Sunday, 18 May 2014

Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) & the Ash’ari Position on Some Divine Attributes

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The following is Dr. Alan Godlas’ short response to a question concerning Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) and the Ash’ari theological position concerning the apparent physicality of some Divine Attributes.

He said that the general Ash’ari position was that God has the Attributes noted in the Qur’an and that these Attributes should be accepted without further discussion of whether they are physical or not.  Namely, such Attributes should be understood without further clarification, bila kayfa.  In other words, attempting to state that “Yes, they are physical,” or “No, they are not physical,” for Ash'aris, in general, is an untenable move.

What is of interest to me in this issue is that from a Swuf psychological perspective, the ego, nafs al-ammarah, wants to avoid the uncomfortable ambiguity that many people experience when, on the one hand, they hear descriptions of God, as well as the Hereafter, using what is commonly perceived as being physical imagery; while, on the other hand, God is believed to Transcend the material world, just as the Hereafter does.

The Ash’ari position makes it difficult for the ego to flee from the discomfort in the conundrum, fleeing by grasping at a solution, “Yes, the Attributes are physical,” or “No the Attributes are not physical.”  When combined with the Sufi ‘greater jihad’ perspective of embracing the discomfort, at not having a resolution, with unconditional gratitude to God, the Ash’ari position comes across as something similar to one aspect of Zen koan training, in which the meditator on a koan resists the temptation to escape from the conundrum of the koan into a rationalistic solution to a problem that has no rational answer.

Furthermore, the Ash’ari ‘non-solution’ to the question of the physicality or non-physicality of Divine Attributes is antithetical to a frequent response of many religious or spiritual people, when they find themselves faced with real life situations at a particular point in their life in which they do not know what to do.  Many such religious or spiritual people seem to try to opt out of the discomfort of not knowing what to do by their using avoidance mechanisms such as imagining that through their Scripture such as the Qur'an, Bible, I Ching, Tarot, and so forth, God is Telling them to do one thing or another; or that God Directly is giving them insight and hence what they are choosing is what God Wants them to do; or avoiding the conundrum by going to some religious figure whom they trust to know God’s Will so that such a person can tell them what to do.  Concluding that something is what God Wants one to do, in other words, often involves a kind of escape similar to the escape involved when, unlike the Ash’aris and Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.), people attempt to escape from the discomfort of the conundrum of believing in a Transcendent God while also believing that God has Attributes that are normally associated with physicality.


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