The Wisdom Behind Being Sent To This World

salamu `alaykum

One of the questions posed to those who were complete and actualized in their knowledge of Allah, and by this I mean the righteous Sufis who understand the deep inner realities of this religion, was the reasoning behind our being sent down to this world from the “world of the souls” (`alam al arwah). Since the latter realm was closer in proximity to Allah Most High – and by proximity I do not mean “distance” since Allah Most High is far above being confined within time and space – how is our being sent down to this lowly and earthly realm understood, especially in light of reattaining this proximity (qurb), and can such proximity ever be achieved in this world at all?

It is established in the Qur’an that before the creation of bodies (ajsam) all of creation existed in the form of spirits. This is where the first covenant took place between Allah and creation. Allah Most High states in the Qur’an:

And when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their backs, their descendants, and made them bear witness against their own souls: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes! we bear witness.” (7:172)

Ibn `Ajiba states in his Tafsir al Bahr:

“This points to the fact that Allah Most High’s covenant with the spirits regarding the knowledge of His oneness occurred twice. The first was before the manifestation of the universe. The second was after it.

The first was regarding the knowledge of His Lordship. The second was a reminder of this coupled with the proprieties of slavehood.”

[s: Ibn `Ajiba actually goes on to establish three occurrences of such a covenant, the details of which can be found in his commentary and others. The commentaries on this verse are highly interesting and anyone who has a chance to read them should.]

This shows that:

[1] That in the realm of the spirits creation was not in bodily form and the universe was still in a non-manifest state,

[2] The covenant made with the spirits was regarding Allah’s Lordship and Oneness,

[3] The covenant of slavehood – which relates to practice and deeds – was a covenant made after the manifestation of the universe and the creation of bodily forms. It can be said that this covenant is what comes with the prophets.

From the above it can be seen that the level of proximity we had attained within the realm of the spirits was akin to an initial stage. Although at first sight one may perceive that our presence in such a realm was closer in proximity to Allah, this is not the case at all. Understanding this subtle reality clarifies the immense blessing and wisdom behind our being sent down to the earthly plain.

Such an understanding is only achievable by the muhaqiq – the verifier – and not necessarily by the overwhelmed lover. The overwhelmed lover will, of course, wish that he had remained in the realm of the spirits due to the calmness and proximity experienced therein. This is why he says:

“What calmness I was in without any care,

The rumbling of manifestation has woken me up and trapped me in affliction!”


Yet, he does not understand that the proximity he had achieved was only the first level of the endless levels of qurb that awaits him. It is an established fact that the levels of proximity are endless, with no boundaries. This is why even the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), whose proximity to Allah is unimaginable and unattainable by creation, was commanded to supplicate with “Oh Allah, increase my knowledge”. The connection between knowledge and proximity to the one being known is clear in that the former increases the latter. Yet, since knowledge is infinite, so is proximity and thus reaching a “finish line” is impossible.

Thus, it s not denied that the realm of the spirits consisted of a level of proximity and closeness. However, it as undeniable reality that this level was stagnant – neither increasing nor decreasing. The underlying reason behind this relates to the issue of “relationship” – between creation and creator. It is mentioned in an authentic hadith al qudsi that Allah Most High said:

إذا تقرب إلي العبد شبرا تقربت إليه ذراعا وإذا تقرب إلي ذراعا تقربت منه باعا وإذا أتى إلي مشيا أتيته هرولة

When the servant drawns close to Me a hand’s span, I will draw close to him an arm’s length. And when he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I will draw near to him a fathom’s length. And when he comes to Me walking, I will go to him running.”

(Bukhari from Abu Hurayra and Anas. Also narrated by Muslim, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

This shows that the basis of attaining closeness and proximity to Allah is through seeking (talab) Him, and this seeking is manifested in the form of practice and actions that allows one’s level of closeness and nisba to increase, which was something absent in the realm of the spirits. By sending us down to this worldly realm and making us in our bodily forms, Allah placed within us a capacity to perform actions through which the doors of the levels of proximity were fully opened.

To detail this further, actions can be divided into two types:

[1] Those related to the heart, and

[2] Those related to the limbs.

The former can be further divided into (a) those that are earned and (b) those that arise without any effort. The latter is merely figuratively considered as “action” and relates to our natural emotive feelings and intrinsic being. The former relates to the actions linked to the sciences of the heart, which help to increase and build on these emotive feelings, such as dhikr, muraqaba, and so forth.

Actions related to type [2] were completely absent from the the realm of the spirits mainly because the instruments for carrying them out i.e the bodily organs, were not available to us. As for type [1], then those acts related to the heart that are earned were also absent. Only those granted without effort were present and actualized within creation.

Rather, the highest level of knowledge attained in the realm of the spirits regarding Allah’s Lordship and Oneness is the simplest and most basic level of knowledge that all human being are born with, namely the fitra or the natural disposition. This is the “unearned” action that is being spoken about and is common to all.

So, the wisdom behind humans being sent down to this earthly realm is clear, and the level of proximity attainable here is infinite and much higher – if one strives to achieve it. This realm is not devoid of Allah, of His manifestation and Being. It is the loci of manifestation of His attributes and the intermediary realm designated to allow us to reach the highest of stations imaginable by normal man. This is why Ibn Ata’illah said in his Hikam:

الكون كله ظلمة وإنما أناره ظهور الحق فيه

“The universe, all of it, was darkness and it was lit up only due to the manifestation of the Truth [s: Allah] in it.”

And this is how our master Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (Allah be well pleased with him) answered the question posed… and all of it can return to the point made by Ibn `Ajiba that the realm of the spirits only granted us knowledge of Lordship, whereas the earthly realm granted us both knowledge of Allah and knowledge of how to serve Him properly. Both coupled together formulate the lit path leading to Allah. Walk on it while you still can, and remember that death is ever ready to snatch you.







Filed under Tasawwuf

16 responses to “The Wisdom Behind Being Sent To This World

  1. Very deep!

    JazakAllah for sharing such insights.

  2. Jazakallah Khairan. This was one of the more genius and brilliant things I’ve read on this blog. Jazakallah again. Please keep me in your ad’iyyah. Out of curiosity, where does Imam Thanawi رحمة الله عليهم mention all of this?

  3. salam alaykum

    according to the ash’ari theologians do souls / spirits come under the category of ajsam or a’rad ?

  4. Asalaamu alaikum,

    would you like to exchange links, Ive already linked to you;

  5. Mash’Allah, well written,explained and put across.

  6. MilkShaykh

    Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah.

    MashaAllah Sidi Salman, this was an amazing and deep read, and indeed beneficial, just like the rest of your blog, alhamdulillah. 🙂 The topic was amazing too!

    That hadith al qudsi you mentioned above has to be one of my favorites, it’s so powerful and moving and filled with hope, it truly shows how Majestic Allah is. May Allah bless you! Keep it up!

  7. Salaam,

    This is an edifying post, and although my comment is not directed towards its main thrust, i thought it was relevant nonetheless. My question/concern is that you label knowledge as being infinite. Is not everything created a finite thing, such as the world, our souls, this piece of cookie crisp? If everything is created except Allah, how can knowledge, that which is created by Allah, be infinite? It must have a beginning and an end, and only appear infinite to our human perception.


  8. salamu `alaykum

    Sidi Sophister: When we state that Allah is attributed with “knowledge”, what do we mean? Is Allah’s knowledge finite or infinite? If it is infinite then does this not entail that knowledge itself is infinite? And since knowledge includes within it knowledge of the “necessary”, “possible” and “impossible”, is this not infinite?


  9. Wasalaam wa rahmatullah,

    Then some attributes of God, such as knowledge, can be known to man in a finite way. My characterization was a misunderstanding of the nature of knowledge itself. One more question (you might get alot of questions from me, feel free to ignore those you wish to): What is meant by saying knowledge includes knowledge of the necessary? Is knowledge of the necessary knowledge of the way things actually are?


  10. anonymous

    He who is certain of emergence will never seek ascent :

    Since you have no escape from returning to Him, you should know that you are at Him from the first step, which is the first breath. So do not weary yourself by seeking ascent to Him, for that is nothing but your emerging from your desire such that you do not witness it. For “He is with you wherever you are” [Q. 57:4], so your eyes will fall on none but Him. However, it remains for you to recognize Him. Were you to distinguish and recognize Him, you would not seek ascent to Him, for you have not lost Him.

    When you see those who are seeking Him, you will see that they are seeking their felicity in their path. Their felicity is the repulsion of pains from them, nothing else, wherever they may be.

    The one who is completely ignorant is he who seeks what is already there, so no one is more ignorant than he who seeks God. If you have faith in His words, “He is with you wherever you are”, and His words, “Wherever you turn, there is the face of God” [Q. 2:115], you will recognize that no one seeks God. People seek only their felicity so that they will be safe from what they detest.

    The Sheikh
    Ibn Arabi (translated by William C. Chittick )

  11. salamu `alaykum

    Sidi Sophister: The “necessary” is that which must be, such as Allah’s attributes. Actually, the “necessary” is of two types: (a) Absolute and (b) Contingent.

    Sidi Anonymous: Jazakallah for posting the words of Shaykh al Akbar ibn `Arabi. I think the issue is merely khilaf lafdhi since all the Sufis believe that man is “at Him from the first step”. This is why it is commonly stated that “Whoever knows his self, knows God”, since the internal structure of the human being has been created in a way that gives him the potential to “find” God. By “find” what I mean is that God is already there but due to the human weakness of “forgetfulness” (ghafla) such a knowing must be renewed.


  12. anonymous

    Sidi Salman,

    May Allah bless you.

    …the sufis have not, in fact, been striving to find God since they know that they are already in His Presence. That is, whilst others are “striving” the sufis give up on their so-called “works” – unable to achieve anything by them.

    QUESTION: So how come they do those works? Why do they continue doing those works, eagerly at that?

    Actually, they do not do it. Start whirling.

    Rather it is because of their affirmation, conviction and knowledge (that Allah Is and no amount of remembrance could find Him), that they are inspired and rewarded with those works – in the sense that this it is the only possible thing that could flow from their “bodies”… ……so that their bodies too could witness this too [i.e. finally it becomes clear from being in the world that He is the Inward and the Outward, …]. ….that their knowledge may be complete. So, whoever finds Complete Good, let him thank Allah, and whoever finds less than that, let him blame no one but himself.

    And these are just words. Only Great Teachers such as Ibn Arabi and others as even exist today can enliven them in our hearts.

  13. Pingback: Female MSA Presidents?! « Journey of A Traveler

  14. anonymous

    …on Ibn Arabi’s quote….some practical points that may be useful, insha’Allah, bi-isni Allah:

    1) We should always consider our good deeds as coming from Allah to us (and back to Him). Otherwise, the chances of them being accepted becomes low since Allah is in need of nothing from anyone of us. This can help us to be level headed concerning our “striving” or “good” deeds. Basically, we should see them as Allah’s gift to us so as to orientate us in His direction – in turn provoking a reaction of Awe struck Silence, or humming of His praises, gratefulness, love, or self-importance, or self-aggrandizement (audhubillah!) etc, and so on – each person will react according to their initial conviction about the matter.
    However, if we these deeds are from us, and that we are striving for them, then those works may be orientating us in the direction of our own fancy, not the accurate direction of Allah’s. Also, Allah being the justly proud, the rich, self-sufficient typically does not accept something from anyone other than Himself’s. The striving is the striving to attenuate (the claims of) the nafs.
    “Whoever does good, does it for himself” (not for Allah). Allah Does Good for Himself

    2) As for our bad actions, this also (like everything else – as we know from aqida) we should see as coming from Allah, to us and back to Him – in order to orientate us in His direction (after having being ignorant of how to do that until the appearance of Prophetic Guidance) – in turn provoking a reaction of Repentance, Remorse, Supplication, Awe Struck Silence, humming of His praises, gratefulness, love, or self-indulgence, or arrogance (audhubillah) etc, and so on – each person will react according to their initial conviction about the matter.
    “Whoever does evil, does it against himself” (not against Allah). Allah Does Good for Himself.

    In both cases, it is the sunna of Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi waslam) as a measuring stick as a guiding light that allows us as muslims to know the right adab or correct reaction towards the events we see manifest in and around us.

    May Allah rectify the Ummah of Muhammad (saw), and make me from them.

  15. Thanks for the post. very revealing, mashallah. Coincidently, i was only discussing this subject at work recently with a few brothers. i think this matter may not be received too well as some men culturally will find it hard to deal with…!

  16. ooops, i think i left my comment under the wrong post 🙂 the above was meant to be under “women leaders”

    wa salam

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