional messengers of the Most High. Angels are created out of light and endowed with life, speech and reason. They are not made out of fire (like the faithful Jinn and the truth-concealing Jinn who never completely escape the clay). They filter the Divine (uncreated) Light (which is their proximity to Allâh) into truthful, beautiful and just visible shapes, sounds & motions. They are inferior in dignity in the creative order of being to human prophets. Every human has one or more guardian angels (Qur'ân, 13:11). Angels dedicate their lives in serving The God and to praise and glorify Him. They never forget the Absolute.

The Qur'ân states that Gabriel is the "noble" messenger of Allâh ("rasûl Karîm" - Qur'ân, 81:19). This angel is the messenger of Divine Revelation, both in Jewish (qabalah) & Christian (ps.Dionysius) sources. The Muslim philosophers identified Gabriel with the Active Intellect. Becoming one with this angel raises each mystic to the rank of "seal of prophecy" (Corbin, 1960). The descent of this angel is interpreted as the union of the Holy Spirit with the soul of the Prophet, and so Gabriel is at times identified with the holy spirit ("rûh al-Quds"), understood as the first of the angels. In general, all "intelligences" are "active intelligences" and "holy spirits". Also : the holy spirit is not a Deity as in Roman Catholicism (cf. one of the Divine Persons who is simultaneously fully Himself and completely God). In Islam, the words "holy spirit" indicate the most elevated & holy angel.

This angelical version of the second statement reads : "Jibrâ'îl is the noble Messenger of Allâh".

vertical (truth)

there is no god only The God

horizontal (law)

Muhammad is the Prophet of Allâh

Alî is the beloved of Allâh
Jibrâ'îl is the noble Messenger of Allâh 

In these three versions the final praise becomes only to The God.

III) Tawhid : Union = the Way

According to Al-Junayd, union is the isolation or separation of the eternal from that which was originated in time (cf. "Ifrâd al-Qadîm 'an al-muhdath"). Distinguishing between the eternal and the temporal can only radically do this. As in the classical yoga of Patañjali, its aim is to permanently distinguish between nature (creation - "prakrti") and the Absolute (cf. "purusa"). 

"Exactly the same development, however, is observable in the Indian tradition ; for the word yoga, which means 'joining' or 'uniting', comes to mean, in the philosophy of the Samkhya-Yoga, the dis-joining or dis-uniting of purusa from prakrti, of the eternal soul from the psycho-physical apparatus to which it is temporarily attached."
Zaehner, R.C. : Hindu & Muslim Mysticism, Oneworld - Oxford, 1994, p.135.

Once this absolute dyad is present in consciousness, union occurs. Regarding Al-Junayd's definition, Ibn'Arabî (in his Al-Isrâ ila Maqâm al-Asrâ) comments that distinguishing between two things happens in a state which can neither be the one nor the other. In the "station of no station" union is the sheer perplexity & wonder about the fact that every being exists as an isthmus between being and non-being, between the Divine and His creation (Chittick, 1998).

For Junayd, Tawhîd knows four stages :

Exoteric stages :

  1. union of ordinary people : the assertion of union lies in discarding conceptions of divine beings or companions, opposites, equals or likenesses of The God while retaining hope & fear in forces other than Allâh. Clearly this latter condition is imperfect because it invokes something other than The God. Total annihilation of otherness being the core of a consequent monism.

  2. union of formal theologians : the assertion of union by discarding all possible otherness, the performance of the positive commands and the avoidance of what is externally forbidden. Their motivation to be good is partly rooted in hopes, fears and desires, i.e. not in Allâh. This assertion is effective by being publicly proven. It is the summit of exoterical "tawhîd". Because of the mixed motivation this union is still imperfect. Here the "political" message of Islam is felt. The assertion of union starts with a relationship with The God through the laws of command & avoidance but ends with a public testimony which is meant to evidence the fact of total submission to these laws of Divine Command and change the society by means thereof. Hence, without knowing how somebody truly lives his or her life no judgements can be made, except by Allâh. Only hopes, fears & desires stand between them and The God.

Esoteric stages :

  1. union with individuality : the highest exoterical union is present but added to that is the performance of the internal commands of Allâh and the cessation of hopes & fears in something other than The God. Moreover, Allâh is experienced as present in the believer, with His call to him/her and his/her answer to The God. There is an absolute subjection of the personal will to the Will of Allâh. The only imperfection is the presence of individuality, i.e. the distinction between the seer and the seen. The resignation to His Will is complete. The imperfection being that the seer is still conscious of something other than The God, namely himself. Only the presence of the gnostic stands between this Gnostic and The God.

  2. union without individuality : the highest esoterical union obliterates the individuality of the believer in such a way that the seer is totally sunk in the flooding seas of Allâh Oneness (cf. "fanâ"). He has forgotten himself and his answer to Allâh. The devotee achieved true proximity to Him and so everything other than the Absolute has dwindled. This does not imply absolute subjection. Neither is it the same as an impersonal identification nor merging with the endless ocean without shores. What remains of the drop when it is emerged in the ocean ? The stage of abiding ("baqâ") makes the servant journey in the Real, by the Real, to the Real because the servant is a reality ("haqq"), not the Real.

  • The teacher of Baghdad, the leader of the learned and mystics of his age, tends to emphasize the distinction between the Absolute and creation, although he is in favour for the spiritual exercises related to oblivion ("fanâ"). Al-Junayd uses the term "ma'rifa" or "gnosis" to stress that essentially this knowledge of The God is always the same but that it differs in degrees for the ordinary human but also for the saint. Nobody reaches the highest stage. With him, the restrictions are rigorously maintained, for the theory of the return or convenant ("mîthâq") provides that each "ârif" (gnostic) who has lost himself being present as Self in the knowledge of Allâh is limited by what he was before he existed, i.e. his own Self again. So this diversity can not be avoided, nor the Oneness of The God. Al-Junayd, adding sobriety to oblivion, tends to remoteness.

  • The greatest teacher of al-Andalous on the other hand, although aware of the distinction between the essence of Allâh and His pre-cosmic, pre-creation Self-manifestation as the Oneness of the Divine Names, does not maintain distinctions, except those within Allâh Himself. Hence, for Ibn'Arabî union can never be thought of as isolating eternity for this implies that a part of Divine Self-manifestation or creation isolates The God in a quest. One can not seek that which one ongoingly & inevitably already is. As Allâh is everything and everything is Allâh, the gnostic is permanently perplexed by the wonderful Self-manifestations of the Divine. Ibn-Arabî, always seeking inner balance, tends to nearness.

"The God of beliefs is subject to certain limitations, and it is this God who is contained in His servant's Heart, since the Absolute God cannot be contained by anything, being the very Essence of everything and of Itself. Indeed, one cannot say either that it encompasses Itself or that it does not do so, so understand ! Allâh speaks the truth and He is the sole Guide along the Way."
Ibn'Arabî : The Bezels of Wisdom, last sentences of Chapter 27 (translated by Austin, R.W.J. : The Bezels of Wisdom, Paulist Press - New Jersey, 1980, pp.283-284).

 On the Opening 

The declaration of unity is the first step in the process of human spiritualization in the light brought by Muhammad. The second step is called "the opening". The "Opening" ("al-Fâtihah") is the first chapter of the Qur'ân. Sufism remembers that Mohammed saw two tablets under the Throne of Allâh, one made of rare pearls and one of emerald. Upon the first was this first chapter, upon the second the entire Qur'ân. He asked Gabriel what the reward was for reciting the first sûra alone ? He was told the gates of hell & paradise will be opened. Together with the "Verse of the Throne" (Qur'ân, 2:255) and Chapter 112 (on Oneness) al-Fâtihah is the magisterial synthesis of the inner dynamics of the spiritual highlife of Islam. In the course of one day, the minimum performance of prayer ("salât") consists of 119 physical postures and 5 daily recitations of al-Fâtihah (namely during "Qiyâm").

Ibn'Arabî also wrote about the first chapter in the synthesis of his theosophy (philosophy of mysticism), his Bezels of Wisdom (chapter 27). According to him, Sûrat al-Fâtihah is a discourse (between servant and Allâh) and a mutual remembrance (cf. Qur'ân, 48:2). He divides the seven verses in three parts : a first one dealing with The God (the whole half of the chapter), a second one shared between Allâh and His servant and a third one for the servant alone (cf. Hadîth reported by Muslim, narrated by Abû Huraira about the superiority of al-Fâtihah - cf. Maktabat Dar-us-Salam : Op.cit., p.96-97).

"The sûra 'which opens' the Koran is composed of seven verses. As meditated by our shaikh (i.e. Ibn'Arabî), its liturgical action breaks down into three phases ; the first (that is, the first three verses) is the action of the faithful toward or upon his Lord ; the second (the fourth verse) is a reciprocal action between the Lord and his faithful ; the third (the three last verses) is an action of the Lord toward or upon his faithful."
Corbin, H. : Alone with the Alone, Princeton University Press - Princeton, 1998, p.251.

The first chapter of the Qur'ân may be translated as (many other variations exist) :

I       "In the Name of ALLAH, the Merciful, the Compassionate.

II       Praise be to ALLAH, Lord of the Worlds,
the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.

III       King of the Day of Judgement.

IV       THEE only we serve, and THEE alone we pray for help.

V       Guide us on the straight path.

VI       The path of those whom YOU have blessed.

VII       No wrath rests upon them and they do not go astray."

Al-Fâtihah (revealed at Mecca)

What are the general characteristics of this first chapter of the Qur'ân

"So remember Me, and I will remember you ;
and be thankful to Me ; 
and be you not ungrateful towards Me."

Qur'ân, 2:152 (translated by Arberry, A. J. : The Koran interpreted, Touchstone - New York, 1996.)

As the title suggests, al-Fâtihah "opens" the Qur'ân. As each believer has to reach oblivion ("fanâ"), i.e. has to become a "qur'ân" (in the sense of "coincidentia oppositorum", simultaneity, conjunction - cf. Corbin, 1969), the opening is the initiation of one's spiritual life before Allâh. The earnestness of this initiation is often repeated in the Qur'ân, for he who turns his back to Allâh after he was a believer awaits a harsh punishment.

The Way suggested here is special. It is without damnation, loss of direction or orientation. Entering this Way is inevitable. In fact, nobody ever leaves this Way (as indicated by the Compassion of The God, creating the worlds), but many humans move without right guidance, and hence never attain true Selfhood because He decides that they reject Him. The key to open the door is more than the wholehearted declaration of unity ("tawhîd"). 

Al-Junayd indicates that ordinary people declare unity without relinquishing otherness (a second beside Allâh). To comprehensively declare unity, the standard must manifest in the correct, consequent & steady performance of duties & the avoidance of evil as such (as indicated by the Sunna of Muhammad and/or the right kind of guidance according to the law of one's creed). Mystic consciousness enhances morality only if the attained station is mature and makes sense. Too ecstatic forms lead to nonsense, delusion and insanity (mental disorders). Too secluded forms or quietist movements are under the sway of transcendence at the expense of the political task of genuine submission, namely a comprehensive justice on Earth.

"The leitmotiv (i.e. of the 8th chapter of Ibn'Arabî's Futûhât) is the palm tree as a symbol of the celestial Earth. On the borderline between the vegetable and the animal kingdoms, the palm tree has especially held the attention of the Islamic philosophers as being an exceptional creature. The celestial Earth being the inmost secret of man, as it were, his mystic Eve (...) As the symbol of this secret earth, the palm tree, is 'Adam's sister' (the word palm tree, nakhla, being feminine in Arabic)."
Corbin, H. : Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, Princeton University Press - Princeton, 1977, p.135.

Daily al-Fâtihah is used five times to "open" prayer. 
In fact, this chapter is the only in the Qur'ân which allows the servant to actually speak to Allâh ! Is there a better arabesque start in a spirituality that does not reveal the Essence of the Absolute (is truly apophatic) ? Moreover, from a Sûfî point this dialogical structure of al-Fâtihah reveals the all-comprehensiveness of Allâh and His Knowledge of Himself, including the eternal essences of all things & their manifestation "in a cloud". For the speaker is the servant of his Lord or there is no speaker at all ! The theophany and its perfect reflection have to be present from the start, and hence the mirror is polished for those who declare & believe (i.e. perform) unity !

This is more than only a dialogue. It is also a mutual commemoration (something made to remain in the heart, to have in mind). So if the servant is unable to see Him with whom he discourses, then both the Sunna & Ibn'Arabî teach that he should "worship Him as if he saw Him, imagining Him to be in the 'quiblah' during his discourse"
(Ibn'Arabî : Fusûs al-hikam, Op.cit., p.280).
If the servant is unaware of a Response, s/he is just not being careful enough. Really praying is constantly listening & watching for the Divine Response (cf. "Allâh hears him who praises Him."). When viewed as a whole, al-Fâtihah is by itself the recital "par excellence" to open consciousness to a new spiritual experience of being itself and of existing with its own face or Self before The God, invoking the Most High and submitting totally to Him. Some mystics claim that the whole message of the Qur'ân is contained in its first chapter, while nearly all Arabic sounds are present in it (invoking the 99 Most Beautiful Names of Allâh).

While studying the last pages of Ibn'Arabî's The Bezels of Wisdom, a more detailed, tripartite interpretation ensued (it was also inspired by Al-Junayd's teachings on the return & sobriety) :

A) Verses I to III belong to Allâh and reveal what can be known of Him (toward Him). 

I       "In the Name of ALLAH, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
        Reply : "My servant is remembering Me."
II      Praise be to ALLAH, Lord of the Worlds, the All- Compassionate, the All-Merciful.
        Reply : "My servant is praising & lauding Me."
III     King of the Day of Judgement.
        Reply : "My servant is glorifying Me and has yeilded all to Me."

With these first three verses everything is given to The God and this ultimate submission is wholeheartedly embraced again and again and again. His first Name being "Allâh", then Merciful, Compassionate. Hence, the measure of The God can not be anything else than an infinite, unlimited, eternal Plenty, Perfection & Completeness. Both Mercy & Compassion have this in common. Moreover, as everything already belongs to Him, this ultimate submission is nothing less that the total freedom to be exactly that which one was before one became (part of creation). In al-Junayd's view, by virtue of "mîthâq", a relation between the Creator and humanity, this freedom is the recovery of each one's place before The God.

The first verse indicates that with no limitations present, everything is possible, but this is only true (ideal) & real for The God, the Real-Ideal. Because there is no other than Allâh, His Mercy involves the perpetual fact that there is rather something than nothing, and that only He has the Ultimate Power & Authority to do whatever is necessary for things & humans to be what they truly are and to exist in the way this is meant to be before Allâh. This Mercy is His Will & creative Command "Be !" (cf. the breath of the Merciful). 

His Compassion on the other hand is the inevitable response of all relative beings (each being having a face which is eternally fixed in Allâh's Knowledge and which Self-manifests & unveils Him as "my Lord") to return to the First and the Last by submitting to Allâh. The servant polishes his mirror (purifies his face & turns his heart to his Lord) and fulfills the Wish of Allâh by perfecting understanding & likewise making the prophetic laws happen given by The God to His messengers. All servants have a prophet, except if they are prophets themselves. But in all cases this Compassion is His Wish & prescription "Do well !" (cf. "ihsân" and Qur'ân 29:69).

To the immediate & perpetual evidence that all events are Self-manifestations of His Name, the second verse adds that Allâh is infinitely infinite and beyond any measure involved with everything, omnipresent in all possible worlds, planes, strata & universes. In all of these infinities, Allâh remains the All-Merciful & All-Compassionate Lord of His servants. 

The first verse remembers the fact that all happens in His Name. The second amplifies that the scope of Allâh's Knowledge, Awareness & Lordship is even beyond the grasp of a real survival before the Real (cf. the final stage of "fanâ"). His creative capacity extends beyond our world and covers all the worlds. He is Lord of all being. 

A transfinite characteristic emerges here. Although each Divine Name is an infinite world, all Divine Names laud the Oneness expressed by the all-comprehensive Name of the Absolute, namely The God (Cantor's Omega). This all-comprehensive Oneness is infinity greater than the individual Names, which are bound together as fish are to the water of the ocean. In each of these worlds He extends His Mercy and before Him is brought the Compassion of the creatures, judged by the absolute measure (balance) of their inner & outer life in accord with their own prophetic law.

The third and last verse of this major section of the first chapter refers to the ultimate end (the Last) of everything which subsist before His Name (the First). What starts will inevitably end, and all judgment is His and His only. Only the Real, the Lord, the King is truly subsisting in all worlds. Moreover, He is the sole King judging on the Day of Judgement. To acknowledge this is to yield all to Him, for He has the last word in every matter.

Has -by truly reciting these verses- the servant annihilated ("fanâ") the ego ?
Perhaps at the end of the third verse the servant is not even conscious of having attained oblivion ("fanâ al-fanâ"). What remains ?

B) Verse IV deals with intercession and so belongs to both the servant and his Lord.

IV       THEE only do we serve, and THEE alone do we pray for help.
          Reply : "This is shared between Me and My servant."

All of creation serves The God. In fact, this is an inevitable condition, for everything always happens before or with Him (there being no second). 

" (...) I know nothing, except the one.
The sum comes from one and one does not come from the sum.
For calculations are realized but by the one.
If in a complete thousand the one is missing,
then the name of a thousand is ruined among the thousands."

Abû Yazid : Shatahât, 43 (Meddeb, A. : Les Dits de Bistâmî, Fayard - Paris, 1989, p.42)

Especially human beings are called to serve Allâh by consciously remembering Him everywhere all the time and attributing everything to Him and Him alone. Nothing should be served, except Him. This means that idols are rejected insofar as they are viewed as subsisting by themselves. And nothing subsists by itself, except Allâh. 

So to consciously serve The God is nothing less than a complete submission to Him and Him alone. Ibn'Arabî explains (dealing with Pharaoh) that idols may be worshipped if and only if the idol in question is -in the eyes of the believer- only a local, limited Self-manifestation of Allâh, but never an entity next to Him, so to speak outside His Final Judgement. Surely in that case they are not "idols" any longer, but only local expressions (rays, aspects, attributes) of One Divinity, namely Allâh, who taught Adam all the Names.

Recitation of al-Fâtihah is an intimate dialogue & a mutual remembering between a servant and his Lord, a fundamental part of prayer, namely its opening. Those who believe that they can disbelieve do not pray. One does not start a dialogue on the basis of disbelieving the other. In prayer the mirror is polished. Momentary coincidences & synchronicities occur between the face of he who worships (the servant) and He who is worshipped (the Lord). 

After many repetitions this :

  1. allows the servant to experience Lordship within the perfect(ed/ing) servanthood of his own Self, face or essence and

  2. actualizes perfect servanthood for the Lord within His own eternal Lordship & hidden Face.

This mutual witnessing is a moment of excellent dialogue intermingled with pure remembrance, producing a sublime tasting & savouring, rushing towards the realization that in this state and by stepping through this door the servant is given a Way to ask for help for us all to his Lord & King directly, without intermediary !

"All thinking, religious Moslems are mystic."
Macdonald, D.B. cited by Nicholson, R.A. : The Mystics of Islam, Arkana - London,1989, p.23.

Does the fact that the servant never stops asking for help evidence that no one can make himself or herself vanish perfectly ? This ultimate annihilation is apparently impossible without a Divine invitation. The passing away implies the recovery of the real, true Self, which is a property of one of the Names. The ultimate consummation of the death of the ego (the oblivion of oblivion) marks the spiritual recovery ("baqâ") : a real existence in & with the endless vastness of the Real Divine Life (a face before the endless veils hiding the Face). How can these sparks of reality also be with the Real ? Does anything survive in this ultimate union ? What is left after the grand tiny drop merges with this ocean unknown, bottomlessly deep & without shores ?

C) Verses V to VII speak of the servant and the rewards for perfect spiritual servitude.

V    Guide us on the straight path.
VI   The path of those whom YOU have blessed.
VII  No wrath rests upon them and they do not go astray."
      Reply : "These belong to My servant who may have whatever asked."

The straight path is more than just moral rectitude. It is a vertical "orient" (cf. Corbin, 1977), a pole perpendicular to the horizontal, spirito-communal plane. The God (as the Manifest) is our guide by means of His angels, prophets, saints, gnostics, faqîrs & teachers (the "sheykhs" or directors of souls). As the Hidden, He may unveil the secrets of creation in the inner chambers of the heart of the servant (were the spirit abides). Both the outer as the inner are His gift bestowed upon those He favours. Nothing is of the Self, everything vanishes before His Face.

This straight path is the practice of continuously declaring unity, remembering, annihilating ego and surviving as Self. This happens within the limitations of particular expressions of servanthood submitted to the law of my Lord. Hence, this oriental pole is always experienced from the perspective of some locality with its own horizon. Each believer has a particular Divine Name that secures his/her return, which is the homecoming prepared for him/her by Allâh.

The particular characteristics of this Way are evident : an incredible spiritual protection and a direct insight (or gnosis) ensue. These enable the servant to witness His Commands in everything and exist in the world but not of the world. Nothing & nobody is given substantiality or subsistence, except Allâh. The one surviving in union after oblivion is nothing but that property of a Divine Name he or she was before ego & body was formed in this psychophysical world. How is this Self, face or eternally fixed essence to be understood ? 

 On Oblivion ... 

Oblivion ("fanâ") desubstantializes thoughts, feelings & actions and annihilates all possible particularities. Its experience (namely the death of ego) reveals the unseen, veiled (higher) truth on existence, namely : all so-called physically experienced things (we grammatically denote as nouns) are truly but (explicate) adjectives (behaving as nouns) of the solitary (implicate) noun called "Sheer Being" (hence, "existence" is not a predicate, but the only subject). Things are sheer nothing if isolated from the unity of Sheer Being ("fanâ") but become relatively real when no self-subsistence is accorded to any of the reappearing forms ("baqâ"), so that in each wave the whole ocean is witnessed. Oblivion triggers the return of the servant to its original singularity of existing as a reality in the Real, being a face before the Face, witnessing the endless veils & unveilings, perplexed by the infinity of it all and filled with awe before the Final Veil, yielding all into oblivion again. How can a real face exist and be fixated forever only than by Allâh ? Who, besides He Himself, is capable of witnessing the Face of Allâh ? There is no besides Allâh. Hence there is no mirror or reflection other than Allâh. He is the Alone who in aloneness abides.

The return to one's essence in His Knowledge happens in stations :

  1. egoistic station ("maqâm an-nafs" - ego) : 
    Decontextualized language, voluntary existence in a physical world driven by emotions & needs like safety, protection, psychosocial integration & esteem, capable of education & culture but low creativity ;

  2. objective station ("maqâm al-qalb" - heart) : 
    Attributes & qualities of someone's "aiming" have to be put behind. This is a purification that also demands that one compel oneself to do the things which one does not wish to do. This moral training is permanent and does not influence one's normal duties ;

  3. subjective station ("maqâm ar-rûh" - spirit) : 
    All indirect contact with The God should be severed. Both emotions & thoughts should be annihilated. The servant remains without an intermediary object that might be placed between the servant & his Lord (this is "fanâ") ; 

  4. empty station ("maqâm ar-rûh" - spirit) : 
    When even the consciousness of having attained oblivion vanishes, the passing away of the passing-away occurs ("fanâ al-fanâ"), making all consciousness of identity & personality evaporate so that the vision of The God is lost. This emptiness is the prelude to "baqâ", continuance or abiding with & in The God.

  5. full station ("maqâm as-sirr" - secrets) : 
    When total extinction is habitual, there is that which remains. This leftover is the eternal object of each and every created thing. This highest stage of "fanâ" is "baqâ", the emergence of a real life in the Divine Existence. The ability not to attribute subsistence to things & people being the prelude to "sahw", sobriety.

  6. sober station ("maqâm al-qurb" - nearness) :
    When the movements from Allâh to Allâh are complete, the mystic, dixit Al-Junayd, returns to this world without ever again belonging to it. All this happens by the grace of The God who is his friend. Oblivion & survival become interior states attainable at will. The mystic is granted a community in which to evidence the grace of The God who returns to him his individual features perfected & sanctified by His power. He never attributes subsitence, except to Allâh.

  7. ultimate station (of no-station - "maqâm al-wisâl" - union) :
    The perfected saint, dixit Ibn'Arabî, is fully aware that his own eternal law (a property of a Name) is identical with The God Knowing Himself as that particular Lord, thus eternally fixating that eternal object in His Consciousness & Awareness. He sees Him in everything as Self (station 6) because he has no ego (station 4) and at the same time as the non-existence of this Self (station 4 applied to station 6). All this shows the importance of annihilation and the submission that brings it, if Allâh wills. As there are never two but only one, there is neither being with Him nor uniting with Him. Allâh is exempt of having another the same as, different from, or opposite to Him. Nothing unites Him but Him. Perplexity, awe, wonder & ineffable mystery befall the servant, but of the Face of Allâh nothing is known.

"The final end and ultimate return of the gnostics -though their entities remain immutably fixed- is that the Real is identical with them, while they do not exist. This station is possessed only by the gnostics. Hence they are contracted in the state of their expansion. (...) Hence the gnostic is known only through the fact that he brings opposites together, for all of him is the Real."
Ibn'Arabî : Futûhat al-makkiyya II.512.9, translated by Chittick, 1989

 On Survival 

Survival, abiding & continuance ("baqâ") is nothing less than existing as a real before His face, a union with  Divine Existence and the highest stage of oblivion. How to understand this ?

Abiding as a real before the Real is not the infusion of Divine essence ("hulûl") leading to incarnation (cf. the dogma of Jesus as the incarnating "logos" or "Christ"' in Christian Trinitarian theology). The Essence of the Absolute is not manifest in any form for it is beyond the dualities of form & formless (absolutely indeterminate). Hence, the idea that The God has a Divine Son sharing in this Essence (thus being Absolute too) and mediating salvation is firmly rejected (for Allâh receives a second, namely a Divine Son). 

It is true that the notion of "perfection" in Islam is based on the Greek theory on the "logos" (for Muhammad is a prototype of prophecy said to exist before all the rest). However, this does not imply that he is Divine in any way. He is an excellent human being, but not a supreme being or god or in any way, essentially perfectly abiding in and existing with the Awareness of The God. What Christian theology calls the "Imago Dei" is but the essence of each thing, its eternal object in the Knowledge of The God ... one of the jewels part of the hidden treasure of Divine Existence (only perfectly describing the Divine Essence). This is not an image of the Essence of All. Nor is it so that the mystic who attains the highest stage is in any way similar to The God (cf. "similitude" in Christian Cistercian mysticism in general & "unity in the spirit" in the Flemish mysticism of Hadewijch of Antwerp & Beatrice of Nazareth in particular).

Abiding is not an identification of the essence of The God with human nature ("ittahâd", cf. the vedic identity between the âtman & Brahman, the impersonal Absolute). Nothing except Allâh can be identified with Allâh. Sankara confirms the Vedic magic of the Absolute (cf. "mâyâ") in order to explain how it is possible that anything happens (creation) or goes wrong (chaos, evil). When asked why he avoided the wild elephant (it being illusionary anyway) he replied that this was only illusionary Sankara avoiding an illusionary elephant. A convenient answer, but not convincing. Moreover, the notion of imposing a concept on reality (we think we see a snake but actually it is a rope) to explain error is not tenable when no reality at all is attributed to anything in creation (the fact that there is an illusion of a snake). A same type of problem arises in Spinoza's system. In the Indian idealism of classical Vedanta, the inner core of humans -the so-called "âtman"- is essentially identical with the impersonal Brahman, who is "nirguna", i.e. without activity and wholly transcendent. In classical yoga, union is the complete cessation of fluctuations in consciousness, whereby it returns to its "own form", namely "purusa" abiding in aloneness. This "purusa" is a Self. It is recovered as soon as a union "without seed" silences all activators. This cessation of all fluctuations and the subsequent emergence of what is always already have been compared by Western scholars with "fanâ" & "baqâ" (Zaehner, 1966).

"Baqâ", this highest stage of "fanâ" is unlike the Buddhist "nirvâna" not a cessation of all form of individuality & particularity for the consummation of death marks the entry into a Divine Life in which distinctions are not obliterated although Oneness prevails. What Buddhism in general teaches about "nirvâna" corresponds with "fanâ" & "fanâ al-fanâ" but stops there. No survival ("baqâ") is given after one's flame is extinguished. This is one of the major differences between Buddhism & Islam. In the Greater Vehicle ("Mahâyâna"), the theory of the "tri-kâya" suggests a body of "divine incarnation" (cf. nirmâna-kâya"). This may even be taken a step further, making it possible to witness a Buddha in every ordinary human being and experience the Divine in elaborated sanctified documents (cf. Nichiren and the role played by the so-called "Gohonzon" in Japanese Buddhism).

Which arabesque gives us the view of Al-Junayd (i.e. consistent with his theory on the return) ? 

A falling drop (its long free fall is a metaphor for "fanâ") is a local, fairly determinable thing (the most important physical elements being of course water & its surface-tension). This drop driven by oblivion completely merges with this infinite ocean. How does it return ? It has irreversibly changed for real. At first it seems as if specificity of form, locality, also permanence, personality (ego) & individuality (Self) are lost forever, and -after the union- in this endlessness nowhere to be seen. However, the instant this drop hits the ocean and the process of dying as a drop is initiated, all of its features are transformed into many small vibrations with unique wave-patterns moving through the water and causing endless Butterfly-effects therein. This influence is intermixed with that of all other merging & merged drops. An infinite symphony of praise prevails. The uniqueness of the potential vibrations of each drop makes for the individuality of the praise of all elements within Divine Knowledge, each and every one lauding the veiled Face of Allâh (His Essence) for allowing each eternal object to exist as a real, particular element of praise in the Real Existence, His Oneness.

Likewise, when the servant merges with the Real, nothing is left but a real property of a Name (amongst the endless other realities) in the Real Oneness of the all-comprehensive Name of Allâh. However, the unique form of praise of this original reality of servanthood before Allâh is nothing other than being without your ego only Self and thus being nothing other than Allâh's Knowledge of Himself insofar as this Self is concerned, for only Allâh is all-comprehensive.

He who knows himself knows his Lord and his Lord is the magnificent light reflecting on this tiny polished part (in the heart of each mystic) of the grand surface of the mirror of Mercy. What is this light but the Oneness of Divine Consciousness (He is the Aware), and the complete mirror of Mercy (not a part of it) but the Unique display of The God to Himself ? 

If those vibrations caused by the falling drop are the transformed drop praising its Lord because it knows its own face and not its ego, then survival means the return of everything to its eternal object (its face or essence) and so to its original place in Divine Awareness (dim = 9). This is like one of the attributes praising the ineffable Essence, Sheer Being. Nevertheless, this praise in itself is not Sheer Being, but only one of its most perfected Self-disclosures.

To understand the motives of spiritual emancipation, we turn to Al-Junayd's notion of "mîthâq", i.e. the convenant between the Divine and humanity enabling the latter to return to the Last, i.e. to Allâh. There is a first state before creation in which humanity exists as it really is (cf. Plato's "anamnesis"). This state exists in The God and is before His Face. It is never identical with His Essence. How to grasp this ? Clearly this pre-existence or potential being (dim = 9) is not identical with the Essence of Allâh (dim = 10), for this would imply the rejected Vedanta option and limit the unlimited by the form of absolute infinity (cf. Ibn'Arabî against exclusive definitions of union and Cantor on the number Omega). Divinity Existence is a pre-creation Self-disclosure of the Essence of the Absolute that remains veiled forever.

Eternal objects always exist in Divine Awareness and are always part of Its all-comprehensive Oneness (dim = 9). This Awareness transcends the created order (dim 8 ... 1) radically & irreversibly. The essences of all things are not universals offering substantiality to particulars. The all-comprehensiveness of the Oneness of His Awareness is considered as given. The Plotinian One is beyond being. The God is sheer being. His Self-disclosures (a plurality) do not weaken His Oneness. The realm of Self-disclosure was coined "nous" by Plotinos :

" ... the 'nous' is all and so has its entire content unmoved on the same spot in itself : this is a being alone in eternal actuality ; nowhere is there any future, for every then is a now ; nor is there any past, for nothing has ceased but everything -being identical- has taken its stand for ever, 
an identity well pleased, we might say, to be as it is ..."

Plotinos : Enneads, V.1.4., my translation & italics.

The primordial state is nothing other than the essence of each created thing. Survival is nothing else than the return to before becoming. The highest state of "fanâ", dawning at the attainment of "fanâ al-fanâ" is the emergence of one's life in Divine Existence, as a fish swimming in the Water of Life. When this Water is drunk, the forms & identities reappear but are deprived of their ontological self-subsistence. The wave is the whole ocean as a single wave. The superharmonies of the mutual praises is awesome, grand & everlasting.

For Ibn'Arabî this is not enough. He rejects any notion of duality and takes union even a step further. The distinction between Divine Existence and eternal objects (although accepted by him) is not maintained in the final vision, the ultimate stage of oblivion, namely the "station of no-station". Why ? In reality no differences exist. There is nothing except Allâh and to divide Allâh (in Essence plus Existence) is again making division and discriminations which harm the fundamental unity of sheer being and the truth that only the Real is. Every moment He reveals Himself in a different shape & form, but to die before dying implies that one does not consider oneself to be the same as, or other than, or together with Him. To see Him in everything as your own Self and at the same time as the non-existence of your own Self means to witness all and everything as the sheer being of the One. Clearly there is no drop left here to praise. There is even no Self-manifestation of Allâh left (Divine Existence) for everything is His Essence.

"These are not people who have annihilated themselves in Allâh ; nor have they come to be in Allâh, nor did they exist before, becoming naught afterwards. They are those who see their attributes as Allâh's attributes, their essence as Allâh's essence, without their attributes and essence being either in Allâh or out of Him. Their selves are only Allâh's being. These are the ones who have reached Allâh. They are eternal. They never ceased to be, for they never were, since there is only Allah's self, Allâh's essence. Neither is there any existence. There is only the existence of Allâh."
Ibn'Arabî : Kitab al-ahadiyyah or A Treatise on The One Alone (translated by Tosun, B. : Divine Governance of the Human Kingdom, Fons Vitæ - Louisville, 1997, pp.240).

The Egyptian Sûfî Dhû-l-Nûn who summarized this as follows :

"The essential truth about which the people of reality are unanimous is that Allâh is not what is lacking, in the sense that this reality is to be sought, nor that which has a limit, in the sense that one could get hold of it. He who grasps an existing reality is fooled by it ; for us, what truly exists is the knowledge & the unveiling of a science without there being any spiritual state." 
reported by Ahmad ibn 'Abd Allâh ibn Maymûn, in Ibn'Arabî : La vie merveilleuse de Dhû-l-Nûn l'Egyptien, Sindbad - Paris, 1988, p.167, my translation. 

On Sobriety 

It was Al-Junayd who added a stage after oblivion (saying : "the perfection of the state of the man who has been intoxicated is Sobriety"). Why ? The realization of Unity & Oneness (the station of no-station & the return to one's eternal object) are accompanied by amorality, for the distinctions between good & evil, between truth & law, between creative & prescriptive, between Mercy & Compassion have all dwindled & become meaningless. Furthermore, in oblivion one "moves" from Allâh to Allâh, for Allâh and in Allâh. Even Ibn'Arabî speaks of the perplexity of this station. Lastly, "fanâ" (and its highest stage "baqâ") is vitiated and thus rendered morally ineffective by the trance which accompanies it (cf. ecstatic drunkenness) and which involves loss of self-control (and sometimes sanity).

So Al-Junayd rightly argues that although the "vertical" inner relationship (between servant & Lord) is indeed primordial and of all importance, this can not mean that the "horizontal" outer responsibility of the saint to his fellow human beings is obliterated (cf. the two parts of the declaration of unity). Indeed, the highest union is not really a "station" (a state made permanent) but in fact always temporal and often only tangential. A going back to a less elevated station is often seen, and according to Al-Junayd inevitable. It can not be that a saint has no role to play in his or her community, even if the highest station of union is permanent. 

Al-Junayd suggests, and on this point he is unique, that the mature mystic keeps oblivion as a secret treasure concealed within himself, inside the new state of sobriety, also called "union of union" ("jam' al jam'"), which allows both union & work in the world (which is not the case in "baqâ" for all what is left of the mystic is his or her eternal object or essence as it is Known by Allâh in His Oneness (dim = 9). In this state moral distinctions do come back (but not in a substantial way) and the mystic shows and brings the beautiful in this world for it is an echo of his experience before the veiled Face of Allâh. Many if not all things remind him of the extreme Beauty of the lost Beloved for whom he is always homesick (compare this with the message of the 7th way introduced by Beatrice of Nazareth in her Seven Ways of Holy Love). On the other hand, the mystic feels at liberty, and unimpressed by outside currents and influences. Independent of the things of the world the mystic enjoys an otherwise inconceivable state of liberty.

These altered and more perfect beings work in the human community for the Most High. They face the mystery of Allâh and the tasks of this world, namely to bring His beautiful justice therein, resplendent in the polished mirrors of all those who are a real in the Real because of Him.


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initiated : 14 X 2000 - last update : 25 XI 2003 - version n°2