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Ibn Al Arabi (ra): a Controversial Mystic – Concluding Part – His Doctrine of ‘Unity of Being’


By S. M. Pasha for New Age Islam

Chapter IX

“His Doctrine of “Wahdatul Wujud” Or “Unity of Being”

Imam  Rabbani  Shaikh Ahmed al Farooqi al Sirhindi,   - the chief Mureed  of the great Sufi, who introduced the Naqshbandiyah   Sufistic Order in India and who is popularly known as the “Mujaddid Alif Thani” { the “Renovator”  or “Reformer “of Islam, who comes to the scene once in a thousand years} and who was a contemporary of the great Mughal Emperors  Jahangir and Akbar – bitterly attacks the Shaikh ul Akbar’s doctrine of ‘’ Wahdatul Wujud” or “The Unity Of Being”  In his ‘ Maktubat –e- Rabbani  he preaches that  the Creator cannot  be identified with His Creations. The Mujaddid  Alif  Thani  expounded a new and opposite philosophy called  Wahdatus  Shuhud  { “ Unity Of Witness’ or Phenomenon-Logistical  Monotheism”}   to check  the then growing trend  towards   pantheism  { because of the Shaikh ul Akbar’s teachings}  and also to harmonize the Doctrines of Sufism with the teachings of orthodox Islam.

Whilst Ibn al Arabi was of the opinion that ‘Unit Of Being” is an “ Objective Experience’ , the Mujaddid  professed that it is an “Subjective Experience”  because , though a mystic  might feel as if he is identified with God almighty, in fact it is NOT so. What actually happens, according to him, is that in his or her ‘” Sukr” {Rapturous Ecstasy} the mystic loses himself or herself in the object of his or her love and therefore feels as if he or she has reached the stage of “’Fana {total annihilation}   and thus attained “Baqa {Eternal Life}.  This experience, Shaikh Sirhindi declares, is both  illusive and transient  because the mystic reverts  from “Hal: { ecstatic  intoxication}   to his or her original  state of “Sahu” { sobriety}  which is  the stage  of  “Abdiyath’  {servitude}.   Hence, “Abdiyath” {servitude}.    Hence, “Abdiyath” (servitude} is, according to the Mujaddid, the Summum Bonum of the spiritual life of one who believes in a transcendental God almighty   and that the stage of “Abdiyath”  can be reached only when one is completely free from all kinds of worldly attachments.”

Dr. Yusuf Husain, the author of ‘’Glimes Of Medieval Indian Culture’  says  that : “ the Mujaddid’s theory of “Modified Monoism” silenced all discussion  on Theoretical Mysticism in India for nearly a century but it was Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehlavi  who re-opened  the  controversy afresh “

Shah  Waliullah Muhaddis Dehkavi, in his  illuminating treatise  Fais Lathul Wahdatul Wujud Wash Shuhud “ { “Judgement On The Doctrine Of The ‘Unity Of Being” And ‘ Apartentism”}  claims  to have been appointed by God Almighty to effect a  COMPROMISE between  and synthesize the two diametrically opposite points of views.  The Shah describes, in one of his VISIONS and says that he saw a large number of ‘men of God” who were divided into two groups.  One group looked fresh with their faces shining and the other consisting of people with dark and drawn faces.  The first group belonged to those remembered Allah Subhan ahu Ta’ala whilst the latter were the believers in the doctrine of the “Unity of Being” and those who devoted themselves to penetrating the mystery of existence.   Shah Waliullah further says that  the two groups were disputing between themselves  trying to prove the superiority  of their respective doctrines, He further states that , on hearing their arguments, he was convinced that  both the parties were UNAWARE of the “ Aqiqath ul  Jamia” {  “ the comprehensive reality}  without  which the refinement of the soul is not possible.  Thus, the great Sufi has dispassionately appraised the value of the two doctrines and he opines that both the Shsikhul Akbar and the Mujaddid maintain that the Real Being belongs to Allah Subhan ahu Ta’ala and only HE really exists. He further maintained that Sufism is based on intense religious experience and that Its Essentials Cannot Be Presented in a Logical Form. He, therefore, felt that, to interpret the feeling of Union with Allah Subhan ahu Ta’ala through a logical system, the Shaikh al Akbar had to give it a form of Pantheism and to maintain his position; Ibn al Arab took liberties and many concessions with the Shariat (the Path) and this consequently and naturally resulted in a great confusion of thought.

In  his letter to Shaikh Afandi Ismail bin Abdullah of Madinathul Munawwarah  { which is a part of, what are known as the “Madina Letters” ) Shah Waliullah  justifies the Two Doctrines  by declaring that “ Wahdatul Wujud”  and “ Wahdatush Shuhud”  are but relative terms  used  on different occasions as arguments about the existence of the DIVINE BEING  and His relation with human beings and the world.  The Shah further feels that the difference of interpretation was due to the metaphorical language used by the two Sufis,

In his “Tafhimate Ilahiyah” Shah Waliullah asserts that in the mystic path, the Stage of the “Apartentism” Is Higher than that of the “Unity of Bing”

Khwaja Mir Dard –yet another eminent Sufi of the Naqshbandi  Sufistic Order and contemporary of Shah Waliullah,   in his “ Ilm ul Kitaab”criticises  the Shaikh ul Akbar’s doctrine of “Unity Of Being”   The Khwaja makes it clear that he criticizes the Shaikh ul Akbar’s doctrine in the light of his {Shah Waliullah’s} own inner experience.  Subjectively speaking, however, the Khwaja justifies it as it helps to disassociate the mystic from the phenomenal existence which is other than God.  In the ultimate analysis, the Khwaja feels that both the doctrines have one and the same object in view. He is of the further view that the doctrine of the ‘unity of being’ is expanded by those in the state of “Haal” {ecstatic intoxication}

Khwaja’s  main argument   Against  Ibn al Arabi’s doctrine  is that it is highly dangerous  for the uninitiated and unguided  common masses to give expression to such lofty ideas. Nevertheless, the Khwaja seeks to amend Ibn al Arabi’s doctrine by substituting the word ‘Noor’ [ Light} for it is   a more comprehensive word and also because “Wujud” and “Noor” imply self-manifestation without the help of the other,.”

The Shaikh ul Akbar’s doctrine of mystical philosophy, which flung an imposing challenge against orthodox Mullaism  in his days, continues even today  to have an enormous influence on Muslim Thought>

Quite recently an eminent Islamic scholar Maulana  Ashraf Ali Thanvi   in his  “ Attanbihath Tarrabi Fi Tanzih Ibnu’l Arabi’  declares that the Shaikh ul Akbar Ibn al Arabi  Upheld The Shariah And Orthodox  Islamic Dogmas And Rituals And That These Texts  [ viz., ‘Futhuhath’ and ‘ Fusus” }  Neutralizes  His { Ibn al Arabi’s} Apparently Heretic Utterances.’’   Ashraf Ali Saheb feels that “it is unfair to pick and choose and isolate his utterances and pronounce a judgement on the Shaikh on the strength of those utterances alone.

“Man’s life is his fair name and not his length of years

Man’s death is his ill-name and not the day that nears.

-         Shaikh Abu’l Atahiy

Chapter X

The Shaikh - Sufi or Shaitan?

In the honest view of the humble writer of this mini booklet on a macro subject, the Shaikh ul Akbar Ibn al Arabi was more sinned against than sinning. His style and method of presenting his ideas were undoubtedly uncommon and extraordinarily obscure. He presents the ideas purposely because writing in Simple, Direct and matter of fact language meant to him courting of trouble and even death.  Because of this, one should not jump to the hasty and erroneous conclusion that the Shaikh was a coward.  Is not discretion the best part of valour?  Is it a sin or a crime to make the best of a bad bargain?  Can the taking of precautionary measures to safeguard not only his LIFE but also his valuable Works, be considered to be erroneous?  Despite  his desperate attempts to a adopt a fantastic style , credulous theologians, orthodox fanatic  and bigoted Ulema  saw and made the gullible masses to see red rags of pantheism in  his works of the Shaikh ul Akbar.

I admit that the views of Ibn al Arabi were NOT in accordance with the common faith of the man-in-the – street.  This is a plus point to his opponents and it helped, in no small way, to fan the flames of misguided fury against him.

Ibn al Arabi’s philosophy was, is and may be in the future too, beyond the comprehension of many.  To appreciate  or to at least understand the real significance of the doctrines and pronouncements of the Shaikh ul Askbar  sans the  cobwebs of misunderstandings  and blind prejudices, a minute, dispassionate, systematic, dedicated and through scrutiny of his works, is a must.

The Author Of This Tiny Booklet Will Consider Himself A Coward Of The First Waters If He Fails To Loudly And Clearly Proclaim With All The Strength At His Command That The Shaikh Ul Akbar Was A Poet Par Excellence, A Professed Scholar, A Philosopher Of Lofty Merit, A Copious Writer, A Perfect Sufi In The Widest Sense Of The Term And A Rare Ascetic Of Rare Talents.

Whether Ibn Al Arabi was a Sultan among Sufis or a Substitute for Shaitan, Only the Common Creator of Sufis and the Shaitan Alone Knows

As Far As I Am Concerned I Seek Refuge Under The Sagacious Saying: “Wallahu Aalam Bis Sawaab” – meaning: Allah alone knows.

“Praise Allah and walk round the Kaaba seventy times, not seven and yet impious remain!

Devote is he alone who, when he may feast his desire is found with courage to abstain” – Shaikh Abu’l ala Ma’arri”

URL of Part 3:,-shaikh-the-man-and-his-works/d/100274