By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
While the doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wujud (unity of existence) has been an apple of discord among the hardcore and retrogressive viewers of Islam, it is given paramount importance in the mystical interpretation of Islamic doctrines. It is so vital to Sufism that it could be well considered the core of all Sufi precepts and practices.
The Essence of Wahdat-ul-Wujud or Unity of Being
Wahdat-ul-Wujud is a universal Islamic doctrine that sees everything in the universe as a reflection of Divine Unity. It illustrates that whatever exists in the universe is one or the other aspect of Divine Reality diffused through different things. But this esoteric mystical concept does not imply that God, the Absolute Being, can be reduced to anything relating to this world of matter and sense. In fact, God remains Himself, i.e. the transcendent Supreme Being, but everything else that exists in the universe resembles His unity as well as beauty. The Islamic doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wujud asserts that only God is omnipresent and all-beautiful and the rest of universal existence is a dim reflection of His eternal beauty.
Going by this, Sufis believe that the face of God could be seen anywhere, provided one has the innate passion to see Him and exuberant capacity to encounter His infinite divine light, which has been beautifully enunciated in the Holy Quran:
“God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which is a lamp, the lamp is within glass, the glass as if it were a pearly (white) star lit from (the oil of) a blessed olive tree, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would almost glow even if untouched by fire. Light upon light. God guides to His light whom He wills.” (24:35).
The concept of Wahdat-ul-Wujud has deep roots in the holy Qur’an and Hadiths, the two primary sources of Islam. Those who declare the adherents of Wahdat-ul-Wujud heretics or Mushriks (polytheists) should reconsider their view of point delving deeper into the following substantial evidences.
Wahdat Ul Wujud in the Holy Quran
The above-mentioned verses are known as “Ayat-e-Noor” (the famous verses of light), that have been inspiring the countless number of Sufis right from the early era of Islam. Some eminent Sufis such as Shihab al-Deen Suhrawardi (12th CE) and Mulla Sadra (16th CE) have written comprehensive Qur’anic exegesis based on these verses. Mulla Sadra’s commentary, for instance, “the Hermeneutics of the Light Verse of the Quran”, is a fine example of it.
In addition to the above verse, many more of the Qur’anic verses endorse the mystical doctrine of Wahdat ul Wujud and have been viewed by Sufis as allegorical and esoteric proofs for it such as:
“God is the Outward and the Inward” (Qu’ran 57:3).
“He for whom wisdom is given, he truly has received abundant good” (Qu’ran 2:269).
“It is not you who slew; it was God. When you threw (a handful of dust), it was not your act, but God’s” (Anfal 8:17).
“Indeed, those who pledge allegiance to you, [O Muhammad] – they are actually pledging allegiance to Allah. The hand of Allah is over their hands. So he who breaks his word only breaks it to the detriment of himself. And he who fulfills that which he has promised Allah – He will give him a great reward.” (Fath 48:10).
“It was We who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (Quaff 50:16)”.
“He is with you, wherever you are” (57: 4).
In all the above verses, particularly in the last one, closeness with God (Qurb) is perceived by the Sufis as something beyond the concept of nearness in terms of knowledge. Some exegetes of the Quran interpret it saying that the proximity of God to His servants in this verse refers to the absolute, all-encompassing and overwhelming knowledge of God. For instance, Imam Ibn Katheer writes in his explanation of the above-mentioned verse: “The verse implies that He is watching over you and witnessing your deeds wherever you may be, on land or on sea, during the night or the day, at home or in open areas or deserts. All of that is the same before His knowledge and all of it is under His sight and hearing. He hears your speech and sees wherever you are.”
Therefore, the Salafis believe that the nearness mentioned in the Qur’anic verses is not by the essence of Allah, but in knowledge. Allama Abdul Azeez ibn Abdullaah ibn Baaz, a leading proponent of the Salafism, writes in his book “Fatawa Ibn Baz”: “The Madhhab (view) of the Salaf as regards their interpretation of Allah’s Words “and He is with you” is that it means “by His Knowledge”. It is not an allegorical interpretation. Rather, that is the meaning of the verse discussing Allah’s Ma`iyyah (nearness to His creation).”
But Sufis believe that Allah’s knowledge does encompass His creations in all their situations, but His relationship is not confined to only His knowledge. They opine that the above verse refers to a special relationship (Ittisal) between God and His beloved servants. Though the reality and nature of this divine proximity is unknown to us, it does exist necessarily, but indescribably or “without how” (Bila Kaif). Supported by the above verses, they further substantiate their belief in special proximity with God by quoting the Qur’anic verse: “Wasjud Waqtarib” (and bow down in prostration, and come closer. AI-‘Alaq: 18). Explaining this verse, they produce the authentic Prophetic saying: “The closest that a servant can be to his Lord is when he is in prostration. Therefore, make abundant supplications (while prostrating).”
According to the Sufis, the verses of the Qur’an regarding nearness of God to His creations can be categorised into four groups:
(1) The first group refers to God’s nearness to His creations per se. That is, Allah, the Almighty is near all His creations:
“Verily I am near, I answer the caller.” (2: 186)
(2) The second group of Qur’anic verses illustrate that God is nearer to man than others:
“We are nearer to him than you but you do not see.” (56: 85)
(3) The verses of the third category indicate that He is closer to man than his jugular vein:
“Verily we created man and we know what his soul whispers. And We are closer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16)
(4) The verses of the fourth group state that God is closer to man than man himself:
“O’ you who believe, answer Allah and the Prophet when they call you to what will give you life. Know that Allah stands between man and his heart.” (8:24)
From all the above verses of the Quran, the Sufi doctrine of Wahdat-ul-Wujud is patently clear and justifiable that asserts: man has a special proximity to his Creator, though its reality and nature cannot be perceived by everyone.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur’anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.