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The One in Many

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The One in Many (Wahdat-dar-Kathrat)


Human nature is perforce compelled to acknowledge the existence of a Superior Power which guides and moulds its destiny. All religious books make a direct appeal and home-thrust to the heart and intuition of man, which results in a universal acknowledgement among mankind, thinking and unthinking, of the existence of this guiding Power (a’ gumentum ex-concesur gentium), or as Sinā ’ī puts it.

Kufr-o-din har du dar rahat puyan
Wahdu la sharika-lah guyan

David summarized this appeal to intuition, when he sung: “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handy work” [Ps. 19-1]
The Quran has also directly appealed to this inner sense, “Do they not consider the camels how they are created, and the heaven how it is raised and mountains how they are fixed and the earth how it is extended?” [Sura 88]

It is only when the question of relationship between God and man, between the absolute and the limited, between the infinite and finite, between the unseen and the seen—between Rabb and ‘abd is debated, that opinion and beliefs differ. The debate is as old as the hills.


Aristotle taught that God and matter (or more literally the reality of the word—mahiyat) are co-eternal; only that God was unchangeable and mahiyat was changeable. His followers—the Peripatetic (Mashshain) are the advocates of his theory. Their motto was, as Mulla Jami has put it:

Qabiliyat bijali jail nist
Fili fail khilafi qabil nist 
Aptitude is not the product of the action of the actor.
The action of the actor is not contrary to the aptitude of the acted.

According to them there are two essences from the very beginning—the actor did not produce mahiyat; but He only bestowed His own existence upon it. Take for example, the reality of fire. God bestowed upon it His own Existence. Fire has it’s owe peculiar properties and angularities. These manifested themselves, when fire clothed itself with existence. When Prophet Abraham was slung into the bonfire by order of Nimrod (Numrud), God commanded fire thus

“ya naru kuni bardun wa salamun ala Ibrahima”
O fire, become cold and protective towards Ibranim.

God did not command the Essence of Fire to change, it being co-eternal with God, He commended its properties or quality (heat) to be changed into cold—the extension was changed and not the essence; like in the Catholic Church doctrine of Transubstantiation, in which the substance of bread and wine changes and not their essence.

Doctrine of Transubstantiation
(Catholic Church)

This school says that the knowledge of God is co-eternal with Him; the known in the first stage is the “Known Unkown” (ma’lum-i-ma’dum). The a’yan are the known (ma’lum), so far as the knowledge of God is concerned; and they are the (ma’dum) (non-existent), so far as there own existence is concerned.

A triangle, for examples, is there in the knowledge of God but it has no external or concrete existence (so to speak). One aspect of the triangle is “being ness” in the knowledge of God and co-eternity with Him, and the other side is its triangularity in externality—which is ‘adam. God cannot alter its triangularity or anything else. Its mahiyat is therefore co-eternal with God. Its mahiyat were absolute ‘adam, then the Dhat of God would become an absolute ‘adam like 1Í0 = 0. But it is ‘adam in the sense of ma’lum-i-ma’dum, there being distinction in knowledge of Himself from mahiyat; so by adding this cipher, there is no charge in Dhat like 1+0 = 0. This cipher with the addition of any number of ciphers with plus sign before them does not affect the oneness of one; but gives it distinction. In their inward aspect, the a’yan possess Imtiyaz-i-sulbi and in their outward aspect, Imtiyaz-i-sulb. God can, however, manifest any particular aspect of a’yan, at His Will. A potter cannot alter the shape of a Kura into a Jug and still call it Kura; but he could mould clay into either a jug or a Kura as he likes. While a’yan could not be altered, their particular properties (or muqtaziyat) could be suppressed or brought into prominence by God’s Will.

Ahlishara & Ash'aris

The poet Hafiz has sung:

Dar kuyi maik nami mara guzar nadadan
Gar tu nami pasundi ta ghyir kun kara ra
They did not allow me to enter the path of rectitude
It thou dost not approve, change Thy will.

That is, manifest thyself in the approvable and approvable points of my a’yan 
Those who maintain two eternal essence, one of God—real essence, and the other of ‘abd an ‘adam—nothingness, neither preceding the other are the Ahlishara (people of ordinances), and Ash’aris (of which Sunnis are the prominent sect). They bring forward the following documentary evidences in their support.

  1. God does not tyrannize over His creatures (Wullahu laysa bi Zallamel abd).
  2. Kalima-i-Shahadat; “there is no God, but God and Muhammed is His Prophet.”
  3. The cursed is cursed from his mother’s womb (Ash-shaqiyya man shaqa fi batni um-mihi).God does what it pleases Him; and orders what He wills (Yef Allaullahu ma yashayu wa yahkumu ma yurid).
  4. Whomsoever God directs in the right path, thou (O Prophet) canst not direct into wrong path; and
  5. whomsoever He directs in the wrong path, thou canst not direct to the right path (man yahdi hillahu fala mudil-la lahu, wa man yuzlilhu fala hadiyalah.)
  6. He gives the kingdom to whomsoever he likes; He gives honor to whom He likes and degrades whom
  7. He likes. In His hand is good (Tuti-l mulka man tashau, wa tuizzu man tashashu wa tu zillu man tashau bi-yadi kal-khayr).
  8. if a’yanare the reality of Dhat, then who is the cursed and the blessed?
  9. If a’yan are ‘adam (nothingness); then who is the cursed and blessed—the evil-doer and good—doer.

These are the advocates of the theory of A’yni-yat-i-Haqiqi and Ghairyat-Haqiqi—the dualists; as opposed to those who believe in A’yniyat-i-Haqiqi (Real Identity of rabb and ‘abd) and Ghairyat-i-I’tibari. (Suppositional distinction).

Ishraqin or the Realists of Plato believed in a world if ideas. God Pressed His ideas (the Mahiyat) into externality. Whatever exists in this world (‘Alam-i-Mulk) has its Archetype or counterpart in ‘Alam-i-ma’ani (the world of ideas); and these two—mulk and ma’ani, are conjoined in man—Here the question arises, whether ideas are distinct from Dhat.

In the knowledge of God, they are not created; but in the expressed world—the world of manifestation, they are created. (Mahiyat bi yali jali majul).

Shaykh Muhiyuddin ibn al-‘Arabi believed that there is only one Dhat from the beginning, the Dhat of ‘abd is hypostatical or suppositional. Hypostatical distinction begins, as Herbert Spenser (Essay on Progress: its Law and Cause.) has put it, in the “appearance of differences in the parts of a like substance.” The Dhat of God expressing or as it were crystallizing itself in forms becomes the dhat of ‘abd. The moment, the unknown descended into its own knowledge, an aspect of its own, it showed itself to itself as ‘abd—and this was the stage of Haqiqat-i-Muhammadi. From the first to the last rung, the Dhat has manifested itself in knowledge; and it is therefore the Dhat that is manifest. God is thus sensed and the ‘abd is only inferred, (Al-haqqu mahsu sun wal ‘abd-u-ma’qulun). The Sifat (attributes) are thus hidden and inferred, and the Dhat is in the full blaze of evidence; just as the sun is in evidence and the dhat of the moon is inferred (Ash-Shums-u-mahsu sun wal Qamaru ma’qulun.) There are, however, others of Ibn ‘Arabi’s school, who hold that Sifat are in evidence, and the Dhat is hidden. Al-Ghazzali and Shaykh Ibrahim Gazur-i-Hahi belong to this school. There are evidences in Hadith to prove this. The prophet has said:

  1. I am Ahmad without min (Ana Ahmadun bila mim); without mim Ahmad becomes Ahad.
  2. I am Arab without ‘ayn (Ana Arabun bila ‘ayn; without the letter ‘ayn), Arab becomes Rabb. It may be observed that herein the Prophet first shows himself as ‘abd, and then says that when the letter ‘ayn disappears, he becomes Rabb in the state of self annihilation
  3. He who has seen me has seen God (man raani faqad ra-al-haqqa).Christ himself has also said “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” [St. John 14-9]
  4. He who knows his Nafs knows his rabb (Man ‘arafa nafsahu faqud ‘arafa rabbahu) i.e. He who knows his own Nafs, knows it as God.
  5. Some, however, interpret this, as meaning that he who understands his Nafs as “ignorant”, understands his rabb as “knowing”. He who understands his Nafs as “created” understands his Rabb as “Creator” and so on.

Heqaya (Story)

Shaykh Ibrahim Gazur-i-Ilahi relates a story in his “Irshadat” (Kitab-ut-Tasawwuf) that a certain fakir entered the cloister (Khanqah) of Junayd, wrapped in a black blanket, Junayd asked him the reason for his mourning. He said “my God is dead”. Junayd ordered the fakir to be peremptorily turned out. This was done three times. On the fourth occasion, the fakir was asked to explain himself. He said “Not knowing that my Nafs was a manifestation of God, I have killed it and therefore I am in mourning for it.”

This Hadith about Nafs is sometimes said to be a saying of Hazrat Ali. It is akin to the Socratic dictum “man know thyself” which is further traceable to the Delphic Oracle.

Muhammad is not the father of any one amongst you; but he is the messenger of God and the seal of the Prophets (ma kana Muhammadan aba ahadin min rijalikum wa lakin rasullah wa khatim-ul-Nabiyyin). This is interpreted as meaning that Muhammad (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) was not of your world.

Among the elders of the Islamic house of worship, Bayazid Bistami said in his ecstasy “Holy I am, how great in my glory” (Subhana ma azam-a-shani) and Mar’uf Karkhi said in the same state “I am your Rabb—Obey me” (Ana rabbakum fabuduni).

One in Many

Thus according to Ibn Arabi of the Wujudiyyah School, there is only one Dhat, which has manifested itself. It is the Indian juggler’s piece of pottery that being thrown up in the air comes down in the shape of a silver Rupee. This school believes in there being one Dhat—but at the stage of asma, the Dhat of ‘abd differentiates itself from the Dhat of Rabb. In the stages above this, the Dhat of ‘abd is hidden in the Dhat of Rabb (mundamaj), like fire in stone or like 5,000 (say) in number one. This is Kathrat-dar-Wahdat (many in one). The reverse process (one in many) is Wahdat-dar-Kathrat, they call mundaraj. There is a distinction in knowledge after the expression of asma’i-ilahi in the form of asma ‘i-kiyani; and this distinction in knowledge is a great purdah (Al-‘ilmu hijabun ahbar); and from this stage begin the two streams which never commingle but flow on separate for ever (maraj al-bahryni yaltaqiyan bayna huma barzakun la yab-ghiyan).

The Shuhudiyyahs are, however, the Realists of Plato, in as much as they place the a’yan immediately below the Shuyunat of Dhat.

Through a’yan, God sees himself as one. According to this school, a’ayan are the mirrors through which God is reflected. The Dhat of Allah (God) is one—and His manifestations are many—the number of mirrors do not affect the individuality of the observer. Hence the Hadith “He is now as He was” (Huwal ana kama kana). He was and nothing was with Him (Al-lazi kana wa lam yakum ma-a-hu shayun.) Jami says:

Dar ayina garchi khud numai bashad
Pai vastha zi khistan judai-bashad
Khud ra bi labas-i-ghayr didan ajab ust
Kin bul ajabi kari khudhai bashad.
Although in mirror, there is constant self-expression,
And there is also separation from self;
Yet to show one’s self in the garb of another is a wonder;
This wonder-doing can only be the work of Allah.

Shaykh Ibrahim Gazur-i-Ilahi says that the book of Nufhatul Uns of Jami contains over 600 names of Sufis of whom 300 side with Ibn ‘Arabi in maintaining that ‘abd and Rabb are like ice and water; or s William James (The Varieties of Religious Experience, p.383) has put it “Each is all in God”. “The finite realized as such is already the infinite in posse.” Shaykh Shihab-uddin Suhrawardi leads the other school of 300 savants who maintain that the relationship between ‘abd and Rabb is like that of iron and fire. Temporarily iron becomes fire, but reverts to its essential condition.

Taj Taji




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