Thursday, 20 August 2015
The Sharing Group Discussion on Emanationism
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
Brother Colin Turner posted this on The Sharing Group, on the 07th August, 2015: “Very roughly, emanationism, which is a staple of mainstream Muslim philosophy, is a doctrine which holds that since only one thing can emanate or flow forth from the One, the phenomenal world is the result not of ex nihilo or Creation from nothing but of a series of emanations. The idea is found first with Plotinus, father of Neoplatonism, but was taken up early on by the Muslim philosophers. Imam al-Farabi (r.a.) is arguably the first Muslim philosopher of note to write within an emanationist framework, but Imam ibn Sina’s (r.a.) reworking of the notion is possibly the best known iteration of emanationism in the Muslim philosophical realm.
Basically, emanationism is one way of explaining, or explaining away, the conceptual difficulties involved in the notion of the One Creating the many. In short, it attempts to explain how God, Who is Utterly Transcendent, Immaterial, timeless and placeless, can Create things which are immanent, corporeal and time-bound. The emanationist maxim, ‘From the One, only one can proceed’ is key. This maxim forms the basis for the philosophical principle known as the Law of Singularity, qa’idah al-wahid, which states that it is impossible for more than one effect to issue from any single given cause. The Law of Singularity posed problems for Muslim thinkers because it made it very difficult to explain how a multiplicity of effects, the world of Created beings, could issue forth from a single Source – God – Whose Absolute simplicity is taken as given. In an attempt to solve this problem, Greek thought posited quasi-divine intermediaries between God and Creation, and the notion that God creates in this manner also percolated through to Muslim scholars.
While theologians reject the notion of intermediaries, prominent Muslim philosophers defended it. For the classical Greek philosophers, the point of intermediaries was to separate God from the material world, which was seen as a degenerate level of existence and not something to which the Creator should be connected directly. The insistence on the Exalted Nature of the Creator was informed by a belief in intermediaries. Among these intermediary beings, the most important was the intellect, logos or nous. For the Jewish philosopher Philo, the intellect was the first Creation of God. In the works of Plotinus, for example, these intermediaries are identified as ‘intellect’ and ‘soul’, while Muslim philosophers posited the existence of various other immaterial entities, such as the ten intellects of Imam al-Farabi (r.a.). Does this sound a fair definition of emanationism, and one we can work with?”
Brother Colin Turner: Once we are agreed on the workability of the rather long-winded definition, we can begin to discuss the merits and demerits of emanationist discourse.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Brother Colin, can you summarise how the philosophical idea of emanationism compares and contrasts with Shaykh ibn al-Arabi’s (q.s.) and Mulla Swadra’s (r.a.) theosophical philosophy on the subject of faydh. Mulla Swadra (r.a.) was quite irritated with Imam ibn Sina (r.a.) by the way, because he felt he had diverted his immense intelligence away from the highest calling of philosophy to chase the dunya with medicine and his connections to the power nexus.
Brother David W Roesler: My own interpretation or explanation for Creation comes from Jewish mysticism. The concept is that God Created the universe from a part of itself. The shattering of the vessels is a metaphor for the multitude of lights that escaped and will one day return to God.
Another interpretation of this same concept is the secondary Creation where the universe is the product of the fall of Adam (a.s.) or what is interpreted as the cosmic Adam, Adam Kadmon. He can also be called Metatron the Angel of the presence or even Lucifer. The idea being that a divine being fell from grace and that his essence became all Creation. Something like the Scandinavian concept of an ancient giant whose corpse constituted the earth sea and sky?
In the case of Adam Kadmon, the Metatron, his connection to the Godhead was intimate. He was referred to as the lesser presence while God was the greater presence. In other words, they were connected, a part of each other. The idea being God Created the Metatron from Its Own Essence. This idea also applies to the figure of the Jewish divine feminine figure the Shekhina. She is also said to be a product of the Divine Essence that left but will one day be reunited with God.
The idea of the fall is interpreted by mystical theologians as a way to fix the flaws in the fallen one by having its being solute into mankind so it can experience life and learn from it. The metaphor of the infinite broken mirror being the Metatron’s essence and each human being a separate shard of the broken vessel that he was. In the fullness of time, the mirror will be mended and all of humanity and Creation become a part of the reborn perfected being who than can be a suitable companion or mate for God or a lesser female being such as Lilith or the Shekhina, Lilith by another name.
Brother Trevor Skinner: I do not really have much time to dabble in this sort of stuff these days, but I do find it interesting. Here is Prof Saeed Ahmad Shaikh’s take on emanationism: “The principle that from one only one can follow breaks down at the very outset. The first intelligence which emanates from God, according to this theory, is not pure unity; this intelligence knows itself and knows God at the same time. From this double knowledge arises a duality. This duality changes into triplicity and so on and so forth. Still, the Muslim Peripatetic philosophers and the Neoplatonists both do readily grant that the first intelligence which is the first emanation from God is not God Himself; its being is different from the being of God. One may argue that if after all it has to be different from God, then the principle - from one only one can follow - becomes nonsensical. If, from one can follow another one which is different from its author, the emanationistic principle that only one follows from one, so glibly repeated, cannot be logically different from the principle of Creation. One wishes that such a critical view of the theory could have been taken by the Muslim philosophers’ right from the outset. In that case the very grounds for importation of the Neoplatonic series of emanation and the intelligences of the heavenly spheres would have ceased to exist. Unfortunately, we find the tedious repetition of the theory in the philosophical systems of almost all the Muslim philosophers. al-Ghazali and ibn Khaldun are the notable exceptions.”
Brother Colin Turner: Brother David, these cosmological constructs are merely examples of Divine Condescension – God’s Way of making the truths known through allegory, parable, analogy and so on. These constructs all have their merits and demerits - some being clearly more meritorious than others. Personally, I find the notion of the universe being created from a piece of itself to be illogical in the extreme.
Brother Trevor, I am not sure whether the fact that the first intelligence knows itself and God actually constitutes a duality; it is still a single cause, held capable of producing only a single effect. I have problems with emanationism for a number of different reasons, one being this: at what point does this stream of discrete ‘intelligences’ become multiplicity? Furthermore, emanationism posits God as being simply a cause among other causes; His only difference being that He was First. But Primacy appears to accord God no special privileges: He is still only a Cause, able to create one effect or cause only. That, for me, is hugely problematic. It is clear from God’s Primacy that He is not just a cause. He is clearly the uncaused cause, which means He is necessary and not contingent. Already, we see that God is different from the other causes on a number of counts. Surely an Uncaused, Necessary and thus Unlimited Being cannot be limited to the Creation of one effect only? In short, the premise - namely that God is a cause - must be wrong, surely?
Sister Mahshid Turner: God cannot have any partners in His Khaliqat, which means that everything that is Created is Created directly by Him only. However, although we can come to this conclusion by understanding that only the One Who is not temporal and spatial can be the Creator of contingent beings and, therefore, there can be only One Creator, we cannot prove this, due to our own limitation as Created beings living in the realm of multiplicity. This is why we have to conclude that God is Absolute through negation, as our very language is a limiting factor.
Brother David W Roesler: Brother Colin, God is not of the universe in the mystical Hebraic concept. It is neither bound by time or space, the same being applied to Adam Kadmon and the Shekhina. Time and space and the universe are created by the fall of Adam Kadmon. His essence takes upon it time and space and becomes material form. The Creation of Adam is still God’s Creation just translated from divine essence into mundane material matter.
Brother Trevor Skinner: Yes, Brother Colin, on the first point, I had the same thought as you on my initial reading. On reflection, I think Prof Shaikh has a point. If we say that only one can emanate from one, does it not imply that the ‘oneness’ of the emanated is of the same type or species as that from which it emanated? But this is not so: the First Intelligence is Aware of Its Own Essence and of the essence of the First Being. What is the locus of this Awareness? Surely only a self can be aware - there has to be an organ of awareness. So there is a double awareness and a triune nature - where is the Unity? Is it not just a play on words? If I say Brother Colin is one, it is true in one sense, but we know that ‘Colin’ is really a multitude.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: These are just my initial thoughts. When I have time, perhaps we can expound on them further. Emanationism as a doctrine is not universally accepted in Islam. Perhaps it is not fully understood, or perhaps it is because it contends with Creationism, the doctrine of ‘kun fa yakun’ that is Explicitly Mentioned in the Qur'an. Personally, I found it to be a rationalist limitation of God to their intellectual boundaries. As such, the majority of theologians have either rejected it, or found it problematic.
That being said, the key concepts of emanationism may be found in key concepts of Muslim theology. For example, the journey through the veils in the ahadits on the Mi’raj was used as an example of it, as is the concept of tazkiyyah an-nafs. So we can take some things from it, but the wholesale acceptance of it would be problematic.
Brother Colin Turner: Agreed, Brother Terence. It is impossible that a body of thought as expansive and derivative as emanationism should not contain aspects of truth and doctrines that are completely theologically sound. A corollary of the emanationist understanding of the ‘howness’ of God’s Creative Act is the notion that His Creativity is Eternal, and thus that the Created realm has always existed. Of course, we would have to unpack the notion very carefully in order to obviate accusations of associationism, pantheism and the like, but in essence, on the eternality of the cosmos, they were right.
Brother Trevor Skinner: This is taken from Mawlana Jalal ad-Din ar-Rumi’s (q.s.) Fihi ma Fihi, Signs of the Unseen, as translated by Dr. Wheeler M. Thackston, Jr. The excerpt goes, “How can you listen to people who say that the world is uncreated? The saints and prophets, who are more ancient than the world, say that it is temporally created. God Placed a desire for the Creation of the world into their spirits, and only then did it appear. They, therefore, actually know that it is temporally created; they report from their own vantage point.
For example, we are sitting in this house, and we are sixty or seventy years old. Since this house was built only several years ago, we have seen that there was a time when it did not exist. Animals such as scorpions, mice, snakes, and other vermin that were born and have lived their whole lives within the walls of this house saw it already built when they were born. If they say that this house has existed from eternity, that is no proof for us, who ourselves have seen that this house came to be in time. Exactly like the animals that have sprung from the walls of this house, there are people who have sprung from the house called the world and who have no substance. From this place they arise and into this same place they sink. If they call the world eternal, it is no proof for the prophets and saints, who existed before the world for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. Why speak of years? Why speak of numbers? It is beyond reckoning, beyond all count. They saw the world come into temporal existence just as you saw the creation of this house in time.
After all that, the little philosopher asks the Sunni how he knows that the world was temporally created. You ask, ‘How do you know that the world has existed Eternally? After all, when you say that the world is eternal, what you mean is that it is not temporally created.’ This is a statement based on a negative. Statements based on affirmatives are easier to make than statements based on negatives. When you make a negative proof, it is like saying that So-and-So has not done something. It is difficult, however, to know any such thing. It necessitates having been with that person from the beginning of his life to the end, day and night, during his sleep and waking hours, in order to say that he has absolutely never done such a thing. And even that is not incontrovertible. The person bearing witness may have fallen asleep or the subject may have gone to the bathroom where it is not possible to accompany him. For this reason, testimony based on a negative statement is not admissible because it is not within the realm of possibility. On the other hand, testimony based on an affirmative is within the realm of possibility and quite simple. One need only say, ‘I was with him for a moment, and during that one moment he said thus and did thus and so.’ Such testimony is acceptable because it is within the realm of human capability.
Now, you dog, it is easier to give testimony for the temporal creation of the world than for the world’s having existed eternally because the gist of the latter is that it is not temporally created, which is a statement based on a negative. However, since neither has any proof, and you have not seen whether the world is temporally created or ever-existent, you say to someone, ‘How do you know it is temporally created?’
He rejoins, ‘You lout, how do you know it has always existed?’”
In the end it is your claim that is the more difficult to prove and the more logically absurd.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: This is how I understand it based on the Qur’an. Allah (s.w.t.) is al-Khaliq, the Creator. And since His Attributes are Co-Eternal with Him, then there must always have been some form of Creation for Him to have Created. However, that does not mean that Creation has always existed, only that some form of Creation has existed temporally, if only for a moment.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Trevor, I do not hold that the world is uncreated; my belief is that there has never been a time when there has been no Creation. As for eternality, nothing exists for more than an instance, let alone an eternity.
Brother Frederick Jacob Kohn: I am coming to this rather late, and only have time to skim the comments. I offer these observations: Einstein has noted that time and space are integrally related, you cannot have one without the other. So to speak of a time before the universe is incoherent, if we assume that time has the same characteristics pre-universe as post-universe. On the other hand, some have noted that it is also incoherent to say that God Created the universe before He Created time, because He would not have time to do it. I think the upshot of this is that time is a very confusing thing, and it is very possible that our notions of time is all wrong.
We need to carefully distinguish creation ex nihilo from creation from pre-existing material. Although a house may be 2 years old, the material from which it was made is not. The idea that time and space came into existence with the Fall is a fascinating one that solves a lot of problems. There are a lot of apparently trivial questions that such a view dismisses as irrelevant. One of my favourites is: did humans poop before the Fall? Either way you answer this runs into problems.
Brother Colin Turner: Well, the big problem with ex nihilo creation is that there is no such thing as nihil - at least not in the absolute sense. God does not make something out of nothing: the whole idea is completely irrational. But that does not mean that the cosmos has existed eternally; as we have already established; nothing - no thing - in creation endures more than a single instant. The accumulation of existents, however, is without beginning and end, even though each one of them has a phenomenal beginning.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Why would it be impossible for God to Create out of nothingness?
Brother Colin Turner: Since Existence is Absolute, there is no such thing as non-existence: ‘adam, by definition, is non-existent, and there is no ‘thingness’ in ‘nothing’ which could be turned into ‘something’. Ustadz Nursi (r.a.) equivocated on this, to be honest, although the different notions that one garners from reading his work could be down to nothing more than the evolution of his ideas. While he talks about creation from nothing in several places in the Risale-i Nur, in the later treatises he talks about ‘nothing’ as being figurative and apparent only. Thus the order ‘kun’ Brings beings into existence not from nothing, which is logically impossible, but from apparent non-existence, which is in fact the realm of imaginal beings, ‘alam al-mitsal, which in turn is part of God’s Knowledge. Ustadz Nursi (r.a.) likened the Creation of beings to making visible the words on a page that have been written in invisible ink. In short, nothing, no thing, can come from no-thing, while the imperative ‘kun’ merely brings beings from the invisible realm of malakut into the phenomenal realm of mulk. Wa Allahu ‘alam.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: That makes sense. Thank you.
Brother Colin Turner: Some days it makes eminent good sense; other days, I am not so sure! But if we did not vacillate between certainty and doubt from time to time, we would be perfect.
Brother David W Roesler: I will not dispute something from nothing but my conception is an altering of states from one to another. God Exists outside our time and space predating the Big Bang. What if what we know as our matter and our essence existed previously in the space God Exists in and was just translated into our space?
Brother Colin Turner: But God does not exist ‘in a space’, Brother David: He Transcends time and space, as you have already pointed out.
Brother David W Roesler: Yes but whatever transcendental state God Exists in, He may not be there alone and may have translated whatever existed there with Him into our realm of time and space.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother David, the notion that God may be either alone or have someone with Him is meaningless in the Islamic paradigm. God is above states or places.
Brother David W Roesler: So you do not believe in a Heaven?
Brother Colin Turner: I believe in Heaven. Why?
Brother Mingda Sun: That is because the highest levels of Paradise involve people being with God, no?
Brother Colin Turner: ‘With’ is figurative, clearly. One can be ‘with’ God, conceptually, without being ‘with’ Him physically. Indeed, to be ‘with’ God physically does not accord with His Oneness.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: The ‘arifin claim that there is the state of non-existence, ‘adam, from which existence springs forth via ‘kun fa yakun’. Reason cannot explain this; it is a realm of consciousness beyond reason. They claim it is a mystery or secret, sir, and illusion, wahm, is the veil overpowering all men. However, the one who is chosen withdraws from illusion by secrets, asrar, and becomes spirit without a body, and thus sees the Lord by inner sight, baswa’ir. And they say, “So cling to the original void and be as if you were not, oh annihilated one. Then you will see the reality of existence by a secret.”
Brother Colin Turner: The ‘arifin need to take on board the illogicality of positing the extraction of being from non-being, as well as the fact that there is no such thing as ‘adam in Creation: where is this ‘adam and what does it look like? They claim it is a mystery in the same way that those who are unable to explain the Trinity claim that it is a mystery. Whether it is an ‘arif talking about the ‘original void’ or a quantum physicist pontificating about everything suddenly coming from nothing, the fact remains that such a notion is not even non-rational; it is totally irrational. Now, non-rational we can deal with, but irrational, well, not even God can deal with the irrational.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Another thing briefly, and that is reason relies on language, and according to the ‘arifin, language only can take one so far. Then, both it and reason must be abandoned through the act of egoic dissolution, fana’. The return after annihilation requires a great deal of effort, termed ‘bala’’, trial, in order to stabilize the new knowledge which then in a chosen few can become ongoing, baqa’.
That is a materialist view, Brother Colin, as is physics. The need to prove everything logically is anathema to the ‘arifin. They do not discount this tool as a beginning, but to understand beyond logic, one must abandon the mind, which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do. Most of us are not up to it. There is a distinction between theology, philosophy and ‘irfan. I believe the greatest mind to bridge the three was Mulla Swadra ash-Shirazi (r.a.). I mentioned to you that I was awaiting that work by Rahman. I doubt the quality of his investigations, but perhaps I will be able to note them.
Brother David W Roesler: If you believe in Heaven, Brother Colin, what is your interpretation of the term? Mine is a union with the Godhead, a return from whence we came, becoming a kind of cell in an infinite union of similar beings united in the Embrace of God.
Brother Colin Turner: No, I am not materialist at all, dear Brother Hajj Ahmad. The realm of malakut is not a material realm, which means it is non-rational. But it is not irrational. Human reason is limited, and is unable to deal with the non-rational. However, reason is such that it can make the non-rational at least reasonable - which is how immaterial issues such as angels, spirit beings and such are accepted by ‘aql as reasonable, if not rational. We need to understand the difference between rational, non-rational and irrational. The irrational – for example, a square that is also a circle - is Proscribed by Divine Hikmah. It is the same for non-existence. I am sure we've had this discussion before somewhere? As for proving everything logically, well, yes, of course that is materialism. But that is not what I am saying.
Brother David, whatever my understanding of Heaven is does not really have any relevance to the issue of God’s non-corporeality and non-locatablity.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Agreed. And we probably have discussed before, but who cares? My understanding is the malakut is a realm of energetic forms that govern the mulk. They are very much material but not of the same material as the physical realm. The void is something else entirely. It is thingless, formless, nothingness that represents a barzakh between the Absolute and the creational realm in all its different levels.
Brother David W Roesler: So Heaven does not contain God or have access to God?
Brother Colin Turner: Malakut is indeed a mixture of the material and the immaterial, mujarrad. But there is no locus for a ‘void’ in Muslim theology. I know the ‘arifin who talk of this, but unless they are positing an ‘apparent’ void, they are wrong. There can be no actual, concrete nothingness, unless it is conceptually so only.
Nothing ‘contains’ God, Brother David. How could it? How could finite Creation encompass the One Who Encompasses all beings?
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Of course they cannot be concrete nothingness. That is an oxymoron. Brother Colin, let me ask you a question: Can you not conceive in your mind nothingness without language?
Brother David W Roesler: So what is the correlation between God and Heaven?
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Heaven is an emanation of Oneness. There is no separation between God and heaven nor between God and anything else.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Hajj Ahmad, ‘concrete nothingness’ - precisely. Nothingness has no physical, spatial locus - how could it have? Now we are just throwing out atomistic statements without discussing them!
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Exactly. How about my question? Can you conceive of nothingness without using language?
Brother Colin Turner: Nothingness is inconceivable. That is your answer. It cannot exist because it is nothing.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: You are still using words. I can conceive of nothingness that is pre-mentation and pre-lingual. I am sure you can too, but you are so dependent on language that perhaps you have never tried?
Brother Colin Turner: I am not sure why you are trying to belabour this point about a ‘mystery’ claimed by the ‘arifin which has no locus in Qur’anic cosmology or in kalam. If you are talking about a conceptual ‘nothingness’, then perhaps one can conceive of some nebulous, void-like state. But it cannot be nothing. Whatever exists is the reflection of God’s Names, and there are no Divine Names which connote void or nothingness. The original point of this was connected to the issue of Creation, and the fact that ex nihilo creation is a meaningless concept. The void of the ‘arifin is another issue. I do not pretend to understand it, but I know what is rational, non-rational and irrational.
Brother David, whatever the correlation between God and Heaven may be, God is still not encompassable by His Creation.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: ‘Irfan is not kalam, first of all. It jettisons language in the higher states of consciousness. And as far as Quranic cosmology is concerned, Qul Huwa Allahu Ahad has been used to establish Pre-Creational Beingness. There are other Qur’anic indicators as well.
Brother Colin Turner: ‘Pre-Creational Beingness’ is fine; I have no issue with that. In fact, that is my whole point. We have a pre-phenomenal being, which is ‘translated’ from apparent nothingness into phenomenality or materiality through the process of ‘kun’. But ‘Pre-Creational Beingness’ is not a void; far from it.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Fine. If you wish to stick with the rational, I have no problem with that. But when we enter into the realm of ontology, there is most definitely the concept of the void, and reason can only take us so far.
Brother Colin Turner: I am not talking about the rational, Brother Hajj Ahmad. I am talking about the non-rational. As for the void, well if that is your belief, I can do nothing about it. To me, and certainly to Ustadz Nursi (r.a.), who talked only in terms of apparent nothingness, the void is meaningless.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: To you and Ustadz Nursi (r.a.) fine. Not to me and Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Habib (q.s.) of Meknes and all of ancestors in the line of the Shadziliyyah. Here is a quote that illustrates the difference between reason and gnosis. It is the story of the meeting of Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) and Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.) and is taken from ‘Sufis of Andalusia’ translated from Ruh al-Quds by Dr. Ralph W. J. Austin: “I spent the day in Cordoba at the house of Abu al-Walid ibn Rushd. He had expressed a desire to meet me in person, since he had heard of certain revelations I had received while in retreat and had shown considerable astonishment concerning them. In consequence, my father, who was one of his closest friends, took me with him on the pretext of business, in order to give ibn Rushd the opportunity of making my acquaintance.
I was, at the time, a beardless youth. As I entered the house, the philosopher rose to greet me with all the signs of friendliness and affection, and embraced me. Then he said to me ‘Yes’, and showed pleasure on seeing that I had understood him.
I, on the other hand, being aware of the motive for his pleasure, replied ‘No’.
Upon this, ibn Rushd drew back from me, his colour changed and he seemed to doubt what he had thought of me. He then put to me the following question, ‘What solution have you found as a result of mystical illumination and Divine Inspiration? Does it coincide with what is arrived at by speculative thought?’
I replied, ‘Yes and no. Between the yea and the nay, the spirits take their flight beyond matter, and the necks detach themselves from their bodies.’
At this, ibn Rushd became pale, and I saw him tremble as he muttered the formula, ‘There is no power save from God’. This was because he understood my allusion...
After that, he sought from my father to meet me in order to present what he himself had understood: he wanted to know if it conformed with or was different from what I had. He was one of the great masters of reflection and rational consideration. He thanked God that in his own time, he had seen someone who had entered into the retreat ignorant and had come out like this - without study, discussion, investigation or reading.”
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Hajj Ahmad, I am not going to get into a battle of ‘my shaykh versus your shaykh’. I mentioned Ustadz Nursi (r.a.) only because he is my sole point of reference these days; I was not invoking the argument from authority and I am sorry if it appeared that way. I think we are probably talking at cross purposes; in the end it is about language and perception and preconception, and not being in the same room aggravates those.
Brother Stephen Roche: Forgive me if I am mistaken but does not Plato define all of this with his theory of unknowable universals and knowable particulars?
Brother David W Roesler: Controlling one’s self is the biggest hurdle to initiates of mystical faith. I have been remiss numerous times so I cannot judge others failings. I would, however, recommend those on this thread who may feel they have gotten too contentious in their defense of dogma too apologise to whomever they may have offended. We all succumb to our animal natures at times but by recognising the fact we can make amends and set things right.
Sister Shereen Mohd Idris: Dear Dr. Colin, putting aside the grades of rationality, at some point of time, particularly, if you would be discussing emanation, or according to Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) school of thought - manifestations, you may have to consider the points that were made by Brother Hajj Ahmad. The school of Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) talks quite a bit too about nothingness, ‘adam.
I recall, it was Dr. Reynold A Nicholson who spoke about the Principle Thought, as a possibility of an immutable entity that can manifest into being. Even though it is ‘adam, nothingness, void, and who knows whether it is conceptional or concrete - nothing is impossible, as in if we were to say that anything is impossible, that would be limiting God; it still must be within the Necessary Being, just like a thought is in our head. I believe that is why Brother Hajj Ahmad asked that question. It contains all possibilities, all immutable entities as potentialities.
Here is allusion to nothingness in the Qur’an:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Has there not been over man a long period of Time, when he was nothing - (not even) mentioned? ― (Surah al-Insan:1)
When we try to trace back the origin of the states, down to quantum physics, we would only go so far as energy, which borders on spirit, there is a chance that it can go further into nothingness without that spirit. Where nothingness might be more accurately known as ‘adam and better translated as non-existence refers to a holding place of pre-creation beingness or non-existent possibilities of immutable entities that have nonexistence as their form, state. So Creation is definitely not ex-nihilo - because we are from Allah (s.w.t.) and to Him we return. Is it possible to create more than one at a time? Can we reconcile the Big Bang theory with manifestations? Is there a reason why you are formulating a definition of emanationism without taking into consideration such other later works: Neoplatonism in Islamic philosophy?
And here is an article regarding Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi’s (q.s.) perspective - though if you are not familiar with its thoughts, it may be difficult to discuss: Theophanies & Lights in the Thought of Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi, by Dr. Osman Yahya.
On a separate issue that Brother David brought up, you mentioned that Creation cannot encompass Divinity. But again, with the concept of wahdat al-wujud, God is encompassable by the total sum of His Creation - at least His Manifest Attributes. And if Creation does contain non-manifest elements such as such consciousness, or black holes, for instance, then perhaps, it may be argued that the total sum of Creation can encompass God since, in totality it was Created for Him to Know Himself. Just thoughts. Not to mention the hadits that states that the heart of a believer encompasses God.
Finally, on heaven and being with God, whether we will someday or right at this moment be ‘with’ God figuratively or literally, is also debatable. There is nothing other than God, anyways. Although there also is maa siwa Allah, ‘other than God.’ These things are nuanced, so a blanket can or cannot does not do justice, I feel.
The definition of Heaven and Hell, according to some scholars, if the term ‘‘arifin’, in your dictionary or worldview, seems to be excluded from the scholarly realms, is the spectrum of our proximity from Allah (s.w.t.); Heaven being a complete union and Hell being the furthest distance. You can then imagine all the other shades in between. And it is not just understood as something that we attain in some future or afterlife, but that we in every instant are in our own Heaven and Hell. Thus, the argument about whether ‘with’ is figurative or literal becomes redundant, I feel, no? It is probably both.
There is a whole passage in the Futuhat of Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) that describes the day when the believers will figuratively or literally be all eyes - every single cell in their being would be visionary - and Allah (s.w.t.) would remove all the veils - and they would finally ‘see’ Him. It is a very sublime scene. How do you take into consideration such ideas? How do you understand the Qur’anic passage that describes how fire had cooling properties when Ibrahim (a.s.) was in it? Is that non-rational or irrational? Or people walking on water or Khidhr’s (a.s.) presence throughout time or ghayb in general? How does the irrational figure out in Islamic cosmology? Is nothing not impossible?
Brother Colin Turner: Sister Shereen Mohd Idris, I am not sure whether you have understood correctly the differences between rationality, non-rationality and irrationality. It is quite possible that I have not articulated the difference between these three states properly. If you wish, I can go through your posts here and respond accordingly.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Actually, having had the opportunity to read both positions, I believe they are essentially the same, two opposite sides of the same coin. To paraphrase Brother Colin Turner, using a Venn diagram, the analogy of a circle representing God, everything within that circle is God, there is nothing outside it. As such, since God is Absolute, nothing exists beyond Him. In the same vein, since God Exists, everything inside that circle ‘exists’. In that way, nothing is Created from ‘nothing’, since ‘nothing’ does not actually exist. God does not take from beyond that circle, since there is nothing beyond that circle. And that also, explains the condition of wahdat al-wujud that Sister Shereen Mohd Idris raised.
Brother Colin Turner: I think you have hit a nail on the head, Brother Terence, and said with eloquence what I was trying inarticulately to say to Brother Hajj Ahmad: even if the notion of creation from nothing had been rational, there is nothing outside of that circle from which anything could be created. Thank you, Brother Terence, for expressing this succinctly and insightfully.
Sister Shereen Mohd Idris: Yes that is great. It is true, while all is Allah (s.w.t.), within that Venn diagram, as the necessary being, there are some nuances within - between pre-creational beings and pre-creational beings. That is the distinction that Shaykh ibn ‘Arabi (q.s.) refers to. So, we can still talk about ‘adam and wujud. Perhaps we are saying the saying thing, but Dr. Colin seemed to beg to differ. In any case, all is good.
Brother Colin Turner: ‘Adam is relative, Sister Shereen. It is the same as darkness, which has an external reality, haqiqat al-khariji, but no external reality, wujud al-khariji. Light is foundational; darkness is relative; existence and non-existence are the same. Just as there is only light and no darkness, there is only existence and no non-existence. Non-existence or nothingness has no substantial modality which could be said to ‘exist’ in order that it be used as the substrate for creation. Brother Terence’s post is a very good encapsulation of the whole debate.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: As I mentioned to Brother Colin, Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) through Dr. Chittick’s work uses the term ‘‘adam al-muthlaq’ meaning ‘absolute nothingness’. There is no further explanation unfortunately. The Sufis also use this term. Shaykh Habib uses it connected to personal fana’, not as a universal construct though the micro is a direct reflection of the macro in Sufi cosmology. Brother Colin’s post directly above does much to change my mind. From a logical point view, and without recourse to communication with a great ‘arif who could shed light on this from the ‘irfani point of view, I would have to now agree with Brother Colin's assertion. I will attempt to contact Dr. Chittick who has kindly responded to questions before for his opinion based on Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi’s (q.s.) thoughts. If there is a response I will let you all know.
Brother Stephen Roche: Augustine’s definition of evil is worth considering here, although I am informed that much of it is based on the work of Plotinus.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: But Augustinian theodicy is inadequate. His problem of evil actually supposes evil to have a distinct existence, which is contrary to what we have here.
Brother Stephen Roche: Not being entirely sure of what exactly we have here, and aside from Augustine’s inadequacies, as I remember his definition of emanationism which forms the basis of his ‘problem of evil’ is worthwhile reading.
Sister Mahshid Turner: Brother Terence, I understood Augustinian theodicy differently. As evil not having a real existence, in the same way as darkness has a reality but not real existence as it is merely a lack of light.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I stand corrected, Sister Mahshid Turner, you are correct. What I meant to say was not that evil itself has a reality, but that Satan had a reality. I should have been more precise. I did consider the issue of the evil and its theological conundrum: A Muslim Convert Once More: The Problem of Evil in Judaism, Christianity & Islam and A Muslim Convert Once More: The Evolution of Satan in Judaism, Christianity & Islam.
Brother Mingda Sun: The problem with physics analogies is that everyone loves to use macro, apparent physics. The ‘real’ physics, to me, is quantum. Also, my gripe with the Venn diagram analogy is that the circle of Creation is ever expanding. Unless we accept pantheism, that we are all Gods, I see huge issues with the static, macrophysics models.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Brother Mingda Sun, since God is Absolute, that circle cannot be expanding or contracting.
Brother Stephen Roche, could you outline some of Plotinus' positions that influenced Augustine for our benefit, please? I would like to explore that aspect further.
Brother Stephen Roche: Ah, that is the thing you see, although I have studied both Plato and Augustine, a former colleague who is steeped in the works of Plotinus often spoke at great length about his influence on early Christian theological thought. Augustine’s theory of emanationism, as I remember it, is interesting because he basically reasons that since God Created the universe from ex nihilo instantly based on an ‘idea’, material reality is, not only necessarily dependent on Divine Immanence, but is also composed of a necessary combination of that which is Divine and that which is not. Where, we should aim to be closer rather than farther to the source of our reality. Bishop George Berkley’s theory of immaterialism is also of possible interest here.
Brother Colin Turner: The notion of an ever expanding circle of Creation is incorrect, I believe. The evidence for an expanding physical universe is being questioned these days, with many physicists now doubting the current ‘expansionist’ models. As for Creation as God’s Manifestation, there is neither addition nor subtraction, and any notion of expansion is in appearance only.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: According to ‘Ali (k.w.), God did not create from an idea: “He initiated Creation most initially and commenced it originally, without undergoing reflection, without making use of any experiment, without innovating any movement, and without experiencing any aspiration of mind.” This is from the first saying of Nahj al-Balaghah. He had no plan. We cannot, in any way, shape or form as human beings using reason and logic, fully understand the nature of the original Creation or its end, and the Qur’an does posit an end to this universe as I will demonstrate below.
As Brother Colin has said, logically there is no beginning and no end to emanation. As to this universe, there can be a beginning and an end according to the Qur’an. The Qur’an relates that the universe came forth from a dense ball, ratq:
Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of Creation), before We Clove them asunder? We Made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (Surah al-Anbiya’:30)
The Arabic word ‘ratq’ means an infused entity which contains everything in a small defined space. It also means darkness.
And then there is the ayat:
And We have Spread Out the (spacious) earth: how excellently We do Spread Out! (Surah adz-Dzariyat:48)
As to the finality of this universe, God Says:
The Day that We Roll Up the heavens like a scroll rolled up for books (completed) ― even as We Produced the first Creation, so shall We Produce a new one: a Promise We have Undertaken: truly shall We Fulfil it. (Surah al-Anbiya’:104)
And finally there is the concept of ajalan musamma’, an appointed time which means that this universe will be rolled up and returned to its origin in an appointed time that we have no knowledge of:
He Created the heavens and the earth in true (proportions): He Makes the night overlap the day, and the day overlap the night: He has Subjected the sun and the moon (to His Law), each one follows a course for a time Appointed… (Surah az-Zumar:5)
Qur’anically, this clearly indicates a beginning and an end to this universe, though certainly not to emanation nor the existence of other universes and countless things that we have no inkling of to even discuss. Allahu Akbar.
Brother Colin Turner: Wow, a lot to think about, Brother Hajj Ahmad. Skimming through – I will read it properly later - I see that you affirm a beginning to this particular universe. It is clear that all things have a beginning, as you say, but we cannot affirm this confidently with regard to God’s Acts of Creation. God has always been God, and since He has always been God, He has always Manifested His Names and Attributes. Since this is so, we can posit no beginning to His Divine Acts, although each Manifestation - each creation, each particle, each atom - has a definite beginning in this phenomenal realm.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Exactly, Brother Colin. That is the way I see it from your discussion of emanation and the Qur’anic ayat about the creation of this universe. By the way, here is an amazing link to Nahj al Balaghah with the Arabic as well: al-Islam: Tags for Nahj al-Balaghah.
Brother Colin, I just had this brief vision of a grand eternal emanation with no boundary within which are eternal emanations upon emanations begetting and collapsing both macro and micro universes with discernible form and the grand emanation never beginning and never ceasing. Perhaps it is time for a psychiatric evaluation.
Brother Mingda Sun: Allah (s.w.t.) is always Creating more and more. New galaxies are born every day. So the Creator is Absolute but Creation continues to explode into further reaches. Where nothing used to be, matter now occupies it. Since Allah (s.w.t.) does not put Himself into Creation, my suggestion is that He does continuously Create and recreates us from nothing rather than His Personal Essence. Besides God there is absolutely nothing else. That's how I think of it.
Brother Colin Turner: It appears that Allah (s.w.t.) is “Creating more and more”, but given that God is Absolute, and the cosmos reflects His Absoluteness but through limited mirrors, the “more and more” is an illusion. New galaxies are indeed born every day, but that shows merely that He “is always in (s.w.t.) new Splendour”, as the Qur’an affirms. There is no place in the cosmos that was previously without matter, but is now filled. As Brother Terence pointed out, God’s Absoluteness means that nothingness has no locus: it is an apparent nothingness only. And our philosophers and theologians have shown, creating from nothing is meaningless. The nothing is only apparently nothing. The whole idea of an expanding universe is not only metaphysically unsound, it is also physically problematic. If it is expanding, what is it expanding into? Furthermore, a spatially limited cosmos implies that there is some kind of void beyond it. Since ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, there is no void. Everything in existence is a reflection of the Divine Names, and since all of the Names are Names of Perfection, there is no locus for non-existence. As the term itself suggests, non-existence does not exist.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Extremely well said.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: From one point of view, there are always new creations and amplifications of older creations. Brother Colin’s point, as I see it, is that in Absolute Reality there is no new creation as all has been Created, and in every creation there is embedded the rest of the all creations. It is a holographic cosmos, and very little of it is available for us to investigate or talk about. The Grand Emanation has no time or space component, it is Eternal and Ever Present, so any discussion of a spacetime based science is relatively minor in comparison. Not that it does not have subsidiary reality within its own frame of reference, but in the Big Picture it is quite small. I particularly like the concept of dark matter now as a recent metaphor for the Unseen.
Brother Mingda Sun: Putting Allah (s.w.t.) in a circle and saying that He cannot reach beyond it, that is very much limiting Allah (s.w.t.). Between yea and nay is the truth. All of the things that are apparent to us are fundamentally illusory anyways. That is why I am so appreciative of quantum physics. It really is a branch of scientific study that to me is ‘gnostic’ in a sense because you are not looking at matter and time through regular human senses; you are looking into the heart of all matter, the closest look that is humanly possible.
Brother Colin Turner: The term ‘Grand Emanation’ is a very apposite one, Brother Hajj Ahmad.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Nothingness is only a term for our intellect to understand Existence. It has no reality. It cannot have a reality, as Brother Colin and others have put forth. Brother Mingda, you need to read and reflect on what has been written without just defending your claim to win an argument.
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Mingda Sun, I would never try to put Allah (s.w.t.) in a circle and say that He cannot reach beyond it. That is the whole issue. His sphere of activity is unbounded: there is no beyond for Him to reach because His Absoluteness ensures an infinity of manifestations, which stretch from pre-eternity to post-eternity. Actually, you are limiting Allah (s.w.t.) if you say that His Reflection is limited, which is what you are saying when you posit a limited cosmos that is ever ‘expanding’ into some ill-defined void.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Yes.
Brother Mingda Sun: Non-material existence in God’s Knowledge to me is ‘nothing’.
Brother Colin Turner: Immateriality is simply lack of matter, but it is not ‘nothing’. I think I now understand where the sticking point in this conversation is.
Brother Mingda Sun: The realm of things yet to be is the realm of nothingness. There is nothing there and suddenly there is. Unless you want to argue that since we evolved from the water and elements we were always around, just not assembled yet. Is that what you are saying? But there was a time before any elements existed. There was a time before anything was written by the Pen was there not? Or did Allah (s.w.t.) not Create the Pen at a concrete point in time? I was referring to Brother Terence’s Venn diagram analogy.
Brother Colin Turner: The realm of things yet to be has no existence until it is. What you are saying is that the future has no external existence, and that is correct; it does not. But this is a world away from saying that nothingness actually has a locus in reality.
Brother Mingda Sun: Non-existence is what I mean by nothingness. I think maybe you misunderstand a bit of what I am saying. I am not saying there is some kind of domain where nothing exists and where God’s Power and Knowledge does not seem to apply.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: There are different levels of viewing Reality. One of those levels is as Brother Colin has just stated, “The realm of things yet to be has no existence until it is.” But at a higher level, all external existence already exists. In our spacetime dimension, obviously this is not the case. At an Absolute level, Allah (s.w.t.) is and He is as He was. Non-existence as a reality is not possible. The term exists as an opposite for the sake of understanding wujud al-muthlaq.
Brother Mingda Sun: At a higher level, all of us are as old as the universe itself but I am not convinced that at the highest level, you and I and all Creation has existed eternally as God does, has, and will. That blurs the line between God and humanity a bit too much for my comfort. Of course, I am still learning.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: That is fine, Brother Mingda. I understand where you are coming from. The highest levels of reality not only blur lines, they dissolve them.
Brother Colin Turner: You are right, Brother Mingda. To say that we have all existed from pre-eternity is extremely misleading. In actual fact, nothing exists for more than an instant, so to say that anything - apart from Allah (s.w.t.) - is eternal, is wrong.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Yes. Good distinction, Brother Colin. This is the meaning of the He not He in the words of Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.). Shaykh Habib (q.s.) in a line of his Diwan, said something to the effect of even though we have knowledge of Reality we must adhere to the courtesy of duality, absolute versus relative.
Brother Mingda Sun: Precisely! The courtesy of duality must be maintained. Between instances of existence, are we not nothing, Brother Colin.
Brother Colin Turner: The issue of whether there is actually a “between instances” is still not clear, Brother Mingda. Mulla Swadra ash-Shirazi (r.a.) maintained that there is only a constant ‘flow of becoming’, while classical theologians favoured a ‘destruction and re-creation’ model. The problem with the latter is that it is impossible, theologically, to justify the ‘between’. Unless, as one scholar had suggested, the ‘between’ is just the part of the movement which is in malakut rather than mulk. More conceptual work needs to be done, I think. Our theology was once very rich, but modern theologians in the so-called Muslim world are very few and far between, and most of those working today do not keep abreast of developments in fields such as quantum physics and the like.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: I do not see any ‘between’ as a movement between malakut and mulk, for there is no separation. They are coincidental. Both are there in the same instant though there is no instant except perhaps in our talking about it. I do not find in my consciousness any separation. I do find flow, but not separation. I, personally, would be on the side of Mulla Swadra (r.a.) on this one.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Since time itself is Created and relative, how ‘long’ we have existed is irrelevant. We exist in time. Even if we existed for millions of years, we still had a beginning and an end. All Creation exists in time. As such, even if all Creation has ‘always’ existed, it is in time, and that ‘always’ could be a moment. God Exists beyond time.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Yes, we exist in time and have a beginning and end physically, so if we define this temporary existence as a moment then perhaps we can speak of moment. But if we observe it as flow, then there is no moment. It is the old quantum conundrum: when observed, it is a particle, but unobserved, a wave. As quoted from Philip Ball on Will We Ever Understand Quantum Theory?: “One of the most controversial issues concerns the role of measurements. We are used to thinking that the world exists in a definite state, and that we can discover what that state is by making measurements and observations. But quantum theory suggests that, at least for tiny objects such as atoms and electrons, there may be no unique state before an observation is made: the object exists simultaneously in several states, called a superposition.”
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The quantum argument does not apply here since it pertains to states of matter, particles. The issue is time. We cannot even measure it. It is always relative to our experience. Even the flow is an illusion.
Brother Hajj Ahmad: Well, that is an interesting point, Brother Terence, that even flow is an illusion. I can see that. But do you not think the quantum description is a metaphor for flow versus moment?
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Consider this: when we bring it down to our own individual experiences; when we are in a moment of extreme emotional distress or physical pain, it seems to stretch on forever, and when we are in moments of ecstasy, it is fleeting. The length of a minute is relative to which side of the toilet door you are on when you really need to go.
Brother Colin Turner: Julian Barbour is an interesting physicist. He dismisses time as an illusion; we certainly know that it has no external existence, being merely something we abstract from motion. But he goes one step further and actually dismisses the notion of motion as an illusion. He has an extremely good book on the subject; at least I am told it is good - I am not scientifically minded enough to be able to understand most of what he is saying. However, there was something which always suggested to me, intuitively, that if time is an illusion - which it clearly is - then it is likely that motion is also illusory. Here is an interview on that: The End of Time: A Talk with Julian Barbour.
Brother Justin Taylor: The Buddha said all that 2,500 years ago, that time and motion are illusionary. There is a famous story where two monks were arguing about a flag. One said the wind was moving, the other said the flag was moving. A senior monk came and said no, it was neither; it was their mind that was moving. This mind is completely unconnected to these ideas. Even when driving, it is still; when still, it can be moving. Do I move along the road or does the road move under my stillness?
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Brother David W Roesler, your exposition of the Divine Being that fell from Grace is actually very similar to Yazidism, except in their case, Melek Teus, Lucifer, was a secondary creator.
Brother Tim: I have not had time to assimilate this, so apologies if this point has been covered. I am just wondering whether the focus, including the working definition, has been too much on cosmology, as if emanation is some kind of macrocosmic doctrine of Creation which has no bearing on the corresponding microcosmic Return to the Absolute. Is this not to do with the experiential journey of the soul back to source as much as levels of objective existence proceeding from the One?
Brother Colin Turner: I am not sure, Brother Tim. If it is to do with the experiential journey of the soul back to its Source, maybe you could elaborate on this for us? As far as Imam al-Farabi’s (r.a.) exposition of emanationism is concerned, his wish - the same wish as that of all of the Neoplatonists - was to reconcile multiplicity with Divine Unity by positing a series of intermediaries, termed ‘intellects’ by Imam al-Farabi (r.a.), between God and Creation. God, it was held, could as the First Cause Create no more than one cause only, which in turn could Create only one cause, and so on. As mentioned previously, this seems to cause more problems than it purports to solve. For me personally, this particular aspect of emanationism is simply not credible. Other aspects of the doctrine, however, such as the eternity of the universe, are much more appealing, although naturally they need to be unpacked and analysed properly.
Brother Shasha Farökhzad: Brother Colin, you said, “Thus the order ‘kun’ Brings beings into existence not from nothing, which is logically impossible, but from apparent non-existence, which is in fact the realm of imaginal beings, ‘alam al-mitsal, which in turn is part of God’s Knowledge.” Is ‘alam al-mitsal Created? If so, is it created from nothing, or from another ‘alam al-mitsal? Is there an infinite regress of ‘alamin?
Brother Colin Turner: Nothing is created from nothing, Brother Shasha. As for your question regarding ‘alam al-mitsal, everything other than Allah (s.w.t.) is Created.
Brother Tim: I do not know enough about Imam al-Farabi’s (r.a.) philosophy but the Neoplatonism of late antiquity which pretty much formed the shared worldview of Christian, Islamic and Jewish mysticism was highly spiritual and practical, not just a metaphysical system. Picking up on the practice of theurgy for example, and I am pretty much pasting from Wikipedia, was all about returning to the One. And Muslims will have reinterpreted references to Gods in terms of the Divine Names I am sure.
Theurgy means ‘Divine-Working’. The first recorded use of the term is found in the mid-second century Neoplatonist work, the Chaldean Oracles: “For the theourgoí do not fall under the fate-governed herd. The source of Western theurgy can be found in the philosophy of late Neoplatonists, especially Iamblichus. In late Neoplatonism, the spiritual universe is regarded as a series of emanations from the One. From the One, emanated the Divine Mind, Nous, and in turn from the Divine Mind emanated the World Soul, Psyche. Neoplatonists insisted that the One is Absolutely Transcendent and in the emanations nothing of the higher was lost or transmitted to the lower, which remained unchanged by the lower emanations. Although the Neoplatonists are considered polytheists, they embraced a form of monism.”
For Plotinus’, and Iamblichus’ teachers Anatolius and Porphyry, the emanations are as follows: “To Hen, The One, Deity without quality, sometimes called ‘The Good’. Nous, Mind, the universal consciousness, from which proceeds Psyche, Soul, Including both individual and world soul, leading finally to Physis, Nature. Plotinus urged contemplations for those who wished to perform theurgy, the goal of which was to reunite with The Divine, called henosis. Therefore, his school resembles a school of meditation or contemplation. Iamblichus of Calcis, a student of Porphyry, who was himself a student of Plotinus, taught a more ritualised method of theurgy that involved invocation and religious, as well as magical, ritual. Iamblichus believed theurgy was an imitation of the gods, and in his major work, ‘On the Egyptian Mysteries’, he described theurgic observance as ‘ritualised cosmogony’ that endowed embodied souls with the divine responsibility of creating and preserving the cosmos.
Iamblichus’ analysis was that the transcendent cannot be grasped with mental contemplation because the transcendent is supra-rational. Theurgy is a series of rituals and operations aimed at recovering the transcendent essence by retracing the divine ‘signatures’ through the layers of being. Education is important for comprehending the scheme of things as presented by Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras but also by the Chaldaean Oracles. The theurgist works ‘like with like’, at the material level, with physical symbols; at the higher level, with mental and purely spiritual practices. Starting with correspondences of the divine in matter, the theurgist eventually reaches the level where the soul’s inner divinity unites with The Divine.”
This is not too far removed from Sufism and ‘irfan so I am wondering if Imam al-Farabi (r.a.) was truncating this Platonic tradition scientifically or indeed whether he was more akin to Imam as-Suhrawardi (q.s.) and the Iranian school of Illuminationism which seems to have retained this microcosmic dimension of personal practice.
Brother Colin Turner: The Nursian ‘theology of Names’ would seem to an extent to be a very modern example of Neoplatonic theurgy, Brother Tim, particularly with his emphasis on the Tradition, ‘takhallaqu bi akhlaqillah’, ‘Adorn yourselves in the Attributes of God’, that is, the gradual relinquishing of the Names from the grasp of our apparent ownership of them, and the submitting or surrendering, taslim, of those Names back to their rightful Owner through the means of du’a and the Nursian Four Steps of ‘ajz, impotence; faqr, poverty; shafaqah, compassion; and tafakkur, reflection.
Brother Shasha Farökhzad: Brother Colin Turner, thanks. So the second part of my question, what is it Created from? Is there an infinite regress?
Brother Colin Turner: It is a good question, Brother Shasha, and one to which I have no ready answer. It needs thought.
Brother Tim: Interesting, Brother Colin, very much so, yes. My sense is that the macrocosmic and microcosmic were both dimensions of one practical spiritually that lasted longer in mystical schools and fraternities than we perhaps realise. I expect we have been looking at emanationism in terms of the tendency of philosophy to debase itself as a scholastic or academic system interested in theology more than theurgy. Ancient philosophy always included spiritual exercises, not just speculative theories.
Brother Shasha Farökhzad: A logical hierarchy seems to me to be nothing leads to potential leads to physical existence. I cannot see the problem in saying that the potential is imagined from nothingness.
Brother Colin Turner: There will always be a problem when anything is posited as having been Created, Willed, Formed or Imagined from nothing. If we exist as objects of God’s Knowledge, then in some way, shape or form we have always existed, and our existence in this phenomenal world is merely God’s ‘Translation’ of our supra-material existence into phenomenality. Thus, in one sense, we have always existed as a ‘form’ of Divine Knowledge, which is ‘transformed’ into a phenomenal being in the material world. This probably causes as many problems as it purports to solve, though.
Brother Mingda Sun: It certainly creates more problems because it blurs the boundary between Allah (s.w.t.) and ourselves, which some would say is pantheistic.
Brother Colin Turner: How would it blur the boundary, Brother Mingda?
Brother Mingda Sun: It would not if you separate God from His Knowledge. I personally do not, so for me it is problematic. I cannot see myself as having been around for eternity. I had a beginning even if I am ancient, which I believe everyone to be. There was a point where nothing but God Existed, I believe this. It does not matter how confusing it is, if God Says He Spoke things into existence when there was nothing, I am fine with it.
Brother Shasha Farökhzad: Let me rephrase. You say that existence as the supra-material is also created. I am arguing that to avoid the theoretical complication of an infinite regress, there need be no more created building blocks before the supra-material stage, that there is nothing Created before it, that the supra-material is Created directly from God’s Attributes and represents the first stage in Creation before which nothing but God Exists. Is this acceptable?
Brother Colin Turner: Brother Mingda, the problem with the notion that there was nothing but God which Existed is that His Creation of the cosmos brings into existence two conceptual ‘stages’: a ‘pre-cosmic’ God and a ‘post-cosmic’ God, in which the post-cosmic God has ‘changed’, since He is no longer ‘Alone’. This, naturally, is unacceptable, given God’s Immutability. Such a state also means that He goes from being non-Creator to Creator; again, an impossibility. On the other hand, if you say that God was the same after the Creation of the cosmos as He was before its Creation, then what is to prevent us from positing a Creation that has always existed? After all, its eternal existence will not affect God in any way, will it?
Brother Shasha, the Creation of the supra-material directly from God’s Attributes sounds as acceptable to me as any ultimately unfathomable solution is likely to sound! At least in this solution there is no ‘creation from nothing’, which is irrational.
Brother Mingda Sun: Then why do we not just say we are all God? If God is not needed to bring things into existence that were not there, then there might as well be no God, just a universe that is constantly recycling itself. This might be like what Buddhism and some nature based religions say. God is Transcendent so whether or not there are created beings does not impact Him in any way, is my point.
Brother Colin Turner: No one is saying that God is not needed to bring things into existence. God is the Necessary Being and all things are contingent upon Him.
Brother Mingda Sun: What I am getting at is, what happens in the cosmos does not affect God so the whole pre-creation and post-creation dilemma is not relevant to the nothingness conversation. God is not in the cosmos nor is He the cosmos itself. In reference to “two conceptual ‘stages’: a ‘pre-cosmic’ God and a ‘post-cosmic’ God, in which the post-cosmic God has ‘changed’, since He is no longer ‘Alone’”, the Divine Intent to Create was always there but that is not separate from the Divine Itself so that is basically why I propose that there really was nothing beyond God before the birth of the cosmos. I cannot accept that I have always been part of God’s Plan and therefore never had a true beginning.
Brother Colin Turner: God is pre-eternally and post-eternally Creator. The problem with a God Who ‘starts’ to Create at some indeterminate point in time is that there is a conceptual change in His Names and Attributes. You have always been part of God’s Plan. Otherwise, we are positing a God Whose Plans change. As for a beginning, at each second you have a new creation, a new beginning. And as far as phenomenality is concerned, you had a beginning in time and space.
Brother Mingda Sun: I know but that's different than saying that I and everything else never had a real beginning. If I've always been around then we have a Creator who resembles the creation. Beginningless, with no end. When I look in the mirror I see a being with a beginning and who could be annihilated, vanished, erased from existence.
Brother Colin Turner: Well, the Creator is definitely Beginningless with no end. As for Creation, nothing exists for more than an instant, as we have already established, so I am not sure how anything can be beginningless apart from God. God’s Creative Act has no beginning, but all Created things have a phenomenal beginning and end.
Brother Mingda Sun: I think that is just creating more problems with an overcomplicated answer. This whole ‘we exist in a series of infinite moments that just happen to flow’ idea does not really make sense to me. What is an instant anyway? And why is that pertinent? Maybe it is time we considered that occasionalism is outdated?
Brother Colin Turner: I think you are right: the whole issue needs to be re-opened and reconsidered. Occasionalism needs an overhaul, and I believe that Mulla Swadra’s (r.a.) transubstantial motion theory is possibly a worthy successor to the occasionalism of the classical theologians. As for why an instant is pertinent, it is pertinent because no particle, no atom, can subsist for more time than it takes to appear in the phenomenal world: as soon as it appears, it is recreated and becomes a completely new creation. Otherwise, we would see things other than God partaking of the attribute al-Qayyum, and that truly would be a kind of shirk.
Brother David W Roesler: One concept not covered is something found in mystical Judaism the idea that everything was Created from God itself. The concept of the broken vessels and the lights that departed God and the descent of the Shekhina into the material realm. The eventual return of all the lights and the Shekhina back into God’s Embrace. Simply stated, everything in the universe was once a part of God and in the fullness of time will return to again be a part of God!
Gnostic Jewish sects who delved deeply into the angelic beings and into the intrinsic nature of God, in their conception, God is not a singularity but a family composed not of a trinity but 4 different parts: Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter. The name of God, Jehovah, is actually comprised of 4 Hebrew characters each one of which designates one of the segments comprising God. When all four are combined, the sacred bridal chamber is activated and the dance begins. Like an atom, the four segments revolve around one another faster and faster until they are one.
The Shekhina is to some Jews the divine feminine principle of God. They believe she occupied the Ark of the Covenant and communed with the ancient kings of Israel. To gaze upon her unveiled would be death because her beauty outshines the sun. Your average rabbi, even a Kabbalist, considers the Shekhina not literally as the feminine aspect but as a way to differentiate an Emanation of God in our universe as opposed to in His Own Domain. To intellectual Jewish mystics, the 4 parts of God refer to different energy patterns in a higher physics type language. One very interesting book I have by a woman mathematician interprets many Cabalistic symbols as versions of exotic higher mathematics formulas.
Just as Sufis claim their knowledge extends back way before Islam, so too does Kabbalah. Scholars trace the Zohar, the principle Kabbalist text back to the 13th century but many of its concepts, I believe, originate much earlier, being similar to ideas I have found in ancient Egyptian and Sumerian texts. It is very possible because of the ancient Jews’ captivity in Babylon and contact with other cultures such as Sumer and Egypt that the Zohar contains remnants of primeval knowledge from the dawn of civilization and the first early contacts between God and man.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: Brother David W Roesler, if we are speaking about the feminine godhead of ancient Judaism, in its evolution from a polytheistic to monolatric to monotheistic faith, then it would not be the Shekhina. I believe that was a later addition made retroactively ‘ancient’. That would be the Goddess Asherah.
Brother David W Roesler: In mystical Judaism the Shekhina manifested itself to Moses (a.s.) when he received the Ten Commandments and the Ark of the Covenant was built to contain her. Moses (a.s.) was said to have sent his wives away and communed with the Shekhina in the tent of tents that was his and her abode. In the conception of the Shekhina, the idea is that she in some ways resembles God’s Daughter who departed Him to descend to the earth to search for her fallen consort, the Metatron. In my interpretation, the consort is all mankind, the shards of the broken mirror. Supposedly with her help and her avatars on earth, women, she will help redeem her fallen lover so they can return to the Embrace of the Father.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I must say though, that this is unusual and is not found in the orthodox theology of Judaism, or indeed any of the Abrahamic faiths. My impression is that it is a hodgepodge of paganism, New Age spirituality and various extinct mythologies.
Bringing this back to the topic at hand, the underlying understanding is that God is One, Unique, Absolute. He is beyond form, not constrained by any means and has no limits. The issue with emanationism then, is that the contention that God Creates only a thing at a time limits Him. But here, you propose a partner in Creation, or a partner in His Attributes. God has no child, metaphorical, conceptual or physical. He is beyond that need; otherwise, He would not be Absolute. So this entire line of thinking is not just problematic, but illogical.
Perhaps we are going about this in a roundabout manner. The source of emanationism is Plotinus. He is the fountain head that introduced this into Christianity through Thomas Aquinas for the Catholic Church and Gregory of Nyssa for the Eastern Orthodox, and from there, it evolved into Neoplatonism and influenced the Mu’tazila, Ismaili Shi’ism and various other notables. The concept of emanationism itself, as we have discussed, has elements that can be reconciled with orthodox theology to an extent. But it is clear that the Ash’ari creed comprehensively refutes much of its other points.
Brother David W Roesler: There has been a continual war in Judaism between the stringent application of One God and the idea of other family members of God. As you pointed out, Asherah was considered the wife of God for a long time and pillars were erected in her honour. The concept of the son was much older than Jesus (a.s.). It was connected to the planet Venus, which was considered two stars by the ancient Jews, the morning star and the evening star. They were considered the divine twins and had important meaning to many ancient faiths. A holiday honouring this figure is still celebrated in Judaism and a corner of the Jewish temple was designated a weeping place for women to venerate the fallen star.
If all these figures and the universe are all Created from the Essence of God. How does this contradict emanation? God Takes the flawed son figure and creates the universe out of him or for him as other versions state so that he can evolve or be perfected. The Shekhina follows to help in the transformation. The ultimate objective being the reunification of all back to God.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: The closet that I can think of in Islam to your statement on Creation from the 'flawed son' is the doctrine of Nur Muhammadi, which is very much emanationism.
Brother Tim: I gave a little input because I do not think emanationism is ultimately about speculative cosmology as much as a spiritual map of the journey back to the One. Any Sufic path of ascent and return which honours and disciplines the body to train and discipline the mind to polish and cultivate the heart to reflect and become one with the Divine via spirit is implicitly utilising a map of descent and emanation. The cosmological map of worlds or levels of existence is a tool for the microcosmic journey of the soul.
Brother Justin Taylor: Brother Terence is correct that the feminine was introduced much later and subsequently antiqued in Judaism.
Brother Terence Helikaon Nunis: I went through the thread in detail. In summary, we have covered the nature of 'nothingness' and come to the conclusion that there is no such thing. We have also attempted to reconcile elements of Neoplatonism with wahdat al-wujud. Whilst we did not go into as much details into the ideas of Imam ibn al-Farabi (r.a.), Plotinus, Iamblichus of Calcis, or Porphyry, and I wish we could have done so, we did agree that the central idea of one emanation at a time is limiting and unbecoming of Divine Omnipotence.
We briefly touched on Augustinian theodicy since we acknowledge Neoplatonism' influence on Christian though. My personal contention is that whilst Augustine agreed that evil had no substance or reality, his struggles with the Problem of Evil gave independent existence to Satan.
And finally, Brother Tim raised the contention that emanationism should not be addressed from purely the perspective of speculative theology but should be viewed as a road map for the journey back to the Divine, essentially putting it as a foundation for the doctrines of taswawwuf. That is contentious and perhaps, it deserves further exploration in a separate thread.
I would like to thank all of you for your participation.