Annihilation is defined as "total destruction" or "complete obliteration" of an object. It is the opposite of permanence, subsistence and continuance. To explain further, God is from the category of permanence and continuance and other existents are from the category of non-existence and annihilation.
Technically, it means to dissolve the ego self, while remaining physically alive. Persons having entered this enlightenment state obtain awareness of the intrinsic unity (Tawhid) between Allah and all that exists, including the individual's mind. It is coupled conceptually with baqaa, subsistence, which is the state of pure consciousness of and abidance in God.
The Station of Annihilation in Mysticism:
Station (maqam) refers to a state or level which a mystic has achieved after years of hardship, ascetic life and self-purification. Therefore, it is not normally easy to change or obliterate something which has been achieved with difficulty; thus it remains unchanging and endurable.
In the station of annihilation, a person’s ego and his servitude, his desires and wishes as well as the surrounding world are nothing to him. He just sees God. Whatever the noble servants of God (prophet and infallible imams) see is true irrespective of whether they see with an intermediary or without it. The intermediaries are the divine attributes. For the seeker and knowledgeable, even these barriers (which are of light) are also removed:
"الهی هَب لى كمال الانقطاع إليك... حتى تخرق ابصار القلوب حجب النور..."
“Oh Lord! Grant us a complete separation from this world towards you…until we reach the place where our heart can tear apart the veils of light and reach the source of majesty and our spirits become suspended to your holy glory.” Indeed, this is the end of annihilation whereupon man get completely dissolved or obliterated. It is at this point that he hears with the ear of Truth, sees with the eye of Truth and speaks with the tongue of Truth. This is not in contradiction with the fact that we cannot become thoroughly acquainted with God. That is because the essence of God is not known and cannot be known by anyone other than God Himself.
The word “fanaa” literally means extinction and annihilation. It is the opposite of endurance and subsistence. This word has not been used in the Quran, though some of its derivatives have been used. For example, the Quran says:
"كُلُّ مَنْ عليها فان و يَبقى وجه ربك..."
"All that [who] are on it [the earth] are perishable / mortal - And remains the face of your Lord, possessor of Majesty & Bounty"
The word “faanin” (perishable) in the above verse has been used to give a meaning opposite to “yabqaa” (remains). That is to say, only God is from the category of permanence and continuance and other existents are from the category of non-existence and annihilation.
As for the technical meaning of “fanaa”, it is not the same as the literal meaning. Annihilation in the technical sense means to dissolve the ego self, while remaining physically alive. Indeed, it does not mean self-alienation but it means not seeing anything or thinking about anything other than God.
Annihilation as defined by mystics:
While defining annihilation, Abu Sa’eid al-Kharraz says: “Fanaa is the annihilation of the servant from seeing his servitude, and baqaa is the remaining of the servant with seeing God.”[i]
Qushayri believes that Fanaa is the annihilation of everything contingent, whether this be in the form of action, attribute or essence; more precisely, it is the annihilation of everything that is not God, and God is the supreme object of all good, all beauty.
Mir Sayyid Sharif Jurjani also says: “Fanaa is the annihilation of denounced attributes while the existence of limited attributes is called baqaa.”[ii]
The Station of Annihilation:
There are two terminologies in mysticism: 1. Maqam (station) 2. Haal (state)
‘MAQAM’ represents a spiritual station, where the seeker finds him after sincerely treading the spiritual path for a while. With gradual polishing of the mirror of the heart through meditative exercises, he keeps on becoming aware of the spiritual subtleties behind the physical realm. With each breakthrough, he finds a new level of awareness. In this process, his previous level of awareness serves as the ‘Maqam’ where he becomes stationed till he moves on. Maqamat or Stations can also be perceived as the ascending rungs of the spiritual ladder. With continuous spiritual practices, a seeker ascends on this ladder. While moving from station to station, he may be touched by the special Grace or Haal from time to time.
HAAL occurs spontaneously as a spiritual gift. While walking in the spiritual forest amidst pathways decorated with dancing trees and perfumed flowers, a soft cloud appears on the horizon, engulfs the seeker while quenching his spiritual thirst then moves on leaving him in a state of awe. In this state, a seeker neither expects what comes to him from the unseen world nor has the slightest idea about the nature of experience. He is simply taken over by an overwhelming compassionate power. It reflects a state, where a door opens out of nowhere and breeze from the garden of eternity surrounds the seeker and colors him with its perfume. A realm of ecstasy prevails due to unbearable display of beauty. This state of Haal comes and goes on its own. A seeker can never claim such a state due to its extraordinariness and his ordinariness.[iii]
In the station of annihilation, a person’s ego and his servitude, his desires and wishes as well as the surrounding world are nothing to him. He just sees God. In this case, annihilation does not have the literal meaning which is a sign of defect and flaw. In fact, it is one of the high levels of perfection. That is why mystics say: “The result of annihilation is permanency and endurance in the presence of Truth.” As Saadi Shirazi says:
He became eminent after he became lowly and menial,
In the non-existence did he become existent.
This kind of annihilation is called in the mystical terms “abiding in God” or “annihilation in God”.
How the station of annihilation is achieved:
Since there is no obstruction between man and God other than sin and egoism, any kind of attachment towards something other than God is considered to be obstruction or barrier which obstructs him from reaching the abode of Truth. In case there is no sin or obstruction or attachment towards other things and one dissolves the ego self, then seeing the Truth becomes possible to a limited degree. It is only then that the station of annihilation is achieved.
Of course, there are many stations on this way which we are not going to discuss for the sake of brevity. However, when it comes to certain titles such as subsistence, permanency, seeing, etc. it is not seeing God with physical eye because according to the verse of the Holy Quran: “Eyes cannot comprehend him.”[iv] Intellectual ways are not called permanence or seeing either. In fact, according to the Holy Quran, in order for a person to be able to see God, he must detach himself from everything other than God. Doing good deeds, not associating anything with God will help him, if he wishes, to see God and attain the station of annihilation. That is, if he wishes to see Truth without any intermediary, he must ignore himself and anything that is not God.
"فمن كان يرجوا لقاء ربّه فليعمل عملاً صالحاً و لايشرك بعبادة ربه احداً"[v]
“So whoever would hope for the meeting with his Lord - let him do righteous work and not associate in the worship of his Lord anyone."
When Prophet Moses (as) fainted in the event of seeing God, upon becoming conscious, he said: “You cannot be without annihilation and dissociating from everything other than you.”[vi]
The point which is important here and which was mentioned earlier is that the masters of divine knowledge and seekers of Truth cannot see God without an intermediary. What does it mean exactly? What are the intermediaries?
To explain this meaning, it is better to focus on the following quotation from Imam Khomeini (may his soul rest in peace) in his book entitled “Forty Hadith” where he says: “Following the attainment of a complete and consummate state of God-fearing (taqwa), a total turning away of the heart from all the worlds and repudiation of both the realms of life (i.e. the pleasures of the world as well as that of the Hereafter), after trampling the heads of egoism and egocentrism under one's feet, and following complete attention and total absorption in God and the Names and Attributes of that Sacred Essence, after immersion in the love and passion for the Sacred Essence, and following austerities of the heart, a purity and burnish is attained by the wayfarer's heart, which receives the revelations of the Names and the Attributes. Thereupon the thick veils that lie between the devotee and the Names and the Attributes are removed and he becomes annihilated in the Names and the Attributes, becoming "attached to the Mightiness of Sanctity and Glory" and attaining complete nearness (tadall'i) to the Essence. In this state, there is no veil between the consecrated soul of the wayfarer and the Truth except the Names and the Attributes. For some of the wayfarers of the Path, the luminous veil of the Names and the Attributes may also be removed, whereupon they attain to the Hidden tajalliyat of the Essence, beholding themselves attached and close to the Sacred Essence, and, in this vision, they perceive the sustaining encompassment of the Truth (ihateh-ye qayyumi-ye Haqq) and their own essential annihilation (fana'-e dhati).”[vii]
In the Munajat Sha`baniyyah, which are accepted as authentic by the `ulama' and whose very contents bear witness to the authenticity of their origin in those sacred personages (i.e. the Imam of the Ahl al-Bayt -may peace be upon them), this is how they supplicate:
"الهی هَب لى كمال الانقطاع إليك... حتى تخرق ابصار القلوب حجب النور..."[viii]
“Oh Lord! Grant us a complete separation from this world towards you…until we reach the place where our heart can tear apart the veils of light and reach the source of majesty and our spirits become suspended to your holy glory.”
Yes, it is possible for a man to reach a point where there is no obstruction between him and his God other than the light of the Attributes of the Truth, the Exalted. It is also possible that these obstructions (which are of light) be pierced or torn. The farer of the Way will cross these obstructions also and will be dissolved entirely. It is then that whatever he sees is truth and whatever he hears is truth. It is as though he hears with the ear of Truth, sees with the eye of Truth and speaks with the tongue of Truth. He does not see anything that is not Truth. This is the end annihilation in God (Fanaa fillah), absolute extinction and perfect endeavor.
The point to be noted, over and above to the foregoing explanations, is that we cannot become thoroughly acquainted with God. That is because the essence of God is not known to anyone other than God Himself. There is no contradiction between the station of annihilation and the fact that knowing the essence of God is not possible.
[i] The word “fanaa” was introduced by Abu Sa’eid al-Kharraz as a part of mystical terminology.
[ii] Khurramshahi, Bahauddin, Hafiz Nama, Soroush Publications, p. 975.
[iii] Sa’di says:
زمصرش بوی پیراهن شنیدی
ولی در چاه کنعانش ندیدی
بگفت احوال ما برق جهان است
گهی پیدا و دگر دم نهان است
[iv] Al-An’am, 103.
[v] Al-Kahf, 110.
[vi] Jawadi Amuli, Abdullah, Thematic Commentary of the Holy Quran, vol.7, p. 255 onward.
[vii] Imam Khomeini, Forty Hadith, p. 454.
[viii] Behar al-Anwar, vol.91, p. 98, Mafatih al-Jenan, Munajat Sha`baniyyah