Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fanā: The Union of Man with God

Fanā: The Union of Man with God

By  Dr Billal Philips

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and thanks is due to Allāh, the Lord of al-`ālamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam is His Messenger.

A close look at various lists of the most prominent so-called saints, reveals names like that of al-Hallaj who was publicly executed as an apostate for daring to openly claim divinity in his infamous pronouncement "Ana-al-Haqq" 'I am the Reality' when Allāh Subhānahu wa ta`ala already said:

"That is so, because Allāh is the Reality and it is He who gives life to the dead."[Surah Al-Hajj 22:6 and 62, 24:25 and 31:30]

What led this deranged individual to make such a pronouncement was his belief in a principle very similar to the ultimate state of being in Buddhism known as "Nirvana." [126] In this state, according to a branch of Buddhist thought, the ego disappears and the human soul and consciousness are extinguished. [127]

This concept also forms the core of a philosophy known as "mysticism". Mysticism
[128] is defined as an experience of union with God and the belief that man's main goal lies in seeking that union. The origins of mysticism can be found in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers like Plato's Symposium in which mention is made of various ladders of ascent, composed of steep and hard steps, whereby a union of the soul with God is finally attained. [129]

A parallel concept can also be found in Hinduism's identification of Atman (human soul) with Brahman (the impersonal Absolute), the realization of which is the ultimate goal or release from existence and rebirth.

Greek mystic thought blossomed in the Gnostic Christian movements which, like that of Valentinus [c. 140 CE], reached their peak in the second century CE. These trends were combined in the third century with Platonism by the Egypto-Roman philosopher, Plotinus [205-270 CE], to form a religious philosophy known as Neo-Platonism.

Christian anchorites or hermits of the 3rd century CE, who began the monastic tradition in Christendom by withdrawing into the Egyptian desert, adopted the mystic goal of union with God as it was propounded in neo-platonic thought at that time, within a framework of meditative and ascetic practices of self-denial. Although it was "St." Pachomius [290-346 CE] who established the first set of rules for Christian monasticism and founded nine monasteries in the Egyptian desert; "St." Benedict of Nursia (480-547 CE), in developing the Benedictine Rule for the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy, came to be regarded as the real founder of Western monastic order. [131]

The mystic tradition kept alive in monastic Christianity began to find expression among Muslims from about 8th century CE, a century after the borders of the Islamic state had expanded to include Egypt and Syria and its major centers of monasticism. [132] A group of Muslims who were not satisfied with what the Syari`ah [Islamic Law] had to offer, developed a parallel system which they named the Tariqat [the way].

Just as the ultimate goal of the Hindu was unity with the world soul and of the Christian mystic union with God; the ultimate goal of this movement became Fanā, the dissolution of the ego, and Wusul the meeting and unification of the human soul with Allāh in this life.

A series of preliminary stages and states which had to be attained were defined. They were called Maqamat [stations] and Halat [states]. A system of spiritual exercises was also designed for the initiate in order to bring about this "meeting." These exercises of Dzikir [133] often involved head and body movements and sometimes even dance, as in the case of whirling dervishes. All of these practices were attributed to the Prophet Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam through chains of narration in order to validate them, but there does not exist any authentic support for them in any of the classical books of Hadith.

A multiplicity of systems evolved, and orders, similar to those among Christian monks, appeared named after their founders, like the Qadiri, Chishti, Nakhshabandi, and Tejaani orders. Along with that, volumes of legends and fairy tales were spun around the founders and the outstanding personalities of these orders. And, just as Christian and Hindu monks chose special isolated structures [i.e. monasteries] in which to house their communities, the Sufi orders developed similar housing schemes called Zawiyahs [lit. corners].

In time, a body of heretic creeds developed out of the mystic "union-with-God" belief. For example, most orders claimed that Allāh could be seen when the state of Wusul [arrival] was achieved. Yet when `Aishah asked the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) if he saw Allāh during Mi’raj [ascension] he replied that he had not. [134]

Prophet Musa was also shown that neither he nor any man could withstand seeing Allāh in this life by Allāh revealing some of His being to a mountain which crumbled to dust during the revelation. [135] Some Sufi adepts claimed that when the state of Wusul was attained, the mundane obligations of Syari'ah like five times daily Solah were no longer obligatory. Most of them prescribed that prayers to Allāh could be sent through the Prophet (Sallallāhu `alayhi wasallam) or through the so-called saints; many also began the practice of making Tawaf [136] , animal sacrifices and other acts of worship around the shrines and tombs of the saints. Tawaf can be observed today around the grave of Zainab and Sayyid al-Badawi in Egypt, around the tomb of Muhammad Ahmad [The Mahdi] in Sudan, and around the Darghas of countless saints and holy men in India and Pakistan.

The Syari`ah came to be looked at as the outer path designed for the ignorant masses, while the Tariqat was the inner path of an elite enlightened few. Opinionated Tafsir [Qur`anic commentary] appeared in which the meanings of the Qur'anic verses were bent and twisted to support the heretical ideas of the mystic movement. Greek philosophical thought was also blended with fabricated Hadiths to produce a body of inauthentic literature which challenged the early Islamic classics and eventually displaced them among the masses. Music was introduced in most circles and drugs like marijuana could be found in others as a means of heightening the pseudo-spiritual experience which they all sought.

Such was the legacy of the latter generation of Sufis which had been built on the false premise that union of the human soul with Allāh was attainable. The early generation of pious individuals, like `Abdul Qadir al-Jailani, and others to whom some orders were attributed, clearly understood the importance of distinguishing between the Creator and the created. The two could never become one, as One was Divine and Eternal, while the other was human and finite.

And Allāh Almighty knows best.


126. Sanskrit term meaning "blown out" referring to the extinction of all worldly desires, or salvation. Though the term originated in Vedantic (Bhagavad-Gita and the Vedas) it is most often associated with Buddhism. In Hinayana Buddhism the term is equated with extinction while in Mahayana Buddhism it is a state of bliss (W. L. Resse, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980), p.393).
127. Ibid, p.72.
128 From the Greek "Mystes" meaning "one initiated into the mysteries." The term is derived from the Greek mystery religions whose initiates bore the name "mystes" (Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p.374).
129. Colliers Encyclopedia, vol.17, p.114.
130. Dictionary of Religions, p.68.
131. Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, pp.365-6 and 374.
132. "The authors of treatises on Muslim mysticism have often compared the "annihilation" of Sufism with Buddhist Nirvana; but according to others this comparison is entirely inadequate as the Buddhist idea of annihilation is independent of the idea of God and includes the idea of transmigration of souls, to which Nirvana puts an end. In Muslim mysticism on the other hand, there is no question of the passing of soul upon death into another body and the notion of a personal and all-present God is throughout predominant. The origin of the Muslim conception of Fanā has rather to be sought in Christianity from which it seems to be borrowed. This conception simply means the annihilation of the individual human will before the will of God, an idea which forms the center of all Christian mysticism." (Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, p.98).
133. Dzikir, which normally means the remembrance of God, in mystic circles, is used to refer to the continuous repetition of God's names and attributes.
134. Collected by Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.1, pp.111-112 - nos. 337,339 and p.113, no.341. 135. Surah Al-`Araf ,7:143.
136 .Walking around an object of religious devotion.

[Via MSA].

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