The Veils: Ibn Al-Arabi
110:30 al-Futuhat al Makkiya (Meccan Revelations): “These Names are of two kinds. One kind is totally lights; these are the Names that denote ontological things. Another kind is totally darkness (zulam); these are the Names that denote Incomparability. The Prophet said, ‘God has seventy’ — or ‘seventy thousand’ — ‘veils of light and darkness; were they to be removed, the Glories of His Face would incinerate everything perceived by creatures’ eyes.’ For if the Divine Names were to be taken away the veils would be lifted; and if the veils — which are the Names — were to be lifted the Unity (ahadiyya) of the Essence would become manifest. Because of its Unity, no entity would remain qualified of existence. Hence, Unity would erase the existence of the entities of the possible things, and they would cease being described by existence, since they only become qualified by existence through the Names…So the possible things are behind those veils that are adjacent to the Presence of Possibility, since possibility is a theophany of the Essence that causes the possible things to become qualified by existence from beyond the veils of the Divine Names. Hence, the entities of the possible things gain no knowledge of God except in respect of the Names, whether by intellect or unveiling.”
Since God is all-Perfection, He can only create uniqueness and variability by imperfection. Al-Arabi describes it as God mixing different amounts of clay such that some people have a greater amount of darkness and others a greater amount of light. According to Al-Arabi, The Dust makes manifest the Divine Realities [by the physical which is a slower vibration], and subsequently, the goal is to be delivered from the “mixture” (mazja) so that each world [person] may know its share from its Producer. “God manifests Himself in the theophany through His light in that Dust, which is called the People of Reflection” (The Meccan Revelations, p.20).
120.15 A mixture: 2 handfuls of dough [clay], differentiated individuals from it. It is here that some of the [people] of knowledge become preferred over others in respect of their extracting the corrupt from the good and the good from the corrupt. (Meccan Revelations)
In order to create imperfection God mixes the physical with the Spiritual which creates variability in the forms. The variability from One is expressed by multiplicity and is identified by “names.” When all names or veils (the dark veils are the physical and/or ego which completely limits the viewing of the One or Unity) are taken away there is only being and non-being — the One who refers to itself as the “I Am.” When the “names” of our being are taken away, we too are revealed as One, and our true reality (Haqq) which has no name is apparent. What creates an entity is the naming of its essences, which is “knowing”. Otherwise, our understanding is limited to sensing. We can “sense” its being, but by the naming its multiplicity of traits or “self” projections provide knowing. Our personality traits are a multiplicity of names or projections of our nature that allows others to “know” us. We can only be known by these projections the same way God can only be known by its Names. We are made in the image of God which is a mirror of God’s image to humans. Our Haqq reflects the Divine Reality back to itself. Imagine a small mirror reflecting the Sun — the sun’s image in the mirror is small, but its light and rays expand outward from the mirror. We mirror that which is God and that which is not God.
“The All-Merciful turns the attentiveness of His Breath toward these forms; those of them that receive ignition are called stars and are like the pupils in a [person’s] face; these which do not receive ignition are called “spheres.” The Breath is God’s Spirit, which is pure light. “When I have shaped [them] and breathed of My Spirit into [them]” (Qur’an 15:29). According to Al- ‘Arabi the Breath is God, but when “shaped and balanced” it is referred to as “creatures.” This is the mixture of clay and Spirit by which God forms our being as entities. “Pupils” are mentioned because those with an “ignited” Spirit will display visible lights in the pupil of their eyes as if they were lit internally by candles.
“God is the Light of the heavens and earth. His Light is like this: there is a niche, and in it a lamp, the lamp inside a glass, a glass like a glittering star, fueled from a blessed olive tree from neither east nor west, whose oil almost gives light even when no fire touches it — light upon light — God guides whoever He will to his Light; God draws such comparisons for people; God has full knowledge of everything — shining out in houses of worship” (Q. 24:35–36)
The Prophet Muhammad was transformed by God into a Perfect Man, and His Names or veils are light and dark, negative and positive, but all outward essence projections that are submitted to God by the human will become veils of the incorruptable. In other words, when the dark veils which are revealed as names which cause harm and destruction to self and others like anger, are not used to fulfill the desire of the self or to feed the ego, but to serve the purpose of God then these veils become light. This would be considered righteous anger. This is how the human in the physical becomes perfected — with full understanding of how we are nothing (ex nihilo) without God. Our being is in His being, but apart from that knowledge God ceases to exist (for us). When God no longer exists because our veils have become dark and we live in a world of illusion, the mirrors of our souls no longer reflects the Divine Glory.
The ego’s use of illusion prevents self awareness of our true natures — it motivates lies to protect the fragile self. Subsequently, we don’t see ourselves clearly nor do we see God clearly. At the point when understanding of a Messenger’s teachings provide clarity or by intercessory prayer when the All-Merciful will provide revelation to the individual who does not see, then the light may begin to enter and self reflection can occur without damaging the self (guilt and shame). This can only be brought about by a full understanding of God’s grace. The more light that enters in, the more God reveals Himself, which allows for transformation closer to the will of God and the soul’s journey safely on the Straight Path. For the first step in becoming transformed is self awareness, which is clear understanding of our natures filtered through the teachings of the Prophet. Once self awareness occurs consistently, then the ego is burned away, and the “self” becomes fully submitted to God.
Part of becoming is acknowledging our own state of sinfulness without God and having the patience and love to let others grow at their own progression without judging or condemning. This is unconditional love which allows others souls to be nourished and fed. As mentioned, all humans have different levels of light and darkness which were predetermined by God from the beginning of time. For some, the climb to Mount Zion is a higher, more difficult climb because of their greater level of “flesh” or darkness which can blind them to spiritual truths. However, that is why it is important for them to obey those who God has called to be Prophets or Messengers, while reading God’s Word praying for understanding because the Prophets receive direct revelation from God so they can illumine God’s truth or true path for the benefit of humanity. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was told by the Archangel Gabriel, “Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, as a bearer of good news and warning, as one who calls people to God by His leave, as a light-giving lamp” (33:46).
Abu Yazid al-Bistami relates he asked God how he could come closer to God. God replied, “Gain proximity to Me through that which I do not possess, Lowliness and poverty…”
What is true submission or Islam? It is the complete emptying of the self to become a true servant of God. This is what al- ‘Arabi refers to as being in a state of poverty. “True servanthood entails abandoning any claim to possess existence, all of which are God’s.” It is the deep understanding that we possess nothing, are nothing, and can do nothing without God. Once we submit our wills to God for His purpose, awareness increases of our lack and poverty until God is raised up into complete sovereignty because the veil of our egos is entirely torn away and we can perceive the right relationship between ourselves and the Lord of all Worlds. As the Prophet Muhammad states, “I seek refuge in Thee from Thee.” He is All-Powerful, and must be approached with fear and trembling.
Advancement on the Spiritual Path
The beginning level of spirituality is that of the external or exoteric which creates the outward form which is to be readied for the next level by the filling of the form with internal or esoteric spiritual understanding. However, the external form of a religion or what is typically referred to as the “law” can become overly rigid and brittle such that it no longer bears fruit. It is at this point God provides a new Prophet with deeper understanding to keep the original root stock alive. When a grape vine ages becoming rigid and brittle and no longer produces, a branch from a wild grape vine can be grafted into the primary root stock to bring life or fruit production back from the original stock.
Islam began as an externally structured religion, and then deeper understanding was provided by mystics to revive the religion. Both exoteric and the esoteric are needed to provide the balance for a healthy religion which produces fruit for God. When the law becomes predominant overtaking the truth of the All-Merciful’s message of love, compassion and forgiveness, the religion no longer produces healthy spiritual fruit. God’s Spirit can’t reside in a broken form. The Qur’an is unique in that the exoteric is evident to address the lower spiritual maturity level, while those with an advanced spiritual level are able to understand the deeper esoteric level and teach others. This is the gift Ibn Al ‘Arabi was blessed by God with — he had the spiritual understanding, maturity, and direct revelation from God to reveal the beautiful hidden treasures of the Qur’an.
The contrast between the exoteric and the esoteric is clearly seen in the story of Moses and Khidr in the Qur’an. Moses requests deeper knowledge so is told to go to the place where two seas meet [symbolic of the locus of revelation when the law became enhanced by deeper understanding of God’s true intent and purpose], and the place where the two fish being carried in a basket by the servant escape is where they are to meet a spiritual guide. The servant forgets to tell Moses when the fish escaped and swam out to sea, which causes Moses to turn around and go back to the place where the fish escaped. They meet the man (sometimes referred to as “khidr,” a mythological spiritual figure who represents esoteric knowledge), and Moses asks to journey alongside the spiritual guide. The man tells him that he won’t be able to bear patiently because he doesn’t have the spiritual knowledge to understand. Moses pleads to go with the man promising not to question the man and obey. However, in each of the three events Moses disobeys by questioning the actions of the man, which confirms his limited spiritual understanding which is only based upon what he perceives with his senses. After the third event with Moses again questioning the man’s actions, Moses is told by the spiritual guide that he would take leave of Moses at that point, but not without first explaining the deeper motives for his actions. All of the man’s actions were motivated by direction and prescience knowledge from God to effect a future outcome. The man represents the Prophet, and Moses is representative of the limited spiritual understanding of those whose spiritual level is exoteric, or overtly law based. This story also provides understanding of the need of those with limited spiritual understanding to obey and trust the direction of God’s Prophets. For, the spiritual knowledge that comes through the Prophets is directly from God.
The Healthy “Self”
We are made by God each in His unique image. We are not to be determined as good or bad by others because our self is determined by God which is always good when in a state of submission to God. Our projections of “self” can be dark in a destructive way, but has the possibility of transforming into light. The destructive projection can be named as “bad,” but not the “self” which is the essence of a person created by God which is never all evil. We have a multiplicity of bad and good personality traits when, as mentioned above, can be submitted to God to be transformed into tools for His purpose. It is important not to acknowledge the distortion of our “selves” in anyone else’s mirror, for it is a distorted image from their own egos. When our mirrors reflect God only, then our light can banish the darkness of others projections and our “self” is protected from others ego attacks. To keep our own “self” healthy it is unwise to respond to negativity from others with dark projections ourselves. In this way, we begin to display the image of God more fully by allowing our consciousness to become outward love with the “names”of our “self” more attuned to God’s will.
Ibn Al- ‘Arabi poem:
The servant of self-will has run away from his Masters kingdom, but he cannot go outside of it, so he wanders aimlessly.
The free man is he who owns all engendered things and is not owned by property or position.
Were he to resist engendered existence, he would nullify his root in His Master’s kingdom.