On The Unity of Allah (3)

On The Unity of Allah (3)

2. Via negativa

Imam Ali said, "Praise belongs to God, whose laudation is not rendered by speakers, [28] whose bounties are not counted by reckoners, [29] and whose rightfully due (haqq) is not discharged by those who strive. Grand aspirations perceive Him not and deep-diving perspicacity reach Him not. His attributes (sifah) possess no determined limits (hadd mahdud), no existing description (na't mawjud), no fixed time (waqt madud) and no extended term (ajal mamdud). He originates the creatures by His power, [30] looses the winds by His mercy, [31] and fastens the shaking of His earth with boulders." [32]
"The first step in religion is knowledge (marifah) of Him. The perfection of knowledge of Him is to confirm Him (tasdiq). The perfection of confirming Him is to profess His unity (tawhid). The perfection of professing His Unity is sincerity (ikhlas) towards Him. [33] And the perfection of sincerity towards Him is to negate attributes (nafy al-sifat) from Him, because of the testimony of every attribute that it is not that which possesses the attribute (al-mawsuf) and the testimony of every thing that possesses attributes that it is not the attribute."
So whoso describes God-glory be to Him-has given Him a comrade (i.e. the description). Whoso gives Him a comrade has declared Him to be two (tathniyah). Whoso declares Him to be two has divided Him. Whoso divides Him is ignorant of Him. (Whoso is ignorant of Him points to Him). [34]  Whoso points to Him has delimited Him. Whoso delimits Him has numbered Him. Whoso says, 'In what is He ?', has enclosed Him. Whoso says, 'On what is He ?', has excluded Him (from certain things)." "He is a being (ka'in) not as the result of temporal origin (hadath), an existent (mawjud) not (having come) from nonexistence (adam). He is with everything, not through association (muqaranah); and He is other than everything, not through separation (muzayalah). He is active (fa'il), not in the sense of possessing movement and instruments. He was seeing when there was none of His creatures to be observed by Him. He was 'alone' (mutawahhid) when there was none with whom to be intimate and at whose loss to feel lonely."

"He originated creation and gave to it its beginning without employing deliberation, profiting from experience, occasioning movement (harakah, i.e. in Himself), or being disrupted by the cares of the soul (hamamah nafs). He delays things to their times, [35] mends their discrepancies, implants (in them) their natural dispositions, and makes these (dispositions) adhere to their objects. He has knowledge of them before their beginning, encompasses their limits (hudud) and their end (intiha') and knows their relationships (qara'in) and aspects (ahna').

3. Firm Rooting in Knowledge

It was related from Abu Abdallah that when the Commander of the Faithful was speaking from the pulpit at Kufa a man stood up and said, "O Commander of the Faithful! Describe for us thy Lord-blessed and transcendent is He-that our love (hubb) for Him and knowledge (marifah) of Him may increase." The Commander of the Faithful became angry and cried out, "Assemble for prayer!" The people gathered together until the mosque was choked with them. Then he stood, his color changing, and he said, "Praise belongs to God, who does not gain in plenty by withholding nor become poor through giving, while every other giver than He diminishes. (He is) full of the benefits of blessings and the advantages of superabundance. Through His generosity He ensures the provision of creatures. So He smooths the path of aspiration (talab) for those who make Him their Quest.

Nor is He more generous with what is asked of Him than with what is not asked. Time in its march varies not for Him that (His) state should change accordingly. If He should give to some of His servants (all of) the silver metal, ingots of pure gold and sacks of pearls that the mountains' mines breathe [36] and the seas' shells smile, His generosity would in nowise be affected, nor would the expanse of that which is with Him dwindle. With Him are treasuries of bounteous bestowal which are not exhausted by objects of request and which come not to His attention in spite of their abundance, for He is the Generous who is not diminished by gifts nor made niggardly by the importunity of the importune. And 'His command, when He desires a thing, is to say to it "Be", and it is' (XXXVI 8I)." "The angels, despite their proximity to the throne of His liberality, the great extent of their burning love (walah) for Him, (their) glorification of the majesty of His might, and their proximity to the unseen of His kingdom (ghayb malakutih), are capable of knowing only what He has taught them of His affair, although they are of the Sacred Kingdom in terms of rank. It is because they possess knowledge of Him only as He created them that they say, 'Glory be to Thee! We know not save what Thou hast taught us' (II 32)." [37]

"So what is thy opinion, O questioner, of Him who is thus ? Glory be to Him, and praise belongs to Him! He has not come into being that change or removal should be possible in Him. He is not affected in His Essence by recurrence of states, and aeons of nights and days differ not for Him. (It is He) who originated creation with no model (mithal) to copy or measure (migdar) to imitate from a deity (mabud) who should have existed before Him. Attributes encompass Him not, lest He be defined by limits (hudud) (resulting) from their having attained Him. He - like Him there is naught' (XLII II)-never ceases to transcend the attributes of creatures." "Eyes are prevented from reaching Him, lest He be described through being plainly seen (bi-l-iyan) and lest He be known among His creatures in the Essence that none knows but He. Through His exaltation (uluww) over things He eludes that upon which falls the conjecture of imaginers (mutawahhimin). The inmost center (kunh) of His tremendousness transcends the embrace of the impotent deliberation of those who meditate. He has no similitude that what is created should resemble Him. For those who have knowledge of Him He is forever above likenesses and opposites." "Those who ascribe rivals to God (al-adilun billah) cry lies when they make Him similar to the like of their categories, adorn Him in their imaginations with the adornment of creatures, divide Him with a measure resulting from the notions of their concerns, and measure Him by the talents of their reason's powers [38] in terms of the creatures with their multiple faculties. For how should the deliberations of imaginations assess Him whose measure cannot be determined, when surely the notions of understanding have erred in conceiving of His inmost center ? For He is greater than that the minds of men should delimit Him through thought (tafkir) or angels should encompass Him through estimation, despite their proximity to the kingdom of His might." "High be He exalted above having an equal (kufw) with which to be compared, for He is the Subtle: when imaginations desire to encroach upon Him in the depths of the unseen regions of His dominion, (when) thoughts (fikar) free from insinuating intrusions seek to grasp knowledge of His Essence, (when) hearts are thrown into mad confusion over Him in trying to embrace Him through conforming to His attributes, (when) the ways of approach of reason's powers become obscured since no attributes attain to Him by which they might gain the knowledge of His divinity, (then) they (imaginations, thoughts, hearts and ways of approach) are checked in disgrace while traversing the chasms of the dark reaches of the unseen worlds, rid (of all things) for Him-glory be to Him! They return having been thrown back, admitting that the inmost center of His knowledge is not reached through the deviation of straying (from the path) [39] and that no notion of the measure of His might's majesty occurs to the mind of mediators, by reason of His distance from being (encompassed) within the faculties of limited beings. For He is counter to (khilaf) His creation, and there is nothing like Him among creatures. Now a thing is only compared with its like (adil). As for what has no like, how should it be compared with what is other than its like (mithal) ? And He is the Beginning (al-badi) before whom was naught, and the Last (al-akhir) after whom will be naught." "Eyes reach Him not in the splendor of His Power (jabarut). When He obscures them with veils, eyes do not penetrate the density of the veils' thickness, nor do they pierce the firmness pertaining to His coverings to (reach) the 'Possessor of the Throne', [40] in whose will affairs originate and before the majesty of whose tremendousness the grandeur of the arrogant cringes. Necks are bowed before Him and faces humbled in fear of Him. In the marvels (bada'i) which He creates appear the traces (athar) of His wisdom (hikmah), and all that is created becomes an argument (hujjah) for Him and attributed to Him. Were it a silent creation His argument would be speaking through it in His directing (of its affairs, tadbir)." [41] "He determines what He creates and makes firm His determining (taqdir), places everything in its place through the subtlety of His directing, and turns it in a direction. [42] Then nothing of it reaches the environs of His station. [43] It falls not short before carrying out His will and refrains not when ordered to execute His desire. He suffers not from weariness that might touch Him, [44] nor is He deceived by one who would transgress His command." [45]

"So His creation is complete and it yields to Him in obedience. It complies with the (appointed) time at which He brings it forth, a response resisted by neither the dawdler's hesitation nor the lingerer's tardiness. He straightened the crookedness of things, delineated the way-marks of their limits, reconciled their contradictions through His power, joined the means of their conjunctions (asbab qara'iniha), caused their various sorts to be disparate in size, and divided them into different kinds, natural dispositions, and appearances-marvels of creation, whose fashioning He made firm. He made them according to His desire and [46] brought them into existence. His knowledge put in order the kinds of their creation and His directing achieved their fairest determination." "O questioner! Know that whoso compares our majestic Lord to the mutual dissimilarity of the parts of His creation and to the interconnection of their joints, hidden by the directing of His wisdom, surely he has not fixed his inmost consciousness (ghayb damirih) upon knowledge of Him, and his heart has not witnessed (mushahadah) the certainty that He has no compeer. It is as if he had not heard of the followers disclaiming the followed, saying, 'By God, we were certainly in manifest error when we made you equal to the Lord of all beings' (XXVI, 97-8)" [47].
"Whoso sets our Lord equal to something has ascribed rivals to Him, and he who ascribes rivals to Him is a disbeliever in what His clear verses [48] have revealed and in what the witnesses of His clear signs' arguments have spoken. For He is God, who does not become defined within the powers of reason that He should be qualified within the range of their thought or be limited and turned about within the craws of the reflection of aspiring souls. {49} He is the Producer of the kinds of things without having been in need of reflection, or of acting according to an innate disposition, or of experience gained through the passing of Time's events, or of an associate to help Him in bringing into existence the wonders of affairs. When those who ascribe rivals to Him compare Him to creation, whose attributes are divided and limited and whose levels possess various zones and regions-and He, the Mighty and Majestic, is the existent through Himself, not through His instruments (adah) - they can not have measured Him with His true measure. Thus He said, declaring Himself incomparable with the association of compeers and rising above the estimate of those of His disbelieving servants who measure Him within limits, 'They measure not God with His true measure. The earth altogether shall be His handful on the Day of Resurrection, and the heavens shall be rolled up in His right hand. Glory be to Him! High be He exalted above that they associate' (XXXIX, 67)."

"So as for that to which the Quran directs thee concerning His attributes, follow it, so that a link may be established between thee and knowledge (ma'rifah) of Him. Take it as an example, and seek illumination by the light of its guidance; surely it is a blessing and a wisdom given to thee, so take what has been given thee an be among the thankful. [50] But as for that to which Satan directs thee, that which is not made encumbent upon thee in the Quran and no trace (athar) concerning which exists in the Wont of the Prophet and the Imams of guidance, leave its knowledge to God, the Mighty and Majestic. Surely that is the limit of God's claim (haqq) against thee." Know that 'those firmly rooted in knowledge' [51] are they whom God has freed from the need to assault the closed doors beyond which are the unseen things (al-ghuyub), so they cling to the acknowledgement (iqrar) of all of the veiled unseen of which they know not the interpretation, and they say, 'We have faith in it; all is from our Lord.' (III 7). So God praised their avowal of incapacity to grasp what they comprehend not in knowledge, and He called their abandonment of the desire to penetrate into that whose examination is not required of them 'firm-rootedness'. So limit thyself to that (same attitude) and measure not the Mightiness of God-Glory be to Him-according to the measure of thy reason's power, thus becoming of those who perish."

Continue in the Article: ( On The Unity of Allah (4) )

[28] According to a hadith of the Prophet, "I cannot enumerate all of Thy praises: Thou art as Thou hast praised Thyself".
[29] Cf. Quran XIV, 34 and XVI, I8.
[30] Cf. Quran XVII, 5I: "Then they will say, 'Who will bring us back?' Say: 'He who originated you the first time'."
[31] Cf. Quran XXX, 46: "And of His signs is that He looses the winds, bearing good tidings and that He may let you taste of His mercy", and other similar verses.
[32] Cf Quran XVI, I5: "And He cast on the earth firm mountains, lest it shake with you"; also XXI, 3I and XXXI, I0
[33] The editor comments as follows in a footnote: "The perfection of professing His Unity is to maintain that He is not forced to act as He does and is devoid of all faults, to declare Him to be above the blemishes of incapacity and imperfection, and to profess that He is pure of what pertains to and impinges upon possible beings, such as corporeality, composition, and other negative (salh) attributes" (p. 25I). Sincerity is to profess the Unity of God in a perfect manner, so that eventually at the end of the path of spiritual realization and perfection (al-tariqah), all stains of contingency are removed both from the knowledge and the being of the believer.
[34] This sentence does not occur in the Bihar al-anwar, but it does occur in the same passage in the Nahj al-balaghah and seems necessary from the context.
[35] I.e., to their "appointed terms" to we Quranic language (III, I45, etc.). The text of the Nahj al-balaghah reads "ahal" for "ajjal', which would change the translation to the following: "He transforms things at their (proper) times."
[36] "The relation (of this image) to the saying that minerals are generated from the vapors of the earth is obvious" (Majlisi, p. 278).
[37] On the Islamic teaching that the angels, though of luminous substance, are "peripheral" beings since they know only some of God's Names, while man is "central" since he knows all of His Names, see F. Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions, London, I953, pp.70-72.
[38] "Reason's powers" is a translation of 'uqul, plural of 'aql. A more awkward but perhaps more exact translation would be "reasons". Many scholars translate the word 'aql as "intellect" or "intelligence". Certainly all of these translations are possible, since the various meanings are all contained in the one Arabic word-if indeed the reader will concede that there is more than one basic meaning, for in modern thought the distinction between the reason (ratio) and the intellect (intellectus) has largely been ignored. However that may be, the Arabic word 'aql may be said to possess at least two significations according to various contexts. It may signify the Universal Intellect, which is equivalent to the Greatest Spirit and the Muhammadan Light. It is God's first creation and possesses true and detailed knowledge of all things, including God Himself. It may also signify the "reason", which is the reflection of the Universal Intellect upon the human plane. But in ordinary men the reason is cut off from the Intellect. Only the prophets and saints may be said to have actualized their "intellects" to various degrees. In other words, they F.ave realized an inward identity with the Universal Intellect. But in these texts, the Imams usually speak of 'aql as cut off from its luminous and spiritual source. It limits and constricts the infinite Truth in keeping with its root meaning ('aqala = to tie, to bind). Hence I translate the word as "reason" or "power of reason". When the Imams speak of the actualization of the intellect within man, they refer to the "heart' (qalb). The reason cannot understand God, but, as we shall see below, the heart may see Him. Most Sufis follow this terminology, such as the members of Ibn al-'Arabi's school (see my forthcoming study of Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi). But all are aware of the 'aql's dual nature. Thus Rumi: "The particular intellect ('aql-i juzwi-reason) has disgraced the Intellect" (Mathnawi, V, 463).
Nevertheless, the Imams do not ignore the positive role that 'aql-and here perhaps "intelligence" would be the best translation-can and does play in religion, in keeping with Islam's fundamental emphasis upon knowledge (see F. Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant, Leiden, I970). The first book of the section on usul from al-Kulayni's al-Kafi is entitled the "Book of 'Aql." It contains Such hadiths as the following: "The intelligence is that through which man worships the All-Merciful and gains Paradise" (Imam Ja'far). "The sincere friend of every man is his intelligence, while his enemy is his ignorance" (Imam 'Ali al-Rida). "He who possesses intelligence possesses religion, and he who possesses religion enters the Garden" (Imam Ja'far). "In the reckoning on the Day of Resurrection God will only scrutinize His servants to the extent He has given them intelligence in the world" (Imam Musa). The first selection from Imam 'Ali Rida below (pp. 44-48) refers in several places to the positive function of the 'aql. The two roles of the 'aql to which the Imams allude, positive and negative, derive from the principle enunciated by the Prophet in the hadith: "Meditate upon God's bounties, but not upon His Essence." The 'aql must be able to see that the world by its very nature manifests a Reality beyond it. A healthy intelligence, one which on the human plane reflects the First Intellect directly, will naturally see the signs of God in all things. But as soon as the 'aql tries to understand the very Essence of God, it oversteps its boundaries and goes astray.
[39] Majlisi interprets the "deviation of straying" to mean the "reason, whose nature is deviation and straying" (p. 28I).
[40] This divine Name occurs several times in the Quran, such as XL, I5.
[41]As the Quran often affirms, both explicitly and implicitly, "He directs the affair" (XIII, 2, etc.).
[42] Cf. Quran II, I48: "Every man has his direction to which he turns." Majlisi cites the ,hadith, "All are eased to what has been created for them", which in turn recalls Quran LXXX, I9-2I: "He created him (man), and determined him, then the way eased for him . . .".
[43] Both the editor in a footnote, pointing to the printed edition of al-Tawhid, and Majlisi in his commentary, basing himself on a similar passage in the Nahj al-balaghah, suggest that the correct reading is hudud for mahdud. The translation has been made accordingly.
[44] Cf. Quran L, 38: "We created the heavens and the earth, and what between them is, in six days, and no weariness touched us."
[45] The commentator points out that mukabadah occurs in place of mukayadah in some manuscripts, which would change the translation of the last clause to the following: "or from hardship from one who would transgress His command" (p.280).
[46] According to a footnote to the text another manuscript reads "when He" for "and".
[47] These are the words of the people who were led astray by the followers of Iblis disputing with them in hell. The verse continues: "It was naught but the sinners that led us astray; so we have no intercessors, no loyal friend. O that we might return again, and be among the believers!"
[48] Passages of the Quran known as "clear" (muhkam) are those about whose meaning there can be no question. They are contrasted with other passages known as "ambiguous" (mutashabih), which are open to various interpretations, even in the outward and literal meaning of the text.
[49] The commentator remarks: "The subtlety of the comparison of reflection, or the mind, where reflection takes place, to a bird's craw will not be lost on the reader" (p. 284).
[50] Cf. Q= II, 23: "And remember God's blessing upon you, and the Book and the Wisdom He has sent down on you . . ."; and II, 269: "Whoso is given the Wisdom, has been given much good."
[51] A term appearing twice in the Q= (III, 7 and IV, I62). In Sufism and Shi'ism it is usually taken to refer to those who, due to their elevated spiritual station, are qualified to speak of the divine mysteries.