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Dhat and Sifat

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Dhat and Sifat


These two terms signify respectively the Essence or Reality, and the attributes, or predicable, of the Divine Being. Dhāt is the feminine form of the Arabic word, Dhu (possessor). Hence Dhāt is that which possesses Sifāt, and is feminine in significance; it is that about which something can be predicated; and a predicate is what can be affirmed about Dhāt. This is reasoning in a vicious circle. Indeed, the definition in the Dictionary Al-Mughrab, viz., that Dhāt is “that by being which a thing is what it is,” is a vague and nebulous as it could possibly be.

Buddhist idea

Shaykh-ul-Ishraq (Shaykh Shihabuddin Maqtul), the critical commentator of Aristotle, object to Aristotle’s definition of a definition, viz., “that is the naming of genus and differentia, on the ground that the hearer may be unacquainted with the differentia; and hence, without a knowledge of differentia, the definition of a thing in the terms of genus and differentia becomes unintelligible. He substituted for it “the summation of all the known attributes of a thing.” If the attributes alone are given, and nothing asserted about Dhāt, the Dhāt entirely vanishes. “A substance in themselves are nothing more than material potentialities.” It is the same as the Buddhist idea, which reduces Dhāt to a zero. On this ground Imam Ghazzali ignored Dhāt altogether, and concerned himself entirely with Sifāt. Though a theologian of high standing and a moralist who has exerted immense influence on the morality of Islam, so much so that he has been given the title of Hujjat-ul-Is’am (the proof of Islam)—he has yet been called a “skeptical philosopher.” Dhāt and Sifāt.

Dhat of God

It is as if the reality is Dhāt from an internal point of view, and Sifāt form and external point; as if the Dhāt, circumscribed within circle after circle, shows itself as Sifāt. It is also a point of contention whether God can be called a shay (a thing). A shay is that “about which something could be known and of which something could be asserted” shay becomes Dhāt in this sense. In the Qur’an it is written, “Kullu shayin halikun illa wajhullah”—“Everything is liable to annihilation except the face of God”. Then the inference is that the Dhāt of God is thing, for no exception could be made from a group, except of a thing of its own nature.

Example of God

But thinkers have, however, given three Batini (internal) gradations or emanations of God;

  1. La-bi-sharti-shay—“without condition of anything”
  2. Bi-sharti la shay, i.e., “with condition of a nothing” and
  3. Bi-sharti shay, i.e., “with condition of a thing”.

Shaykh Muhiyyuddin ibn al-Arabi asserts that God is not shay, and depends for his authority on the Quranic verse: Laysa-kamislihili shayun—“He is not like that example or model of a thing.” A shay is that which comes under wish, Sha Sha’in (the wisher wished). God is the wisher and not what is wished. This may mean that He is the thing itself. The Shaykh has, however, distinctly said: “he is in manifestation” and yet not the Dhāt of things, “He is He, and shay is shay.” Ana ana, wa anta anta (I am I, and thou art thou), i.e., shay has a separate Dhāt in manifestation.

In the first case, the Dhāt is above all condition; imagination cannot soar up to it. In the second, its existence is implied without further assertion. Inn the third, something could be asserted about it. The second assertion gave rise to the sect of Mu’tazilites, founded by Wasil ibn al- Ata, who asserted that Dhāt is predicate less and rejection separate attributes. The assertion of predicates militates against the Oneness of God.¹ The predicates are His essence itself, the first four suppositions in the Dhāt, namely, ‘ilm (knowledge), nur (Light), wujuf (existence) and shuhud (self-consciousness), are essence itself and not superimposition on essence. In manifestation, the attribute of existence was superimposed by God on the pre-existing atoms, i.e., on Centers in the unlimited expanse of Consciousness. Nazzam, the disciple of Ahu Huzal-Allaf, who flourished in the middle of the ninth century, called these by the name of wujub (modes) of the Divine being.
In the above summations of the predicable of an attribute, nothing has been said about the eternity of an attribute. Only so much is said, that it is either hidden or manifest. It is considered sufficient to say that in the above gradation of Emanation, no reference is to be made to an attribute. It is the stage of La-bi-sharti-shay—“without condition of anything”. It is called by different names—Munqatul-isharat (the stage at which all the indications are dropped), Ayn-ut-kafur (fountain of camphor), i.e., whatever enters into camphor becomes camphor itself, Dhāt-i-sadhaj (colorless Reality). In that stage attributes them selves are unheard of, and so nothing can be asserted about them. It is only in the fourth stage of manifestation that attributes are in evidence and anything can be asserted about them.

Imams and eternal

It is said that a companion of the Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam), named Zarrara, asserted that the attributes are not eternal. His sect goes by the name of Zarrarins. Imam Hanbal and the Mu’tazilites were persecuted by the Caliph of their times for having asserted that the Quran (the speech of God) was created, i.e. non-eternal. The other Imams asserted that it was not created. The assertion of Eternal attributes implied a multiplicity of Gods. The knower, the known and knowledge are one in the stage of Dhāt, like the painter, the picture and his knowledge are one in the Dhāt of the person who paints.

However, the sects of Ash’aris (founder of Abdul Hasan-al-Ash’ari, 873-935 Hijra) assert that attributes are not identical with Dhāt; nor are they separate from it. It is as if the attributes cannot be compared to anything. There can be no via media, God is the ultimate necessary existence, Who carries His attributes in His own being and whose existence and essence are identical. Their tenets are as follows,

  1. The essence ranks first the attributes come nest.
  2. The essence is self-existing and the attributes depend on the essence (like wax and its softness)
  3. The essence is unity and attributes display diversity.
  4. The essence has self-consciousness, the attributes have none.
  5. The essence is always hidden, the attributes are sometimes hidden and sometimes manifest.
  6. The attributes must be in their proper locality.
  7. The manifestation of one attributes conflicts with or suppresses the manifestation of another.

Dhat of God and creation

The question is often asked whether the Dhāt of God is the same as the Dhāt of the created. In the 85th Sure (Al-Butuj) God swears by the Dhāts of the Constellation of the Zodiacs, so the Dhāt of God is different from that of the abd (created).
In manifestation, the two are different, and the Quran used the words most easily understood by the people. But there can be no two Dhāts; any more than there can two swords in a scabbard. The Dhāt of the creature is the rupee of the juggler, who takes u a disc of broken pottery, throws it up in the air and brings down for the bystander the real rupee of silver.
In manifesting Himself through His own ideas (A’yan), the Dhāt of the Creator becomes known as the Dhāt of the created. In the non-manifest state there is one Dhāt; but in manifestation, it is known as the incalculably immense number of Dhāts of the created.
Hamid-uddin Nagori (Naqore of Rajputana) has said,

Zi darya moujigun gun bar amad
Zi bay chuni ni rangai chun bar amad
Gahi dar kiswat-i-Layla furou shud
Gahi dar surat-i-majnu bar amad

“In the ocean, innumerable waves of different colours arise
And from namelessness assume a name,
Sometimes in the shape of Layla.
And Sometimes in the grab of Majnu”

The identity of the Ocean and waves is the real identity and the dissimilarity is only phenomenal.
A controversy as to the creation or eternity of the Quran (Kalam-i-Lafzi or Kalam-i-Nafsi) raged round the throne of Al-Mamun and many were the tortures inflicted by the Mihna (Inquisition) on those who denied the eternity of the Quran. It was said that the attributes were in the first instance either Jalali (majestic) or Jamali (beautiful) that when the Jalali attributes appear, all manifestations recede into “nothingness,” and when Jamali attributes are in evidence, the beautiful world comes into being.

Zaroaster's Philosophy

The first is tanzih (getting rid of phenomena) and the second is tasbih (assuming of the same). Something like this is found in the philosophy of Zaroaster (Zardusht), who asserted that good and evil are the primary manifestations of the Deity (Yezdan). They were called Ormuzd and Ahriman. The Persian Monists, i.e. the Magi who guided by the rising star, were led out in search of the birth–place of Christ, were true Muwahhids (i.e. Unitarians). Some of the followers of Zoroaster construed those to be two gods and they were called the Zindiqs, i.e. those who did not pay regard to rank. The Zarwanians alone remained true to the colors.

Islam and attributes

However, the Jalali and Jamali attributes are in evidence in the cult of Islam. Again, the attributes may be “personal”, “relational”, “and verbal”: the first are like Pure, Sacred, living; the second are those that involve the manifestation of an attribute, liker creator, destroyer; and the third are those that show action, Providence, etc. So far the philosophical aspect of Dhāt and Sifāt has been based in the teaching of the Quran. The philosophers speculated and theorized on the doubtful verse of the Quran (Ayat-i-mutashabihat). Some of the verse has been mentioned above and others are the following:

  1. For God is in the East and West, so wherever thou turns thy face, there is the face of God—(Sura Baqara ii:128)
  2. ii. Really God surrounds everything—(Sura Nisa, v:116)
  3. iii. God is with you, wherever you are—(Sure Hadid, lvii:5)
  4. iv. We are nearer to man then his jugular vein—(Sure Waqiya, lvi:78)
  5. v. I am in your individuality, but you do not observe.—(Sura Dhariyat, li:19)
  6. vi. He is the first and the last—the apparent and the real—and He knows everything—(Sura Rahman, lv:26)
  7. vii. God is the light of the heavens and the earth, etc--(Sura Anfal, viii:18)

Attributes of God

The Quran is full of the attributes of God such as speech, seeing, hearing, knowing, etc. The best definitions given are all negative; indeed, as in the definition of a point, nothing could be positive. The Kalima, of the first article of the Muslim faith asserts, “There is no Allah, but Allah, and Prophet Mohammed is Messenger of Allah”. The word Allah is from al-elah. Ilah is simple “that which is worthy of worship.” So the Kalima means: there is no one worthy of worship excepting the One who is worth of worship. Some people worship several things; some worship anything or everything that are believed to help them in the realization of their objects. Some worship their good selves; some have, in the words of Bacon, the idols of the market-place, the idols of the forum, the idols of the cave and the idols of the thread to worship. Some worship the phenomena of the Universe. The Muslim Kalima declares that none these worthy of worship. These all are transient illusory appearances. The one deserving of worship is the God on whom these depend, and this he testifies as in evidence (shahada), unlike the Jewish Kalima (Shema Isra’il) where the testimony is of the ear, “Here, O Israel, Jehovah, our Elohim, is one Jehovah.”

Again the Sura, which in the quintessence of the Quran (Sura Ikhlas) give negative definitions. God is Ahad, i.e. His Dhāt is homogeneous. Here He is not wahid, if that means one as opposed to two, three and any other number—implying contrast and comparison—but He is Ahad. A pile of grain of the same species illustrates the nature of Ahad where his Dhāt is concerned, it is homogeneity or more correctly oneness of homogeneity. Heterogeneity is in manifestation. Then he is Samad (independent). Everything depends on Him, He does not depend on anything. Though positive in appearance these are really negative in nature. Also the saying “He is unbegetting and undegotten”, is obviously negative in nature. It is same as the definition of a point out of which the whole world is formed.

(1). ‘Abdul Karim Jili in hius Insan-ul-Kalam (p. 61) says that Sifāt are always hidden in Dhāt. For if Sifāt appear by themselves, they become separate entities, they are that which convey knowledge to the understanding. Benevolence is never as an entity, but it is only the Dhāt tha is benevolent.

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