Insights Into The Nature Of Being And Existence

From Sh. Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi, via SPK, W.C. Chittick1

By Omar K Neusser


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0. “How can I find2 God?”

How can we find God, when all we see is something else? When asking what God is, all we can say is that "God is," God's Being3 (wujūd ).


Allah says Himself:

{ ٱللهُ نُورُ ٱلسَّمَاوَاتِ وَ الأرْضِ }

{ Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. }


If asked if God is4, we say - keeping in mind that neither senses nor reason can comprehend God (may His Majesty be exalted) - as the ancients5 have been saying:


“HE HAS NO intelligeable representation
and the intelligences don't show the way towards Him:

ليس له مثل معقول و لا دلت عليه العقول

laisa lahu mathala ma'qūl wa lā dallat 'aleihi-l 'uqūl


“NEITHER does time limit Him, nor does place lessen Him:

لا يحدّه زمان و لا يقلّه مكان

lā yahidduhu zamān, wa lā yaqilluhu makān


“HE WAS when there was no place,
and He is now such as He has always been:

كان و لا مكان و هو على ما عليه كان

kāna wa lā makān wa huwa 'ala mā 'aleihi kān

--

(The) Being is Itself God, because there is no being (no thing) without God, or except for God. This being is called wujūd6. Wujūd is literally ‘Finding’, also passive mode ‘being found’ with the meaning of existence.

This “is the wājib al-wujūd, the Necessary Being, because It cannot not be.” SPK80 It is that “which by its very nature is and cannot not be,” referred to here as ’Being’.

In spiritual travel, the “mind's journey (is) to find the signs (āyāt ) of God and to understand that He can be 'found'.” SPK80 Allah (swt) says7:

24_46

{ We have indeed sent down signs that make things manifest: and Allah guides whom He wills to a way that is straight.} Sura An-Nur 24-46


1. How?

How can you ask for the knowledge of Allah when you are ignorant of yourself and your origin?8

There is no spiritual travel without an ongoing search for knowledge. This means not to stop at what one knows already (unlearning before learning), not to stop asking questions. Hadith: "Seek Knowledge as far as China."9 See also Metaphysics, Why Is It Necessary Today? - Faith Is Not Enough For Them In the quest for knowledge, there are many hinders, the first and probably the worst is conceit and self-deception, especially if one knows “a little”.

Then (being on the path - of finding or experiencing God) “is to fall into bewilderment (hayra ),” which is “the bewilderment of finding and knowing God and not-finding and not-knowing Him at the same time.” SPK3 How to manage this without assistance?!

There are those misunderstandings created by (the crudeness of our) languages, esp. Western languages, which have lost much of their ability to express metaphysical facts and relationships. For example in English, German, French etc. when we say “the sky is blue”, the ‘is’ is only a copula10 here, the color blue doesn’t tell us anything about the sky’s being or existence. So to say in Arabic “the sky is blue” it appears as السماء زرقاء, which is: ”the sky blue”, with no linking ’is’ to be a sign of existential statement. 11


NB: Sh. Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi does not give a "comprehensive, systematic exposition" for an understanding of "the basic underlying principles of cosmology." What he explains is only a summary account, touching on its topics.


2. Pure Being - Light

“Only God is pure Being, everything else is a reflection of this Being in different colors and forms - and more or less intense. To explain the relationship of the things of the universe in relation to Being and non-being, Light is taken as a symbol for Being, especially since it is said in the Quran, that God is Light (24-5):”

spaceGod is Light

“God is pure Light, and the many things are the rays of this Light. These rays, although they are light, are not identical to pure Light, and insofar as they are not identical with it, they are darkness. And darkness is the absence of light, which means - from this perspective - that the many things are characterized by the absence of Being.”12


3. On The Necessary Being, Which Cannot Not Be

The wājib al-wujūd contrasts with the possible things (mumkināt ) and the impossible things (mumtaniˋ). The relationship of the possible things (mumkināt ) to existence and nonexistence is equal, whereas the impossible things (mumtaniˋ) cannot come into existence - although they can exist in a certain fashion in the mind of man.

"It is the Necessary Being which (will) give preponderance (tarjīh ) to the existence of the possible thing over its non-existence for it to come into existence as a thing in the world." SPK82L

There is only One Being, “and all existence13 is nothing but the manifestation or outward radiance of that One Being.”14 The fact that existence is but the manifestation of the One Necessary Being entails that existence itself is an intermediary situation/ domain, and that "there are degrees of participation in (the light of) Being."15


4. The Possible Entities

Contrasted with the Necessary Being are the possible beings/ entities. Possibility (imkān ) is one of the greatest rational arguments that can be offered to prove "there is a God." (Here wujūd in the meaning of: He can be found, He does exist). SPK82ro

This is so because the (seeker of knowledge) “will prefer his own existence over his non-existence.”16. He will “uncover the existence of his Preponderator (which is Allah swt), then embark on his 2nd journey, which will lead him “into the knowledge of that which should be known about this Maker who has brought him into existence.” So this alone will be a proof of His Incomparability. Then the 3rd journey…

Actually the cosmos is “the sum total of the possible things, whether or not they exist.” If they have come into existence, they are still possible things.17 83Lo

“The infinite number of different ranks and qualities of the entities of the universe (can be read as) are God's signs, as the names of God, which describe His Attributes and Actions. On the basis of a saying of the Prophet (saws) the islamic tradition mentions the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God18 - which are derived from the Quran and from the prophetic hadith.” These names express relationships between God as The Creator, The Lifegiver, The Ever Just etc. and the creation itself. 19


5. Existence & Nonexistence

“God Himself is Being (wujūd ) – non-existence is everything other than God.”20 However, “Ibn ʿArabi's main concern is not with the mental concept of being, but with the experience of God's Being, the tasting (dhawq ) of” wujūd . SPK3

The expression21 ‘He / Not-He’, (huwa lā huwa ) signifies the state of all things situated between Being and non-being (or non-existence): They have ’being’ (or existence) derived from the Being of God, His Essence, just as when rays spread out from the light, and they belong to non-existence in so far as they are not identical with the Light.

This world22 - the universe - will sometimes be called ’existence’ and sometimes referred to as ’non-existence’. Non-existence in this sense is ‘relative non-existence’ (al-'adam al-iDāfī ) in contrast to the ‘absolute non-existence’ (al- ‘adam al-mutlaq ). But23 everything which has relative non-existence, also must have relative existence.”24

Existence25 of the possible thing over its non-existence is because the Necessary Being has given preponderance (tarjīh ) to its existence over its non-existence,26 and so it came into existence, it 'was'.

Nonexistence (other than Being) are “things, entities, possible things, loci of manifestation, forms, attributes,” however “the universe is nothing but His theophany27, (conditioned) by the forms of a'yān thābita.” 28

“But ’nonexistence’ does not mean absolute nothingness, since the things29 possess certain modes of relative existence.30 So nonexistents (ma'dūmāt ) are not pure nothingness,… "the nonexistents of the things is clearly a relative (iDāfī ) matter." If not (yet - or no more) in existence, any creature "clearly exists in some mode, since it is an object of God's knowledge. It is 'found' with God."31

See also:

How God Brought The Cosmos Into Existence Disclosing Himself


6. The Relationship Btw The Many And The One

This is about the various relationships in wujūd, most importantly the relationship btw the many entities and the One, btw the existent things and Being, btw the possible existents and the Necessary Being.

Q: And we ask: what is the wujūd of the things - including ourselves? What is our existence/ life?

A: "The creatures dwell in an ambiguous middle ground or barzakh whose actual situation is exceedingly difficult to express in words." SPK81

Q: “If God is ’wujūd ’ are the things also ’wujūd ’?”

A: “Yes/ No; they are ’He/ not He’”

Further we know that every thing is alive to a degree - that is alive through Allah, there are no dead, or inert things. 32 “There is nothing in the universe which is not alive, although in some cases life may be hidden, in other cases manifest.” ES102


7. On The Unity of Manyness

"Wujūd is ONE entity. In itself it is infinite, and its self-disclosures are never-ending."

"However, everything 'in' wujūd is finite 33, because each is limited and bound by specific modalities34 of self-disclosure.

Q: How do the many arise from the one God?

NB: There is the unity of the One (ahad ) (Non-dual) and the unity of the many (Wāhid ), i.e. Him bringing out every engendered oneness (thing) into existence in respect of His name Wāhid.

"God alone has true wujūd, while the immutable entities acquire wujūd from God.35


8. The One Entity And The Immutable Entities

What are the (fixed or) immutable entities?

Contrasted with wujūd are the nonexistent, immutable entities. "God alone has true wujūd, while the immutable entities acquire wujūd from God and can then be called 'existent entities.'"

This is why the domain of existent things "is ambiguous by nature. Only Being - the Necessary Being - is absolutely unquestionable and unambiguous. - We can only know It by negating from It all the ambiguities of 'that which is other than Being.'" ...They are 'Not He'. SDG12ro

So the immutable entities, ʿayān thābita, are the nonexistent objects of God's knowledge, - the 'nonexistent things' are objects of knowledge. They are "immutable because they never change, just as God's knowledge never changes. He knows them from all eternity." An 'immutable entity' is a nonexistent possible thing. (Then comes tarjīh)


9. Prayers

The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.


10. List Of Terms ’wujūd’ and ’mawjūd’

wujūd : Being, existence, and finding36
-- Being: wujūd - God's own Reality and Essence37
-- existence: wujūd - things are found in the cosmos38

al-'adam al-iDāfī : relative non-existence al- ‘adam al-mutlaq : absolute non-existence

ahadiyyat al-ahad : Unity of the One, -: (tanzīh )39
ahadiyyat al-kathra : Unity of Manyness -: (tashbīh )40

adāb : courtesy (in respect to Allah) athār : effect or property Hukm of Allah's names āyāt : the signs of God41
ʿayn thābita : immutable entity

barzakh : middle ground, a state btw 2 other states, neither - nor -

hayra : bewilderment māhiyya : (entity, reality of sth.)

mā hiyya ? = what is it?42
mawjūd : existent or existent thing43
mawjūdāt : existents, which is the reality of the created things,
ma'dūm : nonexistent: a thing known by God, x in created world44
ma'dūmāt : nonexistents

mumkināt: possible things45
imkān : possibility

ma'lūmāat :, objects of God's knowledge46

nūr, Zulma : light and darkness

shay' : thing, entitiy, anything existent or non~.

tanzīh : incomparability tashbīh : similarity tafāDul : the ranking in degrees.
tarjīh : preponderance of God - Allah to… 47


11. Literature

SPK: The Sufi Path Of Knowledge; Ibn al-ʿArabi's Metaphysics of Imagination; Willian C. Chittick, NY 1989

SDG: The Self-Disclosure of God: Principles of Ibn al-ʿArabi's Cosmology; Willian C. Chittick, NY 1998

ES: Emir Abd el-Kader; écrits spirituels; pres. & trad. par Michel Chodkiewicz, Paris 1982

TD: Tadhkirat, La profession de foi d'Ibn ʿArabi, Roger Deladriere, Thèse 1975

UW: Urwolke & Welt; Ibn ʿArabī; Alma Giese

other links:

Ontology: (non-islamic): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology

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2021-03-29 vs.4.3; from 2015-06-04
[livingislam][Main New Texts ][Ibn ʿArabi - Texts Overview] [Understanding God] [Metaphysics]


  1. Quotes mostly from ‘The Sufi Path Of Knowledge; Ibn al-ʿArabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination’; Willian C. Chittick, and also from SDG, ES, UW and TD. See Literature.

  2. “All human beings must seek answer to this question, and they should do this in their best interest, having answered it they must then set out to verify the truth of their answer by finding God (sv: finna Gud) in fact, not in theory.”

  3. Always keeping in mind, that we cannot know how He is in His essence.

  4. Not if God ‘exists’, the word is ambiguous.

    To ex-ist (exist) has the etymological connotation of something ”coming out, standing forth, being produced, turned into,” which in this context is absurd. That’s why we say according to the Islamic tradition that God is, but not that God exists, because God does not emerge from something which He was not before, or that He becomes visible after being invisible.
    Etymology: Origin and meaning of existence

  5. TD-163/4, Famous saying, sometimes attributed to Imam Ali but no isnad. Reported by Imam Abdul Qahir al-Baghdady.
    Based on the following verse: { Laysa Kamaithlihi shay'}, and the hadith:
    كان الله ولم يكن شىء غيره
    "Allah was and there is nothing except for Him""
    "Kana Allah wa lam yakun shay'un ghayruh."

  6. The concept of wujūd is one of the richest and most complicated central concepts in the teachings of Ibn ‘Arabi. But not to forget that “Being is in no way isolated from conciousness, from a fully concious Finding, Perception and Knowledge of the ontological situation”.

  7. {signs that make things manifest}, meaning: illuminating revelations, and expounding the truth. (Daryabadi) See also another verse mentioned here: In The Horizons & Within Themselves - Within Their Souls [back to text]

  8. Concerning knowledge of Allah, a quote to suggest the direction: “You are, oh slave (i.e. oh man), ignorant of yourself and your origin. How can you ask for the knowledge of God? You must ask for knowledge of yourself and realise what is your origin.” Shaykh al-‘Alawi KO29

  9. Seek Knowledge as far as China. or Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim; article by Sh. G. F. Haddad

  10. Copula: a word used to link subject and predicate. (Wikipedia Dict.)

  11. See: Being in Islamic philosophy: So eventually ”existence or Being was called وجود wujūd (compare with Swedish finns [found]> there exist; also the Medieval Latin coinage of exsistere ‘standing out (there in the world)’ > appear> exist).”

  12. Urwolke & Welt; Ibn ‘Arabi; Alma Giese; p. 38

  13. Originally even classical latin had for ‘exsistere/existere’ the meaning of coming out of, appearing, not just ‘esse’, i.e. being. In any case ‘exist’ (from existere) must rigorously only be applied to what is ‘other than God.’ Later Arab philosophers (since Fārābī ~ 950) have translated those terms with wujūd and mawjūd meaning ‘finding,’ ‘knowing,’ corresponding well with Sh. Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi’s terminology. ES189ff fn 55

  14. p.79L

  15. SPK11ro

  16. i.e. he has no way to arrange this for h-s.

  17. Even when some of the possible things have been given existence, “their status is still that they are possible things, they include ‘every-thing other than God’ at all times, not just at the present moment.” SPK82ff

  18. however, more names can be derived - in more or less explicit form.

  19. Urwolke & Welt; Ibn ‘Arabi; Alma Giese; p. 39

  20. So non-existence (everything other than God) has no relationship to Him, bec. “inasmuch as God is al-ahad, all multiplicity is negated from Him and no positive quality is affirmed.” “However, inasmuch as He is al-wāhid, others can be envisaged in relation to Him.” SDG168

  21. an expression frequently used by Ibn ‘Arabi.

  22. depending on the perspective

  23. as W. Chittick puts it. Comp. w. “58”

  24. Urwolke & Welt; Ibn ‘Arabi; Alma Giese; p. 38

  25. Coming into existence as a thing in the world.

  26. The relationship Being and existence can - in a slightly different way - be described as a hierarchical order of existence. So Avicenna called Existence مکن الوجود mumkin-al-wujūd (contingent being) and Being واجب الوجود wājib-al-wujūd (necessary being).

  27. Theophany: a manifestation of God to the world (universes) in different ways. See also: The Self-Disclosure of God, Ibn ʿArabi, and [Shaykh Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi,

  28. The universe is nothing but His Theophany (conditioned) by the forms of a'yān thābita. (L'univers est rien d'autre que Sa théophanie (conditionnée) par les formes des a'yān thābita.) ES210 fn135 from Sh. Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, Fusūs Al-Hikām, I, p. 81

  29. “Whether as objects of God’s knowledge ’before’ they are found in the cosmos or as existent entities within the cosmos [See also: On The Self-Disclosure Of God - Allah] itself.”

  30. That is, existence through the Other, who is God, the Necessary Being.

  31. This means: “He knows that He will bring it into the cosmos at a certain time and place, so it exists with Him, but is nonexistent in the cosmos.” SPK11

  32. Everything between the 7 heavens and the earth and what is in it praise and glorify God, even if we do not understand their glorification, so everything is alive. From a special water everything alive is created - Quran 21-30

  33. That is, everything found in the spiritual, imaginal, and corporal worlds. SDG167

  34. “These modalities are determined by the immutable entities, which designate wujūd’s  infinite possibilities of manifestation.”

  35. Also here: SDG72L the one & the many

  36. From وجد wajada (to find), since whatever is existent, is to be “found” in the world.

  37. wujūd in as much as it designates God’s own Reality and Essence: The term ’Being’ refers stictly to God Himself. We can distinguish between a thing and its existence (for example dragons can be discussed, but have no existence/being ’quiddity’, the māhiyya ); but we cannot distinguish btw God and His being, since He is Being as such.

  38. wujūd in as much as it designates the fact that certain things are found in the cosmos

  39. ahadiyyat al-ahad : Unity of the One, God’s unity in respect of incomparability (tanzīh )

  40. i.e. his unity in respect of similarity. So: Unity of the One and Unity of Manyness: “Thus faith accepts both kinds of unity, but rational consideration can only grasp the first kind [His Unity].”

  41. āyāt, the signs of God: not the least the natural phenomena, and including man.

  42. what is it? A: For example ‘a dragon’, whether it exists or not. [more…]

  43. An existent thing is “an entity which exists on any level or in any world which is envisaged.”

  44. ma'dūm : nonexistent: a thing known by God but not found in the created world: So it is nonexistent, but “not in an absolute sense, since it possess a certain mode of existence within God’s knowledge.”

  45. SPK12Lc

  46. objects of God’s knowledge: synonym with ‘nonexistent things’. (however nothing ‘leaves’ God’s knowledge after coming into existence, …) SDG11ru

  47. preponderance in its general def.: prevalence, advantage, upper hand; here: preponderance of God - Allah to bring a nonexistent entity into existence.