Wujud (finding and existence) is not what is meant in Qur’anic statements like the following: They assuredly find that God is One Who truly returns the repentance of His servants with acceptance and extra reward, and All-Compassionate (especially toward His believing servants) (4:64); He will find God All-Forgiving, All Compassionate (especially towards His servants who seek forgiveness for their evils and sins) (4:110); and In the end he will find God and meet with Him, and He will pay him his account in full (24:39). These are, respectively, more concerned with how those who have sinned or lapsed somewhat into deviations on the way, beg God for forgiveness, and how the unbelievers will find God or how God will treat them. Rather, finding and existence denote the finding of Him with His truth beyond all concepts of modality, as referred to in, O son of Adam, seek Me that you may find Me, and some allegorical sayings of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
When travelers to the Ultimate Truth attain this rank of finding, they feel and achieve a state of melting away in the presence of the manifestations of His “Facial” Light with nothing being left behind except that state and the pleasure it gives. One who starts his or her travel with belief and advances toward knowledge and love of God is called “an initiate.” Such initiates continue their journey by understanding the language of His signs in the outer and in their inner worlds and by feeling that their witnessing of Him is that of “a seeking one.” Finally, when they have reached the ultimate point where they have found the truth in their consciousness according to the capacity of that consciousness, beyond all concepts of time, space and matter, each becomes the “one who has found.” The beginning of this journey demands belief and perfect resolution, and its continuance requires being driven and led, and reaching the end according to the capacity of each, melting away and total annihilation in the face of the rays of the Realm of the Holy Presence. This final point in no way denotes incarnation or union (with God) or God’s taking on a corporeal body or His being transformed into another being. It only denotes the state and pleasure of feeling as a drop in relation to the ocean and as a particle in relation to the sun. Abu’l Hasan an- Nuri  expresses the state of those who have reached this point vividly: “I have been going to and fro between finding and losing for twenty years. When I enjoy meeting with my Lord Whose Essence is unknown, I lose my heart; and when I feel my existence in heart, I then suffer a loss of Him.”
Certainly, it is not possible for those who are still at the be- ginning of the way to feel the state described by an-Nuri. For this state, which is frequently felt and frequently disappears, resembles the state of a diver who feels the water when diving into it, and lets the water pull him or her deeper, and who feels only the water when he or she becomes “lost” in the depths. If such a feeling that appears on the way to reaching the truth of something is based on the knowing of the heart or conscious- ness, it is the culture of consciousness or cognizance in consciousness. If it is of the kind obtained with vision or insight, then it is sight. If travelers are in constant pursuit of increasing research, analysis, and synthesis, then the result is spiritual discovery and vision. Finally if they see everything annihilated in God, then their state is annihilation in God and subsistence by God, and they feel no need whatsoever for anybody else save Him.
At the beginning or in the first stage of the journey, travelers are saved from all doubts and hesitations and attain in their consciousness such a degree of knowledge of God that they no longer need deductive or inductive reasoning in the name of “finding,” even though they sometimes refer to things and events when expressing the truth. Based on a knowledge that comes directly from the Divine Presence to aid finding, they rise to the horizon of knowledge of God they inwardly experience, and this knowing is above the kind of knowledge acquired by rational arguments and the observation of His “material” witnesses in the universe.
In the second stage, travelers reach the point where they feel and have the vision of the Eternally Existent One, which is in effect knowing Him with a knowledge based on spiritual observation of Him, without restricting Him with such considerations as body, substance, matter, time and space.
In the third stage, which marks almost the end point of the journey, travelers are in a state of experiencing the Truly Existent One without seeing any other existents save Him, and they attain annihilation in Him in their world of feelings.
This systematization of the journey is based on the assertion that spiritual knowledge of God is higher in value than the knowledge acquired through scientific or rational arguments, and that the spiritual vision of God is above the spiritual knowledge of Him, and that finding Him in self-annihilation in Him is more valuable than the spiritual vision of Him. However, this needs to be revised according to those who see the vision be- yond finding.
There is another consideration based on the concentration of the Divine Existence only. This consideration, which has been called the Unity of Being, is sometimes reduced to a mere philosophical view, although it arises from a spiritually experienced state. It will be useful to give some information about it here.
In fact, all of existence is nothing more than a shadow or a manifestation of the Names and Attributes of the Unique, Eternally Besought One. Travelers favored with the knowledge of the truth behind things and events sometimes go into a state where they experience only His absolute Existence to such a degree that they become completely lost in It and all other existent beings disappear from their sight. Although this is a state experienced spiritually, it is sometimes reduced to a mere philosophical view or to a matter of speculation, in imitation of others who have experienced this state spiritually, and it can be confused with several other approaches, such as the Unity of the Witnessed, Monism, and Pantheism. Although a discussion of these approaches and their substantial difference from the Unity of Being is not among the topics which will be discussed in The Emerald Hills of the Heart, it would be useful to note some of the important points, as this is a matter open to misunderstanding and misrepresentation.
Existence is related to being and/or identity, nature and the existent beings themselves, and is unquestionably manifest. This is a view shared by numerous Muslim thinkers, as well as by many modern philosophers. However, existence is different from the existent beings, identity, and nature. The existing being and nature are conceived of before existence. For example, we can conceive of an amount of water with its being or identity and nature, even if it does not exist here. Its existence is additional and accidental to its being or identity. Something cannot exist without its essential qualities being combined with certain accidental elements. As regards our example, different states and qualities of water are additional to its essential being or identity. Although the essential identity always remains as it was, without any changes, accidental and additional qualities can be replaced with similar others. Water, while remaining as water in essence, can change into ice or vapor.
Just as a physical substance like water has an essential identity and nature, intellectual and metaphysical beings have also an essential identity and nature. However, in saying this, we should not confuse the Being Whose Existence is Essential and Absolutely Necessary with contingent beings. Muslim thinkers have accepted the Absolutely Necessary Existence as the Being Who is Absolutely and Uniquely Self-Existent, and have also agreed that His Being is absolutely free from requiring a nature or a form or a composition; need is essential to all other beings whose existence is contingent and created. The Self-Existent One is free from such accidental qualities. It is not permissible to associate the Necessarily Existent One with a different, additional nature or existence. We cannot even conceive of nor mention such a possibility with regard to Him even to be able to explain the question.
It is He Who is discerned in the universe. All things, each individually and all as a whole, are signs of His existence. Things and events run in a gurgling flow and clearly point to Him at every juncture of their being. In one respect, the universe and humanity are the title of the continuity of this flow, and human consciousness is that which hears, views, and reviews it.
From this perspective, all existence (creation) comes from Him and continuously flows like a river with uninterrupted manifestations. Because of the order, coherence, and speed of this flow, we cannot discern the interruptions in our nature or in the lives of things. Since the “film” of things and events is projected extremely swiftly and the very thin lines between the frames on the film strip cannot be discerned, we cannot feel the alternation of coming into existence and disappearing. Like separate pictures on a film being projected on a screen, things and events are projected on the screen of existence, one after the other, but we cannot discern the lines separating the frames.
They come and go, one after the other, with the only Unique One remaining.
That which comes goes, and that which goes does not come back again: this is a mystery.
Those who cannot penetrate this mystery spend their lives like an insensate person, who cannot see, hear, or feel anything. While others who have familiarity with this mystery sometimes
refer to vision or to witnessing when observing the creation, they sometimes mention only the absolute Existence in interpreting their observation, or they sometimes utter some words that are apparently incompatible with the rules of the Shari‘a that suggest union and incarnation. They do this because of their inability to find words that express their vision and discovery. It will even sometimes happen that there appears a person who is stuck in monism and who commits great sins by seeing the absolute Existence as if it were a permeating spirit that manifests itself as the creation.
It is possible that the universe may be viewed as an image or a shadow, as it is a reflection of the Light of the absolute Existence, and that things and events, including humanity, can be seen as being unstable, transitory images. However, this does not by any means imply that the universe is He. The truth is that it is He Who eternally exists without anything else eternally existing with Him. He willed the known essences in His eternal Knowledge to be clothed in an external, sensible existence in accordance with the measures He determined for them. This happened along with or within time and space; in other words, time and space began or appeared together with His bringing forth the known essences existing in His Knowledge into external existence. He observes the manifestations of His Existence that are indescribable and beyond-all-concept with the eyes of others—the creatures He has created. He favors everything with the rank of being a polished mirror to Him.
He has done all this with the single command “Be!” and with this command He has clothed the archetypes in external existence and displayed them in different forms. As He has done all this with a single command, He can destroy everything in a moment with another single command.
He said “Be!” once and the whole universe was.
If He says, “Do not exist any longer!”
everything will immediately be destroyed.
Since the universe did not exist eternally along with Him and since it was brought into existence by His peerless, inimitable creation, and since it continues to exist by His Subsisting and Maintaining, then its existence is relative and dependent and can be viewed as being essentially non-existent. Everything owes its existence and subsistence to Him absolutely. The Eternally Existent One willed to observe His most exquisite works in innumerable mirrors and so created existence as a shadow of the shadow of His Knowledge and Existence. He included us as a part of creation and entrusted His appreciation of His works to our appreciation. Our identities as “I,” “you”, and “he” or “she” had not been thoroughly distinguished with respect to our existence in His Knowledge. Destiny or His “Pre-Determination” identified us as individuals, and His Power clothed us in our “ego,” thus distinguishing and bringing us into external, sensible existence as complete individuals with different natures particular to each one of us. He has entrusted us with a restricted will-power and equipped us with different potentials which we can develop or realize as abilities. He has determined goals for us according to our abilities and endowed us with inclinations to realize those goals and has given us the ability to make use of or direct these inclinations. Thus, in addition to His Attributes of Knowledge and Existence, which He has manifested on us, He has also honored us with the manifestations of His other Attributes. So what behoves us is to willingly resign ourselves to this great, Divinely-willed honor and act accordingly.
This is the gist and truth of the matter of existence. How- ever, there have always been and will always be those who attain the horizon of viewing existence in a certain spiritual state and not with the eye of “objective” knowledge. Such people regard their existence as well as the existence of all other created beings and/or things as essentially non-existent in the face of the essential, absolute, eternal, and everlasting Knowledge, Self- Existence and Self-Subsistence of God. This means the non- acceptance of the existence of a transient shadow in the face of an Eternally Self-Existent and Self-Subsistent One. Feeling that the whole of existence is as a single unit is different from that the whole of sensed existence is essentially identical with the absolute Existence. Divine truths are never the same as relative truths. Although the Divine Names and Attributes, such as God (Allah), the All-Merciful (ar-Rahman), and the All-Providing (ar-Razzaq) seem to point to a single truth concerning the Being called by or described by these, they are different both from the perspective of the concept to which each points and the impression that each causes to rise in minds. For this reason, one who has true, substantial knowledge of God considers the relation between the Truly Existent One and other beings whose existence is relative and dependent in proper terms, and observes the true criteria in thinking, while those who are in a certain state of experience and spiritual pleasure may lapse into confusion.
In the realm of the relative truths—the facts related to creation—there are manifestations with different names or titles, such as living and non-living, and in the living realm, there are the animals, humankind, angels, and jinn and Satan. All the existing beings that are called by such collective names can be traced back to a unity that arises from a stage or rank in the process of creation, which we call “the First Determination” or “the Pure Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names” or the “Truth of or belonging to Ahmad” (the name of Prophet Muhammad before his coming to the world). The overall Divine manifestation in this stage is viewed as His overall manifestation over the whole of creation with all His Attributes and Names (Tajalli Wahidiya), though some prefer to call it Tajalli Ahadiya. This manifestation caused the archetypes in God’s Knowledge to develop and, with the concentration of the manifestations of certain Divine Names while others remained subordinate—the manifestation which we usually call Tajalli Ahadiya—the archetypes were individualized.
One with a true knowledge of God and a true vision of the truth behind the appearances can discern the relative truth and its relation with the Divine truth and God’s absolute Oneness and His overall manifestation over the whole of creation with all His Names at the same instant. They do not lapse into confusion. Even though they feel that everything goes back and ends in an essential unity, they can see each individual being in its particular nature and therefore can distinguish between the absolute, necessary and essential Existence and the relative one. This does not cause them either to ignore the gifts coming from spiritual vision and discoveries or to remain indifferent to the acquisitions of feelings and sound reasoning. Those who have set up their royal tents on this horizon express their perceptions in their true nature and with a true distinction between those things that are absolute, essential and original and those that are relative and dependent. They conclude that although there is an absolute, essential truth, its manifestations as sensible existence are numerous. They never lose their bearings or true direction and therefore do not fall into deviancy.
In addition, the Existence of the Ultimate Truth has usually been viewed from two stations with respect to Its manifestation. Looking from one station, the Attributes are ignored and there- fore the differences among them or their manifestations are not considered. Those who view the Existence of the Ultimate Truth from this station of Its manifestation are people of state and vision, who concentrate only on the Divine Being Himself. Some view this station from which only the Divine Being or Essence is considered as that of the Pure Being. Leading scholars of Sufism also give it such designations as Uniqueness, the Pure Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divinity, the Realm with No Determination, and the Unknown Identity. Those who view the Existence of the Divine Being in the spiritual state in which they are feel Him and His Existence each according to the profundity of his or her conscience. Looking from the other station, the Divine Being is considered with all His Attributes in the similarities and differences of their particular characteristics and manifestations. This station is designated as the All-Holy Unity, the Pure Realm of the Transcendental Manifestation of Divine Attributes and Names, the First Determination, or the Truth of Muhammad.
- Ibn Kathir, Tafsiru’l-Qur’an, 2:302.
- Abu’l-Hasan an-Nuri (d. 1499) is one of the famous Sufi ascetics. He was mostly concerned with the matter of wujud. (Tr.)