There is a famous prophetic tradition that provides us with a philosophical argument for the creation of mankind and the need for mankind to love and worship God in His Eternal Beauty.
According to this sacred hadith, the prophet Da’ud asked God why He had created man to which God replied, “I was a Hidden Treasure, and therefore fain to be known, so I created creation in order that I should be known.”
This hadith tells us two things:
- Firstly, that this world is only a reflection of the Truth and not the Truth itself
- Secondly, that the very purpose of our existence is to know God
Indeed, if we take a closer look at the nature of Man’s soul, we can see that he belongs to two complementary worlds:
- The tangible, material world, represented by the body (al-jasad) and accessible through reason (al-‘aql) and the senses (al-hawâss).
- And the spiritual world, infinite and invisible, represented by the spirit (al-rûh) and accessible through the faculties of the heart (al-qalb).
Without these two dimensions, without a balance between these two aspects of his humanity, man cannot find his equilibrium and well-being. He lives in an illusory reality, attached to a myriad of substitutes in order to compensate for this imbalance; this sense of emptiness, of lacking which can only be rectified by returning to a real balance between the material and the spiritual.
Indeed, it is only through treading an authentic spiritual path that man can hope to achieve this unity.
The Sufi path aims at purifying the heart of all worldly attachments and the natural dispositions of the ego, such as pride, envy, anger and hatred, and to bind it instead to the attributes of the spirit. This is what the Sufis refer to as the polishing of the heart, the polished heart being likened to a mirror which is able to reflect the Divine Truth.
As the celebrated 13th century Sufi scholar and spiritual master, Ibn Ata Allah Iskandari observes:
“If the forms of phenomenal beings are embedded in the mirror of the heart, how can it be illuminated?
If it is fettered by its appetites, how can it travel to God?
If it is not purified of the great impurity of its heedlessness, how can it aspire to enter the presence of God?”
For the Sufis, it is the heart that is the receptacle of Divine Epiphanies and inspiration.
In his acclaimed work, ‘A History of Ottoman Poetry’, the eminent 19th century Scottish orientalist Elias Gibb, describes the dualistic nature of the human condition:
“Man, like the phenomenal universe in which he finds himself, and of which he presents an epitome, is double-natured, partaking at once of Being and Not-Being, of Good and Evil, of Reality and Unreality. But as that side of him which derives from Being, and which therefore alone has a real and eternal existence, is necessarily an emanation of Divinity, he is, so far, ultimately and essentially one with God. This Divine particle in man, this spark of Pure Being, is ever seeking, consciously or unconsciously, to be reunited to its source; but so long as the phenomenal state lasts, the presence of the element of Not-being holds it back.”
So how is man to transcend this state of not-being in order to achieve absorption in the Divine? According to the Islamic mystical tradition, it is through overcoming the desires and caprices of one’s Self, for it is the Self that is the cause of our separation from God, and as such, the source of our principal sorrow.
It is through continued practice, the companionship (sohba) of a spiritual community and the guidance of an accomplished spiritual master that the disciple travels upon the spiritual path and can accomplish the purification of his heart. Invocation (dhikr) is the means by which one can combat the darker reflexes and negative suggestions of the carnal soul, along with all that perturbs one’s inner self. The Holy Quran tells us that:
“Indeed, it is through the invocation of God that hearts find peace”
As the veils are lifted and the Divine attributes begin to be reflected in the mirror of the heart, a deep sense of connectedness and well-being emerges from one’s innermost being; and increasingly one’s words and deeds are imbued with wisdom, compassion, veracity and insight.