The controversial topics of Unity of Existence and Unity in Witness have always caused much debate amongst Islamic scholars. Nevertheless, all Islamic scholars and saints (waliyy) unanimously and doubtlessly believe in the oneness of Allah.
Ubaydullah Akhrar from the Naqshibandi order states “the purpose of Sufism is the topic of Existence” implying the sole purpose of Sufi teachings is to aid the correct comprehension of the Oneness of Allah.
The assumption that ‘there are two ways of approaching Oneness’ has unfortunately resulted in a division among the inexpert, leading the saints (waliyy) to expound the matter, each according to his own station and state.
The knowledge of Allah’s Ahadiyyah was passed on from Muhammad (saw) to Hadhrat Ali and Hadhrat Abu Bakr, then successively passed on to all the saints (waliyy), and finally systemized into the understanding of Oneness as Unity of Existence by Imam Ghazali and Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.
Nevertheless, misunderstandings, over time, have led to incorrect interpretations of Ahadiyyah, resulting in the erroneous creed: ‘The corporeal existence is Allah; Allah is the sum total of everything in existence.’
One thousand years later, Ahmad Faruq Sarhandi revised this notion and relieving the Unity of Existence from the awry materialistic approach of Allah is the physical existence, he established the view: ‘Allah is the only existence, all else are His shadows’ reinforcing the idea that nothing in the corporeal world has an independent separate existence.
To put it simply…
Based on the Quran and countless hadith, the notion of Unity of Existence affirms that everything in existence is in its essence no other than the existence of the One Reality. In other words, all of existence is essentially one, it only appears to be many because the One manifests Itself and Its infinite structural qualities in wondrously different ways at every instance.
In the whole of existence, there is only one source of knowledge, will and power. The existence of the cosmos is not separate or independent of Allah!
The cause of dualistic view is the veil with which intelligent beings are created, that is, humans are veiled from their essential reality so that they may actualize their purpose of creation. If no such veil existed in their intellects, every intelligent being would have been conscious of his essential values, and the perception of multiplicity, and many formations pertaining to it, would have faded.
When Ahmad Faruq Sarhandi (also known as Imam Rabbani) revised the notion of Unity of Existence in the year 1000 Hijri, a new approach was conceived:
“Existence is One… However, the observable, perceivable existence is only a shadow.”
What Sarhandi means by shadow is that the perceivable world is like a shadow or like an imagining in relation to the Absolute Essence (dhat).
The Absolute Essence (dhat) is necessarily beyond and independent of the perceivable existence.
As we had covered in the section about chapter al-Ikhlas, the One denoted by the name Allah is Ahad in respect of His Absolute Essence, thus it is impossible to perceive Him.
This is why Muhammad (saw) said “do not contemplate upon the Absolute Essence (dhat) of Allah!”
This warning should not be misconstrued. He is not saying, it can be contemplated but you shouldn’t. In fact, he’s saying such a contemplation is not possible!
He is cautioning us against deviating off course through implausible contemplation. He is advising us not to waste our time by attempting unachievable things.
Let us explain why with an example:
Imagine you had many aliases through which your different skills were represented. Who do all these skills and attribute belong to? You. But who are you? You are a living, conscious and intelligent being with the will and capacity to manifest your qualities to bring them out from the state of potential to the state of tangible perceivable actions. So, if I was to ask who all these qualities belong to, you will say me, but who is this person me?