Ta‘ayyunat (Identifications) And What Lies Before

This article explains the meaning of Ta‘ayyunat (Identifications) and What Lies Before in Sufism.

Literally meaning coming forward, emerging and being made specific, in Sufi terminology ta‘ayyun means that the different natures or different essential characteristics inherent in the Divine Being manifest themselves with different wavelengths and ranks and infinitely expand in the All-Existence, the All-Life, and the All-Knowledge beyond all modalities of quality. In the rank of absolute Necessity, ta‘ayyun is called the First Manifestation, the All-Sacred Emergence, the Breath of Mercy, while in the rank of contingency it is known as the First Intellect, the Most Exalted Pen, the First Light, and the Truth of Muhammad or the Muhammadan Truth.

Even though there is nothing explicit in the Qur’an or the Prophetic Traditions concerning ta‘ayyun, it can be said that the statements regarding elevated, metaphysical realms such as Divine Knowledge, the Supreme Preserved Tablet of Truth, and the Manifest Record also relate to the rank of ta‘ayyun (identification) either by allusion or implication. Some Sufis such as Muhyid-Din Ibnu’l­‘Arabi and as -Suhrawardi, as well as  Mulla Jami‘, who was a great lover of God, and Ismail Haqqi Bursavi from among the Ottoman Sufi scholars and authors, have seen the things we perceive with our five senses as the manifestations of the ideal forms in the Realm of Ideal Forms or Representations.50 They have, in turn, perceived the ideal forms or pictures as mirrors of spiritual substances, the spiritual substances as the growths of the identifications in Knowledge, the identifications in Knowledge as reflections of the archetypes (previously discussed),51 the archetypes as the manifestations of Divine Names (to be discussed later),52 the Divine Names as scenes or spectacles of the Divine Attributes of Glory, and the Divine Attributes of Glory as the descriptive designations of the Pure Divine Being. However, the approaches of Imam ar-Rabbani53 and his fol­lowers are different and worthy of discussion.

The things and abstract natures which are not included in the identifications in question and which we can designate as “contingent realities” do not share this rank of identification. On account of their existence in Divine Knowledge or the places that have been assigned to them on the Supreme Preserved Tablet of Truth—these places are turned to the Divine Names in respect of the ability and the capacity that have been bestowed on them— they proceed to the different ranks of identification through the messages that emanate from the Divine Attributes of Glory and through the manifestations of Divine Names; from here they proceed to the archetypes, and then to the external existence on the workbench of the Divine Will and Power, thus continuing to be mirrors (to all abstract Divine truths).

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All the faces that are turned to the Divine Names look to the All-Sacred One, Who is called by these Names, from behind veils. In this rank or step, the Name al-Bari (the All-Holy Creator) is the first “intercessor” or the first addressee of the All-Glorified’s Will.

This blessed Name manifests Itself in connection with the glorious Name the All-Powerful, Whose “eye” is, in turn, fixed on the Name the All-Willing. This supreme Name is turned to the all-encompassing Name the All-Knowing. All things at all the ranks of identification, which have their existence in Divine Knowledge, are abstract pictures, meanings, or the immaterial substances in the all-encompassing design, which is the infinite arena of the manifestation of the Divine Attribute of Knowledge. Each member of creation in this design passes through different steps of identification to rise to their potential level of perfection.

Along the lines of the identification discussed above, the abstract truths that exist in the encompassing area of Divine Knowledge beyond all modalities of quality and quantity and beyond all forms of comparison, proceed in extraordinary measures toward their fully developed forms in the direction established by the Command and Will of the Lord of the worlds and in dependency upon their relative realities and first compacted identification. The All-Willing is God; therefore, Will is His Attribute and the measures belong to Him. The All-Developing is an Attribute of Glory belonging to the Lord of the worlds, and developing and unfolding originate in His being the Lord. He is the unique owner of the reality, “God does whatever He wills and decrees however He wills.” As stated in the verse, He directs all affairs (as the sole Ruler of creation), and He sets out in detail the signs and proofs of the truth (13:2), determining, directing, developing, and unfolding belong to Him exclusively.

On account of His Divine Essence, He is the All-Unique of absolute Oneness (Ahad), and with respect to His Attributes, He is the One of absolute Unity (Wahid). Behind all the worlds of multiplicity, in their origination and arrangement, and at all the ranks or degrees of identification, the manifestations of His Uniqueness (Ahadiya) and Unity (Wahidiya) are observable. Divine Uniqueness, which we can also designate as the Essential Uniqueness of the Divine Being, or as Absorption within Absorption, or the Truth of truths, is the rank to which all of the Divine Attributes and Names are referred, so the one favored with perfect knowledge of God who has spiritually experienced this rank is aware of nothing other than Him. As for the rank of Divine Unity, which is also called the Rank of Absorption, this is a Divine door opening onto the manifestations that extend toward multiplicity, and this is a horizon of mysteries where the compacted essences begin developing and unfolding. If we view the first of these two ranks in the name of identifications as a table of contents or a seed, I hope it would not be harmful to see the other as a book, or as a tree, or as the source of all the worlds that have come into existence.

Some have understood the first identification as the manifestation of the Divine Being in His Own Essence and have designated this identification, concerning which any Attribute or Name is not in question, as the All-Sacred Uniqueness. This approach marks the initial truth that there was nothing other than the Divine Being. The Prophetic Tradition, “God was and there was nothing else besides Him,”54 expresses this truth, which points to the Divine Essence Himself. Actually, it is difficult to make any interpretation concerning the nature of identification in this rank where nothing other than the Divine Essence can be mentioned.

The rise of the Divine Essence or Divine Essential Uniqueness as a manifestation on the horizon of Divine Unity beyond description or any modality of quality is the peak at which identifications begin. The transcending, imperceptible “ identification as Existence” and “ identification as Knowledge” can only be imagined as ambiguous, imperceptible natures or programs after this first or highest rank; they are beyond all modalities of quality, and any capacity of perception, and beyond all comparisons. In this second rank of identification or manifestation, the spirit, archetypes, and “ideal” existences are forged to creation or external existence on the workbench of Divine Will and Power under the guardianship of the Divine Names upon which they depend and in accordance with the plans and projects that are recorded on the Supreme Preserved Tablet of Truth.

The Most Exalted Pen, dependent on the First Intellect, which is regarded as the first identification from another perspective, is the means of the inscription of Divine commands of creation, and the “words, sentences, and paragraphs” of the Divine pattern of creation which are projected on the tablets of essential natures are the results of its development, expansion, and elaboration. According to the approach of Bediüzzaman: “If this universe is to be viewed as a macro book, the light of our Prophet, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace, is the ink of the Pen of the Author of that book; if the universe is considered as a tree, his light is both its seed and its most illustrious fruit. If existence is regarded as a macro living being, his light is its spirit.”55 For this reason, with respect to creation, our Prophet is “everything” both as a seed at the beginning of contingent existence and its most illustrious fruit.

Since it would imply an attribution of temporal or accidental occurrences and changes to the Divine Essence, no identification has been accepted with respect to the Divine Essence. For it is not permissible to attribute any temporal or accidental occurrences to the Eternal Being Who has no beginning and is uncontained by time. Although everything is a manifestation of His Existence, Life, and Knowledge, neither the images in “mirrors” nor the forms on “screens” can ever be He.

As for identifications in the form of creation, they exist and subsist by following one another in dependence on their sources. We can liken this to a straight line which moves or is spun continuously and at great speed, thus appearing as a flat surface.

Some have seen the mysteries of the rank of Divinity in identifications in Knowledge and the secrets of creation in the identifications perceptible by the intellect. They have discerned the Mercy at the beginning of the identification of Divinity and emphatically prepossessed that the creation of the universe is based on Mercy. According to those who think thus, Mercy is essential in creation; everything comes from It and returns to It. Things such as misguidance, wrath, unbelief, and ingratitude are accidental and deviances caused by the misuse of free will.

All existent things and/or beings have passed through the spiritual, ideal, intermediary, and external stages of existence through identifications of Knowledge and as a consequence, the seed has grown into a massive tree. The first identification was, in one respect (in the rank of contingency), manifested as the truth of humanity. Prophet Adam and his progeny have formed the most important link of this process with their “bright” and “dark” aspects. The master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, who, despite coming later in time, outstripped and excelled all others, and his believing and devoted Community have been exalted with the most perfect of statures and the distinction of being the nearest to the realization of the Divine purposes of identifications. For the master of creation is the most comprehensive and brightest mirror of Divine truths and the central point of the first, last, outward, and inward dimensions of existence, which were appointed by God’s be­ing the First, the Last, the All-Outward, and the All-Inward.

It is possible to express these subtle points in a more understandable way as follows:

Identification has been considered within different Divine and creational frameworks. The beginning of Divine identification is God’s Attribute of Knowledge, and its end is God’s limitless words of Glory, which have different degrees. The first of the creative identifications is the spirit of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, and its finality is the tree of all of humankind with all its branches including those of the Prophets and Messengers, and the garden of the entire existence. Those who have interpreted the Divine identification as the Hidden Treasure have designated it as the Most Inward of the inward, and considered it in the context of the eyes do not comprehend Him (6:103), and the basic principle, “(Admission of one’s) incapacity to perceive Him is perception itself.”

The spirit of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is a pure substance of light free from matter and the Universal Intellect, which has perfect knowledge of the All-Glorious Creator. The Prophetic saying: “The first thing which God created is intellect,”56 indicates this depth; some call it the Supreme or Most Superior Spirit. For in one respect, the everlasting Life of the Divine Essence first expanded in that mirror in the universe, and as declared in the hadith qudsi: “But for you (spiritual existence, which apparently consists in a single entity with respect to its individuality but is so broad as to contain the entire universe with respect to its meaning and contents as being the seed of the entire creation, and which is regarded as the cause of the creation of the universe,) I would not have created the worlds,”57 Prophet Mu­hammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the purpose for the creation of the universe. Out of His Will of Glory, God Almighty bestowed on that illustrious being His mysterious key to the first door or initial development of the Hidden Treasure, and made Him the center on which His love is focused. Therefore, as stated in the following couplet of the respected Qudsi:

All things have come into existence from
“I was a Hidden Treasure;”
the ocean of love has produced waves
through the breeze of His love.

The mysteries of Divinity were known through Prophet Muhammad to the extent they could be known, and the expansion and unfolding of the mysteries of His Lordship were witnessed through him. God Almighty, Who knows and sees His Own Essence and observes His Essence in Himself, has also made Himself known or opened a blessed door to be known by everybody through our master’s brightest mirror. How well Süleyman Çelebi speaks:

I have made your being a mirror to My Being,
I have also inscribed your Name together with Mine.
Turn to the world and call them to Me,
so that they may come and see My “Face.”

Both through his first identification as a seed or nucleus marking the beginning of creation and through his growth and expansion like the Touba tree of Paradise in his earthly life, Prophet Mu­hammad was honored with being chosen, in the words of Bediüz­zaman, to be the ink in the Pen of the Author of this book of the universe, and he was distinguished with developing into a most fruitful blessed tree and being the source of dazzling and magnificent “gardens” and “orchards” of existence. Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the basic meaning of the poem of creation, the central embroidery in the lacework of existence, and the most meaningful part or rhyme of the poetic composition of Prophethood and Messengership, reflecting its spirit and contents. The heavenly Revelation manifested through him is the most comprehensive voice of the heavens and earth; his happy Ascension, which combines the nearest and farthest points of the universe, is an untouched gift of the Garden of Divinity to him in return for his magnificent position and attainments and a reward from the All-Munificent, the All-Generous—a reward that no one else has ever been or will ever be favored with. Just as through the rays of the Revelation impressive of infinitude, Prophet Muhammad felt and experienced the transcendent mysteries beyond human considerations, which eyes have never seen nor ears have ever heard, so through his blessed Ascension he observed the entire existence from beginning to end and enjoyed exceptional experiences in the name of the Divine Essence, Attributes, and Names.

His experiences were of an exceptional profundity, and making God known by others was the expression of his unparalleled appreciation; his ability to guide natures of sufficient capacity to their perfection was an incomparable success. People of perfection have been able to recognize true perfection and perfectibility through him and the peaks that seem to be insurmountable have been surmounted through him. The respected Aziz Mahmud Hudai58 says:

All perfected ones have attained perfection through your light;
your existence is the perfect mirror of God, O God’s Messenger

This means that God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, was exceptionally favored with complete manifestations of Divine Names and Attributes of Glory.

According to the respected Imam ar-Rabbani, the first identification is that of Existence or Existential Identification, and all identifications of Names and Attributes depend on this. From another different perspective, the All-Sacred Divine Essence and Attributes seem to be of the same rank. For this reason, to arrive decisively at the conclusion that the Attributes are different or other than the Essence would not be correct. For although the Attributes are particular and indispensable to the Divine Essence, and mark the unfolding of His Perfection, neither the Attributes themselves nor their unfolding or relation with the Essence should ever be thought of in terms of the created beings and their attributes. What is appropriate in viewing this matter, which is beyond our comprehension, is being content with the relevant statements of God and His Messenger.

Since God’s eternal Knowledge relates to everything in the existing realms and the realms of non-existence within the framework of certain identifications, billions times billions of spiritual, ideal, intermediary, and corporeal forms come into being. But this would never mean that the Divine Essence and Attributes are changeable. Both the Essence and Attributes are of the unchangeable rank, and all the changes and different states and natures belong to their mirrors.

The respected Imam (ar-Rabbani) has also a different approach to the beginning of the ranks of identification. According to him, the beginning of Prophet Abraham’s identification is in one respect the first identification; its being the first rank of identification is on account of identification in regard to existence or existential identification in the non-Divine realm. At the central point of this identification is the beginning of the master of creation’s identification. In other, clearer words, the Truth of Muhammad is a comprehensive truth and is like the nucleus of the first identification. The truths of not only all other Prophets and Messengers but also the angels, upon them all be blessings and peace, are shadows of that central point or nucleus and Divine inscription. The Prophetic say­ings: “The first thing which God created is my light,”59 and “God created me out of His Own Light and believers out of my light,”60 mark or refer to this reality.

In addition, that most supreme light among the creation is the most reliable and trustworthy means and guide of reaching the Ultimate Truth, while the other Prophets are each an extended shadow that revolve around the axis of this guide. The Truth of Ahmad (embodied by Prophet Muhammad before his external existence in the world), in one respect, and the undying Truth of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings to the fullness of the heavens and the earth, is a transcendent truth which stands at the intersection of Absolute Necessity and contingency, as referred to in So he was (so near that there was left only the distance between) the strings of two bows (adjacent to each other), or even nearer (than that) (53:9). The identification of this truth is identification in Knowledge and is characterized by love. It was the reason or purpose of the existence of the universe, and the fact that it is identification in Knowledge marks the beginning of all other identifications and manifestations.

Muhyid-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi and those who follow his way of thought have regarded the first identification, which they have viewed as the Truth of Muhammad, as the summation of Divine Attributes of Glory on the horizon of Knowledge. As mentioned before, Imam ar-Rabbani and those who think like him (whether they came before or after him) have viewed the first identification as identification with respect to Existence and stressed that its central point is the Truth of Muhammad, upon him be the most perfect blessings and peace. They have therefore argued that it is not possible to think of the creation without considering God’s all-sacred, transcendent love of Himself and the identification that is affiliated with Existence. The Truth of Muhammad is the origin of all identifications in the non-Divine realm, or it is of central character, while all other spheres of identification around it are shadows in relation to that supreme light. All spiritual, ideal, substantial, accidental, and corporeal identifications are like lamps which receive their light or are lit from it. How well Imam Busiri61 speaks:

All the miracles the other noble Prophets worked,
were only the wonders that reached them from his light.
He is the sun of virtues, while the others were the stars,
which shine only at night (when there is no sun).

Miracles of Muhammad

Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, was the ultimate purpose for the existence of the universe and the only existent being who was talked about in the realms beyond. He was the first rose which bloomed on the breast of non-existence in the non-Divine realm. He was the nightingale whose voice resonated in the garden of the universe. He was the perfect leader and the unique guide in all aspects of life, and he was the fine lace that lay over the form of creation prior to ethereal existence.

O God! Bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, whom You created out of Your Light with respect to his being the first of the Prophets; and whom You created out of Your effulgence with respect to his being the last of the pure, godly and those nearest to You. He was confirmed by miracles and chosen for Messengership. And bestow blessings and peace also on his Family and Companions, who explained what he brought from You, and set forth its proofs, and publicized it.

By M. Fethullah Gulen

50 Please refer to the explanations concerning this realm in the third volume of Emerald Hills of the Heart.

51 Please refer to matters discussed in connection with the spirit in the third volume of Emerald Hills of the Heart. 52 The issue of archetypes was also discussed previously in the third volume of Emerald Hills of the Heart. (Tr.)

53 Imam Rabbani, Ahmad Faruq al-Sarhandi (d. 1624): The “reviver of the second millennium.” Born in Sarhand (India) and well-versed in Islamic sciences, he removed many corrupt elements from Sufism. He taught Shah Alamgir or Awrangzeb (d. 1707), who had a committee of scholars prepare the most comprehensive compendium of Hanafi Law. His work Maktubat (“The Letters”) are very famous and widely known throughout the Muslim World. (Tr.)

54 See footnote 37. (Tr.)

55 al-Mathnawi an-Nuri – Seedbed of the Light (trans.), New Jersey, 2007, p., 169.

56 ad-Daylami, al-Musnad, 1:13; Ibn Hajari’l-Asqalani, Fathu’l-Bari, 6:289.

57 ‘Alliyyu’y-Qari, al-Masnu‘, 150; al-Asraru’l-Marfu‘a, 1:385; for variant wordings of this hadith qudsi, see al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 2:672; al-Bayhaqi, Dalailu’n-Nubuwwa, 5:489.

58 Aziz Mahmud Hudai (1541–1648) was among the most famous saints toward the end of the 16th and in the first half of the 17th century Ottoman Turkey. He was a judge in Bursa for some time. Then he moved to Istanbul as a preacher and spiritual teacher. He has a Diwan containing his poems. (Tr.)

59 al-Alusi, Ruhu’l-Ma‘ani, 8:71; al-‘Ajluni, Kashfu’l-Khafa’, 311–312.

 60 al-‘Ajluni, ibid., 1:311.

61 Muhammad ibn Sa‘id al- Busiri (Busayri) (1212–1296) was born and mainly lived in Egypt. He studied both Islamic sciences and language and literature. He is known primarily for his Qasidatu’l-Burda (“The Eulogy of the Cloak”), which he wrote in praise of our Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. (Tr.)

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