Beloved Sayyidi,

As Salaamualaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu,

1. Please let us know what is Wahdat-al-Wajud and Wahdat-al-Shahood.
2. What is the difference between them?
3. Is there any root in Quran & Sunna regarding this?
4. Who is/was the person who first disclosed about this openly?
5. Why do wahabis oppose this theory/concept and label it as kufr?

Ya Sayyidi, kindly pray for us, and billions of thanks in advance.
As Salaamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatahu.


Wa `Alaykum Salam.

The concepts of Wahdat al-wujud and Wahdat ash-shuhud are primarily connected with two great shuyukh, Shaykh Ibn `Arabi (q, d. 1240) and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (q, d. 1624). The two concepts are usually translated as Oneness of Being (Wahdat al-wujud) and Oneness of Perception (Wahdat ash-shuhud). However, the phrase Wahdat al-wujud is not found in the works of Sayyidina Ibn `Arabi (q), and was formulated, based on Sayyidina Ibn `Arabi’s ideas, by later interpreters of his work.

Both Sayyidina Ibn `Arabi (q) and Imam Sirhindi (q) understood God as Pure Being. There is only One Being and that is God. However, they differed on how the being of the phenomenal world (like human beings) related to God.

Here is how they differ: Oneness of Being (Wahdat al-wujud) states that Being is the sole reality and everything that we see around us is an expression or articulation of Being. For example, we cannot say “The flower exists.” The flower cannot be the subject of the sentence. Rather, Being is expressed as a flower. Being is the subject. The metaphor that is often used to visualize this is waves on an ocean, that is, just as waves are an articulation of the ocean, the phenomenal world (including us) are articulations of Being. Another metaphor that is often used is different letters on a page written with ink – the ink is the same, but expressed in different forms. Thus objective reality can be expressed as “All is God.”

However, in a religious tradition like ours that makes a clear distinction between Creator and created things, how does the Oneness of Being preserve the transcendence of God?  Imam Ahmad Sirhindi (q) was afraid that the idea of Oneness of Being may lead human beings into the trap of identifying themselves with God. Oneness of Perception strives to avoid this trap: instead of seeing the phenomenal world as modifications of Being (waves on the sea), Imam Sirhindi (q) said that the world is an articulation of the concept of non-Being, with the reflection of Being upon it. We are all shadows of Being, and shadows cannot be identical with the source of the shadow. We have no essential reality of our own. Our being is not the same as the Being of God – for only God really exists, while our existence is imaginary.

The metaphor that is often used to visualize this idea is the phenomenal world as an image in a mirror, reflecting God’s real Being. Therefore, objective reality is not “All is God” but “All is from God”. Seeing God in all things goes back to the viewer and does not offer a final explanation of the nature of reality. That is, the Oneness of Being is subjective: the existence of creation and Creator only appear to be united in the experience of the seeker. This experience he calls Wahdat ash-shuhud, or Oneness of Perception.

Many later scholars attempted to integrate, or minimize the difference between, both of these approaches. For example the great Delhi scholar Shah Waliallah (d. 1762) held that the difference between these approaches is a matter of semantics, and that Oneness of Perception merely strives to place greater emphasis on the line between Creator and created.

While the idea of God as Being is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an, there are many Qur’anic verses that imply God as the ground of all Being. Some of these are:

وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ

{We created the human being and know what his soul murmurs to him. We are closer to him than his jugular vein.} (Surah Qaf, 50:16)

كُلُّ مَنْ عَلَيْهَا فَانٍ وَيَبْقَى وَجْهُ رَبِّكَ ذُو الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ

{Everything on earth perishes; all that remains is the Face of your Lord, full of majesty, bestowing honor.} (Surat ar-Rahman, 55:26-27)

وَلِلّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّواْ فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

{The East and the West belong to God: wherever you turn, there is His Face. God is all pervading and all knowing.} (Surat al-Baqara, 2:115)

وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ

{He is with you wherever you are.} (Surat al-Hadid, 57:4)

In the Qur’an, God is not one existent among other existents, rather He is the only Reality (al-Haqq being one of the Most Beautiful Names of God). In fact, Sayyidina `Ibn Arabi (q) makes an explicit connection between Wujud (Being) and the Name al-Haqq, positing the former as another name for the latter.

It is interesting that Wahhabis and those who support Wahdat al-wujud and related approaches both have a radical conception of tawhid. Wahhabis claim that they are trying to protect God’s Oneness and so they are quick to label many practices and ideas as promoting shirk. They believe that Oneness of Being is a foreign idea that was imported into Islam through pre-Islamic Greek and Hindu traditions, that it will lead to a blurring of boundaries between God and God’s creation, and that proponents of this idea will begin breaking the rules of religious law, worshipping God’s creation alongside God.

Ironically, Wahdat al-wujud is in and of itself the highest expression of tawhid: the being of all things is in fact endowed from the Being of God, (without in any way limiting God’s Existence or constricting it) and God is All-Encompassing. However, Sufi shuyukh also believe that these philosophies are not meant for lay-people, and that there is in fact a great danger that lay-people will not understand its ramifications. Therefore discussions about philosophies of Being are only meant for those who have already reached a high level of faith, worship and spirituality, and who will not make the mistake of confusing God with God’s creation in matters of law and worship.

It is very important for us and all Muslims to be educated about the history of these ideas as part of our general knowledge, but it is also crucial to recognize that, at our level, these ideas are not relevant to our daily practice and worship.  And God knows best.

Dr. Homayra Ziad

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