Dear Farasha

Thank you for your reflections. I pray they serve us as a fruitful reminder of the role of the transcendent/immanent within our hearts and within our experience. However, I want to respond to what appear to be certain misreadings you have made in your assessment of Islam, both as a Muslim and as a student and scholar of the vast intellectual tradition that this way of life has fostered. I am not here to convince anyone of anything, but rather to hopefully add some thoughts from an "insider perspective."

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Aug 22, 2022·edited Aug 22, 2022Author

Dear Scott,

Thank you for your interesting and insightful comments. I truly appreciate you coming here to read the post and to share your thoughts. FYI, For very many years, I, myself, identified as a Muslim. Now, it is hard to accept a label, since I feel drawn both to Orthodox Christianity, as well as Greek and Etruscan paganism, while still harboring a love for Islam. I think Ibn 'Arabi stated it well in the following poem:

"O Marvel! a garden amidst the flames.

My heart has become capable of every form:

it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,

and a temple for idols and the pilgrim’s Kaa’ba,

and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran.

I follow the religion of Love: whatever way Love’s camels take,

that is my religion and my faith."

I don't claim that all Muslims are inevitably going to end up as radical non-dualists, alhamdulilah!, but that there is an inherent opening within Islamic metaphysics that lays the ground for openings to the Vedanta in a way in which Christianity or the Neoplatonism of Proclus would not be susceptible.

I referred to Guenon and Schuon largely because the tendencies I was describing are most prevalent in their works. Now, Ibn 'Arabi's metaphysics can go both directions. It is not inherently wrong as the thought of Shankara is, but it has openings to the Vedanta in ways that Saint Symeon would not. On the other hand, it all really depends on whose Ibn 'Arabi one is talking about. I don't particularly like the traditionalists' view of Ibn 'Arabi, but I don't like their reductionistic view of Meister Eckhart either. I think Henry Corbin's works on the Shaykh al-Akbar are highly compelling, though they certainly say more about Corbin's views than they do about Ibn 'Arabi's. As far as I am aware, both Guenon and Schuon were practicing Muslims. I don't doubt that either one took the practice seriously. But, I must criticize their doctrines, since they both mold Islamic doctrine to Hindu metaphysics. I am completely in favor of universalism, and the belief that all shall be saved, but to say that all religions are one, and then claim to have discovered a secret Vedantic core to every religion is silly.

I think Aristotle ruined both Western Islam (Sunni Islam) and Western Christianity. I find Shi'a Islam and Orthodoxy far more interesting and closer to the Truth, and both are highly Platonic. Within Islam, there were great mystics, saints, and sages, such as Hallaj and Suhrawardi, but I see very little vitality in Islam today. I think both the rationalism of Ibn Rushd and the attacks on philosophy of Ghazali led to the literalism of Ibn Taymiyya, which sounded a death-knell for creative Islamic philosophy.

I removed the quotation marks around "Sufi". Additionally, a Muslim friend of mine made some private comments and I have added a number of clarifying footnotes.

I would state that Islam does not necessarily fall into the errors I describe, but I would still state that it is more prone to those errors than Christianity. Now, there are other errors Christianity, particularly Western Christianity, has fallen into, and is prone to, that Islam is more protected from, but those errors are not the main focus of this article.

As for the works of William Chittick, I personally would always take the works of Massignon and Corbin a thousand times over, over the works of Chittick. There is nothing wrong with the works of Chittick, but compared to Corbin's writings, they lack life and vitality, in my opinion.

I don't think Ibn 'Arabi was a radical non-dualist, but his thought clearly was open to those deformations. Same as Meister Eckhart. Eckhart would have spat on the modern new-agey interpreters that would have compared him to Shankara. But, Eckhart's thought was open to those attacks, and that is why his followers needed to correct his doctrines in certain places. Same with Ibn 'Arabi. On the other hand, someone like Ibn Saba'in was flat-out wrong.

I do think we see eye to eye on most things. I apologize if my post in any way came across as disparaging Islam. It is a tradition I have a great love for. And it was partially out of that love that I needed to post this, to warn people, perhaps especially Muslims of the dangers of creeping Advaita. A right-headed Islam is not dangerous, so long as Vedanta is kept at the gate, but when ideas from the Upanishads start infiltrating Islam, then a great tragedy has transpired.

The only part of your posts that I would have any substantial disagreements with would be on the nature of Christ. Now, I respect the Muslim view, but I take a different view, one that wouldn't really be considered orthodox from a Christian perspective. In my view God is threefold, hence the absolute truth of the Trinity, but that there is a primordial, cosmic Christ, and there are manifestations of that cosmic Mystery. There is one Son of God, but there are many sons of God.

The Machine is the anti-Christ, the Dajjal, and its principle is the principle of Nothingness. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Pagans must all work together to fight the Machine. They should keep their own traditions, and should never subsume them under some pro-Machine ontology, such as Shankara's Advaita-Vedanta. In fact, I have to wonder whether India has become the world's most Machine-positive country in part because of its cultural background of Vedantic philosophy.

Thank you again for your comments, and thank you for reading my fragmentary response.

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First, a plea: please do not take Guenon or Schuon as representatives of our 1400 year old intellectual heritage. By this I include the "Akbari" school, which is very much an established and integral aspect of the Islamic intellectual tradition as a whole. While Guenon is better than Schuon, both authors seemed, as you point out, to utilize the teachings of Islam as a vehicle for their own theoretical purposes. These purposes preceded their expression. Guenon, for his part, better understood the Islamic intellectual tradition than did Schuon, Guenon committed himself to the Muslim life for many years, but still seemed to understand one-side or one aspect of this tradition. Just to make myself absolutely clear, I mean by this the Akbari tradition: Guenon only understood one aspect of the Akbari tradition, the aspect which he already presupposed (he found what he was looking for, and insulted all else), and thereby made wide ranging theoretical errors (maybe, I want to be careful in judging the heart of someone who died a practicing Muslim). Schuon, on the other hand, said some good things, but made a fundamental confusion of the religious with the metaphysical. This led him to divorce form from content which results necessarily in amorphous content.

Second: please do not take the deracinated, anti-intellectual, anti-poetic expression which constitutes contemporary Islamic "theology" as a representative of this tradition either. This may be the consideration which lies behind your assumption that for the common Muslim God is absolutely transcendent, no immanence. The theological articulations of so much of contemporary Islam is, in many cases though certainly not all, the product of a community that has been absolutely severed, completely uprooted, from their cultural, intellectual, educational, poetic and imaginative tradition. As a warning: for those who are curious regarding the consequences of the activity of the Machine upon a people, see the Muslim world. This is a community that has suffered epistemicide and cultural genocide to a profound degree (not to speak of the economic and actual genocidal aspects of the past 200 years). The theoretical world of an educated Muslim in the year 1796 was a full universe away (and, as I will discuss below, this was a deeply theophanic universe) from the theoretical world of an education Muslim in the 1896, not to speak of 1996. In Europe, these same shifts occurred mainly internally, with some moments of great violence (revolutions etc.), but in the Islamic world, these shifts occurred mainly through violence and a series of imposed authoritarian governance. Many of the academics involved in the "post-colonial" project, as well as the neocons and many traditionalist conservatives in their often myopic assessment of the Muslim world, seem to forget that the colonial enterprise was a deeply progressive and deeply liberal project. The liberal desire to impose its manner of understanding the world upon all others is most evident here. If one is interested in reading about an indigenous Muslim response to the Machine, read about the like of Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri. A "sufi" thoroughly schooled in the words of Ibn 'Arabi, he strove to defend his country and his culture against the French Colonial (read: liberal) powers, all the while maintaining his immense dignity and grace. He also famously saved the Christians in Damascus against Druze violence, a deeply Islamic act.

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I also want to address what you refer to as Sufi "Islam." The quotations marks here are, to be sure, entirely arbitrary: Sufism (or better let us use the indigenous term tasawwuf, the active participle from whence the English term Sufism was derived. Sufism was never treated as a nominal: it is an activity and a way of life rather than an ideology or, worse, a sect. Arabic has no "isms") is absolutely integral to the tradition of Islam, it is not, in any way, foreign, secondary, or "un-orthodox" (orthodox being another term, like Sufism, that is not indigenous to the Islamic languages and is generally inappropriate). It is only when Sufism is divorced from the normative practice of Islam that is becomes something foreign: however, this is "Sufism", not tasawwuf, and this is a way of understanding the tradition that is certainly antithetical to the worldview of Ibn Arabi and the "Akbari" school as well as to the vast, vast majority of Muslims throughout history. It is also something that rarely occurred historically, and when it did occur it was a result of non-indigenous influence.

I will stress again that tasawwuf is absolutely integral to the experience of Islam for the vast majority of its practitioners throughout history. It is also this aspect of the religion that allowed for the relationship between the transcendent and the immanent that is the main point at focus here. Islamic theology served a role rather different than theology in the Christian role. Islam theology served only to set certain limits and clarify certain confusions. But this theology was never and could never be isolated from the experience of tasawwuf, and the abundant expressions of beauty, of poetry, of love, and of the personal experience of God which this entailed. One may read a book of (classical and traditional) Islamic theology and wonder where the personal may be, but this is because one is only reading the outlines of a narrative. When the poetic is eliminated, so is the tradition (this elimination being a a focal point of the above-mentioned epistemicide). The alternative is also the case, one cannot understand the poetic without understanding the limits set by and through theology. This leads to just as extreme an error. Islam has always seen itself as a "Middle Way" in navigating these two extremes, the strictly transcendent and the strictly immanent.

If you or a reader is truly interested in an English presentation of this tradition, I highly recommend the works of William Chittick. Unlike Guenon and Schuon, his works are in fact representative.

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Now the fun stuff:

If you were to someday ask Ibn Arabi (and I pray you get this chance) whether or not he was a "radical non-dualist," he would probably respond, in characteristic fashion: yes/no. The adherents of his tradition, however, recognized how this could be easily misunderstood (as it was by Guenon and many other European commentators) and strove diligently to clarify the potential errors. For example, we can look to the works of the 17th/18th century theologian/philosopher Ibrahim Kurani. In many of his works, he made it clear that God is radically un-qualifiable, a characteristic which allowed God to be understood as both transcendent and immanent without losing what is specific to either. The locus classicus of this position in the Quran is 42:11 "There is nothing like the likeness of God , and He is the Hearing, the Seeing." God is both transcendent of description or qualification, as well as immanent in appearance: He shows Himself to us through His divine qualities and His divine names, such as the all-merciful, the beautiful, the loving, the generous and the like, whilst at the same time reminding us that while He is generous, and every act of generosity is an appearance of God and God's name, He, in His infinitude, always superabundantly exceeds that which we can possibly conceive. God is unlike His creation, however He is not impersonal or absent from His creation. Creation, i.e. the orders of nature and the human is emphatically theophanic, a locus of divine manifestation embedded with a sacredness inasmuch as it reflects and shines out the Face of God, which is to be found anywhere we turn (Quran 2:115). As you say, everything that lives is Holy: this is a deeply Quranic sentiment. The Quran is a book of nature, as the natural world constitutes a theatre of Divine revelation and expression (the natural world is described, in its august beauty and its God-given glory, throughout the pages of the Quran far more than in any other religious, or at least Semitic, tradition): it is through and by means of this expression that the transcendent becomes immanent without losing transcendence. The Islamic concept of God is far closer to what you refer to as panentheism than it is to pantheism: in Ibn Arabi's world God never "becomes" the all nor does the all become God. This is an orientalist misreading. The "illusion" of the world is never absorbed in the undifferentiated absolute, the world always maintains its reality. The infinite and the finite, Creator and creature, maintain distinct spheres, as you properly suggest, but the finite, due to its very nature, inherently signifies and articulate the infinite, as the word on the page signifies the thought of its author. "The flower is holy and partakes of God, but is not God," exactly. The finite is, ultimately, not "other than God" in the sense of being a separate reality (distinct from God in the way that two individuals are distinct from each other: a bad--and I stress bad-- analogy is between an author and his or her novel: the characters are not the author, and they embody their own reality, and this reality is fully real: but it is not ultimately anything than a manifestation of the author: though how many author's have described the experience of their novels taking on a life of their own? Are the character not free in some sense?), however, it never loses its own reality in its finitude. Islam is not a fatalist nor anti-active religion: we are fully responsible for our actions, whether we facilitate the light of God's appearance on earth or we inhibit it.

Again, I want to emphasize that these considerations are best experienced in the poetry of the Islamic world, and that the Islamic world was, for most of its history, a deeply poetical culture (one cannot even read a 16th century biographical dictionary or travelogue without first assuming it is a book of poetry). The experience of the average Muslim is one in which God is fully present to their lives, through the sun and the moon, through the cosmic order, through the mountains and the valleys, rivers and trees, and through one's fellow human beings (different tongues, races, and human expression are signs of God in the Quran). "Traditional dualism" is inappropriate here: yes, creation is not Creator, but then again, following Yeats, how do we distinguish the dancer from the dance?

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Jesus, may God's peace be upon him, in the Islamic tradition is a great example of the Islamic conception of this relationship between transcendence and immanence. Jesus, who is of Virgin birth and is considered by the Quran to be the Word of God, is a paradigmatic example of Divine Theophany. In his very being we come to witness God, he is the the way to (yes, I am making a change here) the truth and the light. But he is not "God made flesh" in the sense that we cannot say, with the Chalcedonian creed, his substance is one with the infinite. The infinite and the finite cannot share in substance--even as the finite reflects and acts through the substance of the infinite--this distinction we maintain, allowing for the appropriate balance of transcendence and immanence. The Quran makes clear that the miracles of Jesus are performed "with the permission of God." He is a channel or vehicle through which God expresses His names, but he is not He. Jesus is "God incarnate" in the same way that nature is "God incarnate," or better yet, "the holy," "the good," and "the beautiful" (all names of God) incarnate. And both demand our equal respect.

So, Ibn Arabi would maybe say "I am a non-dualist" just as he would say "I am a dualist" and then add: but because our intellects are never capable of grasping the fullness of reality, a realty that can be best experience through poetry (and he was a poet par excellence and must always be read as such, or else he will be dangerously misinterpreted), we are stuck using such insufficient language. God is here, God is closer to you than your jugular vein: but God is not here, and you are not God nor is God you. God is meant to be loved, as He loves you: and what a vile act is self-love?

I have too much more to say but I will stop. Please forgive my rambling. I would be happy to initiate a conversation if you or any of your readers are interested. Also, I see that I have posted these comments "upside down," with the first being the last in order. Read from the bottom up.

Thank you

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"Two lovers become one, yet are two." I'm confused; is this not the very meaning of non-dualism? Everything is One Thing; but the distinctions remain intact. That said, why is non-dualism so bad? Is it the following?

"Any time the transcendent OR the immanent is denied, it is a disaster for the person who denies one of these sides of Reality."

Ah, I think this is the issue: I don't see the difference between pantheism and panentheism being one of 'enclosure', in the sense of God being 'outside' of the physical boundaries of the universe, or thoroughly interpenetrating it, etc. These are common understandings for one who externalizes mere concepts and attributes them reality, something I unfortunately did for many years.

Instead of 'transcendent/immanent', with all of the conceptual baggage associated with that language, try a much simpler 'inner/outer'. God has an inner reality: the noetic reality of angels, ideas, etc. And he has an outer one: the physical world represented by the senses.

In short, replace metaphysics with phenomenology. Then these various concepts, such as 'pantheism', 'panentheism', 'dualism', etc. become mere descriptors of aspects of reality, rather than total systems in themselves demanding absolute consistency and logical perfection.

The meaning of non-dualism, as far as I can tell, is this: the external world is a "reflection" of the God who dwells within (not the ego; you called It "the living Fire based religion of the Vedas"). To truly see and know this: isn't that the straightforward meaning, in the Christian scheme, of the redemption of physical creation? Though I'm no theologian, a much shittier mystic, and far from being a decent philosopher. So I know I'm bastardizing several of these concepts.

Ultimately, metaphysical nihilism, like all nihilism, says more about the thoughts and feelings of the philosopher, rather, than of reality itself. Perhaps what is at stake here is not the redemption of creation, so much, as the redemption of our perception of the God(s) having created it. And it should be a sin to mistrust deity.

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Feb 13·edited Feb 13Author

There is a big difference between qualified non-dualism and radical non-dualism. In qualified non-dualism, A equals B and also A does not equal B. In radical non-dualism there is no A, nor B, but only 1, which really =0.

At any rate, phenomenology has a greater use than theology or philosophy, since life is full of phenomena. This is something a radical non-dualist would deny.

But, the important thing is not what to think, but how to live. I couldn't care whether a person worshipped Jesus, Son of God, or Can full of Coke, so long as the person lived a full and good life in harmony with nature.

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I fail to see your arguments against Advaita. Could you please elaborate on how the denial of the distinction between the transcendent and the immanent can lead to erroneous metaphysical views and misinterpretations of divine nature?

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