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ON THE DOCTRINE OF “UNITY OF BEING”

Most people regard the rank of those who assert the ‘transcendent Unity of Being’ to be the highest rank, whereas this assertion has been made neither by the Companions of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, including the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, nor by the Imams descending from the Prophet’s family, nor by the Imams of the generation that followed the Companions including the four greatest jurists who are the ‘founders’ of the four schools of jurisprudence. Does this mean that the rank of those who follow the doctrine of the ‘transcendent Unity of Being’ is really the highest, and their way is the most perfect?

Answer:

God forbid that anyone could be greater than the pure scholars who are ‘the nearest stars to the sun of Prophethood’. Besides, the way of these pure successors to the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, is the most perfect and the safest. The doctrine of the ‘transcendent Unity of Being’ is only an assertion which some saints make in the state of spiritual ecstasy. The followers of this doctrine, although their way is not perfect, go into spiritual ecstasies when they attain this rank in their spiritual journey, and regard their rank to be the highest. If a follower of this doctrine has been able to get into the spiritual state where he can discern some hidden truths and attribute every occurrence solely to God without ascribing any part to any causes in his life and in the operation of the universe, and can discern God’s direct manipulation of affairs, he can attain some degree of perfection by accepting the ‘transcendent Unity of Being’, provided that this acceptance should also be dependent on his spiritual state, not on scientific knowledge. He may even go so far as to deny the existence of the universe in the name of God because he sees everything annihilated in God. If, on the other hand, he strongly believes in the law of causality, and accordingly sees the universe as subject to this law, and himself is immersed in materialism, then his assertion of the unity of being may lead him to monism or pantheism, that is, to deny God in the name of the universe. Surely the safest and ‘broadest’ way is the one which was established by the Companions and followed by those who follow them. Their conviction was that each thing has a definite, objective reality, and nothing resembles God in any way, as declared by the Qur'an, like Him there is nothing. (42:11) 

God is absolutely free from dividing and being included in space. He is the Creator, Who created everything, and existence is not, as asserted by the followers of the doctrine of the ‘transcendent Unity of Being’, an illusion; everything is a work of the Creator: existents are not God Himself, but they are all from God. All natural phenomena or the whole of existence, as they are all created in the course of time and accordingly are contained in time and space, cannot be eternal. I would like to make this matter easier to understand by way of two comparisons.

  • Let us suppose that there is a monarch. He is a just ruler, and his role of dispensing justice is manifested in his government’s department of justice. He is also a caliph, so his function of administering the religious affairs is manifested in the department of religious affairs and sciences. And the department of military affairs represents him as the supreme commander of the imperial armies. If someone claims that he is only a just ruler and accordingly has no function other than dispensing justice, it would entail denying the actual existence of other departments of the government. The departments of religious and military affairs would then be regarded as ‘ideally’ or ‘nominally’, but not ‘actually’, existing in the department of justice, or being nominally represented by some officials therein. 

This assertion would also entail that the monarch has only the name of ‘the just’ with his rule restricted to the department of justice, and his other names such as ‘the caliph’ and ‘the supreme commander’ are only ‘nominally’ or ‘ideally’ or ‘theoretically’ given to him. Whereas, the nature of monarchy requires to have real names, and the real names should manifest themselves in the departments that really exist. It is as in this parable that the kingdom of divinity (the Divine kingdom) should really have such holy Names as the Most Gracious, the Provider, the Bestower, the Creator, the Active, the Munificent and the All-Merciful. These Names, in turn, require real mirrors, in which they are reflected. Such being the case, the doctrine of the ‘Unity of Being’, which is based on the assertion that ‘Nothing exists except He’, reduces things into mere illusions. It does not, however, mean much to assert that the mirrors where such Names of God Almighty as the Necessarily-Existent Being, the One, and the Unique Being have only an illusory, not real, existence, since these Names have actual manifestations and since ‘the mirror’ where the Real Existence is reflected is brighter without the added color of another kind of existence. But, according to the assertion of the ‘Unity of Being’, the manifestations of such Names as the All-Merciful, All-Provider, All-Omnipotent, All-Compeller or the Creator are also illusory, not real, whereas they have substantial reality and, accordingly, must manifest themselves through their actual operations in the universe. Because of this, their manifestations are also actual, not illusory. 

The Companions of the Prophet, the pure jurists and the Imams descending from the family of the Prophet were therefore convinced that ‘things have definite, objective reality’. This means that God really manifests Himself through all His Names, and everything has an accidental existence as the result of His creation. This existence, no matter how weak, unstable and temporary when compared with the existence of the Necessarily-Existent Being, is not an illusion. The Almighty confers existence by making His Name, the All-Creator, manifested, and causes His creation to subsist. 

 

  • Let us suppose that there is a four-walled room with a full-length mirror on each wall. The room is separately reflected in each of the mirrors and, accordingly, puts on the quality and color of the mirror. Two men enter this room. One of them looks in a mirror and says that everything is in it. Although the other explains to him that there are some other reflections in other, different mirrors, the first insists that there is only one mirror and one reflection. Further, in his view, the other reflections could only be, if they really exist, insignificant and secondary ones visible in a corner of the mirror into which he himself is looking. He adds: ‘This is how I see it, so this is the reality.’ The other responds: ‘I admit what you see, but what you see is only an aspect of the reality. There are, however, some other mirrors like the one into which you are looking, none of which is so small and insignificant as you claim’.

Likewise, each of the Divine Names demands a special mirror in which it will be reflected. The Names, the All-Merciful and the All-Provider, being essential to God, require the existence of creatures that need mercy and provision. As the All-Merciful demands the existence of really existent creatures that need mercy and provision, so too Paradise is required to exist by the Name, the All-Compassionate. If, therefore, one regards the Names, the Necessarily-Existent Being, the One, and the Unique Being, as the only essential and really existent ones, and the other Names as ‘nominal’ or ‘theoretical’, one must hold these Names in a very low esteem.
It is because of this truth that the way of the Companions and their followers, and of the pure scholars, the Imams descending from the family of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, and the leading jurists, is the safest and the most perfect. They are the most prominent students of the Qur’an, and have attained the greatest rank of sainthood.

Glory be to You! We know not save what You have taught us. Surely You are the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.

Our Lord, do not cause our hearts to swerve after You have guided us; and give us the gift of mercy from You; You are the Giver of Gifts. My God, bestow blessings on him whom You sent as a mercy for all the worlds, and on all of his family and Companions. 

Another article on the doctrine of the Unity of Being in Muslim Sufism

Among the important schools of tariqa, the school of ‘the Unity of Being’, which almost denies the essential existence of the universe in the name of the Necessarily-Existent Being, goes so far as to regard the apparently existing creatures as imagined mirrors reflecting the manifestations of the Divine Names.
There is, however, an important truth which provides a basis for this school, that the existence of contingent beings becomes, due to the strength of his belief in, and the firmness of his conviction of, the existence of the Necessarily-Existent Being, so insignificant in the sight of a saint of a very high rank and ecstasies, that he denies in the name of God, the existence of all creatures, which seem to him as no more than mere illusions.

Nevertheless, there are risks in this school, the foremost of which is this:

The fundamentals of belief are six. Belief in God is only one of these fundamentals; a Muslim also believes in the Day of Judgment, the Angels, the Prophets, the Divine Scriptures and Divine Destiny, each of which requires the actual existence of contingencies. These fundamentals of faith are substantial and therefore cannot be based on illusions or imaginations. For this reason, a saint belonging to this school should not act according to the requirements of his school when he turns back to the world of realities from the state of spiritual intoxication. Being based on the experiences of the heart and on spiritual pleasures and ecstasies, this school should not be regarded as rational or scientific, and those experiences and pleasures should not be put into words in this world of realities. For this school is not in accordance with the intellectual principles, the scientific laws and theological rules coming from the Qur’an and the Sunna. Because of this, neither the Four Rightly-Guided Caliphs, nor the greatest jurists, nor the righteous scholars of the first centuries of Islam are reported to have made any reference to, or suggestion of, this school. So, this is not the most exalted of the schools of tariqa; although considerably exalted, it has defects: important but risky; difficult but very pleasant. Those who enter it on account of the pleasures it gives, do not like to leave it but, because of haughtiness, they suppose it to be of the highest rank. Referring the reader, concerning its real nature and essentials, to certain other Words and Letters, I would like to explain here an important risk of this school, namely:

The way of this school (the Unity of Being it envisions) is sound, based on direct experience in the state of absolute spiritual intoxication by the most distinguished of saints who, going beyond the sphere of causality, renounce all else besides God and have nothing left to do with contingencies. But to offer it as a way to those who are immersed in causality and fond of this world, and cling to the material and natural philosophy, would be to drown them in the swamp of matter and nature and deviate them from the truth of Islam. For the one who loves the world and is enveloped within causality, wishes to give a kind of permanence to this world of transience. Unwilling to renounce his beloved (the world), he fancies for it, by way of the Unity of Being, unimagined eternity, going so far as – God forbid! – to deny God in the name of the world.

Materialism is so widespread in this century that some people ascribe everything to matter. Now the people of belief may assert, in such a century, the Unity of Being in order to deny matter and material existence because of its insignificance. It is, therefore, highly probable that materialists may adopt the concept, on behalf of matter, in the form of monism or naturalism or pantheism – though the school furthest removed from materialism, naturalism, monism and pantheism is the school of the Unity of Being. Whereas, the followers of this school are so deeply absorbed in the Divine Existence through strength of belief, that on Its behalf, they deny the essential existence of the universe, materialists attribute existence exclusively to matter and deny God in the name of the universe. How far, then, are the latter from the former!

 

Last Updated on April 6, 2002

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