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The Invisible One and His Names

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Islam does not need visual representations of God to illustrate divine attributes to man. Instead, it knows 99 most beautiful names[1] of God. In these attributes or qualities of God the divine unity and concealment unfolds, without tempting the searching human being to take the "pictures" for the depicted. The names, however, do not only represent the hidden Creator in order to bring Him close to the faithful in His perfection and fullness of power; they are also forces that can realize Him in man. Whoever follows this path becomes a perfect human being, an insân al kâmîl.

Before the beginning of creation, all souls were with God, and He asked them, "Am I your Lord?" The souls confirmed it. Then they were sent out into creation to recognize and reconfirm Him through the veils of creation and their own state of being a creature. The Sufis say that God's word: "Be!" that created the souls was the origin of God's love experienced by the souls; but God's love itself was earlier: "He loves them, and they love Him."[2] Thus Islam, and especially Sufi Islam, is a religion of loving God and of devotion. And the possibility of returning to their Creator inspires seekers. They complete their journey through the 99 most beautiful names.

Confronted with the names as divine powers or attributes, a person walks a path of knowledge, devotion and total transformation. According to Sufi knowledge, everything was created for the sake of man, and man, in turn, for the sake of God. According to Rumi (1207-1273), man is an astrolabe (i.e., an astronomical navigational instrument) of the attributes of divine sublimity.

The voyage into the divine universe

Some of the names are complementary pairs, whose meaning and essence must be integrated by man into his inner being. A process begins in which a new wholeness emerges, uniting paradoxical opposites. A central issue herein lies in a Sufi topos, namely to perceive creation as divine ("everything is He") and at the same time as empty in itself ("everything is not He"). The same paradoxical duality is inherent in man, who is nothing without God but emerged from Him as well as a potential manifestation of Himself. The divine names al zâhir, the Revealed One, and al bâtin, the Hidden One, place man in this process of realization. Perhaps it is this very mystery of life that sparks the inner tension that leads man to search and sets him on the path.

Man encounters al bâsit, the Bestower, and al qâbid, the Denier. Can man perceive these divine forces in his life, can he accept their guidance? Can man surrender his own will and follow the destiny that wants to lead him to perfection?[3] As the seeker continues to open himself to the divine forces, they reveal ever new aspects of the divine being. There are al jamal, the Beautiful One, and al jalâl, the Majestic One. Is God beautiful? If He is the source of all beauty, then He Himself must also be beautiful. The majesty of God, on the other hand, means in Islamic thought a hint towards His overwhelming greatness and omnipotence, the realization of which can cause dismay to the seeker. What happens in a person who is confronted with the essence of these names and perceives their absoluteness in himself? Must he not be annihilated in the face of these powers?

Annihilation in God

That’s how it is: The Sufi way begins with the knowledge of God and leads to the annihilation in God, to fanâ' (literally: perishing). The attributes of God purify and elevate man, but confronted with their power and greatness, man eventually perishes in them. This perishing is only partly renunciation, but it is also love of God up to ecstasy.

The path of love

does not consist of clever words.

The gateway to it is total annihilation.

The birds perform in the sky

the circles of their freedom.

How do they learn this?

They plunge from the nest,

and it is only in falling

that their wings open.

Resurrection as perfect man

This is how Rumi describes the path to God in one of his characteristic poems. And so the seeker experiences the transforming truth of al muhîy, the Life-giver, al mumît, the Causer of death, and al mui'd, the Resurrector. Having given the seeker the strength to completely surrender himself, the names sink into him as wholeness. Man is recreated in God, he achieves baqâ', abiding in God as a perfect man who has acquired God's attributes. Ibn al Arabi says about this, "Acquiring God's attributes, that is Sufism." He also calls it "becoming similar to God." [4]

What lies at the end of the path? Does man really unite with God? Is it not enough to know that he lives in God? As a well-known hadîth[5] says: "My servant approaches me by voluntary deeds until I love him. And when I love him, I am his ear with which he hears, and his eye with which he sees, and his hand with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks." Once there, man has become a revelation of God.

 

 


[1] Here it should be noted that there are more than 99 names which have been compiled in different orders and consistence. Originally they are found scattered in the Koran.

[2] Sura 5:54

[3] In the writings of Ibn al Arabi (1165-1240) kismet, fate, emerges as the power behind the spiritual path of man.

[4] both in the Meccan Openings, the Futuhat al Makkiyah

[5] handed-down saying of the prophet Mohammed

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