Wednesday, 30 May 2012

An Ocean Without Shore

I marveled at an Ocean without shore,
and at a Shore that did not have an ocean;
And at a Morning Light without darkness,
and at a Night that was without daybreak;
And then a Sphere with no locality
known to either fool or learned scholar;
And at an azure Dome raised over the earth,
circulating 'round its center - Compulsion;
And at a rich Earth without o'er-arching vault
and no specific location, the Secret concealed...

I courted a Secret which existence did not alter;
for it was asked of me: "Has Thought enchanted you? "
- To which I replied: "I have no power over that;
I counsel you: Be patient with it while you live.
But, truly, if Thought becomes established
in my mind, the embers kindle into flame,
And everything is given up to fire
the like of which was never seen before!"
And it was said to me: "He does not pluck a flower
who calls himself with courtesy 'Freeborn'."
"He who woos the belle femme in her boudoir, love-beguiled,
will never deem the bridal-price too high!"

I gave her the dower and was given her in marriage
throughout the night until the break of Dawn -
But other than Myself I did not find. - Rather,
that One whom I married - may his affair be known:
For added to the Sun's measure of light
are the radiant New Moon and shining Stars;
Like Time, dispraised - though the Prophet (Blessings on him!)
had once declared of your Lord that He is Time.

From the Kitab 'Anqâ' mughrib, one of the earliest surviving works by Ibn 'Arabi. 

Wahdat al-Wujud versus Wahdat al-Shuhud

From: []

It is self-evident that any exposition on the person of God is incomplete and can be misunderstood; the doctrine of Wahdat al-Wujud and its interpretation is no different. For example some thought that this doctrine could be misinterpreted as meaning a continuity or identity of substance between the world and God, that the world is God in disguise. Thus against this danger there arose the idea of Wahdat al-Shuhud (Unity of Consciousness or Unity of Being in vision).

Although Sufism is divided and subdivided into many groups, in regard to their speculation concerning God, some believe that Sufis can be divided into two main groups. The larger of these is composed of those to whom everything is of the same essence. For them the creed, There is no God but God, means that beside Allah there is no existence. They are called itihadiya or alternatively, Wahdatal Wajudiya.

Those forming the second group, in their anxiety to conform to monotheistic teaching, explain the pantheistic expressions of mystic writers, interpreting them in the sense that the existence of the universe and all that it contains is so far transcended by the reality of God that these things count for nothing. Sufis of this class are called Ilhamiya, inspired; they generally uphold the doctrine of Wahdat al-Shuhud, a belief that all existence is One; unity of Being in vision or the unity of consciousness. Due to restriction on length of the essay we consider onlySirhindi's view.

Sirhindi's criticism of Wahdat al-Wujud

Ibn Al-Arabi's mysticism was widely taught in the Yemen, Turkey, Iran and India. Ibn Taymiyya (d.1327), Taki al-Din al-Subki, Ibn Khalduncriticised his mystical ideas, claiming they were meaningless. However, Ibn al-Arabi found defenders in Suyuti, al-Idris and others.

In Iran and India some Ulama did write against his explanation of Wahdat al-Wujud, the important being Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624), an eminent Indian Sufi whose ideas shaped the second or Mujaddidi phase of the Naqshbandi order. Some of his claims, for instance that he had surpassed Ibn al-Arabi in reaching the last divine manifestation, aroused powerful opposition from colleagues. In his pre-Sufi phase, he wrote work typical of a scholar of his time, refuting Shiism; in his Sufi phase, he produced a range of works suffused with spiritual insight. The most important of these is the collection of 534 of his letters known as Maktubat-i- imami rabbani.

Sirhindi's prime concern was to integrate his Sufi ideas with a Sunni framework. He accepted most of al Arabi's teachings but elevated the concept of Wahdat al-Shuhud (unity of witness) over Ibn Al-Arabi's Wahdat al-Wujud (unity of being) as believed by the majority. According to him believers had to realise that "Everything is from HIM" rather than "Everything is HIM." However, his interpretation did not replace Wahdatal-Wujud in Naqshbandi- Mujaddidi thinking except that his emphasis "on obedience to shariah and sunnah as a means of achieving spiritual realisation was widely accepted by the Naqshbandiyah and was carried by his successors into Central Asia, Turkey, and the Arab lands, where it has been a source of inspiration."

Most Sufi believers try to interpret the Qur'an and Sunnah in the light of the doctrine Wahdat al-Wujud. However, there are others who do not approve of it. Wali Allah (d. 1762) for instance who believed in the fundamental doctrine of Wahdat al-Wujud said, "One who interprets the words of the prophets on the lines of wahdat al-wajud, does not know them, nor their ways." He believed that prophets spoke in the natural language, tawr al-fitrah, and did not indulge themselves in the ontological language associated with Wahdat al-Wujud.

In spite of some opposition in Sufi circles, most Sufi teachers today stress this doctrine wholeheartedly because to them, as Shaikh Ahmad Al-Alawi said, "It is natural that Spiritual Masters should stress Wahdat al-Wujud above all, because it is the Supreme Truth and therefore the ultimate goal of all mysticism."

Mufti Taqi Usmani on Wahdat al-Wujud

One of the adherents of the doctrine of the Oneness of Being, and the foremost of them is Shaykh Ibn ‘Arabi (Allah Most High have mercy on him), would say that the existence of Allah Most High is eternal and beginningless, and there was nothing before the creation of the world besides this beginningless eternal existence along with His names and attributes, and this is what is called in their terminology “external existence” (zahir al-wujud). All the possible entities were non-existent in the exterior but its detailed knowledge was available to Allah Most High. These possible entities from the perspective of their being known to Allah Most High are called in the terminology “the immutable entities” (al-a’yan al-thabita). Hence, when Allah Most High intended to remove the world from pure non-existence, He manifested these immutable entities upon external existence, by different levels of manifestation and in a manner whose true nature is known only to Allah. Thus, the reflections of these immutable entities were manifested into external existence, whereby they do not acquire an existence from the outside, nor do they acquire the ability to penetrate into external existence, and it only acquires an imaginary existence that appears from the outside as though it is an external existence, just as the disc of the sun acquired an imaginary existence in the glass without it acquiring a real existence externally. Thus, the real existent is none other than Allah Most High and the entire world is a reflection of the immutable entities and is nothing but pure imagination, which appears to be existent externally, but is not existent with a real existence.

Moreover, although Shaykh Ibn ‘Arabi (Allah have mercy on him) claimed that the existence of the world in its entirety is purely imaginary, he nevertheless believed that the imagination has different levels. Hence, from the imaginary existent is that which disappears by stepping up the imagination, thus rules do not pertain to them; and from it is that which does not disappear by stepping up the imagination, so it is proper that some rules pertain to it. The existence of the world is from the second type of imaginary existence which does not disappear by stepping up the imagination, and for that reason it is correct for the rules of the Shari’ah to pertain to it. So, what some people raise as an objection to him that the view of the entire world being purely imaginary necessitates the view of the negation of laws and rules, is an objection not brought about by what Shaykh Ibn ‘Arabi said.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Role of Khayāl in Akbarian Thought

The role of khayāl, usually translated as Imagination, is instrumental in Ibn ʿArabī’s writings. Like many Sufis Ibn ʿArabī regards human reason as severely limited which has only the capacity to delimit, define, and analyse. ‘In contrast, properly disciplined imagination has the capacity to perceive God's self-disclosure in all Three Books,’ (Chittick, Stanford). The symbolic language in the Scripture cannot be interpreted with reason’s impediments. Awareness and consciousness are located in the qalb which has two eyes, reason and imagination; if either dominates, the perception and awareness is distorted. Imaginal vision is the product of the rational path of the philosophers and theologians combined with the mystical intuition of the Sufis. Both visions of the qalb, are associated to two titles of the Book, al-Qurʾān, meaning that which brings together, and al-furqān, the differentiator. The first alludes to the unifying Oneness of Being that is perceived by Imagination, and the second which is perceived by reason is the ‘differentiating manyness of knowledge and discernment,’ (Chittick, Stanford).

Corbin proposed the Latin phrase mundus imaginalis to circumnavigate away from the possible Utopian-fantasy-like meaning that could be associated to Ibn ʿArabī’s use of khayāl, which contrasts with an order of reality that it suggests. The organ which permits the penetration into the mundus imaginalis is known as the active Imagination the epiphanic place do the Images of the archetypal world. When the Qurʾān speaks of the ‘heavens, earth and everything in between,’ (Qurʾān: 27.88) Ibn ʿArabī extracted for us the implications of the realm in between, which ‘in one respect is unseen, spiritual, and intelligible, and in another respect visible, corporeal and sensible,’ (Chittick, Stanford) and is precisely the mundus imaginalis. Here the corporeal beings are spiritualised, as when the archangel Jibrīl took a human form when he appeared to Maryam.

Ibn ʿArabī’s mystic theosophy held that the creation is essentially a theophany and is the product of Divine imaginative power: this Divine creative imagination is fundamentally a theophanic Imagination. When the Sufi uses the Active Imagination, it is also a theophanic Imagination; so the ‘God whom it “creates,” far from being an unreal product of our fantasy, is also a theophany,’ (Corbin, 1969). Prayer, then, is addressed to the God that is ‘created’ within the Imagination, who reveals Himself within the prayer to the creation, and as the creation is a theophany, it is, in reality, Allāh revealing Himself to Himself. The Divine Being with the sadness of the primordial solitude makes Himself manifest to Himself, even when He is manifesting Himself to His creation. ‘I was a hidden Treasure, I yearned to be known. That is why I produced creatures, in order to be known in them.'* This is the meeting point between wahdat al-wujūd and khayāl; anyone misunderstanding what the Shaykh al-Akbar intends by wahdat al-wujūd could find him or herself reaching a pantheistic conclusion, that when Allāh reveals Himself to Himself through His creation, His creation too is Allāh.

* Hadīth Qudsī, taken from Corbin, p. 184. As this tradition is not found in any of the established books of ahādīth, it is worth looking at how it is perceived. This is taken from an article entitled, ‘The Science of Hadith’ by Dr. Suhaib Hassan. He notes that, ‘Ibn Taimiyyah says, "It is not from the words of the Prophet (s.a.w), and there is no known isnad for it, neither sahih nor da'if; al-Zarkashi (d.794), Ibn Hajar, al-Suyuti and others agree with him. Al-Qar says, "But its meaning is correct, deduced from the statement of Allah, I have not created the Jinn and Mankind, except to worship Me, i.e. to recognise / know me, as Ibn Abbas has explained." These statements are mentioned by al-Ijlouni, who adds, "This saying occurs often in the words of the Sufis, who have relied on it and built upon it some of their principles." 

Further Reading

Ateş, A. "Ibnal-ʿArabī, Muḥyi'l-Dīn Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. al-ʿArabī al-Ḥātimī al-Ṭāʾī, known as al-S̲ha̲ yk̲h̲ al-Akbar." Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition.

Chittick, W. C., "Ibn Arabi", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2008), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Corbin, H., ‘Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn ‘Arabi,’ 1969, Princeton University Press

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Khayal (Imagination) according to Ibn al-'Arabi

Written by Professor William Chittick. From: []

Imagination (khayâl), as Corbin has shown, plays a major role in Ibn ‘Arabî's writings. In the Openings, for example, he says about it, “After the knowledge of the divine names and of self-disclosure and its all-pervadingness, no pillar of knowledge is more complete” (Ibn ‘Arabî, al-Futûhât, 1911 edition, 2:309.17). He frequently criticizes philosophers and theologians for their failure to acknowledge its cognitive significance. In his view, ‘aql or reason, a word that derives from the same root as ‘iqâl, fetter, can only delimit, define, and analyze. It perceives difference and distinction, and quickly grasps the divine transcendence and incomparability. In contrast, properly disciplined imagination has the capacity to perceive God's self-disclosure in all Three Books. The symbolic and mythic language of scripture, like the constantly shifting and never-repeated self-disclosures that are cosmos and soul, cannot be interpreted away with reason's strictures. What Corbin calls “creative imagination” (a term that does not have an exact equivalent in Ibn ‘Arabî's vocabulary) must complement rational perception.

In Koranic terms, the locus of awareness and consciousness is the heart (qalb), a word that has the verbal sense of fluctuation and transmutation (taqallub). According to Ibn ‘Arabî, the heart has two eyes, reason and imagination, and the dominance of either distorts perception and awareness. The rational path of philosophers and theologians needs to be complemented by the mystical intuition of the Sufis, the “unveiling” (kashf) that allows for imaginal—not “imaginary”—vision. The heart, which in itself is unitary consciousness, must become attuned to its own fluctuation, at one beat seeing God's incomparability with the eye of reason, at the next seeing his similarity with the eye of imagination. Its two visions are prefigured in the two primary names of the Scripture, al-qur’ân, “that which brings together”, and al-furqân, “that which differentiates”. These two demarcate the contours of ontology and epistemology. The first alludes to the unifying oneness of Being (perceived by imagination), and the second to the differentiating manyness of knowledge and discernment (perceived by reason). The Real, as Ibn ‘Arabî often says, is the One/the Many (al-wâhid al-kathîr), that is, One in Essence and many in names, the names being the principles of all multiplicity, limitation, and definition. In effect, with the eye of imagination, the heart sees Being present in all things, and with the eye of reason it discerns its transcendence and the diversity of the divine faces.

He who stops with the Koran inasmuch as it is a qur’ân has but a single eye that unifies and brings together. For those who stop with it inasmuch as it is a totality of things brought together, however, it is a furqân…. When I tasted the latter…, I said, “This is lawful, that is unlawful, and this is indifferent. The schools have become various and the religions diverse. The levels have been distinguished, the divine names and the engendered traces have become manifest, and the names and the gods have become many in the world”. (Ibn ‘Arabî, al-Futûhât, 1911 edition, 3:94.16)

When Ibn ‘Arabî talks about imagination as one of the heart's two eyes, he is using the language that philosophers established in speaking of the soul's faculties. But he is more concerned with imagination's ontological status, about which the early philosophers had little to say. Here his use of khayâl accords with its everyday meaning, which is closer to image than imagination. It was employed to designate mirror images, shadows, scarecrows, and everything that appears in dreams and visions; in this sense it is synonymous with the term mithâl, which was often preferred by later authors. Ibn ‘Arabî stresses that an image brings together two sides and unites them as one; it is both the same as and different from the two. A mirror image is both the mirror and the object that it reflects, or, it is neither the mirror nor the object. A dream is both the soul and what is seen, or, it is neither the soul nor what is seen. By nature images are/are not. In the eye of reason, a notion is either true or false. Imagination perceives notions as images and recognizes that they are simultaneously true and false, or neither true nor false. The implications for ontology become clear when we look at the three “worlds of imagination”.

In the broadest sense of the term, imagination/image designates everything other than God, the entire cosmos inasmuch as it is contingent and evanescent. This is what Ibn ‘Arabî calls “Nondelimited Imagination” (al-khayâl al-mutlaq). Each of the infinite words articulated in the All-Merciful Breath discloses Being in a limited form. Everything without exception is both God's face (wajh), revealing certain divine names, and God's veil (hijâb), concealing other names. Inasmuch as a thing exists, it can be nothing but that which is, the Real Being; inasmuch as it does not exist, it must be other than the Real. Each thing, in Ibn ‘Arabî's most succinct expression, is He/not He (huwa/lâ huwa)—Real/unreal, Being/nonexistence, Face/veil. “In reality, the ‘other’ is affirmed/not affirmed, He/not He” (Ibn ‘Arabî, al-Futûhât, 1911 edition, 2:501.4).

In a narrower sense of the word, imagination denotes what Corbin calls the mundus imaginalis (‘âlam al-khayâl). Like most traditions, Islam conceives of the cosmos as a hierarchy of worlds, usually two or three; the Koran contrasts the Unseen (ghayb) with the Visible (shahâda), and these are typically called the world of spirits and the world of bodies, or, in philosophical terms, the intelligible and the sensible realms. The Koran also speaks of “heaven, earth, and everything in between”, and one of Ibn ‘Arabî's contributions was to bring out the full implications of the in-between realm, which in one respect is unseen, spiritual, and intelligible, and in another respect visible, corporeal, and sensible. This is precisely the mundus imaginalis, where spiritual beings are corporealized, as when Gabriel appeared in human form to the Virgin Mary; and where corporeal beings are spiritualized, as when bodily pleasure or pain is experienced in the posthumous realms. The mundus imaginalis is a real, external realm in the Cosmic Book, more real than the visible, sensible, physical realm, but less real than the invisible, intelligible, spiritual realm. Only its actual existence can account for angelic and demonic apparitions, bodily resurrection, visionary experience, and other nonphysical yet sensory phenomena that philosophers typically explain away. Ibn ‘Arabî's foregrounding of the in-between realm was one of several factors that prevented Islamic philosophy from falling into the trap of a mind/body dichotomy or a dualistic worldview.

The third world of imagination belongs to the microcosmic human book, in which it is identical with the soul or self (nafs), which is the meeting place of spirit (rûh) and body (jism). Human experience is always imaginal or soulish (nafsânî), which is to say that it is simultaneously spiritual and bodily. Human becoming wavers between spirit and body, light and darkness, wakefulness and sleep, knowledge and ignorance, virtue and vice. Only because the soul dwells in an in-between realm can it choose to strive for transformation and realization. Only as an imaginal reality can it travel “up” toward the luminosity of the spirit or “down” toward the darkness of matter.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Wahdat al-Wujud and the Puppeteer

Umm Sahl, the wife of Shaykh Nuh Keller, explains how Shaykh 'Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi understood the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud. From: [] 

The first issue that we'll look at, inshallah, is the "doctrine of the unity of existence (wahdat al-wujud)". I would rather translate this as "oneness of being" as I believe this more accurately represents what is meant by this concept. Akram wrote the following after translating one of the poems of Sheikh `Abd al-Ghani from his Diwan al-Haqa'iq (Collected Poems of Higher Spiritual Realities), "Notice the doctrine of "unity of existence (wahdat al-wujud)", which is to believe that the existence of all things is one and that existence itself is Allah. Exalted is Allah Most High above their Satanic heresy". Akram has made the common mistake of taking this concept of "oneness of being" in its ostensive sense, as would be expected, as this is what comes to mind from the literal meaning of the words and he hasn't been exposed to any other definition. 

In order to understand this concept we will first have to look at how existence is defined by the Imams of tenets of faith (`aqida). In the Ahl al-Sunna schools of`aqida existence or being is divided into three categories. The first is necessarily existent (wajib al-wujud), which defines the existence of Allah Most High. Allah Most High exists independently through Himself and His existence is necessary for the existence of all other things. None of His creation share in His existence. It is to this category of being that the Sufis are referring when they say "oneness of being (wahdat al-wujud)". The second category is contingent existence (al-wujud al-mumkin). This defines the existence of created things that may or may not exist. Created things have no independent being and their existence is not necessary. Allah Most High brought them into being through His will, power and knowledge and if He willed they would have no existence. Creation only exists through Him giving it being, so in this sense it exists through Him, but doesn't share in His independent, necessary being. The third category is impossible being (mustahil al-wujud), which includes the existence of a co-sharer in Allah's entity, attributes or actions, which is impossible both according to revelation and the intellect. 

If the difference between necessary existence (wajib al-wujud) and contingent existence (mumkin al-wujud) is clearly understood, then a lot of difficulty in Sufi literature is explained. When the Sufis such as `Abd al-Ghani refer to "oneness of being", they are referring to the existence of Allah Most High. Creation is not what is intended. Created things have no being in themselves in the sense that the movement of a puppet points to the presence of the puppeteer, or a shadow that something is making the shadow. If the puppeteer stopped pulling the strings the puppets being would come to an end. Is the puppet the same as the puppeteer and share in his existence? No. Could the puppet exist without the existence of the puppeteer? No. Does the puppet have a true existence that is in any way parallel to or comparable to the existence of the puppeteer? No. If not that Allah created us and sustains every moment of our life, we would have no life. Does this mean that we are Allah? Certainly not. Is our existence independent of Allah? No. Does our appearance of being in any way resemble the independent being of Allah Most High? No.

That what Sheikh `Abd al-Ghani meant when referring to "oneness of being" was the necessary existence of Allah and not creation is verified in the following poems also taken from the Diwan al-Haqa'iq. On page 44:

The Oneness of Being that we maintain is none other than 
the Oneness of the Truth (al-Haqq), so understand what we say,

The Oneness of Allah, the sole Unity, which the pre-eminent 
luminaries have witnessed,

And there is no difference with us, O ignoramus, whether we say 
"Being (wujud)" or "The Truth (al-Haqq)",

Don't imagine that the Being (wujud) that we mention is
creation according to us.

Also, in vol.1, Page 22:

Truly, Being is unseen by eyes, 
In respect to what the beholder sees;

Eyes perceive nothing of it besides "what is besides",
Namely, contingent things, a collection of shadows;

A shadow but shows that there is something standing, 
That controls it, beyond any doubt;

So beware of thinking that what you perceive 
Is that Being: be one of those who know;

For all of what you perceive is but what "is there (al-mawjud)",
Not this True Being, He of Glorious Signs;

Of a certainty, Being is completely debarred from you,
In its majesty, elevation, and exaltedness;

For all you see is contingent and perishable, 
and you too, are bound to perish.

It should be obvious that Sheikh `Abd al-Ghani was not a pantheist and I think that if Akram had not been hasty, but rather made an objective investigation, he would have reached the same conclusion and absolved himself the responsibility of accusing a Muslim of a doctrine that has no resemblance to that Muslim's belief.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Theophany of Perfection

By al-Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn al-'Arabi. From: []

Listen, O dearly beloved!
I am the reality of the world, the centre of the circumference,
I am the parts and the whole.
I am the will established between Heaven and Earth,
I have created perception in you only in order to be the object of My Perception.
If then you perceive Me, you perceive yourself.
But you cannot perceive Me through yourself.
It is through My Eyes that you see Me and see yourself,
Through your eyes you cannot see Me.
Dearly beloved!
I have called you so often and you have not heard Me.
I have shown Myself to you so often and you have not seen Me.
I have made Myself fragrance so often, and you have not smelled Me,
Savorous food, and you have not tasted Me.
Why can you not reach Me through the object you touch
Or breathe Me through sweet perfumes?
Why do you not see Me?  Why do you not hear Me?
Why? Why? Why?
For you My delights surpass all other delights,
And the pleasure I procure you surpasses all other pleasures.
For you I am preferable to all other good things,
I am Beauty, I am Grace.
Love Me, love Me alone.
Love yourself in Me, in Me alone.
Attach yourself to Me,
No one is more inward than I.
Others love you for their own sakes,
I love you for yourself.
And you, you flee from Me.
Dearly beloved!
You cannot treat Me fairly,
For if you approach Me,
It is because I have approached you.
I am nearer to you than yourself,
Than your soul, than your breath.
Who among creatures
Would treat you as I do?
I am jealous of you, over you,
I want you to belong to no other,
Not even to yourself.
Be Mine, be for Me as you are in Me,
Though you are not even aware of it.
Dearly beloved!
Let us go toward Union.
And if we find the road
That leads to separation,
We will destroy separation.
Let us go hand in hand.
Let us enter the presence of Truth.
Let It be our judge
And imprint Its seal upon our union
For ever.