Studies in Islamic Mysticism

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Studies in Islamic Mysticism

By Reynold A. Nicholson

The Essence as God

In the Insánu ’l-kámil we find the same contrast as in the Vedanta system between Being with attributes, i.e., God, and Being which would not be absolute unless it were stripped of all qualities. The essence of God is Pure Being, but Divinity (Iláhiyya)—the domain of Allah, regarded as He who necessarily exists—is the highest manifestation of the Essence, embracing all that is manifested: "it is a name for the sum of the individualisations of Being, i.e., Being in the relation of Creator (al-?aqq) to created things (al-khalq), and for their maintenance in their respective order in that sum 1." Here the full ideal content of every individualisation, existent or non-existent 2, is manifested according to its proper place in the series, and all opposites exhibit their relativity in the greatest possible perfection; thus, the Creator (al-?aqq) appears in the form of the creature (al-khalq) 3, and conversely the creature in the form of the Creator 4. Since Divinity represents the sum of the attributes, it is invisible to the eye, though visible everywhere in its effects, i.e., in the sensible world; the Essence, on the other hand, is visible, though its where is unknown. Similarly, when you see a man, you know or believe that he has certain qualities, but you do not see them; his essence (dhát), however, you see as a whole, even if many of his qualities are unknown to you. Only the effects of his qualities are visible, the qualities themselves you cannot see, because the attribute must always remain hidden in the Essence; otherwise, it could be separated from the Essence, and that is impossible 1. In a scale of existence where each lower individualisation marks a loss of simplicity, the difference-in-identity (Iláhiyya) in which the sunken riches of the Absolute are completely realised, might be expected to succeed the identity-in-difference which belongs to the stage of Wá?idiyya. Jílí, as a mystical theologian, does not take this view. He enthrones Allah in the seat of the Absolute and gives the following line of descent 2:

1. Divinity (Iláhiyya).
2. Abstract Oneness (A?adiyya).

3. Unity in plurality (Wá?idiyya).

4. Mercifulness (Ra?mániyya).

5. Lordship (Rubúbiyya).

Mercifulness and Lordship are specialised aspects of Divinity. Ra?mániyya 3 manifests the creative attributes (al-?ifátu ’l-?aqqiyya) exclusively 4, whereas Iláhiyya comprehends both the creative and the creaturely (khalqí). The first mercy (ra?mat) of God was His bringing the universe into existence from Himself 5. His manifestation pervaded all that exists, and His perfection was displayed in every particle and atom of the whole, yet He remains One (wá?id) in the Many which mirror Him and Single (a?ad) according to the necessity of His nature, for He is indivisible and He created the world from Himself. It is wrong to say that God "lends" His attributes to things; the things are really His attributes, to which He lends the name of creatureliness (khalqiyya) 1, in order that the mysteries of Divinity and the antithesis inherent in it may be revealed. God is the substance (hayúlá) of the universe. The universe is like ice, and God is the water of which it is made: the name "ice" is "lent" to the congealed mass, but its true name is "water." Jílí pursues this analogy in four verses which he quotes from an ode of his own composition 2. He says in the second verse that although Religion declares the ice and the water to be different, "we mystics know that they are the same." He asks how this doctrine—the permeation of existence by the Essence—can be confounded with ?ulúl (incarnation), which affirms contact, i.e., non-identity 3. In virtue of the name al-Ra?mán, God exists in all the things that He brought into being. His mercy towards His creatures was shown by His manifesting Himself in them and by causing them to appear in Himself. "In every idea that you form God is present as its Creator, and you are God in respect of its existence in you, for you must needs form ideas in God and find (feel the presence of) God in forming them 4."

Lordship (Rubúbiyya) establishes a necessary relation between God and His creatures, since it typifies the class of attributes which involve a complementary term or require an object; e.g., "lord" implies "slave," and "knower" 4 refers to something "known."

It will be understood that "comparison" (tashbíh), i.e., the bringing of God into relation with created things, is "a judgment about Him 1" and does not affect His absolute transcendence (tanzíh) as He is in Himself, which He alone can conceive and know 2. This fact is known intuitively by Perfect Men; for other mystics it is a truth apprehended by faith. While the Essential tanzíh has no opposite, the antithesis of tanzíh and tashbíh is associated with God in His creative and creaturely aspects by those who perceive that He is One and that the form of all existent things is the form of, Divine excellence (?usn) 3. Considered absolutely, the Divine nature does not admit of change. Change consists in the relations of God, i.e., in the diverse aspects wherein He manifests Himself to us. His manifestation of Himself to Himself, and His occultation of Himself in Himself, is eternally one and the same 4. The notion of eternity, without beginning and without end, when it is applied to God, involves no time-relation with His creatures, but only a judgment that His nature is necessarily timeless 5.

Jílí makes a fourfold division of the Divine attributes: (1) attributes of the Essence, e.g., One, Eternal, Real; (2) attributes of Beauty (jamál), e.g., Forgiving, Knowing, Guiding aright; (3) attributes of Majesty (jalál), e.g., Almighty, Avenging, Leading astray; (4) attributes of Perfection (kamál), e.g., Exalted, Wise, First and Last, Outward and Inward 6.

Every attribute has an effect (athar), in which its jamál or jalál or kamál is manifested. Thus, objects of knowledge are the "effect" of the Name al-‘Alím, the Knower. All attributes of jamál, and some of jalál, are displayed by everything that exists. Paradise is the mirror of absolute jamál, Hell of absolute jalál, and the universe is the form of these Divine attributes. Evil, as such, does not exist, although it has its appointed place in the world of opposites. What we call evil is really the relation of some parts and aspects of the whole to other parts and aspects; in a word, all imperfection arises from our not looking at things sub specie unitatis. Sin is not evil except in so far as we judge it to be forbidden by God. The author's treatment of the seven principal attributes—i.e., Knowledge, Will, Power, Speech, Hearing, and Sight—is marked by great subtlety, but the discussion is somewhat arid. I will give a few specimens.

Life 1. The existence of a thing for itself is its complete life; its existence for another is its relative life. God exists for Himself. He is the Living One (al-?ayy), and His life is the life complete and immortal. Created beings in general exist for God: their life is relative and linked with death. While the Divine life in created beings is one and complete, some manifest it in a complete form, e.g., the Perfect Man and the Cherubim; others incompletely, e.g., the animal man (al-insánu ’l-?ayawání), the inferior angels, the jinn (genies), animals, plants, and minerals. Yet, in a certain sense, the life of all created beings is complete in the measure suitable to their degree and necessary for the preservation of the order of the universe. Life is a single essence, incapable of diminution or division, existent for itself in everything; and that which constitutes a thing is its life, that is to say, the life of God whereby all things subsist: they all glorify Him in respect of all His names, and their glorification of Him in respect of His name "the Living" is identical with their existence through His life. The author states, as a fact known to few but revealed to him by mystical illumination, that everything exists in and for itself, and that its life is entirely free and self-determined. This—which, as he admits, does not tally with what has been said above—is confirmed by the Divine information that on the Day of Resurrection each of a man's deeds will appear in visible shape and will address him and say, "I am thy deed."

Knowledge 2. Although every attribute is independent and uncompounded, knowledge is most nearly connected with life: whatever lives knows 3. Jílí controverts the doctrine of Ibnu ’l-‘Arabí that God's knowledge is given Him by the objects which He knows 1. God certainly decreed that every individual thing should be what its nature required it to be, but the consequence drawn by Ibnu ’l-‘Arabí, namely, that His knowledge of things is derived from the necessity of their natures, is false: on the contrary, their natures were necessitated by His knowledge of them before they were created and brought into existence—it was His knowing them, not the necessity inherent in them of being what they are, that caused them to become objects of His knowledge. Afterwards (i.e., when they were created), their natures required other than that which He knew of them at first, and He then for the second time decreed that they should be what their natures required, according to that which He knew of them.

Will 2. The will of God is "His particularisation of the objects of His knowledge by existence, according to the requirements of His knowledge." Our will is identical with the Divine eternal will, but in relation to us it partakes of our temporality (?udúth), and we call it "created." Nothing but this (unreal) attribution prevents us from actualising whatever we propose: if we refer our will to God, all things become subject to it. Jílí enumerates nine phases of will, beginning with inclination (mayl) and ending with the highest and purest love (‘ishq), in which there is no lover or beloved, since both have passed away in the love that is God's very essence 3. The Divine will is uncaused and absolutely free, not, as Ibnu ’l-'Arabí holds, determined by the obligation of the Knower to act as His nature demands 4.

Power 1. This is defined by Jílí as "the bringing of the nonexistent into existence." Here again he disagrees with Ibnu ’l-‘Arabí, who asserts that God did not create the world from not-being, but only brought it from being in His knowledge into actual being. But in that case, Jílí argues, the world would be co-eternal with God. It is not so: the judgment that God exists in Himself is logically prior to the judgment that things exist in His knowledge; and the former judgment involves the non-existence of things and the existence of God alone. God brought things from not-being into being and caused them to exist in His knowledge, i.e., He knew them as brought into existence from not-being; then He brought them forth from His knowledge and caused them to exist externally. Does it follow, because they were produced from not-being, that they were unknown to Him before He caused them to exist in His knowledge? No; the priority is of logic, not of time. There is no interval between the not-being of things and their existence in His knowledge. He knows them as He knows Himself, but they are not eternal as He is eternal.

97:1 K I. 31, 4 fr. foot.

97:2 The universal correlation of Iláhiyya links Being with Not-being (cf. p. 89, note 3), a truth which cannot be apprehended except by mystical intuition (K I. 33, 2 foll.).

97:3 According to the ?adíth, "I saw my Lord in the form of a beardless youth."

97:4 E.g. "God created Adam in His own image."

98:1 K I. 34, 14 foll. Cf. p. 92 supra.

98:2 K I. 32, 8 foll.

98:3 K I. 38, 16 foll.

98:4 I.e., the attributes peculiar to the Essence (A?adiyya, Wá?idiyya, etc.) as well as those of the Creator (al-?aqq), which necessarily bear a relation to created beings, viz., life, knowledge, power, will, speech, hearing, and sight.

98:5 K I. 39, 6.

99:1 Cf. Ibnu ’l-‘Arabí, Tarjumán al-ashwáq, No. 41, vv. 11-13.

99:2 K I. 39, 6 fr. foot. The title of the ode is al-nawádiru ’l-‘ayniyya fi ’l-bawádiri ’l-ghaybiyya. Cf. No. 19 in the list of his works given by Brockelmann, II. 206.

99:3 K I. 40, 5 foll.

99:4 K I. 40, 9 foll. In another passage (i. 66, 3 fr. foot and foll.) Jílí argues that by means of man the impossible is judged to be necessary. If you suppose what is impossible, e.g., a living being without knowledge, that being exists in your thought and is a creature of God, inasmuch as thought with its content is a creature of God: thus by means of man there came into existence in the world that which had its centre of thought elsewhere (i.e., in the knowledge of God).

100:1 K I. 46, 21.

100:2 K I. 45, 12 foll.

100:3 True knowledge of God combines His transcendence with His immanence (Fu?ú?, 228).

100:4 K I. 43, 10 foll.

100:5 See the chapters on azal, abad and qidam (K I. 85-89).

100:6 K I. 75 foll. A list of the attributes in each class is given in K I. 78

101:1 K I. 63, 25 foll.

101:2 K I. 64, 22 foll.

101:3 Animals and insects have an inspirational knowledge (‘ilm ilhámí).

102:1 See Appendix.

102:2 K I. 67, 23 foll.

102:3 Here the lover is named the beloved, and vice versa. Jílí quotes three verses by himself; the last runs: "Thou seest them as two separate individuals in the point of Love, which is one." Cf. p. 80.

102:4 According to Ibnu ’l-‘Arabí, all action is the necessary result of God's infinite nature as eternally known to Himself (see Appendix), and free-will in the ordinary sense is excluded. Jílí tries to make room for it by ascribing to God a power of origination (ikhtirá‘) which affects the things written in the Guarded Tablet, so that sometimes that which comes to pass is the contrary of what was decreed. Although the actions required by the Divine nature correspond with the capacity of the recipient individual in whom they are manifested, yet in consequence of his weakness and imperfection they lose their unalterable character and become contingent, i.e., God, who is All-wise, determines whether they shall happen or not (K II. 8, 20 foll.). p. 103 In another passage (i. 72, 1 foll.) Jílí says that God imputes free-will to mankind in order that He may show His justice by punishing them with Hell, and His mercy by rewarding them with Paradise.

103:1 K I. 69, 24 foll.



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