It’s not clear to me that the doctrine, taken in a robust sense, is even coherent. To see why, consider the following argument, which ultimately comes from the Shaykh (though in a different context). The version of it I make use of here is from II.5.243 of the Hikmat al-Ishrāq, where Suhrawardi writes:

.و لا تظنن ان الانوار المجردة تصير بعد المفارقة شيئا واحدا, فان شيئين لا يصير ان واحدا

“Do not opine that the immaterial lights become one thing after separation [i.e., from the body]; for two things do not become one.”

That is to say, for any two entities that become one or unified, exactly what is it for the one to become unified with the other or for the two to become one? For now, never mind that, ontologically, upholders of fanā’ presuppose that, fundamentally, there is only one reality and that reality is God or existence or whatever (expressed in many ways, under different concepts). Grant also their other claim i.e., that the way this ultimate union is achieved is through a dissolving of the ego (ana) – the prism, they say, that refracts, as it were, the one reality into a multiplicity – by means of sustained spiritual exercises, until eventually it’s totally annihilated (fana), at which point ittihād!

“The man who says Ana’l-‘abd, “I am the servant of God” affirms two existences, his own and God’s, but he that says Ana’l-Haqq,“I am God”, i.e., “I am naught, He is all: there is no being but God’s.” This is the extreme of humility and self-abasement.” (Rumi 1995: 184, tr. Nicholson)

Still, even assuming all that, just how is the consequent ‘oneness’ with the ultimate reality effected? Taking my cue from the Shaykh al-Ishrāq, when, say at the crucial moment, x is annihilated, and a ‘becoming one’ with y occurs, after the unification either:

a) both x and y subsist (ibid., 243.12-3)
b) neither x nor y subsists (243.13-4), or
c) y subsists but x doesn’t (or vice versa) (243.14-5)

Whatever alternative we opt for, and they seem to me to be exhaustive, there’s no unification or a ‘becoming one’ of two things. In a), whatever other way x (read: ego) may have been altered (spiritually or otherwise, whether it’s now the ‘higher self’ or not), the point is it’s something that retains a distinct huwiyya (identity) after the crucial moment. As such, there’s no unification. Option b) can be sub-divided; after both x and y cease, either (b.1) nothing remains or (b.2) something else z remains. If (b.1), we don’t have the unity of two things, just their ceasing to exist, period. If (b.2), why isn’t that just x and y ceasing to exist and a new thing z coming to exist as a result? Hence, no unity of two here either. Finally, with c), it’s self-evident why no unification occurred. Therefore, the whole doctrine interpreted as such just doesn’t make sense.

On the basis of this conclusion, I state a general rule (hukm): poetic and ecstatic claims (shatahāt) which suggest ittihād ought to be submitted to sober analyses in a way that will reveal their harmony with the above results.


9 thoughts on “Fanāʾ fi’l …?

  1. منصور حلاجی که اناالحق میگفت

    خاک همه ره به نوک مژگان می‌رفت

    درقلزم نیستی خود غوطه بخورد

    آنکه پس از آن در اناالحق می‌سفت

    Salam my friend.

    Read this quatrain of Rumi carefully.

    Fana or inexistence is the description of a mental state. It is not an ontological state of the soul that the faani becomes one with the object of its veneration.

    If one realizes love, then the state of fana would be intelligible. Its expression in words is not possible because it is beyond the science of reason (belongs to science of states through tasting: one has to be intoxicated to know how it feels to be in the state of intoxication, and reason cannot put in words the state of intoxication).

    Plus, putting such claims to Rumi I think is degrading him to what he is not: after all, he was, is, and will be known as primarily a jurist, and the elementary and primary knowledge of the jurist is to affirm the Oneness of God for eternity.

    My friend, knowing what Rumi wants to state takes time, and some people take 20 years or so just to go over some verses of Mathnawi.

    It is not like the realm of reason which tries to bind the reality within it, but to affirm what is real even if does not comply with rationality.


  2. salam my friend,

    Well, the quote from Rumi wasn’t meant to be interpretive of him, specifically, but only illustrative of a more general point, which is that – whatever Rumi’s own position may be – two things, as Suhrawardi says, do not become one.

    1. Salam again my friend.

      Just like Avicenna was the symbol of hikma, and addressing to avicenna meant addressing to hikma as a whole (in the Islamic era), similarly, rumi is the symbol of gnosis, and taking his writings out of context is not correct.

      Rumi would totally be compatible with sheikh al ishraq, and that statement of sheikh al ishraq could even be a variant of some poetics of Rumi.


      1. Salam,

        Sure. I don’t deny that Rumi’s views may be compatible with Suhrawardi’s in this regard. Again, I don’t want this to be about the correct interpretation of Rumi on fana’. My only point now is that however we understand fana’ (and related doctrines), that understanding should be guided by the argument in the OP.

  3. Salam again friend.

    “… that the way this ultimate union is achieved is through a dissolving of the ego (ana) – the prism, they say, that refracts, as it were, the one reality into a multiplicity – by means of sustained spiritual exercises, until eventually it’s totally annihilated (fana), at which point ittihād!”

    Where did you get this statement from?

  4. Fana does not mean the soul ceases to exist. It means that the created human soul realizes that God is the Real and soul is utterly dependent on God and its existence is infinitely less real than God. To put it another way the soul becomes utterly transparent before the light or wujud that God bestows upon all things. When baqa’ continued the soul retains it’s huwiyya but now the soul is sublimated and always reflecting God’s light.

    When Mansur says I am the Haqq it is because his soul is in a state where it has forgotten itself and is so absorbed in the remembrance of God that it’s speech declared God’s qualities.

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