Theological dimentions and discussions of Nahj al-balaghah (2), intellectual monotheistics problems

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The Nahj al- balaghah adopts two kinds of approach to the problems of the theology. The first kind of approach calls attention to the sensible world and its phenomena as a mirror reflecting the knowledge and perfection of the Creator. The second approach involves purely rationalistic and philosophical reflections. The latter approach accounts for the greater part of the Theological discussions of the Nahj al- balaghah. Moreover, it is the only approach adopted on regard to the discussion about the Divine Essence and Attributes.

Here, we shall cite some examples of the Nahj al- balaghah’s Treatment of the problems of theology related with Divine essence and attributes.

The Divine Essence: discussion of Nahj al- balaghah about Divine essence
Around the point that the Divine Essence is Absolute and Infinite Being. Without a quiddity. His Essence accepts no limits and boundaries like other beings, static or changeable, which are limited and finite. A changeable being is one which constantly transcends its former limits and assumes new ones. But such is not the Divine Essence. Quiddity, which may qualify and confine how within limits of finitude, is not applicable to him none of the aspects of being are devoid of his presence and no kind of imperfection is applicable to him, except absence of my imperfection whatsoever: the only thing amiss in him is absence of defect or inadequacy of any kind. The sole kind of negation applicable to him is the negation of all negations. The all kind of non – being attributable to him is the negation of any kind of imperfection in relation to him. He is free from all shades of non – being which characterize the creatures and effects he is from finitude, multiplicity, divisibility, and need. The only territory that he does not enter is that of nothingness and non-being. He is with every thing, but not in any thing, and nothing is with him, he is not within things, though not out of them. He is over and above every kind of condition, state, similarity, and likeness. For these qualities relate to limited and determinate beings characterized by quiddity:

He is with everything but not the sense of [ physical] nearness. He is different from every thing but not in the sense of separation.
He is not inside things in things in the sense of physical [ pervasion or ] penetration, and is not outside them in the sense of [physical] exclusion [ for exclusion entails kind of finitude].
He is distinct from things because he overpowers them, and the thing the things are distinct from him because of their subjection to him.

That is, distinctness from things lies in the fact that he has authority and control over them. However, his power, authority and sovereignty, unlike weakness, subjugation, and subjection. His distinction and separateness from things lies in the fact that things are totally subject to his power and authority, and that which is subject and subordinated can never be like one who subjugates and commands control over it. his separateness from things does not lie in physical separation but is on account of the distinction which lies between the provider and the provided, the perfect and imperfect, the powerful and the weak.

These kind of ideas are replete in Ali’s discourses. Ali the problems which shall be discussed later are based on the principle that Divine Essence is Absolute and Infinite, and the concepts of limit, from and condition do not apply to it.

Reality True unity
Another feature of tawhid (monotheism)as propounded by the Nahj al- balaghah is that that Divine Unity is not numerical, but something else. Numerical unity means the oneness of something which has possibility of recurrence. It is always possible to imagine that the quiddity and from of an existent is realizable in another individual being. In such cases, the unity of an individual possessing that quiddity is numerical oneness and stands in opposition to duplicity or multiplicity. It is one, means that there is not another like it, like it, and inevitably this kind of unity entails entails the quality of being restricted in number which is defect, because one is lesser in number as compared to two or more of its kind but, if a being be such that assumption of recurrence with regard to it is impossible, since it is infinite and unlimited, and if we assume another like it to exist, it will follow that it is the same as the first being or that it is something which is not similar to it and therefore cannot be called a second instance of it, in such a case, unity is not numerical. That is, this kind of unity is not opposed to duplicity or multiplicity, and when it is said it is one, it does not mean that there are not two, three or more of its kind, but it means that a second to it is unconceivable.

This notion can further be clarified through an example. We know that the astronomers and physicists are not in agreement about the dimensions of the universe, whether it is limited in size or infinite. Some scientists have favored the idea of unlimited and infinite universe ؛others claim that the universe is limited in dimensions so that if we travel in any direction, we shall reach a point beyond which there is no space. The other issue is whether the universe in which we live is the only universe in existence, or if there are other universes existing besides it.

Evidently, the assumption of another physical world beyond our own is a corollary to the assumption that our universe is not infinite. Only in this case it is possible to assume the existence of say, two physical universes each of which is limited and has finite dimensions. But if we assume that our universe is infinite, it is not possible to entertain the assumption of another universe existing beyond it, for, whatever we were to assume would be identical with this universe or part of it.

The assumption of another being similar to the being of the one God- like the assumption of another physical universe besides an infinite material universe- amounts to assuming the impossible, for the being of God is absolute: Absolute Selfhood and Absolute Reality.

The notion that Divine Unity is not a numerical concept, and that qualifying it by a number is synonymous with imposing limits on the Divine Essence, is repeatedly discussed by the Nahj al- balaghah:
He is one, but not in a numerical sense.
He is not confined by limits nor counted by numbers.
He who points to him, admits for him limitations and he who admits limitations for him has numbered him.
He who qualifies Him limits Him. He who limits Him numbers Him. He who numbers His denies His pre-eternity.
Everything associated with unity is deficient except him.

How beautiful, profound, and full of meaning is the last sentence. It states that everything except the Divine Essence is limited if is one, that every thing for which another of its kind is conceivable is a limited being and an addition of another individual would increase its number. But this is not true of Unity of the Divine Essence, for God’s Unity lies in His greatness and infinity, for which a like, second, an equal or a match is not conceivable.

This concept that Divine Unity is not a numerical notion is exclusively an IsIamic concept, original and profound, and unprecedented in any other school of thought. Even the Muslim philosophers only gradually realized its profundity though contemplating the spirit of the original IsIamic texts and in particular the discourses Ali (a), and ultimately formally incorporated it in the IsIamic metaphysical philosophy. There is no trace of this profound concept in the writing of the early IsIamic philosophers like al- farabi and Ibn sina. Only the later philosophers ushered this concept into their philosophic thinking calling it. ( الوحدة الحقة الحقیقیة ) “ Really True Unlty “ in their terminology.

God, the first and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden:
Of the many issues discussed by the Nahj al- balaghah is the notion that God is the first and the Last, the Hidden and Manifest. Of course this, too like other notions, has been deduced from the Holy Qur’an though here we are not going to quote the verse from the Qur’an. God is the first, but his precedence is not temporal so as to be in contradiction with his being the Last. He is the Manifest, but not in the sense of beings physically visible or perceptible to the sense, his Manifestness does not contradict his Hiddenness. In fact his firstness is identical with his Lastness and similarly his Manifestness and Hiddenness are identical, they are not two different things:

praise be to Allah, for whom one condition does not precede another, so that he may be the first before bring the Last or may be Manifest before being Hidden….

Time is not his accomplice, nor does he need the assistance of tools and agents. His being transcends time. His Existence transcends nothingness and his pre-eternity transcends all beginning.

The Divine Essence’s transcendence over time, nothingness, beginning, and end is one of the most profound concepts of al-hikmah philosophy. God’s pre-eternity does not mean that God has always exisred. certainly God has always existed but Divine pre-eternity(azaliyyah) is something greater in meaning than existence at all times, because, existing at all times’ assumes existence in time, but God’s being has not only been at all times, it precedes time itself. This is the meaning of Divine pre- eternity. This shows that his precedence is something other temporal precedence.

Praise be to God, whose creation bears testimony to his Existence, temporality (huduth) of whose creation is the evidence of his pre- eternity, the similarity and likeness amongst whose creation proves that he is unique. The senses do not perceive him and nothing can conceal him.

This is, God, is both Hidden and Manifest. by himself he is Manifest but is Hidden from the human senses. His Hiddenness from the senses is due to man’s own limitations and not on account of Him.

It need no proof that existence is synonymous with manifestation, the more powerful the existence of a being, the more Manifest it would be. Conversely, the weaker its being is and the more intermingled it is with non- being, the less Manifest it is to itself and others.

For every thing, there are two modes of being: Its being- in itself (wujud it natsih), and its being for- others. The being of every thing for us depends upon the structure of our senses and certain special conditions. Accordingly, the manifestation of a thing is also of two kinds: its manifestation –in- itself (zuhur it natsih) and its manifestation- for- others.

Our senses, on account of their limitations, are able to perceive only a limited number of finite objects possessing the characteristics of similarity and opposition the senses can perceive colours, shapes sounds, ets, which are limited temporally and spacially, that is, their existence is confined within a particular time and place. Now if there existed a uniform light, always and everywhere, it would not be perceptible. A continuous monotonous sound heard always and everywhere would not be audible.

The being of God, which is absolute being and absolute reality, is not confined to any particular time and place, and is hidden from our senses, but God in himself is absolutely manifest, the perfection of his manifestness with follows from the perfection of his being, is itself the cause of his hiddenness from our senses. The two aspects of his manifestness and hiddenness are one and the same in his Essence. He is hidden because he is perfectly manifest, and this perfect manifestness conceals him.
Thou, who art hidden on account of thy perfect brilliance,
Thou Art the Manifest, hidden in thy manifestness.
The veil on thy face is also thy face,
So manifest thou art, thy manifestness conceals thee from the world’s eyes.


Glimpses of the Nahj al-balaghah- pages: 62-77-86


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