the Polished Mirror
© Wim van den Dungen
to the angel of
inspiration (malak al-ilhâm)
taught Adam the names, all of them.
Allâh said :
"I was a Hidden Treasure, so I loved to be known."
attributed to the Prophet -
according to Ibn'Arabî proven through unveiling
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.
wary of Allâh, and Allâh teaches you.
"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
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
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.12.
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,
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 ?
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. :
Dits de Bistâmî, Fayard - Paris, 1989, p.50.)
Only dolphins momentarily leap outside the
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
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
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
a one-fold nondual Sheer Being beyond duality (beyond both affirmation & negation)
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 :
dim = 10 : unknowable one-fold, nondual essence
of being, sheer being & truth, Face of Allâh
dim = 9 : everlasting
infinite & varied pre-existence before all possible manifestation or
creation ... Oneness described as "Divine" or the endless
veils of Allâh
dim = 9 & 8 : limitless Mercy, creating all possible worlds
& beings or the all-comprehensiveness of Allâh
The relative, cosmic pole is divided in :
dim = 8 : a "cloud"
containing all possible forms of a given cosmos
dim = 7 ... 1 : an infinite number
of beings limited by the form of the cosmos
dim = 6 : the Compassion of
sentient beings enabling the return of all to what it was before it
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
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.
& unity of being, Sheer Being, the one-fold nondual, ocean
without shores, Face of the Absolute
of Divinity, Self-disclosure, veiling & unveiling, Divine
Names, attributes of the Absolute
cloud, roof of the world, perfect state of the world, all
possibilities present in the world, form of the destiny of
existing through their Selves only abide as the Knowledge He has
always existing in their Selves, higher intellectual functions
become operational, contemplation is habitual and direct intuition
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)
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
kingdom : principle of movement, instinct, territory, survival of
the race, sense of social hierarchy, rapid adaptation to changes
but rudimentary language (with no culture)
kingdom : capable of photosynthesis, assimilation, fast growth,
but slow adaptation to circumstances
kingdom : propensities towards permanent form, proportion, but
there is no god only The God
and Muhammad is the Prophet of
so-called "declaration of unity"
(or "tawhîd") is the actual affirmation (performance) of two distinct adhesions, each in two parts :
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"
"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
"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
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
distinctions are merely accidental.
"So I say, those who
divide fail to divide ; those who discriminate fail to discriminate. What does
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
"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,
The first statement refers to the core of Islamic theology. It has two parts :
(a) = OBLIVION (fanâ) :
there is no god ("la ilaha")
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
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
universals and revere them for themselves gives to that god (perfect idea) his/her power.
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
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").
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
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.
for worship, but The God servitude. A crucial difference learned at the
Muhammad is the
('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
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
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
Hadîth related by Abû Dâwûd & at-Tirmidhî
(translated by Maktabat Dar-us-Salam : An Nawawi's Forty Hadith, 1994,
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
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
the example of Muhammad & the consensus of the authorities (Sunni) versus
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.
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.
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
This angelical version of the second statement
reads : "Jibrâ'îl is the noble Messenger of Allâh".
there is no god only The God
Muhammad is the
Prophet of Allâh
Alî is the beloved
Jibrâ'îl is the noble Messenger of
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
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
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 :
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
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 :
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.
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).
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) :
"In the Name of ALLAH, the Merciful, the
II Praise be to ALLAH, Lord of the Worlds,
the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
III King of the Day of Judgement.
only we serve, and THEE alone we pray for help.
V Guide us on the straight path.
VI The path of those whom
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
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) :
Verses I to III belong to Allâh and reveal what can be known of
Him (toward Him).
"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 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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
After many repetitions this :
allows the servant to experience
Lordship within the perfect(ed/ing) servanthood of his own Self, face or
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
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
V to VII speak of the servant and the rewards for perfect spiritual
V Guide us on the straight path.
VI The path of those whom YOU have
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 ?
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
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
("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 ;
("maqâm al-qalb" - heart) :
& 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 ;
("maqâm ar-rûh" - spirit) :
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
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.
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",
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.
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.
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,
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).
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"
"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
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
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
" ... 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.
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 :
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
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.
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
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.
initiated : 14 X 2000 - last update : 25 XI 2003
- version n°2