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In Islamic philosophy, Sufi metaphysics is centered on the concept of وحدة, waḥdah, 'unity' or توحيد, tawhid. Two main Sufi philosophies prevail on this topic. Waḥdat al-wujūd literally means "the Unity of Existence" or "the Unity of Being."[1] Wujūd, meaning "existence" or "presence", here refers to God. On the other hand, waḥdat al-shuhūd, meaning "Apparentism" or "Monotheism of Witness", holds that God and his creation are entirely separate.

Some scholars have claimed that the difference between the two philosophies differ only in semantics and that the entire debate is merely a collection of "verbal controversies" which have come about because of ambiguous language. However, the concept of the relationship between God and the universe is still actively debated both among Sufis and between Sufis and non-Sufi Muslims.

Waḥdat al-Wujūd (unity of existence)

Further information: Wujud

The mystical thinker and theologian Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi discussed this concept in his book called Tohfa Mursala.[2] An Andalusian Sufi saint Ibn Sabin[3] is also known to employ this term in his writings. But the Sufi saint who is most characterized in discussing the ideology of Sufi metaphysics in deepest details is Ibn Arabi.[4] He employs the term wujud to refer to God as the Necessary Being. He also attributes the term to everything other than God, but he insists that wujud does not belong to the things found in the cosmos in any real sense. Rather, the things borrow wujud from God, much as the earth borrows light from the sun.

The issue is how wujūd can rightfully be attributed to the things, also called "entities" (aʿyān). From the perspective of tanzih, Ibn Arabi declares that wujūd belongs to God alone, and, in his famous phrase, the things "have never smelt a whiff of wujud." From the point of view of tashbih, he affirms that all things are wujūd's self-disclosure (tajalli) or self-manifestation (ẓohur). In sum, all things are "He/not He" (howa/lāhowa), which is to say that they are both God and not God, both wujud and not wujud.[5] In his book Fusus –al-Hikam,[6][7] Ibn-e-Arabi states that "wujūd is the unknowable and inaccessible ground of everything that exists. God alone is true wujūd, while all things dwell in nonexistence, so also wujūd alone is nondelimited (muṭlaq), while everything else is constrained, confined, and constricted. Wujūd is the absolute, infinite, nondelimited reality of God, while all others remain relative, finite, and delimited".

Ibn Arabi's doctrine of wahdat ul wujud focuses on the esoteric (batin) reality of creatures instead of exoteric (zahir) dimension of reality. Therefore, he interprets that wujud is one and unique reality from which all reality derives. The external world of sensible objects is but a fleeting shadow of the Real (al-Haq), God. God alone is the all embracing and eternal reality. Whatever exists is the shadow (tajalli) of the Real and is not independent of God. This is summed up in Ibn Arabi's own words: "Glory to Him who created all things, being Himself their very essence (ainuha)".[8]

To call wujud or Real Being "one" is to speak of the unity of the Essence. In other terms, it is to say that Being—Light in itself—is nondelimited (mutlaq), that is, infinite and absolute, undefined and indefinable, indistinct and indistinguishable. In contrast, everything other than Being—every existent thing (mawjûd)—is distinct, defined, and limited (muqayyad). The Real is incomparable and transcendent, but it discloses itself (tajallî) in all things, so it is also similar and immanent. It possesses such utter nondelimitation that it is not delimited by nondelimitation. "God possesses Nondelimited Being, but no delimitation prevents Him from delimitation. On the contrary, He possesses all delimitations, so He is nondelimited delimitation"[5][9] On the highest level, wujūd is the absolute and nondelimited reality of God, the "Necessary Being" (wājib al-wujūd) that cannot not exist. In this sense, wujūd designates the Essence of God or of the Real (dhāt al-ḥaqq), the only reality that is real in every respect. On lower levels, wujūd is the underlying substance of "everything other than God" (māsiwāAllāh)—which is how Ibn Arabi and others define the "cosmos" or "universe" (al-ʿālam). Hence, in a secondary meaning, the term wujūd is used as shorthand to refer to the whole cosmos, to everything that exists. It can also be employed to refer to the existence of each and every thing that is found in the universe.[10]

God's 'names' or 'attributes', on the other hand, are the relationships which can be discerned between the Essence and the cosmos. They are known to God because he knows every object of knowledge, but they are not existent entities or ontological qualities, for this would imply plurality in the godhead.[4][9]

Ibn 'Arabî used the term "effusion" (fayd) to denote the act of creation. His writings contain expressions which show different stages of creation, a distinction merely logical and not actual. The following gives details about his vision of creation in three stages: the Most Holy Effusion (al-fayd al-aqdas), the Holy Effusion (al-fayd al-muqaddas) and the Perpetual Effusion (al-fayd al-mustamirr).[11] Waḥdat al-wujūd spread through the teachings of the Sufis like Qunyawi, Jandi, Tilimsani, Qayshari, Jami etc.[12]

The noted scholar Muhibullah Allahabadi strongly supported the doctrine.[13]

Sachal Sarmast and Bulleh Shah two Sufi poets from present day Pakistan, were also ardent followers of Waḥdat al-wujūd. It is also associated with the Hamah Ust (Persian meaning "He is the only one") philosophy in South Asia.


Tashkīk or gradation[14] is closely associated with Sadrian interpretation[15] of waḥdat al-wujūd. According to this school, the reality and existence are identical which means existence is one but graded in intensity. This methodology was given a name of tashkik al-wujud and it thus explains that there is gradation of existence that stand in a vast hierarchical chain of being (marāṭib al-wujūd) from floor (farsh) to divine throne (ʿarsh), but the wujūd of each existent māhīyya is nothing but a grade of the single reality of wujūd whose source is God, the absolute being (al-wujūd al-mutlaq). What differentiates the wujūd of different existents is nothing but wujūd in different degrees of strength and weakness. The universe is nothing but different degrees of strengths and weaknesses of wujūd, ranging from intense degree of wujūd of arch-angelic realities, to the dim wujūd of lowly dust from which Adam was made.[16]

Opposition to Wahdat al-Wujud

Sufi metaphysics has been a subject to criticism by most non-Sufis; in Al-Andalus, where most of the Muslim scholars were either Zahirites or Malikites preferring the Ash'arite creed, Sufi metaphysics was considered blasphemy and its practitioners blacklisted.[17] Followers of the Ash'arite creed in the east were often suspicious of Sufism as well, most often citing Sufi metaphysics as well.[17] However, it is important to note that Ibn Arabi was influenced by Al Ghazali, who himself was a strong supporter of the Ash'arite creed.

Opposition within Sufism

As a doctrine, waḥdat al-wujūd was also not without controversy or opposition within the Sufi community, some members of which responded to its conceptual emergence by formulating rival doctrines. One example was waḥdat asḥ-shuhūd, which was formulated by 'Ala' al-Dawla Simnani (1261–1336), and would go on to attract many followers in India, including Ahmed Sirhindi (1564–1624), who provided some of the most widely accepted formulations of this doctrine in the Indian sub-continent.[12][18] Sirhindi wrote that one should discern the existence of the universe from the absolute and that the absolute does not exist because of existence but because of his essence.[19]

Response to criticism

Some later Sufis, such Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (1703–1762), tried to reconcile the doctrines of waḥdat al-wujūd (unity of being) of Ibn Arabi and waḥdat ash-shuhūd (unity in conscience) of Sirhindi by downplaying the differences between the two as being based more on terminology than substance.[20]

Sufis in the 19th century, such as Pir Meher Ali Shah and Syed Waheed Ashraf, meanwhile noted that the two concepts only differ in that wahdat-al-wujud states that God and the universe aren't identical.[21][22]

Accusations of pantheism

The term wahdat al-wujud as a critical mystical notion was ascribed to Ibn 'Arabi for the first time in the polemics of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328).[23][24][25][26] even though he did not employ it in his writings.[27][28][29][30][31][32] It is highly controversial among Wahhabi and Salafi sects of Islam.[33][34]

They accused Ibn 'Arabi of holding pantheist or monist views incompatible with Islam's pure monotheism.[35][36][37][38][39] However, according to a number of scholars including al-Sha'rani (d. 573/1565) and 'Abd al-Ra'uf al-Munawi (d. 1031/1621), the books of Ibn 'Arabi have been altered and distorted by some anonymous apostates and heretics, and therefore many sayings and beliefs were attributed to him, which are not true to what he actually wrote.[40][41]

Proponents of waḥdat al-wujūd such as 'Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi, 'Abd al-Ra'uf b. 'Ali al-Fansuri, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Mir Valiuddin [de] and Titus Burckhardt disagree that waḥdat al-wujūd is identified with pantheism. Nasr, for example, considers the term pantheism and monism as not equivalent to waḥdat al-wujūd.[42][43] Ideas similar to pantheism existed since the early stages of Islam. Jahm[clarification needed] writes that God is "in heaven, on earth and in every place; there is no place where He is not (...)" and "He is in everything, neither contiguous nor separated.", a position attacked by Ahmad ibn Hanbal[clarification needed].[44]

Wahdat al-mawjud

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In Islamic philosophy, wahdat al-mawjud is the concept of the intrinsic unity of all created things. The concept can be viewed as analogous or related to pantheism insofar as it does not account for any separation between the divine and the material world.[45]


Some believe that wahdat al mawjud originates from Greek philosophy, such as Heraclitus' assertion that "God is day and night, winter and summer, many and little, solid and liquid."[45]

Relation to wahdat al wujud

It is sometimes viewed as the opposite of wahdat al-wujud, a concept which frames God as the only true reality, and the material universe as an illusion emanating from God. It is sometimes described as the concept that existence moves towards spiritual oneness, but remains plural.[citation needed] Under this understanding, human beings can become al-Insān al-Kāmil and attain the wisdom of God.[citation needed]

Other, however, understand wahdat al-wujud and wahdat al-mawjud as identical.[45]

Al Hallaj

Some associate the concept with Mansur al Hallaj's statement "Anal Haq" (I am the Truth).[45]

Further reading

See also


  1. ^ Arts, Tressy, ed. (2014). Oxford Arabic Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199580330.
  2. ^ Tohfa Mursala by Abu Saeed Mubarak Makhzoomi. Archived from the original on 18 May 2016.
  3. ^ S.H. Nasr (2006), Islamic Philosophy from its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy, State University of New York Press, p. 156
  4. ^ a b "Ibn al-'Arabi, Muhyi al-Din (1164-1240)".
  5. ^ a b Imaginal worlds, William Chiittick (1994), pg.53
  6. ^ Ibn Arabi. Fasus-al-Hikam (PDF).
  7. ^ Ibn-e-Arabi. Fasus-al-Hikam.
  8. ^ "A History of Muslim Philosophy, pg. 409".
  9. ^ a b Chittick, William (24 February 2020). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University – via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  10. ^ Imaginal worlds, William Chiittick(1994), pg.15
  11. ^ "Unity of Being in Ibn Arabi".
  12. ^ a b Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present(2006), pg76
  13. ^ Hadi, Nabi (1995). "MuhhibbullahIlahabadi, Shaikh". Dictionary of Indo-Persian Literature. Abhinav Publications. p. 427. ISBN 978-81-7017-311-3. Retrieved 10 November 2014.
  14. ^ Moris, Zailan (5 November 2013). tashkik. ISBN 9781136858598.
  15. ^ "index".
  16. ^ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present, pg 78
  17. ^ a b Alexander D. Knysh, Ibn Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition. Pg. 169. State University of New York Press: Albany, 1999.
  18. ^ 'Tasawwuf' book in Urdu by Syed Waheed Ashraf
  19. ^ MaktoobatRabbaniyah
  20. ^ G. N. Jalbani, The Teachings of Shah Waliyullah of Delhi, pg98
  21. ^ TehqiqulHaq fi KalamatulHaq a book by PirMeher Ali Shah
  22. ^ 'Tasawwuf' a book in Urdu by Syed Waheed Ashraf
  23. ^ Amin Banani; Richard Hovannisian; Georges Sabagh, eds. (1994). Poetry and Mysticism in Islam: The Heritage of Rumi. Cambridge University Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780521454766.
  24. ^ Ibrahim M. Abu-Rabi' (2008). Spiritual Dimensions of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi's Risale-I Nur. SUNY Press. p. 295. ISBN 9780791474747. the name of Ibn 'Arabi appears often in Nursi's work in connection with the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud, a doctrine to be avoided in his view. While this phrase tends to be linked with Ibn 'Arabi's name by both his supporters and detractors, it has to be approached with great caution.
  25. ^ William C. Chittick. "Wahdat al-Wujud in India" (PDF). Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences. Stony Brook University. In itself, waḥdat al-wujūd does not designate any specific doctrine. Over history, it came to have a variety of meanings depending on who was using it. Certainly, when it came to be controversial, Ibn ʿArabī's name was usually mentioned. Nonetheless, there is no doctrine that he or any of his early followers called waḥdat al-wujūd.
  26. ^ "Wujud". The Institute of Ismaili Studies. Archived from the original on 10 September 2021. Ibn al–'Arabi (d. 638/1240) is regarded as the father of the concept of wahdat al–wujud (the unity of being).
  27. ^ William C. Chittick (2012). In Search of the Lost Heart: Explorations in Islamic Thought. SUNY Press. p. 73. ISBN 9781438439358. But Ibn al-'Arabi himself, so far as is known, never employed the term wahdat al-wujud in his enormous corpus of writings," even though he frequently discussed wujud and the fact that it can be described as possessing the attribute of oneness or unity...
  28. ^ David Lee (2015). "Peter G. Riddell (Foreword)". Contextualization of Sufi Spirituality in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century China: The Role of Liu Zhi (c.1662-c.1730). Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 45. ISBN 9781498225229. The history of the term wahdat al-wujud is summarized by Chittick: The term is not found in the writings of Ibn al-'Arabi.
  29. ^ Amin Banani; Richard Hovannisian; Georges Sabagh, eds. (1994). Poetry and Mysticism in Islam: The Heritage of Rumi. Cambridge University Press. p. 81. ISBN 9780521454766. But Ibn al-'Arabī never employs the term wahdat al-wujūd, while Qūnawi only mentions it in passing.
  30. ^ "Ibn 'Arabî (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archived from the original on 20 June 2013. Ibn 'Arabî has typically been called the founder of the doctrine of wahdat al-wujûd, the Oneness of Being or the Unity of Existence, but this is misleading, for he never uses the expression.
  31. ^ "Oneness of Being (waḥdat al-wujūd)". The Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi Society (MIAS). Archived from the original on 10 September 2021. There is broad agreement amongst Ibn ʿArabī specialists that he did not use the term waḥdat al-wujūd (Oneness of Being or Unity of Existence) in his own writings, and hence did not employ this expression in his Sufi philosophical doctrine. The first to have used it, several decades after the death of Ibn ʿArabī in the late 7th century and early 8th century of the Hijri calendar, was Ibn Taymiyya, who employed the term negatively, as a critique and condemnation.
  32. ^ "Ibn 'Arabî (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Archived from the original on 10 September 2021. The first author to say that Ibn 'Arabî believed in wahdat al-wujûd seems to have been the Hanbalite polemicist Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328), who called it worse than unbelief.
  33. ^ "Martyrdom of al-Hallaj and Unity of the Existence: the Condemners and the Commenders" (PDF). Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). International Journal of Islamic Thought (IJIT). p. 106. Wahdat al-wujud is a very most polemical topic discussed in the world of Islamic Tasawwuf or Sufism since 2nd century of Islamic history. This issue continued to be debated from time to time until today.
  34. ^ "Ibn ʽArabī's thought on waḥdat al-wujud and its relevance to religious diversity" (PDF). State Islamic Institute Mataram. p. 30. THE HISTORY of the development of Islamic thought was tinged by the controversy of Sufi philosophical thinking developed by Ibn ʽArabī, a prime exponent of the doctrine of the unity of being (waḥdat al-wujūd).
  35. ^ Roger S. Gottlieb (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Oxford University Press. p. 210. ISBN 9780199727698.
  36. ^ "Ibn ʽArabī's thought on waḥdat al-wujud and its relevance to religious diversity" (PDF). State Islamic Institute Mataram. pp. 60–61. Many Muslim scholars judge Ibn ʽArabī as a pantheist. A.E. Affifi, for example, considers him a pantheist, and views this type of sufism as perfect pantheism. Fazlur Rahman also says that the teachings of Ibn ʽArabī are a system entirely monistic and pantheistic contrary to the teachings of Islamic orthodoxy. The same view on this matter is given by Hamka and Ahmad Daudy.
  37. ^ Richard Foltz (2003). Worldviews, Religion, and the Environment: A Global Anthology. Cengage Learning. p. 360. ISBN 9780534596071.
  38. ^ International Association for the History of Religions, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam; Instituut voor Godsdienstwetenschap, University of Leeds (1987). Science of Religion. Vol. 12. Institute for the Study of Religion, Free University [and] Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds. p. 81. Wahdat al-wujud, "unity of being" is applied to Ibn 'Arabi's (560/1165-638/1240) mystical doctrine, which became a target of severe criticism from the orthodoxy.
  39. ^ Indian Institute of Islamic Studies (1982). Studies in Islam: Quarterly Journal of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies. Vol. 19. p. 233. His mystical theories not only came to be supported by a large following, but also became a target of severe criticism from the orthodoxy (ulamā - i zāhir), for whom their expounder was an heretic and an apostate.
  40. ^ Stephen Hirtenstein; Michael Tiernan, eds. (1993). Muhyiddin Ibn'Arabi (1165-1240 A.D.): A Volume of Translations and Studies Commemorating the 750th Anniversary of His Life and Work. Element Books Ltd. p. 311. ISBN 9781852303952.
  41. ^ "حكم من يدعي إجماع أهل السنة على تكفير الإمام محيي الدين بن العربي". Egypt's Dar al-Ifta (in Arabic). Archived from the original on 23 July 2021.
  42. ^ "Ibn ʽArabī's thought on waḥdat al-wujud and its relevance to religious diversity" (PDF). State Islamic Institute Mataram. pp. 61–62.
  43. ^ Farzin Vahdat (2015). Islamic Ethos and the Specter of Modernity. Anthem Press. p. 209. ISBN 9781783084388. Nasr thus rejects an interpretation of the ontological doctrines of wahdat al-wujud (unity of existence) in which human status can be elevated by the symbolic journey towards the Divine realm: "The pantheistic accusations against the Sufis are doubly false because, first of all, pantheism is a philosophical system, whereas Muhyi al-Din [Ibn 'Arabi] and others like him never claimed to follow or create any "system" whatsoever; and secondly, because pantheism implies a substantial continuity between God and the Universe [including humans], whereas the Shaikh [Ibn al-'Arabi] would be the first to claim God's absolute transcendence over every category, including that of substance." Running into difficulties in his interpretation of the notion of "unity of existence" Nasr further wrote that wahdat al-wujud is neither pantheism, nor panentheism, nor existential monism...
  44. ^ Morris S. Seale Muslim Theology A study of Origins with Reference to the Church Fathers Great Russel Street, London 1964 p. 62
  45. ^ a b c d Ramli, Yusri Mohammed (June 2013). "Martyrdom of al Hallaj and the Unity of Existence: Condemners and Commenders" (PDF). International Journal of Islamic Thought. 3: 106–112. doi:10.24035/ijit.03.2013.010.