Heavenly or Elevated Realms
Just as the Creator has limitless Names, so too do these Names and the Attributes in which the Names originate possess the realms of manifestation in the greatest degree, the secondary degree, the third degree, and so on. The realms that are heavenly transcend our horizon of perception and they are of transcendent meaning and content. Although we can have some degree of exact knowledge about the Corporeal or Visible Realm (‘Âlam Mulk or Shahada), it is extremely difficult to be able to have or give definite knowledge about the nature or number of the heavenly realms, such as the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity (‘Âlam Lahut), the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of the Divine Mercy and Compassion (‘Âlam Rahamut), the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names (‘Âlam Jabarut), and the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands (‘Âlam Malakut). All the considerations concerning these are based on spiritual discovery and observation in conformity with the essential principles of Islam that have been established by the Qur’an and the Sunna.
From the perspective of Islamic epistemology, whether visible or invisible, transparent or opaque, observable or unobservable, animated or unanimated, from this world or other world, everything is an ‘âlam (realm or world). Derived from the same root word as ‘alam, meaning a sign or mark, everything and what lies beyond it is a sign for the existence of the Divine Being, a document of His acts, a mirror to His Perfection, a register of Destiny, a site where the relevant Divine determination is manifested, and a location for the manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names. For this reason, whether visible or invisible, everything bears traces belonging to or is a sign for the Divine Being; therefore, it is regarded as an ‘âlam (realm, world). Its plural is ‘awalim or ‘âlamin. While the incorporeal entities, such as intellect or reason, spirit, soul, consciousness, feeling, and perception—which come into existence by His mere command “Be!”—are considered to belong to the Realm of the (Initial Manifestation of) Divine Commands (‘Âlam Amr), all corporeal, compound, or composed and decomposable entities contained in time and space are regarded as constituting the Realm of Physical Creation (‘Âlam Khalq). These two realms—the Realm of the (Initial Manifestation of) Divine Commands and the Realm of Physical Creation—are also dealt with under the titles of the Unseen Realm or World (‘Âlam Ghayb) and the Visible or Corporeal World (‘Âlam Shahada), respectively. All other realms are included in these two main realms.
The Unseen World is the realm which we cannot perceive with our five external senses. Including in particular the realms that are mentioned above as heavenly realms, many other iner and transcendent realms—such as the Spiritual Realm, the Realm of the Spirit, the Realm of Representations or Ideal Forms, and the Intermediate Realm—are considered to be realms that belong to the Unseen World.
As for the Visible or Corporeal World and the question of how many corporeal worlds there are, such as those called the Realm of Physical Creation, the Realm of the Divine Property and Dominion, the Realm of Matter, the Realm of Physical Bodies, the Realm of Physical Forms, and the Realm of Density, these are all titles given to that World from different viewpoints. And even though they are mentioned with different titles, the Unseen World and the Visible or Corporeal World—or the World of (the Initial Manifestation of) Divine Commands and the World of Physical Creation—are concentric realms, the former being the inner dimension of the latter, and the latter being the outer dimension of the former. However, all the realms, both those mentioned and not mentioned, have characteristics particular to each and are different from others, as they are the domains where Divine Attributes and Names are manifested and God acts as the Lord of all the worlds in different degrees and ways.
According to verifying scholars, existence, including in particular humankind, has different degrees or stages of birth. They are as follows: The first of these degrees or stages is the stage of the initial, transcendental manifestation of the Divine Attributes and Names, the second is the emergence of Divine Commands in the rank of the transcendental manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, and the third is the appearance of physical substances and bodies in the horizon of the manifestation of Divine Commands. And even though this development or expansion may seem to have the same meanings as the ideas of “descent” and “ascent” in some Sufi and philosophical schools, they are actually different.
The degrees or stages mentioned are titles in the determination and identification of different ranks in the process of creation. They also point to the stations which initiates are bound to reach and pass during their journeying to the station of subsistence by and with God. An initiate ascends toward the imperceptible, indescribable, and transcendental manifestation of the Divine Being through the realms of Divine works, acts, Names, and Attributes successively. We can also view this as journeying in the attainment of knowledge of God and spiritual pleasure through the realms of Corporeal Existence, the Initial Manifestation of Divine Commands, the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, and the Transcendental Manifestation of the Divine Mercy and Compassion—as high as the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity, which is considered to be the horizon of “annihilation in God” and “subsistence by and with God.” Subsistence by and with God begins by having glimpses of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands, and goes on rising higher and higher, reaching the rank of living at the level of the heart and spirit. When initiates reach the point where they can perceive that their existence is a shadow of the light of His Existence, this journeying then, in one respect, ends.
Now, from the horizon of our perception, let us try to see into the stations or stages of this journeying, from the highest down to the lowest, with the distinguishing features of each.
‘Âlam Lahut (The Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity)
This is the highest, all-encompassing realm where the Attributes and Names of the Divine Being, Who is beyond all perception and conception and therefore is known or recognized through His Names and Attributes, and Whose existence is proven by His works, are manifested beyond all terms of modality or quantity and quality. This manifestation is also known by other titles, such as the Unseen of the Whole Unseen, the Absolutely Hidden Treasure, the Realm of Absolute Existence, the Unseen Absolute, and the Truth of Truths.
Another approach to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity is that it is an absolutely transcendental realm that is related to Allah (God)—the Proper Name of the Divine Being that contains all other Names—on Which the existence and subsistence of all other realms—with all their distinguishing features, as well as the things and beings they contain—depend. It is also the first-rank source of radiance for our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and for all the actions we perform with our inner and outer faculties. All of the Divine Essential Qualities, Attributes, and Names are concentrated and intersect in this realm. Being the infinite realm for the Divine Being’s initial manifestation beyond all modality or all terms of quantity and quality, this realm also encompasses all of the other realms. Since it is the realm for this manifestation, it reminds us of our servanthood and duty of worship. That is, as Divinity connotes being the Worshipped, Sought, and Loved One, this realm implies the duty of worship to God the Ultimate Truth, according to the relevant commands of the Qur’an. Purely being the Divine Being, God is also the All-Worshipped, Eternally-Sought, and All-Loved One.
The Initial, Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity is an all-encompassing mirror to the Divine Being and therefore it is eternally unchangeable. As this manifestation is a mirror eternal in the past, It denotes a manifestation that is also eternal in the future. In the course of history, different ways of worship and servanthood have been born from human thought and they have led to the fabrication of many objects of worship. However, all these human-generated ways of worship and human-fabricated objects of worship have been forgotten, and only the Unique, All-Majestic One of absolute Transcendence, Who has All-Lofty Attributes and All-Beautiful Names, has remained. He has no beginning at all; since He is thus, He is eternal, with no end at all. He exists eternally, and both His non-existence and impermanence are absolutely inconceivable. And the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity is the most polished mirror of His manifestation as the Divine Being, Who has all the Attributes mentioned.
‘Âlam Rahamut (The Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Mercy and Compassion)
All animals and vegetables on the earth are honored with life as pure favor of the Creator; their survival and multiplication in a determined, harmonious system are also pure favor, and they receive numerous other favors during their lives; humans are equipped with many special faculties and attributes, in addition to those they share with animals, and they receive special mercy, tenderness, assistance, and care—all such and other favors unmentioned which are accorded to living creatures overflow from ‘Âlam Rahamut, where the first, transcendental manifestation of Divine Mercy and Compassion occurs. This can also be explained as follows.
God Almighty’s concentrated manifestation of all of His Attributes and Names and, particularly, His being the Eternally Besought-of-All on the whole of the universe is a manifestation of His Divinity or ‘Âlam Lahut; while the fact that every entity benefits from His Mercy, Compassion, Preservation, Help, Care, and Protection according to its capacity, is a manifestation that issues from the horizon of ‘Âlam Rahamut. This realm is absolutely connected with the Divine Attributes and Names. In relation to God’s being the All-Merciful, it is the most unique sphere of the Essential Attributes of the Divine Essence, while in relation to His being the All-Compassionate, it is the realm where the Attributes derived from God’s acts (they are almost infinite, such as Providing, Creating, Sustaining, Forgiving, etc.) manifest themselves.
This realm can also be viewed as the initial manifestation of the limitless Divine Mercy, Which surpasses His sacred “Wrath,” in a way that identifies or determines every formation. As God’s being the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman) expresses His all-encompassing, limitless Mercy, the realm where this Mercy manifests Itself is certainly an all-embracing realm of Mercy. Since God’s being the All-Compassionate (ar-Rahim) denotes those acts of His that issue from His Mercy, the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of His being the All-Merciful can be viewed as the source from which God’s particular mercy (compassion) reaches all things and beings individually according to the capacity and merit of each individual from the stage of existence in God’s Knowledge to their corporeal existence. This Realm relates to eternity in the past from the perspective of God’s being the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman), while from the perspective of His being the All-Compassionate (ar-Rahim), It relates to eternity in the future.
The favors that come to every creature at the beginning of its existence, in return for having done nothing, issue from God’s All-Mercifulness; no creature is deprived of these. The existence of every creature, the life span, and particular physical form accorded to it, along with all the faculties, urges, and desires with which it is endowed to survive and multiply—all its vital necessities and the possibilities created to meet them—these are all favors that issue from the Realm of God’s All-Mercifulness. As for the favors that come in return for every creature’s labor, strife, and efforts, including eternal happiness in the other world for conscious, responsible beings and their being honored with the vision of God, they have their source in God’s All-Compassionateness.
Both the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of God’s Divinity and the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Mercy and Compassion, or God’s being the All-Merciful and the All-Compassionate, are realms that are related to God’s knowledge of everything and to His making Himself known through His manifestations of Mercy, Care, and Helping; He thus prepares hearts for perfect servanthood to Him through worship and obedience.
‘Âlam Jabarut (The Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names)
This realm is the realm where Divine Attributes and Names manifest themselves transcendentally. It also known by other titles, such as the Realm of Unity, the Grand Intermediate Realm, the Truth of Ahmad, the Grandest Spirit, the Universal Spirit, and the First Shadow. Some Sufi scholars view this Realm as the Realm of Divine Grandeur and Power, which is situated between the Realms of the Manifestation of Divinity and the Manifestation of Divine Mercy and Compassion, or between the Realms of the Manifestation of Divinity and the Manifestation of Divine Commands. It is certain that this Realm, like the others described above, is a heavenly and spiritual one. It is also certain that it has nothing to do with Egypt’s Hermes Trismegistus’ considerations of realms, or Plato’s Realm of Ideas. According to Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum, this Realm is above the Divine Supreme Seat and below the Divine Supreme Throne—I do not know what he means by “above” and “below”—and views all other Realms from “above.”
From the perspective of all the considerations mentioned, the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands (‘Âlam Malakut) is a realm “below” the Divine Supreme Seat and beyond all conceptions, while the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity (‘Âlam Lahut) is above all other realms—beyond any consideration of “over” or “above” and “below”—and relates to “God’s seating Himself on the Supreme Throne.” As for the other two Realms of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Mercy and Compassion and the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, the former is the realm of growth and development on the part of the manifestation of Mercy and Compassion, while the latter is the realm of Divine Grandeur and Dominion before, or next to, the former.
Divine Destiny and Decree have a particular relation with the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names. This relation also encompasses events associated with persons. When all things and events are considered, the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names is a pure, spiritual realm. Therefore, it is higher than the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands and the Corporeal Realm. All things and events are identified in this realm in the entirety of each, while they are individualized and particularized in the others.
‘Âlam Malakut (The Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands)
Also called by other titles such as the Realm of the Initial Manifestation of Divine Commands, the Realm of Spirits, the Intermediate Realm, the Horizon of the Final Identification, and the Relative Spirit, the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands is the final and lowest order or level of immaterial entities, and it can be considered as the roof of the Corporeal Realm. This classification is according to the order or ranks of the manifestations of the Divine Essence, Attributes, and Names. It is not based on a decisive statement of the Qur’an and the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, but on spiritual discovery and observation and on interpretation and inference founded upon the fundamental, unchanging principles of the Religion.
The Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, the Realm of Divine Commands, and the Realm of Corporeality exist as the inner or outer dimension of one another, or as one within or above the other. That is, if the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names is a separate realm, then each of the other two realms are dimensions of it. The first of these three realms is a realm of natures, and thus does not have an external existence. Everything exists in it as a determined nature, while it is clothed in a form—or in corporeal existence—in the other two, respectively.
All four realms being discussed are transcendental realms in which the exact divisions of place and time—such as top and bottom, above and below, front and back, in front or behind, day and night, and yesterday and today—are beyond consideration. Therefore, a heart that has developed or advanced far enough on the way of spirituality can experience yesterday together with today, and today together with tomorrow, transcending the boundaries of time.
The human rank or mission of vicegerency on the earth relates to the heart and its relationship with the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of God’s Commands. Although humans belong to the corporeal realm with respect to their bodily existence, as far as the inner dimension of their existence is concerned, they belong to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands. We can even say that human bodily existence corresponds to the Corporeal Realm, while the inner dimension of human existence corresponds to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands. This same relationship also exists between the universe and the Divine Supreme Throne, and between the earth and the Ka’ba. A heart that is open to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands is more spacious than the earth—while even a large body is more cramped than a cup. Human corporeal existence is the place where sensations are imprisoned and concentrated, but the spiritual dimension of existence is where human spiritual and intellectual faculties develop and expand. The gifts and radiance coming from the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands are the source of wealth and power for a spirit, and no one is thought to be able to remain indifferent to it. Anyone completely cut off from this realm has entered a way that will lead to complete loss and ruin.
Both the corporeal and incorporeal dimensions of existence have fully and most perfectly been manifested on the Master of creation, upon him be perfect blessings. With respect to his bodily existence, he is the most perfect; also, he is the incomparable representative of the spirit of Islam regarding the spiritual dimension of his existence, which is reflected in his conduct. His Ascension beyond the realms—as high as the insurmountable boundary between Divinity and servanthood—is the wonder or miracle and expansion of his spiritual existence. Truly, through the Ascension, he was favored with the full, unparalleled attainment of spiritual visions and observations, and he rose to the rank of being the pride of the inhabitants of both the heavens and the earth.
Vision of God, the Ultimate Truth, Who is beyond any concept of modality, has different ranks or degrees. The vision of Him from the horizon of belief in Him as the sole, ultimate Agent of all actions in the universe is of the first or lowest degree; the vision of Him from the summit of belief in Him as the sole, ultimate Owner and Giver of all the attributes that are shared by all existence is of the second degree. Experiencing the pleasure of the vision of Him from the peak of belief in Him as the sole, truly Existent Being is of the highest degree. However, there are veils in human nature that prevent these visions, from those which arise from the veils formed of feelings, imagination, fancy, and whims, to those which are produced by failing to observe the criteria of the Shari’a and the balances established by the Sunna and by making some utterances or assuming some attitudes incompatible with essential Islamic principles.
When the hearts that are not prevented by such veils from being elevated rise and are purified of the dirt of attachment to all things other than God, they become bright, polished mirrors to the various truths including even the Ultimate Truth of Truths. They reflect the lights of the Divine Essence and Attributes; they get in contact with the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands; they speak with the voice of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names; they build relations or transact “business” with the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of the Divine Mercy and Compassion; and they reach a point where they are favored with reflections from the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity. As a consequence, the heart begins to beat with the messages of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Commands, and the spirit starts inhaling the breezes of the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, while the secret—the inner faculty that is more refined than the heart—commences experiencing feelings related to the Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity. The first of these attainments is described as “the victory near,” the second, as “the victory manifest,” and the third, as “the victory absolute.”
O God, O Opener of doors! Open our hearts and other outer and inner faculties and senses to belief, the practice of Islam, and excellence in servanthood to You, and enable us always to do what You love and are pleased with! And bestows blessings and peace on our master, Muhammad, who is honored with all virtues and faithfulness, and on His Family, and Companions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
 Hermes-Thot was an Egyptian sage who lived in pre-historic times. In order to separate him from the Greek Hermes, he is also called Hermes Trismegistus. According to certain historians, he was a monist. (Tr.)