M. Fethullah Gulen
(Continuing from the previous issue)
The All-Holy Unity (Wahidiya) has an inward and outer aspect. We can call the former the All-Holy Divinity (Uluhiya), and the latter the All-Holy Lordship (Rububiya). Although these two aspects are two faces or aspects of a single truth, there is a slight difference between them which initiates can discern, according to their personal experiences during the journey. For this reason, initiates of varying states, perceptions, and pleasures can experience and interpret certain truths differently. For example, some initiates tend to do away with their carnal souls and egotism, freeing themselves from the considerations of their relative, self-existence, which they regard as an obstacle to feeling the All-Holy Existence with all their hearts. They are rooted in annihilation in God and absorbed in subsistence by God, sipping peace and contentment from the pure water of His company. Others have melted away in the face of the rays that come from the All-Holy Existence to the extent that they are unaware of their own relative existence and their surroundings. More than this, wholly absorbed in the Absolute Existence each according to his or her capacity, they regard experiencing the Absolute Existence and the relative one differently and discriminating one from the other as a dream and the attribution of existence to others than Him as covert polytheism.
It is natural that those who have different perceptions and feelings should voice these and interpret the issue of existence differently. Some may suggest pantheism in their styles, some monism, some may assert the Unity of Being, while still some others clearly adopt the Unity of the Witnessed.
Now let us see how the theologians and the scholars of Sufism themselves view the matter:
Sa‘du’d-Din at-Taftazani  deals with the Sufis in two categories from the viewpoint of their perceptions of existence. According to him, some Sufis are quite sensible in their view of the Unity of Being. Although they accept the multiplicity of other things in existence other than the absolutely Existent One, when they reach the final point in their journey and see themselves totally immersed in the infinite ocean of Divine Oneness with their being absorbed in the Divine Being and their attributes in the Divine Ones, all else save Him disappears from their sight; the result of this is that they can only see the All-Holy Existence. This state is regarded as and called the annihilation in (Divine) Unity, which the one who is the most advanced in belief in Divine Oneness, upon him be peace and blessings, indicated in his report from God, Who said: “My servant gets nearer and nearer to Me until I love him by fulfilling the supererogatory acts of worship. When I love him, I become his ears with which he hears, his eyes with which he sees, his hands with which he grasps, and his feet on which he walks. (His hearing, seeing, grasping, and walking take place in accordance with My will and commandments.)” Those who have almost completed their journey in this rank cannot find words to express the scenes they wit- ness nor the feelings that arise in their consciousness, and therefore they may utter words whose meanings are beyond their purpose and which sometimes suggest union and incarnation.
According to Taftazani, there is another group of Sufis. They claim the Unity of Being and project it as a philosophy or theory. They regard whatever there is in the name of existence as comprising the Divine Being only. According to them, there is no other kind of existence save the Existence of the All-Originating One in the universe. All other things or beings that seem to exist are no more than a mirage or an illusion.
As Mustafa Sabri Efendi  also pointed out, the first group are called Sufis, while the second group are known as pretenders of Sufism. The expressions of the first group that suggest Unity of Being arise from a spiritual, ecstatic state and an inability to find the words to express it. The consideration of the others is a distinct philosophy or theory.
Jalalu’d-Din ad-Dawwani  tries to base the considerations of Unity of Being on a theoretical foundation. He explains: Since it is inconceivable that all other beings save Him can come into existence by themselves, every contingent being (i.e. whose existence is not necessary or absolute) must depend on an absolute, necessary existence. In addition, as any contingent, created being cannot have come into existence or subsist by itself, it cannot oppose the point on which it is dependent in coming into existence and subsistence. So, all things and/or beings and causes or means of their coming into existence can continue to exist by the point (the First Cause or Creator of causes) on which they are dependent. This leads to the conclusion that the existence of every other being save Him is relative, even nominal. Although such beings have relative existence that is dependent on the Absolute Existence, we cannot regard them as having an independent self-existence.
According to this approach, although there are numerous, relatively existent beings in the universe, there is only One with a true, independent, self-existence. All the things we observe are the works of that All-Originating One’s Acts.
Muhyi’d-Din ibnu’l-‘Arabi goes a step further and observes: Nothing has anything worth mentioning in terms of existence other than that it is something originated, or manifested, or reflected. These manifestations or reflections occur (like the frames on a film) so quickly, and follow one another so fast, that we wrongly perceive this occurrence as being uninterrupted. After all, all that (other than the Absolutely Existent One) we regard as existence consists of this seemingly-uninterrupted manifestation. Jami‘ shares this consideration, saying: “Whatever there is in the universe is either an illusion or imagination or shadow-like reflections in mirrors.” Badru’d-Din al-Simawi  refers or reduces everything to matter and cannot be considered to be among even those who have a theoretical view of the Unity of Being worth studying.
The considerations of some concerning the doctrine of Unity of Being are based on a state of pleasure, while some fix their eyes on the True Being exclusively, and others have only a theoretical or philosophical approach to the matter, having provoked different thoughts, comments, and expressions. Despite all of these, those who share this view at all times and places are agreed that there is no existent being that exists and subsists by itself save God. For this reason, attributing existence to others than God is done because their existence or subsistence depends upon God, not because they exist or subsist by themselves. There is a single true existence, with all things and events being manifestations of it. From another perspective, if existence is an ocean, objects and events are the waves. However, each wave has a unique characteristic, distinguishing it from the others, while it is seen to be lost in the ocean by those who are immersed in a state of spiritual pleasure.
If the Unity of Being is approached from a merely philosophical perspective without considering that it is a view based on a state of spiritual experience and which sees the creation as a mere shadow of the True Existence, it will inevitably be reduced to the denial of the Divine Attributes and Names and cause many negative ideas to arise concerning religion, morality, knowledge, and wisdom. It can even cause one to fall into a hidden association of partners with God in the name of Divine Unity.
With its essential principles, such as Say, “There is no deity save God,” and attain salvation,  and Say, He is God, the One and Unique (112:1), and Your Deity is the Deity Who is only One (2:163), the religion of Islam has continuously insisted on the absolute Oneness of God, never mentioning ideas or concepts such as the Unity of Being or the Unity of the Witnessed as doctrines it has sanctioned. For this reason, such concepts have been regarded as arising from spiritual states and experiences and have not been considered as objective or binding teachings.
Actually, the concepts of the Unity of Being and the Unity of the Witnessed arise from certain feelings and perceptions that people who are of a particular temperament and way of journeying, and who have reached a particular rank of knowledge of God, develop in the state in which they have been favored during their spiritual journey. When they get out of, or are awakened from, that state of pleasure or intoxication, which has caused them to voice these concepts, review their feelings and perceptions in the light of the essential doctrines which the Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, brought and preached. Nevertheless, it is also a fact that some sayings uttered by those favored with true knowledge of God in moments of intoxication and immersion, and some others which, even though they have been uttered in wakefulness, have caused confusion due to the choice of words, have led those with ill opinions of these people to make philosophical speculations about the Absolute Self- Existence and the existence of contingent beings. A mind devoted and obedient to the Shari‘a understands from the dictum There is no existent being save He that there is no true self-existent and self-subsistent being except Him, while those who deal with the matter purely from a philosophically speculative approach understand that whatever exists is God. According to the former group, only God has a substantial existence, with every other being than Him having only a relative existence or as a shadow. As for the others, all existence, visible or invisible, is He. It is clear that such a view or consideration entails polytheism and has nothing to do with the doctrine of the Unity of Being, which the Muslim Sufis perceive and express in a spiritual state and pleasure. It has almost the same meaning as pantheism and/or monism, which is related to union and incarnation. Such deviancy has been continually responsible for the most abominable forms of the association of partners with God, such as Ezra is God, the Messiah is God, ‘Ali is God, Baha’ullah is God, the Pharaoh is God, and Nimrod is God.
The issues concerning God, the universe and humankind are obvious when looked at from a viewpoint of Qur’anic disciplines. However, a number of ignorant persons and a number of ones who are ill-intended have adopted deviant approaches, have tried to give substantial existence to the universe and to substitute it for God. They have distorted the truth of Divinity or denied Him any attributes or regarded Him as a spirit that pervades existence. They have also offered views that God takes on bodily forms (incarnation) or that there is a created being that is united with God and becomes God (union). They have distorted the Divine truth in the ugliest way possible by claiming that the statement that “There is no deity but God” is the same as “There is no existent being save Him,” meaning that God is identical with the visible universe.
In my view, in this respect we should adopt an approach such that we regard the concept of the Unity of Being, which negates the existence of beings other than God, as being based on a state of spiritual pleasure and as arising from being overpowered by absorption and being lost in God’s Existence along with an inability to find the words to express this state. We cannot accept the philosophically speculative theory that existence comprises God and that His Existence consists of the existence of all beings. We must protect Muslim minds from such theories. We should also bear in mind that if the doctrine of the Unity of Being is not outlined by and kept within the essential principles of Islamic belief, it may lead to an incorrect conception of God, His Existence and His relation with the created. It is only with a correct conception of Divine Unity that people can be favored with a special knowledge that stems from Him and in which they perceive the true character or reality of things and events. Then they turn away from these events to the Eternal Witness, and in indifference to His signs and the signposts that show the way to Him, become immersed in the lights of His absolute Existence and melt away with respect to their carnal soul and ego. But to adopt speculative theories or views that ascribe divinity to things and events means the association of partners with God and this implies going beyond one’s limits of perception and knowledge. Such views or theories can even amount to the denial of God, the Ultimate Truth, He Who is known by His Names and qualified with His eternal Attributes, and Who infinitely surrounds all things with His majestic Attributes such as Knowledge, Power and Will.
The two views or approaches mentioned here are worlds apart from each other. One is based on seeing everything, not excluding the human ego itself, as being, with respect to its existence and subsistence, absolutely dependent on the Divine Existence and Self-Subsistence. Those who adopt such an approach are annihilated in the Almighty and subsist by Him, believing that everything comes from Him. The other is the view of the self-conceited ones who are unaware of what a spiritual state is or what spiritual pleasures are. They speculate that all things, including themselves, are united with Divinity or with a part of it. While the former regard themselves in the face of the Divine Existence as a drop in the ocean or a particle in the sun, the latter consider that the ocean is the drop itself or the sun is the particle itself. They maintain that the universe is an appearance of Him. The former are self-possessed, always feeling in awe of Him and pursuing Him as the final goal. The latter are, on the other hand, loose, inattentive and lack any goal. The author of Mizanu’l-‘Irfan describes the former as follows:
Those who have reached the final point in their journey,
are all self-possessed and people of perfection.
Their state is described as “finding,”
and they have no interest in whether they exist or not.
The voice cannot express their state,
only those who share their state can understand them.
For they have reached annihilation in the Divine Being,
having been freed from their corporeal existence.
Having been annihilated in the Existence of the Ultimate Truth,
absorbed in states of exhilaration and ecstasy,
they cannot see another existence save that of the Divine Being.
His love invades through their hearts,
yet they are aware that still they are His servants.
The states of others do not resemble theirs.
These are the ones, O brother, who maintain their relation with God as His servants.
The one who writes about them no longer has any say.
According to these people, all things exist because the Necessarily Existent One exists. The relation of the Divine Being with things and events is that He brings them into existence and maintains and cares for them. But it is not possible for us to know the character of this relation with all its aspects, or how this relation takes place and is maintained. What we know is that it is He Who originates all things and maintains them. Nothing can “be” without Him; nothing can come into existence or maintain its existence without Him. For this reason, everything is from Him and it is He with all His Attributes of Perfection and Grace Who is the Originator of all things. In this approach, there is no room left for the duality of cause and source.
The prince of lovers (Jalalu’d-Din Rumi) says:
Certainly, there is no duality concerning the Almighty,
I, We, You have nothing to do with that Holy Being.
Incarnation and Union are inconceivable for Him.
Thinking of duality for the Unique One is obviously an error.
There is a point to be mentioned here. The doctrine of the Unity of Being maintained by some Muslim Sufis as being based on a spiritual state of pleasures and absorption is not contrary to the Islamic belief of Divine Unity. However, we should admit that there are many utterances which have been made due to intoxication and immersion which are apparently incompatible with the principles of belief. What follows is one such utterance by an intoxicated one that suggests monism:
The Almighty has declared:
“I am nearer to you than your jugular vein.” 
That is, the ocean and a drop it contains are the same.
O human being, you have fallen away from your own self.
If you but know, all are the same—
the one who witnesses and the one witnessed,
and the place where witnessing takes place;
and also the same are the owner and protector
and the one owned and protected.
Though the universe is the result of the manifestation of
God’s All-Beautiful Names,
There is only one Greatest Name among those Names.
O Lord! You are the One Who absolutely exists.
As for other existing beings,
they are no more than images or illusions.
For this reason, whatever You create is one and the same.
Though the beauty of all beautiful things is
because of Your all-enchanting Beauty,
still there is only one uniquely Beautiful Being.
Every sedition and seduction in the world is because of His love.
It should be known that
the chief cause of this sedition and dissension
is the one and the same.
It is true that the style of these words is also seditious and seductive. Some have tried to comment on such words so as to make them compatible with the spirit of religion, while others have wandered in the pits of monism when interpreting them.
Like natural sciences, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and medicine, and the religious sciences, such as jurisprudence, Qur’anic interpretation, and Hadith, Islamic Sufism has some concepts peculiar to itself. Those who do not know the true meaning and contents of these concepts will never be saved from errors. It is not possible to know and understand Islamic Sufism correctly without knowing these concepts.
To sum up: the concept of the Unity of Being comes from a spiritual state marked by personal spiritual experiences and the pleasures and ecstasy that arise from an initiate’s knowledge of God and His Oneness. An initiate who has this degree of attainment feels inwardly that the truly existent one is the only Ultimate Truth, and regards all other beings as a shadow or as having an imaginary existence. The Muslim Sufis who possess this concept have experienced such a degree of knowledge of God in their hearts and have made it a dimension of their conscious nature, trying to express it in proportion to their power of expression. Their expressions concerning unity in multiplicity and multiplicity with respect to unity are the utterances of these inward feelings and experiences, based on the consideration that unity is the foundation and source of everything, while multiplicity is illusory. In fact, it is not possible for a hero of state and pleasure who witnesses the manifestations of His Names and Attributes in every thing and event to think or act otherwise. They feel the omnipresence of that All-Sublime Being far beyond the horizons that are within the reach of human reason and imagination. They feel that they are always in His company and they turn to that Being Who eternally exists and who cannot be known with respect to His Divine Essence. What follows is an excerpt from how they put their experiences into words:
The All-Beautiful One Who wills to see His Beauty
through innumerable faces,
should be in innumerable parts,
like mirrors broken.
As for another view of the Divine Being in His relation to the universe, which is known as the Unity of the Witnessed and which has become a separate school led by Imam Rabbani Ahmad Faruq al-Sarhandi , although it is nearer to the thought of the Prophet’s Companions than the Unity of Being, it cannot be considered as being fully compatible with the consideration that is a way of perfect self-possession and complete wakeful- ness, because it also originates in a state of intoxication and absence and is combined with ecstasy and absorption. By contrast, those following the way of the Companions present to their audience their experiences, which even when experienced in a state of intoxication and absorption, with extraordinary self-pos- session, never falling into confusion.
The Unity of Existence, which is known in the West as pantheism and, with its variations, monism, is a philosophical school. This approach, based on seeing the universe as God Himself or His appearance, cannot be reconciled with Islamic Sufism. Furthermore, it is impossible to reconcile it with any Islamic philosophical movement. As mentioned before, while those who share this approach have strayed from the right path by admitting a pervading divinity and sharing it among all things, the Muslim Sufis following the Prophetic way have always believed that everything is from Him, not that everything is He.
O God! Show us the truth as being true and enable us to follow it, and show us falsehood as being false and enable us to refrain from it. And bestow blessings and peace on our master Muhammad, the guide to the truth, and on his Family and Companions, the noble, honorable and godly ones.
- Sa‘du’d-Din at-Taftazani (d. 1390) was a famous scholar of logic, rhetoric, grammar, theology and jurisprudence of Samarqand during the rule of Timur. His Sharhu ‘Aqaidi’n-Nasafiyya is among the basic works of the Muslim theology. (Tr.)
- Mustafa Sabri Efendi (1869–1954) was a Turkish scholar and shaykhu’l- Islam. He lived in Turkey and Egypt. Mawqifu’l-‘Aql wa’l-‘Ilm is among his
most well-known works. (Tr.)
- Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad ibn As‘ad ad-Dawwani (1426–1502) was a prominent philosopher and theologian from Shiraz. He combined elements of illuminationist and Peripatetic philosophy and possibly also interests in Ibnu’l- ‘Arabi. His Lawami‘u’l-Ishraq fi Makarimi’l-Akhlaq (“Lustres of Illumination
on the Noble Virtues”) is famous. (Tr.)
- Badru’d-Din al-Simawi was born in Simavna town in today’s Greece. He is generally known for his materialistic views of existence. He was sentenced to death because of his participation in revolts against the Ottoman government in the Period of Interregnum (1402-1413). His Waridat is famous. (Tr.)
- at-Tabarani, al-Mu’jamu’l-Kabir, 20:343; al-Haytami, Majma’uz-Zawa’id, 6:21.
- The Qur’an, 50:16.
- Imam Rabbani, Ahmad Faruq al-Sarhandi (d. 1624): Accepted by many as “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 the Hanafi Law. (Tr.)