Lawhun Mahfuz (the Supreme Preserved Tablet) and What Lies Before
Lawh is literally a board to write on, and the Lawhun Mahfuz is the immaterial board or tablet on which God has prerecorded everything, material and spiritual, animate and inanimate, or it is another name for the Divine Knowledge Which relates to all of these. Since there are and can never be any changes or alterations to the Lawhun Mahfuz, it is called the Preserved Tablet. This immaterial realm is, as stated in Suratu’l-Buruj (85:21– 22), the tablet where the Glorious Qur’an was identified and known before it was manifested in the Prosperous House (al-Baytu’l- Ma‘mur), and this realm is therefore an all-comprehensive notebook in which both this world and the next, with whatever there is in each, are recorded.
There is nothing left unrecorded in it (the Supreme Preserved Tablet) (6:59).
Everything has been written down and kept in it (36:12).
It is a register where there is the knowledge of everything that has happened and will happen (50:4).
It is a notebook where everything that has happened and will happen to every being eternally exists (57:22).
Truly, the Supreme Preserved Tablet is the main record in which all the worlds, whether we know them or not, and all things and events that occur in these worlds are recorded. Everything belonging to or from the physical and metaphysical worlds was identified and recorded on the Supreme Preserved Tablet before it was or has been sent into external existence or before it did appear or has appeared in the visible realm in accordance with its identification. Although the preordainment or predetermination of everything and their execution according to the Supreme Preserved Tablet could be perceived as some sort of fatalism or absolute determinism in existence, this is not the reality with respect to the voluntary deeds and preferences of responsible beings such as human beings and jinn. For according to reality, “Knowledge depends on what is known,” God has pre- knowledge of everything, of every action that every human being will perform and how they will act in the future with their own free will, and this was written down accordingly.
Some scholars call the Supreme Preserved Tablet by other names such as the Book, the Manifest Book, the Manifest Record, the Book Kept Concealed, or the Mother Book. Since all of these have been derived from the Qur’an or Hadith (the Prophetic Traditions), no one can object to them. However, all of these designations are not complete translations of the exact truth of the Supreme Preserved Tablet; each designates it from a certain point of view or only a certain aspect of it. What we do know about this Tablet is that, like other elevated realms, it is the title of a lofty, luminous mirror, the true nature of which we cannot completely comprehend; it is also where Divine Knowledge manifests Itself or Its contents. For this reason, some describe the Supreme Preserved Tablet as a realm where everything has been recorded in the minutest detail; the true nature of this is beyond our perception. There are many others who regard the Supreme Preserved Tablet as a title of what they call the Universal Soul, which stands above all corporeal realms. We should nevertheless point out that it is not proper to put forward about such a subtle matter personal ideas which go beyond what is set out in the Qur’an and Prophetic Traditions. It is also an essential principle and a requirement of respect for God and self-possession before Him that we should remain silent on the matters in which there are no explicit statements from the master of creation, who is the eloquent tongue of the Unseen, upon him be peace and blessings. We should be careful and self-possessed while we are expressing information about these matters and not forget to refer the exact knowledge to God, saying: “God knows best.” Also, we should refer any matters about which we have no true knowledge to those who have knowledge of them or we should keep silent in acknowledgment of our ignorance about them.
Another tablet mentioned by scholars in addition to the Supreme Preserved Tablet is the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation, which is indicated in the following verse:
God effaces what He wills, and He confirms and establishes (what He wills): with Him is the Mother Book (13:39).
It would be useful to say some things about this tablet here.
Out of His perfect Wisdom, God Almighty makes changes or annulments in His laws, that is, in those of the Religion, as well as in those relating to the creation and operation of the universe; He transforms these laws and casts them into different molds. He makes alterations in systems, and on the earth, and in the social atmosphere, and He destroys some people to replace them with others. He exalts and honors whomever He wills and abases whomever He wills; He makes whomever He wills laugh and makes whomever He wills weep. Through His all-overwhelming Power and as mirrors of the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation, He presents all the worlds, including the earth, to the views of observers with the manifestations of His Majesty and Grace in them. Similar to His disposals in His laws of the creation and operation of the universe, God abrogates some of His religious laws to replace them with new ones; for example, He made His messages known to people through the Scripture He sent to Prophet Noah, which took the place of that which He had given to Prophet Adam, and at another time He conveyed His decrees through the Revelation He sent to Prophet Abraham, upon them be peace. Taking whatever He wills from the earlier Scriptures and combining them with new additions, God gave a new Book to Prophet Moses, upon him be peace. After some time He introduced a new depth in His messages and gave Prophet David, upon him be peace, the Psalms, in which He pronounced His commands once more. Through the Gospel, God manifested a profound spirituality different from what was found in the Torah and He gave the glad tiding of Prophet Ahmad ( Muhammad) through the tongue of the Messiah, alluding that the time was about to come when all the changes God had made up to that time were about to come to an end. That time arrived and God made the most illustrious person happy with the most meaningful of glad tidings through His glorious declaration,
This day I have perfected for you your Religion (with all its rules, commandments and universality), completed My favor upon you, and have been pleased to assign for you Islam as religion (5:3).
Like the ecosystem, which has undergone changes according to the Divine laws that established and organized it before it took on its present form, the Religion—a set of certain Divine commands and prohibitions—and the religious life underwent certain changes throughout history according to the time and conditions; both—the Religion and religious life—evolved until they were perfected through the Messengership of the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings. In what way and according to what apparent laws that serve as veils before Divine practices all these changes and developments occur, it is clear that every thing and every event mirrors acts or instances of confirmation and effacement. From the very instant things and events became familiar with external existence, they have continuously been located within cycles of confirmation and effacement. The instances of coming into existence are followed by deaths; the instances of coming one by one are followed by instances of going one after the other. Instances of assuming colors are followed by instances of fading away and so too are the instances of happiness and rejoicing followed by sighs and mourning. Writing and drawing are followed by effacement and change. Even though the laws and rules have remained established with their relative truths, confirmation and effacement, which can be regarded as underlying the reality of time, have never failed to continue.
Neither the earth nor any being or object has ever been able to remove itself from this universal tide, these continuous acts of destruction and survival. The bright colors of yesterday have faded away or turned yellow; the species of yesterday have been replaced by new ones, and the ruling peoples of yesterday have changed places with others. New societies have appeared in the place of the cultures and civilizations of yesterday and a different religious life has taken the place of the one that existed yesterday. The same is true for the changes, alterations, and transformations in individual, social, economic, cultural, and political life.
As believers, we are sometimes vigorous and sometimes sluggish, sometimes determined and resolute and sometimes unsure and hesitant; sometimes we are polluted by sins and sometimes we stand at the door of the Ultimate Truth repentant and remorseful. Sometimes we are so full of faith that we can challenge the entire world, while at other times we are so wearied and feeble that we only stand in fear and trembling before any event. Just as the moments when we are taken beyond the worlds by our belief and enthusiasm are not few, neither are the inauspicious moments when we drown in a mere drop of water. There are days when we gallop like unflagging horses on the path of the Ultimate Truth, but there are weeks and months when we fall tired and exhausted. Every state of us is a live projection or reflection of certain scenes on the Tablet of Divine Destiny and Decree and every attitude we adopt contains certain pictures from the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation.
All these changes, alterations, and transformations are reflections from the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation, which is reproduced from the Supreme Preserved Tablet, which is also known as the Manifest Record. The Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation is characterized by change and transformation and manifests itself through different colors and designs.
From another point of view, the Supreme Preserved Tablet, also called the Mother Book or the Manifest Record, is the origin, start, foundation, and plan of everything; it is a book or record that is itself unchanging but which contains the principles of every change and encompasses the beginning, the end, the cause, and the effect all at the same instant. It is a unique identification by the Divine Being, a spiritual register or an all-encompassing record on the lines of which everything and every event is recorded with the particular identity of each. All the Divine laws responsible for the creation and operation of the universe and for every event in the universe from the beginning to the end, all Divine laws of religion from the time of Adam to the end of time, all things and beings with all the moments of their lives, and all events with their beginning and end and all their causes and results are contained on this Tablet. This is the Supreme Preserved Tablet, but it is not possible for us to say anything definite about its true nature or identity.
Here I would like to relate Bediüzzaman’s somewhat different considerations concerning the Supreme Preserved Tablet and the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation. What follows is a summary of his views:
The Qur’an mentions the Manifest Record and the Manifest Book in several places. Some interpreters (of the Qur’an) consider these to be identical in meaning, while others say they have different meanings and connotations. The explanations of their true nature differ, but all are in agreement that both describe Divine Knowledge. However, through the enlightenment of the Qur’an, I have arrived at the following conviction:
The Manifest Record, which relates more to the World of the Unseen than to the visible, material world, expresses one aspect of Divine Knowledge and Commands. That is, it relates more to the past and future than to the present. It is a book of Divine Destiny that contains the origins, roots, and seeds of things, rather than their flourishing forms in their visible existence.
By growing into their full bodies with perfect order and art, the origins, sources, and roots of things show that they are arranged according to a book of the principles contained in the Divine Knowledge. Likewise, the seeds, results, and fruits of things, which contain the tables-of contents and programs of beings that will come into existence, demonstrate that each is a miniature register of the Divine Commands. For example, it can be said that a seed is the miniature embodiment of the program and table of its contents according to which a tree may be formed and of the Divine principles or commands which determine this program and table. In short, the Manifest Record is a table-of-contents and program of the tree of creation as a whole, which spreads its branches through the past and future and the World of the Unseen. In this sense, it is a book of Divine Destiny or a register of its principles. By means of the dictates and demands of these principles, atoms are used and managed for things to come into existence and to continue their existence.
As for the Manifest Book, it relates more to the visible, material world than to the World of the Unseen, and more to the present than to the past and future. It expresses Divine Power and Will rather than Divine Knowledge and Commands. If the Manifest Record is the book of Divine Destiny, the Manifest Book is the book of Divine Power. In other words, the perfect art and orderliness in everything’s essence and existence, as well as its attributes and functions, show that everything is made to exist in accordance with the laws of an effective, all-penetrating Will and the principles of a perfect, absolute Power. Everything is specifically formed and given an appointed measure and particular shape. This shows that Divine Power and Will have a universal, comprehensive register of laws, a great book, according to which a particular existence and form are determined for each entity.
Curiously, although the people of neglect, misguidance, and corrupt philosophy are aware of the existence of the Supreme Preserved Tablet (Lawhun Mahfuz) of the Creative Power and the manifestations and reflections of the Manifest Book of Divine Wisdom and Will on things, they name it “nature,” thus making it completely meaningless. In sum, through the dictates of the Manifest Record, that is, through the decrees and instructions of the Divine Destiny, Divine Power uses atoms to create or manifest the chain of beings, each link of which is His sign, on the metaphorical or “ideal” page of time, which is called the Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation. Thus, atoms are set to move so that beings may be transferred from the World of the Unseen to the material, visible world, from (the Realm of) Knowledge to the (Realm of) Power.
The Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation is the tablet on which beings are inscribed and then removed or effaced according to their origins in, or the dictates of, the Supreme Preserved Tablet. Therefore, it displays continuous change. The Tablet of Effacement and Confirmation constitutes the essence of time. Time, a mighty river that flows through existence, has its essence in the Divine Power’s inscription of beings and in the ink It uses. Only God knows the Unseen.49
The scholars of Sufism have usually viewed the Supreme Preserved Tablet as the start, origin, and central point of the sphere of existence and as the title of what they call “the Universal, Speaking Soul,” which was created after the Most Exalted Pen. It is the first center of the identification of all of creation on the horizon of Knowledge by the Knowledge Itself. It is a Divine light which was manifested in the same relationship with the Universal Intellect as Eve had with Adam—this is such an all-encompassing Divine light that all the worlds are but an extended shadow of it, dependent on Divine Power; all of the Divine religious laws are an illuminating ray of it issued from Divine Speech, and the Law Prophet Muhammad, upon him be the most perfect of blessings, brought is the continuous radiance of it. These approaches of Sufi scholars mark some depths of the Supreme Preserved Tablet.
It has also been called the Tablet of Light on account of its relation to Divine Unity and absolute Glory, and the Tablet of Divinity due to its being the first mirror to Divine Being’s Attributes of Perfection and reflecting Divine mysteries; it is known as the Tablet of Judgment owing to its being the origin of Divine orders and prohibitions, and the Tablet of Wisdom because of its being a source from which gifts and blessings pour into hearts and spirits. Each of these designations marks the growth or flourishing of a different mystery of Divine Lordship. Since everything depends on and ends in it, it manifests Divine Unity. God’s Attributes of Perfection rise in it and surround all material and immaterial worlds.
Hearts revive through the lights that emanate from it and become its mirrors. Spirits are awakened by means of the rays that diffuse from it and human beings tend to worship its Owner. It is due to this last aspect that the Sufis have called it the Tablet of Devoted Servanthood and have stressed that Divine purposes and demands are intertwined there. The dignity of belief in Divine Unity, sincere devotion or servanthood, the truth of submission to God and perfect reliance on Him, the feeling of resignation to His decrees and judgments, and the considerations of fear and awe are the fruits of this horizon. All of these have been regarded as sweet water that gushes forth from this depth.
It cannot be said that all these meanings attributed by some Sufis to the Supreme Preserved Tablet have been derived from the Qur’an or Hadith (Prophetic Traditions). However, no one can object to the fact that the consciences that have turned to Him completely with their mental faculties and profound hearts have been honored with certain favors and gifts. Thousands of people have so far been favored with so many gifts and honored with exceptional heavenly repasts by means of their turning to Him completely and concentrating on Him. Provided they are not incompatible with the spirit of the Religion, it cannot be harmful to accept such considerations and interpretations as special gifts and favors that have been sent to them.
Some Sufis have regarded the tablets (meanings) in question, which seem to be unfolding aspects of the truth of the Supreme Preserved Tablet, as the Tablet of Moses or the Ten Commandments. This approach may be acceptable if it refers to a particular aspect of the universal truth of the Manifest Record; otherwise it restricts a vast, universal truth to a single people. The truth of the Supreme Preserved Tablet is the blessed title of an essential truth which embraces all times and places through eternity and reflects its own color and design on everything. For this reason, every sort of restriction is incompatible with its all-encompassing nature.
Our Lord, take us not to task if we forget or make mistakes! Do not disgrace us both in this world and in the Hereafter! Bestow on us favors manifest and hidden, and make our souls contented with You and “reunion” with You, resigned to whatever You judge for us and satisfied with Your offerings; bestow blessing and peace on the most honorable of Your creation, our master Muhammad, and on his pure Family and good and godly Companions.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
49 The Words (trans.), New Jersey, 2007, p., 566.