Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah: A Selection From ‘When Mystic Masters Meet’
Palm Tree motif
from the book cover
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is a selection from Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah’s impressive 2011 book, ‘When Mystic Masters Meet, Towards a new matrix for Christian-Muslim Dialogue’ published by Blue Dome Press, New York.
‘This book is a study of the role mystical discourse and experience can play in Christian-Muslim dialogue as a subset of interfaith dialogue in general. It concentrates on the work of two great medieval mystic masters, one Muslim, the other Christian. The Muslim is the Sufi teacher known to centuries of admirers as al-shaykh al-akbar or “The Greatest Master”— Muhyi al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi. The Christian is the great German Dominican mystic and philosophical theologian whose status as “master” has become a part of his name—Meister Eckhart. The book begins by discussing the life and legacy of each mystic master, and then move on to identify a principal theme in each of their teachings that has significant implications for addressing issues of religious diversity and interfaith dialogue. It will then proceed to its main objective: placing the mystical discourse of these two masters in conversation with one another for the purposes of articulating “conversation points” between the two discourses which might serve as “nodes” for a possible new matrix for Christian-Muslim dialogue. Specialized in Sufism, interfaith dialogue, and comparative religion studies, Dr. Syafaatun Almir-zanah is Professor of Religious Studies at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Indonesia; a long time activist in interfaith dialogue nationally and internationally, currently a visiting Fulbright Scholar at Eastern Mennonite University.’ (From the book’s cover).
From Professor John Esposito’s foreword
‘The spirituality of Ibn al-Arabi and of Meister Eckart share an emphasis on the Oneness of Being/God and distinction between God and Godhead. The God of theology and doctrine is the creation believers and religious institutions use as a human construct in their finite, limited language to describe the ineffable. Though useful, it must be distinguished from the godhead, the true nature of the divine that transcends the grasp of human language and categorization. Refocusing on the Oneness of God takes us beyond the limitations of God language and human formulations of doctrine and lets ‘God be God’, enabling us to base our understanding, worship and service of God on that unity which underlies our difference and diversity both within and across religions. This shared vision and experience provides a common bond that can lead to greater appreciation of our own faith, to work together to build a more just society and world order based on faith and social justice. Thus, the measure of faith and realization of God’s will is based not on a religious exclusivism but inclusivism, not on the assertion that one religion is superior to others but on service based on Love of God and Love of Neighbor (not just members of one’s own faith but all humanity): working together to help, feed, educate, provide healthcare, work to end conflicts and war, to save and protect the environment.’
From page 113/114. Diversity of religions
‘…Ultimately, for Ibn al-Arabi, it is crucial for the believer to transcend the ‘God created in belief’ (‘Bezels of Wisdom’, page 282, a concept to be discussed in fuller detail below in chapter five). For the master, the path ultimately leads one to transcend the ‘color; conveyed by religious affiliation. This is not, however, a prescription for a relative approach to religion. We should remember, as stressed above, that in Ibn al-Arabi’s mind God’s Law (i.e., the Shari’a) is crucial for the realization of the Real (la haqiqa bi la shari’a). Thus, the path to God must be facilitated by the purest and most correct beliefs and practices possible. For Ibn al-Arabi, these are to be found in the proper interpretation and practices of the Sunna of Muhammad, the Seal of the Prophets-i.e.m the religion commonly referred to as ‘Islam’.
Most contemporary Muslims’ understanding of diversity of religions is rooted in quranic verses which describe religious traditions other than Islam. Unlike many Muslims who believe that certain exclusive verse in the Qur’an abrogate (naskh) certain inclusive verse in the Qur’an-thereby concluding asserting that Islam abrogates previous religions-Ibn al-Arabi does not draw such a conclusion.
For Ibn al-Arabi, “All the revealed religion (shara’i) are lights. Among these religions, the revealed religion of Muhammad is like the light of the sun among the light of the stars. When the sun appears, the lights of the stars are hidden, and their lights are included in the light of the sun, They being hidden is like the abrogation of the other revealed religions that takes place through Muhammad’s revealed religion. Nevertheless, they do in fact exist, just as the existence of the lights of the stars is actualized. This explain why we have been required in our all inclusive religion to have faith in the truth of all the messengers and all the revealed religions. They are not rendered null (batil) by abrogation-This is the opinion of the ignorant.” (‘Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya’, III, 153. 12).
‘One of the most touching and profound aspect of Ibn al-Arabi’s teaching on the diversity of religions can be found in the ‘Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya’, where the master refers to God as ‘taking care of the needs of mis-believers’ and ‘giving them to drink. According to Ibn al-Arabi, all those who are worshipping God, even though they may be doing so falsely by attaching the name of ‘God’ to their idols, are nonetheless the ‘loci ‘(plural of locus: centers) of God’s Self-disclosure, and as such are de facto recipients of God’s mercy. “God takes care of their needs and gives them to drink”, Ibn al-Arabi writes, “He punishes them if they do not honor the Divine Side in this inanimate form”. Here Ibn al-Arabi’s phrase,”giving them to drink” echoes his discussion of the ‘drinking places”, a discussion in which he refers to many quranic verses:
“The drinking places have become variegated and the religions diverse. The levels have been distinguished, the divine names and the engendered effects have become manifest and the names the gods have become many in the cosmos. People worship angels, stars, Nature, the elements, animals, plants, minerals, human beings and jinn. So much is this the case that when the One presented them with his Oneness, they said, ‘Has He made the gods One God? This is indeed a marvelous thing.’ (23:117)…There is no effect in the Cosmos which is not supported by a divine reality. So from whence do the gods become many? From the divine realities. Hence, you should know that this derives from the names. God was expansive with the names: He said, ‘Worship Allah’ (4:36), ‘Fear Allah, your Lord’ (65:1), ‘Prostrate yourself to the All-merciful’ (25:6). And He said: ‘Call upon Allah or call upon the All-merciful; whichever, that is Allah or the All-merciful, you call upon, to Him belong the most beautiful names’ (17:110). This made the situation more ambiguous for the people, since He did not say: ‘Call upon Allah or call upon the All-merciful; whichever you call upon, the Entity is One, and these two names belong to it.’ That would be the text which would remove the difficulties, God only left this difficulty as a mercy for those who associate others with Him, the people of rational consideration-those who associate others with Him on the basis of obfuscation.” (Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya, III, 94. 19).
From page 155, 156 and 157. Pathless Path
‘…One final concept through which Meister Eckhart develops his central teaching on detachment is that of the ‘pathless path’. In one sermon Eckhart describes the way to full realization of the Godhead as a path which is ‘free and yet bound, raised aloft and wafted off almost beyond self and all things, beyond will and images. Focusing on Peter’s famous confession of faith in Christ, in Matthew 16: 13-19, Eckart uses him as an example of someone who had himself not seen God ‘bare’ (directly), but as one who ‘had certainly been drawn up by the power of the heavenly Father above all created powers of comprehension to the rim of eternity. ‘When he makes his startingly accurate identification of Jesus as ‘Messiah (i.e., ‘Christ’), the Son of the Living God’ (Meister Eckhart, teacher and preacher, 16:16), Jesus responds by saying: ‘For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but by my Father in heaven.’ (16:17). By envisioning Peter having gained this knowledge from the Father while standing on the ‘rim of eternity’, Eckhart imagines Peter having been clasped by the heavenly Father with tempestuous strength in a loving embrace, his spirit gasping upward unaware, carried beyond all human comprehension in the power of the heavenly Father.
The master deems this mode of encountering God the mode of the ‘pathless path’ because it is a ‘way’ or ‘journey’ to God that itself is immediate and direct. It does not entail un-mediated experience of the Godhead, for it is still a path. It is, however, a path that needs no traversing-a path that one undertakes instantaneously and that instantaneously takes one to the ‘rim’ (but no further). While the other disciples still struggle on the ‘first path’ of ‘seeking God in all creatures’ (i.e., their responses to Jesus’ question: ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ (16:14). Peter bypasses this route, going directly to the rim of eternity and learning the truth without any process or delay whatsoever. This is the sense in which Peter is on the ‘pathless path-that path which ranks higher than the first.
The highest path is not the ‘pathless path’, but rather a path that is called a path, and yet is a ‘being-at-home’. It is to see God immediately in God’s ownness. It is on this third , and most exalted of path, that one hears Christ speak these words:
‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.’ (John, 14.6). One Christ, one Person; one Christ, one Father; one Christ, one Spirit; three, one; three: way, truth, and life; one beloved Christ in whom all this is. Outside this path bordering it are all creatures acting as means. To be led into God on this path by the light of his Word and to be embraced by the love of the Spirit of them both-this is beyond anything one can express in words. Now listen to something astounding. How wondrous to be within and without, to grasp and to be embraced, to see and to be what is seen, to hold and to be held. This is the final end where the Spirit remains at rest in the unity of blissful eternity.’ (Meister Eckhart, teacher and preacher, 341).
If the ‘pathless path’ sounds paradoxical and apophatic in nature, then the ‘path that is a being-at-home’ is even more paradoxical and thus more expressive of an encounter that is truly un-mediated. Why is this the highest ‘path’ for Eckhart? The answer can be found in his recognition of both the practical necessity and practical danger of ‘paths’. The practical necessity lies in the fact that we need ‘paths’ in order to undertake our ‘journey’ of spiritual transformation. They are, in a very real sense, both as useful as they are unavoidable. The practical danger, however, lies in the equally real fact that the ‘stuff’ of the path can easily become mistaken for the goal of the journey. Eckhart himself warns: ‘Whoever seeks God in a special way, gets the way and misses God.’ (‘Predigten’, 5b). Like his plea ‘to be free of God’, discussed above, this teaching of the ‘pathless path’ and the ‘path that is a being-at-home’ seems also to stem from overriding concern in his central teaching on detachment: that nothing be mistaken for God-most of all, God, Godself.’
of the book
by Dr. Syafaatun Almirzanah