Al-A‘yanu’th-Thabita And Al-‘Alamu’l-Mithal
(Archetypes and the World of Representations or Ideal Forms)
This article covers Al-A‘yanu’th-Thabita and Al-‘Alamu’l-Mithal (Archetypes and the World of Representations or Ideal Forms).
In Sufi terminology, archetypes are the established, existential origins of things in the realm of Divine Knowledge. They consist of the manifestations of the Divine Names in the realm of Knowledge, and they denote the existential essences that pertain to the origins of contingencies. Although the relationships of these spiritual forms or existential essences in the realm of Knowledge with the Divine Being seem to be within the frame of time, they are beyond time. The limitless content of Divine Knowledge is different from the existential essences that are individually or collectively identified within the frame of time. Even though whatever exists in Divine Knowledge has some sort of individually or collectively identified existence, it is equally possible whether it will be brought into external existence or not within the dimensions of time and space.
It is a fact that whether they are Sufi leaders or theologians, those who have expert knowledge of this subject have lacked the words with which to express the issues that pertain to the transcendental dimensions of existence; indeed, they take great care in order to avoid any confusion. As mentioned before under the title of Effusion, they call the Divine manifestation on the archetypes, which is a Divine mystery whose essential nature we cannot know, the Most Sacred Effusion, while the manifestation considered to be the origin of the archetypes emerging as existent beings and things within the dimensions of time and space is termed the Sacred Effusion. By such designations, scholars not only remind us that the archetypes and the contingencies that have been brought into the time and space-bound realm of existence are different from one another, they also focus our attention on the difference between manifestation (tajalli) and emergence (zuhur), thus stressing the Qur’anic truth concerning the beginning and process of the creation of the universe. This truth can never be reconciled with the philosophical approaches of monism and pantheism.
I think that since some cannot avoid going into extremes, they cannot preserve balance in approaching the most sublime Divine truths and thus fall into many grievous faults. Those who concentrate on the all-encompassing Divine Will and the all-overwhelming Power ignore the universe and view all things as if they were God’s incarnates, while others who focus on things and beings themselves, together with the apparent causes for their existence, take on views of naturalism or materialism. However, the unity or uniformity of or the interconnectedness in existence comes from the unity of the Origin of manifestation, while the almost limitless variation among and multiplicity in things and beings issue from the different dispositions or operations of the archetypes in the Divine Knowledge by the Divine Will and Power.
Self- existence with all its parts is one thing; things and beings appearing in different mirrors of existence in all their varieties through the manifestations of the Divine Knowledge and Existence is another. If we can perceive this difference, we will be able to notice the aspects of existence which lead some to the doctrine of the transcendent Unity of Being, and some others to the Unity of the Witnessed, and understand the difference between the essence and the form, and between the One Who gives existence and makes subsist and those who are brought into existence and made to subsist. We can explain the differences in question in plainer terms as follows:
Things and beings are not existent by or on account of themselves, but they exist by God’s bringing them into existence or by being the shadows of the light of God’s Existence from behind numerous veils. Apparent or superficial existence is one thing, and real, substantial existence is another. Forms and appearances are reflections as gifts from Him; they are neither identical with Him nor independent of Him. He said to them, “Be!” and they were. When He cuts off His effusion, they will disappear. Assertions such as Divine incarnation, existential union with Him, being an embodiment of Him, and His being a pervasive Soul—these and other similar assertions are all false. What gives external existence to all things and beings are the manifestations of His Attributes and Names:
If you focus on the forms, you will see that both you and I exist—
But in absolute, transcendent reality, neither you nor I exist.
Now, as it is the All-Living, All-Subsisting One Who gives existence and subsists, who can have the right to claim self- existence? Everything’s existence depends on His Existence and Knowledge; whatever exists is a mirror in which His Names manifest themselves as being ultimately responsible for anything that occurs in it. Humanity is the most comprehensive and polished of these mirrors, and the Master of creation, upon him be perfect blessings, is the most perfect and complete of these. What follows is an anonymous couplet expressing this:
Whatever exists in the universe is a mirror and subsists by Him;
It is God Who is constantly reflected in the mirror of Muhammad.
Without considering the First Identification, the archetypes are contingencies which are regarded as non-existent in one respect. When they first emerge, they are hidden and not known; and when they are sent into existence, they continue their non- existence on account of themselves. They serve as veils for the manifestations of Divine Knowledge and Existence. As this service of veiling is, in the words of Bediüzzaman, required by the Divine Dignity and Grandeur so that those who reason superficially should not see the Hand of Power as directly related to certain seemingly insignificant or vile things and affairs, it must also be in order to guide humanity, which has been honored with vicegerency—the administration of the earth according to God’s law—to be careful about their considerations of the Divine Being and His manifestations.
As in the world, which is the realm of existence and decline, the manifestations of the Divine Majesty and Grace also follow one another in the realm of the archetypes. While the Divine Majesty manifests Itself to destroy, the Divine Grace invents. These manifestations continue after those of archetypes which have been decreed to be sent into the realm of perceptible existence have been clothed in existence. It can be said that every existent thing bursts forth out of the spring of archetypes and becomes an “ideal reflection or representation,” or “form.” Then, these forms are clothed in perceptible existence.
All of the attributes to be manifested by beings in the corporeal world, including conflicting ones such as light and darkness, good and evil, bliss and wretchedness, have already been determined while they are in the World of Representations or “Ideal Forms.” However, a conscious, responsible being’s nature as good and blissful or evil and wretched is determined according to his or her future choice in this corporeal world. No one other than the All-Knowing of the Unseen can judge them until their state becomes apparent in the corporeal world. However, God may inform some of His “purified, chosen servants” about their “future” states and natures while they are in the World or Realm of Representations or “Ideal Forms.” This is an exception and therefore beyond the sphere of our duties or responsibilities. The statements or declarations of the All-Knowing of the Unseen in the Qur’an in reference to these are sometimes about their states in the Realm of Representations, and sometimes about those in the corporeal world. So, those unaware of this fact may confuse one with the other. For example, the Qur’an’s declaration regarding Satan to mean, He was from among the unbelievers, without considering his rebellion, is concerned with the archetype of Satan, while its description, He grew arrogant and became one from among the unbelievers (2:34; 38:74), is about his state after he rejected God’s order when, therefore, the signs of his rebellion appeared.
Some saints can at times observe the states of the archetypes plainly or in the form of symbols as in dreams. This is a special, extraordinary favor from God to them. God sometimes informs them about certain future events and so reminds them of some points peculiar to them. It sometimes occurs that the Almighty sends these heroes of self-possession some signals regarding impending dangers, directing their hearts to prayer and supplication. At other times, they are reminded of the necessity of preserving the balance between the means and material causes and the Causer of causes, being called to focus on the Divine absolute Unity.
The information and observations mentioned concerning the archetypes are usually presented to God’s specially chosen, purified servants in the forms of “ideal” tablets. These tablets are manifested either identically with their future, corporeal existential forms, or in symbols according to their meaning and contents. Symbolic representations require interpretation, like unclear dreams. Their interpretation is possible through knowing or discovering the key words or terms in the Qur’an and the authentic Prophetic Traditions. Any interpretation made without this knowledge means “throwing random stones at the Unseen” and therefore amounts to disrespect for the All-Knowing of the Unseen.
The realm or the world where the immaterial forms or models belonging to the archetypes are reflected and represented is called “the World or the Realm of Representations or Ideal Forms,” and the forms or reflections in this World are termed “the ideal or reflected forms.” The perceptible, corporeal forms are the shadows of these ideal or reflected forms. Some of the ideal forms are purely spiritual, while others have some perceptible figures. The realm where the former reside is called “the World of Absolutely Ideal Forms,” while the realm where the latter reside is known as “the World of Specified Forms.”
Some see the World of Representations or Ideal Forms as the representations or reflections of corporeal forms and events in our world of sensations in their particular energetic covers. This can be exemplified by the appearances of spirits and angels in certain forms in our world. There are so many simple (not composite) natures which belong to the Realm of the Spirit and the Divine Commands or the pure, primordial natures as the first results of the Divine commands that they can appear in the corporeal world in certain forms by God’s will; they appear in the corporeal world to the extent allowed by the Divine Names primarily manifested on each. They can appear and exert some influence on the physical world as mere causes. There are many reliable Prophetic reports that knowledge appears in the form of or is represented by milk, and that Islam is symbolized by a splendid container; the Qur’an, as honey or an orange; and the feeling of enmity, as snakes or vermin.
Some Sufis see the Realm of Representations or Ideal Forms as broader and maintain that this realm is the intermediate between this world and the Hereafter, and between matter and spirit, and the realm of immaterial sacred spirits. According to these considerations, the World of Representations or Ideal Forms is an intermediate bridge over which meanings or purely spiritual identities pass in order to attain a new identity and nature; it is a mysterious corridor between the physical and metaphysical worlds, a veil between two different dimensions, a point of meeting for abstract truths and concrete realities, and the horizon that separates the perceptible and imperceptible from each other. There are some who see this world as a realm where meanings or abstract truths begin to be clothed in worldly existence. Abstract or immaterial identities become familiar with the silky robe of external or perceptible existence in this intermediate realm, and they set off toward further realms from this dock with the equipment that they have been given.
Dictionaries of religious terminology define the intermediate realm also as the special corridor that connects this world and the Hereafter, or the process that begins with death, continues with the life of the grave, and ends in the Resurrection; or as the point where the world of spirits and abstract meanings meets with the corporeal realm, or as the passage between the horizon of the heart and spirit and the carnal life.
Not only is every ramp or platform from which things and beings jump to another stage—where they will be given a different nature and identity during their journeying of existence from the “initial or first identification or determination” to corporeal life— called the Intermediate Realm, but the realm of life beginning with death is also known as the intermediate life. According to the first meaning, the intermediate life is a bridge between the spirit and the body or between the abstract and the concrete. According to the second meaning, it is like a waiting lodge that resembles both the Unseen and the corporeal realms at the point where the world and the Hereafter meet. Everyone will pass across that bridge and those whom God wills will call at that waiting lodge and afterwards go on toward the other world in different ways, according to their equipment or acquisitions.
Some Sufis mention another intermediate realm which they call Barzakh Jami’ (the Encompassing Intermediate Realm). This is a term used to denote the original or essence of all the intermediate realms, which is another name for tajalli wahidiya (God’s manifestation of all His Names throughout the universe or on an entity), or ta’ayyun awwal (the initial or first identification). The Encompassing Intermediate Realm is also called “the First Intermediate Realm,” “the Grandest Intermediate Realm,” or “the Greatest Intermediate Realm.” The essence of this Realm is the meaning or spirit of humanity and its seed and fruit is haqiqat Ahmadiya (the Ahmadi Truth or the Truth of Ahmad). In the words of Bediüzzaman Said Nursi, the Prophet Muhammad’s light is the ink of the Pen of the Author of the universe. It is also the seed of the fruit of the tree of creation, the key to all the Gardens of Paradise, the insurmountable wall before Hell, the alchemy of the happiness of hearts, and the genuine, sole guide to human excellencies and perfections.
May perfect blessings and peace and the most honorable of benedictions be upon him and his Family and Companions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
 For haqiqat Ahmadiya or Ahmadi Truth or the Truth of Ahmad, see note 53. (Tr.)