The Ocean of the Soul: Man, the World, and God in the Stories of Farid Al-Din 'Attar

By Hellmut Ritter; John O'Kane | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE
GOD, THE WORLD AND THE UNIVERSAL SOUL

According to the teachings of Islamic orthodoxy, God created the world as He willed and He maintains it by means of continuous new creation. In essence He is separate from His creatures. None of His attributes is to be understood in the same sense as the corresponding attributes of His creatures. He is elevated above the attributes of creatures and fundamentally different from anything created. He is the cause of everything that happens, even the actions of human beings.

But the uncompromising transcendence of God is mitigated and softened in Islamic mysticism. Moreover, the Ashʿarite doctrine of God's continual and direct action in the world and on the world, the doctrine of God's causation of human acts, is itself a factor which diminishes the gulf between Creator and creature. It is an inherent consequence of this doctrine that the profession of faith: Lā ilāha illā'llāh "There is no god but God" becomes elevated to the proposition: Lā fāʿila illā'llāh "There is no active subject but God."


1

With regard to occurrences in external nature, this proposition leads to the rejection of natural philosophy among the pious (see above p. 83). A typical example of this conception is provided by the story about the man of piety, Bishr, who goes on a journey with a natural philosopher. The natural philosopher seeks to explain all forms of meteorological phenomena by means of natural causes, whereas the pious Bishr claims to see God's direct ordaining in such phenomena (Niẓāmī, Heft Peiker pp. 167–69). This conception even makes its way into the textbooks on rhetoric. A sentence like: "Spring brings forth flowers" is considered to be "a propositional trope" (majāz ʿaqlī) because the true active subject is not spring but God. (Jurjānī, Asrār al-balāgha,

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