First Important Matter: It explains with examples the mystery of the occasional contradiction of incidents seen and observed by saints through discovery with the realities in the visible realm.
THE FIRST IMPORTANT MATTER
Famous saints like Muhyi’l-Din al-‘Arabi (May his mystery be sanctified), the author of al-Futuhat al-Makkiya, and Sayyid ‘Abd al-Karim (May his mystery be sanctified), the author of a well-known book entitled Insan-i Kamil, speak of the seven levels of the globe of the earth and the white earth beyond the ‘Kaf’ mountain, and strange things which in Futuhat are called ‘mashmashiya.’ Are these true? But these places do not exist on the earth. Furthermore, these things that they say are not accepted by geography and science. And if they are not true, how can they be saints? How can people who say things contrary to reality and the truth in this way be ‘people of reality’?
T h e A n s w e r : They are the people of truth and reality. They are also saints and those who witness the realities. They saw correctly what they saw, but since they were not correct in declarations they made while in the state of illumination and witnessing, which is without comprehension, and in their interpretations of their visions, which were like dreams, they were partially incorrect. People of illumination and witnessing of that sort cannot interpret their own visions while in such a state, just as a person cannot interpret his own dream while dreaming it. Those who can interpret them are the exact scholars of the legacy of prophethood, called ‘the purified ones.’ For sure, when they rise to the rank of the ‘purified ones,’ the people of witnessing of that group understand their errors through the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunna, and they correct them; and they did correct them.
Listen to this story which is the form of a comparison and will illustrate this truth. It is like this:
One time, there were two shepherds who were from among those who approach reality with their hearts. They milked their sheep into a wooden pail and put the pail beside them. They laid their shepherd’s pipe on the pail, then one of them stretched out, overcome by sleep. He slept for a while. The other shepherd was watching him carefully when he saw something like a fly emerge from the sleeping man’s nose, look at the pail of milk, enter the pipe at one end, emerge from the other, then disappear into a hole under a bush. Some while later the thing emerged again, passed down the shepherd’s pipe, entered the sleeping man’s nose, whereupon he awoke. He exclaimed: “I had an extraordinary dream!” His friend replied: “May Allah make good come of it. What was it?” The other man said: “I saw a sea of milk stretching over which was a strange bridge. The upper part of the bridge was closed and contained windows. I passed through the bridge. I saw a grove of oaks, the tops of which were all pointed. Beneath them was a cave; I entered it, and I saw some treasure full of gold. How can this be interpreted, I wonder?”
His alert friend said to him: “The sea of milk you saw was this wooden pail, and the bridge, our shepherd’s pipe. The pointed oak trees were this bush, while the cave was this small hole. Get the pickaxe and I’ll show you the treasure.” He brought the pick and they dug under the bush, and there they found gold enough to make them both prosperous in this world.
Thus, what the sleeping man dreamt was right, and what he saw, correct, but because he had no comprehension while dreaming and no right to interpret the dream, he could not distinguish between the physical world and the non-material world and his assertions were partially wrong; he said: “I saw an actual physical sea.” But since the man who was awake could distinguish between the physical world and the World of Similitudes, he had the right to interpret the dream; he said: “What you saw in the dream was right, but it wasn’t an actual sea; our milk pail appeared to your imagination as a sea, and our pipe as a bridge, and so on.” That means the physical and spiritual worlds have to be distinguished from one another. If they are combined, the assertions appear wrong.
For example, you have a small room the four walls of which have been covered with four large mirrors. When you enter it, you see the small room to be as broad as a large arena. If you say, “I see my room to be as large as a broad arena,” what you say is correct. But if you assert, “My room is as large as a broad arena,” you would be wrong, for you are confusing the World of Similitudes with the actual world.
Thus, not having weighed them on the balances of the Book and Sunna, certain of the people of illumination’s descriptions of the seven levels of the globe do not comprise only its physical state from the point of view of geography. For instance, they said that one of the earth’s levels is that of the jinns and demons, and that it has a breadth of thousands of years. Whereas those strange levels are not situated on our globe, which revolves every one or two years. But if we suppose the globe to be like a pine-seed in the World of Meaning, the World of Similitudes, the Intermediate Realm, and the World of Spirits, the similitude of the tree that would be formed from it would be like a huge pine-tree in relation to the seed. Thus, in their spiritual journeyings, some of the people of witnessing have seen some of the earth’s levels in the World of Similitudes to be extremely extensive; they have seen them to stretch over a distance of thousands of years. What they saw was right, but because superficially the World of Similitudes resembles the physical world, they saw the two worlds blended together, and interpreted them thus. When they returned to the world of sobriety, since they lacked balance, and since they wrote exactly what they witnessed, it has been considered to be contrary to reality.
Like the similitudes of a large palace and large garden are situated in a small mirror, so similitudes and non-material realities of the extensiveness of thousands of years are situated in a single year’s distance of the physical world.
Conclusion: It is understood from this matter that the degree of ‘witnessing’ is much inferior to that of belief in the Unseen. That is to say, the uncomprehending illuminations of some of the saints relying only on ‘witnessing’ do not attain to the statements about the truths of belief of the purified and exact scholars, who are the people of the legacy of prophethood and who rely on the Qur’an and Revelation, not on ‘witnessing’ - which are about the Unseen but are lucid, comprehensive, and right. That is to say, the balance of all illumination, mental states, visions, and witnessings are the Book and Sunna. And their touchstone are the sacred principles of the Book and Sunna, and the conjectural rules of the purified and exacting scholars.
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