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Summary of question
Is Lordship confined to God Almighty?
question
Is Lordship confined to God Almighty or do those servants who have reached the high position of being God’s vicegerent in this world (khalīfatullah) have a certain part and share as well (not in creation, but in management)? If so, please explain how this doesn’t conflict with tawhid (divine unity)?
Concise answer

ربوبیت(Lordship)” is derived from the word “رب (lord)”and is used in the Arabic language for the words owner, possessor and trainer. Given the fact that God is the owner of all existence, the management of this realm will be His responsibility. So, he is the “رب” of all creations. Even though every creation in this realm is a manifestation of the manifestations of God, these manifestations have essential and fundamental properties and principles; one of those principle components is the stage of forging and management, which is the initial level of descension and manifestation of the absolute self-existent essence of God.

According to Tawhid based ideology, no other being stands independent in it’s existence but God; everything other than Him is a sign and manifestation of His great essence, which are contingent in attribute and essence upon Him. In fact, their essence is need itself to God. Therefore, essential and independent lordship is confined to God and associating this divine virtue to His creations is only legitimate in the sense that they are his manifestations.

Thus, based on mysticism and theosophy, we can say: The complete human being who is the manifestation of the sensual, imaginal and luminous realms altogether is the one who can be the manifestation of the realm of Lordship. This is why it has been said that the complete human being is the manifestation of Allah’s name and divine lordship. In addition, according to the words of Imam Sadiq (A.S.), the more one strives in God’s worship and for annihilation in His essence, the more will he reach the position of manifestation of lordship.

Although, distinguishing between divine oneness and idolatry for most people is difficult and perhaps, due to not having the right amount of knowledge and awareness, most of them are deviated from the right path of divine oneness and fall victim to polytheism – which is why the A’immah would warn their followers to be careful when using the attribute of lordship when referring to them – it is safe to attribute some divine virtues to exceptional human beings after establishing the fundamental fact that all of mankind is essentially in need of God.

Detailed Answer

In order to further explain this issue, a few notes must be made:

1. The Meaning of Lordship (Rubūbīyyah)

ربوبیت(Lordship)” is derived from the word “رب (Lord)”and is used in the Arabic language for the words owner, possessor, master and trainer.[1] Terminologists perceive that when the term “رب” is used unconditionally it can only be used for God, but can be used for others when added to another word in a construct phrase, such as, “رب البیت” (lord of the home) and “رب الابل” (lord of the camel).[2]

Rāghib Isfihānī believes that the original root of this word is “tarbiyat”,which means creating something moment by moment and in different forms to the point where it reaches excellence.[3]

In explanation of the term “رب” ‘AllāmahṬabāṭabāī says: “This term refers to a master who manages the affairs of his servant. The word, thus, connotes the idea of ownership. Ownership (in our social structure) is a special relationship of one thing with another - a relationship that allows the owner to do with the owned thing as he wishes. When we say, "This thing belongs to us", it shows that it has a special relationship with us that allows us to do with it as we wish; had it not been for this relationship, we would not have had this authority over it. Of course, this definition is in a social context, it is an idea which the society has laid down but which has no external referent. Nonetheless, this idea is derived from a real concept called "ownership"; Our limbs and faculties, like sight, hearing, the hands and the feet, belong to us - they exist because of our own existence, they have no independent existence, they depend on us for their existence and continuity, and we use them as we like. This is real ownership.

What we earn out of our own effort or receive through any other legal method is ours and we own it because we can do with it as we wish. However, it isn’t real ownership because my automobile and carpet’s existence don’t depend on my existence in the way that when I pass away they will perish. Hence, this ownership isn't real, it is just something official and legal, nothing more.

Out of these two types of ownership, the ownership that may be attributed to Allah is the real one, and not that which is based on subjective outlook. Obviously, the real ownership cannot be disjoined from management of the affairs of the owned thing. The owned thing depends on the owner in its existence, as well as in all affairs related to its existence. Allah is "الرب", the Lord of everything because the Lord is the owner who manages the affairs of, and looks after, the owned thing and only Allah has this attribute.”[4]

Shaykh al-Ra’īs Avicenna remarks on this issue saying: “The lordship of the lord entails the absolute management of all creatures and beings by God Almighty, which includes the clearing of the temperament of the body, for man cannot be considered complete if his body isn’t prepared to comply. And it is agreed that this status wont’ be achieved except through sensitive training and clean and pleasant temperament, which very little can understand.”[5]

2. The Second Point: The status of rubūbīyyah among God’s attributes

In order to elaborate, we must say: despite the fact that every creation is a manifestation of God, that which possesses a certain and special position among the manifestations of God’s attributes of beauty, perfection and majesty, mystics have generally found it sufficient to merely mention the five types of divine presence, which are the principle presences:

1. Absolute presence of the absent: Its cosmos is the cosmos of the immutable entities in the omniscient presence.

2. Presence of the attestation, which is the contrary to the presence of the absent and it’s cosmos is the realm of sensual perception.

3. Presence of the relative non-manifestation, which has two kinds. One of them is very close to the absolute absent and its realm is the realm of the powerful and angelic souls, meaning the realm of intellects and souls.

4. Another is nearer to the realm of attestation and its realm is the imaginal realm.

5. Presence of the Comprehensive, which includes all four of these presences and its sphere is the sphere of the complete human being who the comprehensive of all realms.

In the exposition of Amir al-Mu’minīn’s works of poetry, the five presences are put this way: 1. Presence of the most non-manifested and absolute absent, 2. Presence of the names, attributes, omnipotence, isthmus of isthmuses (barzakh al-barāzikh), the first barzakh, meeting-place of two seas and measure of two-bows or less. 3. Presence of acts, which is the realm of command, realm of lordship, relative non-manifestation, internal absence, 4. Presence of imagination and detached imagination, 5.Presence of sensation and sensual perception.[6]

Therefore, lordship is: the detailed level of names, attributes and actions of God so that divinity of the name is the divine level that the names of the essence, attributes and actions exist in conciseness. So the level of lordship is lower than the level of divinity.[7] In other words, the level of unity, from the perspective that it takes the manifestations of names, which are objects and realities, to their respective possible and appropriate perfections according to their potentials in the real external world, is the level of rubūbīyyah.[8]

Anyhow, as Ḥakīm MīrDāmād has said: “The stage of forging and management is the initial level of descension and manifestation of the absolute self-existent essence of God, which is why in surah Ḥamd, the U’mm al-Kitāb, the word “رب العالمین” has come after a name of essence (ism al-dhāt)“الله”:"الحمدللّهربّالعالمين".”[9]

3. The Third Issue: Is it right to use the term “rubūbīyyah” for another creature other than God?

In response we must say: according to divine unity (Tawhid), no other being stands independent in its existence but God, everything other than Him is a sign and manifestation of His great essence, which are contingent in attribute and essence upon Him. In fact, their essence is need itself to God. Therefore, essential and independent lordship is confined to God and associating this divine virtue to His creations is only legitimate in the sense that they are His manifestations.

Thus, based on mysticism and theosophy, we can say: The complete human being who is the manifestation of the sensual, imaginal and luminous realms altogether is the one who can be the manifestation of the realm of Lordship.

In explanation, mystics and divine philosophers believe: as the minor realm, man is the image of the realm of lordship, which is the major realm; meaning that the human being is a collection of sensual creatures and heavenly subtleties and the most noble of them all. Therefore, whatever the realm of lordship contains, man contains as well. The human being is the portrait of the sensual, imaginal and luminous realm altogether, which is exactly why it has been said that the complete human being is the manifestation of Allah’s name and divine lordship, because i’smullāh (God’s name) contains His every name, and this is the rank of lordship. The realm of lordship is a meaning that contains every creature. However, God is a self-existent essence and independently and essentially existent being and everything else is subsidiary and lies under His shadow.[10]

Anyhow, because of his collective being and acquisition of high ranks, the complete human being is the manager, lord and medium of creation for the lower level of existence, because the nafs (essence) of the complete man is the medium for God’s grace to mankind.[11] Furthermore, according to the words of Imam Sadiq (A.S.) the more one strives in God’s worship and annihilation in His essence, the more he will reach the position of manifestation of lordship.[12]

The last and final point is that although, distinguishing between divine oneness and idolatry for most people is difficult and perhaps, due to not having the right amount of knowledge and awareness, most of them are deviated from the right path of divine oneness and fall victim to polytheism – which is why the A’immah would warn their followers to be careful when using the attribute of lordship when referring to them – it is safe to attribute some divine virtues to exceptional human beings after establishing the fundamental fact that all of mankind is essentially in need of God.


[1] Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-Arab, the root of RBB; Tabarsi, Abu Ali Fadl ibn Hasan, Majma’ al-Bayaan, vol. 1, pp. 21 and 22, Maktabah al-Ilmiyyah al-Islamiyyah, no date and no place of publication; Raghib Isfahani, al-Mufradaat li Alfaadh al-Quran al-Karim.

[2] Raghib Isfahani, Mufradaat; Ibn Mandhur, Lisan al-Arab, the root of RBB.

[3] Raghib Isfahani, Mufradaat, the root of RBB.

[4] Al-Mizan, translation, Musavi Hamedani, vol. 1, p. 34.

[5] Shaykh al-Ra’is Ibn Sina, Panj Resaleh, p. 59, Abu Ali Sina University Press, Hamedan, second edition, 1383 (solar).

[6] Sajjadi, Sayyid Ja’far, Ma’aarife Eslami dictionary, vol. 2, p. 732, third edition, Tehran University Press, Tehran, 1372 (solar).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, vol. 3, p. 1759.

[9] Mir Muhammad Baqir Damaad, Jadhawaat wa Mawaqit, Mirath Maktub, p. 198, Tehran, 1380 (solar), first edition, corrected and annotated by Ali Owjabi.

[10] Muhammad Sharif Nezamuddin Ahmad ibn al-Hiravi, Anwaariyyah (translation and commentary of Al-Ishraaq of Sohrevardi), p. 188, Amir Kabir Press, Tehran, 1363 (solar), second edition, notes: Introduction by Husayn Ziya’i.

[11] Gerami, Muhammad Ali, Low Laa Fatimah, p. 22, first edition, Daar al-Fikr, 1381 (solar).

[12]فَقَالَ (الصادق ع) "اعْلَمَا أَنَّ لَنَا رَبّاً يَكْلَؤُنَا بِاللَّيْلِ وَ النَّهَارِ نَعْبُدُهُ يَا مَالِكُ وَ يَا خَالِدُ قُولُوا فِينَا مَا شِئْتُمْ وَ اجْعَلُونَا مَخْلُوقِينَ فَكَرَّرَهَا عَلَيْنَا مِرَاراً وَ هُوَ وَاقِفٌ عَلَى حِمَارِهِBihar al-Anwar, vol. 47, p. 148.

 

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