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Subuhat-i Wajh (The Flood of God's Facial Light)

by Fethullah Gülen on . Posted in Key Concepts in the Practice of Sufism-3

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The Flood of God's Facial LightThe subuhat-i Wajh ("the flood of God's Facial Light") is the flood of light that God Almighty causes to pour out so that He may eliminate all else but Him from the hearts of the travelers who are on the way to Him, and make those pure hearts feel His all-transcending Existence. Since what is meant by the word Wajh ("the Face") is the Divine Essence, and this Light, which surrounds the horizon of all human sensations and feelings, contains or encompasses the lights of the Divine Names and Attributes of Glory, some have preferred to call this "the Light of the Essence." In the face of this all-encompassing Light, Which pours down without any veils, a traveler feels the reality that Everything is perishable (and so perishing) except His "Face" (His eternal Self) (28:88) is manifested in the horizon of their inner perceptions and everything other than Him, including even His Names, is wiped away. Fully surrounded by this Light, the travelers endowed with knowledge of God find themselves in different states of astonishment and even beyond astonishment.

According to the Sufis, all things and events (the truths of things) comprise the manifestations of the Divine Names. In addition to the Divine Names Which are the essence of existence, there are the Names that denote that the All-Majestic Divine Being is absolute free from having any defects or partners. These Names function as veils before the actions of the All-Majestic Divine Essence. The Sufis say, "There are seventy or seven hundred veils preventing us from observing the Divine Essence of Majesty. If these veils of Dignity and Grandeur were to be removed for an instant, everything would be wiped out by the manifestation of the Light of the Divine Essence, with the result that neither the earth nor the heavens would remain, nor would the names or any being that is called by a name other than His." This means that were the Divine Essence to manifest Him with His Uniqueness—some call this the manifestation of Divine Unity—both the existent beings and their individually identified existences would disappear completely.

Those who are absorbed in the manifestations of the Light of the Divine Essence perceive that all time and space is surrounded by that Light and, partly under the influence of their temperament and the spiritual path they are following, tend to express their impressions by saying, "There is no existent being save He," or "There is no being witnessed save He," and conclude that whatever exists apparently is a perishable shadow.

Indeed, the whole of existence originates from the Light of His Existence; all actions and happenings depend on His Names of Glory; all states, attributes, and features have their source in His Attributes of Glory, such as Knowledge, Will, and Power. To explain more clearly, all things and events comprise the manifestations of Divine Attributes and Names. Everyone absorbed in knowledge of God perceives on the "face" of the All-Beautiful Names the All-Holy One Who is called by these Names, tries to recognize Him properly by means of His Attributes of Glory, is surrounded by the Light of His Essence if they reach the point where they can inwardly experience this Light, travels or is taken from "astonishment" to "amazement," from "amazement" to "stupor," and from "stupor" to "passion," and consequently no longer feels any existent thing or being, including their own selves, other than the All-Holy Being. Even if they have the ability to be aware of other things, they never wish to be so, for they look from the horizon of their "secret," and their sight is controlled by their spiritual intellect. Do they act so out of their own volition or involuntarily, or is this state of theirs the consequence of their feeling attraction or being attracted toward Him? No one who has not experienced this state can answer these questions, and those who have experienced it have remained silent. In fact, the tongue has nothing to say at this point where reason and intellect are silent and remain a few steps behind. If reason knows its place, it must keep itself behind the heart and maintain itself in silent supervision.

Since this station is the station where the One of Absolute Grace and Perfection manifests His Existence with His Dignity and Grandeur, one of these two things happens: either all tongues cannot help but remain silent or concepts and words change into symbols, signs, and allusions under the influence of the Divine Grandeur and Majesty. Some of those symbols and allusions may cause confusion or wrong understanding, and can therefore become—and indeed have become—a means of trial for common people. However, the disappearance of things and events in our world of perceptions due to the intensity of the Divine Essence's manifestation and of His Grandeur and absolute Infinity is one thing, while their actual appearance is quite another.

Some exacting Sufi scholars describe the mental and spiritual state of those who are absorbed in knowledge of God, in which they are unaware of the existence of anything other than Him, with the concept of "'istilam," which means the complete vanishing of a thing or obliteration. This cannot be considered to be incorrect from the viewpoint of relevant considerations. To explain a bit further, while experiencing and being intoxicated with compound amazement and stupor, surrounded by the manifestations of Divine Perfection in the horizon of Divine Grace and by the manifestations of Divine Grace at the peak of Divine Perfection, those endowed with knowledge of God come to their senses by means of special Divine help, which they call "the veils of special help," for a period when they can perform their religious obligations, perform them carefully and deeply as befits their level, and then they are lost again on the horizon where the Light of Divine Essence is manifested.

In the same way that apparent causes are created and placed as veils between the Divine acts or practices and things and events so that those of a superficial view do not criticize the Divine Wisdom, Will, and Power because of some apparently ugly, disagreeable, or insignificant incidents, "the veils of special help" function as special grace and favoring in order to return an initiate who has reached the final point in the spiritual journeying where they live absorbed, feeling that everything is lost in the manifestations of the Divine Essence's Dignity, Grandeur and absolute Infinity, to the horizon of Names and Attributes, and to remind them of the fact that the duties of servanthood or worship are never canceled. Furthermore, such grace and favoring also mean allowing initiates to take a breath and enabling them to experience distinguishing or differentiation in utter absorption. Therefore, while an initiate who is endowed with knowledge of God lives in a state of intoxication and even utter annihilation because of the overwhelming flood of Divine Facial Light, and is unaware of apparent existence, the duty of worship, and the necessity of remembrance due to being lost in the Light of the Absolute Existence, and the profundity of their relationship with the Absolutely Worshipped and the Absolutely Remembered One respectively, they are returned to the flow of worship through "the veils of special help," and breathe the air of "You alone do we worship and You alone do we ask for help," acting with the consciousness of being a servant.

Some travelers on the way to God who are not able to direct every step of theirs toward their destination in the light of Prophethood may utter some words incompatible with Islamic essentials under the influence of this state. Since they are sincere and sound in faith, and in adherence to Islam and the noble Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, such utterances of theirs should be viewed as a consequence of being overcome by the state in which they find themselves. If, however, there are, and have been, some whose utterances actually originate in their belief and are intended to philosophize, we advise those from among them who are alive to follow the way of the Prophet, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace, and we refer to God the matter of those who have died.

It must also be for the preservation of the beloved friends of God that "the veils of special help" have been placed. The travelers on God's way believe and say, "He is the Lord, and I am a servant; He is the Creator, and I am one created; He is the All-Powerful, and I am innately impotent; He is the All-Wealthy, and I am poor and needy. I owe my existence to the Light of His Existence, and my life to the manifestation of His Life; I subsist because of the Self-Subsistent by Whom all subsist." Even if this differentiation or distinction fades in some states of self-obliteration or annihilation, their conviction is that which we have mentioned above.

In fact, even though those who continue their journey according to the strict observance of the religious essentials may sometimes see everything veiled under the flood of Divine Facial Light and experience complete amazement or astonishment, they try not to make any error in self-possession, and if they become aware that they have made such an error, they correct any of their words that might be liable to misconception or confusion. They do their utmost not to cause others to become exposed to danger.

In one his quatrains, Mawlana Jalalu'd-Din ar-Rumi says:

There are thousands of shining roses in the garden;
There are roses and violets smelling of musk;
There is water flowing abundantly in the streams;
These are all excuses; it is only He Who exists.

In another quatrain, which is so clear that it can correct any misunderstanding which the above quatrain may have caused, ar-Rumi expresses the same meaning as follows:

O human, you are such that both your existence and non- existence are from Him;
It is He Who is the capital of both joy and grief.
But you have no eyes so that you can see His Power or works;
It is His Art and Power Which are observed in your existence.

The feeling of vanishing and disappearance experienced under the flood of Divine Facial Light has both positive and hazardous consequences. It is worth appreciation that one favored with such a level of advancement on the way to God because of continuous turning to Him sees everything as the result of Divine manifestations and feels the whole of existence surrounded by His Light, provided that he preserves the balance established by the Shari'a. However, uttering words incompatible with religious essentials and suggesting self-extolment, being unaware of the balance of the Shari'a, under the influence of the feeling of self- annihilation is risky, forbidden, and misleading. For this reason, the feeling of self- annihilation or intoxication may cause loss and perdition for those who have not been able to perfectly adopt or absorb the criteria of the Shari'a.

In addition to always feeling a deep connection with God and turning to Him with love and enthusiasm, a traveler on God's way must always pursue self-possession, attribute whatever exists to Him exclusively, not confuse the Eternal One with the created, and consider such false doctrines as Union, Incarnation, Pantheism, and Monism as deviation, heresy, and disrespect for the One Whom they love and worship. They must try always to act in self-possession, and breathe awe and respect.

Some Sufi scholars have considered reaching the horizon where the Light of the Essence is manifested, and the experience of self- annihilation and oblivion which emerges in the heart as the result of being favored with this manifestation, as the highest rank in the spiritual journeying toward the Almighty. As for the manifestations that are known as flashes or dawning or radiances or illuminations, these are names of almost the same thing which are used to designate the surprises that come to travelers as they rise, encouraging them upwards more and more. They also serve as gleams shining in the minds or hearts of the travelers as evidence from the outer and inner worlds, as a result of reflection, deliberation, and contemplation. These illuminate the path of the travelers, urging them to advance without stopping, and indicating the destination. However, the travelers cannot fully know the Ever-Sought One in their conscience. In fact, it is absolutely impossible to know His Essence, for His Essence is beyond the knowledge of any created being. A beloved friend of God said:

How can it be possible to describe the Master?
So it is incumbent on us to avoid describing Him.

The manifestation of the flood of Divine Facial Light is very different from the manifestations mentioned above. Travelers favored with this manifestation are unable to perceive anything, including themselves. They cannot even feel the light of the Divine Names and Attributes in the face of the continuous and encompassing rays of the concentrated manifestations of the Divine Names on them individually. Furthermore, some among those who are fully absorbed in the manifestation of the Divine Facial Light cannot feel the distinction or individual identification at the rank of Knowledge, and adding to the Prophetic Tradition, "There was God and nothing existed besides Him," the statement that expresses their state, "Now it is the same as it was then,"[1] they are unable to see the realities of things, and like Jami', maintain that everything is a mirage.

This state is continuous in some, and they see their state of self-annihilation and intoxication as the reality and all the existence we perceive with our senses as the product of our imagination and conception. However, some others, who temporarily experience the flood of Divine Facial Light, return to the world of distinction or discrimination. This temporary perception, or the temporary manifestation of Divine Facial Light to some, is called "the lightning of manifestation." They preserve their self-possession in adherence to and strict observance of the Shari'a, and always try to remain awake. While those who have not been able to adopt or absorb the spirit of the Shari'a so deeply as to make it their second nature, or whose subconscious is not under the control of the Religion, can expose themselves to the danger of considering the All-Holy Creator within their scope of perception. This means overstepping one's limits, attempting to restrict the Absolute Infinity, and regarding the All-Encompassing as both the all-encompassing and the encompassed at the same time. This is contrary to the fact that the Legislator of the Shari'a has restricted our scope of thought to the realms of Divine works, acts, and Names, and has forbidden us from thinking about the Divine Essence.

Whether it occurs as the manifestation of the all-encompassing Light of the Divine Essence, or "the lightning of manifestation," all these manifestations are a special consideration or favor of God Almighty for the heroes of the spiritual life. This is also a call to those who study and perceive what lies beyond the veil of things and events as taught by the Prophet Muhammad, Ahmad, Mahmud, Mustafa, upon him be as many blessings and as much peace as to fill the heavens and earth, and who avoid attachment to anything fleeting and mortal, to turn to the "Ka'ba of Lordship" or the Monarch Who has the Attributes of Existence, Eternality, Permanence, Oneness, Nonresemblance with creation, and Self-Subsistence, with all the inner and outer senses. This special consideration may also be either a kind favor for the travelers' turning to the Almighty or a special regard of God for some talented spirits. Looking at it from another aspect, it is a manifestation for those who have preserved their primordial nature and endeavored to develop it to awaken in them the zeal to progress toward the Divine Being; it is a special gift of spiritual knowledge to those who have attained knowledge of God.

In fact, whenever travelers or initiates, or those endowed with knowledge of God, are resolved to reach the point where they can perceive the manifestation of the Light of the Divine Essence, the All-Bestowing One awards them with surprising gifts, and enables them to adorn their inner world, thus purifying them. By equipping the inner and outer dimensions of their being with respect for and awe of Him, the All-Bestowing One prepares them for His special presence, and by making their spirit aware of the mysteries of His friendship, He shows them the direction to which they must turn. Also, by engendering seclusion within them, He sharpens the feeling in their spirit of turning to Him alone, and He elevates them to the horizon of the life of the spirit and heart by causing them to undergo a series of inner transformations. By thus making them continuously travel in the shades of meeting with Him, and causing their faculties to feel the urge to meet with Him, the All-Bestowing One readies them for His intimacy. Then He enables their secret to feel the mysteries of His Essence, crowns their hearts with considerations of His Holy Presence, and realizes their dreams of meeting with Him through the manifestation of the flood of His Facial Light. In the end, travelers who have been completely distant from everything other than Him turn to Him with all their being, and the All-Holy Creator honors them through the Light of His Face with extra favors which neither eyes can see nor ears can hear.

How beautiful the following couplet by Şemseddin Sivasi[2] is in this respect:

No one can meet with the Ultimate Truth without being distant from all else;
The Treasure is not opened in a heart before the heart is filled with light.

O God! O, the One Whom eyes cannot see, nor thoughts can comprehend, nor those who attempt to describe Him can describe, nor events can change! Forgive us, have mercy on us, and guide us to the path most sound!

And bestow Your blessings and peace on the most honorable of Your creation, Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions altogether!

[1] al-Bukhari, "Tawhid" 22; Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, 4:431. (Tr.)

[2] Ahmed Şemseddin Sivasi (1520–1597) was born in Tokat province in northeastern Turkey. He taught in the madrasa of the highest education in Istanbul for a short period. Then he returned to Tokat and a while later was invited to Sivas by the governor. He lived there as a spiritual guide for about fifty years until his death. (Tr.)