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November 26, 2020

Jam wal Tafriq – Union and Separation

“When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky”

– Buddha

How can I forget Thee when You remember me,

And how can I remember Thee if You forget me,

O my Liege, Lord

You contain the keys to the high heavens

O my Beloved

You invite Your loved ones to Your presence.

You unite by the power of Your word,

And by the power of Your word You divide,

Veiled by Your beauty, by the veils of light,

Nahnu aqrabu ilaihi min hablil warid.

“O my Lord, Sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Kindly remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee – Isha Upanishad

“All servants are saints before God (sâlih li-llâh) in heaven and on earth. The word “saint” includes not only those whom we consider to be saints, for every being is a “saint”. God said “there is nothing that does not glorify Him through His praise”. Everything proclaims the transcendence of His Lord and is therefore “saintly”. This is one of the sciences of faith and of unveiling. The word “saints” indicates those who are engaged in that which constitutes their sainthood (that is, their function in creation: alladhîna ustu’milû li-mâ saluhû la-hu) and for whom there is nothing other than glorification.” – Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi, Futuhat al-Makkiyah I, 249)

“And of every thing We have created pairs: That ye may receive instruction” – Qur’an – 51:49

Everything that exists has its opposite – the Creator and the creation, light and darkness, one and many, heavy and light, male and female, cold and hot, generosity and miserliness e.t.c – without its opposite the other is unknowable, indeterminate, incomparable. Knowledge or epistemology is the range of the spectrum between the two ends; for it is impossible for human knowledge to fully comprehend and hold on to absolute knowledge, while its concern is of relative knowledge. Rationality, therefore, lies in either affirmation or negation, i.e. when a thing is affirmed, by the virtue of this act its opposite is negated and when a thing is negated its opposite is affirmed. Hence, in this sense, each thing intrinsically contains its opposite! Union only makes sense in relation to separation, and the degree and extent of separation is the actual measure of union. We only talk of and think of union in the state of separation as it is utterly impossible to comprehend and taste the flavour of union while in perfect communion! The paradox of union lies in separation – there seems to be more flavour and taste of union in separation then in union itself. What a paradox!

I mention below from the book, Kashf al-Mahjub, by Sheikh Abu al-Hassan Ali Hujwiri, may Allah have mercy upon him and bless him, (d.1077 CE) who wrote on this subject and deals with this topic appropriately and in depth:

Allah combined all mankind in His call, as He says:

وَاللّهُ يَدْعُو إِلَى دَارِ السَّلاَمِ

“But Allah doth call to the home of Peace.” (Q 10:25).

Then He separated them in respect of Divine guidance, and said:

وَيَهْدِي مَن يَشَاء إِلَى صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ

“He doth guide whom He pleaseth to a Way that is straight.” (Q 10:25).

He invited everyone in His call, and selected a group out of them to manifest His will. He gathered them all and gave a command, and then separated them. Then He separated them in such a way that He banished a group with indignity and accepted other with His Grace. And then again in His negative command He united them all but separated some in their affairs, giving to some immunity from sin and to others a propensity towards evil.

Accordingly the real mystery of union is the knowledge and will of the Truth, while separation is the manifestation of that which He commands and forbids. For example he commanded Abraham to behead Ismail, but willed that he should not do so, and He commanded Iblis to prostrate to Adam, but He willed the contrary, and Iblis did not prostrate and He commanded Adam not to eat the corn, but willed that he should eat it, and so forth. Hence,

الجمع ما جمع باوصافه و التفرقة ما فرق با فهاله

“Union is that which He unites by His attributes, and separation is that which He separates by His acts.”

All this involves cessation of human volition and affirmation of the Divine will so as to exclude all personal initiatives.

As regards what has been said above on union and separation, all the Sunnis and Sufi Sheikhs except the Mutazilites, are in agreement. However, they have some differences in use of these terms.

– One group applies it to tawhid توحيد (Divine unity),

– the other group links these terms to Divine attributes,

– the third group links it to the Divine acts.

Those who refer to tawhid (Divine unity) say that there are two degrees of union, one in the attributes of the Truth and the other in the attributes of man. The former is the mystery of tawhid (Unification), in which human actions have no part whatsoever, and the latter denotes acknowledgement of the Divine Unity with sincere conviction and unfailing resolution. This is the opinion of Abu Ali Rudbari.

Those, who refer these terms to the Divine attributes, say that union is an attribute of the Truth, and separation is His act in which man’s efforts are not involved, for no one is partner to Him in His Godhead.

Therefore union is His substance and attributes, for “الجمع التسويته في الاصل union is equality in the fundamental matter” and no two things are equal in respect of Eternity except His substance and His attributes. This means that Allah has eternal attributes, which are peculiar to Him and subsist through Him, and that He and His attributes are not two, for His Unity does not admit difference and number. Therefore, jama (union) is not applicable to Him except in the sense indicated above.

There is a separation in the acts of Allah as regards to His commandment, for there is a verdict of being for one and not being to other, but a not being that is capable of being. Similarly, one is commanded for annihilation and other for subsistence.

There is another group who refers these terms to knowledge and say, “الجمع علم التوحيد والتفرقه علم الاحكام union is knowledge of the Tawhid (Divine Unity), and separation is the knowledge of the Divine ordinances.”

Similarly, an elder venerable has said:

الجمع ما اجتمع عليه اهل العلم والفرق ما اختلفوا فيه

“Union is that on which theologians are agreed upon, and separation is that on which they differ.”

All the Sufi mystics, whenever they use the term separation in the course of their expositions and indications, refer it to voluntary human actions e.g. self-mortification and by union they signify divine gifts e.g. contemplation. Hence, whatever a man gains by means of mortification is separation and whatever he gets through Divine grace and favor is union. Man’s glory is this that while his actions exist and mortification is possible, he should escape with the aid of Magnificence of Truth from the imperfection of his own actions, and should considers his actions as wonder of the bounties of Allah. And in regard to righteousness, he should not pay any heed to mortification, so that he depends entirely on Allah and commits all his attributes to His charge and refers all his actions to Him and none to himself, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) told us the mandate of Allah:

لا يزال عبدي يتقرب الي بالنوافل حتي احبه فاذا اجبته كنت له سمعًا و بصرًا ويدًا و فوادًا و لسانًا بي يسمع و بي يبصر و بي ينطق و بي يبطش

“When My servant seeks proximity to Me by means of works of supererogation, I take him to My friendship and annihilate him in his self, so his acts are not of his own. And when I love him, I am his ear, his eye, his hand, his heart, and his tongue: through Me he hears, sees, speaks and grasps.”

He in remembering Me is enraptured by the dikr (remembrance) of Me, and his own effort is annihilated and he gets fully absorbed in my dikr, so as to have no part in his remembrance, and My remembrance overpowers his remembrance, and the relationship of humanity is entirely removed from his remembrance; then My remembrance is his remembrance, and in his rapture he is praised with that attribute about which Abu Yazid while in similar state said, “سبحاني! سبحاني! ما اعظم شاني! Glory to me! Glory to me! How great is my majesty!” These words were the outward sign of his speech, but the speaker was Allah. Similarly, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

الحق ينطق علي لسان عمر

“Allah speaks by the tongue of Umar.”

The fact is that when the Divine Omnipotence fully dominates His superiority over the man, He annihilates the man from his existence, so that his speech becomes the speech of Allah, in spite of the fact that it is impossible that Allah should mingle or make union with created beings or become incarnate in things. He is exalted far above that, and that which the heretics ascribe to Him. It may happen, that Allah’s love holds absolute sway over the heart of His servant, and that his wisdom and natural faculties are too weak to sustain its rapture and intensity, and that he looses all control over his self to act. And this state is called jama (union). As Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) while absorbed in the love of the Truth and over whelmed by it, when performed some act, Allah referred his act to Himself and said, although this act appeared through your hand but in reality it was not your act, it was Mine.

وَمَا رَمَيْتَ إِذْ رَمَيْتَ وَلَـكِنَّ اللّهَ رَمَى

“When thou threwest (a handful of dust), it was not thy act, but Allah’s:” (Q 8:17).

But when a similar act was committed by David and about whom it was said:

َقَتَلَ دَاوُودُ جَالُوتَ

“David slew Goliath” (Q 2:251).

Here the act has been referred to David because he was in the state of separation. There is a difference between the two states, as the union of one’s act is referred to himself while he is phenomenal and Allah refer the other’s act to Himself while He is Eternal and all Omnipotent. When someone performs such an act which is not the type of human acts, perforce, its causer has to be Allah. The extraordinary miracles and acts of miraculous grace belong to the similar category.

All ordinary actions are separation, and all acts which violate custom are union. As ascension of Muhammad (peace be upon him) all the way from Mecca, until he stood at the distance of two bow-lengths from the Divine presence, was not an ordinary act, therefore, there is no other way out except to acknowledge it as Allah’s act. Similarly, not burning of somebody in the fire, whose act it can be except Allah? Allah bestows these miracles on His prophets and saints, and refers His actions to them and theirs to Himself. Therefore, the acts of His friends are referred to be as His acts, oath of allegiance to them is oath of allegiance to Him and obedience to them is referred as His obedience. As He hath said:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُبَايِعُونَكَ إِنَّمَا يُبَايِعُونَ اللَّهَ

“Verily those who plight their fealty to thee do not less than plight their fealty to Allah:” (Q 48:10),

مَّنْ يُطِعِ الرَّسُولَ فَقَدْ أَطَاعَ اللّهَ

“He who obeys the Messenger, obeys Allah;” (Q 4:80).

Accordingly, His saints are united by their inwardly feelings and separated by their outwardly behavior. The love of Allah is strengthened by internal union, and the right fulfillment of their duty as servants of Allah is assured by their external separation. As regards to state of union, a Sheikh says:

قد تحققت بسري فتنا جاك لساني فاجتمعنا لمعان وافترقنا لمعاني

فلءن غيبك التعظيم عن لحظ عياني ولقد صيرك الوجد من الاجساد داني

“When Thou settled in my inward and my tongue secretly conversed with Thee,

We are united in one respect, but separate in another.

Although awe has hidden Thee from the glances of mine eye.

Ecstasy has made Thee near to my inmost parts.”

The state of being inwardly united he calls union, and the conversation of the tongue he calls separation. Then he indicates that both union and separation are in his self, and attributes the basis of them to himself. This is very subtle.

The controversy between us and those who maintain that the manifestation of union is the denial of separation, for the two terms contradict each other. When the Divine guidance absolutely sways one, his power to act ceases and he is mortified to himself. This opinion and doctrine is wrong, for a man must never cease to practice devotion and mortify himself as long as he has the possibility and power of doing so. Moreover, union is not apart from separation, as light from sun, accident from substance, and attribute from object are not apart. Similarly, self-mortification from Divine guidance, Shariat (religious law) from the Truth, and requirement from demand are not apart. But it is possible that mortification may precede or follow Divine guidance. When the mortification precede the man’s tribulation is increased because he is in a state of absence, while in the later case he has no trouble or pain because he is in presence. Those to whom negation is the source of actions, to them it seem to be the substance of action, thus they commit a grave error. And this is also allowable that a man may attain such a degree that he regards all his qualities as faulty and defective, for when he sees his praiseworthy qualities as malicious and imperfect, his blameworthy qualities will necessarily appear more hateful.

I have adduced these considerations because some ignorant, who have fallen into error which is closely akin to infidelity, say that no result whatsoever depends on our exertion, and that our actions and devotions are faulty and it is better not to do mortifications than doing it imperfectly. I say that all of our deeds agreeably are our actions and actions are referred to cause and source of evils and not to do something is also an act. When both are acts, and act is the centre of cause and evil, then how not to act is better than to act? This is a plain error and a clear deviation and an excellent criterion to distinguish the believer from the infidel. Both believers and infidels agree that their deeds are inherently defective, but the believer, in accordance with Allah’s command, thinks a thing done is better than a thing left undone. Thus, jama (union) is that although the imperfection of separation is recognized, its authority should not be considered annulled, and tafriq (separation) involves that in the veil of union, one considers separation also union. In this context Muzayin Kabir[1] (may Allah have mercy on him) says:

الجمع الخصوصية والتفرقة العبودية موصول احد هما بالاخرغيرمفصول عنه

“Union is the state of peculiarity and servantship is the state of separation, and both these states are inseparable from man.”

Since the mark of peculiarity is to guard servantship, therefore, when a claimant of some thing is not meeting the prerequisites of that thing, he is a liar in his claim. It is possible that the tediousness and painfulness of self-mortification and personal effort may be made easy on man but it is impossible that the substance of self-mortification and religious obligation should be removed from anyone, unless he has an evident excuse that is generally acknowledged by the Shariat.

I will explain this matter now in order that you may better understand it. Union is of two kinds, healthy union and broken union.

Healthy union is that which takes place in a man when he is in the state of rapture and ecstasy. In such state, the man is under direct watch of Allah Who causes him to receive and fulfill His commandments and adorns him with mortification. Sahl b. Abdullah, Abu Hafs, Abu al-Abbas Sayyari (the author of the doctrine), Abu Yazid, Shibli, Abu al-Hasan Husri, and a number of great Sheikhs used to be continually under such state until the hour of prayer arrived; then they returned to consciousness, and after performing their prayers became enraptured again. This is to say that as long as you are in the state of separation, you are you, who would be fulfilling the command of Allah, but when Allah draws you to Himself, He has the best right to see that you perform His command, and for two reasons He keeps watch over you:

– firstly, in order that the sign of servantship is firm with you,

– secondly, in order that He may keep His promise that He will never let the Shariat of Muhammad (peace be upon him) be abrogated.

In broken union one gets so much absorbed in following the Divine command that he becomes distressed and bewildered, so that he falls into the class of lunatic. Then he is either excused from performing his religious obligations or rewarded for performing them, and the state of him who is rewarded is sounder than the one who is excused.

In short, there is no particular maqam (station) or any peculiar state for jama (union), as it is the concentration of one’s thoughts upon the object of one’s desire. Some include it to maqamat (stations) and some refer it to part of states and in either case the desire of the united person is attained by negating his desire, “لان التفرقة فصل و الجمع وصل separation is parting and union is unification,” and this holds good in everything. As Jacob concentrated his thoughts of Yusuf, so that he had no thought but of him or Majnun concentrated his thoughts on Laila, so that he saw only her in the whole world, and all created things assumed the form of Laila in his eyes. There are many such examples.

One day, when Abu Yazid was in his cell, some one came and asked that was Abu Yazid there. Abu Yazid answered, “There is none except Allah in the cell.

Some Sheikh related that a dervish came to Mecca and remained in contemplation of the Kaba for a whole year. During that time he neither ate nor drank, neither slept, nor cleansed himself. The contemplation of that house which Allah has referred to Himself became the food of his body and the drink of his soul.

The reality in all these cases is the same, viz. that Allah divided the one substance of His love and bestowed a particle thereof, as a peculiar gift, upon every one of His friends in proportion to their love with Him. Then He lets down upon that particle the shrouds of humanity, the dress of nature, curtain of temperament and veil of spirit, in order that by its powerful working it may transmute to its own quality all the particles that are attached to it. Accordingly lover is raised to the status of beloved and his all acts reflect the same. This state is named jama union alike by those who regard the inwardly meaning and those who regard the outwardly expression. Hussein b. Mansur (al-Hallaj) says in this sense:

لبيك لبيك يا سيدي و مولاءي لبيك لبيك يا مقصدي ومعناءي

ياعين عين وجودي منتهي همتي يا منطقي واشاراتي و انباءي

يا كل كلي و يا سمعي ويابصري يا جملتي وتباعيضي واجزاءي

I am there in Thy service! O my Lord and Master!

I am there in Thy service! O my Beloved and object!

O star of my being, O goal of my desire

O pivot of my speech, my hints and my gestures!

O all of my all, O my hearing and my sight,

O my whole, my element and my particles!

Therefore, it is not praiseworthy for one to affirm his existence when he has borrowed qualities, and an act of dualism to pay any heed to the phenomenal universe. Both the worlds are despicable to his soaring thought.

Some have been led by their dialectical subtlety and their admiration of phraseology to speak of “the union of union”. This is good expression, but if you consider the meaning, it is better not to affirm “union of union” because there should be separation first; only then application of union would be correct and when there is union, it would be out of the result of separation, therefore, one union cannot be imposed on another union. The expression, therefore, is liable to be misunderstood, because one who is “united” does not look forth from himself to what is above or to what is below him and even independent of self also. At the time of ascension when the whole universe was displayed to Prophet (peace be upon him) he did not pay heed to anything because he was at maqam (station) of “union of union” and one who is united does not contemplate separation. Hence Allah said,

مَا زَاغَ الْبَصَرُ وَمَا طَغَى

“(His) sight never swerved, nor did it go wrong!” (Q 53:17).

In my early days I composed a book on this subject and entitled it “Kitab al-bayan lahal al-iyan (The book of Exposition for Persons of intuition)”, and I have also discussed the matter at length in the book “Bahr al-qulub (The Sea of Hearts)”. For the sake of brevity, enough is what has been said. (Sheikh Abu al-Hasan Ali b. Uthman al-Hujwiri, may Allah be pleased with him, Kashf al Mahjub, Chapter 14, On Union & Separation http://quran4u.com/Kashf/002 Cont.htm )

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