God – His Transcendence and Manifestation

© MarcelClemens | shutterstock.com
© MarcelClemens | shutterstock.com

Allah, as introduced to us by the Holy Qur’an, is the One God who is Transcendent, and yet Manifest. He is described as the infinitely Sublime, and yet ultimately Evident Being. We read in the Qur’an, “Eyes cannot reach Him. He reaches the eyes. He is the Incomprehensible, All-Aware.”[1] The Qur’an speaks of ‘eyes’, not exclusively in the sense of the physical organs of sight, but as representatives of the entire human sensory apparatus – the Sensorium. The human sensory apparatus, when examined in its totality, includes all the senses and all perceptive faculties, both physical and spiritual. The human physical sensorium comprises the five physical senses along with the brain and all its faculties. What is being said here, essentially, is that the human physical senses can not perceive God on their own, and that human reason by itself, can not discover Him of its own accord. But God, whenever He so chooses, reaches out to the ‘eyes’, by wilfully unveiling Himself to the human spiritual senses. The spiritual senses collectively, form another sensorium, one that is distinct from the physical sensorium and one through which man perceives not physically, but spiritually. Even as God reveals Himself to the human ‘spiritual senses’ in this material life, He does so by means of His attributes of Manifestation. His attributes of Transcendence continue to remain concealed to all modes of human perception during this temporal life.

The Arabic for ‘Transcendence’ is Tanzeeh. God’s state of Tanzeeh or Transcendence, involves attributes of His that are entirely beyond human perception and comprehension, and to which man cannot relate. Human perception operates on the simple principle of resemblance. If an object does not resemble something that is already preserved in human memory, that object will not be recognisable. God’s state of Manifestation, Tashbeeh in Arabic, on the other hand, involves such of His attributes that are mirrored in the artistry of God’s Creation and to which man can relate. The Arabic term Tashbeeh, which literally means ‘resemblance’, refers to God’s state of Manifestation. His attributes of Transcendence are therefore known as Sifaat-e-Tanzeehiyya, while His attributes of Manifestation are known as Sifaat-e-Tashbeehiyya. According to the Qur’an, God’s Transcendence and Manifestation complement each other.

God says in the Qur’an, “And indeed, We have set forth for mankind, all kinds of metaphors in this Qur’an, that they may take heed.”[2] Were it not for the generous use of metaphors in the Qur’an, we would certainly have been deprived of even superficially understanding matters that relate to the spiritual realm. Perhaps, the most classic and intriguing example of Qur’anic metaphor would be the ‘Throne of God’. In his book Chashma-e-Maarifat, the Promised Messiahas beautifully expounds the Qur’anic concept of the Throne of God – the Arsh. The Arsh, according to the Promised Messiahas, symbolises God’s Transcendent attributes. Just as God Himself is not material, so is the Throne on which He allegorically seats Himself, not made of matter. According to the Qur’an, God’s Throne is held aloft by eight angels, four of whom are revealed to us in this life. The reason they are spoken of as ‘Angels’ is because all Divine attributes operate in the Cosmos through the agency of the angels. In the next life, when our perceptive acuity will become two-fold, due to the activation of our spiritual senses, the four Haamileen al Arsh or ‘Bearers of the Throne’, as they are called, will appear as eight. Hence, in relation to the Day of Judgement, we read in the Qur’an, “…on that Day, eight angels will bear the Throne of thy Lord.”[3] Again, regarding the next life, God says, “…now, We have removed from thee, thy veil, and sharp is thy sight this Day[4]suggesting that God’s Transcendence too, will eventually be unveiled in the Hereafter. Similarly, we have been told by the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa that in the next life, we would be able to see the Holy Countenance of God, just as we see the full moon – and he pointed towards the full moon in the sky, while saying this.[5]

We read in the Qur’an, “Exalted be Allah, the True King. There is no god but He, the Lord of the Glorious Throne.”[6]God’s Transcendence, symbolised by His Throne, is His state of Absolute Grandeur, independent of whether there exists any creation or not. His attribute of Mercy, in contrast, demands expression which in turn, can be fulfilled only by the presence of life, created to be shown mercy. The Qur’an treats water as the emblem of life. We read, “…of water, We have made all things living.”[7]We also read, “… and His Throne rests over water…”.[8] If God’s Throne refers to His Transcendence and water signifies life, then the expression ‘Throne over water’ can be understood only as a metaphorical way of saying that God’s Transcendence dominates over His Manifestation. Whereas transcendence demands aloofness, mercy demands expression. God’s will to be known, therefore, stems from His Absolute Mercy. His attributes of Manifestation require that there be recipients of His Grace, Mercy, Love, Protection and Forgiveness. The Holy Prophet Muhammadsa states that God says: “I was a Hidden Treasure. Then I chose to be known. Hence, I created Adam.[9]

The attributive names of God, are collectively known, in the Qur’an, as the Asmaa al Husna, meaning the ‘Most Beautiful Names. Hence, we read, “Allah – there is no God but He. His are the most beautiful names.”[10]God manifests Himself to man, principally through His four principal attributes, known in Arabic as the Asmaa al Arba’a, meaning ‘the four names’. These principal attributes of God are enumerated in the opening chapter of the Qur’an, Al-Fatiha, as follows: “All Praise belongs to Allah – the Rabb of all the worlds. The Rahman, the Raheem. Maalik of the Day of Judgement.”[11] Rabb, the first of these four, is translated commonly for the sake of convenience as ‘Lord’, Rahman as ‘Gracious’, Raheem as ‘Merciful’ and Maalik as ‘Master’. The above quoted verses could thus alternatively be read as “All Praise belongs to Allah – Lord of all worlds. The Gracious, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgement.”[12] The quality of being Rabb, in Arabic, is called Ruboobiyyat. The quality of being Rahman, by the same rule of Arabic grammar, is called Rahmaniyyat. The quality of being Raheem is called Raheemiyyat. The quality of being Maalik is called Maalikiyyat. These four attributes collectively, are also known as Sifaat al Arba’a, meaning the ‘Four Attributes’. All other attributes of Allah reflect the various hues of these four attributes.

 NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/ Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)
NASA, ESA, H. Teplitz and M. Rafelski (IPAC/ Caltech), A. Koekemoer (STScI), R. Windhorst (Arizona State University), and Z. Levay (STScI)

The attributive name Rabb, the first of these four principal attributes, has three meanings – the Creator, the Sustainer, and the Perfecter. The Qur’an introduces Allah to us as the Rabbul ‘Aalameen, which means the ‘Rabb of all worlds’. ‘Aalameen is the plural of ‘Aalam, which means ‘world’. Hence, according to the Qur’an, Allah is the Creator, Sustainer and Perfecter of ‘all worlds’ – whether these ‘worlds’ are astronomical, territorial or demographical. As Rabbul ‘Aalameen, God is the Creator of the entire Cosmos and all the things that fill it. As Rabbul ‘Aalameen, God is also the Sustainer of His entire Creation. He sustains, nurtures and cherishes His creation. As Rabbul ‘Aalameen, God also perfects and burnishes His creation, guiding each creature individually to its own individual zenith. He perfects His creation by wilfully controlling the process of evolution, thus causing His creation to move from lower levels of refinement to higher ones. Ruboobiyyat, is the force that propels and harnesses the process of Divinely guided evolution. As Rabb, God continues to perfect His creation, leading it through the corridor of this life, not ceasing at the juncture of death and continuing after death, into the next life. Hence, while on the one hand, God’s attribute of Ruboobiyyat explains the phenomenon of Divinely guided evolution, on the other hand, it negates the concept of accidental natural selection. Nature is indeed an intelligent design, but not inherently intelligent itself. Ruboobiyyat, in contrast, is inherently wise. Ruboobiyyat is absolute intelligence. God’s attributive name Rabb justifies the life of the hereafter. One of the meanings of Rabb, as already mentioned, is ‘One who perfects in a step-by-step fashion’. Man, the pinnacle of God’s creation, does not attain the zenith of his perfection during the span of this life, justifying a continuation of life, beyond the threshold of death. The hereafter, therefore, is a manifestation of God’s Ruboobiyyat. The concept of the various levels of Heaven and Hell, mentioned in the Qur’an and in the sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, further suggest the continuous manifestation of Ruboobiyyat. Even Hell, which from our mortal point of view, may indeed appear to be punitive in nature, and most certainly not desirable, is in its truest essence, merely a manifestation of God’s attribute of Ruboobiyyat, by means of which God cleanses and burnishes the blemished and tarnished human soul – thus preparing it for an eternal and joyful Bliss. God as Rabb, also acquaints man with the ecstatic delights of spiritual experiences, whether they are true dreams or visions or verbal revelations or other mystical experiences, so that the rapture of these experiences may gradually draw man closer to his Creator.

The scope and sphere of God’s Ruboobiyyat, according to the Qur’an, transcends beyond the confines of both space and time. We read in the Qur’an, “All Praise belongs to Allah – Lord of all worlds.”[13] The expression ‘world’ – in Arabic ‘Aalam – can signify a certain defined sphere of space or time. This means to say that God is the Rabb of all spaces and all times. His attribute of being the Rabb for ‘all worlds’ or ‘Aalameen, also suggests that He is as much the Rabb for the believers as He is for the disbelievers, where each group constitutes a distinct world in itself. God’s final message, the Qur’an, is addressed not to any particular ‘Aalam, but to the ‘Aalameen or ‘all worlds’. Hence, we read, “Nay, it is but a Reminder for all worlds.”[14] The Messenger of God, Muhammadsa who conveyed this message, was also according to the Qur’an, sent for ‘all worlds’. Addressing the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, God says, “And We have not sent thee but as Mercy embodied for all worlds.”[15] The Qur’an is therefore the reminder for all worlds, revealed by the Lord of all worlds, to His Messenger who was mercy for all worlds. ‘Universality’ is thus, a distinguishable feature of the Message of Islam.

There happens to be a whole range of diverse states – physical, mental, moral and spiritual – in which a person can, at any given moment, find himself. Each of these states is, in every sense of the word, a ‘world’ in itself. The state of prayer, the state of sacrifice, the state of life and the state of death, are all states where each state is a world in itself. According to the Qur’an, it is God who looks after man, in each of the states in which he may find himself. Afflicted with perpetual ingratitude, however, man tends to be oblivious of his Sole Cherisher. As the most strikingly prominent exception to this human attitude of thanklessness, the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa epitomises gratefulness towards God, remaining committed to God in all situations. Addressing His messenger, Muhammadsa, God says in the Qur’an, “…My prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death, all, are wholly committed to Allah – Rabb al Aalameen.[16] In this particular verse, God speaks of Himself as man’s ‘Cherisher’ in each and every single state of man’s existence. The term ‘aalam in this verse, signifies a ‘state’ or ‘situation’ or ‘condition’. The Holy Prophetsa stands prominent in the sea of humans, in that he remained wholly committed to God in each of these ‘states’, or ‘aalameen, of his.

The second mentioned attributive name, from among the four principal attributes of God, relating to His state of Manifestation, is Rahman. For the sake of linguistic convenience, the term Rahman is generally translated as ‘Gracious’. The Promised Messiahas has elaborated the meaning of Rahman for us as One who shows mercy unconditionally, even when it has not been earned, and even where it is not deserved. God’s personal name – Allah – by definition, contains within itself, the merits of all His attributive names. It is interesting to note however, that of all the attributive names of Allah, the one that has been mentioned as an alternative to His personal name ‘Allah’ is the name Rahman, suggesting in an exquisitely subtle way, that God’s personal name Allah symbolises His unconditional mercy. Hence, we read in the Qur’an, “Say, ‘Call upon Allah or call upon Rahman…”[17] The Qur’an thus draws our attention to the fact that Allah is, as if He were Graciousness itself. Another striking feature of God’s attributive name ‘Rahman’ is that the Qur’an treats it as the opposite pole, antonym if you please, of ‘Satan’. Satan symbolises the negativity that leads man away from God, in a direction opposite to God’s. Hence, we read, “I fear, lest a punishment from Rahman seize thee, and thou become a friend of Satan.”[18] This verse suggests that whereas the name Rahman symbolises all-embracing mercy, its opposite pole, which would be mercilessness, is symbolised in the Qur’an by Satan. Which of the two opposite poles man chooses, is of course left entirely to man’s own choice, and he is free to make his choice.

According to Islamic doctrine, the Qur’an is Al Kitab or the perfect scripture. Had the human race earned this Book, God would certainly have attributed His gift to His attribute of Raheemiyyat. But, we read in the Qur’an, “Rahman – Who has taught the Qur’an.”[19]Hence, God’s ultimate and priceless gift to man, is the Qur’an, which is attributed to His sheer Grace – Rahmaniyyat.

On account of his ego, and to his credit, man remains susceptible to viewing the rewards of the Hereafter as the consequence of his own doings solely. People talking about treading their way to Heaven and earning Paradise, is indeed commonplace. Paradise however, is treated by the Qur’an, as a gift so disproportionately greater than man’s true entitlement, that the factor of human action emerges as infinitesimally smaller than the value of the reward. Hence, Paradise too is associated with the Divine attribute of Rahmaniyyat. We read, “The Gardens of Eternity, in the Unseen, which Rahman has promised to His servants.”[20] Man’s lack of sincere intention so outweighs his good deeds, in most cases, that his entitlement to Paradise becomes questionable. Thus, in most cases, he inherits Paradise, not due to his deeds, but in spite of them, and due to sheer Divine Grace.

According to the Qur’an, if there is one attribute of God that is the summation of all His attributes, the one attribute that continues even in His state of Transcendence, when He, speaking allegorically, seats Himself upon His Throne – it is His Grace or Rahmaniyyat. Hence, we read in the Qur’an, “He is Rahman, who has settled Himself on the Throne.”[21]In other words, Divine Grace, although essentially an attribute of Manifestation, is so intrinsic to God’s Person, that it is there even in His state of Transcendence. This characteristic makes the Divine attribute of Rahmaniyyat singularly unique. Hence, Rahmaniyyat is an attribute that is common to both God’s Transcendence and Manifestation.

The third attribute from among God’s Asmaa al Arba’a – the four Divine attributes – according to the Qur’an, is Raheemiyyat, the quality of perpetual Mercy. The first encounter we make with the Divine attribute of Raheemiyyat, is in the opening verse of the Qur’an, which reads, “In the name of Allah – the Gracious, Ever Merciful.”[22] The attributive name Raheem is generally translated as ‘Merciful’ or ‘Ever-Merciful’. The Promised Messiahas has elaborated the meanings of this term for us as “One who will express His mercy in response to a good deed, in a measure that is disproportionately greater than the good deed itself.” The second meaning of the term Raheem is “One who expresses mercy repeatedly.” Hence, the attribute of Raheem involves the element of repetitiveness and perpetuity in the expression of mercy. The Qur’an introduces its reader to an Ever-Merciful, Loving God. We read in the Qur’an, “…Verily, my Lord is Ever-Merciful, Loving.”[23]His Mercy, in other words, is born out of love, while His Love is born out of mercy.

 © Shico | shutterstock.com
© Shico | shutterstock.com

One of the most amazing manifestations of God’s name Raheem, is when it appears in confluence with His attributive name Ghafoor, which means the Most Forgiving. Istighfar, in turn, is the Arabic for man’s act of seeking God’s forgiveness. In the Qur’an, God’s attributive name Ghafoor, the Most Forgiving, is frequently coupled with His attributive name Raheem. The duo of Divine attributes, Ghafoor ur Raheem, is one that comes across frequently in the Book of God. We read, “…Allah is Most-Forgiving, the Merciful.”[24] This clearly suggests that God’s forgiveness is displayed in conjunction with His attribute of Raheemiyyat. Man is expected to be cognisant, on his part, of his shortcomings, confess his sins, show genuine remorse, and conscientiously seek God’s forgiveness. This seeking of forgiveness or Istighfar, on man’s part, would be required as a prerequisite to God’s forgiveness. God’s Maghfirat or forgiveness, acts under the influence of His attribute of Raheemiyyat. God’s pardon is, therefore, as a matter of rule, overwhelmingly greater in magnitude than the weight of man’s apology. Applying the second meaning of Raheem — the Ever – Merciful — to Ghafoor ur Raheem, we find ourselves, as if it were, in the presence of a perpetually forgiving God. If the repetitiveness of God’s forgiveness could not outclass man’s repeated faltering, man would be doomed. Man’s atonement, is therefore, a blessing of God the Raheem.

The fourth principal attribute of God, according to the Qur’an, is His being the Lord of the Day of Judgement. The term employed in the Qur’an is Maaliki Yaum id Deen, where Maalik means ‘Lord’, ‘Master’ or ‘Proprietor’, Yaum means ‘day’ and Deen refers to both ‘judgement’ as well as ‘religion’. Hence, the expression Maaliki Yaum id Deen could be translated as both Master of the Day of Judgement and as Master of the Day of Religion. The attribute of being Maalik, or Maalikiyyat, is a state beyond being a mere judge. Whereas a judge is bound by the law that dictates his judgement, the Maalik or Master enjoys absolute proprietorship, His will being the law itself. This does not mean to suggest that the Qur’an speaks of a whimsical God. On the contrary, His judgement sprouts from absolute knowledge. We read in the Qur’an, “Your Lord knows you best. If He so pleases, He will have mercy on you, or if He so pleases, He will punish you. And We have not sent thee as a keeper over them.”[25]Addressing man, in general, in this verse, God says, “Your Lord knows you best.” On the other hand, addressing His own Messenger, in the same verse, God says, “And We have not sent thee as a keeper over them,” suggesting that absolute knowledge rests so singularly with God that He alone is worthy of being the Master of the Day of Judgement. He alone is aware of the privileges that were available to a certain person during his temporal life, as well as the handicaps that befell him. Then again we read, “Everyone acts according to his own constitution. Your Lord alone knows who is best guided.”[26]Hence, according to the Qur’an, man’s physical and mental constitution, be it to his advantage or otherwise, will be fully taken into account by God, when He judges man on the Day of Judgement. The term Yaum, the Arabic for ‘Day’, does not necessarily imply a day of twenty-four hours. Its connotation is merely a specified time-frame, implying anything from a moment to an era. Whether a soul is judged innocent or guilty in this life or the next, the judgement will not come to pass without God’s leave. The expression Deen can also be translated as ‘religion’. Applying this meaning of the word Deen, the meaning we derive of Maalik-e Yum id Deen, would be ‘Master of the Day of Religion’. The ‘Day of Religion’ would therefore imply a span of time in which God revives and revitalises the true religion.

The Holy Qur’an, thus introduces its reader to a God who is the Transcendent God, as well as the Manifest God. His Transcendent attributes are indiscernible to human perception and impalpable to human reason. His attributes of Manifestation, on the other hand, refer to His four principal attributes whose beauty can be appreciated, to a certain degree, by man’s intellect.

The Promised Messiahas writes in his book Chashma-e Maarifat:

“God’s state of Transcendence, tends to over-shadow all other Divine attributes, rendering Him, the Most Hidden. This state is termed ‘Arsh’ or ‘The Throne’, in the Qur’an, where God becomes incomprehensible to Man’s intellect and appears unreachable. His four Attributes of Manifestation, however, symbolised by four angels, reveal His hidden existence. Firstly, by His attribute of Ruboobiyyat, He nurtures Man, both in the physical and spiritual spheres. Ruboobiyyat, therefore, demands, for the sake of its expression, both matter and spirit. Similarly, Divine revelation and the appearance of miracles too, are on account of God’s Ruboobiyyat. Secondly, God’s attribute of Rahmaniyyat, which causes Man to inherit innumerable bounties without his slightest effort, is also a manifestation of the Divine. Thirdly, the attribute of Raheemiyyat, by means of which, God enables Man to put to use such faculties of his that were granted to him by God’s Rahmaniyyat, also manifests the Being of God. Fourthly, the attribute of being Maalik-iYaum id Deen, by means of which God rewards the righteous and punishes the evil ones, is also a manifestation of God. These four attributes of Manifestation hold aloft the metaphorical ‘Arsh’ or Throne of God, which symbolises His state of Transcendence. Hence, God’s otherwise imperceptible Being is revealed through the expression of these four attributes of His. In the Hereafter, this perception of Divinity will become two-fold. Thus, the four angels will become eight.”[27]

 

Endnotes

1. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-An’am, Verse 104.
2. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Zumar, Verse 28.
3. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al Haqqah, Verse 18.
4. Holy Qur’an, Surah Qaf, Verse 23.
5. Hadith of Bukhari, Kitabul Tauheed.
6. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Mu’minun, Verse 117.
7. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Anbiya’, Verse 31.
8. Holy Qur’an, Surah Hud, Verse 8.
9. Hadithof Kashful Khifaa wa Muzeelul Ilbaas.
10. Holy Qur’an, Surah Ta Ha, Verse 9.
11. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verses 2-4.
12. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verses 2-4.
13. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verse 2.
14. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Qalam, Verse 53.
15. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Anbiya’, Verse 108.
16. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-An’am, Verse 163.
17. Holy Qur’an, Surah Bani Isra’il, Verse 111.
18. Holy Qur’an, Surah Maryam, Verse 46.
19. Holy Qur’an, Surah Rahman, Verse 2, 3.
20. Holy Qur’an, Surah Maryam, Verse 62.
21. Holy Qur’an, Surah Ta Ha, Verse 6.
22. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Fatihah, Verse 1.
23. Holy Qur’an, Surah Hud, Verse 91.
24. Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah, Verse 200.
25. Holy Qur’an, Surah Bani Isra’il, Verse 55.
26. Holy Qur’an, Surah Bani Isra’il, Verse 85.
27. Chashma-e Maarifat, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 23, pp. 278-279.

 

1 Comment

Click here to post a comment