The Ninth of nine Discourses on Tawhid,
29th May 2004,
Al-Jami’a Mosque, Claremont, Cape Town, South Africa
We have been looking at the ‘Tanazzulat as-Sita’. These stages are not in time or preceding the other, or following the other, but they are only in description. They are understood in their detail by the ‘Arifin and they are also understood by the mutakallimun because they follow in a logical pattern what one may say about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, with correct adab.
This Tanazzulat as-Sita is divided into three Murati billahi, Divine ranks, and then the next three are the Murati bil-Kawni, the worldly ranks. In other words, the first three are what you can say about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala – their different aspects of Essence. We talked about Ahadiyat which is Essence – pure, disconnected from any forms and indeterminate, having no specificity of any kind. Then we came on Wahdat, which is unity and it is between Ahadiyat and Wahidiyat.
Wahdat is called in the language of the Sufis, Nuri Muhammadi, and is more generally called the Haqiqat al-Muhammadiya. Remember that we pointed out that this is not the essence of the Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, which is different from his Haqiqat because the Messenger is a human being and cannot be associated in any way with the Divine as he is ordered to explain in the Qur’an itself.
Another name of this is the Tajalli al-Awwal, the first manifestation. Or Wujudi al-Awwal, the first existence, or the Jawhar al-Awwal, the first jewel. All this is within the Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.
After Wahdat, which is like a barzakh between Ahadiyat and Wahidiyat, we come to Wahidiyat. When the ‘Arif reflects on the Dhat of Allah, of Allah possessing knowledge in detail – its Names, Attributes and source-forms with all the distinctions and aspects – this is called Wahidiyat. Now we can talk about Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, as possessing knowledge in detail in Himself, and His Names and Attributes and source-forms of all those knowledges which allow all the myriad forms in the universe to unfold and become manifest on the command of the ‘Kun’. This is called Wahidiyat. So Ahadiyat is absoluteness in itself, and Wahidiyat is that with all its details.
Ahadiyat is absolute, Wahdat is implicit – that is why it is called the barzakh al-Kubra, the great divide in how we can understand Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, and Wahidiyat is explicit. It is Allah in His supremacy with all His Attributes and Names known to Himself and all His knowledge by which He will unfold, as He desires, the whole vast creation of the universe. These are three Divine Names but they are suppositional names, they are not actual, they have no reality – they are for us to understand.
Ahadiyat, Dhat, Essence without conditions. Ahadiyat is 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 Ahad is Ahadiyat. Secondly Wahdat, the barzakh. This is unity but with potentiality. It is potential to have this vast unfolding of forms but still not determined, it is still not specified what Allah’s unfolding will be.
Thirdly Wahidiyat, we would call the emergence of the Names. All this is within Allah’s Divine Reality, not in the universe, not in the world of forms. It is the potential of His majesty – the emergence of the Names and the Attributes and what we called earlier the ‘ayan ath-thabita, the source-forms. In other words, the form of the creature is in the knowledge of Allah, or the thing as He wishes it to be, before it is realised. Metaphorically it is the potter with the image of the pot before the pot is thrown, but there is no connection and the metaphor cannot be extended because Allah has no outsideness or insideness, or nearness or farness from His objects. Yet it is a metaphor of how the forms have to exist in His knowledge before they manifest and become the known to us.
For this we look at Surat al-Baqara (2:163):
Your God is One God.
There is no god but Him,
the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.
Now we have the Ahad unfolding His Attributes. “Your God is One God. There is no god but Him,” nothing is associated with Him so He is not connected to the world of forms, He is not connected to His creation in any way whatsoever. He is exalted above it, and He is “the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.” He has Rahman and He has Rahim. These are His Attributes, these are His qualities, this is Him showing Himself for what He is as the Lord of the Universe.
Here we have Essence and Attributes. Allah is One. This is the Ahadiyat which we have been looking at. “There is no god but Him,” so the Wahdat, which we have said is everything in potential and is the Nuri Muhammad, still does not allow anything in that stage to be connected to Him. “The All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.” Then He shows the splendour of His Attributes and the two dominant Attributes of His qualities are the Rahman and the Rahim which is why of course all but one of the surats of Qur’an begins with: “Bismillahi ar-Rahmani ar-Rahim.” Bismillah – in the name of Allah, the Ahad, and the Rahman and the Rahim. In other words Qur’an puts Allah’s Unity with His Attributes throughout.
This does not mean that there was Absolute which then became latent with powers and potentials and then became Existent. You must understand this because we are not saying that. This is a description for your clarity, and it is confirmed by the ‘Arifin in their vision and their knowledge. It is a description which has not got time in it. It is not that He was this and then He was that. He is One, immutable and unchangeable always.
Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, was asked, “Where was Allah before the creation?” and he replied, “Before the creation of the world, Allah was and there was nothing with Him.” Imam Junayd confirmed this and made commentary on it by saying, “Is as He was.”
The Names indicate the Essence along with its Attributes. In other words, when you are given the Attribute ar-Rahman, this is Allah, this is the Essence manifesting Attribute. You cannot have the Attribute without the Essence so: Allahu Ahad, Allahu Samad. The Essence goes with the Name.
Shaykh al-Akbar tells of a Wali who was asked how he achieved his Ma‘rifa and he replied, “By joining the opposite Attributes. The One Who Exalts and the One Who Brings Low.” Also, Al-Awwalu wal-Akhiru, wadh-Dhahiru wal-Batin. So he joined these opposites because they are One, Allah is One, until he achieved his fana’.
With Wahidiyat emerge the four mother Attributes and they are: Hayy, ‘Ilm, Irada and Qudra – life, knowledge, will and power. From these come all the Attributes of the hearing, the seeing and so on. From Allah as Al-‘Alim comes the knowledge of the source-forms, the ‘ayan ath-thabita. He knows that from this is the knowledge by which He knows how all the things will have form. Remember that we are saying that Allah is One in His Essence and in His Attributes and in His Acts because the form is not a static thing. Everything in the creation is alive. According to the Sufis, all the apparently inanimate things are also alive. This was something that they said from the time of Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, but it was only confirmed by the scientists with nuclear science. The apparently dead matter was in fact moving enormously fast and was in motion and alive. This has always been the position of people of vision in Tasawwuf.
So from Al-‘Alim comes the knowledge of the source-form. What we are saying is that the source-form is not a form in a static sense because for a living creature you cannot separate its form from its actions. The obvious example is a dog. The dog is not just a creature with four legs and a tail and a head – the essence of dog is that he hunts, he attaches to man and is loyal to man, he can turn on man, he is a guard, he is not clean – that is dog. So dog cannot be separated from dogness. Just as that is the case, so when we come to man. Allah creates the form of the man and also the history of the man, thus the whole man from the beginning of his coming into existence in the world until his death has been created by Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. Thus he will behave according to his form, he has no choice.
What the ignorant people call freedom is not what we understand by freedom. What we understand by complete freedom is complete ‘ubudiyya, complete slavehood, because if you are completely the slave of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, then you are liberated because you will move by Him, you will speak by Him, and so your actions will be by Him and pleasing to Him.
Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi said about these source-forms, the ‘ayan ath-thabita: “They never smell the odour of existence.” You must understand that the forms on which things come into being have not got any existence. They are in the knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala. Then by the Command, ‘Kun’, He brings them into existence where they are not the ‘ayan ath-thabita but the forms themselves. These ‘ayan ath-thabita have no external existence, they are only subsistent in Knowledge. Every essence of a thing has a distinguishing nature or characteristic to distinguish it from other apparently similar forms.
In other words, each being is made on a particular form. That is why all of us are of the same genus but every single one of us is completely different. The fingerprint is different, the hand-print is different, the eye – everything of each person is made on that particular form of Allah’s Command. Thus the Attributes of Al-‘Alim have endless possibilities. This is the form of the created beings, and we look for this in Surat al-Isra (17:84). This is a command on the Rasul, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, therefore it is a direct education of the muminun:
The translation is, “Say: ‘Each man acts according to his nature,” but I am not satisfied with the translation of ‘nature’ because actually ‘shakilat’ is the ‘form’, the thing we have been talking about. So each man acts according to his ‘ayn ath-thabita, to this form he had in the knowledge of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, before he was ordered into existence by the Divine Command that brings things to life. And then:
But your Lord knows best –
So here Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, speaks of Himself using the term Rabb. Very often in the Qur’an when the term Rabb is used, it is indicating Allah in His capacity, in that aspect of His Essence which manifests through the Attributes to make things happen in the world of forms in the created universe.
But your Lord knows best who is best guided on the path.
Allah knows best who is best guided on the path because the man has been made in that form that will put him on the path. This takes you to the wall of knowledge about the seal of the destiny. You cannot go beyond that knowledge because it is a knowledge that brings you to a complete halt. In other words, when you, by your choices, decide from inside the form that you have to do what you do, it reveals at that moment that Allah has chosen you to be mumin. Therefore you both choose to be mumin but also Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, because of His fore-knowledge and because of the nature of His design, had designed you to be mumin.
Beyond that you cannot go because your responsibility is not taken away. If you did not have a responsibility for the acts there would not have been the need for Prophets, for Qur’an, for the Books. You have an absolute responsibility before Allah for the destiny, and at the same time you are in fact acting out what He has designed you for.
What knowledge is, what wisdom is, is that the mumin wants to do what is pleasing to Allah because if He does what is pleasing to Allah it is because Allah has destined him to be one of those people who is pleasing to Him.
When you do act in a way that is pleasing to Allah you are not claiming, “I have done this, look! I have done what is pleasing to Allah,” but, “He has put me on this path.” The shakilat takes us to this knowledge.
The Tanazzulat then descends into its three worldly ranks which are ruh, mithal and jism. These in turn, in description only, take us to insan, to man. Again, these descents are not in space or time but are a way of understanding this incredible unfolding of the Divine Reality. In terms of the creation, when these Attributes have ordered into being the universe, and when the Throne of Allah has been set out in all its splendour, and the heavens have been created, and then the creatures have been created and the Khalif of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, has been appointed, which is man, then you have ruh, mithal and jism. This is the spirit, mithal and body.
Mithal is that because certain things are like certain things you are able to understand these spiritual matters. You cannot understand them by reason, you cannot understand them except by glimpsing the likeness: “This is like that.” You cannot say, “It is that,” then, “Ah, you mean so and so,” as if it were a real example. A mithal is not an example but a picture of something that makes it clear for you. This is a necessary dimension of the worldly condition.
If you are not able to interpret mithal then it is as though you are not a complete human being. To give you an example: in the medical profession, the psychiatrists’ test that someone is insane, therefore not a full human being, is that they ask them a question like, “What does it mean if ‘people in glass-houses should not throw stones’?” If the answer is, “Well, if you are in a glass house and you throw a stone you will break the window,” then he is mad. If he is able to say, “It means you should not accuse the other when you are in the same situation,” that means he understands the mithal.
If you cannot translate the mithal it is a sign of insanity because normal reason is actually based on something that is not reasonable, but is a faculty of the imagination to understand the situation the human being is in.
I will now take this exactly from Shaykh Muhiyuddin Ibn al-‘Arabi’s ‘Fusus al-Hikam’, ‘The Seals of Wisdom’, because it is so clear and so beautiful. He explains the position of man in the universe:
“When Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, willed (He is using His Attribute of Will which is one of the Mother Attributes) that the source of His most beautiful Names, which are beyond enumeration, be seen, or you can equally say that He willed His source to be seen,”
– because if He wished that the source of His Attributes be seen, as the Attributes and the Essence are one, it meant that He wanted somehow to declare out His own Essence –
“He willed that they be seen in a microcosmic being which contained the entire Command, having been endowed with existence, and through which His secret was manifested to Him.”
He willed that the source of His most beautiful Names be seen in a microcosmic being which contained the entire Command, the entire universe, because every aspect of the universe is in man. Man is the microcosm of the macrocosm. He is the focal point of the whole thing, he is the end result, he is what is intended by the creation.
“He willed that they be seen in a microcosmic being which contained the entire command, having been endowed with existence, and through which His secret was manifested to Him,” for His delight. “For the vision that a thing has of itself through itself is not like a vision of itself in something else which acts like a mirror for it, so He manifests Himself to Himself in a form which is bestowed by the place in which He is seen. He would not appear thus without the existence of this place and His Tajalli to Himself in it.
“Allah brought the entire universe into existence with the existence of a form fashioned without ruh, like an unpolished mirror. It is a matter of the Divine decree that He does not fashion a place but that it must receive the Divine ruh which is described as being ‘blown into it’ in Qur’an. This is none other than the obtaining of the predisposition of that fashioned form to receive the overflowing, the perpetual Tajalli which has never ceased and which will never cease.”
So he is saying that it was through man that Allah was able to see and contemplate Himself through the creation of this creature, but He has to blow the ruh into this creature so that the unpolished mirror could become polished and have light.
“Then we must speak of the container. The container proceeds from none other than His most sacredly pure overflowing.”
He is saying that the created creature, man, comes from the most sacred Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, and yet he is now, in the universe, the creature with a ruh.
“So the whole affair has its beginning from Allah and its end is to Him and the whole affair will return to Him as it began from Him. Thus the command decreed the polishing of the mirror of the universe, and Adam was the very polishing of that mirror, and the ruh of that form.
“Tajalli only comes from the Essence by means of the forms of predisposition of the one to whom the Tajalli is made,” in other words, the container. The Tajalli from the Essence only comes because man has been created for this. He is predisposed to receive this event. “The one who receives the Tajalli will only see his own form in the mirror of the Real, and he will not see the Real for it is not possible to see Him.”
Sayyiduna Musa, ‘alayhi salam, said, “I want to see You,” and Allah said, “You cannot see Me but look at the mountain,” and the mountain crumbled to pieces and he then received this Divine knowledge by his own fana’.
“At the same time he knows that he sees only his own form in it. It is like the mirror in the visible world – inasmuch as you see forms in it, or your own form, you do not see the mirror.” If you look at the mirror you do not see the mirror, you see yourself. “At the same time you know that you see the forms or your form only by virtue of the mirror. Allah manifests this as a mithal,” this is an essential part of the human creature, “appropriate to the Tajalli of His Essence, so that the one receiving the Tajalli knows that he does not see Him.”
Thus when Allah manifests to him he does not see Him, he sees himself. “Man ‘arafa nafsahu fa qad ‘arafa Rabbah.” He who knows himself knows his Lord.
“There is no mithal nearer and more appropriate to vision and Tajalli than this, so try in yourself when you see the form in the mirror to see the body of the mirror as well – you will never do it. If you wish to taste of this, then experience the limit beyond which there is no higher limit possible in respect to the creature. Neither aspire, nor tire yourself in going beyond this degree for in principle there is only pure non-existence after it. Allah is then your mirror in which you see yourself, and you are His mirror in which He sees His Names.”
This returns us to our primary understanding of the difference between the Divine Essence and the essences of created things. We look at the Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib, radiyallahu ‘anhu, in the qasida ‘Withdrawal from all that is other-than-Allah’:
My ruh speaks to me and says,
“My Haqiqat is the Light of Allah,
so look to no-one except Him.
If I were not a light I would be other-than-Him.
Indeed otherness is nothingness
so do not be content with it.
If you look with the eye of your Secret,” the inner eye,
“you will not find a trace of other-than-Allah
in either earth or heaven.
But the illusion of other-than-Him hides Him.
So combat your desires if you wish to see Him.”
In other words, rise above this nafs that insists on the reality of things and does not realise the secret which is that if you look with the eye of your Secret you will not find anything that is other-than-Allah.
Thus from the stand-point of created forms everything is masiwallah. From the point of view of the forms brought into existence everything is other-than-Allah. But from the inward aspect, all things are His from before- time and after it. “If I were not a light I would be other- than-Him. Otherness is nothingness so do not be content with it. If you look with the eye of your Secret you will not find a trace of other-than-Allah in either earth or heaven.”
We will now look at Surat an-Nahl (16:96) for the final clarification of this matter, confirming what I have said. This ayat is astonishing:
What is with you runs out,
but what is with Allah goes on forever.
There is an in-time aspect of you which runs out and then that is it, finished and gone. But in the secret, what is with Allah goes on forever. The reality is that the Essence is present so you are in the knowledge of Allah. You have come into the creation and He is the Knower, and then when you are finished you return to Him, there is the Judgment Day and all the unfolding of the secrets of the Malakut. You go from the Mulk to the Malakut to the Jabarut to the meeting with the Essence because you have been known to Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, before the creation of the world.
In Qur’an we know very well the ayat where Allah orders all of mankind before the creation of the world in the Essence – in His knowledge, the ‘Alim – and says to them, in Surat al-A‘raf (7:172):
Am I not your Lord?
and all the human creatures say,
We testify that indeed You are!
Then Allah, by the Command, puts them into the world in their time and in their place, and Allah says in Surat al-‘Ankabut (29:2):
Do people imagine that they will be left to say, ‘We have iman,’ and will not be tested?
So they are tested and you see who are this and you see who are that. You see who are the muminun and you see who are the kafirun, and you see in between who are the munafiqun. Then they will be gathered to Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala.
“What is with you runs out but what is with Allah goes on forever.” “What is with you runs out,” ends with the washing of the body and the funeral prayer. “What is with Allah goes on forever,” is the fulfilment of the meaning of the life when the form of the life has been returned to its Owner in the earth and the phosphates have gone to the phosphates and the potassium has gone to the potassium and the minerals have returned to the earth. Then what is with Allah goes on forever, some for the Fire and some for the Garden. Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, says: “I send some to the Fire and I do not care, I send some to the Garden and I do not care,” because this is part of the Divine unfolding of the Essence of Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, and this is the reality of the Haqq and this is the One Whom we worship and we associate nothing with Him.
from the Diwan of Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib
Reflect upon the beauty of the way in which both the land and sea are made,
and contemplate the Attributes of Allah outwardly and secretly.
The greatest evidence of the limitless perfections of Allah can be found
both deep within the self and on the distant horizon.
If you were to reflect on physical bodies and their marvellous forms
and how they are arranged with great precision, like a string of pearls,
And if you were to reflect on the secrets of the tongue and its capacity for speech,
and how it articulates and conveys what you conceal in your breast,
And if you were to reflect on the secrets of all the limbs
and how easily they are subject to the heart’s command,
And if you were to reflect on how the hearts are moved to obey Allah
and how at other times they move darkly to disobedience,
And if you were to reflect on the earth and the diversity of its plants
and the great varieties of smooth and rugged land in it,
And if you were to reflect on the secrets of the oceans and all their fish,
and their endless waves held back by an unconquerable barrier,
And if you were to reflect on the secrets of the many winds
and how they bring the mist, fog and clouds which release the rain,
And if you were to reflect on all the secrets of the heavens –
the Throne and the Footstool and the spirit sent by the Command –
Then you would accept the reality of Tawhid with all your being,
and you would turn away from illusions, uncertainty and otherness,
And you would say, “My God, You are my desire, my goal
and my impregnable fortress against evil, injustice and deceit.
You are the One I hope will provide for all my needs,
and You are the One Who rescues us from all evil and wickedness.
You are the Compassionate, the One Who answers all who call on You.
And you are the One Who enriches the poverty of the faqir.
It is to You, O Exalted, that I have raised all my request,
so swiftly bring me the Opening, the rescue and the secret, O my God.”
By the rank of the one in whom we hope on the day of distress and grief –
that terrible day when people come to the Place of Gathering –
May Allah’s blessings by upon him as long as there is an ‘Arif
who reflects on the lights of His Essence in every manifestation,
And upon his family and Companions and everyone who follows
his excellent Sunna in all its prohibitions and commands.
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to keep us in the company of the ‘Arifin. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to let the people of this dhikr spread out through the whole of Africa and take the Deen to all of Africa. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to give to Africa the Deen of Islam that has been rejected by the Arabs. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to give baraka to the people of this room.
We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to make the people of this room people of baraka, people of wisdom and people of teaching. We ask Allah, subhanahu wa ta‘ala, to give benefit to all the people who see the fuqara and meet the fuqara so that they love them and respect them.