La ilaha illa ‘llah, Muhammadun-Rasulullah
The Verbal Essence of Truth and Knowledge
According to modern scholar William Chittick, Sufi beliefs about the difference between what is Unreal and what is Real stem from an interpretation of the standard Muslim testification of faith, the Shahada.
In the statement “There is no god but God,” there is a judgment about something that is and something that is not—about an unreality and a reality. From this, according to the logic of this argument, God exists in a manner that is unique and totally exclusive. Sufis came to define that unique type of existence as Absolute Reality. The quality of existing in an Absolute, namely unique and solitary way, belongs only to the One God. Since God alone has Absolute Reality, everything else in the universe belongs to the realm of the Unreal, the non-absolute, or relative world.
One of the most oft-cited texts for this theory of God’s Absolute and therefore unique manner of existing is the Quranic verse “Everything is perishing except His (God’s) face” (Quran 28:88). This verse is taken as proof that the world as we know it is not eternal, not absolute, and therefore not ultimately Real.
The only thing that is Real is God (here embodied by the phrase “God’s face”) and therefore He is the only Reality that will endure when all Unreality has passed away. This theoretical dualism, oscillating between the Real and the Unreal, is also reflected in the poetry of the mystic and poet Rumi, who wrote “God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.”
Also based on the language of the Quran is the belief that what the world can provide for believers are signs. The verses of the Quran are referred to, in the text itself, as ayat, which means signs.
Therefore, even though the world is only relatively real, within it the believer can seek to discern differences among the various phenomena in the world, any of which may be a sign, ayah, sent by God. Different phenomena reflect different aspects and levels of God’s communication with human beings. Thus a prophet, for example, reflects and conveys divine reality more significantly than the average person. The principle of discerning which signs are significant is therefore part of what practitioners of this mystical expression of Islam call “walking the Sufi path.”
Similarly, the second half of the Shahada, “Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” reflects the value of beings in the world while ultimately acknowledging that only God is Absolute. In singling out Muhammad and staking a claim in belief in his status as a Messenger, one acknowledges that God uses people in the world to reflect and communicate about Himself. The revelation communicated by Muhammad is therefore coming from God, and is a manifestation of God’s uniquely Real Being. Once the Sufi, applying this mystical interpretation of the Shahada, initially discerns between the Unreal and the Real, she/he can then discern between the human and Divine aspects of all objects and people in the world.
Through rigorous practice and perfection of the soul (called tazkiyat al-nafs), the Sufi practitioner seeks to achieve a proper understanding of the universe, at which point she/he will discern the only Ultimate Reality, God. These practices include invocations, prayers, and communal gatherings, and may also include superogatory (i.e., beyond the month of Ramadan) fasting. By becoming inured to the bodily or merely physical demands of earthly existence, this training aids the Sufi in banishing a preoccupation with the material self, the nafs, after which it will cease to exist and in this way, allow the Sufi to turn solely to God.
It is important to stress that the broader cosmological framework within which Sufism operates is not different from general Islam. This is because Sufism is not a denomination or a sectarian affiliation, such as Sunnism or Shiism. Rather, Sufism is the mystical expression of the Islamic ethos, which is not strictly Sunni or Shii. Thus, Sufis also believe, like all Muslims do, that God created the world, that he sent messengers and prophets such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad with messages and scriptures to guide humankind. All of this is consistent with mainstream Muslim belief.
Sufis do not so much differ from as add to that tradition, accompanying what is seen as traditionally orthodox practice with an additional layer of personal and inwardly-directed spiritual attention. The purpose of this additional dimension is to develop a personal relationship with God that happens to follow specifically Sufi principles of renunciation and spiritual training. As stated above, however, Sufism is not exclusive or generally prescriptive: that is, every Sufi is a Muslim, but not every Muslim must be a Sufi.
- La ilaha illa ‘llah, Muhammadun-Rasulullah
For the Sufi, the most meaningful words in creation are “La ilaha illa ‘llah, Muhammadun-Rasulullah.” We claim unequivocally that this phrase is the Origin of all Knowledge, the Sun of all Meaning, the Source of all Truth, and Health, Warmth and Healing to the heart.
Let’s examine the phrase in its two components, “La ilaha illa ‘llah“, and “Muhammadun-Rasulullah“.
Part 1. La ilaha illa ‘llah
“La ilaha illa ‘llah” is the essence of the matter, a simple but profound summary of the “Knowledge of God”. It is the essence (and practice) of the annihilation of falsehood. It is both a statement of Divine Truth, and a lesson on how to know it. It means that there IS ONLY Allah, and demonstrates that the quickest way to “know” the Unity is to deny all else.
“La” means no, nothing, negating of what follows, indicating the negation of and implying the illusory nature of the seeming existence of whatever it is referring to, (which, paradoxically, must first “exist” (in the mind) in order to be negated, denied, refused, diminished to zero relative significance).
“Ilaha” is an intensely interesting word, worthy of deep consideration. It means god (little ‘g’ intended), deity, worthy of worship, deification, edification, respect, subordination, following, service, attendance, consideration. In a word, just about anything that comes from our (individual) minds (mindset, way of thinking), and anything we might care about (our cares), or believe “exists”.
“La ilaha” can therefore mean “nothing exists“, i. e. nothing is worthy of consideration except that which stands by itself and is not in need of consideration. And how do we isolate that Being? By eliminating from our consciousness (mind) all that can be eliminated, even and including all mental concepts (of God), until there is only pure existence itself, pulsing through our bodies and flowing through our veins.
The indication is that the “Knowing” of God is based on the negation of all else. In practice, that negation is based on an exclusive affirmation of The Only Possible Permanent Reality, God Alone. Once the “Knowing” is known, it stands alone and sufficient. There is no more negation necessary or even possible, and everything becomes an affirmation of the Truth in Reality.
In Sufism, the word “annihilation” refers to the mind (giving no credence to). There is no denial of the outward existence, only the negation of any reality other than the Only True Reality (That which is left when all else is gone). Look how even the basest tyrants act according to this law, seeking to physically destroy their enemies and succeeding only at self-ruin. Nevertheless the principle is the same – arriving at the truth by a process of elimination.
“Illa” means only, but, if not, except.
“‘llah” means Allah, Al-lah! (Arabic) The One. The Conscious Oneness. The Unity. The Divine, The Beyond-Comprehension. The Self-Aware, Who Comprehends All. Existing, Knowing, Seeing, Hearing, Speaking, Willing, The Source of Power. Perfection in and of Itself. Greater than which there is none. Who remains when all else is gone.
This Existence must be both intellectually grasped and physically realized. The Divine “Does” Itself. The full embodiment of the Reality of this Truth is the object in “Quest”. Knowing it in our minds may be easy but convincing our bodies takes practice, including verbal affirmations and physical negations. This practice transforms this knowing from a concept to a reality.
Part 2. Muhammadun-Rasulullah
Muhammadun-Rasulullah is a profound summary of the knowledge of creation.
“Muhammad” is the most complex and meaningful word, requiring the study of long eulogies for initial comprehension, so let us summarize. He was indeed the full embodiment of Truth and The Reality, and therefore the way for us to attain this also.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Divinity being in and of Itself perfect, should not the first of Its creation be perfection?
In the beginning, and there was no beginning, there was Allah Alone – pure, unmitigated, undifferentiated Oneness. The Divine, The Self-Aware, The Source of Power. And He is now as He was. With no change in His Oneness, He created. His Will and its manifestation are one and the same, and He willed to be known – so that Will manifested in the first of His Creation, a perfect Self-Knowing. But Knowing then did not exist alone, without a knower, so the knower, the perfect self-knowledge, was the first of His Creation. But the knower did not exist without entity, a name and a suitable environment, so the Name was Muhammad (Arabic: The most highly praised one), and the environment was Creation in the four realms.
And why should it not be that way? Creating to be known, should He not create Knowing first? Humans have that knowing innate within them, so, as potential ‘knowers’, are we not the “Crown of Creation”? Should there not be a perfect one, a prototype, a role model, if you will, that we may seek out to follow and emulate in our own individual search for perfection (read perfect annihilation)?
Rasul means messenger. Messenger implies way. Message is the teaching, Messenger is the way. What the messenger can do, the receiver of the message can do. Implying coming from and returning to the Source of the message. In this case, Allah. ‘ullah means to confirm that – (messenger) from Allah.
Evidence from Hadith Qudsi (traditions spoken by Allah Himself).
“I created to be known”
“I was Alone and wished to be known so I created Creation“.
“The first of my creations was Muhammad”
“The best of my creations is `Aql” (Intelligence, consciousness, reasoning, intellect, awareness, comprehension. All of these words are related to the Arabic `Aql:)
- A sufi tale | dhikr of la ilaha illa Allah
Once a Sheikh (sufi master) came to Istanbul and went to the governing authority to ask permission to open a tekke or sufi lodge. The Sheikh was asked how many dervish members he has and the reply was only one dervish, and the master himself.
The authority found it odd, yet an old rundown building was available and given to them. The Sheikh with one dervish accepted it with open heart.
Very soon there was enormous light coming from within the building, sound of dhikr could be heard every night and crowds would attend.
The governing authorities wanted to know what this man was doing to draw so many people to him and what was this light that was reported coming from the old building. So the Sheikh was summoned.
The officials said, “We are the educated ones and we want to question you to make sure you are doing things correctly.”
– “All right”, was the humble answer.
“What is the meaning of la ilaha illa Allah?” they asked.
– “Do you want the meaning as you understand it, or do you want the meaning as I understand it?”
“We know how we understand it. Tell us how you understand it.”
– “For this I need my one dervish, the one I brought with me first time I came to this building.”
They agreed and sat down as he and his dervish begin to make the dhikr. When he said, “la ilaha“, his dervish disappeared. When he said, “illa Allah”, he appeared. When he said, “la ilaha” again, they both disappeared. With “illa Allah” they reappeared.
The last time he said, “la ilaha”, the entire room disappeared. And when he said, “illa Allah”, everyone appeared.
He turned to face the officials and said, “This is how I understand the dhikr.”
- La ilaha illa-Allah and Advaita | Supreme Oneness
The most profoundly revered sacred formula: La ilaha illa-Allah (also can be written as La ilaha illallah) in exoteric interpretation means: there is no god but One God.
That is for bringing the whole of humanity into oneness and to remove all differences. Differences in the name of God has to be removed, that was the goal of this message in all ages. an expression to say to all of humanity that whatever name and form you are calling God, the Essence is One.
In esoteric meaning, the sacred formula contains the Secret of Secrets. Then it reveals something truly surreal, something which by the very nature of phenomenal world makes it very hard to realize. it’s something which endless sages after sages came to realisation; some after spending a whole life time, some after forty years of retreat, some after very diligent spiritual practice and scholarship. yet they all understood this.
There is no duality but Supreme Unity
There exists no duality but Oneness.
This is the ultimate teaching of all sacred path and faith, including that of great teaching of Advaita (not two or many but One, non-Dual) of Vedanta in Hinduism. you look at the teachings of Buddha, you will find all he was working on the ‘nothing’ part of it. you look at the christian cross and you will find the cancelling out of the little ‘i’, the self. That’s cancelling out the exact root of duality. Only after the supreme realization of this secret Jesus could proclaim, ‘i and father are One’.
In Quran even after so much emphasis on Oneness, God calls Himself We, why?!
Esotericaly this is because everything is His Essence. This ‘everything’ and ‘We’ is His, is nothing but He.
Wheversoever you turn you see the Face of God.
The sacred formula holds this Ultimate Secret, that is why Prophet Muhammad said that on one side of the Divine scale if you put this sacred formula and on the other side everything that is in the creation, yet La ilaha illaAllah will weigh more in terms of what it beholds inside of it.
What is Nonduality?
Nonduality means “not two” or “non-separation.” It is the sense that all things are interconnected and not separate, while at the same time all things retain their individuality.
We tend to view the world as made up of separated, pretty much isolated “entities.” By entities is meant everything: people, political parties, beliefs, nations, objects in nature, and most importantly one’s very own individual self.
The experience of nonduality:
Yet one may know any number of instances in which you — your individual self — fades into an experience. You realize you are not separate from your experience, nor are the apparent entities making up the experience separate from the experience or from you, and that all of it — the experience, you, the players making up the experience — are all essentially one thing . . . much like a dream.
Such an instance may happen from being in nature, from enjoying music or art, or from being deeply involved in a hobby or work. It may be known during sex. It may occur while walking in the park, while dancing, surfing, or having a few beers with some awesome people.
The experience of nonduality may be realized during meditation, yoga, or from reading something that blows your mind.
The nondual moment may happen for no reason at all: maybe you’re sitting on your deck and geese fly by, or maybe you’re driving your car and suddenly everything is different, or perhaps you just woke up from a sleep.
You have almost certainly had at least one such nondual experience in your life, and probably several.
Arising out of this experience might be an uncommonly genuine happiness. However, the experience may also rock your world such that it is never again the same, for now you see the world not as separate entities struggling for survival, but as a single experience of non-separation . . . again, much like a dream.
The Pursuit of Nonduality:
If the experience of nonduality is important to you — and no law says it has to be — you may have the need to find out more. If the experience has altered your life, you may have no choice but to understand what happened.
Your pursuit may take you to various websites and online groups, books, and people who might provide guidance and clarity. You may engage spiritual practices, attend meetings with nondual teachers, go on retreats. Whatever you do, whatever happens to you in this pursuit, will be unique for you.
This pursuit could begin at any time. Even if you had a powerful nondual experience decades ago, but never investigated it deeply, you could start today. However, don’t waste your time trying to “bring back” a past experience. Rather, focus on what it awakened.
How do you initiate the pursuit of nonduality? Lots of advice could be given. However, there is endless information online. More essentially, there is you, your existence. You could begin right there, right here, by attending to the fact that you are aware. “I am aware.” . . . “I am.”