Abu Abdallah (the sixth Imam) has related from his fathers that the Prophet of God-God bless him and his household 1 said in one of his sermons, "Praise belongs to God, who in His firstness (awwaliyyah) was solitary and in His beginninglessness (azaliyyah) was tremendously exalted through divinity and supremely great through His magnificence and power.2 He originated that which He produced and brought into being that which He created without a model (mithal) preceding anything that He created. Our Lord, the eternal (al-qadim), unstitched (the heavens and the earth)3 through
1. Throughout these texts, as in all traditional Muslim writings, whenever the name of the Prophet or a pronoun referring to him is mentioned, phrases like "Upon whom be blessings and peace" are added. In the same way for the Imams "Upon whom be peace" is added. For the most part these phrases have been dropped in translation.
2. According to Majlisi the meaning is that God's exaltation, magnificence and divinity are not dependent upon creation, but existed before it (p. 288). i.e., although these terms logically imply duality (exalted in relation to the debased, divine in relation to creatures, etc.), they express qualities which God possessed in His eternal nature "before" any creature existed. The same can be said about His solitariness.
3. Cf. Quran XXI, 30: "The heavens and the earth were a mass all sewn up, and then we unstitched them."
the subtlety (lutf) of His lordship and the knowledge within His omniscience, created all that He created through the laws of His power (qudrah), and split (the sky) through the light of dawn.1 So none changes His creation, none alters His handiwork, 'none repels His law' (XIII, 45),2 none rejects His command. There is no place of rest away from His call (dawah),3 no cessation to His dominion and no interruption of His term. He is the truly existent (al-kaynun) from the first and the truly enduring (al-daymum) forever. He is veiled from His creatures by His light in the high horizon, in the towering might, and in the lofty dominion. He is above all things and below all things. So He manifested Himself (tajalla) to His creation without being seen, and He transcends being gazed upon. He wanted to be distinguished by the profession of Unity (tawhid) when He withdrew behind the veil of His light, rose high in His exaltation and concealed Himself from His creation."4
"He sent to them messengers so they might be His conclusive argument against His creatures5 and so His messengers to them might be witnesses against them.6 He sent among them prophets bearing good tidings and warning, 'that whosoever perished might perish by a clear sign, and by a clear sign he might live who lived' (VIII, 42) and that the servants might understand of their Lord that of which they had been ignorant, recognize Him in His Lordship after they had denied (it) and profess His Unity in His divinity after they had stubbornly resisted."
Ibn Abbas related that a Jew, called Na'thal, stood up before the Prophet of God-upon whom be blessings and peace-and said, "O Muhammad, verily I will ask thee about certain things which have been repeating themselves in my breast for some time. If thou answerest them for me I will embrace Islam at thy hand."
1. Reference to Quran VI, 97: "He splits the sky into dawn".
2. Chapter and verse of Quranic quotations will be indicated in the text in this manner. I have relied largely on the Arberry and Pickthall translations.
3. Cf. for example Quran XIV, 44: "And warn mankind of the day when the chastisement comes on them, and those who did evil shall say, 'Our Lord, defer us to a near term, and we will answer Thy call, and follow the Messengers'."
4. Majlisi offers several explanations for this passage, and he comments as follows on the interpretation followed here: "He wished that creatures profess His Unity alone, without associating any others with Him. For if He were apparent to minds and the senses, He would be associated with possible beings in unreal unity (al-wahdat al-i'tibariyyah). Then the unity which pertained to Him would not belong to Him alone" (p. 289).
5. Cf. Quran IV, I65: "Messengers bearing good tidings, and warning, so that mankind might have no argument against God, after the Messengers"; and VI, I50: "To God belongs the argument conclusive."
6. Cf for example, Quran XXII, 78: "That the Messenger might be a witness against you ...."
The Prophet said, "Ask, O Abu Ummarah"
Then he said, "O Muhammad, describe for me thy Lord."
He answered, "Surely the Creator cannot be described except by that with which He has described Himself-and how should one describe that Creator whom the senses cannot perceive, imaginations cannot attain, thoughts (khatarat) cannot delimit and sight cannot encompass ? Greater is He than what the depicters describe. He is distant in His nearness and near in His distance. He fashions (kayyaf) 'howness' (kayfiyyah), so it is not said of Him, 'How?' (kayf); He determines (ayyan) the 'where' (ayn), so it is not said of Him, 'Where ?' (ayn). He sunders 'howness' (kayfufiyyah) and 'whereness' (aynuniyyah), so He is "One ... the Everlasting Refuge" (CXII 1-2), as He has described Himself. But depicters do not attain to His description. 'He has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to Him is not any one' (CXII 3-4).
Na'thal said, "Thou hast spoken the truth. O Muhammad, tell me about thy saying, 'Surely He is One, there is none like (shabih) Him.' Is not God one and man one? And thus His oneness (wahdaniyyah) resembles the oneness of man."
He answered, "God is one, but single in meaning (ahadi al-mana), while man is one but dual in meaning (thanawi al-ma'na), corporeal substance (jism) and accidents ('arad), body (badan) and spirit (ruh). Similarity (tashbih)1 pertains only to the meanings."
Nathal said, "Thou hast spoken the truth, O Muhammad."
1. "Similarity" or "comparison" (tashbih) becomes an important technical term in Islamic theology and Sufism. It indicates the belief that God's attributes can be likened to those of man and the creatures. Hence scholars have often translated the term as "anthropomorphism". It is contrasted with "incomparability" (tanwih), the belief that God's attributes are in no way similar to those of the creatures. As pointed out in the introduction, the Imams emphasize the latter position throughout these texts, without failing to make use of the former to explain their points. In later theology and Sufism, attempts are often made to strike a balance between the two positions by maintaining that God is neither completely similar to His creatures nor totally incomparable, or that He is both similar and incomparable at the same time. For example, Ibn al-'Arabi attempts to strike this balance in the third chapter of his celebrated Fusus al Hikam. See W. Chittick, "Ibn 'Arabi's own Summary of the Fusus: 'The Imprint of the Bezels of Wisdom'," Sophia Perennis, vol. I, no. 2, Autumn I975, pp. I08-II0