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Sufi perspectives on the universality of the Qur'anic message

Apr 23, 2010, 1:15 PM

The voice declaring that there is nothing outwardly manifest in the world of "created things" other than the being of God can be seen here as providing a commentary on the meaning of God as al-Zahir, "the outward", or "the Evident". Likewise, the following remarkable affirmations by Ibn Ata' Allah al-Ikandari, an earlier Sufi master in the same tariqah as Mulay al-Arabi, the Shadhiliyya, can also be read as an exegesis on the meaning of Gods name, al-zahir.

The Cosmos (al-kawn) is all darkness. It is illumined only by the manifestation of God (zubur al-Haqq) in it. he who sees the Cosmos and dose not contemplate Him in it or by it or before it or after it is need of light and is veiled from the sum of gnosis by the clouds of created things (al-athar). That which shows you the existence of His Omnipotence is that He veiled you from Himself by what has no existence alongside of Him.

If, in one respect, God veils Himself from His creatures by Himself, in another, more fundamental respect, He reveals Himself to Himself through His creatures. The central idea here is that of the manifestation (zuhur, tajalli) of Divine reality in, through, and as the forms of created things, the cosmos in its entirety. Every phenomenon in creation thus constitutes a locus of manifestation, a mazhur for the zuhur or tajalli of the Real, the means by which the Real disclose itself to itself through an apparent "other". Herein, one might venture to say, lies the ultimate metaphysical archetype of all dialogue. What we have here is a kind of "dialogue" or communication between different aspects of the Absolute, a dialogue mediated through relativity.        

The idea of the self-disclosure of the Absolute to itself by means of the relativity of "the other" lies at the very heart of Ibn 'Arabi's metaphysics. The whole doctrine of this disclosure of God to himself is summed up in the opening lines of Ibn 'Arabi's most commented text, fusus al-hikam. The chapter entitled "The Ringstone of the Wisdom of Divinity in the world of Adama" (fass hikma ilhiyya fi kalmia adamiyya).

The Real willed, glorified be He, in virtue of His Beautiful Names, which are innumerable to see their identities (a'yan) - if you so wish you can say: His identity (ayn)-in a comprehensive being that comprises the entire affair due to  its having taken on existence. His Mystery is manifest to Himself through it. The vision a thing has of itself in itself is not like the vision a thing has of itself in another thing, which will serve as a mirror for it.

Man alone reflects back to the Absolute all, and not just some, of the Divine qualities; it is for this reason that man is the "valid interlocutor", the receptacle and the mirror of the Divine qualities, the "other" to whom and through whom these qualities are revealed. The function, then, of an apparent "other", at the level of Divine self-disclosure of itself to itself, is to make possible a particular mode of self-knowledge. One recalls here the holy utterance, or hadith qudsi, so fundamental to sufi spirituality: 'I was a hidden treasure, and I loved to be known (fa ahbabtu an u 'raf) so I created the world. If creation of the world separate from divine love for a distinct mode of self-knowledge, the Quran indicates that the differentiation within mankind, in respect of gender, tribe, and race, likewise serves an essentially cognitive function:

O mankind, truly we have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Truly the most noble of you, in the sight of God, is the most God-fearing (49:13)."

Distinction and difference are here affirmed as divinely willed, and as means by which knowledge is attained one should note that the word used in the phrase "that ye may know one another" is ta arafu; and the word for being "known" in the hadith of the "hidden treasure" is u 'raf- both words being derived from the same root, arafa. There is thus a clear connection with ma 'rifah, spiritual knowledge or gnosis, the essence of which is expressed in the famous hadith, "whoso knows himself knows his Lord" (man arafa nafsahu faqad ?arafa rabbahu). Thus, knowledge of self, knowledge of the other, and knowledge of God are all interwoven, and should be seen as complementary and mutually reinforcing, each element having a role to play in the plenary attainment of ma 'rifah.

The verse cited above is often given as a proof-text for upholding the necessity of dialogue, establishing the principles of peaceful coexisting and indicating the divine ordainment of human diversity. Now while it dose not indeed support such principles, the import of the verse is deepened, its message is made the more compelling, and its scope more far-reaching insofar as it is consciously related to the metaphysical principle of self-knowledge through self-disclosure. thus, dialogue here-below-a dialogue rooted in the sincere desire for greater knowledge and understanding both of "the other" and of oneself - can be seen as a reflection of, and participation in, the very process by which God knows Himself in distinctive, differentiated mode; that is, not in respect of his unique, eternal essence, but in respect of manifestation of the "treasure" comprised or "hidden" within that essence, yielding the perpetually renewed theophanies of himself to himself  through an apparent ?other?, the "seeing of himself as it were in a mirror."

Another Qur'anic verse that can be given as a support for this perspective on the cognitive function of creation is the following:

I only created the jinn and mankind in order they might worship Me (51: 56).                                                                  

In hisKitah al Luma', Abu Nasr al- Sarraj (D. 378/988) repots the comment on this verse given by ibn 'Abbas: the word "worship" here means "knowledge" (ma 'rifah) so that the phrase illa liya budun (except that they might worship Me).becomes illa liya rifuni (Except that they might know Me).  This interpretation is given also by several other prominent sufi authorities, as well as some exoteric scholars. The very purpose of the creation of man thus comes to be equated with that knowledge of God which constitutes the most profound form of worship. But it is not just man that, in coming to know God, participates in the Divine dialogue, that is the Divine self-disclosure of itself to itself; in fact, there is nothing in creation that does not obey the ontological imperative of "making known" the Divine treasure, even if it is the prerogative of man alone to "know" the Divine treasure, which  he does in two ways: though correctly reading all the signs of God or the manifestation of the "hidden treasure", and through knowing the essence of his own soul.

We shall show them our signs on the horizons and in their own souls, so that it becomes clear to them that he is the real (41:53). 

As regards the objective signs on the horizons, the Quran refers repeatedly to the universal law of "making known" the hidden treasure, doing so in reference to a broadly conceived notion of praise and glorification:

All that is in the heavens and the earth glorified God; and He is The Mighty, the wise. (57:1).                                          

The seven heavens and earth and all that is therein praise Him, and there is not a thing but hymneth His praise, but ye understand not their praise (17:44).

Hast thou not seen that God, He it is whom all who are in the heavens and the earth praise; and the birds in flight: each verily knows its prayer and it?s form Of glorification (24:41).

He is God, the Creator, the Shaper out of naught, the Fashioner. These are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heaven and the earth glorified Him, and the Mighty, the Wise (59:24).

This Article written by: Reza shah Kazemi,
will be continued To know more about it please read Al- Tagrib journal of Islamic Unity.