What do Scholars say on the concept of total anhilation of the self in Sufism? I know it is recognised in other traditions, but is this recognised in Islam?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh.
Consider the following Hadith:
قال: ما الإحسان؟ قال: أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه، فإن لم تكن تراه فإنه يراك
Translation: Jibrail Alayhis Salaam said: What is Ihsan. “He (Nabi ﷺ) replied, “It is that you should worship Allah as though you can see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: 50)
Other scholars have translated this Hadith with the following words: It is that you should worship Allah as though you can see Him, if it is not possible for you to worship Allah in that manner, then worship Allah as though he can see you.
Mulla Ali Qari Explains the Hadith by stating: “The worship (of a person worshipping Allah with the quality of Ihsan) should be similar to the person who is seeing Allah, in terms of fear, hayaa, humility, concentration and devotion, respect, purity, loyalty.”
The essence of worship is that we worship Allah with the Quality of Ihsan. Attaining the quality of complete Ihsan in ones worship requires many years of training and struggling against ones Nafs (desires), along with fulfilling the commands of Shariah.
Before one gains complete Ihsan, a person will go through many stages of concentration, such as no concentration at all, concentration with little devotion, concentration with awareness of ones surroundings. The Mashaaikh of Tasawwuf, who specialise in the states and stages of ones Nafs have termed these different stages for ease and understanding. One of these stages is what you have referred to as annihilation, also known as Fanaa in the terminology of the Mashaaikh of Tasawwuf.
Maulana Qutbud Deen Dimishqi has explained Fanaa in his book ‘Imdadus Sulook’ with the following words:
“The essence of Thikr is total absorption in the remembrance of the Object of Thikr, i.e. Allah Ta’ala. If during the process of Thikr, the Thikr is remembered, then this too is a hijab (veil / barrier). The stage of annihilation is called Fana which means to be oblivious of one’s nafs, limbs, senses and all external things. Everything has to be annihilated in Allah Ta’ala and whenever the Thaakir returns to his senses, he should find only Allah. If in this condition the Saalik is aware that he has become fully annihilated, then this awareness is a contamination of a sort.
The state of Kamaal (Perfection) is to become annihilated of even the state of annihilation, i.e. the Thaakir is totally oblivious of being annihilated (fana). This lofty state is the limit of fana. May Allah bestow this rank to us and to all Taalibeen (Searchers of Allah’s Proximity).
The reciter of Kalimah Tayyibah should necessarily observe certain things. Minus these, there is no benefit:
1) He should understand what he is saying. “What am I negating and what am I affirming?” He should understand this. All things claiming divinity are negated, e.g. the nafs, shaitaan, desire and lust. Thus Allah Ta’ala says:
“What! Have you seen the one who has taken his desires as his god?”
The Zaat of Allah Ta’ala is affirmed. This is the conception of the Thikr known as Nafi-Ithbaat (Negation and Affirmation).
2) At the time of Thikr keep the heart brimming with the glory and grandeur of Allah and understand that besides Allah there is no mahboob and maqsood…..
3) The recitation of Kalimah Tayyibah should be with honour and respect. If this in not observed, hardness of heart and denseness of mind will set in. Such a Mureed will not qualify for the muhabbat of the Mashaa-ikh. The Doors of Qurb (Divine Proximity) and Mushaahadah (Divine Perception) will not open for him. Even if someone has reached the loftiest realms of Il-liyyeen by virtue of his noble character, his disrespect for Kalimah Tayyibah will bring about his fall into the lowest depths of Saafileen (the low stages of degradation).
4) Absolute concentration. Focusing the mind with full determination on Allah Ta’ala.”
A modern-day similarity of the above can be given to a youngster playing such video games which he plays for hours on end without stopping, to such an extent that he even forgets how many hours he has been playing for and how many hours he hasn’t eaten for. Such youngsters are common within todays society. Consider the following news articles.
This one is regarding a 18 year old teenager who played video games for 40 hours continuously and did not eat or sleep for two days.
This news article is regarding a 32 year old man who died after playing video games for three days continuously.
The news article also mentions the statement of the police that “gamers in the café continued as if nothing happened even when the police and paramedics arrived.” A similar situation can be found in this news article.
There are also examples of people who we see in our community who have a passion for certain activities (such as studying, reading, sports etc) who become so engrossed in their activities that they become totally oblivious of their surroundings. These examples are a form of annihilation, although this annihilation is in worldly matters, which is of no benefit in the Aakhirah.
On the other hand, when a Mu’min makes an ardent effort on himself for many years, and worships Allah with total concentration and devotion, he also attains a higher level of concentration and devotion which has been termed by the Sufi Mashaayikh as Fanaa, wherein a person is oblivious of everything besides Allah. It is such a worship which we should aspire to attain and make an effort for.
May Allah make us among his devoted servants and grant us His Ridwaan (pleasure). Aameen.