According to the religious methodology or the basic principles of religion, God’s Attributes consist of certain transcending and blessed concepts—whose transcendence and blessedness come from the Being Whom they describe; these de scribe God Almighty and are, in one sense, regarded as the veils of the Divine Essence. These blessed concepts, mentioned as the At tributes of the Divine Being, are either in the form of nouns, infinitives, adverbs, or of adjectives.
As a mental consideration, there are realms both before and be yond the Attributes of Glory. All the acts and phenomena in both the material and immaterial realms are manifestations of Divine Names; these Names originate from the Attributes. The Attributes are based on the Essential Qualities or Characteristics of the Divine Being, of Which perhaps only the people of spiritual unveiling and vision can be aware, and the Essential Qualities or Characteristics of the Divine Beings, as well as the Attributes, Names, and Acts ultimately end in the Divine Essence. Even though the true nature of the Names and Attributes and the Essential Characteristics are un known to us, there is a subtle difference between the Names and At tributes. The words that describe God the All-Supreme in the form of adjectives, such as the All-Living, the Self-Subsistent, the All Hearing, the All-Seeing, and the All-Knowing, are Names, while the concepts used in relative to the Divine Essence have been mentioned as God’s Attributes or Divine Attributes.
Among the exalted Attributes that belong to God Almighty there is nothing that implies impotence, defect, or fault. For this reason, all of the Divine Attributes of Glory have been designated as Attributes of Perfection. Therefore, believing in God Almighty, exalted is His Majesty, means believing in an All-Supreme Being Who is absolutely free from any attributes of defect and Who is only describable by the Attributes of Perfection appropriate for His All-Supreme Being.
Like His Essence, God’s Attributes of Glory are eternal, having neither a beginning nor an end. Even though the attributes of all created beings, like humankind and jinn, are reflections of God’s Attributes, they have both a beginning and an end and their continuance depends on Divine Attributes, each of Which is living and luminous. Neither the lives of humankind, jinn, angels, or spirit beings, nor their knowledge and will resemble God’s Life, Knowledge, and Will. He has no equals, peers, rivals, or opposites both in His Essence and Attributes. As He encompasses all the things, beings, and events, whether they have come into existence or not, or have happened or not, with His all-encompassing Knowledge and with His Power and Will, He is the unique Owner and Ruler of all visible and invisible things, beings, natures, and characteristics.
Whatever we say or can say concerning the Divine Being can only be concerned with His Acts and Names, and in a sense, His Attributes. As for the All-Holy Essence, He is absolutely beyond our comprehension. For this reason, thinking or putting forward opinions about Him is something regarded as risky and it is forbid den. Declaring, Eyes comprehend Him not, but He comprehends all eyes. He is the All-Subtle (penetrating everything no matter how small), the All-Aware (6:103), the holy Qur’an indicates the final point to which we can go in this respect and reminds that One Who is the All-Encompassing or All-Comprehending cannot be encompassed or comprehended.
With respect to our capacity of perception, the All-Holy Essence is One Who is known with His Names and Who encompasses everything with His Attributes. This marks the farthest limit of human thought and comprehension. As for the knowledge concerning the realms beyond and the truths that lie beyond, it consists only of or can only be based on intuition, spiritual experiences, and visions. This knowledge, which is imparted only to the people of a certain level, can be regarded as the Ultimate Truth’s special gift in return for faithfulness, constancy, resolution, and endeavor. Also, the truth of the matters concerning Divine Destiny and Decree, which the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, became aware of during his Ascension, is unfolded only for those of certain level of “sight” and “hearing.”
Hearing, sight, and feeling in this corporeal world occur by means of certain causes and means, and what we experience here is the lowest level of these functions. It is God Who supplies us with the necessary means for these functions and it is He Who creates these functions as well. It is He Who creates both our eyes and ears and our sight and hearing. Therefore, all the senses and organs that comprise a human body are only veils before the Di vine Power and Will and they act as screens to reflect the same; however, on account of being means, they are regarded as the performers of the acts in question. In fact, they are not the actors, but are only means and causes; it is God Who creates all human acts. Just as any sound that is emitted by God’s leave from an in animate object or animal unable to speak cannot be ascribed to any attribute or ability of that object or animal, so too the acts of human beings and the fruits that emanate from these acts belong essentially to the Creator of all things. To explain more clearly, by way of an example, God Almighty has created the attribute of knowledge in human beings and the jinn, thus preparing the ground for their relationships with the objects to be known, guiding their attribute of knowledge to its field of learning, and enabling the objects to be known to be unfolded in it. Comparing hearing and sight to this, we can say that the Unique and Absolute One of Unity has created the senses and organs of hearing and sight, established their relationships with the brain and other relevant systems, and entrusted these functions to the relevant mechanisms. It is because of all these facts that we say that the Truly Knowing, Hearing, and Seeing One is He, and affirm that it is He Who knows everything, has absolute power over everything, sees everything, and hears every voice or sound. We say and affirm: “There is no one else other than the Ultimate Truth who exists by themselves, or who is their own true owner, and there is no true owner, master, or object of worship other than He both in this world and the next.”
In fact, everything other than the All-Holy Divine Essence is, in one sense, something other than Him. According to the people of spiritual vision and experience, even His Attributes of Glory and All-Beautiful Names are also other than Him, although from a different perspective the Muslim theologians affirm that His Attributes are neither He nor other than Him.
Life is the most comprehensive of all the Divine Attributes of Glory. What is the most indispensable to Life is the (Holy) Existence; this is followed by the Attribute of Knowledge, Which has the broadest of dimensions. Knowledge is also important in respect of Its being the beginning of our master’s identification, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace. The Attributes other than Knowledge mark the beginning of the universal identifications of the other “chosen, best ones (of the creation)”—the other Messengers and Prophets.
Each Attribute is the cause of the emergence of many people of universality as well as numerous ones of particularity. These are the ranks of the identification of beings of different ranks of life. That is, a particular Attribute manifests Itself on some people— like Prophets—in a universal form and gives them their particular character. So, in relation to this Attribute, those people reflect It universally and takes on a universal character. However, many other people reflect the same Attribute in a particular form by following those of universal character. Universality is, in one sense, of an original function and nature, while particularity is of a shadowy one. Those—like Prophets—whose rank of identification is of a universal nature are the foundations or originals in the axis or orbit where they are located, and the others, whose identifications are of a particular nature, are their projections and are regarded as existing under their feet, or following in their footsteps. One with a shadowy nature can, in one sense, reflect the characteristics of the original, but is never identical to it. The narrowness in observation, the excessive good opinion of the particulars by their followers, and their concentration on them may cause a particular or one of a shadowy nature to be confused with the universal or the original. Those who cannot view matters with the eyes of the Shari‘a may be deceived and regard, for example, a shadow which moves around the orbit of the Messiah as the Messiah himself. In addition, purposeful and planned claims by the many who attribute themselves great ranks due to such confusion and deception are not few—may God preserve us from such deceptions and claims.
Some have expressed their views of the original and shadow with statements that a certain person is under the feet or following in the footsteps of the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, or that another person is under the feet or following in the footsteps of Prophet Moses, upon him and our Prophet be peace, or that yet another is under the feet or following in the footsteps of Prophet Jesus, upon him and our Prophet be peace. Through the ways of spiritual progress and spiritual journey, those of shadowy nature and rank can benefit from the special blessings that arrive at the orbit or axis of the originals. Therefore, the particulars can assume or give an image of universality in spiritual visions, ecstasies, and experiences. It sometimes occurs that those who are favored with certain attainments through following an original fall under the influence of the light of their own existence and—unable to comprehend the place and position of the original—can claim superiority over the original. In order to be preserved from such confusion and deceptions, the principles established by the Conveyor of the Shari‘a should be taken into consideration.
On account of their being the beginning of everything in the name of all material and spiritual worlds of existence and inherent in the Divine Essence, God Almighty’s Attributes have the same qualities as the Divine Essence in that they do not have any peers, equals, or anything similar to them. However, the All-Majestic, All-Exalted, All-Glorified Being is beyond all Names, Attributes, and Qualities or Characteristics. He is infinitely beyond manifestation, appearance, and emergence, and beyond all vision, unveiling, reasoning, conception, and imagination.
Those who belong to the school of Ibnu’l-‘Arabi have seen God Almighty’s Names and Attributes as being identical to the Divine Being Himself and regarded this approach as the requirement of God’s being the One and the belief in His Oneness. Furthermore, they have regarded the Attributes as being identical to each other. For example, in addition to viewing the Attributes of Power and Knowledge as being identical to the Divine Essence, they have asserted that these two Attributes do not differ from each other. According to them, the Divine Essential Qualities or Characteristics, Attributes, and Names have been manifested in a single composition. They have designated this as the first identification or the rank of Divine Uniqueness, in Which all the Essential Characteristics, Attributes, and Names are summed up, while they have termed the manifestation of everything in existence in its fullness as the second identification and the rank of Divine Unity, in Which in addition to the Divine Essence, the Attributes and Names are also considered. As a result of this approach, they have seen the truth or original of contingencies as archetypes, which means that this physical realm does not have an external existence and all the things we observe are no different from images reflected in mirrors, and that, in the words of Mulla Jami‘, whatever we observe is a figment of the imagination. According to them, the (visible) realm of multiplicity is the collection of these imaginary scenes. This realm has three steps of existence, the first of which is “identification as spirits,” the second “identification as ideal forms or immaterial representations,” and the third “identification as bodies.”
The Sunni Sufis who deal with the subject of the Divine Essence and Attributes, and that of existence according to the essential principles of the Religion, stress the existence of certain Attributes of Glory besides the Divine Essence, even though the difference between them is only in the mind. They see the Attributes of Glory as if they are luminous veils of the Divine Essence. In the view of these Sufis, all existent things and beings are mirrors of the Divine Names and act as arenas for the manifestation of the Attributes. All of existence is a bright mirror, an arena for the manifestation of the Existence of the All-Sacred Being; every rank of life of the Life of the All-Living, the Giver of life; all knowledge of the Knowledge of the All-Knowing; all power and strength of the Power of the All-Powerful, the All-Able; and all speeches are mirrors, arenas for the manifestation of the Speech of the Eternal All-Speaking. All instances of seeing and hearing on all kinds of wavelengths are arenas of the manifestation of the Sight and Hearing of the All-Seeing and the All-Hearing respectively. Considering the difference between the Divine Essence and Attributes— even though the difference is in our minds—they say that the whole universe and whatever is in it act as mirrors and screens for the manifestations of Divine Names and Attributes, not of the All Sacred Divine Essence. All existent things and beings are shadows or rays of the Attribute of Existence, Which is living; all (true) information or knowledge that human beings have is a reflection of and radiation from the Attribute of Knowledge; all strength and power observed in all existent beings, animate or inanimate, is a reflection of the Attribute of Power. Other Divine Attributes can be considered from this perspective in connection with their functions or acts.
It should however be remembered that Divine Attributes are inseparable from and inherent in the Divine Being, while the attributes that contingent beings have are only shadows or reflections. As stated before, the source or original is something different, while a shadow is yet again a different thing, and whatever is other than the original is still another different thing. For this reason, Muslim theologians tend to describe the attributes that contingencies have as “accidental,” for they owe their existence and subsistence to the Di vine Attributes. Even though matters of “substance” and “accident” are subjects discussed with respect to the physical realm, the Sufis have not deemed it harmful to use these terms in their approaches to the relationship between the Divine Being and contingencies. Moreover, some of them have gone one step further and maintained that all substances and accidents and all attributes and characteristics subsist by God’s being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. However, there have been some who have gone so far as to claim that whatever exists or the existence as a whole consists in Him or “everything is He;” it is impossible to accept such assertions.
According to the scholars of the essentials of the Religion, Divine Attributes are as if additional to the Divine Essence, without ever implying compositeness for God. This approach is also shared by Sunni Sufis. The existence is never He; whatever there is—substance or accident, attribute or characteristic—is from Him and subsists by His being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. That everything is from Him and subsists by Him can never mean that there is a continuance or contiguity between the Divine Being and the contingent existence or that the latter is a place for the existence of the Former. The Sufis have maintained that the whole of contingent existence with whatever things, char acteristics, and states there are in it consists in the shadows of Di vine manifestations. All acts are the shadows of Divine Attributes, and the Attributes are the manifestations of Divine Essential Characteristics. For this reason, everything in the universe is nearer to Him than it is to itself by His absolute nearness to it and their being the shadows of His Attributes.
All things in the universe, animate or inanimate, have their existence, characteristics, and features from the manifestations of the Divine Attributes such as Life, Knowledge, Hearing, and Sight, etc. Divine Attributes and All-Beautiful Names are living and luminous veils of the All-Sacred Divine Essence, and indicate His Essential Perfection. In fact, His Being or Essence does not need any attributes; the Attributes are inherent in His Essence. It can and should be said from this perspective, that is, from the perspective that His Attributes are inherent in His Essence, He exists by Himself or His All-Sacred Essence, and is living by Himself or by His All-Sacred Essence. Other Attributes can be considered from this perspective. That is, He is All-Knowing by Himself or by His Essence; He is All-Speaking by Himself or by His Essence, All-Willing by Himself or His Essence, and so on. As this is true for both His Essential and Positive or Affirmative Attributes (the Attributes Which describe Who God essentially is), it is also true for the Attributes connected with the Attribute of Making things Exist, Which is among the Positive or Affirmative Attributes.
Thus, Divine Attributes can also be considered as the veils or screens of His Perfection, the veils of His hidden Lights, and the points of His gracious, self-condescending relationship with things and events. As Divine Dignity and Grandeur use apparent physical causes as veils before God’s Acts in the creation and operation of the universe, they have also made Divine Attributes veils before the Divine Essence beyond any modality of quality. The imperceptible and incomprehensible relationship of the Divine Being with things and events requires using veils before the Divine Essence and Acts. Similarly, the use of such veils is also required by the Di vine Wisdom before the rays of the Divine “Facial” Lights. Nevertheless, even though the Divine Attributes have the position of serving as a veil before the Divine Essence, the manifestation of Divine Perfection occurs through these same Attributes. For this reason, this veil may also be considered to be a screen that reflects God in His Uniqueness as the Divine Essence.
In short, Divine Attributes are neither the Divine Essence nor the Divine Being Himself, nor are they detached or separate from Him. They are both veils and mirrors for the All-Sacred Divine Essence, and in His relationship with them the Divine Essence is the incomprehensible Original. As His Being cannot be compared to other beings, neither can His Attributes be compared to the at tributes of others. He is the Self-Subsisting, while all other beings subsist by His being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. His Attributes are uncontained by time, having neither a beginning nor an end, and they are living as well. They have the dignity of having the sacredness that is unique to the Divine Being. As for the attributes of all created beings, they are lifeless in themselves and relative in respect of their functions and outcomes. They have neither a substantial existence, nor life, nor knowledge. However, as being able to distinguish these realities from one another depends on having an ever-ready, active knowledge originating from God’s Presence, not everyone is able to perceive the truth of the matter.
Gulen, Fethullah. “The Emerald Hills of The Heart 4” Tughra Books Press. December 2011.
- March 05, 2014
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