2: The Perfect Individual’s relation to Muhammad
Perfection implies the embodying of an ideal state. Socrates equated perfection with “disembodiment”, pure contemplation; in the Bhagavadgita it is the sublimation of all differente within the “body” of the One; and finally, for Gregory of Nyssa it is equated with embodying the attributes of Christ. What or who is the al-insan al-kamil embodying? The answer to this question can be found by analyzing the relationship between the Perfect Individual, the Prophet Muhammad, and the haqiqa muhammadiyya, the Reality of Muhammad, that is the metaphysical essence of perfection for humanity.
Islam acknowledges the Prophet as the exemplary human being; this is no exception for Ibn al- `Arabi, as the Prophet is considered the pinnacle of creation, and thus the model of perfection. Ibn al- `Arabi says of the Prophet: “His [Muhammad’s] is the wisdom of singularity because he is the most perfect creation of this humankind, for which reason the whole affair [of creation] begins and ends with him.”42 If this is the case, can any other individual embody perfection? The answer lies in an earlier passage from Ibn al- `Arabi that states: “It is not necessary for one who is perfect to be superior in everything and at every level, since men of the Spirit have regard only to precedence in the degrees of the knowledge of God, which is their [sole] aim.”43 This passage suggests two things. First, that perfection does not entail superiority at every level; and, secondly, that Perfect Individuals are not concerned with superiority per se, only with knowledge of God. What is this superiority then, and how does it function? And, more importantly, what role does Muhammad play in it? What type of superiority does Muhammad have over the rest of humanity?
42 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 272.
43 Ibid, 66.
These are the questions that this chapter seeks to answer, and will do so in the following manner:
1) The Haqiqa muhammadiyya and the historically actualized Muhammad will be analyzed in relation to one another. This will make the relationship between Muhammad, the world, and the Perfect Individual clearer.
. 2) Nabi /Prophethood will be explored as a role of the Perfect Individual. The function of prophethood, and its completion in Muhammad as the “Seal of the Prophets” is the first element to be identified. A subsidiary exploration of this section will be the concept of rasul/apostleship, which in many ways is directly tied to prophethood, and is the second element in the hierarchy.
3) Finally, the concept of wali/sainthood and its pinnacle in the “Heir of the Prophets” will be analyzed. Sainthood is the most basic type of Perfect Individual. Each of these sections will help to clarify the being of the Perfect Individual as, not simply an appellation for Muhammad, but as a reality that remains open for every human being.
- Muhammad as the prototype for the Perfect Individual
Clarifying the relationship between the haqiqa muhammadiyya and the historical Muhammad aids in understanding the connection between Muhammad and the Perfect Individual. In order to do this the process from primordial reality to actualized person must be analyzed by looking specifically at Ibn al- `Arabi’s description of the “Reality of Muhammad,” how it came to be, and what its function is. And, the historical person of Muhammad as the concentrated manifestation of this ‘Reality’ must be examined. Claiming Muhammad to be the most perfect of all individuals does not necessarily imply that the category of Perfect Individual is closed to everyone else, only that a specific type of Perfect Individual is sealed off; in this rests Muhammad’s superiority over the rest of humanity.
Ibn al- `Arabi describes the primordial beginning in a distinctly Platonic fashion. He begins by stating that “God manifested Himself in theophany through His Light to that Dust… within the Dust was the entire world in potentiality (quwwa) and readiness (salahiyya).”44 Ibn al- `Arabi had described this Dust as a plaster, or as the prime matter that “arose from that sacred Desire [the desire for the existence of the world contained within his knowledge of Himself]- through one kind of theophany of Incomparability;”45 this material can be molded and shaped into any form. From these two passages a picture of the beginning of the universe can be formed: 1) God revealed Himself to “matter.” 2) This revealing came about through God’s Light, His Self-Consciousness. 3) The Light then shone on the Dust, the prime matter of otherness that God created through another theophany, and this Dust was pregnant with the yet unformed universe.
The movement after this is: “Each thing in the Dust received from His Light in accordance with its own preparedness (isti ‘dad) and potentiality, just as the corners of a room receive the light of a lamp and, due to the degree of their proximity to that light, increase in brightness and reception (qabul).”46 The Light showed Itself to the Dust, God revealed Himself to nothingness, analogous to a lamp shining in a dark room. Just as a lamp will best illuminate the parts of the room that are closest to it, the Light shone brightest in the parts of the Dust most open and ready for It, those closest to the Light, or full of the Being of God. “According to their preparedness and potentiality” means “according to their realizable reflective capacity”.
44 Ibn al- `Arabi, Meccan Revelations, 35.
45 Ibid, 34.
46 Ibid, 35.
Just as light from a lamp does not equally illuminate all objects, some not being able to reflect light as well as others, likewise some objects of creation have less of a capacity to reflect the Light. Ibn al-`Arabi elaborates on this when he says:
Within the Dust nothing is nearer to the Light in reception than the Reality of Muhammad, which is called the Intellect. So he is the lord of the world in its entirety and the first thing to become manifest within existence. Hence his existence derives from the Divine Light, the Dust, and the Universal Reality, while his entity (`ayn) comes into existence within the Dust; then the entity of the world sterns from his theophany.47 ” Ibid.
The Reality of Muhammad, or the First Intellect, was the configuration of Dust that was closest to the Divine Light; therefore it/he is the most perfect and all-comprehensive component of creation.48
48 A parallel could be made here between Ibn al- `Arabi and Plato’s Phaedrus. In the Phaedrus Socrates explains how souls come into the world in various states. Before souls become placed in bodies, or existence, they all must make a journey to the Forms. The journey upwards to the Forms is long and strenuous and not all the souls will complete it. Depending on where a soul falls along the journey dictates the type of bodily existence it will be given. Those that are closest to the goal, that catch a glimpse of the Forms are given a human body, and are the best and most “perfect” according to how much of the Forms they saw. In a like manner, the Reality of Muhammad is all-comprehensive because it reaches the highest intensity of Light, and thus sees, knows, and reflects all of Being.
Perfection here can be defined as the possession of the full intensity/brightness of the Light. This means that as the pinnacle of perfection within creation, and, as the all-comprehensive reflection, the Reality of Muhammad became the locus of manifestation for the Divine Name Allah. This Name combines within itself all the other Names or Attributes of God/Being within itself. The Reality of Muhammad contained within itself all the other Names, which separately became the other varied parts of creation. Earthly existence then is created indirectly from the Being of God, for first the Reality of Muhammad was created, and then out of it individual existents were formed.
What is the historical Muhammad’s relation to the haqiqa muhammadiyya? There are two passages in the Bezels of Wisdom where Ibn al- `Arabi explains this. The first comes from the chapter on the prophet Seth: “Every prophet, from Adam until the last of the prophets, derives what he has from the Seal of Prophets, even though he comes last in his temporal, physical manifestation, for in his [essential] reality he has always existed.”49
And the second comes from the final chapter, which discusses the wisdom of the Prophet Muhammad:
His [Muhammad’s] is the wisdom of singularity because he is the most perfect creation of this humankind, for which reason the whole affair [of creation] begins and ends with him. He was a prophet when Adam was still between the water and the clay and he is, by his elemental makeup, the Seal of the prophets, first of the three singular ones, since all other singulars derive from it.5u
49 -Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 67.
50 – Ibid., 272.
These passages mention two things in particular:
first, that Muhammad is the beginning (first) and end (last) of creation and the prophets; and secondly, that due to this he is the Seal of the Prophets.
In these two passages a link between the physical person of Muhammad and the Reality of Muhammad can be inferred.51 He may be the last prophet to arrive, but in his essence he has always been in existence. There is something inherent in Muhammad that places him above everyone else. Muhammad is the physical manifestation of the Reality of Muhammad. Elsewhere Ibn al- `Arabi affirms this connection: “He [Muhammad] was the clearest of evidence for his Lord, having been given the totality of the divine words, which are those things named by Adam.”52 Muhammad, as a created being, was given the totality of the divine words, that is, he was given all the names of God within himself.
51 His role as the Seal of Prophets will be discussed in detail later on, what is important in this passage at the moment is the idea that Muhammad is the all-encompassing prophet.
52 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 272.
Further proof of this connection is in a passage where Ibn al- `Arabi states that the essence or nature of Muhammad was replaced by the name Allah, the Name of God that encompasses all other Names. “He [God] negated the engendered existence (kawn) of Muhammad and affirmed Ilimself as identical to Muhammad, giving him the Name Allah.”53
S3 Ibn al- `Arabi, Meccan Revelations, 138.
Ibn al- `Arabi here indicates that God created the most comprehensive knowledge and perfection within the person of Muhammad, and that due to this the personhood of Muhammad was negated and in its place was put the Name Allah, that is, the perfect understanding of God. This process proceeds in a circular manner:
1) God’s Light became manifest within the perfect reflection that was the Reality of Muhammad;
2) the entire world of created existence was born out of this Reality, which culminated in the creation of the most perfect existent, Muhammad.
3)All the rest of creation was only a partial likeness of the Reality of Muhammad, while Muhammad himself was a complete likeness.
4) Muhammad, as a Perfect Individual had his self negated and God put in his place. In this manner perfection is manifested on two levels within Muhammad, but this does not concretely establish that only Muhammad as such can be labeled the Perfect Individual. Muhammad’s position as the Seal of the Prophets needs to be explained before any claims about perfection can be made. What is a prophet, and what does it mean to be the seal of prophecy?
There are three things that need to be discussed concerning prophethood: who and what a prophet is; how an individual becomes such; and what the other prophets’ relations are to Muhammad as the Seal of the Prophets. Muhammad was given this role before the creation of the world, but this is not the case for the other prophets. Ibn al-`Arabi says: “The Prophet [Muhammad] said, ‘I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay,’ while the other prophets became such only when they were sent forth [on their mission].”54
No other prophet holds the same place that Muhammad does. Muhammad, equated with the haqiqa muhammadiyya, was created before any other existent. This is not the case for the other prophets. However, this is not to suggest that these other prophets acquired their positions due to personal achievements. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
Know that since Prophecy and Apostleship are a special divine favor, there is no question of any acquisition [of merit]. I mean [particularly] the legislative Prophecy. His favors to them are pure gifts and not in any sense rewards for which any compensation will be asked of them, His bestowal on them being a matter of favor and selection.55
Prophets are not given this appointment because they somehow merit this appellation, but because God has chosen to favor them with this appointment. With this in mind, it cannot be argued that any prophet, particularly Muhammad, received this appointment because of some internal or external virtue that they developed, that is, the gift of prophecy is not due to the individual embodiment of perfection.
What is the purpose of this gift, and why does it come to an end? In answer to the first part, Ibn al- `Arabi says: “By prophethood I mean the bringer of Sacred Law.“56 It is a gift of “revelation,” a special message that the individual is required to present to his/her people. He also says: “As for the legislative function of Prophecy and Apostleship, it came to an end in Muhammad. After him there will no longer be any law-bringing prophet or community to receive such, nor any apostle to bring divine law.”57
54 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 67.
55 Ibid., 199.
56 Ibid., 66.
57 Ibid., 168.
Their function is to teach a particular aspect of divine knowledge, or to explain a specific divinely ordained Law to the people. Chittick in this vein explains:
The prophets and great friends of God, as human beings, manifest the name Allah in its relative fullness. Then, in their specific functions, they display one or more of the Most Beautiful Names. They are exemplars who disclose the possibilities of the human theomorphic state. Each is a model of perfection.58
Further on he writes: “Each prophet himself becomes a kind of divine name, manifesting the Divine Presence through his earthly career.“59 According to Chittick each prophet, not just Muhammad, manifests the name Allah. This is puzzling considering an earlier passage from Ibn al- `Arabi where God gave Muhammad the name Allah, that is, unless taking Chittick’s phrasing of “relative fullness” in relation to manifestation to mean that the prophets leading up to Muhammad, insofar as they are individual aspects of the Reality of Muhammad, partially manifest the name Allah. Proof for this interpretation can be found in the Bezels of Wisdom when Ibn al- `Arabi describes the divine names:
The Names of God are infinite because they are known by all that derives from them which is infinite, even though they derive [ultimately] from a [known] number of sources, which are the matrices or abodes of the Names. Certainly, there is but one Reality, which embraces all these attributions and relations called the Divine Names.6°
While the Divine Names are many, their Essence and Reality is One. Since the Essence of the infinite Divine Names is One, they are all connotations of God. These specific Names, embodying one distint relation to God, also denote the complete Reality/Essence of God. Thus each prophet was given a specific revelatory Law/Wisdom, and with that came the distinction of being the embodiment of a specific Name, each one pointing towards the Being of God. However, Muhammad was given the added distinction, being the last of the prophets, to fully embody the all-comprehensive Name of Allah.
58 William C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn Al- `Ibn al- Arabi’s Metaphysics of lmagination CAlbany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 28.
60 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 68.
The Seal of the Prophets signifies the completion of the Divine Law. Muhammad, in being given the revelation of the Qur’an, completed the Law meant to guide humanity. All the prophets prior to Muhammad, bringing only puts of the whole, in essence were partaking in pieces of the totality of Muhammad’s prophethood. As Ibn al- `Arabi says: “Know that Muhammad… is he who gave all the prophets and messengers their stations in the World of Spirits until he was sent in the body.”61 All the prophets are models of perfection, and all prophets stem from the Reality of Muhammad, which is finalized in Muhammad. Prophethood is not achieved by personal effort; it is a gift from God. Is perfection then merely a gift bestowed on the prophets? That this is not the case is best clarified in the words of M. Chodkiewicz:
Properly speaking, this perfection [of the Perfect Individual] is possessed only by Muhammad, the ultimate and total manifestation of the haqiqa muhammadiyya. Yet, on the other hand, it is equally the goal of all spiritual life and the very definition of walaya. Hence, the walaya of the wali can only be participation in the walaya of the Prophet.62
Walaya is generally defined as “sainthood,” but wali, saint, can also be translated as “friend of God.” It is one of the closest relationships an individual can have with the Divine. This relationship even competes with prophecy. Ibn al- `Arabi says: “Prophecy and Apostleship constitute certain degrees of Saintship,”63 for “the prophet is a special kind of saint.””
61 Ibn Ibn al- ‘Arabi, Journey To The Lord Of Power: A Suft Manual On Retreat, trans. and ed. Rabia Terri Harris (Rochester: lnner Traditions International, 1989), 56-9.
62 Michel Chodkiewicz, Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn 7bn al-Arabi, trans. and ed. Liadain Sherrard (Cambridge: The Islamic Texts Society, 1993), 71.
63 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 169.
64 Ibid., 170.
Izutsu clarifies this by saying that prophethood, as added to sainthood, is a particular knowledge of things unknown and unseen.”65 Therefore, prophethood is a gift added to sainthood.
If prophethood is a gift added to sainthood who and what is an apostle in relation to a saint? Apostleship is also a position added to Saintship. Not all prophets are apostles, although they are both saints. Ibn al- `Arabi makes this clear when he says in the Bezels Of Wisdom, in the chapter on the prophet Khalid: “Although Khalid was not himself an apostle, he sought to acquire as much as possible of the [all-encompassing] mercy of Muhammad’s mission. He was not himself commanded to deliver God’s dispensation.”66 The distinction implied here seems to be that while a prophet is given special wisdom and insight into the Truth of God, the apostle is given a special Divine command to dictate to the people. Ibn al- `Arabi says: “the Apostle is a Saint who adds to his `saintship’ and `prophethood’ one more characteristic; namely being conscious of the mission and capacity of conveying Divine messages to the people who follow him.”67 Although the apostle is a prophet, the apostle transmits a message or law to the community; this is not necessarily the job of a prophet. This distinction is illustrated by comparing the prophets Seth and Job to the prophet-apostles Jesus and Muhammad. The first two were given a specific wisdom to be shared with their respective communities, but this sharing did not carry with it an explicit instruction to teach the community a new law or order of worship. The second two figures were specifically given a message and new order to teach their communities. In the case of Jesus, this was, or what was misinterpreted as, the message of Christianity.
65 – Toshihiko Izutsu, A Comparative Study Of The Key Philosophical Concepts In Sufism And Taoism Tokyo: The Keio Institute Of Cultural And Linguistic Studies, 1966), 255.
66- Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 268.
67 Izutsu, 255.
Muhammad, as the last prophet and apostle, taught his people the final revelation that was the Qur’an and Islam. This however, explains nothing about the embodiment of perfection.
Ibn al- `Arabi stated that both Prophethood and Apostleship are types of Saintship. This means that there is another important aspect for who can be given the title of Perfect Individual, which is more enduring than that of prophet or apostle. Ibn al- `Arabi says: “Saintship… is that degree which remains to the prophets and apostles in the Hereafter where there is no occasion for lawgiving to any of God’s creation once they have entered either into Paradise, or into the Fire.”68 While prophethood comes to an end, sainthood remains, therefore it remains to be seen who and what the saint is.
68 Ibn al- `Arabi, Bezels, 170.
In relation to this, Muhammad’s superiority can be discerned to lie in the fact that as the Seal of the Prophets he closes both prophethood and apostleship. As the Seal, all prophethood sterns from him and culminates in him, therefore Muhammad, through his absolute prophethood, gained complete knowledge of the Divine, thus making him superior, but not more perfect than the rest of humanity.
- Saint: Heir of the Prophets
Sainthood is the key to understanding the Perfect Individual in relation to Muhammad. According to Ibn al- `Arabi: “Know that Saintship is an all-inclusive and universal function that never comes to an end, dedicated as it is to the universal communication [of divine truth].”69 Unlike prophethood, which ends with Muhammad, sainthood will continue until the end of time. Sainthood provides the key to understanding how there are Perfect Individuals other than the Prophet Muhammad.
69 Wird., 168.
The discussion will be divided into three parts:
1) the saints as the heirs of the prophets;
2) the saint in general;
3) the two seals of sainthood.
Ibn al- `Arabi describes the saints as the heirs of the prophets in the Bezels of Wisdom. He outlines the various types of knowledge associated with twenty-seven specific prophets. (The exact number of prophets according to Ibn al- `Arabi numbering twenty-seven thousand.) The knowledge given to the prophets can be handed down to the saints, but while the prophets were given the knowledge with God as their only guide, the saints must follow in the footsteps of these prophets. The saints are guided by the prophets as well as by God. Chittick explains: “[I]t is utterly impossible for people to understand their own innate disposition, made in the form of God, without God’s help. This help comes as prophetic guidance. The only way to reach perfection is to follow the authority of the prophets.”7° The prophets-apostles left laws for humanity to follow, and the prophets left behind stories and their lives as examples. Through this inheritance people come to the knowledge of God. This “inheritance” comes from directly experiencing the station of a prophet.71 The experience of the prophetic knowledge and the specific station corresponding to this knowledge is different from the experience of the prophets.
70 William C. Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn Al-‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s Cosmology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), xxiii.
71 Every Prophet was given a specific type of knowledge or wisdom about God and the structure of the world. The stations where the individual Saints inherit this knowledge refers to the actualization of the form of this wisdom. A station then is a spiritual place and state where the individual learns how to understand the world from the perspective of a specific prophet and his mode of knowledge. Staying in a particular station means understanding God in a specific manner, i.e., in the manner of the Prophet in question.
According to Ibn al- `Arabi: “[T]he Station of his Lord which [the Prophet Muhammad] had witnessed cannot be witnessed by [his] Heirs (al-warathah) except from behind his Mantle… Were that not so, we would have revealed what he revealed and made known what he made known.”72 ‘This passage specifically refers to knowledge given to the Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood; however, in general terms it can be posited that any prophetic station has to be viewed behind the mantel of the appropriate prophet73, meaning that the saints are dependent on the prophets. The prophets were given a specific knowledge or wisdom, and it is through their “eyes” that this wisdom is handed down to the saints. In this vein, Ibn al- `Arabi says: “He [Muhammad] saw, for example, a level ground without any distinguishing marks, and he walked upon it; while you, [following] in his tracks, see nothing but the trace (athar) of his feet.”74 The prophet is given knowledge that no one else has yet achieved or actualized, and this is like walking along a path that no one has yet traversed. The saint, however, follows in the footsteps of the prophet, and this means that the wisdom already gleaned by the prophet is there to guide him/her. This guidance is also physically transformative.
The inheritance is not merely intellectual or spiritual, but also certain character traits and abilities are adopted. In this marmer, it is both spiritually and physically transformative. Chodkiewicz explains:
The relationship which is established between the saint and the prophet who is his model is not a vague “patronage”, but may rather be compared to the transmission of a genetic inheritance. It confers a precise and visible character on the behaviour, virtues and graces of the wali.75
72 Ibn al- `Arabi quoted in Elmore, 592.
73 The prophet who first attained the station in question was like the discoverer of an unexplored island. This was a special gift from God. The saints, are not given this gift, and must view the station from behind the understanding and experience of a prophet. In Sufi schools the teacher will give the student a mantel symbolizing that the student must proceed along the Path through the guidance of the teacher. The mantel analogy here symbolizes the fact that the saint must view the station through the eyes of the prophet in guestion. The prophet acts as a guide for the saint in understanding a station’s specific wisdom.
74 Ibn al- `Arabi quoted in Elmore, 592.
75 Chodkiewicz, 75.
The prophet acts as a type of father for the saint; with the saint’s new station of a particular prophet, he/she in a way is re-born, physically exhibiting characteristics of this new parent. Chodkiewicz also writes: “The same wali may, during the course of his existence, accumulate several prophetic heritages, which of necessity obscures the distinguishing features of each and effectively prevents us from mechanically employing the Shaykh al-Akbar’s typology.”76 What this means is that a saint can inherit from more than one prophet during his/her lifetime, thus the genealogical inheritance becomes muddled; it becomes impossible to separate the traits into different prophetic categories.
How is this “inheritance” linked to Muhammad? The answer parallels Muhammad’s relationship to the prophets. Just as all of the prophets ultimately derived from the Reality of Muhammad, which was completely manifest in the Prophet Muhammad, so to all saintly inheritances ultimately come from the Reality of Muhammad. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
Among the saints of the community of Muhammad- the Gatherer of the states of the prophets, peace and blessings be upon him- there may be an inheritor of the states of Moses, but he inherits from the Light of Muhammad, not from the Light of Moses. His state is from Muhammad, just as the state of Moses was from Muhammad.77
The saint does not inherit directly from the prophet; the specific prophetic inheritance is given to the individual via the all-encompassing Reality of Muhammad. The Reality of Muhammad acts as a link between the Perfect Individual and saintly inheritance and knowledge. Saintly inheritance comes from parts of the Reality of Muhammad. The Reality of Muhammad is the most perfect reflection of God’s theophany, which means that the Reality of Muhammad is an exact mirror reflection of God. The pieces of this exact mirror reflection are given to the saint through the inheritance from the prophets. Put more precisely, the inheritance of the saints is knowledge of a particular attribute of God.
77- lbn al- `Arabi, Journey, 56.
How does an individual become an heir of the prophets? The path to sainthood is identical to that of the Perfect Individual, for the saint is the Perfect Individual in general. Izutsu explains: “The highest of all human degrees is `saintship’ (walayah). The Saint (waliy) is the highest `knower’ of God and consequently (in terms of the world-view of Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi) of the essential structure of Being.”78 From this it can be posited that the appellation of saint, in one sense, ranks higher than that of prophet. Saintship, an eternal attribute, implies knowledge of the complete structure of Being or God.
There are two parts to the Path of the Perfect Individual: 1) the moral/spiritual cultivation of the individual, and 2) the experience of unity with God.
R.A. Nicholson describes these as follows:
The Sufi’s “path” is not finished until he has traversed all the “stages,” making himself perfect in every one of them before advancing to the next, and has also experienced whatever “state” it pleases God to bestow upon him. Then, and only then, is he permanently raised to the higher planes of consciousness which Sufis call “the Gnosis” (ma ‘rifat) and “the Truth” (haqiqat), where the “seeker” (talib) becomes the “knower” or “Gnostic” ( ‘arif), and realizes that knowledge, knower and known are One.79
The stages can be defined as ethical submissions that must be fully embodied by the individual, and the states are the psychological or spiritual feelings that God gives to the seeker in the various stages. The stages are within the control of the seeker while the states are not. The stages are all aspects of ascetical discipline modeled on the embodiment of tawhid. After these stages have been traversed, the seeker becomes the knower, which means that the individual realizes his/her essential affinity with God; he/she reaches the state of fana’. The details of this journey cannot be described in detail here, so, instead, the core concept of fana’ (annihilation) will be analyzed.
78 Izutsu, 253.
79 Nicholson, 29.
The concept of “fana’, the goal of the Sufi path, is realized through the extinction of the individual self. From this moment onward the individual sees and acts through a double lens; one looks at the world of difference, and the other sees the unity of Being, that it is all a manifestation of God. It is the complete negation of all selfhood within the individual. Ibn al- ‘Arabi says of the individual’s journey: “God said… `Gain proximity to Me through that which I do not possess: Lowliness and poverty.'”8° This means that the way to achieve union with the divine is to negate all position and possession. Only God has Being, all else only has relative being, and therefore the individual must actualize this lack within him/herself, becoming low and impoverished. Chittick describes this: “Hence the spiritual journey involves discarding the specifically human limitations that are called `not He’ with the ultimate aim of identifying totally with the specifically divine self-disclosures that are called ‘He.'”81 The only way to become a vessel for the self-disclosure of God is to become empty of all qualities that cannot be associated with God except for those of lowliness and poverty. The state of fana’, however is not simply a two part process. Izustu identifies three stages in Ibn al- ‘Arabi process of self-annihilation:
Ibn ‘Ibn al- ‘Arabi distinguishes three stages in “self-annihilation.” The first is the annihilation of the attributen… The second stage is called tahaqquq. It means that the mystic has his essence (dhat) “annihilated” and realizes (tahaqquq) in himself his being one with the Absolute… The third and last stage is called ta ‘alluq. It corresponds to what is more usually known as the state of “self-subsistence” (baqa’) which comes after the state of fana’. In this spiritual state, the mystic regains his self which he has once annihilated, but he regains it not in himself but in the very midst of the Divine Essence.82
80- Ibn al- `Arabi, Meccan Revelations, 131.
81 Chittick, Imaginal Worlds: Ibn Al-‘Ibn al- Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994), 37.
82- Izutsu, 255-6.
The first is what has primarily been discussed already. It is the negating of all that is identified as other and self. The second is achieved the moment the first is actualized.The individual in this state realizes that there is no individual, only God. The third and final state is the step immediately following fana ‘. In this state the individual re-gains his/herself, but this regaining is not merely a giving back. It is the full reliance on God. The individual goes back into the world as a manifestation of God’s Essence. Ibn al-`Arabi says: “And I shall describe absorption in Him, which is a station less than the station of return.“83 This absorption is the state of the Perfect Individual, and it is from this state that he/she can begin to grow in the knowledge of the prophets.84
Is this an eternal process? The saints, like the prophets have a Seal. In fact, the Saints have two Seals, one to seal all sainthood, and another to seal Muhammadan sainthood. The Muhammadan Seal, which Ibn al- `Arabi identifies as himself, closes the inheritance from Muhammad. All saints actually inherit from the Light or Reality of Muhammad, and this Seal closes off the most complete type of inheritance. Ibn al- `Arabi says:
For, indeed, among the Saints are those who inherit from [the Prophets] Abraham, Moses, and Jesus [etc.], so that these may well be found to exist after the Muhammadan Seal; but after him there shall be no Saint belonging to the Heart of Muhammad…This is the meaning of the Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood.85
83 Ibn al- `Arabi, Journey, 26.
84 This state will be analyzed in the last chapter that deals with the actions of the Perfect Individual.
85 Ibn al- Vtrabi quoted in Elmore, 595.
This individual seals the specific station of Muhammad; he/she seals off the comprehensive knowledge associated with Muhammad. The individual, who inherits directly from Muhammad, sharing in his all-comprehensive knowledge, is granted a share in complete understanding of all the Divine Names of God. Thus, after the Seal only saints who partially inherit from the haqiqa muhammadiyya will come into being.
The second Seal of the saints is the Seal of general sainthood. Ibn al- `Arabi explains who this Seal is in Meccan Revelations:
For [Jesus] will descend [from Heaven at the end of time] as a Saint, possessor of an Absolute Prophethood (dhu nubumat mutlaqut), in which the Muhammadan Saints shall participate with him. He is one of us; indeed, he is our Master (sayyidu-na). The first in this matter- I mean [this specialized type of Prophecy (nubuwat al-ikhtisas)]- was a Prophet- namely, Adam- and the last [will also be] a Prophet- Jesus.86
Jesus, as this Seal, will return at the end of the world and close off sainthood forever.87 Just as prophethood and apostleship had an end, so too does sainthood, but with one difference, the end of sainthood signals the end of the world. With sainthood gone the Perfect Individuals disappear, and the world cannot sustain itself, for it too must disappear.88
86 Ibn al- Virabi quoted in Elmore, 594.
87 Jesus in this role should not be confused with the Mahdi, who is supposed to come to earth unifying all Muslims and forming a united kingdom on earth. The Mahdi is supposed to be born from the lineage of Muhammad, and thus will be a blood relation.
88 The Perfect Individual’s role in sustaining the existence of the universe will be discussed in the next chapter.
In conclusion then, the embodiment of perfection is linked to Muhammad on two levels: through the haqiqa muhammadiyya and the historical prophet. However, perfection does not necessarily entail embodying all the attributes of Muhammad. The haqiqa muhammadiyya is the spiritual being that is the source of all creation and existential perfection. Muhammad is the concrete manifestation of this, and as such he holds the position as the Seal of the Prophets. He possesses complete knowledge and understanding of the intricate relationship between the world and God. All the other prophets can only claim partial knowledge and understanding of them. This, however, does not mean that perfection is unattainable to any other than Muhammad, for a status upholding prophethood exists, that of sainthood. Sainthood is equated with the Perfect Individual in general and is the seat of perfection. Becoming a Perfect Individual or saint requires the individual to have purified his/her self of all otherness and to have reached the state of fana’, extinction in God. In this state the individual becomes a mirror image to God, and it is here that perfection is obtained. Once in this state, however, the individual can reach the stations of the various prophets and gain their knowledge. These are the different degrees, or levels of superiority, within perfection; however, the Perfect Individual is not concerned about the hierarchy between the Prophet, Saint, and Apostle, for his/her sole desire is intimate knowledge of God. Although sainthood must remain in the world for the continuation of temporal existence, there are two Seals on sainthood. The first, the Seal of Muhammadan Sainthood closes off the highest degree of sainthood, the station of Muhammad. The second, the general Seal of Sainthood closes the status of perfection and signals the end of the world. How and why the Perfect Individual must remain in the world will be discussed in the next chapter.