Transcribed and translated by Syed Ali Imran (Canada)
Lesson 5 – May 15th, 2021 – Introduction to Revelation – Mystics
In this lesson we will discuss the views of the mystics regarding revelation. The fact of the matter is that their perception of revelation is very complex and we can only explain it briefly here by giving an overall image of it.
The most important thing to understand regarding the view of the mystics is to understand that they believe revelation is a phenomenon that is beyond the intellect, such that it cannot be explained or perceived clearly with the intellect, and by extention it is very difficult to explain it in any language. It is for this reason the language of the mystics on revelation – or generally in other subjects as well – is often symbolic.
Secondly, the main source of knowledge for mystics is their own personal mystical experiences and their knowledge on revelation is not an exception. It is an existential connection of the heart and soul with the reality. True knowledge for a mystic is knowledge by presence, what Sayyid Ḥayder Āmulī (d. 1385) refers to it as al-‘ilm al-irthī, as opposed to al-‘ilm al-iktisābī.
Thirdly, mystical experiences themselves have two aspects. One is spiritual and one is epistemic; this is a key dichotomy which distinguishes some aspects of Christian mysticism who focus moreso on the former aspect. In Islamic mysticism, mystical experiences are not just experiences emerging from the purifcation of the soul and self-annihilation, rather they have truth value as well.
A Note on the Perfect Man and Mystical Sainthood
For the mystics, humans play a key role in the realm of existence and more importantly the idea of the Perfect Man (al-insān al-kāmil) is crucial. The first scholar to have used this term – not the concept- was Ibn al-‘Arabī and it is closely tied with the concept of Wilāyah which is very different to the idea of Wilāyah as understood in theology and jurisprudence.
When the mystics are talking about the Perfect Man, they are not talking about a mere righteous person, nor a historical event, or even a jurisprudential matter, rather it is an entity that plays a crucial role in how the cosmos works. The basis of their understanding is their claim that the linguistic meaning of walī is closeness and a Walī is someone who is close to Allah (swt). When the speak about the different ranks of Awliyā’, they are referring to the different degrees of closeness each has to Allah (swt). The closest person existentially to Allah is the Perfect Man and has the greatest Wilāyah.
Furthermore, since Wilāyah is a gradational concept, the highest stage of this Wilāyah is called fanā’ fīllah (annihilation in Allah) – and it is here when a person becomes the Perfect Man. However, the mystics will say annihilation does not mean non-existence, rather it means the person has become heedless of his ‘self’, ‘humanness’, and the multiplicity of this realm. They are not able to see anything except Allah (swt). They exist and are seeing, but they see Allah (swt) in everything as Allah (swt) manifests Himself in everything.[note]For more details on this subject, please read: Mystical Sainthood and the Perfect Man – Al-Wilāyah al-‘Irfānīyyah wa al-Insān al-Kāmil.[/note]
The Muhammadan Reality
Allah is the ultimate and absolute Walī, rather his Wilāyah is His very essence as there is no notion of distance between Him and existence. He has complete authority, power, and domination over all existence. A mystic will say that most theologians and the laity think Allah works and controls the universe through mediums like angels. For mystics and Sadrian philosophers the relation of Allah with creation is one where Allah is present everywhere, He is in everything but not mixed with them and He is outside of everything but not with separation. This may sound contradictory, but this is one of the deepest ideas in mysticism and this is what the mystics claim to have perceived.
The question now is, does anyone other than Allah also have absolute Wilāyah? For mystics, when a person reaches the stage of the Perfect Man, this wilāyah they attain is not conventional, rather it is very real. Immediately after Allah, the Muhammad Reality is the medium (wāṣiṭah) between Allah and the rest of the realms such as the realm of similitude, realm of the intellects, realm of matter. It is the first emanation and manifestation of Allah. Note that the Muhammad Reality is a reference for a degree of existence, not the person of Prophet Muhammad (p), even though the final Prophet (p) was able to reach this degree of existence.
This Muhammad Reality exists with Allah per-eternally. However, if Prophet Muhammad (p) only came 14 centuries ago, and he reached the highest stage of the Muhammad Reality, then what does it mean for the Muhammad Reality to be per-eternal? The mystics will say, the Prophet Muhammad (p) was indeed the first creation and there are narrations that speak about how Allah (swt) created the light of the Prophet (p), from which he created rest of creation. What we see in the human form of Prophet Muhammad (p) 14 centuries ago is the material and worldly existence of the Prophet (p).
This is when Shi’i mystics say that the Prophet (p) and the 12 Imams are all one light, they don’t mean this metaphorically, rather they truly mean it and it is only in this material worldly relam that we see this light in its multiplicity. It is based on this assumption that they interpret the verse of Mubāhalah, or the narrations on ashbāh, and anwār etc. If some scholars say these narrations are difficult to explain and interpret, the mystics will say these are not prolematic at all, rather they are describing the very reality that they speak of.
The Prophet and the Imams who are at the degree of the Muhamamd Reality are essentially mediums of grace (wāṣiṭah al-fayḍ) on all of creation, they are the medium through which God continues to bless and grace creation, creation is dependent on the Muhammad Reality. It is through this lens that they also interpret the narrations which say if there was no ḥujjah the earth will collapse and destroy all its inhabitants.
In this image that we described above, where does Prophethood fit, and what does Prophethood even mean here, let alone revelation? The concept of Prophethood and Wilāyah is in fact one of the discussions for which mystics were accused of disbelief and were excommunicated. How the mystics explained Prophethood was by saying, Prophethood is the apparent aspect of Wilāyah and Wilāyah is the bāṭin of Prophethood. Or how Mullā Ṣadrā says, the Sharī‘ah is the apparent and Prophethood is its bāṭin, while Prophethood is the apparent and Wilāyah is its bāṭin. Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī says the message (riṣāla) is the skin, its kernel is Prophethood, and its oil is Wilāyah.
The verse of Ibrahim where he is made an Imam is a crucial verse for the mystics, because it shows Imamate is higher then Prophethood. Of course, the mystics do not say they are higher than Prophets, because the Prophets are all Saints, they are all Walī. However, the wilāyah of the Prophet is greater than the Prophethood of the Prophet – this is what the mystics affirm.
Points of Similarities:
- A Nabī and Walī both perceive supra-rational and divine realities – through presence.
- Their knowledge is not through a medium or by acquirement (ḥuṣūlī).
- They can perform supernatural acts, like miracles or karāmāt.
Points of Differences:
- Legislative Nubūwwah is finished, there is no new legislation. Even if the greatest Walī were to come afterwards, there would still not be any new legislation. All that is being said is that a Walī has the ability to perceive realities and become aware of them. Interestingly, the Shī’a get accused of this when it comes to the discussion of the Prophet and Imams (a), and they also generally respond in the same way. Wilāyah is a relationship with Allah (swt) and al-Ḥaqq, therefore it will never end, whereas nubūwwah is a relationship with creation and it can end.
- The earth will never be void of a Walī – whether he is apparent or in occultation. Whereas it can be empty of a Prophet.
- The status of a Walī is above a Nabī or a Rasūl. The wilāyah aspect of a Nabī is greater and of more importance than the aspect of their nubūwwah.
- The status of wilāyah can be attained by both men and women, whereas nubūwwah is restricted to men. They have mentioned many examples of the former as well such as Lady Maryam (s) and Lady Fāṭima (s)
In the next lesson we will expound on revelation and where it is located in this overall image. If Prophet (p) had reached the Muhammad Reality, then how does Gabriel bring revelation to the Prophet (p) given the angels are all under the Prophet?