The Third of nine Discourses on Tawhid,
10th April 2004,
Al-Jami’a Mosque, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
We started with the subject of the adab of the mumin in relation to his ‘ibada and I am just going to continue. It is something that has an ongoing path and this is one bit of it. Also, inshallah, we are going to stop at a very, not confusing, but contradictory part, so that I will also have to introduce the subject for next week, because otherwise you will think that this is the whole story! We are now moving into a very serious, deep matter so I ask you to please try and sit still and concentrate. Fold your hands, or look at the Qur’an.
We are now going to look at the subject of Allah as the Creator and then His creation, His creatures. We are looking at Allah in His power as Creator. So we look at Surat al-Hadid (57:1-3 and 6):
In the name of Allah, All-Merciful, Most Merciful
Everything in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah.
He is the Almighty, the All-Wise.
The kingdom of the heavens and the earth belong to Him.
He gives life and causes to die. He has power over all things. He is the First and the Last,
the Outward and the Inward. He has knowledge of all things.
Then the last ayat is:
He makes night merge into day and day merge into night.
He knows what the heart contains.
We are beginning to get an understanding in these ayats about Allah as the Creator. “Everything in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah. He is the Almighty, the All-Wise.” The first thing is that everything in the heavens and the earth glorifies Allah. This is an indication of something that the Sufis and the salihun have understood for hundreds of years, and which the scientists have belatedly discovered in the last hundred years – the things of the heavens and the earth are not static and dead. Everything is alive. Everything is in action. The atom is not a static thing but a whirling, speeding thing. Everything is in motion and this motion is the glorification of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
Everything in the heavens and the earth.
‘Heavens’ is samawati, which also means those things which are in the Unseen, which are going to come into the existent realm to glorify Allah. In other words, the forms that have not emerged into the created world are also glorifying Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
The kingdom of the heavens and the earth,
- the kingdom of the unseen world and the visible world
- belongs to Him.
He gives life and He causes to die.
Part of this nature of the created event is the giving of life and the making to die. What happens in the span of time, between birth and death, coming into existence and going out of existence – this is all under the power of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. It is His Action that brings to life and also terminates it. This means also that the creation of the living forms is under the power of Allah in its totality.
You must remember that part of the essence of kufr is the idea that the creation is a static thing into which comes man with an intellect which is then free to behave in a certain way. The understanding of the Muslims is that Allah is the Creator of the creatures, and also this means that the human being’s actions are part of his existence. You cannot separate a man from his actions. What a man does in that span of time is all under the command of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
He has power over all things.
This means that He is the activator of them. Power is not some magical thing that intervenes with ‘free radicals’ doing what they want and suddenly some divine force pounces on them. Power over them is, by His power, to let them do that which they are going to do. This is very important for the Muslims to understand.
He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward.
He has knowledge of all things.
This is a very important ayat for the Sufis. It is an ayat which has openings, Fatiha, in it for the ‘Arif. Moulay al-‘Arabi ad-Darqawi, radiyallahu ‘anhu, explains how he achieved his Tawhid with Allah: when he was in khalwa, he heard a voice declaring this ayat. He heard this and said, “I understand that He is the First and the Last, and I understand that He is the Inward, but I do not understand how He is the Outward.” He was saying that in his correct upbringing as an ‘alim, of course, that Allah is exalted above everything that could be associated with Him. The voice then said, “If He had meant anything else He would have said it.” This confirmation that He was not only the Inward but that He was the Outward was what gave him his Tawhid and he passed out of the consciousness of this world.
At the minute we are looking at this aspect of exalting Allah over everything with which He can be associated and yet, at the heart of it, we have to come back to this element about the nature of what we can say about Allah, confirmed by what He tells us, that He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward.
He makes the night merge into day and day merge into night.
He knows what the heart contains.
While we are getting an understanding of Allah being exalted above the creation and having power over the creation, we also discover that the One who is the Master of the cosmic events of night and day – which means the whole nature of the creation of the stars and the sun and the moon –
He knows what the breasts contain.
Sudur in Arabic means ‘breasts’ but it is more correct to say ‘hearts’ because it is saying that Allah knows what is inside the human creature. Inside the human creature is the impulse to action, the force to move and make things happen, to do things. It is not an emotional thing about being angry or not, “He knows what is in the heart,” and the heart moves by impulse. The word qalb, which means heart, is from the root ‘qalaba’ which means to turn over, to transform, to change. So the very central organ of man is itself in motion with this Divine commotion that has been set up in it.
So you will find that Allah being exalted above everything and the Creator of everything is put alongside His power to know what is in the breasts of man.
Now we will go to Surat Ya Sin (36:82). We have come to the point where we have to look at the created things because we have to understand the nature of how Allah is with His creation, which is not a simple matter and yet it is not a complicated matter. It is simply that you must see it with the eye of understanding. One of the great Sufis of India said: “This matter will never be settled by logic.” It is like when you tell someone something and they get it: “I’ve got it!” It is not a mental process but a ‘seeing the whole point of something.’ This is how you will understand the nature of Tawhid.
His command when He desires a thing is just to say to it, ‘Be!’ and it is.
Here Allah plunges us right into the secret of His secrets. He unveils it for the muminun openly. There are no mysteries in Islam, what is unveiled is unveiled. What the heart is able to grasp is another matter.
Allah’s command when He desires a thing is just to say to it, ‘Be!’ and it is. Kun fa yakun – it is almost like the grammar breaks down because the ‘fa’ is very fine usage. It is not ‘and’ or ‘it follows that’, rather it is like you could put ‘Be’ then a stroke, then ‘it is’ – Be/it is. You have to concentrate on this because it is very strange. When Allah wants a thing, He just says to it “Kun fa yakun,” “Be!” and it is. If you look at it one way it does not make sense. I am not being discourteous to Allah, I am unlocking this so you see it. Astaghfirullah, if Allah said this to it and it was there, it would not make sense because if it is already there, how does He say to it to be there? If it is not there, how can He say to it, “Kun fa yakun?” We have to understand this because neither of the ordinary outside situations click with common sense.
When Allah’s Command, the Amr, comes on His desire, His Irada – when He wills it, it means that the thing is already in His knowledge, so He orders it and it is in being. In this sense we can understand, by metaphor, that the creator of forms has an idea of a form and then he makes it happen. At the moment we will stick with this very crude metaphor because we are going to find out something even more devastating and overwhelming about how Allah deals with His creation, to do with something that is not ‘exalted above’ but intimately close.
Before the thing comes into the creation – and we cannot say ‘it is in the mind of Allah’ because we have no authority to say that – but it is in the knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. The thing is in His knowledge and when He is ready and when He wills it, it comes into being. So we have taken one step into an understanding of Tawhid.
Now we go to Surat Maryam (19:9). Now Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, opens the doors, reveals the secrets. He explains His way of dealing with existence openly. Remember that we are not dealing with ayats of hukm, we are dealing with ayats that explain about existence. We would have to take a different adab to the ayats that say what is forbidden and permitted. At the moment we are dealing with Allah being the Creator.
He said, ‘It will be so!
Your Lord says, “That is easy for me to do.
I created you before, when you were not anything.”’
This is about the gift of a child. There are just two things in this ayat and first of all – although we will not go into the details of it – the slave is being told of a generous gift of life to a child from Allah on the parent. The first part of it is that the slave, because he is of the salihun and of the exalted knowers, when he is told how it will be, although it does not seem to be possible, he accepts it. It is that acceptance of Allah’s dealing with his slave that allows Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, to inform the slave of a knowledge that he did not have until he heard this.
Your Lord says, ‘That is easy for Me to do.’
‘Lord’ means the Rabb, Allah, in His capacity to create all the living forms and all the inter-connectedness of all the forms. This is Rububiyyat, which is from Rabb, and Rububiyyat involves not only the creation of the forms but also their connectedness, like all the levels of the forest from the tops of the trees down to the insects at the root of the tree. All these are interconnected just as the nations of men and the movements of men, and the vast migrations of men all come under Rububiyyat. So this is the Lord saying that He will give this child, and then He says:
I created you before, when you were not anything.
So He explains to the father the commentary on Kun fa yakun: “I created you before, when you were not anything.” First of all you were not anything, the command came, “Kun!” and you were. Allah created you so that there was a ‘you’ to create. We find when we look elsewhere in Qur’an that in fact all the human creatures were called before Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, before the creation of the world and He said to them (7:172):
Am I not your Lord?
This is how Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, deals with the creation. It is a dynamic, ongoing event in the in-time. All the in-time is under His power, which is beyond time and is not associated with anything.
We go to Surat al-Mulk (67:13-14):
Whether you keep your words secret or say them out loud,
He knows what the heart contains.
Again we get this reminder that He knows what the breasts contain. This impulse of the human heart to go this way or that way, to be secretive or open – all this, He knows what the heart contains. This is about the absolute command that Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has over the slave.
Does He who created not then know? He is the All-Pervading, the All-Aware.
He is the Creator so Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, says, ‘How am I not to know since you are my creation?’ This is the dynamic relationship into which Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, is putting his slaves. He is not only putting the muminun into this position, He is putting the kuffar in this position. He is keeping those who behave in one way in this position, and those who behave in another way in this position, which means that this Divine knowledge is present in every situation.
“Does He who created not then know?” You must not think that Allah made the universe and the stars and the constellations, and then life came into things – this is the position of the kuffar. The position of the Muslim is that alongside this enormous cosmic majesty of Allah’s creation, subhanahu wa ta’ala, there is also the fact of His intimate connection to His slave. The Names He gives are Al-Latif and Al-Khabir, which Hajj ‘Abdalhaqq Bewley has heroically called the All-Pervading and the All-Aware. He has also said that Latif has the meaning of graciousness and kindness and also of penetrating right through everything, pervasive but with infinite kindness and closeness. Khabir is total awareness that takes in everything all the time. This is how we must understand Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, all the time.
We go back to Surat Ya Sin (36:79) for a vital phrase:
He has total knowledge of each created thing.
The One you worship when you say, “Allahu akbar,” – the ‘akbar’ of your takbir is that He has total knowledge of each created thing. Total knowledge not only means the biological creature but everything that is in it, its history from the moment of it coming into the world until the moment of its death. Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, knew you at birth and was aware of you when you died. This is the knowledge Allah has when He says that He has total knowledge of each created thing.
To realise the majesty of Allah and also this reality of Divine Presence is to realise that it is also a knowledge that involves all the creatures from the beginning of time until the in-time comes to an end. It is one process, and this process is the knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala.
We are going to look at how the mutakallimun see this.
What we are faced with is that the creature is known to Allah in the Unseen and the ‘Kun’ brings the creature into the seen world, into the existent world. The mutakallimun call the forms in the knowledge of Allah before they are created, the ‘known’. They are known by Allah, but the Sufis have a special term for them because they think it is very important to get this thing right, so the Sufis have invented a vocabulary based on the Qur’anic ayats. They call this ‘al-‘Ayan ath-thabita’ which means ‘source-forms’, although it is difficult to translate. ‘Al-‘Ayan ath-thabita’ is when Allah has the – I do not like to use the word – ‘idea’ because this is not correct, but He has the form in His knowledge before the ‘kun’ brings it into existence. The Sufis call it a source-form, a form from the Source.
At this stage of our understanding of Tawhid we have to make a complete division, otherwise we will go outside Tawhid. We make a division between the known – that is the ‘ayn ath-thabita before it comes into creation, before the ‘kun’ – and the Knower, Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. The known has a form, limited, determined, individualised, specific. The Knower is free of limitation, free of determination and is not a form. The known subsists only in the knowledge of the Knower, it has no independent existence until the ‘kun’. The Knower exists in Himself, totally independent, He is not dependent on anything. Surat al-Ikhlas:
In the name of Allah, All-Merciful, Most Merciful
“Say: ‘He is Allah, Absolute Oneness,
Allah, the Everlasting Sustainer of all.
He has not given birth and was not born.
And no one is comparable to Him.’”
The known has no attribute but it has a capacity in its form to receive attributes. The Knower is the possessor of these Source Attributes. Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, has these Attributes: life, knowledge, will, power, hearing, sight and speech. So when He makes the order: “Kun! fa yakun,” He gives a bit of life, a bit of knowledge, a bit of will, a bit of power, a bit of hearing, a bit of sight, a bit of speech – we call them the borrowed attributes because they are in-time, and Allah is outside time but He lets the form, when it comes into being, have a limited ‘rental’. The human being has a rental on these capacities or attributes because he is designed in order to be able to receive them.
The known forms, before they come into existence, are passive, have no existence, no attributes and no activity. When the ‘kun’ comes they can then have these things from Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, because the Knower has activity, the Knower is active, He is the Actor. All the actions of the creatures come from the Actor. There is no action of the creatures but from the gift of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala, in the order of the ‘Kun! fa yakun.’ Power belongs absolutely to Allah and He gives these, like sprinkling water, onto the forms to bring them to life.
Thus we are able to say that the relation of the known to the Knower, of the forms to the Creator of the forms is otherness. The forms are other-than-Allah, they are ghayr, they are masiwallah. Everything that is existent, in the world, in the cosmos is other-than-Allah: we have two. This may sound very strange but to arrive at Tawhid we must posit a very powerful ‘two’ because otherwise we are not going to get it right. We would end up like the mushriks or the kuffar.
Let us look at Surat Al ‘Imran (3:28 & 30). It is one phrase which comes twice:
Allah advises you to be afraid of Him.
Hajj ‘Abdalhaqq has very wisely given a different aspect of the word ‘yuhadhirukum’ in each of these two ayats. In one ayat: “Allah advises you to be afraid of Him,” and in the other: “Allah advises you to beware of Him.” What this is, is that Allah says not to try to understand the Essence. The Act of Allah you must understand, the Attributes of Allah you must understand, but when we come to the Essence from which these complex things emerge – do not try. Be afraid. Beware, because you cannot penetrate it.
Also, Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in a famous hadith, because of these revelations, warned the muminun not to contemplate, in the language of the mutakallimun, the ‘Dhat’, the Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta’ala. Imam al-Ghazali goes to great lengths very beautifully trying to understand it by looking at all the processes of the Act. Dependent on the Act are the Attributes: without the capacity to move and so on, you cannot realise something, but when you go from the Act to the Attributes that make it happen you ask, “Where do the Attributes come from?” and you reach the Essence. Imam al-Ghazali tries very beautifully to see if he can get any further but he stops and says that you cannot go any further. That is as far as you can go.
So let us say, in the language of the mutakallimun and the ‘ulama, that Allah is Khaliq, the Creator, and the creatures are makhluq. Allah is Rabb, and the creatures are marbub. Allah is Ilah, He is worshipped, and the creatures are maluh, worshippers. Allah is Maalik with a long ‘a’, He is Master, Controller of all the destinies, and the slaves are mamluk. The Sufis say very beautifully:
“The Haqq is Existence, the ‘abd is non-existence. Transformation of Reality is not possible, so the Haqq is Haqq and the ‘abd is ‘abd.” The Lord is the Lord and the slave is the slave.
This means that all these shayateen of the orientalists who say that the Sufis are pantheists and say that God is the creation, have not understood anything at all of what is being taught. People talk about ‘Wahdat al-wujud’ yet the term does not appear once in all the four hundred books of Ibn al-‘Arabi. When they talk about that they imply that God IS the universe. But the slave is the slave and the Lord is the Lord. Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi says, “There is no limit to slavehood. There is no line by which he can pass over from created to Creator. There is no way that the Creator in His vastness will allow that He should be slave. He has, by His wisdom, determined it this way, this is how He set up creation.”
We now go to the famous and well-known ayat in Surat Fatir (35:15):
O Mankind, you are the poor, in need of Allah,
whereas Allah is the Rich-beyond-need, the Praise-Worthy.
This is a statement of what I have just said. The creature is totally dependent and Allah is totally Independent. The position of the slave in need of Allah is that he is in need of Allah for his living, his knowing, his seeing, his hearing, his willing – for all these attributes he needs this gift of Allah which has been given because He has made a form that can receive these capacities during the in-time span that is destined for him. But he is totally dependent, and Allah is totally independent of that creature and of that creature’s functioning with these attributes that He has allowed him in the in-time to touch upon.
At this point we have to say that the essence of Tawhid is based on this fundamental duality, that Allah is highly exalted above anything that can be associated with Him. This does not change, but we are going to enter into another zone of knowledge which Allah has opened to us in the Qur’an which involves the nearness of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. The slave is not just looking up in terror and awe at the majesty of a distant Creator, he is also conscious that the One who is the Creator of the universe, of the stars, of the planets, of the sun and moon and the other creatures and the land that they are on, is this One Who is close to you.
I think we had better look at one more ayat, otherwise I would leave you with a position which is not actually the whole, proper position of the Muslims. We have to look at the ‘ananiyya’, the ‘I’-ness of the creature in this position of ‘abd, before this Almighty Creator – otherwise we would all go home depressed! We will put just one foot in the door of this subject.
Look at Surat al-Hadid (57:4). By the way, this refers to the creation in six days. We know from other ayats in the Qur’an that the six days are not literally six days. You have to remember something which many people forget – there were not ‘days’ until Allah placed the earth in orbit around the sun. Days only happen once the whole thing is already done. When, in another place, Allah says that a day with Allah is like fifty thousand years in the way you count – it is like a phase in the creation over a time-span that is beyond our knowledge. The people who want to attack the Qur’an with ignorance say, “Six days? We know better than that, we are scientists,” but they do not know anything.
It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days,
then established Himself firmly on the Throne.
By ‘throne’ He means the cosmic Throne of the might of the creation.
He knows what goes into the earth and what comes out of it,
what comes down from heaven and what goes up into it.
He knows the whole creational process. Then, having made this declaration about the majesty of Allah, He says:
He is with you wherever you are – Allah sees what you do.
Allah has what you might call an ‘intimate’ connection, but it is not a connection because one cannot use the word connection. He has an intimate presence with the slave. He is with you wherever you are and Allah sees what you do.
The one who has understood this has a different experience of existence. Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, says in Surat al-Kahf (18:24):
Remember your Lord when you forget.
So it is not someone forgetting the ‘Asr prayer, or just being distracted by something in life, by things in the dunya, it is this. When you forget that He is with you wherever you are, and Allah sees what you do – when you forget that, that is what you have to remember. How He is with His creation – this is what you have to remember.
Surat al-Asr (103:2):
Truly man is in loss.
What is the loss of man? It is this. What does he forget? He forgets that Allah is with you wherever you are and Allah sees what you do. To finish, we remember the great Sufi of the East, Sahl at-Tustari, radiyallahu ‘anhu, when he took as his wird, the Wird as-Sahl:
Allah is with me, Allah sees me, Allah is the Witness of my acts.
That was the path to high Tawhid and to quick access to fana fillah and being obliterated in the Presence of Allah.