A Cautious Perusal of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Wahdah al-Wujud

One purpose of this write-up is to absolve our pious forefathers from the ‘sin’ they never committed
A Cautious Perusal of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Wahdah al-Wujud

(The main sources of this write-up are Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwis Bawadir al-Nawadir and Zuhur al-'Adam bi Nur al-Qidam, Justice Taqi Uthmani's Fatawa Uthmani, Muhammad bin Salih's Sharh Fusus al-Hikam, Abd al-Wahhab Sha'rani's Al-Kibrit al-Ahmar fi 'Aqa'id al-Shaykh al-Akbar, etc.)

At the very outset let's clearly understand that the doctrineof Wahdah al-Wujud is not a necessary doctrine in Islam nor in Tasawwuf (thespiritual dimension of Islam). Hence it is not necessary to know its reality orto believe in its validity or invalidity. It is always better not to discussthose matters of religion the true nature of which human minds are incapable ofcomprehending and therefore, discussing them may mislead. Hence the safestposition in such matters is what the salaf (pious predecessors) practiced bytafwid (consigning) their reality to Allah and act upon the unanimously heldcode: ibhamu ma abhama Allah (Leave ambiguous what Allah has left ambigous)

Why discuss Wahdah al-Wujud

 Why should then theissue of Wahdah al-Wujud be discussed here? The fact is that discussion on thisissue has already been there in some sections of the society, and some peopleare so radical in this matter that they first unequivocally declare Wahdahal-Wujud as sheer blasphemy and then erroneously claim it to be the doctrine ofa vast majority of the Muslims. Consequences of this exclusivist mentality areobvious to any saner and serious mind. So this humble writer only wants toconclude the discussion that has already been generated in order to cautionpeople against extremism. Further, every Muslim should bear in mind that theway some great souls of the past are projected today is less any academicpursuit than to be only ma'dat awliya' (enmity against the friends of Allah).Another purpose of this write-up is therefore, to absolve these piousforefathers from the 'sin' they never committed.

What is Wahdah al-Wujud?

Wahdah al-Wujud is actually pertaining to the question ofrelation between the Creator and the creation; the eternal and the transient.Regarding this the salaf simply say that the world is not eternal; it had notbeen there once upon a time. Then Allah brought it to existence. But how did Hedo that we should not meddle in such questions. But at the same time, since theissue became a dialectical one and people busied themselves in discussing it,there arose, with the passage of time, four groups with their specificpositions with respect to this issue.

1.            Themajority of the 'Ulama of the Shari'ah took the position that the existence ofthe possible creatures is a real acquired existence (wujud haqiqi muktasab).Real in the sense that it exists beyond doubt and acquired in the sense that itis dependent on the will of Allah.

2.            Some ofthe Muslim philosophers expressed the view that the existence is relative(wujud idafi).

3.            Theadherents of the doctrine of the Wahdah al-Wujud, and the foremost of them isShaykh Ibn 'Arabi, expressed the view that the existence is purely imaginary(wujud khayali). However, Ibn 'Arabi believed that the imagination hasdifferent levels. Hence, from the imaginary existent is that which disappearsby stepping up the imagination, thus rules do not pertain to it; and from it isalso that which does not disappear by stepping up the imagination, so it isproper that some rules pertain to it. The existence of the world is from thesecond type of imaginary existence, which does not disappear by stepping up theimagination, and for that reason the rules of the Shari'ah pertain to it. Hencesome people's objection to Ibn 'Arabi that he says that the entire world ispurely imaginary necessitates the view of the negation of laws and rules, iserroneous raised because of not understanding properly what Ibn 'Arabi said.

4.            Theadherents of the doctrine of the Wahdah al-Shuhud, and the foremost of them isMujaddid Alf Thani Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi, expressed the view that the existenceis a shadow existence (wujud zilli).

Regarding the difference between Ibn 'Arabi's Wahdahal-Wujud and Sirhindi's wahdah al-Shuhud, Mawlana Thanwi, in Zuhur al-'adam biNur al-Qidam, writes that both are one and the same. While Ibn 'Arabi disprovesthe wujud zilli (like stars in the presence of the Sun don't exist to the nakedeye), Sirhindi approves it (as the stars still exist). Thus both accept thatthe real wujud is only one. Notwithstanding Sirhindi absolves Ibn 'Arabi fromany serious charge by saying that amidst the tremendously shining existence ofthe Creator, in which he was captivated, he could not perceive the existence ofthe created.

As regards to what Ibn 'Arabi and Sirhindi said, Mawlana AshrafAli Thanwi says: "we assign its reality to Allah, and we do not speakinsolently about them, for indeed they spoke about these issues due to a reasonthey know best, and there is nothing in what they said that directly clasheswith the texts. However, at the same time there is nothing in the texts whichnecessitate adhering to their views or being resolute about what they said.Whoever construes the texts of the Shari'ah to express one of these views, thenhis elucidation is not devoid of being a distortion (tahrif) or extremism(ghuluww), or forced interpretation (takalluf) and an aberration (ta'assuf),for indeed the texts of the Shari'ah are silent on these issues the truereality of which human minds are unable to comprehend."

However, looking at the above four positions from the angleof the sacred texts, it appears that the position of the majority of the'ulama, which is the first from the four positions, is the preponderant one,for it appears closest in keeping to what the Qur'an states: "Verily, when Heintends a thing, His Command is, 'be', and it is!" (36:82). Butnotwithstanding, there are certain scholars who argue that the position of Ibn'Arabi is also substantiated by the hadith which is in Muslim that the holyProphet said: "The truest word spoken by a pre-Islamic Arab in poetry is thisverse of Labid: Behold! Apart from Allah everything is vain." They adduce thepoem of Labid as proof that the doctrine of Wahdat al-Wujud is correct.

Tail Piece

So the first thing is that one must accept that there is noway to evade the discussion on the issue of relation between the Creator andthe creation. Even the Salaf have expressed their opinion about this and thedoctrine of Wahdah al-Wujud offers one of the interpretations of the issue. Yetlike other interpretations, this one is also an ambiguous interpretation andshould in no case be regarded as any essential article of faith which is alwaysderived on certain and unambiguous grounds. Hence one is free to reject any ofthe interpretations (including the interpretation of Wahdah al-Wujud) in lightof the revealed knowledge but must not declare the doctors or the adherents ofany of these interpretations as disbelievers for none of them puts forth his interpretationas a certain doctrine of faith, but just as a point of view.

Dr Nazir Ahmad Zargar teaches at Central University, Kashmir

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