God and the Truth of Divinity
This article covers the subjects of God and the Truth of Divinity.
The sacred term Allah (God), which is also referred to as the Word of Majesty or the All-Supreme Name in the sense that it is the Chief Divine Name comprising all other Names, is the proper Name of the All-Majestic, All-Exalted Divine Being, Who introduces Himself to us with His All-Beautiful Names and draws a frame in our minds with all His Attributes of Glory so that we may have knowledge of Him; He is the All-Sacred One called by all His Names and the All-Glorified One described by all His Attributes of Perfection, and it is He Who is the sole, peerless Sovereign on the Thrones of Divinity and Lordship. As also stated by Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani,33 the all-blessed word of Allah is the proper Name of the Divine Essence as God, (from the viewpoint of His absolute Uniqueness and His total detachment from the created). According to the scholars of the basic principles of the Religion and the religious methodology, Allah (God) is a proper Name particular to the Divine Essence exclusively. Known also as the Name of Majesty and the All-Supreme or Greatest Name, this all-blessed Word is particularly mentioned as the Greatest or All-Supreme Name.
All the other Names belonging to the Divine Being are descriptive names or the names or titles that function like attributes, while the word Allah (God) is the Name of His Essence (Dhat), and comprises all the other Names directly or indirectly. That is to say, if a person declares their belief with the expressions such as “There is no deity but the All-Holy and All-Pure,” or “There is no deity but the All-Compassionate,” or “There is no deity but the All-Glorious with irresistible might,” and so on, they have not declared their belief properly, as none of these Names wholly designate the Divine Being, Who is known by all His Names and recognized by all His Attributes. One who declares their belief only with such expressions knowingly or unknowingly attempts to restrict the infinite sphere of Divinity and Lordship to the areas of the manifestations of the Names the All-Holy and All-Pure or the All-Compassionate or the All-Glorious with irresistible might, thus trying to make the infinite finite or the all-encompassing encompassed in one respect.
The All-Majestic, All-Exalted Being Who is called by the all-sacred Name God34 is the unique source of the truths of humanity, the universe and things, and their ultimate, unique origin and ultimate, unique, primary cause. He is the Necessarily Existent Being Who exists by Himself. All our studies of the outer and our inner worlds demonstrate this fact. There is not a single thing in the universe that does not have multiple indications of the All-Sacred One Who is called by the Name of Glory, God. It can be said that the All-Sacred Name God exists inscribed both on the face of everything and being and on the visage of the universe as a whole. However, this truth is more manifest and more clearly eligible in the physical and metaphysical face of humanity. As venerable ‘ Ali35 said, a human being does not comprise a small, physical body; a human being is the miniature, the most precious copy of the whole universe; the human contains the entire contents of the universe and bears witness to the Divine Being as loudly as the entire universe. With all our states, we human beings demonstrate the All-Initiating; with all aspects of our lives we exclaim that we are dependent on Him. With the outer and inner dimensions of our existence, we proclaim Him.
It is utterly unreasonable, contrary to the perceptible reality, and an unfortunate deception in the name of a scientific approach not to attribute existence, including humanity and the universe, to the Divine Being. Any existence which is not attributed to the Divine Being is groundless, meaningless, and void; any knowledge or sciences that are not connected to Him are mere delusions and illusions, any studies or analyses that do not lead to knowledge of Him are fruitless and in vain, and discussions or conversations that do not generate love of and closeness to Him in the human consciousness are useless.
It is a fact that all existent things tell us about Him with countless tongues and that the human conscience always reminds of Him with profound sensations, perceptions, and inclinations particular to it. Whenever with our physical or spiritual sensations we turn to this world of exhibition—the outer world, this book of existence—and our inner depths, we always listen to melodies about Him and are aware that we subsist by Him. God is an All-Transcendent, Peerless Existent One Who expresses Himself with everything He creates and Who makes His existence felt through our consciousness with countless tongues, and thus reminds us that He is ever present everywhere, despite His absolute freedom from time and space. All visible and invisible realms of existence loudly proclaim His Divinity and Lordship, telling us that He is worshipped because of His Being. God has absolute right to be worshipped and is rightfully besought due to His being God. For this reason, worshipping Him with praise, thank, exaltation, adoration, glorification, and devotion is our duty and His right.
As for the false deities which human beings manufacture and worship, they can never be God or be substituted for Him. Humans have deified the sun, the moon, stars, seas, rivers and so on, and worshipped many false, artificial, fabricated deities, adoring thousands of fleeting, death-bound and essentially impotent things or beings. By following these and offering worship to them, human beings have actually disrespected their own selves, their spirits and their essential nature. When they have rejected them all and turned to the Absolute, Truly Worshipped One, they have been saved from being debased beings and discovered their own selves through the values God has bestowed on them.
Since whatever human beings have worshipped other than God has no existence by itself and owes its own existence to God, it has emerged as the product of misguided thought and has in turn disappeared with sound logic and reasoning. Misguided thought and false belief, which have appeared one after the other, have also disappeared and been forgotten one after the other, and the final say has always remained with the All-Sacred Being, Who is absolutely free from any phenomenon that can be attributed to the created, such as coming and going or appearance and disappearance. Even though some false deities have temporarily dominated the minds of a great many people and polluted them over the course of history, the human innate recognition and admission of the Creator, the Truly Worshipped One, which is regarded as the inherent riches and depths of human conscience, has driven away all products of illusions and delusions; as a result human beings have turned to the All-Majestic, All-Exalted Being, Who is the Owner of the All-Beautiful Names and All-Sublime Attributes. They have turned to Him once more after every epoch of misguidance because there is no other source of power or riches that can support or satisfy the human consciousness other than Him. Anything or any being which cannot meet this great, intrinsic need of humanity can never be deserving of worship and cannot be a deity. And there is no question that such a being is not deserving of worship, which is absolutely due to the All-Sacred One called by the All-Beautiful Names and described by the All-Sacred Attributes; indeed, they cannot even be intercessors between Him and human beings.
Neither Divinity nor Lordship ever admits a partner. The One Who has the absolute right to be worshipped is One and Unique. The different events, states, and circumstances that we observe are results of the different manifestations of God’s different Names and Attributes. The truth of the absolutely True One or the Ultimate Truth is free from whatever is related to quality or quantity. Moreover, He is neither a substance nor something accidental, but is absolutely free from all features and defects that are particular to corporeality. In the following poem in which he portrayed the creeds of Islam, venerable Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum expresses this point very beautifully:
There is no opposite, nor peer, of my Lord in the universe;
He is the All-Transcendent and exempt from having a form.
He has no partners and He is free from begetting and being begotten;
He is Unique, having no equals—
these He mentions in Suratu’l-Ikhlas.
He is neither a body nor a substance,
nor is He an accident,36 nor of matter.
He does not eat and drink, nor is He contained by time.
He is absolutely free from change, alteration, and
transformation, and from colors and having a shape as well—
These are His Attributes in the negative.
He is neither in the heavens nor on the earth;
neither on the right nor on the left; neither before nor after;
He is absolutely free from any direction.
So He is never contained in space.
As the respected Ibrahim Haqqi says, God is neither a body nor a substance; nor is He a compound or composite or a divisible being, or a part, nor does He have a form or shape or any other feature that is attributable to the created. He is the First, the Last, the All-Outward and the All-Inward—He is the All-Inward, more inward than anything inward in His manifestations, and the All-Outward, more outward than anything outward in His being hidden. As He has no physical contact with anything in His Acts, He is also exempt from having or using any instruments in pronouncing His will or decrees.
We know Him by His hundreds of Names, such as the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, the All-Unique of Absolute Oneness, the Eternally All-Besought, the All-Independent Single, the All-Living, the Self-Subsisting (by Whom all subsist), the Eternally Existing One with no beginning, the All-Powerful, the All-Knowing, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the All-Glorious with irresistible might, the All-Compelling, the All-Gracious and All-Beautiful, the All-Majestic, the All-Great, the All-Generous, the All-Pitying, the One Who has exclusive right to all greatness, the Divine Being, the Master, the Sovereign, the Lord, the All-Wise, the All-Speaking, the Creator, the All-Providing, and so on; we know Him by his dozens of Attributes, such as Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Seeing, Will, Power, Glory, Wisdom, Grandeur, Compelling, Being Eternally Existent with no beginning, Eternal Permanence, Speech and so on. However, we can never claim that We know or that we are able to know Him perfectly; rather we must sigh with the admission: “We have not been able to know You as knowing You requires, O the All-Known,” and seek refuge with the consideration: “(The admission of one’s) incapacity to perceive Him is perception itself.” God cannot be perceived or comprehended for He is the All-Encompassing One impossible to be comprehended. Therefore, claiming that He can be comprehended means claiming that the One Who is the All-Encompassing can be encompassed at the same time, which is clearly a contradiction. Furthermore, all the Names that are derived from certain verbs which express His Acts are not sufficient, individually or collectively, for us to be able to perceive His Essence. Logic and reason can attain knowledge of the Maker of Glory in the shade of the All-Beautiful Names only to the extent that He wills and allows this. This is all of the knowledge we can acquire concerning Him. How well Goethe, the famous German poet, said:
Whatever we say about Him, perception of the Essence of the All-Holy Creator is absolutely impossible. Human beings can only have some ambiguous feelings and conjectural ideas about the Divine Essence. We continuously feel and experience the existence of God both in our spirits and in nature. Therefore, what does it signify whether we know His Essence or Essential Nature or not? Even though we mention God with hundreds of Names and unique Attributes, our descriptions will fall far short of expressing the truth. Seeing that the Supreme Existence, Which we call Divinity, expresses Itself in multifarious manifestations —not only in human beings but also in all major and minor events and states in the universe and the rich, restricted bosom of nature—then to what extent can human description of such a Being be sufficient?
We must be utterly respectful of Him and self-possessed on our account. This must be the reason why both the greatest of theologians and many Sufis have preferred mentioning God with the pronoun “He.” For there is limitless profundity and comprehensiveness in this pronoun when one avoids describing God with any Attribute or Name. The pronoun “He,” free from the restriction of any specific Attribute or Name, is a mysterious word which comprises all of His Majestic and Gracious manifestations, His All-Beautiful Names, and His Attributes of Glory. It must be because of this comprehensiveness that, provided we refer to Him by the word “He”, there are those who regard “He” as God’s All-Supreme or Greatest Name. I think it is more proper to regard it as the All-Supreme or Greatest Name in expressing His Unity in the fullest terms possible.
When we consider the Divine Being from the viewpoint of His Uniqueness or absolute Oneness (ahadiya), we mean or refer to the Pure Essence without taking His Names or Attributes into consideration. When He is approached from the perspective of His Unity (wahidiya), He is considered together with His All-Beautiful Names and Attributes of Glory. At this point, human consciousness considers God along with all His works, Acts, Names, and Attributes; this means sensing the sphere of His Lordship.
Calling the rank of the truths of True Existence the sphere of Divinity is because this expression refers to the Necessarily Existent One as the All-Holy, Pure Essence. The All-Supreme Name Allah (God) is the proper title for this rank. Divinity in this sense is the title of a transcending truth which cannot be encompassed but is observed on account of Its works and known with Its decrees, judgments and principles. Our knowledge and perceptions concerning Divinity consist only of some of Its characteristics. This knowledge is never sufficient to attain complete knowledge of this sphere, for there are so many other exalted Attributes about Which we cannot have knowledge; complete knowledge and comprehension of Divinity requires knowing all of these Attributes and this is not possible for human beings to achieve.
From another point of view, on account of the vastness of Its manifestations, Divinity also encompasses the decrees, judgments and principles of the areas of manifestations that belong to the spheres of Divine Uniqueness or Oneness and Unity, in the sense that everything or being is given its due. Just as all universal or particular bounties and favors pour forth from that sphere, so too are all thanks given and all acts of worship done in return for those bounties and favors directed to it.
Furthermore, Divine Uniqueness and Unity have another aspect which is related to the All-Holy, Pure Divine Essence. On account of Its mirror in which It is reflected, Divine Uniqueness or absolute Oneness has been expressed as: “God was and there was nothing else besides Him,”37 while Divine Unity has been interpreted in the sense of Everything is perishable (and so perishing) except His “Face.” His alone is judgment and authority, and to Him you are being brought back (28:88). While the former refers to God as eternal having no beginning, the latter refers to Him as eternal having no end. According to this approach, since the rank of Uniqueness relates to the Pure Essence, this Uniqueness has been accepted as having precedence over the rank of Unity, Which is considered together with the Names and Attributes. As for Divinity, It has precedence over both Uniqueness or Oneness and Unity, for, as mentioned above, It encompasses the decrees, judgments and principles of the areas of manifestations belonging to the spheres of Divine Uniqueness or Oneness and Unity and therefore has the transcending characteristic of giving everything its due and restoring every right in the vastness of all realms of contingency. The rank of All-Mercifulness (ar-Rahmaniyya), which is regarded as the horizon of the initial manifestation of all Divine Names and Attributes, has been considered as Divinity’s area of unfolding. The proper title of this rank is the All-Sacred Name the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman), to Which are referred the Names of the Divine Essence such as the All-Unique of Absolute Oneness, the One of Unity, the Eternally All-Besought, the All-Holy, and the All-Supreme, as well as such Attributes of His as Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Seeing, Power, and Will.
The rank which encompasses God Almighty’s Names, Attributes of Glory, and wise Acts has been called the sphere of Divinity on account that He is—and is accepted as—the Divine Being Who is Absolutely Deserving of Worship, while the rank which relates to the Name the Lord and draws attention to His being—and being accepted and obeyed as—the Lord has been designated as the sphere of Lordship. The statements of the Qur’an concerning both of these spheres are explicit and decisive. The Qur’an tells us to believe in God as both the One of Divinity and the One of Lordship. For example, on account of describing God Almighty with His Attributes of Perfection that are inherent in His Essence and declaring Him to be absolutely free from any attributes of defect, Suratu’l-Ikhlas (Sura 112) emphasizes the Unity of Divinity or God’s being the Unique One of Divinity. While Suratu’l-Kafirun (Sura 109) pronounces that worship and adoration are particular to God exclusively, Who has no partners, rivals, or equals, and therefore emphasizes the Unity of God as the All-Worshipped. Suratu’l-Fatiha (Sura 1) teaches and stresses both the Unity of Divinity and the Unity of God’s being the All-Worshipped and the Unity of Lordship.
If the Qur’an is studied from these aspects, it can be seen that in almost all of its chapters it teaches and emphasizes these kinds of Unity. The verses which tell us about the Names, Attributes, and Acts of God Almighty point to the “ Unity of the Source of revealed knowledge” or the “ Unity of Divinity,” while the verses that are concerned with worshipping God Who has no partners, rivals, or equals refers to the “ Unity Which demands worship and relates to will-power” or the “ Unity of Lordship.” The Unity of Divinity has also been interpreted as the confirmation and conviction that whatever our Prophet taught and conveyed to us is true, while the Unity of Lordship means the fulfilling of all Divine commands with the utmost sensitivity and refraining from whatever has been forbidden.
That which we have been trying to explain from the beginning consists of only some pieces of information and is in no way sufficient to express God or to be a translator of the truth of the Ultimate Truth. To date, thousands, perhaps, millions of people have tried to relate about the Essence of the Ultimate Truth and to describe Him based on their inspirations—May God reward them for their efforts! The excitement of the heart, the tears, and the ink of the pen have cooperated numerous times to describe Him, but every time everything has been entrusted to the realms beyond and those further beyond, and self-possession has been preferred. What is most proper to do in this respect must be to remain content with His Own particular descriptions and instructions, saying:
How can it be possible to describe the All-Protecting Owner!
What is proper is not to attempt to describe Him
If the goal and result of all these attempts to know God and to make Him known is our servanthood to Him, our love of Him, and our pleasing Him, then we should pursue these with our outer and inner senses and our faculties to try to reach our goal. He has never disappointed those who have turned to Him with love and attachment and He has never abandoned those who come to His door, or left them unrewarded.
The meaning of servanthood is explicit, and there are two aspects of “love of God.” The first is loving Him, while the other is being loved by Him. Mentioning these two aspects, the Qur’an says: God loves them, and they love Him (5:54). That is to say, God Himself and His servants both love and are loved. This love is certainly different from the love we feel for other people. God’s love of His servants is being pleased with them and favoring them with a happy end, while the believers’ love of and yearning for Him is on account of His being the sole Source of all beauty, perfection, favor, as well as all gifts, bounties, and bestowals.
Loving Him and feeling attachment to Him is something from among His gifts and favors. For this reason, being a translator for others who resembled him, a saintly friend of God is reported to have said: “I thought that I knew, loved, and was seeking Him; I thought I was pursuing His good pleasure. But later I came to realize that I had been following Him in His mentioning, loving, and seeking me.” That is, we know, love, mention and seek Him because He makes us know, love, mention and seek Him.
The respected Junayd al-Baghdadi expresses the same reality as follows: “I have known God by God Himself; also by God Himself or through the messages of His Messenger have I come to know the true nature of all other than Him.” With whatever Attributes He has described Himself through His inspirations and Revelations on different wavelengths, He is the All-Transcending One describable only with those Attributes, and with whatever Names He refers to Himself, He is the All-Sacred One Who is called by those Names. Neither does His Essence or Essential Being resemble other beings, nor are His Attributes like the attributes of others. He is the First and there is none preceding Him and there is no time preceding Him; He is the Last and He makes our consciousnesses aware of eternity and His being eternal.
Saintly friends of God have advanced toward the mysteries that belong to Him through the manifestations of His Acts in the outer and their inner worlds, and then through the manifestations of His Names, and then through the manifestations of His Attributes, and then through the manifestation of His Essence. They have crowned their immaterial, invisible journey with certain kinds and degrees of visions of Him that they have attained by means of the favors and regards with which they have been honored. They have made great efforts to be able to experience manifestations of His Essence with great yearning, sometimes sighing and weeping for their pitiable states during their journey, and at others rejoicing with the breezes of nearness to and familiarity with meeting Him. They have always breathed in and out with the all-majestic Name God. They have criticized and supervised themselves in great shame before Him, paying at His door their most humble respects, and continuing their journey half-dead and half-alive. How beautiful is the following description of these experiences:
I was ashamed of myself in the realm of love;
turning to my body, soul, and heart, I reprimanded myself.
On the path of love, I leveled to the ground the building of the self.
O Nigari,38 I destroyed my physical existence for the treasure of His love.
In a poem in his Diwan-i Kabir, the respected Mawlana Jalalud-Din Rumi speaks about love for God as follows:
It is incumbent upon lovers to search for the Friend. Like a wild flood, rubbing their faces against the ground and striking their heads against rocks, they should run until they reach the Friend’s river. Actually, it is He Who both wills and wants us. We sometimes go toward the Friend’s river babbling like a running water, and sometimes remain kept in His pitcher like standing water. And other times come when we boil like an earthenware pot on fire.
What those who know Him should do is to advance, babbling like water and weeping day and night. If those who do so are also able to read accurately whatever there is and occurs around them, they will one day be rewarded abundantly with knowledge and love of Him and be able to realize the true purpose of their existence.
O God! I ask You for resignation after calamity or any of Your decrees or judgments concerning me, the coolness of life after death, the pleasure of observing Your Face, and the zeal to meet with You without suffering the harm of anything harmful, or any misleading intrigue and mischief. And bestow, O Lord, blessings and peace on the Inaugurator and Seal of Prophethood, and on his Family and Companions, all of them, pure and clean.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
33 Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 1413): One of the leading theologians of the 15th century. He visited Istanbul in 1374, and upon his return, in 1377, he was given a teaching appointment in Shiraz. Sharhu’l-Mawaqif is his most famous work. (Tr.)
34 In this translation God is always used to mean Allah. (Tr.)
35 Imam ‘ Ali is ‘ Ali ibn Abi Talib (606–661): One of the first four to embrace Islam and one of the greatest Companions of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and his cousin and son-in-law, as well as the last of the four rightly-guided Caliphs. He was renowned for his profound knowledge, deep spirituality, and great courage, and for his sacrifices for God’s cause and for his eloquence. (Tr.)
36 Accident in philosophy means something which is added to a substance or into which a substance grows or develops over time. It is therefore not a substance. (Tr.)
37 Related from the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, in Ibn Hajari’l-Asqalani, Fathu’l-Bari, 6:289; al-Alusi, Ruhu’l-Ma‘ani, 9:106.
38 Seyyid Mir Hamza Nigari was a Sufi poet from Azerbaijan. He wrote lyrical poems to express God’s love. (Tr.)
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