The Science of Bewilderment

We have slowly been dismantling the dualistic machine-idea of existence which we were taught, and begun to replace it with a living and moving picture of a reality which descends in cascading expansion from a Hidden Source, which had its essence in a powerful Unseen Waterfall that is hidden from us by its tremendous spray, until it becomes the visible river of flowing and vital forms that further spread out into the vast ocean of multiplicity called the phenomenal world.

Before we could grasp how the Book of Forms, the Qur'an, manifested, we had to look first at a description of creation as this unfolding out of the Divine Reality – we then saw that it was the Book of the Book of Existence itself. In the light of this knowledge, we must again look at that description of the descent from the sublime and Unknowable Essence to the myriad forms. This time we will complexify the descent further so that every stage of this unfolding is clear. Remember that the 'descent' is not spatial and the hierarchy is in description but not in reality, for we can never abandon the position of affirmation of Unity which, although we may leave it, we are bound to return to it.

This descent is called, in the language of the Sufis, TANAZZULAT.

Here it is:

1. AHADIYYAT. Here Reality is unlimited and total – in the phrase of the great Sufi Abd al-Karim Jili, there is 'no manifestation, no name, no quality, no relation, no adjunct or anything else.' It is the great Darkness to which the Messenger referred when he was asked, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, 'Where was Allah before the creation of the world?': Now this language which implies whereness and time in relation to Allah we will examine at the next stage of our journey, but for the moment let it be emphasised that while the Messenger, in accordance with the Book and the Wisdom he had received, did express himself in this way, it was by description only and not through any idea that Allah had 'whereness', as when he spoke with the ignorant Bedouin woman. His answer to the question of whereness was, 'He was in the great 'Ama,' meaning a dark mist. In other words, before the manifestation of His Names and the event of His Lordship as Creator, He is hidden and Inaccessible. It was of this reality that the Messenger warned when he forbade contemplation of the Essence. It is inaccessible to thought or expression. Its name to the Sufis is GHAYB AL-GHAYB – the Hidden of the Hidden. It is to this sublime reality that the Messenger also referred when he said, 'Allah was and there was nothing with Him.' This is the 'AYNI-MUTLAQ – the Absolute Source. It is 'AYN AL-KAFUR – the Fountain of Camphor, for whatever enters camphor becomes camphor.

From this stage there is descent to the next stage of the Divine Ranks:

2. WAHDAT. Here what was hidden comes out. Here the Reality knows itself, its potentialities and its totality. Here there are four aspects which are not yet differentiated: Existence, Light, Knowledge, and Self-manifesting. Here, He is Himself. This is still in the Essence, for we must re-affirm that there is no break or split in these stages. Here are all the Names of Divinity and of the Universe, but they are for and to the Essence, and have not yet moved into specificity. This is called the TAJALLI-AWWAL – the first self-manifestation. It is also called the Haqiqata'l Muhammadiyya, or the Reality of Muhammad. To this refers the Hadith: 'The first thing which Allah created was the Light of the Messenger.' Also: 'I am from the Light of Allah and the whole world is from my light.' This stage is also called, therefore, An-Nuri-Muhammadiyya. This must not be misunderstood. Here is not the essence of the Messenger, for as we shall see, the dhat or essence of the creatures manifests at a lower stage. Rather, it is the secret of form itself.

From here there is descent to the next stage:

3. WAHIDIYYAT. This is the third and last of the Divine Ranks. Here the Names separate and display themselves. The Peacock opens its tail. Here, every aspect of the Creator, the Actor, is particularised, and its inter-relationship with every other is specified. In Wahdat everything is 'there' but implicit, now in Wahidiyyat, everything is there and explicit. Together these last two stages are one, they are a veil, with one side facing to the hidden and the other facing out to the phenomenal world. So these two together form the BARZAKH-I-KUBRA – the Great Interspace.

Again, before descent to the world of forms in the Universe, let us affirm the identical nature of the Divine Ranks – Reality is never now this and now that. His knowledge is not implicit and then explicit. He is never without consciousness of Himself, nor without Light, nor without the Names. The Attributes are identical with the Essence. 'He is now as He was before.'

The cosmic ranks are two:

1. The 'Ayn ath-thabitah, the permanent source-forms of all the individual things, descend from their permanence in the Divine Names into the Unseen.

2. The 'Ayn ath-thabitah become the things in the world of sensible experience. Here they come into the world of solidity/duration.

This is the Universe. But we affirm again our first condition. 'And He is as He was before,' before, that is, the creation of the Universe.

This descent is by its nature a movement, an energy-process, and this will be the last aspect of the Reality which we will examine. For the moment let us stay with the pattern that the movement shows.

Here is another description that helps clarify the picture of how existence comes into being, and let us be open now to the implications of what is being presented, which is inevitably that there is a triplicity of Reality in the Universe. That the things come into being and go out of existence. That they are permanent and endless. That they do not and never have had any existence. These matters must be approached step by step, and it must be said again, that if we hold to one picture we lose the others, and that if we hold to the other we lose the former. Yet all are true.

The descent through the Divine Ranks in this new picture is seen as an emanation from the Essence to the Source-forms. This is the realm of the possible things – they are not yet actualised. Here the potter has conceived the idea of the pot-form but has not yet made it. This image is still to do with our form-bound situation and not to do with a Reality which is utterly beyond dependence on forms. There is no watch/watchmaker duality. This emanation is called AL-FAYD AL-AQDAS, or the Most Pure-emanation. That is to say, from Reality uncontaminated with form comes the form-idea. This is also called TAJALLI DHATIY, Manifestation of the Essence. This is the descent into the Names when the forms appear to Allah but not to the world. Once the form becomes the source-form in the Unseen, it then takes on existence and so manifests in the visible world. This is: AL-FAYD AL-MUQADDAS, the Pure-emanation. This is also called TAJALLI-WUJUDIY, the self-manifestation of the existent.

In the Qur'an the Divinity expresses Itself by different pronouns. He and We. 'He' indicates the Essence, beyond all association of form. 'Say: He Allah is One.' (112.1). 'We' is used in the realm of Kingship, it is the 'We' of Royal Command. The Command is the bringing of things into existence from the Names. This is Rububiyyat, Lordship, the rule of the Creator over His creation.

In the 'Seals of Wisdom', the Shaykh al-Akbar says:

Abu'l-Qasim ibn Qasi said in his book, 'The Removal of the Sandals', 'Each Divine Name is qualified by all the Divine Names, and described by their description.' It is so. Each Name indicates the Essence according to the meaning which is set forth for it and which demonstrates it. In respect to its indication of the Essence, it possesses all the Names: and in respect to the meaning which is singular to it, it distinguishes itself from others, such as the Lord, the Creator, the Fashioner-of-forms, and so on. So the Name is the same as the named in respect to the Essence, and the Name is other than the named in respect to the meaning which is particular to it.

Elsewhere he says:

Know that the One called Allah is one by essence and by all His Names, and every existent thing is only attached to Allah by his own Lord (Name) exclusively, for it is impossible that it possess the whole. As for Divine Unity – Ahadiyya, none is in it at all, for one cannot designate any aspect of it, and it does not admit of distinction. So His Unity integrates all of Him by potentiality.

The happy one is the one 'who was pleasing to his Lord.' There is no-one who is not pleasing to his Lord because it is by him that rububiyya, Lordship, subsists. So He is pleased with Him, so he is happy. For this reason Sahl at-Tustari said, 'Lordship has a secret, and this secret is you.' He was addressing every source-form. 'Had it been manifested, Lordship would have been invalidated.' He used the word 'law' which is the participle of impossibility, for it is never manifested, so Lordship is never invalidated, FOR THERE IS NO EXISTENCE TO A SOURCE-FORM, except by its Lord. The source is always existent, so sovereignty is never invalidated.

And:

Every existent thing is pleasing to its Lord (Name), that does not necessitate that each existent thing which is pleasing to its Lord is also pleasing to the Lord of another, because Lordship is only obtained from each one of the Names, not from the one of Unity. So what is specific to it from the whole is only what is attributed to it. So He is its Lord. None is attached to Him in respect to His Unity. For this reason the people of Allah are forbidden manifestation of His Unity (Ahadiyya). If you look at Him by Him, He is the one who is looking at Himself. He continues to be Himself looking at Himself by Himself. If you look at Him by yourself, Unity vanishes because of you. If you look at Him both through Him and through you, Unity also vanishes because the pronoun of the second person implies that there is something else besides that which is regarded. So there must be some relationship which necessitates the duality of the Regarder and the regarded, and so Unity vanishes, even though there only exists the One who sees Himself by Himself. It is known that in this description He is the Regarder and the Regarded.

And:

So distinction occurred among the slaves, and distinction occurred among the Lords. Had distinction not occurred, One Divine Name would have been interpreted in all its aspects by what another Name is interpreted by: the elucidation of the Exalter is not that of the Abaser, and so on, except from the aspect of Unity. It is as we said of every Name, that it indicates the Essence and also its reality in respect to what it is. So the One named is but One and therefore the Exalter IS the Abaser in respect to the Named. It is not the Abaser in respect to itself and its reality.

Do not look at the Real and free Him from creation.

Do not look at creation and garb it in other-than-the-Real.

Disconnect Him and connect Him

   and you will stand in the goal of sincerity.

Stay in gatheredness if you wish,

     stay in separation if you wish.

You will win all even if all set out to carry the day.

You are not annihilated and you do not have going-on.

And the forms are not annihilated and do not have going-on.

Revelation will not be given to you in respect to another,

    and you will not give it.

We will shortly examine the two terms Connection and Disconnection – for the moment it is enough to recognise that they are two utterly contradictory methods of approach. What we must note now is our recognition that the Divine Names are no other than the named. The realities which the Names require to embody their Lordship are nothing but the Universe itself. To affirm this unified situation, the Shaykh uses a very daring phrase, but do not lose sight of what he has outlined in the poem above.

Thus Divinity [uluhiyya – god-ness] requires the object to which it is god-ed [ma'luh], as Lordship requires its own object Lorded [marbub]. Otherwise the Divine Names have no real existence of their own. What is absolutely free from any need of the Universe is solely the Reality as Essence. The Lordship has no such property. So the Reality is ultimately possessed of two aspects: on the one hand what is required by the Lordship, and on the other the complete independence of the Essence from the world which it rightly claims. BUT IN REALITY THE LORDSHIP IS THE ESSENCE ITSELF.

Let us go back from these two aspects to our previous picture which delineated in particular this connecting element, between the two. Let us go back to the triplicity of the Truth, the World, and the connecting term, the Source-forms. It is essential that we have a clear grasp of the nature of this 'connection'.

The 'ayn ath-thabitah are not qualified by existence and yet they are not qualified by non-existence, neither can they be said to be in-time nor in endless-time. Yet these source-forms have been with the Endless-time since endless-time. So here is something which is neither existent nor non-existent that is, nevertheless, the root of the world, that from which the world comes into being. It is the form of all the world-forms. It appears as the endless-time in the endless-time, and it appears as in-time in the in-time. If you say it is the world, you are right, declares the Master – and if you say it is Reality, the Endless-time, you are also right. But you are equally right if you say that it is neither the world nor the Truth, but it is something different from both. Each of these statements is true. It is other-than-Allah and it is not other-than-Allah.

Let us recall the varying perspectives we have gone through in our examination of the Divine emanation into solid world forms. We have seen that the individual letters brought the forms into being, but from the letters – WORDS WERE INTENDED, from the emergent words groupings arose which gave phrases, and we could not but recognise that from the words, from the beginning, phrases were intended. In our Qur'anic picture we saw that from the ayats, the signs, came Suras or forms. Thus from the beginning of the unfolding it was forms that were intended. We have also seen how by complexification, form-combination, something new enters into the experience picture. A reality sweeps over the form in all its discreet architectural patterning. It cannot be separated from it and yet is not it, for it remains discreet, separate, letters in joined and inter-related tension. We have seen how when any aspect of the complexity is dropped away, it leaves another 'reality' in its place. Another ma'na, or meaning. The scientist rejects the source-forms for they are not accessible to him by his methodology, and the esotericists reject the particularised description of the creation-situation when it is broken down into its discreet components, whether they are nucleic acids or particles. To the Sufi there are two approaches to existence – he may look at the world and see the forms, or he may turn to the Reality itself and the forms will fall away. In the great Hadith on creation's secret, the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, said:

Allah hides himself behind 70,000 veils of light and darkness. If He took away these veils, the fulgurating Lights of His Face would at once destroy the sight of any creature who dared to look at it.

The Shaykh al-Akbar comments that the veils of darkness are the natural bodies and the veils of Light are subtle spirits, for the Universe is composed of the gross and the subtle. He goes on:

So the Universe is its own veil of itself, and it cannot perceive the Reality since it perceives itself. It is continuously in a veil which is not removed since it knows that it is distinct from its Creator by its need for Him. It has no part in the essential necessity which belongs to the existence of Allah, so it can never perceive Him. In this respect Allah is always unknown by the knowledge of tasting and direct-seeing, because the in-time has no access to that.

So here we come up against another baffling negation. We had set out determined to follow a path that would give us experience of Reality, precisely that direct-tasting which we now discover the Greatest Master denies is possible. Are we merely left with some negative intellectual position, and if so what is the point of the journey? It is at this point that the connecting term, the 'ayn ath-thabitah takes on its vital and unavoidable significance.

The 'ayn ath-thabitah we directly experience in the phenomenal realm by an inbuilt faculty we have to structure and the discreet information-picture we construct when we scan our world. Out of the separate cellular units we 'construct' a man, a cat, a horse. Out of our 'readings' of the behaviour and energy-waves from the cat, we interpret its 'anger-state' and that it is going to spring. We make sense of existence. We pattern the patterns. This is ordinary experience. It is based on a direct and continual recognition of the 'outward' aspect of the 'ayn ath-thabitah as they manifest.

The Shaykh al-Akbar uses the mithal of a mirror to express the nature of what the source-form is, this non-existent possibility/form in the Divine Name which displays itself as an event/form. We have indicated that we are not what we seem – just as there is the phenomenal manifesting reality of the source-form which may be recognised in its subtle aspect by someone else, so there is the true reality of that hidden form in the Unseen, and that form is from the Names, and the Names are from the Essence. Now I may see something of the hidden reality of the man who comes towards me, but I will never be able to see his source-form in its Divine Nature. I cannot know that of any creature – except one.

Myself.

I, among the creatures, and only I have access to my own immutable source-form. I am capable of knowing myself. And that is the limit of what may be known. Here is how the Shaykh expresses it, again in a passage from 'The Seals of Wisdom':

As for the favours, gifts, and overflowings from the Essence, they only come from Divine Tajalli (self-manifestation). Tajalli only comes from the Essence by means of the forms of the predisposition of the one whom tajalli is made. It never occurs otherwise. So the one who receives the tajalli will see his form only, in the mirror of the Truth, and he will not see the Truth for it is not possible to see Him. At the same time he knows that he sees only his own form in it. It is like the mirror in the visible world – in-as-much as you see forms in it or your own form, you do not see the mirror. At the same time, you know that you see the forms or your form only by virtue of the mirror. So Allah manifests that as a mithal appropriate to His essential tajalli, so that the one receiving the tajalli knows that he does not see Him. There is no mithal nearer and more appropriate to vision and tajalli than this. So try yourself when you see the form in the mirror to see the body of the mirror as well – you will never see it. It is true, some people who recognise this mithal of the form of the mirror say that the reflected form is between the vision of the seer and the mirror. That is as far as the mind can go, and the matter is as we have said. If you wish to taste this, then experience the limit beyond which there is no higher limit in respect to the creature. Do not exhaust yourself in going beyond this degree, for in principle, there is only pure non-existence after it.

This is what is meant by the Shaykh al-Kamil in his Diwan in the song, 'The Buraq of the Tariq':

The adab of looking at the creature is that you see

     the Creator – no second face!

So you see the Creator in the created and

     the Provider in the provision.

The Truth is only seen in manifestation,

     whether by Angel or a mortal man.

The first manifestation is the Light of Ahmad, may the most excellent of blessings

    be upon him in endless-time.

By him the Truth has filled every creature

      and all that is or was.

So one door remains open to the seeker – his own door. Beyond that there is nothing. Reality is One. The slave is the slave and the Lord is the Lord. But his Lord, the source of his own existence, the mirror-image of the perfection of the Essence he may contemplate – in short, he may have knowledge of himself. On the other side of this knowledge is obliteration, and it is the Wisdom of the Wise. This is the meaning of the famous saying attributed to Yahya ibn Ma'ad ar-Razi: 'He who knows his nafs, truly, he knows his Lord.'

The Shaykh al-Akbar counsels:

So know your source-form, and who you are, what is your he-ness, and what your relation to Allah is, and by what you are the Truth and by what you are the Universe and the other, and whatever resembles these expressions.

So here is the conclusion:

So know that you are an imagination, and that which you perceive and of which you say, 'This is not me!' is imagination. So all our existence is imagination within imagination.

The world of being and becoming is an imagination – but it is, in truth, the Reality itself.

His word is: 'Say: if you love Allah, follow me and Allah will love you.' (3.31). So, he called to a Divinity to whom one has recourse and who is known in respect to the whole and is not seen, 'Nor do the eyes perceive Him, but He perceives the eyes,' (6.103), by His lutf and His diffusion in the source-forms of things. The eyes do not perceive Him as they do not perceive their arwah which govern their shapes and their outward forms. 'And He is the All-Latif, the All-Aware.' (6.103). EXPERIENCE IS THE TASTE AND TASTE IS TAJALLI. Tajalli occurs in forms. So they must be and it must be and the one who sees Him by his passion must worship Him, if you but understand! On Allah is the goal of the Path.

Another contradictory aspect of the teaching emerged as the Shaykh guided to what was best for the seeker. He had said, we noted: 'Use both tanzih and tashbih in relation to Him and you will stand in the goal of sincerity.' Again we have to learn not an ambiguous approach to existence but a contrary one which clashes one approach against another, irreconcilable forces. As usual, we will begin with their root form which is quite uncomplicated and direct: Tanzih is from NZH, which means: 'to keep something away from anything contaminating or impure'. Tashbih is from ShBH, meaning: 'to make or consider something similar to some other thing'. This second root we have already encountered! And it was in an ayat informing us that certain ayats contained a likeness-sign Wisdom that should not be approached through our mental activity, but should be accepted and made the basis of remembering. The key to that knowledge was by dhikr, and not fikr. Therefore these ayats obviously contain the most profound Wisdom – and despite this we should not perform this act but keep ourselves aloof from it. Tanzih is to disconnect – tashbih is to connect. The truth of the matter is that one can neither hold to one nor the other, these two opposites – connecting forms to the Reality and disconnecting the Reality from forms are two truths which must be held in balanced and dynamic tension at the same time. The perfection of this paradoxical Wisdom is stated most clearly in the ayat which declares:

There is nothing like Him – and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. (Qur'an 42.11)

In the first part Allah declares His reality to be beyond any association with forms, and thus disconnects. In the second part He affirms that He participates in the form-world, seeing is His and hearing is His, and thus connects. In the view of the People of Reality, merely to practise disconnection is to limit and restrict Allah, and also to defy the nabiyyic teaching method of mithal-wisdom. The Qur'an is full of images which express the transaction Allah has with His creatures. He is assigned 'hands' and 'feet', He 'sits upon the Throne', He 'rolls up the Universe like a scroll'. This is not some Blakean vision of a patriarchal being in the heavens suspended over our heads, and it would be a sign of ignorance to take it as such. The Wisdom-teaching of Islam is categoric: He does not engender forms, and He was not engendered by a form, that is to say that the coming out of forms does not diminish His totality. He has no form, or if you were to practise tashbih it would be based on the understanding that if He is not the forms, He is form-itself, from which all forms come, but that is in the zone of the Names, not the Essence. In other words, to talk of Him in connection with the forms is to be held to the structural framework we have used, in the Essence He is as He was before the creation of the myriad forms. The language of 'likeness' which involves the imagery of 'His fingers' and so on, is the mithal-method which simply shows us how-it-is in the realm to which we have no access without using form language. In the realm of realities we need a form language, for these realities are not the forms, but the forms pass over them, as it were. So when we come to the realm of Essence, the great 'Ama in its impenetrable nature, we have to be prepared to abandon all connection. For Allah in His splendour, there must be disconnection, for Allah, the Lord of the Myriad Form Universe, we must have recourse to form – mithals to grasp the realities of existence, the meanings of the phenomenal events. The means is connection.

Particular essences are not changed nor do realities change. Fire therefore burns by its reality, not by its form. So His statement, may He be exalted, to the fire: 'Oh fire, be cold and be peace,' (21.16) – was not spoken to a form. The form is live coals and bodies of live coals which are being burned by the fire. When the fire stood over them, the fire heard, and so it accepted cold as it accepts heat.

Here we see described the governing reality in relation to the form, in the same way we approach His relation to what is manifested of the forms of the world. Therefore we can never know Allah by definition, for to do so we would have to know the definite reality of every form in the Universe throughout the time experience, and this is impossible. Be careful not to fall into the pit of the Christian Orientalists who mistook the Sufis for pantheists. There is absolutely no equating of Allah with the forms, for we have already indicated the structural and dynamic process which permits us to make even this subtle connection, and it only has reality if alongside it we utterly deny the reality of the forms before His unassailable uniqueness and purity from forms. Allah is the Manifest. The Universe therefore is His form, in the framework which we have declared of 'ayn ath-thabitah, but at the same time, the Universe is also His He-ness. He is the meaning, the spirit of all that is manifest, and so He is the Hidden. So you are His form and He is your reality. 'You are to Him as your corporeal form is to you, and He is to you as the spirit which governs the body.' Let us re-affirm the basic teaching: if you practise connection alone, you are a dualist: if you practise disconnection alone, you are a separator.

We have arrived at a point where we must both affirm that all the source-forms, which are manifestations of the Names, are by that token all of one source-form, for all the Names come together in the Name of the Rahman, the Mercy, on which the Universe is sustained, and it is the same, according to Qur'an, as the Supreme Name, Allah. You know Him from yourself. All the myriad millions of things are not other than the He-ness of the Essence. And we have arrived at a point where we must negate. All the world of manifestation, you yourself, are a shadow of a reality, you are the mirror-image in which Allah contemplates His Names. You are non-existent, a meaning projected into space/time, an imagining. Yet these two, inexorably, are one, and Tawhid is affirmed. Tawhid does not just mean Unity, it means to unify. You have to 'one' reality, and when it is 'one-d' experientially the goal is achieved. All this is but the framework. Unification is our business on the Path: the knower, the knowledge, and the known.

This brings us to the method of approach. Clearly it cannot be done by thinking, for we have been warned that in this zone of understanding we have to allow the knowledge to come from the Knower without our intervention. The means is to reflect up to that point where reason and intellect can no longer function. The practice is to allow the mind to be halted. We have to get to the limit of the mind. The edge of the cliff. This practice is called HAYRAH – bewilderment.

We had reached an already baffling situation, that the Reality in disconnection was the creatures by connection. Even though we distinguished between creature and Creator, we recognised that the many essences were nothing but One Unique Essence. The Hayrah arises because, in the language of the Shaykh al-Akbar, the mind becomes polarised. This is the re-iterated exclamation of the Master Rumi in his great wisdom book 'The Mathnawi' – again and again he calls out: 'The mind stops!' We experience and depend on duality for our existence – day/night, hot/cold, wet/dry, and the series we have examined of the matrices good/bad, and so on. This is the realm of nature where every one thing comes out from two. Now we desire knowledge of the One whose reality manifests as the numbers, which are of course, in the view of the Shaykh al-Akbar, themselves unitary. Each number is made up of ones, thus every number both has its own identity, two being unlike three and four being unlike five, while at the same time they have in common their being based on one. Yet another mithal of the relation of the essences to Essence.

Having seen in nature the primacy of the two, these have to be unified if we wish to achieve our goal. Yet they cannot of their nature be unified, for hot and cold do not mix, as we have seen, nor wet and dry. The same is true when we go to the Names themselves. We have already examined the clash between He who Exalts and He who Abases. What we have to recognise is that He is AT THE SAME TIME the Exalter and the Abaser. He is the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden at the same time, but one face of the Names is turned to the form and another face is turned to the Essence.

Shaykh al-Kashani commenting on this Hayrah says:

This ocean of Hayrah is the Unity pervading all and manifesting itself in multiple forms. It is bewildering because of the Unity appearing in a concrete determined form in every single thing and yet remaining non-determined in the whole. It is bewildering because it is non-limitation and limitation.

The Master Abu Sa'id al-Kharraz of Baghdad said: 'I reached gnosis of Allah through joining the contrary Names.' Shaykh Moulay al-'Arabi ad-Darqawi, may Allah have mercy upon him, a Shaykh of our Shaykh, and a great Master of sufic Wisdom, who died a hundred and fifty years ago, near Fez in Morocco, describes in detail in his Letters how this experience was the final one on his Path before achieving his Tawhid. After expounding on the doctrine of fana, annihilation of the experiencing nafs, and reaffirming what we have been studying here, that is, that it is only illusion – wahm – which veils man from reality, that illusion of course lying in our capacity to solidify the manifest objects into multiplicity, he goes on:

We observe – but Allah knows best – that this annihilation takes place, if Allah wills it, in the least possible time, by means of a certain method of invoking the Name of Majesty: Allah. I came upon this method in the work of the Venerable Master, the Wali Abu'l Hasan ash-Shadhili, may Allah be pleased with him. It is mentioned in certain books owned by a scholar among our brothers of the Bani Zarwal, and I also received it from my noble Master Abu'l Hasan 'Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, in a slightly different, simpler, and more direct form. It consists of visualising the five letters of the Name – while saying Allah – Allah – Allah. Each time the letters dissolved in my imagination I revisualised them, and if they dissolved a thousand times during the day and a thousand times during the night, I continued a thousand times a day and a thousand times a night to revisualise them. This method gave me moments of immense inner vision when I practised it for a little more than a month at the beginning of my spiritual Path. It brought me a great knowledge as well as intense awe, but I paid no heed to it, occupied as I was in calling upon the Name and visualising the letters until the month ended. Then a thought forced itself on my attention: 'Allah-ta-'ala says that He is the First and the Last and the Outwardly Manifest and the Inwardly Hidden.' (57.3). To begin with I turned away from this thought that crept in, resolved not to listen to it, and I continued with my practice. But this voice did not leave me alone, it insisted, and would not accept my refusal to listen to it, just as I would not accept its way of acting and did not listen to it. But finally since it would not leave me in peace I answered it: 'As for His words saying that He is the First and the Last and that He is the Inwardly Hidden, I understand them quite well: but I do not understand His affirmation that He is the Outwardly Manifest, because all I see on the outside are created things.' To this the voice answered: 'If by His expression the Outwardly Manifest he had meant something other than the phenomenal world which we see, it would not be outward but inward. And so I say to you – He is the Outwardly Manifest.' Then I perceived that there is no reality except Allah and nothing in the Universe except Him, praise and thanks be to Allah.

Annihilation in the Essence of our Lord comes about quickly, if Allah wills, by the method just described, for by this method, reflection bears fruit from the morning to the evening, provided that suspension of thought has been practised long enough. In my case it bore fruit after just a month and a few days, but Allah knows best. Certainly if someone were to practise suspension of thought for a year or two, or even three, the thought which would then appear would grant a great Wisdom and a dazzling secret.

This is the Path of our Shaykh and Master, the Qutb, Muhammad ibn al-Habib, may Allah have mercy upon him, and what was true then is true today if a seeker is earnest in his or her quest and simply submits to the practices and dhikrs of the Order. But this tremendous matter, which is our concern, does not exist in a vacuum and cannot simply be grafted onto a life that is led by Christian bourgeois standards, for all the Sunna-practice which we have examined, all the ordinary activity of the slave in leading a life that is in harmony with the laws of existence, is what grounds the seeker in the deep sanity of the Sunna of our beloved Messenger, may Allah bless him and give him peace. If someone were to regard this, in the manner of the culture in which we were so disastrously mis-educated, as some mental or 'inner' exercise that they could practise as a therapy from the ills of their unstructured existence, they would meet with disaster. The Way harmonises the Sunna and the acts of dhikr into a pattern that is the whole life picture, and it is to that that we are called by the Shaykhs of the Way. Just as the dhikr of the Master described above is the focal point of the Tariq's work, this Hayrah which precedes the final stages of the Way is embodied in the final and highest task that the Muslim can fulfil in this world. And that is the Hajj. The root, HJJ means: 'to struggle with'; 'to make a spiritual journey'; it means 'Hajj' for it is its own root; 'an argument'; 'a single Hajj, a year'.

It can therefore immediately be recognised as being a difficult journey, and at the same time it is an argument. What argument? From the point of view of the slave, it is, from its beginning when he is forced to don the ihram, the obligatory robes of pilgrimage which consist of two seamless white pieces of cloth, the argument of his nafs which has continued all his life in the continual rebellion of the self against the very submission-act that is his Islam. The pared down rituals of the difficult journey crystallise the nafs' battle with existence and its perpetually renewed attempts to throw off the chains of submission and regain the illusion of freedom. This of course means to reject the fact of mortality and return to the fantasy that one is going to live for ever without being responsible after death for one's acts in the world. From the point of view of the Lord it is also 'the conclusive argument' that the slave is the slave and the Lord is the Lord. In its profoundly structured set of mathematically precise movements and stoppings, it displays for the seeker a theorem of the whole existence activity which in the ordinary life situation may seem chaotic and random. In the Hajj, a man or woman experiences life and the self within such a determined and patterned geometric activity that though there may be near to two million people, outwardly all engaged in the same practice at the same time, inwardly each has his own unique struggle with the nafs to surrender once and for all the fantasy of selfhood, and the fantasy of otherness on which the world and all its ravishingly beautiful and terrible commotion is based. The Hajj is 'a year', a complete cycle of existence.

To take the matter of 'dispute' one degree further, let us note that the whole experience of life seems to suggest to people that life is a struggle and that the enemy is without. The other, be it man or woman or child or environment or the moment and the event – it is this otherness of the world that makes life a struggle. Out there is the cause for my anguish in here. The Hajj is the rite of unveiling which reveals that from one point of view you are identical with all these others, for are you not surrounded with hundreds of thousands of people identical to you, robed as you are, troubled as you are, and is not existence at that time the same for all of you? It is tawaf of the Ka'ba and walking down to Muzdalifa that tires and shatters you all. The Master Rumi has said that the world is a mountain and all you ever get back from it is the sound of your own voice. This is one of the secrets of the Hajj. Nowhere is one more alone than in the surging crowd of 'Arafat, and circling the Sublime House. Nowhere, therefore is one more constrained to follow the counsel of the Shaykh Sidi 'Ali al-Jamal:

'Relax the mind and learn to swim.'

Qur'an says:

Allah has appointed the Ka'ba, the Pure House, as a standard for mankind, and the pure month, the offering, and the necklaces – that you may know that Allah knows all that is in the heavens and in the earth, and that Allah has knowledge of everything. Know – Allah is terrible in retribution, and Allah is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. (Qur'an 5.97-98)

And when we settled for Ibrahim the place of the House: 'You shall not associate with Me anything. And so purify My house for those that shall go about it, and those that stand, for those that bow and prostrate themselves: and proclaim among men the Hajj, and they shall come to you on foot, and upon every lean beast, they shall come from every deep ravine that they may see things from which they will profit, and mention Allah's Name on days well-known over such beasts of the flocks as He has provided them – so eat from them, and feed the bereft.'

(Qur'an 22.26-28)

And take provision: but the best provision is awe-of-Reality, so fear you Me, men possessed of minds.

(Qur'an 2.197)

As with the basic practice of salat, we find there is one aspect of the rites which is purification or separation and another aspect which is an act of Tawhid and joining. Just as wudu and ghusl prepare the way for the act of prostration, and just as salat has a base of minimal obligatory daily practice which then expands through the nawafil, or extra acts of prostration, until a climax is reached in Ramadan with the act of tarawih, which literally means 'to become spirit', or to spiritualise yourself – and that act intensifies in the climax of the through-the-night recitation of the whole of Qur'an on the Night of Power – so the Hajj takes the hajji through a series of practices that intensify, exhaust and shatter him or her outwardly as they also inwardly illuminate. For these trying and difficult acts, the separation needed is more acute than for the simple act of prostration. The hajjis must bathe and then don the ihram robes at the beginning of the rites, and from that moment on they fall under the obligations of the Hajj. These are: not to cut the nails, or remove a single hair from the head or body: not to kill or even dislodge any living creature that comes onto the body: not to have sexual intercourse: not to dispute or lose one's temper: not to trade: not to hunt while within the purified zone of the Hajj: to perform all the rites of Hajj within the time limits specified for each act.

What the shahadah or Affirmation of Islam is for the moment: what salat is for the day: what Ramadan and Zakat are for the year: Hajj is for the lifetime. It is a summing up of all the acts of dhikr which the Muslim has been fulfilling all his or her life, and it is a ritualising of the act of living itself. It is movement and struggle and exhaustion, dust-covered and weary – the more the pilgrim is shattered, the more the heart becomes illuminated and filled with ecstasy. At the beginning of the rites people are fresh and elated and rather pleased with themselves for being hajjis, at the end as they stumble and drag themselves back to their starting point of Ka'ba, they are dazed, awed, sobered, and illuminated.

The three great acts of the Hajj are the circling of the House of Ka'ba, the Running between Safa and Marwa, and the Standing on 'Arafat. The circling of the House may be done as much as the pilgrim desires, although certain tawaf, as they are called, are obligatory. Qur'an designates the House as the first place of worship used by the human race. On the earth there is no more purified spot, no more illuminated building. 'The Ka'ba,' said the Messenger, blessings and peace be upon him, 'is one of the jewels of the Garden.' It is the mithal of the 'Arsh, the starless Heaven which encompasses the Universe of the galaxies. Just as the Angels of Light encircle the Throne, so do the pilgrims encircle the Ka'ba. To circle the Ka'ba is, in the phrase of the Greatest Master, 'to be at the heart of the existence of the world.' One tawaf is completed by doing seven circlings of the House – it is followed by the performance of the two rak'as at the Station of Ibrahim which is set near the Ka'ba at the Black Stone Corner.

The other important act performed at Makka is the Sa'ee, the going between the two rocks of Safa and Marwa. This is a re-enactment of Hagar's desperate search for water for her son Ishmael, who later helped his father Ibrahim build the House to the One. It is said that she ran between these two rocks in vain looking for a watering place. When she gave up and sank to the ground, there burst out of it before her the well of Zam-zam. Drinking this water is also one of the practices of Hajj. It is one of the miracles of the Hajj that this small desert well rises every Hajj time and sinks again after the Hajj period is over, and during that time it gives water to over a million people each year, and all the more extraordinary since the Hajj time moves throughout the year with the movement of the lunar calendar. This rite is performed moving at a firm pace which increases in the middle stretch of the distance to a formalised jogging run that in turn breaks down again to a swift walk. There is a 'stop' when you get to Marwa from Safa, and a stop when you get back to Safa from Marwa, and each time you hail the other hajjis with the call 'Allahu akbar', as if to remind them in their flight. When the hajji begins his Sa'ee, he joins an already moving bank of people between the two rocks, so that the stream of people between the two Way-marks is endless. As you fall into that sea of activity rushing from here to there and from there to here, and the ocean of faces washes past you, some seen again and again, others seen once and for all, the rhythmic running from a place to a place takes on the impulse of activity that has governed all one's life of forgetfulness. All the struggle and fretfulness of existence, all the coming and going, becomes condensed into these seven terrible flights from A to B and from B to A. Seven times is enough for the whole series in the life of one to be exposed to one's palpitating heart.

It can be seen how simple and profound the rites of the Hajj are. There are the first two in outline: a circle and a straight line. It is also clear to the Hajji that the Sa'ee is about his existence and the Tawaf is about Allah's reality and the slave's non-existence. The Shaykh al-Akbar expresses it thus:

The man whose vision is veiled draws a straight line.

The man in Hayrah draws a circle.

Here he describes the tawaf that opened him to the knowledge of his 'Makkan Revelations':

When I reached Makka of the blessings and the source of dwellings spiritual and physical, I was constantly engaged in doing tawaf of His Ancient House. While I practised the tawaf I said: 'Subhan'Allah, Al-hamdulillah, Allahu akbar and La ilaha ila'llah.' Sometimes I kissed it and sometimes I touched it, and sometimes I did only what was required. When I was at the Black Stone I unexpectedly came upon an evanescent youth, a silent speaker, neither alive nor dead, composite-simple, enveloped-enveloping. When I saw him doing tawaf of the House with the tawaf of the living around the dead, I realised its reality and its metaphor, and I knew that the tawaf of the House is like the prayer on the funeral corpse. Suddenly he snatched me from myself and overpowered me. He spoke to me and said: 'Look at the secret of the House before it escapes and you will see what pride it derives from those who have been guided and do tawaf of its stones.' As I watched them I saw it glowing as he said. Then he informed me of the degree of that youth and his freedom from where and when. Once I knew his degree and his stopping-place and saw his place in existence and his state, I kissed his right hand and wiped the sweat of inspiration from his brow and said to him: 'Look at one who wishes to live in your company and desires to be close to you.' So he indicated to me with gesture and riddle that he preferred not to speak to anyone except by sign

So I fainted and he took hold of me – when I recovered from swooning and my flesh was still trembling from fear, he knew that the knowledge had arrived so I said to him: 'Tell me about some of your secrets so that I may be among your scribes,' and he said: 'Look at the articulations of my nature and in the organisation of my form, and you will find what you asked about engraved on me. For I am not one who speaks nor is addressed. My knowledge extends only to myself, and my essence is not other than my names. I am the knowledge and the known and the knower. I am Wisdom, the work of Wisdom, and the Wise.' Then he said to me: 'Do tawaf around my footsteps and contemplate me with the light of my moon in such a way as to find from my nature what you will write about in your book '

Had it not been that He did not bid farewell to what my reality necessitated and that my Path had reached Him, I would not have found obtainment of His spring, nor inclination to His knowledge. For that reason I returned to the end, and for this reason, He returns. So put the compass at the opening of the circle with the union of the end of its existence to the dot of beginning, and so connect the last matter to the first. Its after-endless-time is attached to its before-endless-time. So there is nothing but continuous existence and established going-on witnessing

The goal is not obtained except by going on the Path

Then He said to me: 'This is My House here which signifies the Essence, and the courses of the tawaf are in the degree of the seven Attributes, the Attributes of Perfection, not the Attributes of Majesty, because they are the Attributes of union to you and interaction. So there are seven courses for seven Attributes, and the Ancient House indicates the Essence. Look at the angel with you doing tawaf, and who is standing at your side This Ka'ba of Mine is the heart of existence, and My Throne is the defined body of this heart, and neither of them is wide enough for Me. Do not say about Me what you say about them. My House which does contain Me is your indicated heart, lodged in your witnessed body. The circlers of your heart are the secrets. They have the degree of your bodies in their tawaf of these stones... I am the Great, the Self-Exalted! Limit does not limit Me, and neither the master nor the slave know Me. Divinity is purified, so it is transcendent beyond comprehension, and so it may be ranked with nothing. You are the I! I am the I! So do not seek Me in yourself for you will only gain weariness! So do not seek Me outside of yourself, or you will end Me! Do not leave off My Quest, or else you will be untouched. Seek Me until you Meet Me, and you will be exalted! But have courtesy in the quest. Distinguish between Me and you, for you do not see Me, but you only see your own nature, so remain in the quality of communication. Be a slave! Say it is impossible to perceive – beyond the obtainment of perception. In that you will be freed, and you will be ennobled, and true.'

So I entered the House of the Hijr with the Angel and he put his hand on my chest and said: I am of the seventh degree of capacity to embrace the secrets of being and the secrets of existence, of particular essences and place. The Truth created me as a piece of the Light of Hawwa (Eve) in her pure state He revealed through myself a rider of high station on a three-legged mount. He bent his head towards me and lights and darknesses expanded and he inspired in my heart all beings, and he rent my earth and my sky, and informed me of all my names. So I knew myself and other-than-me distinguished between my good and my evil, and differentiated between my Creator and my realities. Then the Angel went from me, saying: 'You know now that you are the presence of the Angel, so prepare for revelation and the arrival of the Messenger.'

We have arrived at the final phase of the matter. We have examined the existence of the Universe as a Divine self-manifestation, a series of endless tajalliyat, filled with manifest and hidden wonder and majesty, all of it beauty. There remains one more dimension to our picture if it is to be complete. So far we have examined the creation-picture in terms of structure as if it were static, but now we must reconnect this creation-patterning to what we had discovered about the vibrant and dynamic nature of existence in its shimmering and moving activity. We are at the door of the secret of creation, the breath of life – the breath of the Merciful.

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