Your name is in my mouth,
Your image is in my eye,
Your remembrance is in my heart:
So where are You hidden?
A scholar remarked in the presence of Shamsuddin of Tabriz: ‘I have established the existence of God with a categorical proof’. On the next morning our master Shams said: ‘Last night the angels descended and blessed that man, saying ‘Praise be to God, he has proven the existence of our God! May God give him a long life’!’ [Rumi:Fihi ma fihi].
Shabistari writes in his Gulshan-i-Raz:
دلی کزمعرفت شهود است
زهرچیزی که دید اول خدا دید
A witnessing heart illuminated by gnosis,
Sees God first in all things it looks upon.
Several Sufis never talk or write about God. Why is that? Is it because of our present secular society? Is it to avoid prejudices? Is it because Buddhism is now in fashion? Is it because God cannot properly be defined? Is it because some mysteries should remain unexplained? Is it better to remain silent?
Other Sufis often talk or write about Sufism. Al-Hallaj has said in his ecstasy, ‘Ana’l-Haqq’, which can be translated as ‘I am God’. Haqq however also means ‘Reality’. Some Sufis equate Reality and God. Other Sufis disagree about that. The owner of a witnessing heart illuminated by gnosis, the ‘arif, is someone who is said to be capable to correctly recognize all Divine manifestations. Others say that the ultimate degree of this gnosis implies the incapability in this respect.
Bayazid of Bastam was of this opinion: ‘Whoever knows God does not say ‘God’. Idries Shah adds the following commentary: ‘The meaning of ‘God’ in the hearts of superficialists is someone or something to be bribed and asked for things. So whoever knows more cannot use this term, which contains unworthy elements such as those’.
Muhammad Baqir was able to speak the language of the ants. He asked what God was like. The ant answered that while an ant has only one sting, God has two stings. This points in a simple way to the Sufi teaching that people create God according to their own imagination.
There are many Sufis who:
Think only of God.
Love only God.
See only God.
Hear only God.
Want only God.
Serve only God.
Trust only God.
Fear only God.
Hope only on God.
Thinking only of God
‘Amr bin ‘Uthman al-Makki held this opinion: ‘All that enters the heart, except for God, is empty rhetoric’. Shibli was extremely strict in his demands to beginning murids. Shibli said to al-Husri: ‘When you think of something else than God from one Friday to the next Friday, then it is forbidden to visit me’. The lover of God doesn’t think of himself. The lover forgets all his wishes.
Love only God
Shibli said: ‘The path of the friends of God is love’. He also stated: ‘Perfect love implies that you love Him for His sake’. Love makes you blind to see someone else than the Beloved.
See only God
‘See One, say One, know One’ sums up what Shabistari teaches. When Sahl at-Tustari was a young boy, his uncle helped him to increase his awareness of God by asked reciting: ‘God is with me, God sees me, God is my Witness’. Shibli prayed: ‘My God! Let all people see, so that they may see You!’ Abu Sa’id Abi’l-Khair was asked: ‘How is it that one can see God, but not a dervish?’ He answered: ‘God exists, and it is possible to see the Existent One. A dervish does not exist, and that is why he cannot be seen’.
Intermezzo: Finding God
Rumi makes it clear why it is not easy to see God:
The Worker is hidden in the workshop:
enter the workshop and see Him…
We need to enter the workshop of not-being. I’ll return to this dying to the self at the very end of this article. The following lines are also attributed to Rumi:
I tried to find Him on the cross from end to end and with Christians:
He was not on the cross.
I visited the temple of idols and to the ancient pagoda:
No trace could be seen there…
I searched in the Ka’ba:
He was not in that place for young and old…
I looked into my own heart:
I saw Him there; He was nowhere else.
Hear only God: Ibn al-‘Arabi says:
My eye saw only His Face,
And my ear heard only His word.
Rumi tells that a certain man remarked about his prayer to God that he called and called. God, however, never replied with a ‘Here I am’. The explanation is that God in fact said:
Your calling My name is My name is My reply.
Your longing for Me is My message to you.
All your attempts to reach Me
Are in fact My attempts to reach you…
In the silence after each of your calls of ‘God’
Await a thousand replies of ‘Here I am!’
People are hearing different things when they hear words, sounds or melodies. When the Chishti Sufis are attending a sama’ meeting they concentrate on the Beloved. This implies listening beyond the words actually recited by the musicians. In this way audition [sama’ ] causes the heart to be present with God. This needs to turn into a non-stop listening during all your life. Data Ganj Bakhsh says: ‘When you have attained to an uninterrupted listening then the whole world turns into a sama’ meeting’.
Want only God
Dhu’n-Nun said of the Sufis: ‘They are people who prefer God above everything and that’s why God prefers them above everything. They asked ad-Darani: ‘What is the essence of gnosis?’ He replied: ‘That you want only One in both worlds’. Ar-Rudhabari made a difference between a murid [someone who wants] and a murad [someone who is wanted]: ‘A murid is someone who wants for himself, what God wants for him. A murad wants nothing but Him in both worlds’.
Serve only God
When Khidr said: ‘This is what I want’, he received the inspiration: ‘Who are you to want something?’ It is related that al-Muhasibi said one day to a dervish: ‘Be God or be nothing’. This means: ‘Obey God, be His servant, or be nothing at all’.
At-Tirmidhi asked the question: ‘How many are the shares of servanthood?’ Ibn al-’Arabi answered: ‘There are 99 shares, in keeping with the number of the Divine names… There are those among the people of God to whom God has given knowledge of these names in regard to the servanthood demanded by each of these names from the servant’.
The perfect human being is the universal servant because of being the servant of all the Divine names.
A Chishti pir gave this advice: ‘Serve and don’t expect to be served!’
Intermezzo: Why not open your doors of perception?
Very young children can ‘see’ and ‘hear’. Eric Berne relates it to nature: ‘A little boy sees and hears birds with delight. Then the “good father” comes along and feels he should “share the experience and help his son “develop”. He says: “That’s a jay, and this is a sparrow.” The moment the little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing. He has to see and hear them the way the father wants him to’.
‘Father has good reasons on his side, since few people can go through life listening to the birds sing, and the sooner the boy starts his “education” the better. Maybe he will be an ornithologist when he grows up. A few people, however, can still see and hear in the old way. But most of the members of the human race have lost the capacity to be painters, poets, or musicians, and are not left the option of seeing and hearing directly even if they can afford to; they must get it secondhand’.
Trust only God
The Prophet added something important when he spoke about trust in God [tawakkul]: ‘Trust in God, but tie your camel’. One way to tie our camel is to make use of what has been entrusted to us by God. These are the 99 Divine names. Our quest implies to clothe ourselves as far as is humanly possible with Divine qualities as love, compassion, and patience, etc.
Some creative people will be attracted by the Divine names the Designer, al-Musawwir, the Creator, al-Khaliq and other names in the active modus. Those who open a free kitchen [langar] for the poor are clothing themselves in aspects of the quality of ar-Razzaq, the Nurturer. It is said that when we die, we return to our Rabb. Our Rabb [Lord] implies the specific collective set of Divine names entrusted to us, which we try to realize during our life.
The Chishti shaykh Nasiruddin, ‘the Lamp of Delhi’, states that there is no contradiction between earning an income [kasb] and trust in God [tawakkul]: ‘Being engaged in kasb doesn’t involve a negation of tawakkul. If you have a family and are engaged in earning an income, while your heart’s eye isn’t focussed on kasb but on Haqq [God, Reality, Truth], then you practice tawakkul’.
A Chishti pir from Ajmer, India says: ‘Trust God and fear none!’
Fear only God
Navid Kermani writes that God is beautiful. He also writes about the terror of God, by telling what happened with his aunt. She was a very good and very religious person. Because of a terrible disease she lost all her faith in God. Fariduddin ‘Attar has written the Musibat Nama [the Book of the Disaster]. Invading soldiers of Genghis Khan killed all the 1,747,000 inhabitants of his hometown Nishapur. In addition they killed every animal, every plant, in short, every living, because the people of Nishapur offered resistance and didn’t want to surrender to the Moghul conquerers.
This brings us to the theodicy question. How is it possible that God Who is All-Powerful, All-loving, All-Knowing allows the existence of natural disasters, evil, crime terrible illness and violent wars. Selahattin Akti deals with the theodicy question by explaining the teachings of Ibn al-’Arabi about existence.
I intend to pay attention in the forthcoming intermezzo to the definition of al-Haqq [the Absolute; the Truth; the Reality; God].
Evil is the translation of two Arabic terms, i.e. سو۶ [su‘: evil; badness; chaos; nothingness; injustice; indisposition] and شر [sharr: wickedness; evil; the opposite of khair or good]. Evil appears in three types. Selahattin discusses metaphysical evil, natural evil and moralistic evil.
The cause of metaphysical evil can be found in the nature of things. According to Ibn al-’Arabi, that which is good comes from being and evil from non-being. Because al-Haqq, the Absolute Truth, is absolute Being, He is also absolute Good. This is not true with regard to the possible kinds of existence that form this world. They are in between being and non-being. They look in one direction towards Being and in the other direction towards non-being. People derive that which is good from Being, while they receive evil from non-being.
Every possible being has moreover a different receptive capacity. When wrong, evil situations manifest themselves, they are caused by deficiencies in this capacity to receive Existence. This is the inevitable consequence of the fact that they are limited beings. Al-Haqq is the only One, Who has no limitations and is therefore absolutely Good.
How about natural disasters, like earthquakes, fires, floods and draughts? These are examples of the second type of evil. Australia’s deadly wildfires that started in 2019 have shown no signs of stopping in 2020. All this has been exacerbated by persistent heat and drought. Many point to climate change as a factor making natural disasters go from bad to worse.
‘We’ – the people populating earth and our organizations – are responsible for this climate change. Natural disasters can be explained in ways similar to the above commentary regarding metaphysical evil: Nature with its possible beings [people!] has its limitations and can’t mirror Being completely.
Another example from nature is honey. Honey is not good for the person who is allergic to honey. That honey is ‘bad’ is however not an objective fact but a subjective one.
Examples of the third type of evil, i.e. moralistic evil, are lies, defamation, murder and war. This is a certain part of what we are, a part of our ontological nature. A human being has been created in the image of God. A human being can be the place of manifestation of all the Divine names. These are both the jamali and the jalali names, which are names of the Divine beauty and the Divine glory. Because of the contradiction in these names that manifest themselves in us, is it necessary that we do our best not to create chaos. When we are able to bring about a harmonious balance in regard to these conflicting names, then we can experience bliss.
Our character has its ontological foundation, while a second influence is important in its development. The efforts undertaken by us to reach this happiness also shape our character.
Navid Kermani mentions the beauty of God as well as the terror of God. The murderous, tyrannical dictators in our world are places of manifestation of Divine names, like the One Who gives death [al-Mumit], the One Who dominates totally [al-Qahhar] and the Compeller [al-Jabbar]. It is evident why people fear these qualities. The Sufis experience awe and hope when the beautiful and glorious Divine names manifest themselves.
Rumi wants us to fly, even beyond the seventh heaven, with the wings of fear and hope:
That you may have two wings;
For the bird that has only one wing
Is unable to fly.
Hope only on God
Pandora’s box had been opened and disastrous experiences had come out, but… But something had been hiding at the bottom of this box. Hope!
Ibn al-’Arabi says about hope that it is connected to what is not with you:
Hope indeed resembles its likeness, fear, as for its property,
So be firm with it and be knowledgeable with it.
Hope is indeed a station,
A fact only those with knowledge and understanding
of the Compassionate One are conscious of.
When you have hope, you experience pleasure at that moment,
so when you miss hope, its likeness – fear – rules you.
What you are hoping for is actually something not existent…
Sharafuddin Maneri quotes a poet:
What kind of threshold is this, having a lock without a key?
And what kind of ocean is this, without a bottom?
When you enter this ocean but for a moment,
You’ll see a world inflaming your perplexed heart.
That’s why Sharafuddin Maneri prayed:
Don’t turn me away without hope from Your threshold:
Graciously change my blackness into white!
He had this firm resolve:
I don’t seek knowledge, asceticism or ecstasy:
I simply walk all paths in hope.
Wasiti, however, said:
‘When God appears to your innermost being, He leaves no room for fear or hope’.
Intermezzo: The Absolute
Ibn al-’Arabi’s teachings are dominated by the concept of Being. Toshihiko Izutsu describes his ontological doctrine in five major planes of Being:
1. The Absolute [al-Haqq] in its absoluteness
2. The Absolute manifesting itself as God [Allah]
3. The Absolute manifesting itself as Lord [Rabb]
4. The Absolute manifesting itself as half-spiritual and half-material things
5. The Absolute manifesting itself as the sensible world.
In religious non-philosophical terms, the Absolute is normally indicated by the word God [Allah], but in the technical vocabulary of Ibn al-’Arabi, the word God designates the Absolute not in its absoluteness, but in a state of determination. We cannot know the Absolute [al-Haqq] because it transcends all qualifications and relations that are humanly conceivable.
The Absolute is the hidden God. Being at the first stratum is completely free from any determination and limitation. This stratum represents Reality as the absolute Essence. No self-manifestation is occurring. In this respect the Absolute is the One [al-Ahad]. The word ‘one’ doesn’t mean one in the numerical sense of the context of ‘many’. It implies the essential, primordial and absolutely unconditional simplicity of Being.
Ibn al-’Arabi’s ontological doctrine differentiates between God [Allah] and the Lord [ar-Rabb]. The Lord is the Absolute as manifested through a particular name suitable for the occasion. Ash-Shafi is your ‘Lord’ when you are ill. When you are hungry you are in need of the Lord in the manifestation of the Provider of Sustenance [ar-Razzaq]. There exists a truly personal relationship with God as ‘Lord’ in these examples.
The ‘Lord’ has a rigid fixity, while God [Allah] is the always changing and transforming Absolute. The name Allah contains all the names. Every human being is related to Allah only in the form of his or her particular Lord. It is impossible for us to be related directly to Allah in the original form of synthesis. The exception is the Universal Human Being [insan kamil] who realizes and manifests not a particular name or a set of particular names, but all the Names in their synthesis.
The descent from the Mystery of Mysteries down to the fifth stratum of phenomenal things is followed by its reversal, the ascent. Rumi writes about this dying to ourselves:
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as a plant and rose to an animal.
I died as an animal and I was human:
Why should I fear?
When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I’ll die as human,
To soar with angels blessed above.
And when I sacrifice my angelic soul,
I’ll become what no mind ever conceived.
Becoming what no mind ever conceived
I’ve become so transformed in You,
That I’m full of You from head to foot.
Of my existence is nothing left in me but the name:
In my being there is nothing but You.
Fana’ [annihilation; transformation of the lower self] implies to become what you really are. Ibn al-’Arabi tells what happened to a certain teacher in Fes, Morocco, called ‘Abd al-’Aziz bin Zaydan, who didn’t believe in the state of fana’: ‘One day he came to me, delighted, smiling, and he said to me:
‘Sir! The state of fana’ which the Sufis mention, is authentic according to me, based on the experience [lit.: tasting] which I witnessed myself today. Do you know that the amir al-mu’minin [the leader of the faithful] came here today to our city from Spain? You should know that I was watching the parade with the people of Fes in order to enjoy myself’.
‘The soldiers approached, and when the leader of the faithful arrived, and I was looking at him, I disappeared from myself, from the soldiers and from all of what a human being normally feels. I couldn’t hear the pounding of the kettle-drums or the war trumpets or the shouts of the people, and I didn’t see anyone in the world altogether, except the person of the leader of the faithful’.
‘No one pushed me away from my place while I was standing in the path of the horses and the throngs of the people. I didn’t see myself and I didn’t know I was looking at him. No, I disappeared in fana’ from my person and from those present, all of them, in my vision of him’.
‘When he was hidden from me, and I returned to myself, the horses and the dense crowd overwhelmed me. They pushed me away from where I was standing. I only escaped from the compression with great difficulty. My hearing then perceived the roars of the people and the sounds of the drums. I verified for myself that fana’ is true’.
This kind of fana’ is however the fana’ in a creature and not yet the fana’ in the Creator. It is possible to experience several prefiguarations of fana’ before the ultimate one.
Your lower self needs to be transformed [annihilated by fana’] in order that you can attain to your true self, the existence and abiding [baqa’] in God.
Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti observed this:
The rivers are boisterous before they reach the Ocean.
Thereafter they are becalmed forever.
PS: Besonderen Dank schulde ich Richard Gramlich [1925-2006].