Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Meditation Upon the Divine Essence and Attributes According to Al-Ghazali

The Second Sphere is Meditation upon God Most High. Meditation (upon God) is either about His essence and attributes, or about His acts and handiworks; and the greatest station is meditation upon His essence and attributes. However, if people do not have the strength for that and their intellects not comprehend it, the Religious Law has forbidden it and has said: 'Do not meditate about that for truly ye have not the strength for its magnitude.' This difficulty is not because of the concealment of the majesty of God; rather, it is from its radiance ... Therefore, it is preferable that this not be discussed, nor should it be meditated upon, except by a person who is perfect. And then, too, he will necessarily fall into perplexity and stupefaction at the end.

- The Alchemy of Happiness, pp. 848-849

The first share is a knowledge of these meanings by way of witnessing and unveiling, so that their essential realities are clarified for them in a disclosure equivalent in clarity to the certainty achieved by a man in regard to his own inner qualities, which he perceives by seeing his inward aspect, not by outward sensation. How great a difference there is between this and a faith derived from one's parents and teachers by conformity and persistence in it, even though it be accompanied by argumentative proofs from Kalam.

- The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, p.31

Allah - The Divine Essence

You should know that this name is the greatest of the ninety-nine names of God - great and glorious - because it refers to the essence which unites all the attributes of divinity, so that none of them is left out, whereas each of the remaining names only refers to a single attribute. Man's share in this name should be for him to become god-like [ta'alluh], by which I mean that his heart and his aspiration be taken up with God - great and glorious, that he not look towards anything other than him nor pay attention to what is not He, that he neither implore not fear anyone but Him. How could it be otherwise? For it had already been understood from this name that He is truly actual Existent, and that everything other than He is ephemeral, perishing and worthless except in relation to Him.

Asma al-Husna - The Divine Attributes

Al-Qayyum - The Self-Subsisting

If an existent were to exist whose essence would suffice for itself, whose subsistence would not be from another, and whose existence would not be conditioned by the existence of another, it would subsist in itself absolutely. If beyond that, every existent subsisted by virtue of it, such that the existence and conservation of things would be inconceivable without it, that would be the self-existing one since it subsisted in itself and each thing subsisted by it. But that is none other than God - may He be praised and exalted.

And man's access to this attribute is in proportion to this detachment from everything that is not God the most high.

Al-Mu'min - The Faithful

The Faithful is the one to whom security and safety are ascribed because he conveys the means to attain them and blocks the path of dangers. For security and safety are only conceivable in locations of fear, and fear only arises with the possibility of annihilation, diminishment or destruction. The absolutely faithful one is God - may he be praised and exalted - as the one from whose direction alone security and safety may conceivably emanate.

Man is basically weak by nature, subject to sickness, hunger and thirst from within; and to harm from burning, drowning, and from wounds and ferocious animals from without. The only one who can protect him from these fears is one who prepares remedies to counter and repel sickness, food to eliminate hunger and drink to slake the thirst, limbs to protect his body, and senses to gain information warning him from anything about to destroy him. Then there is his greatest fear - of eternal damnation - and nothing will protect him from that but the profession of faith in the unity of God. For God - may He be praised and exalted - guides him to it and makes him desire it, so that He says: '"there is no god but God", is My fortress, and whoever enters into My fortress is safe from my punishment'. For there is no security in the world unless it be derived from intermediaries which He alone creates and guides us in using. For he is the one who gave unto each thing its nature and then guided it aright (XX:50). He is truly the absolutely faithful one.

A man's share in this name and attribute lies in all creatures' being safe from him. Moreover, every fearful person can anticipate help from him in keeping harm away from them, whether in religious or worldly affairs. As the messenger of God - may God's blessing and peace be upon him - said: 'When one believes in God and the last day, his neighbors safe from his misdeeds'. Those men will be most worthy of the name 'faithful' who are instrumental in protecting a man from the punishment of God, but guiding him to the way of God - great and glorious - and directing him on the path of salvation …

Al-Muhaymin - The Guardian

The Guardian means with regard to God - great and glorious - the one who tends to His creatures with regard to their actions, their sustenance, and the time of their death. He tends to them by His cognizance, His possession, and His protection. Everyone who has complete comment of a situation, who takes possession of it and protects it, will be its 'guardian'. Taking command comes down to knowledge, possession to the perfection of power, and protection to action. The one who unites these meanings is named guardian. But only God - great and glorious - joins them absolutely and perfectly, so it was said: it is one of the names of God the most high recorded in ancient writings.

Every servant who watches over his heart until he supervises its depths and its secrets, and also takes possession of reforming his inner states and attributes, and undertakes to protect it continuously according to the requirements of his reform, will then be 'guardian' in relation to his heart.

Al-Qabid - The Constrictor

He who contracts is the one who appropriates souls form dead bodies at death and appropriates alms from the rich. He holds sustenance back from the poor until no strength is left. He contracts hearts and restricts them by what he discloses to them of His exaltation and majesty and His lack of concern.

The one who contracts among men is the one who is inspired by marvels of wisdom and has been given comprehensiveness of speech. He contracts the hearts of men by warning them of the majesty of God and His greatness, and the varieties of His punishments, His scourge and His revenge on His enemies. 

Al-Matin - The Firm

Firmness indicates intensification of strength. So God - may He be praised and exalted, insofar has He has intense strength, He is firm.

Al-Mumit - The Slayer

This comes down to bringing into existence. If the object is death, doing it is called killing. None is the creator of death but God, great and glorious.

Al-Hayy - The Alive

The living is both agent and perceiver, so much so that one who does not act or perceive at all is dead. the lowest level of perception involves the one perceiving being conscious of itself, for what is not conscious of itself is inanimate and dead. But the perfect and absolute living thing is one under whose perception all perceived things are arranged, as are all existing things under its activity, so that no perceived thing escapes its knowledge and no action its activity, and this is God - great and glorious, for He is the absolutely living one. As for every living thing other than He, its life is commensurate with its perception and its activity, and all of that is circumscribed within narrow limits. Furthermore, the living things diverge among themselves in this, and their ranking is a function of this divergence, as we indicated earlier in considering the ranks of angels, men, and beasts.

Al-Qahhar - The Dominator

The Dominator is the one who breaks the backs of the powerful among His enemies, and subdues them by killing and humiliation. Indeed there is no existing thing that is not subject to the domination of His power, and powerless in His grasp. That is all.

The dominator among men is the one who subdues his enemies. The greatest enemy of man is his soul, which is within him. The soul is more of an enemy to him than Satan, of whose enmity he is wary. Whoever conquers the passions of his soul conquers Satan, since Satan lures him to ruin by means of his passions. One of Satan's snares is woman, and it is inconceivable that one who has lost the desire for women fall into this snare. Similarly, one conquers this passion under the influence of religion and the counsel of reason. Whosoever conquers that passions of the soul has conquered all men; no one has any power over him since the goal of his enemies is to try to annihilate his body, yet that person lives for his spirit. Whoever dies to his passion in life will live in his death. Think not of those who are slain in the way of God, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision. Jubilant are they … (3:169-170)

Al-Fattah - The Opener

The Opener is the one by whose providence whatever is closed is opened, and by whose guidance whatever is unclear is disclosed. At times He opens kingdoms for His prophets and removes them from the hands of His enemies, saying: Lo! We have given thee [O Muhammad] a signal victory [opening] (48:1), and at other times He lifts the veils from the hearts of his holy men, opening to them the gates to the heavenly kingdoms and the beauties of his majesty. So He says: That which Allah opens unto mankind of mercy, none can withhold it (35:2). Whoever has in his hands the keys to the invisible world and the keys to sustenance, it is proper that he be called an opener.

Man should yearn to reach a point where the locks to the divine mysteries are opened by his speech, and where he might facilitate by his knowledge what creatures find difficult in religious and worldly affairs, for him to gain a share in the name of opener.

Al-Qawwi - The Strong

Strength indicates perfect power. So God - may He be praised and exalted, insofar as He possesses the utmost power and is perfect in it, is the strong one.

Al-Muntaqim - The Avenger

The Avenger is the one who breaks the back of the recalcitrant, punishes criminals, and intensifies the punishment of the oppressor - but only after excusing and warning them, and after giving them the opportunity and the time to change. Yet this is harsher vengeance than a quick punishment, for when the punishment is swift, one does not persist in disobedience, and as a consequence he does not deserve the full punishment.

Human vengeance is praiseworthy if it takes vengeance on the enemies of God the most high, and the worst such enemy is one's lower soul. So it behooves him to take vengeance on it in as much as it yields to disobedience or fails in its duty of worship. As it is reported regarding Abu Yazid - may God be merciful to him - that he said: 'My soul was so lazy one night as to keep me from litany, so I punished it by depriving it of water for a year. In this way should one pursue the path of vengeance.

Al-Ghalib - The Conqueror

Ar-Rahman - The Beneficent

The meaning of Rahman should be a kind of mercy beyond the powers of people, and related to happiness in the next life. The Infinitely Good is he who loves men, first by creating them; second, by guiding them to faith and to the means of salvation; third, by making them happy in the next world; and fourth, by granting them the contemplation of His noble face.

Man's share in the name of al-Rahman lies in his showing mercy to the negligent, dissuading them from the path of negligence towards God - great and glorious - by exhortation and counseling, by way of gentleness not violence, regarding the disobedient with eyes of mercy and not contempt; letting every insubordination perpetrated in the world be as his own misfortune, so sparring no effort to eliminate it to the extent that he can - all out of mercy to the disobedient lest they be exposed to God's wrath and so deserve to be removed from proximity to Him.

As-Salam - The Flawless

The Flawless is the one whose essence is free from defect, whose attributes escape imperfection, and whose actions are untarnished by evil; and given that He is like that, there is nothing flawless in existence which is not attributed to Him, and originates from Him.

Every servant whose heart is free form deceit, hatred, envy, and evil intent; and whose limbs are unblemished by sins and forbidden actions, and whose attributes are not affected by inversion and reversal, will be one who comes to God the most high with a flawless heart. Among men, whoever comes close in characterization to that true and unadulterated Flawless One, whose quality cannot be duplicated, may be considered to be flawless.

Al-Basit - The Expander

He who expands is the one who extends souls to bodies at quickening. He extends sustenance to the weak. He extends sustenance to the rich to the point where no need remains. He expands hearts by what He makes available to them of his godliness, kindness, and beauty.

The one who expands among men is the one who is inspired by the marvels of wisdom and has been given comprehensiveness of speech. He expands the hearts of men by reminding them of the blessings of God - great and glorious - and His consolation.

Al-Wasi' - The Vast

The Vast derives from expansiveness, and expansiveness is sometimes linked to knowledge, when it extends to and comprehends a multitude of objects; and at other times it is linked to charity and widespread blessings, extending as far as possible to whatever they descend upon. So the absolutely vast is God - may He be praised and exalted - for it His knowledge be considered, the sea of things He knows has no shore; in fact the seas would be exhausted if they were ink for His words. And if His beneficence and blessing be considered, there is no end to the things He can do. Moreover, every expansiveness, however, immense, comes up against limits, so the one which does not come up against limits is most deserving of the name of expansiveness. Now God - may He be praised and exalted - is the absolutely vast, for everything that is vast is confined by comparison with what is yet more vast, and for every expansiveness which comes up against limits, additions to it may still be conceived. Yet it is inconceivable for anything to be added to what is without limit or boundary.

Expansiveness for man consists in his knowledge and his character. For if this knowledge is increased, he is vast in proportion to the extent of his knowledge; and if his character expands to the point the tit is not confined by fear of poverty of the anger which accompanies envy, or the dominance of greed, or other attributes - then his is vast. Yet all of that has limits; only God the most high is truly vast.

Ar-Rafi' - The Exalter

The Exalter is the one who raises up the faithful by salvation. He exalts His holy people by bringing them closer. And whoever elevates his vision above tangible and imagined things, and his intention above blameworthy desires, God has raised him to the horizon of the angels close to Him. None but God most high does this, for He is the Exalter.

Man's share in this consists in exalting the truth but supporting those who are right and befriending God's friends in order to exalt them.

Al-Jamil - The Beautiful

Ar-Rahim - The Merciful

Perfect mercy is pouring out benefaction to those in need, and directing it to them, for their care; and inclusive mercy is when it embraces deserving and undeserving alike. The mercy of God - great and glorious - is both perfect and inclusive: perfect inasmuch as it wants to fulfill the needs of those in need and does meet them; and inclusive inasmuch as it embraces both deserving and undeserving, encompassing this world and the next, and includes bare necessities and needs, and special gifts over and above them. So He is utterly and truly merciful.

His share in the name al-Rahim lies in not turning away from any needs persons without meeting their needs to the extent of his ability, nor turning from any poor in his neighborhood or town without committing himself to them and ridding them of their poverty - either from his own wealth or reputation, or by interceding on their behalf with another. And if he be unable to do all that, he should assist them by prayer or by showing grief on account of their need, in sympathy and love towards them, as though he were thereby sharing in their misfortune and their need.

Al-Ghafur - The All-Forgiving

He is all-forgiving in the sense that He is the perfection and completeness of forgiveness and forgiving, to the point of reaching the highest level of forgiveness. 

Al-Karim - The Generous

The Generous is the one who forgives it he has the power, follows through when he promises, and exceeds the limits one could hope for when he gives; nor is he concerned how much he gives or to whom he gives. If a need is brought before someone else, he is unhappy; if he is treated badly, he reproves but does not pursue it. Whoever seeks refuge and support with him is not lost, and one may dispense with entreaties and mediators. Now, the one who unites all this in himself, without affectation, is the absolutely generous one, and that belongs to God alone - may he be praised and exalted.

Man may endeavor to acquire these qualities, but only in some things and with a sort of affectation. In this way he may be characterized as generous, yet he remains deficient by comparison with the absolutely generous.

Al-Mujib - The Answerer of Prayers

The Answerer of prayers is the one who responds to the requests of those who ask by assisting them, to the call of those who call upon him by answering them, and responds to the plight of the poor with all they need. In fact, he blesses before the request and grants favors before the entreaty. But that belongs to God alone - great and exalted, for He knows the needs of the needy before they even ask; indeed He already knew them in eternity, so He arranged the sources sufficient to their needs by creating good and nourishment, and by facilitating both the causes and the means of fulfilling all these needs.

Man needs to be responsive first of all to his Lord, in whatever He commands or forbids him to do, and whatever He assigns to him or summons him to do. Then to His servants, in whatever God - great and glorious - bestowed on him by way of enabling him to do it; and in assisting every beggar in whatever they ask him, if he is able to do it; or with a kind response if he is unable to do so. For God - great and glorious said: Therefore the beggar drive not away (43:10).

Al-'Afu' - The Effacer of Sins

The Effacer of sins is the one who erases sins and overlooks acts of disobedience. Man's share in this name should be clear; he is one who excuses everyone who harms him, doing good for him instead, as he sees God the most high doing good in this world to the disobedient and the unbeliever rather than bringing them swiftly to punishment. And he may excuse them by relenting towards them, for should he thus relent, their sins will be erased, since 'the one who repents of wrongdoing becomes like the one who did no wrong.' and this is the utmost point of erasing the crime.

Al-Qarib - The Near

Al-Ahad - The One 

Al-Ali' - The Most High

The Most High is the one above whose rank there is no rank, and all ranks are inferior to Him. Angels are above men, men above animals, and God - great and glorious - is above everything, for He is absolutely high. he is the living and the life-giver, the absolute knower, creator of scholars' knowledge, transcending every kind of imperfection. Indeed, the inanimate are assigned to the lowest grades of the grades of perfection, while nothing is assigned to the other side but God the most high, and this is the way you should understand His being above and His height.

It is inconceivable that man be absolutely high, since he does not attain any rank without there being a higher one is existence, namely the ranks of prophets and of angels. Of course, it is conceivable that one again the rank such that there is none above it among people, and that is the rank of our prophet Muhammad - may God's blessing and peace be upon him. Yet even he falls short by comparison with the absolute height, since he is high by comparison with some existing things. Yet because he is high by comparison with what in fact exists, and not by way of necessity, his existence might be accompanied by the possible existence of a man above him. Now the absolutely most high has the quality of being above not comparatively but necessarily, that is, not in relation to any existing thing which might be associated with it as a possible contrast. Enough!

Al-Wahid - The Unique

The Unique is the one who can neither be divided nor duplicated. Concerning its not being divisible, it is like a unitary substance which cannot be divided: it is said to be one in the sense that no part of it is itself a substance, as a point has no parts. And God the most high is one in the sense that it is impossible for His essence to be arranged into parts.

A Man may be unique when he has no equal coming his fellow men in a characteristic reckoned among good qualities, yet that is a function of the class of men and the times, since it is possible that one like him emerge in another time, and furthermore, it is said in relation to some qualities and not all. So it belongs to none but God to e absolute unity.

Al-Muqsit - The Equitable

The Equitable is he who demands justice for the wronged from the wrongdoer. Its perfection lies in linking the satisfaction of the wrongdoer [resulting from the crime] to the satisfaction of the one wronged, for that is the ultimate in justice and equity, yet none is capable of it but God - may he be praised and exalted.

Those men who have the greatest share in this name are those who insist first of all on justice from themselves for others, and then from one for another, but forbear demanding it from another for themselves.

Al-Nur - The Light

Light is the visible one by whom everything is made visible, for what is visible in itself and makes other things visible is called 'light'. In the measure that existence is opposed to non-existence, what is visible cannot but be linked to to existence, for no darkness is darker than non-existence. What is free from the darkness of non-existence, and even from the possibility of non-existence, who draws everything from the darkness of non-existence to the manifestation of existence, is worthy of being named light. Existence is a light streaming to all things from the light of His essence, for He is the light of the heavens and the earth. And as there is not an atom of the light of the sun which does not by itself lead one to the existence of the sun which illuminates it, so there is not a single atom from the existents of the heavens and the earth and what lies between them which does not lead one by the very possibility of its existence to the necessary existence who brings them into being.

Al-Bayyan - The Evident

As-Samad - The Eternal

The Eternal is the one to whom one turns in need and the one who is intended in our desires, for ultimate dominion culminates in him. The one whom God has appointed to be a model for His servants in fulfilling their worldly and religious duties, and who secures the needs of His creatures by his word and action - to that one God bestows a share in this attribute. But the absolutely eternal is the one to whom one turns in every need, and He is God - may he be praised and exalted.

Al-Jalil - The Majestic

The Majestic is the one qualified by the attributes of majesty. Now the attributes of majesty are might, dominion, sanctification, knowledge, wealth, power, and other attributes we have mentioned. And the one who combines all of them is the absolutely majestic, while the majesty of one qualified by some of these attributes is proportional to what he receives of those particular attributes. So the absolutely majestic is none other than God - great and glorious. And as 'the Great' refers to the perfection of essence, and 'the Majestic' to the perfection of attributes, so does 'the Tremendous' refer to the perfection of essence and attributes together, as perceived by intellectual insight - provided it encompasses the intellectual perception rather than being encompassed by it.

The majestic and beautiful among men is the one whose interior attributes are attractive so as to give pleasure to discerning hearts; exterior beauty is of lesser worth.

Al-Majid - The All-Glorious

The All-Glorious is the one who is noble in essence, beautiful in actions, and bountiful in gifts and in favors. It is as if nobility of essence is called 'glory' when goodness of action is combined with it. He is also the one who glorifies - yet one of these is more indicative of intensification. It is as if The All-Glorious combines the meanings of The Majestic, The Bestower, and the Generous.

Ash-Shahid - The Witness

The Universal Witness refers in its meaning to knowledge with a specific addition, for God - great and glorious - is knower of invisible as well as visible things (9:94). Now the invisible comprises whatever is interior and the visible whatever is external, and this is what is seen, So if one considers knowledge alone, He is the one who knows, while if it is linked to invisible and interior things, He is the One who is aware of everything; and if it be linked to external thing, he is the Universal Witness. And it may be considered as well that He will bear witness to mankind on the day of resurrection from what He knows and has seen concerning them.

Al-Haqq - The Truth

The Truth is the one who is the antithesis of falsehood, as things may become evident by their opposites. Now everything of which one is aware may be absolutely false, absolutely true, or true in one respect and false in another. Whatever is impossible in itself is absolutely false, while that which is necessary in itself is absolutely true, and whatever is possible in itself and necessary by another is true in one respect and false in another. For this last has no existence in itself and so is false, yet acquires existence from the side of what is other than it, so it is an existent in this respect that acquired existence is bestowed upon it - so in that respect it is true while from the side of itself it is false. For that reason the Most High said: everything is perishing but His face (28:88). He is forever and eternally thus; not in one state to the exclusion of another, for everything besides him - forever and eternally - is not deserving of existence with respect to its own essence but only deserves it by virtue of Him, for in itself it is false; it is true only in virtue of what is other than it. From this you will know that the absolutely true is the One truly existing in itself, from which every true thing gets its true Reality.

The existent most deserving of being called true is God the most high, and the knowledge which most deserves to be called true is the knowledge of God - great and glorious - for it is true in itself; that is, it corresponds to what is known, forever and eternally. 

The most true assertion is your saying: there is no god but God, for it is correct forever and eternally, by virtue of itself and not by virtue of another.

Man's share in this name lies in seeing himself as false, and not seeing anything other than God - great and glorious - as true. For if a man is true, he is not true in himself but true in God - great and glorious, for he exists by virtue of Him and not in himself; indeed he would be nothing had the Truth not created him.

Al-Muta'ali - The Exalted

The Exalted means the same as The Most High, although its form is intensified.

(All meditations are excerpted from Al-Ghazali's The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God)

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