Friday, October 22, 2010

This is a dialogue I wrote for a course called "Introduction to Philosophy" which was taught at LUMS. The topic of the discourse between the two philosophers is the Names and Attributes of Allah.

Iqbal: Assalam Alaikum, Ya Shaikh al-Shaikh! It is an honour to find you here in Cordoba.
Ibn ‘Arabi: Walaikum as Salam! Pleasure is all mine, sir. I always wished to meet the lover of my keen follower, Rumi. What brings you here, my son? I am extremely sorry to hear about the sorry state of affairs the Muslims of the Sub-Continent are faced with these days. However, I am greatly rejoiced to see a young yet valiant Jinnah as their leader. Pray tell, what brings you here, my son, in these times when your country is going through the most trying conditions of its history?
Iqbal: I only wanted to have a look at the Mosque of Cordoba. May I ask, Sheikh Sahib, what really is because of which a juvenile like me attained the privilege of meeting up with you?
Ibn ‘Arabi: I came here to meet Averroes, the master interpreter of Aristotle[1]. By the way, I have read your anthology of poems and listened to your lectures and to be very honest, I do not agree with you when you say that the true nature of the Ultimate Reality can also be understood by employing the means of a comprehensive philosophical criticism. In my opinion, it is impossible to understand unity as a unity of plurality by means of an analytical, discursive thinking. It is only possible by way of intuition.
Iqbal: I agree with you to the extent that intuition is a direct revelation of the true nature of the Ultimate Reality. However, allow me to assert that a philosophical analysis and critique of the facts of experience also bring us to the conclusion that “life is a synthetic activity and that the Ultimate Reality is a rationally directed creative life”[2]. However, the latter view is necessarily pantheistic in nature. I, nonetheless, find this opportunity worthwhile to request you to elaborate on the concept of wujudism[3] that you are a proponent of.
Ibn Arabi: Well, to begin with, I must state that while the traditional Muslim scholars stringently uphold theological monism( tawhid uluhi)[4], I venture to distinguish between the hidden aspect of the Being we call God, the aspect of unity, and the aspect of lordship. In the first aspect there is no plurality whatsoever and it is the concept preached to the multitude of masses. However, the second aspect espouses multiplicity and differentiation, in so far as God is both the Creator and the multitude of created objects. This aspect which I would hereby pronounce as ontological monism (tawhid wujudi)[5], also known as wahdat-ul-wajud, replaces the formula of theological monism “There is no God but Allah” with “There is no Being but Allah”. Moreover, when I proclaim , “al-kull huwa”[6] ( everything is He), I maintain that one can not say of individual things that they were God; only being as a whole was God and that it is a matter of “integrality”[7] of things and not of their aggregate or totality.
Iqbal: I am in total agreement with you. I, will however, shed light on the concept of wahdat-ul-wajud using my faculty of philosophy. I describe an individual being as a self or ego and therefore, I define life as a manifestation of selves. Explicitly, it is a “synthetic activity”[8] run by a rationally directed creative will which I call an ego. In order to ascertain the individuality of the Ultimate Ego, the Holy Quran has given Him the proper name of Allah. In short, allow me to assert that the Ultimate Reality is actually the Ultimate Ego from which all other egos emanate.
Ibn Arabi: Fair enough, but then how does your philosophical intellect account for the Divine Attribute of Eternity and Infinity, when you assert that God is an ego and hence an individual? Does not individuality imply finitude?
Iqbal: I agree with you to the extent that God is Infinite, but having said that, let me also add that He cannot be conceived Infinite in the sense of spatial infinity. Space and time are mere possibilities of Ego, and we only partially realize them in our mathematical interpretation of space and time. What we tend to discount while associating Infinity with God is the fact that beyond Him, and after the realm of His Creative Activity, there is no space and time to close him off in reference to other egos. His infinity consists of the infinite inner possibilities of His Creative Activity, of which the universe is only an abridged exhibition. As I mentioned in my book “The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, in one word, God’s Infinity is intensive and not extensive[9]. With regards to His Eternity, I would hereby assert that there are infinite varieties or successions of time, of varying degrees existing between this material world and the spiritual world up there. As we rise higher and higher in time, the time of gross bodies in this world dissolves and disappears into the Divine Time- time which is independent of the attribute of succession or priority, and hence of change. In short, it has neither beginning nor any end. I would like to quote myself here again: “The priority of God is not due to the priority of time; on the other hand, the priority of time is due to God’s Priority.”[10]
Ibn Arabi: Your point is well-taken. But then what do you have to say about the Creativity of God? Pray, tarry a while! Before you proceed with your reflection on the afore-stated area of discussion, I would like to give my own account of God’s Attribute of Creativity. Well, I reject the religious tradition that God created the world over a definite interval of time (six days)[11]. On the contrary, I believe that God was always creating and that His Creation is Permanent and Continuous outside time. The world is dynamic and thus the constant flux and renewing of this world is a consequence of God’s continuous self-manifestation in the forms of concrete things, and in reality, identical to this self-manifestation. The universals have an ontological status in the mind, even though they do not have any independent, tangible existence outside the mind. Similarly, the creation existed originally in the Divine mind, as a series of prototypes, which I call “fixed entities”(a`yan thabitah)[12]. But God, who had remained hidden, desired to manifest Himself and loved to be known so He beckoned the whole creation into being by His Divine decree or fiat (al-amr)[13]. Pointless to say is the fact that this creation of His is to Him what a mirror is to the image, the shadow to the figure and number to the unit. The highest epiphany or manifestation of the Divine Being is the human form, identified with Adam. Indeed the existence of this perfect man is the raison d’être of the existence of this world. Yes, you can pronounce my position on this subject to be a theosophical one. Now, I am all ears to listen to your stance on the same.
Iqbal: I agree with you when you assert that the Universe is not an independent reality standing in opposition to Him and is thus not a mere accident in the life of God. To further your point, I would like to posit my stance in light of the theory of atomism, enunciated by the Ash’arites, according to which, the world is made up of infinitely small parts of atoms and since the creative activity of God is ceaseless, fresh atoms are being created every moment. This accounts for the ever-lasting growth of the world. This becomes clear that an atom has a position but no magnitude nor does it occupy any space. Another feature of this theory of creation asserts that the continuity of the existence of atoms depends on the perpetual creation of accidents or nufoos[14](singular: nafs). If God ceases to create accidents, atoms cease to exist. Nevertheless, I am completely at variance with this theory. I think that there can be no motion without time and no time without an intuitive life. An atom having received its quality of existence involves space too and hence becomes spiritual because it now embraces Divine energy. “Nafs is a pure act”[15], and the body comprising of the atoms (which have now received the quality of existence) is only a visible expression of the act. Every atom of Divine energy is an ego and this expression of ego seeks its perfection in man. In short, we live and have our being in the perpetual flow of Divine Life. However, we cannot perceive of His Life in terms of our conscious experience of life because while doing so, we will inadvertently ignore the deeper phases of His Divinity. He is Living because He has been described so in the Holy Quran, and hence, not because He is Living in the sense of our experience of life.
Ibn Arabi: Yes, this is exactly what I state in my book Fusus-ul-Hikam. In my opinion, the Reality is Living and Knowing and so we say of man and the angels.
Iqbal: And would you please enlighten me with your notion on the Attribute of Knowledge of Allah?
Ibn Arabi: The reality of Knowledge is one as that of life and the relationship of each respectively to the knower and the living remains the same. When we speak of the knowledge of the Reality, we say that it is Eternal while we pronounce that of the man to be contingent. Having said that, the point worth mentioning is that knowledge determines one who uses it as a knower, and also does the knower determine knowledge as contingent in the case of man or the contingent knower, and eternal in the case of the Eternal One. Thus, both the universal and the individual existence are determining the other of the two, yet being determined by the other. Reiterating the fact that the universals remain intelligible in the minds of the individuals where they are manifested, while not being particularized, when we say that, that which possessed the individual existence and that which does not, are interrelated even when there is no unifying element, we can safely assert that an individual being is similarly interconnected with another individual being. With having said that, we actually affirm that the individual being which is in fact originated depends on that which originates it, while the latter is necessarily independent of any other. However, the latter because of its essence, requires the former for its (the latter’s) manifestation, and which is in effect, its own essence, and as a consequence, the dependent or the originated must conform to all the Attributes and the Names of the Ultimate Reality. Conclusively, we know Him through ourselves and thus attribute to Him, whatever we attribute to ourselves.
Iqbal: And according to you, if I am not mistaken, this is the reason why the Divine Revelations come to us through man-prophets. Fair enough. Giving your theory my words, allow me to assert that knowledge in the sense of analytically discursive thinking , cannot be connoted to an Ego who knows and at the same time forms the ground for the object known. Omniscience may do for the present.  
Ibn Arabi: Moreover, since He is free from all dependence, He is rightly called the First and the Last because all reality that exists, has existed or will exist is His and thus, we cannot attribute to him any chronological priority. He is Final while being Prior, and Prior while being Final. This accounts for His attribute of Eternity which you embarked to expound on a little while ago.
Iqbal: And what grounds do you use to proclaim him as the Outer and the Inner, and the Manifest and the Unmanifest?
Ibn Arabi: God is the Outer and the Unmanifest in the Cosmos which is subtle and does not perceive God as He perceives Himself. Moreover, God does not depend on the Cosmos to attain Self-sufficiency. Thus, Reality can never be known through Cosmos. On the other hand, God is the Inner and the Manifest in man, since He Created His inner Form to “match His Own Form”[16], and since man has a share in the Synthesis of Divine realities, God is Manifest in man. Needless to say is the fact that it is only because of this Synthesis that man is superior to all other beings.
Iqbal: So you think that God has united this polarity of qualities in man, so as to render him distinguished from other creation of His; that man unites in himself the Cosmos and the Reality, his outer form comprising the subtle Cosmological realities, while his inner form composed of the Ultimate Reality?
Ibn Arabi: Certainly. To be precise, all what I have thus elaborated is an illustration of the concepts of “tashbih and tanzih”[17]. They were first introduced by the Mutakallimun and were posed as a problem but gnostics like me have fortunately found a solution to the polarity of these concepts. On the one hand, God is free from all qualities, so that He is transcendental and absolutely a pure being; this is the view of tanzih. On the other hand, God is immanent in all creations and thus, “there cannot be any quality completely separate from the Divine Quality” [18] so that all realities are His reflections; this being the view of tashbih. Thus, the Divine Attributes are only the pathways leading to God and are the means by which God Manifests Himself in the world, while remaining Unmanifest in the Cosmos. The point worth mentioning here is that a Sufi or a gnostic affirms the combination of opposites, that is, the transcendental-ness and the immanent-ness of God, tanzih in tashbih and tashbih in tanzih. Also, these Divine Names and Qualities play a fundamental role in providing both the language and the means to ascend to seek a “unitive”[19] knowledge of Divine Reality.
Iqbal: Having listened to this much, I would like to confess that there was a time when I had read your book Fusus-ul-Hikam, and proclaimed that “from what I know, it contains nothing but atheism and impiety”[20]. However, I would seek leave from you now with much more admiration and respect than ever would have I given to anybody.
Ibn Arabi: Having known you was a pleasure, my son. Consider that as long as we know who the Reality is, it doesn’t matter whether they call us a pantheist or a deist.
Iqbal: Very well-said. Good bye.
Ibn Arabi: God Bless You!


Ø      Iqbal, Dr. Allama Muhammad. The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1988. 1-205.

Ø      Ibrahim, Taufic, and Arthur Sagdeev. Classical Islamic Philosophy. Moscow: Progress, 1990.1-350.

Ø      Arabi, Ibn Al'. Fusus-ul-Hikam.

Ø      Fakhry, Majid. A History of Islamic Philosophy. 3rd ed. New York: Columbia UP, 2004. 1-430.

Ø      Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Three Muslim Sages Avicenna - Suhrawardi - Ibn'Arabi. Lahore: Suhail Academy, 1988. 1-185.

Ø      Shafique, Khurram Ali. Iqbal an Illustrated Biography. Lahore: Iqbal Academy, 2006. 5-208.

[1] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ibn Arabi. 93
[2] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of Religious Experiences.  60.
[3] The trend in Islamic philosophical thought which considers the thesis of being as a single reality identically related to all other beings, including God.
[4] Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagdeev, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Wujudism, The Unity of Being. 312.
[5] Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagdeev, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Wujudism, The Unity of Being. 312.
[6] Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagdeev, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Wujudism, The Unity of Being. 313.
[7] Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagdeev, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Wujudism, The Unity of Being. 313.
[8] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Philosophical Test of the Revelations of Religious Experiences.  60.

[9] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Conception of Ego and the Meaning of Prayer.  64.
[10] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Conception of Ego and the Meaning of Prayer.  75.
[11] Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagdeev, Classical Islamic Philosophy, Wujudism, The Unity of Being. 317.
[12] Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, The Rise and Development of Islamic Mysticism.259.
[13] Majid Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy, The Rise and Development of Islamic Mysticism.259
[14] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Conception of Ego and the Meaning of Prayer.  70.
[15] Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, The Conception of Ego and the Meaning of Prayer.  71.

[16] Ibn Al’Arabi, Fusus-ul-Hikam. 56
[17] Seyyed Hossein Nar, Three Muslim Sages, Ibn Arabi. 109
[18] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, Ibn Arabi. 109
[19] Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Three Muslim Sages, Ibn Arabi. 111
[20] Khurram Ahmed Shafique, Iqbal  An Illustrated Biography, Illumination 1914-1922. 87

1 comment:

  1. Excellent… have always admired the spiritual intellect of Sheikh e Akbar and this dialogue expresses his point of view very lucidly.