Only God exists; He is in all things, and all things are in Him.
Sufi pantheism, as defined in a footnote to the Seven Valleys of Baha’u’llah
We have previously considered that Islam’s strength is that it forbids idolatry, that is, associating partners with God, and that Islam’s weakness is that its object of worship, Allah, is unknowable, and that this leads to agnosticism. The Islam of Muhammad is a religion of practices and politics, rather than beliefs or mystical experiences.
From fairly early on, Muslims began to seek ways to develop relationships with God, and ideas of gnosis began to develop. Sufism was being born. This was a uniquely Muslim form of mysticism, inasmuch as it was a mystical response to a non-mystical religion.
It ought to surprise no one that a mystical religion in a realm where heretics are murdered would be based upon secret knowledge. Severe penalties for apostasy and heresy may have forced mystics to appear more cryptic than they might otherwise have seemed.
The problem with secret knowledge is that it tends to favor the enlightened over the unenlightened. Such favoritism encourages idolatry, so it is easy to see that Islamic mysticism ran the risk of violating what is perhaps the fundamental principle of Islam. Mysticism must not be exclusive if it is to be true to Islam. It must permit no secrets. Unfortunately, secret knowledge was sometimes necessary for survival.
Unity of Being
“I am Truth.” — al-Hallaj
What if we are God? Pantheism provides a possible solution to the problem of non-idolatrous worship. Each individual knows truth in his or her own context. No hero worship is necessary. Muhammad is only a man, no better than any other. Worship is possible, because God is knowable, but idolatry has no place. Perhaps that is what the Sufis ibn `Arabi, Bayazid Bistami, and al-Hallaj were thinking when they made their contributions to the doctrine cited above, generally referred to as Wahdat-ul-Wujood (“Unity of Being”).
Emanation vs. Existence
A metaphysics of emanation is an alternative to pantheism worth considering, but emanation seems to be a construct derived from an unnecessary, artificial distinction between Creator and Creation. Why must I regard myself as a created object, when I possess an existential sense of a will that is my own? Perhaps that is the Will of God that I feel, but even then: why should I presume that Will is not my own?
Existentially speaking, I am no object. I am no emanation, shadow, or reflection.
I do not think of the world as a mere fact. It does possess will, and it does possess a sense of good and bad. This is why I recognize it as divine. For this very reason, I can be neither a strict atheist nor a theist. Pantheism seems to be the most natural view of the world as we experience it.
Omnipotence and Freedom
In Sufi Islam, the only true reality is God, and that the world is but a shadow of that reality. Generally, Islam regards the world as a deterministic effect of God’s will, which is not too different than a shadow. According to the Qur’an, even the most fundamental decisions are made according to the will of God, insha’Allah. Though it presumes a human capacity to choose, it also asserts that unbelievers only continue in their disbelief because God blinds their eyes. Thus the omnipotence of God trumps human freedom.
When it comes down to it, divine omnipotence and human freedom are incompatible. The only way to reconcile the two is to regard them as one and the same thing. Human will is divine will, and human freedom is divine freedom. Why not embrace such a simple and logical assertion? No gnosis necessary; it is really quite intuitive. Of course it requires a deep, subconscious notion of freedom that runs beneath our self-awareness and is ultimately a single Will, but it still allows for freedom. As God is free, so are we.
Along the lines of finding our freedom in the freedom of God, here is a quote that I find insightful:
“Spinoza says that if a stone projected through the air had consciousness, it would imagine it was flying of its own will. I add merely that the stone would be right.” — Schopenhauer, vol.1, p.126