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Last Updated: 2009/12/31
Summary of question
Is seeing God with the heart what is meant by seeing God with discerning insight?
question
Is there a difference between the discerning insight mentioned in the hadith of Imam Ali (as) who says he sees God through insight, and seeing with the heart? What is the relationship between the word of La Ilaha Illa Allah and this seeing of the heart (assuming that not all people will reach such a degree of seeing with the heart, the Prophet Musa (pbuh) did; is this word a covenant that one must fulfill when articulating it)?
Concise answer

Seeing God with our discerning insight, which has been mentioned in Imam Ali’s (A.S.) words falls under the theological discussion of seeing God. According to the sound assessment regarding this topic, seeing Him with the physical eye, which is a completely distinguished matter from divine intuition, is impossible. However, seeing with the heart (discerning insight) or the vision of Allah is an established belief, which is a mystical position, granted to the complete and absolute servants of God. Strictly speaking, the vision of Allah is in fact the intuition of God’s self-disclosure in the manifestation and epiphanies of His names and attributes of essence, not the intuition of the truth of His essence.

This type of vision is the vision of intuitional knowledge of God Almighty, which has been referred to in hadith literature as seeing with the heart.

Knowledge of God that is relating to the heart, which is in fact the vision of manifestations of God Almighty, has been assigned many different levels in mystical discussions, the last of which is annihilation (fanaa’) and survival (baqaa’) which ends in the essential manifestation of God.

Now the question at hand is what relation can be suggested to exist between the issue of witnessing and vision of the heart with the content of the phrase “لا اله الا الله” and tawhid (divine unity)?

The answer would be that the amount of i’khlāṣ (pure devotion) of every human being and submission to the belief that there is no god but Allah should arise from objective knowledge and shouldn’t be limited to imitation and verbalization. Therefore, the level of practical tawhid depends on the degree of defiance for all else other than Allah (لااله) and the degree of submission for Allah (الاالله) that has developed within him. In other words, it is only after such ikhlāṣ has grown within a servant of Allah that divine manifestations are revealed upon his heart.

Detailed Answer

Seeing God with our discerning insight, which has been mentioned in Imam Ali’s (A.S.) words falls under the theological discussion of seeing God. The topic of vision (ru’yat) is a very well discussed topic from the beginning of Islam among theologians and many different points of view have been developed throughout the years.[1]

In the Holy Quran, the term “لقاءالله” and seeing God’s wajh (face) has been mentioned. In hadith sources an independent and separate section has been specifically allocated to the topic of ru’ya tand many traditions have been mentioned in opposition and support of it. Therefore, different points of view have been proposed on this topic in the world of Islam but according to the sound assessment, eyesight vision, which is a completely distinguished matter from divine intuition, is impossible. However, seeing with the heart (discerning insight) or the vision of Allah is an established belief, which is a mystical position, granted to the complete and absolute servants of God. Strictly speaking, the vision of Allah is in fact the intuition of God’s self-disclosure in the manifestation and epiphanies of His names and attributes of essence, not the intuition of the truth of His essence.

This type of vision is the vision of intuitional knowledge of God Almighty, which has been referred to in hadith literature as seeing with the heart. Imam Ali says: “ما کنت اعبد رباً لم اره، قال و کیف رأیته، قال ویلک لاتدرکه العیون فی مشاهدة الابصار و لکن رأته القلوب بحقائقالایمان”;[2] (I have not worshipped a God that I have not seen. They asked: How did you see God? He replied: Eyes cannot see Him with sight but the heart can see him by true faith).

Knowledge of God related to the heart, which is in fact the vision of manifestations of God Almighty, has been assigned many different levels in mystical discussions, the last of which in annihilation and survival within God is determined to be the essential epiphany of God.

The most common division of the manifestations of Allah is the division of manifestations to essential manifestation, manifestation of attributes and actions. Essential manifestation, which is the highest manifestation, is also divided into two types: manifestation of dominicality and divinity.[3]

According to gnostic teachings, the manifestation of God that occurred for Prophet Musa was the manifestation of divinity, rather than the manifestation of dominicality because the condition for the manifestation of divinity is that the servant completely purifies himself of his egoism and selfhood, for the least amount of ego will indeed prevent this manifestation from taking place.

Based on this interpretation, we must say that despite the fact that seeing God by means of optical vision is impossible, He can be seen through His manifestations of actions, attributes and essence, the only thing is that essential vision is only possible when the essence of the wayfarer has been completely annihilated within the essence of the divine.

Therefore, vision with the heart consists of several levels that appear in accord with ones mystical and gnostic status, but the manifestation of divinity will not take place unless the existence of the wayfarer has been completely annihilated; the removal of all other spiritual obstacles will not be enough. Therefore, the phrase “لن ترانی[4] doesn’t absolutely deny every kind of vision, as mystics have said that the Prophet of Islam (A.S.) who had acquired absolute illuminative disclosure had also experienced the manifestation of divinity.

One of them is Ibn ‘Arabī who writes: “There are two kinds of manifestations of the essence: the manifestation of dominicality and the manifestation of divinity, the manifestation of dominicality is what occurred for Prophet Musa at Mount Sinai, where the mountain exploded but his (Prophet Musa) existence wasn’t eliminated, but the manifestation of divinity is confined to the Prophet of Islam (S.A.), which in effect of this manifestation his existence is annihilated within the existence of the divine’s essence to the extent where it was revealed down onto him: Those who pledge their allegiance to you are actually pledging their allegiance to God.”[5]

Now the question at hand is what relation can be suggested to exist between the issue of witnessing and vision of the heart with the content of the phrase “لا اله الا الله” and tawhid (divine unity)?

The answer would be pretty clear based on the information given above. Generally, mankind experiences any kind of manifestation, whether it is essential manifestation, the manifestation of attributes or actions, in accord to the degree of defiance he has for this conventional world and the amount of belief in essential, attributive unity and unity of divine actions he has practically obtained. Also, the wayfarer is deprived of God’s manifestations to the extent that his self has existence.

Therefore the amount of i’khlāṣ (pure devotion) of every human being and submission to the belief that there is no god but Allah should arise from objective knowledge and shouldn’t be limited to imitation and verbalization. Thus, the level of practical tawhid is contingent upon the degree of defiance for all else other than Allah (لااله) and the degree of submission for Allah (الاالله) that has developed within him. In other words, it is only after such ikhlāṣ has grown within a servant of Allah that divine manifestations are revealed upon his heart.

The highest level of tawhid, meaning the unity of being, where existence is negated of all entities other than God (namely, the oneness of existence claimed by the mystics), consists of the highest levels of divine manifestation after one’s selfhood has completely been erased, which was earlier discussed in relation with the manifestation of divinity.

Therefore, seeing God by the heart is the final destination to man’s path of excellence, which cannot be acquired through intellectual reasoning. However, mankind’s natural and existential movement in life is directed towards this limit, as the Quran says: “یا ایّها الانسان انّک کادحٌ الی ربّک کدحاً فملاقیه".[6]

 


[1] Da’irat al-Ma’aarif Tashayyu’, vol. 8, pp 404, 408 and 409, Shahid Hujjati Press, Tehran, 1379 (solar).

[2] Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 97, Daar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1365 (solar).

[3] Da’iratul Ma’aarife Bozorge Islami, vol. 14, pp. 589 and 590. Da’iratul Ma’aarife Bozorge Islami Center Press, first edition, 1385 (solar).

[4] A’raaf:143.

[5] Rasaa’il Ibn Arabi, Risalat al-Ghawthiyyah, p. 29, introduction and correction by Mile Hirawi, Mawla Press, Tehran, 1367 (solar).

[6] Inshiqaq:6.

 

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