The Prophets

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I saw the Prophet of God in a vision during mid-December 1229, in the city of Damascus. He had a book in his hand and he said to me, “This is the book of ‘The Bezels of Wisdom’. Take it and deliver it to men so that they might benefit from it.” I replied, “Your wish is my command.” I therefore carried out the wish, purified my intent, and devoted my purpose to publishing this book, just as the Prophet had laid down, without adding or subtracting anything.

 

Thus begins Ibn al-‘Arabi’s greatest and most famous work, “The Bezels of Wisdom(Fusus al-Hikam). (I’ve modernized the language and date.) Like a car that speeds up from standstill to 100 miles per hour in five seconds flat, he takes us from the ground floor straight to the stratosphere of Sufism and mysticism in one fell swoop. Because the book was given by the Prophet, Ibn Arabi considered that it belonged to Mohammed, even though its contents are a summary of all the works of Ibn Arabi, including the mammoth Meccan Revelations (Futuhat al-Makkiya).

In the Koran, as well as in the Torah and the Bible, we are treated to various stories of the prophets. From these, we come away with some hazy notion of what prophethood is, together with the very clear impression that it’s not exactly the brightest idea to cross one. In The Bezels of Wisdom, the Prophet and/or Ibn Arabi (depending on how you look at it) provides us with a skeleton key (a cheat sheet, if you like!) to understanding the esoteric meaning of what a prophet is. So, no matter what we believe, we should study it very carefully if we wish to understand many hidden meanings. The problem is, this is no easy task. That is why more than a hundred commentaries have been written on it, as well as a similar number of denunciations, by those who fail to understand the depth of the concepts involved. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if Ibn Arabi is writing to deliberately confound his critics.

“Our Fusus,” Ibn Arabi is said to have remarked, “is a chickpea of iron. To chew it, one needs teeth of steel.” Since none of us possesses that kind of teeth, to explain the Shaykh’s conceptual universe in any detail would lie far beyond our scope. William Chittick has produced two massive tomes in this endeavor, and those are only the beginning, a prelude to the Meccan Revelations—which, to my knowledge, has been translated in its entirety only into Turkish as yet (15 volumes out of a projected 35 have been published). Rather, what we can do here is to give a simplified summary of the various prophets.

 

But What is a Prophet?

First, we must clarify what is meant by “prophet.” In Christianity, prophet has come to mean one who prophesies, foretells the future, and more specifically, foretells the coming of Christ. In both Hebrew and Arabic, the root nava/naba means bringing a message (from God). As the epigraph above mentions, all prophets are saints, but not every saint is a prophet: a prophet is one singled out from among saints to deliver God’s message to his contemporaries.

The Koran states that every people has been sent its own prophet. It is said that 124 thousand prophets have been sent to humanity (bringing to mind the number 144 thousand in the Bible), beginning with Adam and ending with Mohammed.

Not all prophets are of the same rank: “We have preferred some over others” (2:253). At the same time, all prophets are sent by God: “We make no distinction between any of His messengers” (2:285). As you read below, you will find that each prophet has a different “wisdom” (sing. hikmah): a different outstanding attribute. Note that in Ibn Arabi’s system, every human being is under the influence of a Divine Name. But the “wisdoms” (pl. hikam) he assigns to the prophets are not their Divine Names, even though some of them appear to be (e.g. Subbuh, Quddus, Ahad, Rahman). Rather, these wisdoms are modified or “tempered” by their own ruling Divine Names, which are different for each.

 

Note also that Ibn Arabi’s ordering of prophets is not chronological, although parts of it are. Adam is followed correctly by Seth, Jacob by Joseph, and Mohammed is the last prophet. However, the order Ibn Arabi gives is one based on relations between the “wisdoms.” But to go into this would take us too far afield.

25 prophets are mentioned in the Koran. Of these, Ibn Arabi leaves out Dhulkifl (Ezekiel) and Elyasa (Elisha). For these, he substitutes Seth and Khalid Ibn Sinan, neither of whom are named in the Koran. The reason seems to be to include the second prophet and the second from last (the penultimate prophet). He also includes Luqman and Uzayr, who are not usually considered prophets in their own right, to reach a number of 27.

Two Biblical prophets are mentioned in the Koran, though not named explicitly (Samuel 2:246, Joshua 18:60). Imran (Amram) also occurs in the title of the third chapter. Though not himself a prophet, he is the father of two prophets: Moses and Aaron. Khidr is mentioned in the Koran, but not named explicitly and not held to be a prophet. Dhul-Qarnayn, though named, is not generally considered a prophet, either.

 

The Bezels of Wisdom

bezel2Let us begin our incursion into the book with the meaning of the title. “Bezel” (sing. fass, pl. fusus) means the gemstone on a ring, or the setting in which the gem is ensconced. It seems Ibn Arabi intended both meanings. Thus, translating the title as “the Ringstones of Wisdom” is equally valid. Let us consider its meaning as “setting” first. This gives us  “the Wisdoms in the Settings” or “the Settings of the Wisdoms.”

What exactly does Ibn Arabi intend by “wisdom”? This is a deep and complicated subject, but from the examples he gives, it seems on the face of it that he means the predominant “inner and outer state” of a prophet. In what follows, therefore, we shall understand “wisdoms” in the sense of “spiritual states.” This is where the significance of Ibn Arabi’s Bezels emerges: even today (or perhaps especially today), it casts the prophets in an entirely new—and different—light.

gemstonerings2In the chapter headings, Ibn Arabi uses the format “the wisdom X of the word Y,” where Y is always a prophet. It appears, then, that Ibn Arabi regards every prophet as “a Word of God,” because every prophet proclaims the word of God. Yet every prophet is different from the others, for a certain type of wisdom is unique to each, just as the gemstone on each ring can be different in kind and shape. The renowned Sufi Junayd of Baghdad has explained this (for saints) as “The color of the water is the color of the receptacle,” for Divine light shines through each prophet according to the nature of his disposition, just as we have red rubies or green emeralds.

Moreover, Ibn Arabi explains that the setting of the wisdom is not just the prophet, but the Heart of the prophet, for the Heart (when purified) is the seat of God, or the locus God watches over. At the very beginning of the Fusus, Ibn Arabi himself says that God “sends down wisdom upon the Hearts of the Words [prophets].” More generally, we can frame a recursive conception of “setting” as follows:

  • The universe is a setting for Earth,
  • The Earth is a home to human beings,
  • Humanity is a setting for a prophet,
  • A prophet’s body is a setting for his Heart or spirit,
  • A prophet’s Heart or spirit is a setting for a specific kind of wisdom,
  • That wisdom is like God’s light shining through a colored glass.

Alternatively, each bezel can be regarded as a gemstone itself. If we take bezel to mean ringstone, then the ringstone of each wisdom is the Heart of a prophet.

 

jewelinlotuspuritydiamondperfection

In Buddhism and Yoga, we have the mantra Om mani padme hum, where mani padme means “the jewel in the lotus.” Om is a syllable intoned much like the invocation Hu (meaning: “He” or God) in Sufism. Both Om and hum are syllables without linguistic meaning. However, if we focus on “the jewel in the lotus,” it clearly is the symbolic equivalent of “the wisdom in the setting.” The white lotus is a symbol of purity; the jewel (a diamond) is a symbol for perfection. If you purify your being, you will attain the perfection of wisdom—a wisdom specific to you, according to your innate predisposition (fitra) and your dominant Divine Name.

 

The Creation of the Universe

In Ibn Arabi’s system, and more generally in Sufism, God created the universe out of His Names (asma). Each Name corresponds to an Attribute, a Quality (sifat) of God. And each Attribute gives rise to many kinds of Actions (af’al). For example, God’s Name of “the Living” (al-Hayy) is predicated on the Attribute of Life (hayat). And this Attribute gives rise to a whole range of Actions, such as breathing, climbing, eating, walking, flying, and so on.

When you generalise from all these actions to the concept of life, you are engaging in a Unification of Actions (tawhid al-af’al). When you realize that all Attributes are different aspects of the One Without a Second, this is the Unification of Attributes (tawhid al-sifat). And when you realize that these are merely waves (temporary manifestations) on the surface of a Bottomless Sea, that is the Unification of the Essence (tawhid al-Zat).

Once you understand this, you have grasped the issue rationally. But it does not correspond to your experience, to you it is an abstract concept. In order to grasp it experientially as well, one has to purify one’s self.

primarysecondarycolorsLet us try to understand all this by an analogy. White light can be broken down into lights of three primary colors: red, blue, and green. When any two of these intersect, they produce the three secondary colors: cyan, magenta, and yellow. Now the intersection of these with the original primary colors, or with each other, produce the tertiary and further intermediate colors, leading all the way up to 64 million different colors that your computer screen can display.

In the same way, the original pure white light of God differentiates into a myriad Divine Names, and the intersections of these names in a certain combination, in a certain proportion and intensity, give rise to the myriads of creatures in the universe. (We also find the concepts of primary, secondary and tertiary Names in Ibn Arabi.)

Another way to think about this is in terms of the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God. (These have been singled out from among a myriad Names as especially important.) These 99 Names can be thought of as determining the composition of all existing things. This is similar to the way in which 90 or so natural elements combine in various ways to compose the molecules that constitute the physical universe. It stands to reason that in many cases, one of these Names will predominate over the others, and then a creature, or human being, will be under the influence of that Name.

Now, returning to our discussion of the Fusus, Ibn Arabi uses each wisdom as a springboard for shedding light on a different aspect of his “big picture.” We can’t go into those here, for it is quite beyond our scope. Rather, we will try to understand the associations between the prophets and their respective wisdoms, in the same order as Ibn Arabi presents them. In doing this, we shall sometimes supplement what Ibn Arabi himself has to say, in order to understand him better. These cases are marked with an asterisk (*). (In what follows, I have relied heavily on this, this and these four volumes.)

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Adam

Adam, as both the first human and the first prophet, represents both the prophets and you. All the vast potential and dizzying variety of human beings to come are prefigured in the genes of Adam, from the worst examples of humanity all the way to the Perfect Human.

Of all creation, human beings are the most beloved of God, because they are the only creatures capable of awareness of God, even more so than angels. Plus, every being is a manifestation of one or more of God’s Names, but only a human possesses the capability to realize them all, including the All-Comprehensive Divine Name (Allah). As Ibn Arabi writes elsewhere, “man… is the receptacle for all beings… But beings other than he are not the receptacle for all beings.” God brought the world into being as a body made complete, and ready for a spirit, and made Adam its spirit, where “Adam” means the existence of the human microcosm. Therefore, because the universe is like the body and the Perfect Human is like its spirit, it is said that the universe is a “great man.” What is meant by the “Word Adam” is the universal spirit that is the source of humankind. All the realities of the universe are incorporated within him. According to Ibn Arabi’s stepson and foremost disciple Qonawi, “the Perfect Human is the pillar of the Heavens and the earth.”

When the Koran says that God taught Adam all the names, that does not mean that God showed Adam around, saying: “This is called a horse, this is a tree, this is a rock,” and so on. Rather, it means that Adam was taught all the Divine Names (2:31). So Adam is the prefiguration, or prototype, for the Perfect Human: he is its summary form. The Perfect Human represents God to humanity and humanity to God. Man is a copy of two forms: the form of God, and the form of the world. And these two forms are the two hands of God with which He created man.

 

Seth

The reference here appears to be to the “Breath of the Compassionate” (nafas al-Rahman). In Ibn Arabi’s thought, Divinity (God) gives rise to the universe through His Compassionate out-breathing or “exhalation.” So, since the first prophet, Adam, corresponds to Divinity, the second (Seth) must correspond to this exhalation or emanation—God’s “detailing” of the universe. “Seth” means gift of God, and existence is a gift from God to all beings.

 

Noah

All-Glorified (Subbuh) is an Name of God signifying that He transcends every imperfection and defect. The attribute that dominated Noah was God’s transcendence and the affirmation of His incomparability with creatures.

Here, a slight digression is necessary. What is known as transcendence is called Incomparability (tanzih) in Islam, while immanence is called Similarity (tashbih). These can also be referred to as the negatory and positive/affirmatory attributes of God, respectively. For example, God is infinite, immortal, unlike anything in creation. And yet, He is also the Knower, the Living, the Speaker—all attributes shared with creatures.

Now a subtle point missed by many is that transcendence by itself has the danger of regressing into atheism (too many negatory attributes lead to arguing God out of existence). On the other hand, the hazard of immanence alone is that it can lead to pantheism or incarnation (collapsing God onto the universe or into a human being). It was the genius of Ibn Arabi to recognize that both are necessary, like they are in Islam—every so often, the Shaykh emphasizes the Koranic Verse: “Nothing is like Him; He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing” (42:11), in which Incomparability and Similarity are combined. This balance prevents one from sliding over to one extreme to the exclusion of the other.

Now the wisdom of Noah emphasized transcendence to the exclusion of immanence. This was incomprehensible to his people, who worshiped idols (a result of overemphasis on similarity, and an inability to Unify/tawhid). The implacable opposition of these two resulted in the Flood.

 

Enoch (Idris)

Idris’s wisdom, Holiness or the All-Sanctified (Quddus), is mentioned together with Noah’s (Subbuh). Literally, quddus means “to purify”—that is, to purify God of everything else, and to purify one’s self of everything other than God. Idris purified his self to such an extent that he was cleansed of all traces of materiality and was left as pure spirit. He became a disembodied intellect and was taken to heaven. He made an Ascension (miraj), as mentioned in the Verse:  “We raised him to a high place” (19:57). The Master explained that he was raised to the Sun.

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Abraham*

Abraham is referred to as the “Friend of God” (khalil Allah), which is the prefiguration of the Sufi “Friend of God” (wali Allah). The root word, khulul, can also mean interpenetration or permeation. “Abraham was called Khalil because he had embraced and penetrated all the Attributes of the Divine Essence, in the same way that color permeates that which is colored.” And the being of the Real permeated him. Abraham loved God so much, and God loved him in return, that his whole being became permeated with the Being of God.

This should not be understood as the presence of two distinct beings: the Being of God annuls or annihilates the being of Abraham. Indeed, if that Being were to be manifested in heaven or hell, they too would be annihilated, just as darkness cannot withstand the presence of daylight.

As God says in a Holy Tradition: “My servant keeps coming closer to Me through optional [additional] worship. In the end he attains My Love. And when I love him I become the ears that he hears with; I become the eyes he sees with, I become the hands that he holds with, I become the feet that he walks with…” (Bukhari, 8.76.509) This is a state of annihilation (fana) from himself. God manifested Himself to him, so he also gained subsistence (baqa) in Him. Thus, Abraham was the prototype of the Perfect Human.

 

Isaac

Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. He attempted to sacrifice one of these. Early Moslems believed that it was Isaac, but conventional Moslem opinion today has it that the son in question was Ishmael. In Bezels (though not elsewhere), Ibn Arabi discusses the sacrifice under the heading of Isaac. The Pilgrimage (Hajj) revolves around the stories of Ishmael and his mother, Hagar. It culminates in sacrificing a ram in honor of Abraham’s sacrifice. If Ibn Arabi’s view expressed here is true, not only Ishmael but also, Isaac is commemorated in the Pilgrimage. In the Fusus, in any case, Ibn Arabi discusses the events surrounding the sacrifice in connection with Isaac. But, like the Koran, he never states explicitly which son was definitely the object of sacrifice.

In Ibn Arabi’s worldview, creation occurs through a series of stages (“worlds”). What is of concern for us here are only the last three: the intelligible (or spirit) world, the “sensory world” of matter or ordinary sense-perception, and an intermediate world between them called the “Imaginal World” (alam al-mithal). This is a universe in which the spiritual takes body and the body becomes spiritual, where abstract thoughts assume extension, dimension, and form. Also called the World of Image Exemplars, it is a world of idea-images. And it is accessible in dreams. It is divided into two parts: absolute and relative. In the absolute part, what you see is what you get: if you dream of honey, you receive honey. The relative part is susceptible to “coloring.” In this case, the idea-image that is perceived cannot be taken literally, but must be perceived as symbolic. If you dream of honey under relative conditions, for example, it could mean many things, such as a well-paying job.

Now Abraham dreamt that he was sacrificing his son. In this instance,  we have both the absolute and the relative meanings of the dream coming true, which is why Isaac is associated with the wisdom of Truth. For Abraham’s son said: “Father, do as you’re bidden. You will find me one of the patient” (37:102). And indeed, Abraham attempted to sacrifice him. But then, the Lord sent down a ram for him to sacrifice instead. So in the end, a ram was sacrificed in reality, not Isaac. Here, Isaac in Abraham’s dream must be read as a symbol for the real ram: Isaac was gentle and good-tempered, like a ram. So both the absolute and the relative senses of Abraham’s dream were realized. Abraham thought of his dream in absolute terms, until he realized that Isaac was symbolic of the ram and his dream had needed interpretation.

 

Ishmael

Ishmael was exalted because God “exalted” Abraham and his sons (19:50), and because he was the ancestor of Mohammed. More specifically, he was exalted because “he was pleasing to his Lord” or “his Lord was pleased with him (mardhiyyan)” (19:55).

In Sufism, the self passes through various stages on its journey to God: starting from the Base Self, we have the stages of the Critical, Inspired, Tranquil, Pleased (God-Satisfied), Pleasing (God-Satisfying), and finally, the Purified Self. In other words, Ishmael had been exalted to the penultimate level of the Pleasing Self (mardhiyyatan) (89:28).

 

Jacob

The operative root here is RWH, which can be read in two ways. One of these is “spirit” (ruh). The first thing we need to understand is that religion is a spiritual discipline. It is a program, a project for spiritual improvement. According to the Koran, “Abraham charged his sons and also Jacob: ‘My sons, God has chosen for you the religion (of surrender/Islam); see that you don’t die save in surrender (to God/as Moslems)’” (2:132).

The second way to read the root RWH is “ease” (rawh). Those who follow the religion of surrender to God, who submit to God’s commands, avoid His prohibitions, and turn their faces toward God, will attain the ultimate ease. And indeed, Jacob says, “Do not despair of God’s ease; none despairs of God’s ease except unbelievers” (12:87).

 

Joseph

Here again, as in Isaac’s case, we have to deal with dreams and the Imaginal World. Joseph was a master interpreter of dreams. The Imaginal World is a luminous world—it is “bright” in relation to the world of the senses, because it is closer to God, Who is Light (24:35)—and Joseph’s unveiling was imaginal.

 

Hud (Eber) 

Eber was an ancestor of Abraham. The Unity referred to here is the “third level” of Unity, pertaining to the Divine Acts (tawhid al-af’al). This is alluded to in Hud’s following words: “There is no creature that crawls, but He takes it by the forelock” (11:56). So Hud had attained to the Unity of Actions.

 

Salih (Shelah)*

Salih’s people demanded a sign from God. God singled out Salih for opening the gate to the Unseen by cleaving open the mountain for his she-camel: it miraculously appeared to him from inside a mountain (7:73, 11:64, 26:155 etc.). Opening (fath) can also mean conquest, the victory over the Base Self, and the attainment of higher spiritual stations.

 

Jethro, Hobab (Shu’ayb)*

 

heart-of-lightAccording to a Tradition: “The eyes of prophets sleep, but their hearts never do.” (Bukhari, 7517) God has said through the tongue of His Prophet (in a Holy Tradition), “Neither My earth nor My heaven embrace Me, but the heart of My believing servant does embrace Me.”

The legendary Persian sultan, Jem, is said to have possessed an extraordinary wineglass, through which he could view the entire world. “Know,” says the Persian Sufi poet Sanai in his Food for Seekers, “that the cup of Jem is your heart. If you want to see the cosmos, it is possible to see all things in that heart. The eye of the head sees bodies composed of the elements; only the Eye of the Heart can see what is hidden. First open the Eye of your Heart, watch everything afterwards.”

That’s the kind of Heart Shu’ayb had.

 

Lot*

Lot’s people did violence against him, and he lacked the strength to fend them off. Finally, he prayed: “Would that I had power over you, or recourse to a strong pillar” (11:80), where the “strong pillar” is God. The Prophet said in a Tradition: “my brother Lot has indeed found a strong support” (Bukhari 60:11)—strong, and terrible in retribution (8:52, 40:22), as Lot’s people also found out.

It was said to Lot: “Travel by night with your family” (11:81)—that is, with everything of your essence, and witness all of the realities. It is a Night Journey like the Prophet’s. “Except your wife” (11:81)—elsewhere, Ibn Arabi interprets this esoterically as the command to leave his Base Self, which has no part in the celestial ascents of the heart.

 

lightoverearthIn the morning, he reached Yaqîn. Yaqîn (or Yâqîn) was a place on the road between Jerusalem and Hebron, where Lot took refuge after fleeing Sodom. Abraham was waiting for him there. That is, esoterically he attained Certainty (Yaqîn), which was also the station of Abraham. For when the sun rose and unveiled things to his eye after they were hidden, it provided certainty without the shadow of a doubt.

In Sufism, Certainty is considered in three stages: Knowledge of Certainty, which is compared to the abstract knowledge that fire exists. Eye of Certainty, which is equivalent to glimpsing fire from afar. And Truth of Certainty, which is being consumed in fire, like the self-immolation of a moth in a flame.

 

Uzayr (Ezra, Azariah?) 

Like Jonah (see below), Uzayr abandoned his duty toward his people. Instead of inviting them to God, he desired to know the mystery of destiny. His desire was granted him, in the following way:

 

According to the Koran, Uzayr passed by a city [Jerusalem] that had fallen down upon its roofs. He said, “How should God give life to this now that it is dead?” He turned his thought toward the ruined village, considering it unlikely that it could return to its previous state. So God made him die a hundred years, then raised him up, saying, “How long have you tarried?” He said, “I’ve tarried a day, or part of a day.” God said, “No, you’ve tarried a hundred years. Look at your food and drink–it has not spoiled; and look at your ass. Thus We make of you a sign for the people. And look at the bones, how We shall set them up, and then clothe them with flesh.” So when it happened before his eyes, he said, “I know that God is powerful (Qadir: ‘determines destiny’) over all things”  (2:259).

 

Thus, Uzayrs thought and doubt became the occasion for God to display to him several kinds of return, and a number of properties of His Power.

 

The “mystery of destiny” (sirr al-qadar) is this: it is impossible for the essence, attributes and acts of any created entity to become manifest within existence except to the “measure” (qadr) of its intrinsic readiness. Because God is the “measurer” and the “predestinator” of all things, He is the one who decides about their intrinsic preparedness as well.

 

Jesus

Jesus is mentioned as “a word of God” and “the Messiah, Son of Mary” in the Koran (“Messiah” is “Christ” in Greek.) The adjective nabawiyyah can be derived both from the root naba, “to give news, to prophecy,” and from the root nabâ, “ to become elevated, to ascend.” The baby Jesus testifies to the first from the cradle with his words, “God has given me the Book and made me a prophet” (19:30). The second refers to his Ascension, where he is raised (rif’ah) bodily to heaven. (“I, if I be lifted up…” John 12:32.)

 

Solomon

The Divine Name of Compassion has jurisdiction over the entire world. Thus, when Solomon requested of God: “give me a kingdom such as may not befall anyone after me” (38:35), he was in effect asking for the Attribute of Compassion. God’s subjection of the world to Solomon is apparent in his control over the jinn, humankind, the wild beasts, the birds, and the other animals of the land and sea. His free disposal (tasarruf) extended even to the four elements: “God subjected to him the wind, which blew at his command” (38:36).

 

David

Existence only becomes complete through the vicegerency of God in the human form. The first person whom God addressed as His vicegerent (khalifa) clearly and directly was David: “David, behold: We have appointed you a vicegerent in the earth; therefore judge between men justly” (38:27). He combined within him kingdom, speech, and prophethood, as indicated by God’s words, “We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and decisive speech” (38:20).

 

The vicegerency of God (not to be confused with the caliphate, which is a political office) belongs to the Perfect Human. The Wheel of Existence emanates from God, reaches down to the basest elements in an Arc of Descent, then returns to God through an Arc of Ascent, passing through the Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal Kingdoms before reaching Humanity. It is the Perfect Human who completes the return trip to God, thus fulfilling the purpose of existence and closing the circle.

 

Jonah*

One root of nafasiyyah is “self” (nafs). The story is that Jonah abandoned instructing his people against the express orders of God, obeying the whim of his self. This is dereliction of duty. Consequently, he found himself in the belly of a big fish. As I have explained elsewhere, Jonah prays from the belly of the fish:

 

 “I have been of the wrong-doers (zalimeen)” (21:87). But what kind of wrong-doing is this? We find the answer in 4:97 and 16:28, where the expression is “sinned against their souls” or “wronged themselves” (zalimee anfusihim). But what does this, in turn, mean? Both “oppression” and “darkness” derive from the Arabic root ZLM. So we arrive at “darkened their selves.” In the belly of the whale, dark, damp and constricted, Jonah realizes: “I have darkened (blackened or defiled) my self.”

Another meaning to be considered here is that just as God afflicted Jonah with the fish, so also He afflicted the self with its attachment to the body.

 

A second root of nafasiyyah is “breath” (nafas). The problem arises as to how Jonah survived within the fish without air for forty days and nights. Apparently, the fish surfaced frequently and drew in big gulps of air, thus preventing its cargo from suffocating. Thus, this “wisdom” helped Jonah stay alive.

 

Job

All Job’s trials came from and were decided in the Unseen. His initial affluence, the trials in which he lost everything including his health, and his subsequent restoration to an even better state, cannot be understood without the wager between God and the devil—which, of course, happened in the realm of the Unseen (to human beings). They were not initiated by causes in the observable universe.

 

John the Baptist (Yahya) 

The Attribute of Majesty is associated with wrath. John was exceedingly Godfearing. He met a wrathful death at the hands of the faithless, and they in turn were recompensed with wrath.

 

Zachariah 

Zachariah, old and childless, implored to God: “Oh my Lord, how shall I have a son, seeing that my wife is barren, and I have attained to the declining of old age?” (19:8). Thus, John (Yahya) was granted to him as a son (3:38-41). This was a manifestation of God’s mercy. But the Attribute of Sovereignty comprises both gentleness (jamal) and severity (jalal),  and the latter was manifested in the way in which Zachariah’s people dealt with him.

 

Elijah (Elias)

He was intimate both with the Angelic world and the world of human beings, and later became intimate with Khidr.

 

Luqman*  

Concerning Luqman, the Koran states: “We gave Luqman wisdom” (31:12), adding: “Whosoever has been given wisdom has been given much good (khayr)(2:269). Indeed, this pertains to all the prophets we are considering here. But what does the root word ihsan mean? This is explained in the famous “Tradition of Gabriel:” “Doing what is beautiful (ihsan) means that you should worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.” We can infer from this that Luqman worshiped God as if he saw God. 

 

Aaron 

When Moses went up Mount Sinai to converse with God, his brother Aaron assumed the leadership of his people. Moses declared him his vicegerent. Thus, Aaron was “presiding prophet” for the duration of Moses’ stay on the mountain. (But see also 25:35, 28:35, and Exodus 7:1.)

 

Moses* 

Moses is the human name mentioned most often in the Koran (136 times). God addresses him: “You are High” (20:68). On the mountain, Moses said to God: “Show me Yourself, so that I may behold You.” God said, “You cannot see Me; but look at the mountain—if it remains firm in its place, then you may see Me.” But when God manifested Himself on the mountain, it shattered; and Moses passed away from himself. (7:143) According to the Master, “it’s not a mountain – it’s Moses’ ‘mountain’! Moses’ Mount Sinai is his head.” In Sufism, such extinguishing of the self would correspond to “Extinction in God” (fana fi’llah), which means that Moses would have been elevated to the Godhead.

Moses leads his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.” Actually, in a sense, every prophet does this. Esoterically, they lead their followers out of slavery to the Base Self, into the paradise of freedom from that pharaoh. We come from God, and to Him we shall return” (2:156). For the Sufi, this return is the Journey to the Homeland” (safar dar watan), back to communion with (Attainment to) God.

 

Khalid

Conspicuous by his absence. His prophethood never became known. His people always took refuge in him in their affairs. Another meaning for samad is hollow, signifying a gap: that is why the Prophet said, “there is no [known] prophet between Jesus and me.” His existence is known only through the Sayings of the Prophet.

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Mohammed

Mohammed is mentioned five times in the Koran (one of these being “Ahmed”). He is both singular and universal—singular, because his perfection is unmatched, and universal, because it is the highest in the universe. (“Universal Man” is another name for the Perfect Human.)

Mohammed is the actualization of the human potential within Adam—the potential to become a Perfect Human. All the prophets were colored according to their nature. Mohammed alone is colorless, for he represents completely transparent glass: God’s light shines through him without any obstruction or coloration. This means that he is the locus of manifestation of all the Divine Names, including the All-Comprehensive Divine Name. Mohammed represents the full flowering of the Perfect Human Being.

He was the first among created beings: the First Determination, Conditioning, or Entification (becoming an entity). “The first thing created by God was my spirit/my light.” This wisdom gathers all other wisdoms within itself. Beyond him lies only the Essence of God. He also embraces all (kull) entifications.

 

The Saints

Mohammed, as the Koran says, is “the Seal of the Prophets” (33:40)—no prophet will come after him. As Michel Chodkiewicz has noted, however, the Fusus has yet one more secret to reveal. Its true structure, he writes (p. 459&n58), “is discovered only if we add to the 27 apparent chapters the opening doxology [hymn of praises to God], bringing the total to 28…” The 27 + 1 chapters correspond to 28 degrees of universal existence in Ibn Arabi’s grand scheme of things. And the last—which, as the introduction to the book, is also the first—is the era of the saints.

Mohammed combined the qualities of prophethood and sainthood within himself. Since he was the Seal of the Prophets, no further prophet will be forthcoming. Sainthood, however, continues among the Sufis, and will do so until Doomsday. Not every saint (Friend of God) is a Perfect Human, just as not every prophet was. As the Turkish Sufi poet Niyazi Misri put it,

The Being of [God] is free of relativities…

Abandoning relativities is achieved by

One human among a thousand mature humans.

 

This is the Pole of Poles, or the Saint of the Age, who is the inheritor of the Prophet’s “Station of Praise.” While not everyone can aspire to such perfection, every human being who sincerely strives in this direction will reap fruits in proportion to their labor. Anyone can be a saint, and there is a reward for everyone!

 

 

 

Note: The Ibn Arabi quotations in the graphics are from his Secrets of Voyaging (Kitab al-isfar…).

 

 

 

 

In Sufism, Certainty is considered in three stages: Knowledge of Certainty, which is compared to the abstract knowledge that fire exists. Eye of Certainty, which is equivalent to glimpsing fire from afar. And Truth of Certainty, which is being consumed in fire like the self-immolation of a moth in a flame.

 

Uzayr (Ezra, Azariah?): Destiny

Like Jonah (see below), Ezra abandoned his duty toward his people. Instead of inviting them to God, he desired to know the mystery of destiny. His desire was granted him, in the following way:
 
According to the Koran, Ezra passed by a city [Jerusalem] that had fallen down upon its roofs. He said, “How should God give life to this now that it is dead?” He turned his thought toward the ruined village, considering it unlikely that it could return to its previous state. So God made him die a hundred years, then raised him up, saying, “How long have you tarried?” He said, “I’ve tarried a day, or part of a day.” God said, “No, you’ve tarried a hundred years. Look at your food and drink–it has not spoiled; and look at your ass. Thus We make of you a sign for the people. And look at the bones, how We shall set them up, and then clothe them with flesh.” So when it happened before his eyes, he said, “I know that God is powerful (qadir: ‘determines destiny’) over all things”  (2:259).
 
Thus, Ezra's thought and doubt became the occasion for God to display to him several kinds of return, and a number of properties of His Power.
 
The “mystery of destiny” (sirr al-qadar) is this: it is impossible for the essence, attributes and acts of any created entity to become manifest within existence except to the “measure” (qadr) of its intrinsic readiness. Because God is the “measurer” and the “predestinator” of all things, He is the one who decides about their intrinsic preparedness as well.

 

Jesus: Prophethood, Ascension 

Jesus is mentioned as “a word of God” and “the Messiah, Son of Mary” in the Koran (“Messiah” is “Christ” in Greek.) The adjective nabawiyyah can be derived both from the root naba, “to give news, to prophecy,” and from the root nabâ, “ to become elevated, to ascend.” The baby Jesus testifies to the first from the cradle with his words, “God has given me the Book and made me a prophet” (19:30). The second refers to his Ascension, where he is raised (rif’ah) bodily to heaven. (“I, if I be lifted up…” John 12:32.) 

 

Solomon: Compassion

The Divine Name of Compassion has jurisdiction over the entire world. Thus, when Solomon requested of God: “give me a kingdom such as may not befall anyone after me” (38:35), he was in effect asking for the Attribute of Compassion. God’s subjection of the world to Solomon is apparent in his control over the jinn, humankind, the wild beasts, the birds, and the other animals of the land and sea. His free disposal (tasarruf) extended even to the four elements: “God subjected to him the wind, which blew at his command” (38:36).

 

David: Existence

Existence only becomes complete through the vicegerency of God in the human form. The first person whom God addressed as His vicegerent (khalifa) clearly and directly was David: “David, behold: We have appointed you a vicegerent in the earth; therefore judge between men justly” (38:27). He combined within him kingdom, speech, and prophethood, as indicated by God’s words, “We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and decisive speech” (38:20).

 

The vicegerency of God (not to be confused with the caliphate, which is a political office) belongs to the Perfect Human. The Wheel of Existence emanates from God, reaches down to the basest elements in an Arc of Descent, then returns to God through an Arc of Ascent, passing through the Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal Kingdoms before reaching Humanity. It is the Perfect Human who completes the return trip to God, thus fulfilling the purpose of existence and closing the circle.

 

Jonah: Self, Breath*

One root of nafasiyyah is “self” (nafs). The story is that Jonah abandoned instructing his people against the express orders of God, obeying the whim of his self. This is dereliction of duty. Consequently, he found himself in the belly of a big fish. As I have explained elsewhere, Jonah prays from the belly of the fish:

 

“I have been of the wrong-doers (zalimeen)” (21:87). But what kind of wrong-doing is this? We find the answer in 4:97 and 16:28, where the expression is “sinned against their souls” or “wronged themselves” (zalimee anfusihim). But what does this, in turn, mean? Both “oppression” and “darkness” derive from the Arabic root ZLM. So we arrive at “darkened their selves.” In the belly of the whale, dark, damp and constricted, Jonah realizes: “I have darkened (blackened or defiled) my self.”

One comment on “The Prophets

  1. Jamil Ahmad on said:

    Thank you very much for sharing this most intriguing article with us.

    Regarding the Hadith of Gabriel mentioned in Luqman’s section. One cannot overstate the importance of it. As we know, the Hadith has three fundamental categories: Submission, Faith and Doing what is Beautiful (Ihsan). All three categories are integral and are in essence part of the same Hadith. In my opinion (please forgive me if I express ignorance in this matter), the Sufis, throughout the centuries, have given very special attention to all three categories, especially the third category. However, the scholars and theologians have given little attention to the third part of the Hadith. As a result of this, it may be the case that some Muslims and some non-Muslims may not be aware of the true nature of this Hadith (the Sufi understanding). Hence, may I make a polite request… I, for one, would really appreciate an article devoted to this most important and beautiful Hadith.

    Thank you.