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Fanaa: The Union of Man With God
A close look at various lists of the most prominent so-called saints, reveals names like that of al-Hallaaj who was publicly executed as an apostate for daring to openly claim divinity in his infamous pronouncement "Ana-al-Haqq" 'I am the Reality' when Allaah already said:
"That is so, because Allaah is the Reality and it is He who gives life to the dead."125
What led this deranged individual to make such a pronouncement was his belief in a principle very similar to the ultimate state of being in Buddhism known as "Nirvana."126 In this state, according to a branch of Buddhist thought, the ego disappears and the human soul and consciousness are extinguished.127
This concept also forms the core of a philosophy known as "mysticism". Mysticism128 is defined as an experience of union with God and the belief that man's main goal lies in seeking that union. The origins of mysticism can be found in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers like Plato's Symposium in which mention is made of various ladders of ascent, composed of steep and hard steps, whereby a union of the soul with God is finally attained.129 A parallel concept can also be found in Hinduism's identification of Atman (human soul) with Brahman (the impersonal Absolute), the realization of which is the ultimate goal or release from existence and rebirth.130 Greek mystic thought blossomed in the Gnostic Christian movements which, like that of Valentinus (c. 140 CE), reached their peak in the second century CE. These trends were combined in the third century with Platonism by the Egypto-Roman philosopher, Plotinus (205-270 CE), to form a religious philosophy known as neoplatonism. Christian anchorites or hermits of the 3rd century CE, who began the monastic tradition in Christendom by withdrawing into the Egyptian desert, adopted the mystic goal of union with God as it was propounded in neoplatonic thought at that time, within a framework of meditative and ascetic practises of self-denial. Although it was "St." Pachomius (290-346 CE) who established the first set of rules for Christian monasticism and founded nine monasteries in the Egyptian desert; "St." Benedict of Nursia (480-547 CE), in developing the Benedictine Rule for the monastery at Monte Cassino in Italy, came to be regarded as the real founder of Western monastic order.131
The mystic tradition kept alive in monastic Christianity began to find expression among Muslims from about 8th century CE, a century after the borders of the Islamic state had expanded to include Egypt and Syria and its major centers of monasticism.132 A group of Muslims who were not satisfied with what the Sharee'ah (Islamic Law) had to offer, developed a parallel system which they named the Tareeqah (the way). Just as the ultimate goal of the Hindu was unity with the world soul and of the Christian mystic union with God; the ultimate goal of this movement became Fanaa, the dissolution of the ego, and Wusool the meeting and unification of the human soul with Allaah in this life. A series of preliminary stages and states which had to be attained were defined. They were called Maqaamaat (stations) and Haalaat (states). A system of spiritual exercises was also designed for the initiate in order to bring about this "meeting." These exercises of Dhikr133 often involved head and body movements and sometimes even dance, as in the case of whirling dervishes. All of these practises were attributed to the Prophet through chains of narration in order to validate them, but there does not exist any authentic support for them in any of the classical books of Hadeeth. A multiplicity of systems evolved, and orders, similar to those among Christian monks, appeared named after their founders, like the Qaadiri, Chishti, Nakhshabandi, and Teejaani orders. Along with that, volumes of legends and fairy tales were spun around the founders and the outstanding personalities of these orders. And, just as Christian and Hindu monks chose special isolated structures (i.e. monasteries) in which to house their communities, the Sufi orders developed similar housing schemes called Zaawiyahs (lit. corners).
In time, a body of heretic creeds developed out of the mystic "union-with-God" belief. For example, most orders claimed that Allaah could be seen when the state of Wusool (arrival) was achieved. Yet when 'Aa'eshah asked the Prophet if he saw Allaah during Mi'raaj (ascension) he replied that he had not.134 Prophet Moosaa was also shown that neither he nor any man could withstand seeing Allaah in this life by Allaah revealing some of His being to a mountain which crumbled to dust during the revelation.135 Some Sufi adepts claimed that when the state of Wusool was attained, the mundane obligations of Sharee'ah like five times daily Salaah, were no longer obligatory. Most of them prescribed that prayers to Allaah could be sent through the Prophet or through the so-called saints; many also began the practice of making Tawaaf136, animal sacrifices and other acts of worship around the shrines and tombs of the saints. Tawaaf can be observed today around the grave of Zaynab and Sayyid al-Badawi in Egypt, around the tomb of Muhammad Ahmad (The Mahdi) in Sudan, and around the Darghas of countless saints and holy men in India and Pakistan.
The Sharee'ah came to be looked at as the outer path designed for the ignorant masses, while the Tareeqah was the inner path of an elite enlightened few. Opinionated Tafseer (Qur'anic commentary) appeared in which the meanings of the Qur'anic verses were bent and twisted to support the heretical ideas of the mystic movement. Greek philosophical thought was also blended with fabricated Hadeeths to produce a body of inauthentic literature which challenged the early Islamic classics and eventually displaced them among the masses. Music was introduced in most circles and drugs like marijuana could be found in others as a means of heightening the pseudo-spiritual experience which they all sought. Such was the legacy of the latter generation of Sufis which had been built on the false premise that union of the human soul with Allaah was attainable. The early generation of pious individuals, like 'Abdul-Qaadir al-Jeelaani, and others to whom some orders were attributed, clearly understood the importance of distinguishing between the Creator and the created. The two could never become one, as One was Divine and Eternal, while the other was human and finite.
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