The Scholars Of Sufism About The Spirit

This article covers the considerations of the scholars of Sufism about the Spirit.

The scholars of Sufism regard the considerations of philosophers and some theologians about the spirit to be a futile exercise. However, we see the traces of the doctrine of the Unity of Being in many Sufis’ views of the spirit.

The respectable scholar, Mustafa Sabri Efendi, quoting from Sa’du’d-Din at-Taftazani, divides the scholars of Sufism into two categories with respect to their views on existence. This division gives us distinct knowledge about the difference between their views on the spirit. For this reason, it would be useful to summarize the two different approaches of the Sufis to the matter of existence before proceeding to give their views on the spirit.

According to Sa’du’d-Din at-Taftazani, the scholars of Sufism are divided into two groups with respect to their views on existence: the Sufis and those who pretend to be Sufis. In their approach to the matter of existence, the Sufis are grounded in the fact that things have essential, established realities. Just as there is more than one existent thing, so too is existence multiple. That is, God’s Existence is different from the existence of other existent things and beings. However, when some initiates reach the rank of what they call “annihilation in and subsistence with or by God,” in which they are utterly absorbed, they are surrounded by the waves of the manifestations of Divine Oneness. They feel their beings are lost in the Being or Existence of God, and their attributes are absorbed in the light of His Attributes. They no longer feel anything other than the Divine Being, or His Existence. A perfected initiate who has reached this point of what they call “annihilation in God’s Oneness” may sometimes utter words that are apparently incompatible with the Shari’a, and thus cause confusion, such as, “I did not know myself to be so,” or “I wonder whether I am Him or He is me.” But the true successors of the cause of Prophethood never utter such things. Even if there may appear some who utter such phrases, they correct them according to the basic commandments of the Shari’a when they recover sobriety.

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Ultimate Reality – Consciousness

As for those who pretend to be Sufis, they adopt the doctrine of the Unity of Being as a philosophy. They affirm and defend it. According to them, there is a single existent being. This consideration of the Muslim pretenders of Sufism is, as Mustafa Sabri Efendi points out, based on the thought that God’s Attribute of Existence is identical with the Divine Being Himself. It is the Divine Being Who exists, and the whole universe is something imaginary or an illusion, or, according to some among them, is a manifestation or reflection of the Divine Being.

Even if the Unity of Being voiced by the Sufis is an inner experience or an instance of absorption or spiritual intoxication, the philosophical Unity of Being defended by the pretenders cannot be regarded as such. Verifying scholars consider Khallaj al-Mansur, Ibn al-Farid,[1] as-Suhrawardi, Jalalu’d-Din ad-Dawwani, Muhyi’d-Din ibn al-‘Arabi, and Mulla Jami'[2] to be among the genuine Sufis. Although there are some who include Shaykh Bedreddin, who said that the archetypes had not experienced the scent of existence, nor would they, to be in the same category, his main book, al-Waridat (“The Divine Gifts”) makes it impossible to regard him as such.

The considerations of the pretenders about the spirit are in line with their views on existence. According to them, like existence, the spirit is a manifestation or reflection. Just as humanity does not really exist, neither is the spirit something that exists independently. It is a manifestation or reflection of the All-Holy Creator or the Universal Spirit. The concepts of “the vegetable spirit,” “the animal spirit,” “the human spirit,” and “the speaking soul,” which philosophers and some scholars mention, are only designations given by humanity to certain shadows of this reflection. However, Muhyi’d-Din ibn al-‘Arabi has a somewhat different consideration about the matter with respect to the Hereafter. According to him, the final destruction of the world will not be a complete destruction or annihilation. This destruction and the Resurrection that follows will be a different picture of the same reality. When God takes a person to Him through death, He makes a new form for his or her spirit and human identity, which is different from his or her worldly body. This new form will be of the same sort as or suited to the station to which the dead will be transferred. In other words, a person will respectively take on a new form and nature in the intermediate world of the grave, the Place of Supreme Gathering, and Paradise or Hell that is in keeping with their spiritual state and each of these places.

Some among the scholars of Sufism have adopted the Sufis’ views on the spirit, while some others have accepted that of the pretenders. There are also many among them who think like theologians; in turn, among these there are some who use a language similar to that of philosophers, following the line of the asserters of the Unity of Being, and those who, like the earliest, righteous scholars, are content with the concise knowledge the Qur’an gives about the spirit and do not go into detail. However, the majority of those scholars strictly follow the Qur’an and the Sunna in their considerations.

By M. Fethullah Gulen


  1. Umar ibn ‘Ali ibn al-Farid (1181–1235 CE) was a Muslim Sufi Arab poet. He was born in Cairo, lived for some time in Makka and died in Cairo. He is regarded as the greatest Sufi poet of the Arab Muslims and called the Prince of Poets. Some of his poems are said to have been written in ecstasies. His most famous works are Hamriyya (“The Wine Ode”), which is on the “wine” of Divine love and spiritual bliss, and Nazmu’s-Suluk (“The Poem of Following the Sufi Path”). (Tr.)
  2. Mawlana Nuru’d-Din ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Ahmad al-Jami’ (1414–1492 CE), commonly called Mulla Jami’, is regarded as the last great classical poet of Persia, and a saint. He composed numerous lyrics and idylls, as well as many works in prose. His Salaman and Absal is an allegory of profane and sacred love. Some of his other works include Haft Awrang, Tuhfatu’l-Ahrar, Layla wu Majnun, Fatihat ash-Shabab, and Lawa’ih. (Tr.)

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