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Studies in Islamic Mysticism

By Reynold A. Nicholson

The Return to the Essence

The gist of Jílí's philosophy, as I understand it, is the notion of One Being, which is One Thought, going forth from itself in all the forms of the universe, knowing itself as Nature and yet, amidst the multiformity of Nature, reasserting its unity in Man—in Man whom self-knowledge has enlightened and made perfect, so that ceasing to know himself as an individual he sinks into his Divine element, like a wave into the sea. This language, apart from its inadequacy, conveys a wrong impression by translating in terms of time and space what does not belong to these categories. All interpretations of ideal and mystical experience are more or less fictitious.

The word commonly used to denote the self-manifestation of God in His essence, attributes, and names is tajallí, which implies that something hidden before is now clearly seen, as the splendour of the sun emerging from eclipse or the beauty of a bride when she unveils. The Divine tajallí, in respect of the person to whom it is made, may be called an illumination, for it is the light whereby the mystic's heart has vision of God. Accordingly, the ontological descent from the Absolute and the mystical ascent or return to the Absolute are really the same process looked at from different points of view 1. The self-revelation of God necessarily involves the manifestation of His nature by those who possess an inborn capacity for realising it in themselves. Jílí divides the ascending movement of this consciousness into four stages—the Illumination of the Actions, the Illumination of the Names, the Illumination of the Attributes, and the Illumination of the Essence—which correspond in reverse order to the devolution of Pure Being from its primal simplicity to the manifestation of its effects in the sensible world.

(a) The Illumination of the Divine actions 2.

To one thus illumined it becomes plain that human agency is naught, that he has no power or will of his own, and that all things are done by the power of God who moves them and brings them to rest. Sometimes the Divine will is made known to him before the act: consequently, he may disobey the command of God in order to comply with His will; in which case his disobedience is essentially obedience and lies between him and God, though "it remains for us to exact from him the penalty which God has imposed in the Koran and the Sunna upon those who break His commandment 3."

(b) The Illumination of the Divine names 4.

The mystic to whom God reveals Himself in one of His Names vanishes (from consciousness of individuality) under the radiance of the Name; and if you invoke God by that Name, the man will answer you, because the Name is applicable to him.…If God reveal Himself in His Name Allah, the man will disappear and God will call to him, saying, "Lo, I am Allah"; and if you cry "O Allah!" the man will answer you with the words "At thy service (labbayka)!" 5 Then, if he mount higher 6 and God strengthen him and let him abide in consciousness after his passing-away (faná), God will answer any one who calls the man, so that if you say, for instance, "O Mu?ammad!" God will respond to you, saying, "At thy service!" 1 In proportion as he is strengthened to ascend, God will reveal Himself to him in His subordinate Names, viz., the Merciful (al-Ra?mán), the Lord (al-Rabb), the King (al-Malik), the Omniscient (al-‘Alím), the Omnipotent (al-Qádir), etc. The self-revelation of God in each of these Names is superior to His self-revelation in the Name preceding it, because as regards the Illumination of the Names analysis is superior to synthesis, and the manifestation of each lower Name is an analysis of the synthesis which is manifested by the one immediately above it.

As regards illuminations of the Essence, it is otherwise; here the more general is above the more particular: al-Ra?mán is superior to al-Rabb, and Allah to either. Finally, all the Divine Names seek to apply themselves to the illumined man, even as the name seeks the object named, and then he sings:

One calls Her by Her name and I answer him, and when I am called (by my own name) ’tis Laylá (the Beloved) that answers for me.
That is because we are the spirit of One, though we dwell by turns in two bodies—a marvellous thing!
Like a single person with two names: thou canst not miss by whichever name thou callest him.
Jílí only speaks of what he himself has experienced, since every Name is revealed in different ways to different individuals. From his account of these illuminations I take a passage which exhibits his characteristic blend of logic and mysticism:

The way to the illumination of the Name al-Qadím (the Eternal) is through a Divine revelation whereby it is shown to any one that he existed in the knowledge of God before the Creation, inasmuch as he existed in God's knowledge through the existence of that knowledge, and that knowledge existed through the existence of God: the existence of God is eternal and the knowledge is eternal and the object of knowledge is inseparable from the knowledge and is also eternal, inasmuch as knowledge is not knowledge unless it has an object which gives to the subject the name of Knower. The eternity of existent beings in the knowledge of God necessarily follows from this induction, and the (illumined) man returns to God in respect of His Name, the Eternal. At the moment when the Divine eternity is revealed to him from his essence, his temporality vanishes and he remains eternal through God, having passed away from (consciousness of) his temporality 1.

(c) The Illumination of the Divine Attributes 2.

When God desires to reveal Himself to a man by means of any Name or Attribute, He causes the man to pass away (faná) and makes him naught and deprives him of his (individual) existence; and when the human light is extinguished and the creaturely spirit passes away, God puts in the man's body, without incarnation (?ulúl), a spiritual substance, which is of God's essence and is neither separate from God nor joined to the man, in exchange for what He deprived him of; which substance is named the Holy Spirit (rú?u ’l-quds) 3. And when God puts instead of the man a spirit of His own essence, the revelation is made to that spirit. God is never revealed except to Himself, but we call that Divine spirit "a man" in respect of its being instead of the man. In reality there is neither "slave" nor "Lord," since these are correlated terms. When the "slave" is annulled, the "Lord" is necessarily annulled, and nothing remains but God alone.

Mystics receive these illuminations in proportion to their capacities, the abundance of their knowledge, and the strength of their resolution. Taking each of the seven chief attributes in turn, the author describes the effects of the illumination on himself or on others, and the different forms which it may assume. Concerning Life and Knowledge something has been said above 1. Those endowed with Hearing hear the language of angels, animals, plants, and minerals 2. As for the mukallamún, who receive the illumination of Speech, the Word (kalám) comes to them sometimes audibly and from a certain direction, sometimes from no direction and not through the ear, sometimes as an inner light having a definite shape; and in oneness with God they realise that all existent beings are their Word and that their words are without end 3. According to Jílí, the illumination of Power is marked in its initial stages by a phenomenon characteristic of prophetic inspiration—the ringing of a bell (?al?alatu ’l-jaras), which is produced, as he quaintly writes, by "the dashing of realities one against another in order that men's hearts may not dare to enter the presence of Divine Majesty 4." "In this illumination," he says, "I heard the ringing of bells. My frame dissolved and my trace vanished and my name was rased out. By reason of the violence of what I experienced I became like a worn-out garment which hangs on a high tree, and the fierce blast carries it away piece by piece. I beheld naught but lightnings and thunders, and clouds raining lights, and seas surging with fire 5."

(d) The Illumination of the Divine essence.

While every illumination of a Name or Attribute reveals the Essence in a particular relation, the Illumination of the absolute Essence is not identical with any or all of these illuminations. Jílí refers the difference to the Divine substance, which, as we have seen, God " puts instead of the man' so that the subject and object of illumination are really one. This substance may be either attributal (?ifátí) or essential (dhátí). Only in the latter case does "the man" become the God-man. Such a one is the Perfect Unit (al fardu ’l-kámil) and the Microcosmic Pole (al-ghawthu ’l-jámi‘) on whom the whole order of existence revolves; to him genuflexion and prostration in prayer are due, and by means of him God keeps the universe in being. He is denoted by the terms al-Mahdí and al-Khátam (the Seal) 1, and he is the Vicegerent (khalífa) indicated in the story of Adam 2. The essences of all things that exist are drawn to obey his command, as iron is drawn to the magnet. He subdues the sensible world by his might and does what he will by his power. Nothing is barred from him, for when the Divine substance is in this walí as a simple essence, unconditioned by any degree appertaining to the Creator or to the creature, he bestows on every degree of existent things its ?aqq, i.e. what it requires and is capable of receiving, and nothing can hinder him from doing so. That which hinders the Essence is merely its limitation by a degree or name or quality; but the simple Essence has nothing to hinder it: therefore with it all things are actual, not potential, while in other essences things are sometimes potential and sometimes actual.

It would seem, then, that the Illumination of the Absolute is given to the Heavenly Man (Mohammed) alone and transmitted through him to the Perfect Men who are his representatives on earth 3.

126:1 Cf. K I. 94, penult. "The Wise Koran (al-Qur’ánu ’l-?akím) is the descent (tanazzul) of the Divine individualisations (?aqá’iq) by means of the gradual ascent of man towards perfect knowledge of them in the Essence, according to the requirement of Divine Wisdom.… He that is moulded after the Divine nature ascends in it and gains, step by step, such knowledge thereof as is revealed to him in a Divinely determined order."

126:2 K I. 47, penult.

126:3 Cf. p. 54 and p. 120.

126:4 K I. 50, 10.

126:5 I.e., he is the unconscious centre of manifestation, ma?har, of the Name Allah. Cf. the passage (K I. 22, 20 foll.) translated on p. 93.

126:6 I.e., from the plane of Wá?idiyya (unity in plurality) to the plane of A?adiyya (abstract unity), together with Wá?idiyya and the degrees below p. 127 it, or in other words, from faná (the naughting of all that is not God) to baqá (union with the Divine consciousness).

127:1 Cf. K. n. 23, i foll.: "Then, when he becomes cleansed from the defilement of not-being and ascends to knowledge of the being of the Necessary (Absolute), and when God purifies him from the foulness of temporality by the manifestation of eternity, he becomes a mirror for the Name Allah, and in that moment he and the Name are like two opposite mirrors, each of which exists in the other. And in this vision it is God Himself that answers those who invoke him (the mystic); his anger is the cause of God's anger, and his satisfaction is the cause of God's satisfaction."

128:1 K I. 52, 14 foll.

128:2 K I. 53, 7.

128:3 This doctrine of substitution was taught by many Christian mystics in the Middle Ages. Cf. Inge, Christian Mysticism, p. 364.

129:1 See p. 101.

129:2 K I. 55, 3.

129:3 K I. 55, 8.

129:4 K I. 90, penult. The Prophet declared that when inspiration descended upon him it was often like the ringing of a bell. Cf. Prof. D. B. Macdonald, The religious attitude and life in Islam, p. 46.

129:5 K I. 57, 9. A similar description occurs in the thirty-second chapter, "On the ringing of the bell." See K I. 91, 3 foll.

130:1 The Perfect Man is the First and the Last: in his outward form he is the last of the Prophets and in his inward essence the last of the Saints, yet he is the source of all prophecy and all saintship (Fu?ú?, 34 foll.).

130:2 Koran, 2, 28.

130:3 Cf. Fu?ú?, 34. Therefore, while God is the essential being (‘ayn) of all things, none of them is the ‘ayn of God except the Logos or Heavenly Man. Contemplation of the Perfect Man serves instead of contemplation of God (M 12 a).



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