A Partial Glossary of Sufi Terms
Annihilation in God: A saint’s seeing himself or herself as engulfed in the lights of God’s Existence and as directed by God’s Will; a saint’s setting his or her heart wholly on God and never disobeying Him.
The Book: The Qur’an.
The Book of Creation or the Universe: The complete set of messages demonstrating God. The universe resembles a book: all of its “chapters” (systems), “pages” (skies, earth, other planets with their contents), “paragraphs” (seasons, days, months), “sentences” (genders, families, species), “words” (individual, existent beings), and “letters” (atoms or particles) point to God’s Existence, Unity, Attributes, Names, and Acts.
Eternity: Being non-contained by time and space or by corporeality and material existence. It is also used to denote the eternal life in the Hereafter.
Free Will and Destiny or Predetermination: The first term denotes human free choice, and the other Divine Destiny. What is important to keep in mind concerning these terms is that God is not bound by such limiting human concepts as “time.” For Him, there is no past, present, and future; everything is visible to Him at the same time. Therefore, what people perceive as “destiny,” “fate,” or any other word used to express the idea of predetermination is that one’s human inclinations are brought into existence by God. In other words, one’s free will is included in God’s “determination” of events.
God’s Attributes: God has three kinds of Attributes. The first kind consist of His Essential Attributes, which are Existence, Being Eternal with no beginning and end, Absolute Oneness (there is nothing like Him anywhere), and Self-Subsistence. The second kind consists of those Attributes that are inseparable from the Divine Being (Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Seeing, Will, Power, Speech, and the Power of Creation). The third kind consists of Attributes that, if they were to be found in Him, would be incompatible with His very Essence. Therefore, He is absolutely free of all such Attributes (defects).
God’s Essence: The very Divine Being of God, God Himself, God as Divine Being.
God’s Names: God has many Names that define Him. Each Name defines an “aspect” of the Divine Being, and is manifested in the universe to give existence to beings and events. Some of the Names are the All-Merciful, All-Compassionate, All-Creating, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, All-Powerful, All-Willing, All-Providing, All-Knowing, and the Giver of Life.
God’s (Good) Pleasure: God’s being pleased with one and approving of one’s actions.
God’s Supreme Throne: To make certain abstract truths understandable, the Qur’an introduces God as a king with armies and a throne. The throne, whose real identity and quality is unknown, may be considered the medium through which God directs affairs and governs the universe. For example, water is seen as the throne of life, for it is a means, even the origin, of life. Another example is earth (soil), seen as the throne of mercy, as God usually manifests His mercy through earth.
Initiate: A believer who is beginning his or her (spiritual) journey to God.
Master or Guide: The top teacher or educator in Sufism; one who educates and guides travelers or dervishes on their way to God.
Muhammadan Truth: The substantial truth lying behind all existence and especially Islamic principles; the truth represented by Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, as the Messenger of God.
Progressing or journeying, “from” God: A saint’s being charged with conveying Divine commandments to others or guiding people to the way of God and on the way to God.
Progressing or journeying “in” God: A Sufi’s continual travel in the manifestations of Divine Attributes and Names; his or her further travel to acquire full knowledge of God until annihilating his or her self in the Divine Will.
Qur’an: The Muslim Holy Book revealed by God, through the Archangel Gabriel, to Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, over a 23-year period.
Reaching God: A traveler’s reaching recognition of God as the Creator, the Provider, the Merciful, the Just, and so on, and possessing a certain degree of knowledge of Him according to his or her capacity.
Soul or Self: In the Qur’an, both of these are called nafs – the carnal, lower self. Sufis gradually developed their own terms and hierarchy around this concept.
Subsistence with God: A saint’s seeing himself or herself as subsisting totally by God’s maintaining his or her life and governing his or her actions.
Sunna: The exemplary life of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and the set of norms he established for thinking, living, and worshipping in accordance with Islam.
Traveler: One who follows a Sufi system to reach God.
Traveling “toward” God: A Sufi’s following of a Sufi way or system of spiritual training until reaching God.
Union or Re-union: Finding and knowing God in one’s heart or conscience. It also denotes acquiring full knowledge and love of God. It should never be mistaken or confused with such mistaken beliefs as incarnation and communion with or participation in the Divine Being. In Sufism, the world is the realm of separation, because one’s spirit (his or her main existence) is not corporeal and therefore does not belong to the corporeal world. It belongs to the immaterial or metaphysical worlds, where Divine manifestations are clearer. In the other world, a person will know the realities, and be acquainted with Divine realities as they really are. That is why death is the first door to open onto this world and re-union with God after separation.
Unity of Being: An ecstatic saint’s view of the creation as annihilated in God and of God as the true existent being. It should not be confused with monism and pantheism.
Way or Path: The Sufi systems of spiritual training.
World(s): There are countless worlds, each of which has its own particular features. For example, the World of Ideal Forms is the immaterial or semi-material dimension of existence where human deeds take on particular forms. The other world is the realm where people will go to either Paradise or Hell after being resurrected and judged. Immaterial worlds, in particular, have many different types. Again, each species, even each member of the human species, has its own world.
From Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism