(The Black Pearl: Spiritual Illumination in Sufism and East Asian Philosophies was published in 2005. Its first chapter, “Secrets of the Tea Ceremony,” discussed that beautiful Japanese tradition, the Tea Ceremony (cha-no-yu or chado, “the way of tea”), from the standpoint of Sufism. Sufic interpretation can help us to unpack the symbolism hidden in this ceremony. Two excerpts from that chapter are presented below. The Chinese tea ceremony is similar, with differences. Illustrations have been added that were not present in the original.)

The Tea Ceremony

The purpose of the tea ceremony is to cultivate beauty and harmony in the activities of everyday life. Every motion, performed with economy, must flow rhythmically into the next one. In seeing this silent symphony of motion, one is led to rapt adoration of the beautiful that can be manifested in performing the simplest chores.
Let us first describe the various aspects of the Tea Ceremony. One follows a winding garden path through the woods before catching sight of the Tea Room, or Tea Hut. An irregularly arranged series of flagstones leads up to an insignificant-looking, unpretentious hut. One may rinse one’s mouth and wash one’s hands in a stone water basin as a preparatory purification. These ablutions underline the second most essential fact about the ceremony—that the physical body, as well as the heart-mind (kokoro), should be cleansed. Bending over at this instant, one may catch a glimpse of the shimmering sea through the trees, an unexpected glimpse of infinity. Japanese people delight in doing kind deeds in secret, to be discovered only accidentally, if at all. It is the same refinement that leads them to conceal charming things in their garden which only a keen observer can discern.
There is a low aperture, not a door, that leads inside. One must leave all unnecessary trappings outside to crawl through the aperture into the tea-room. The purpose of this form of entrance is to inculcate humility and equality. This is a small bamboo or wooden hut with a low ceiling, sparely furnished, having a plain, unfinished appearance. Even in daytime, the light is subdued. The interior is spotlessly clean. Burning incense lends a soothing fragrance to the interior. In an alcove, there is a piece of calligraphy or a picture. A flower vase contains a single, humble flower. Every item in the room is arranged in harmony.
There is a square hole cut into the floor in which a fire burns. Over it, a heavy iron kettle contains boiling water, and emits a sound like a breeze sighing through a pine grove, adding serenity to the room. The hut does not muffle the sounds coming from the outside environment, but serves only to exclude the harsher elements. This gives a feeling as if one were in communion with nature, with the rustling trees and twittering birds, while being protected by the flimsy hut. The overall effect helps one to realize the beauty of simplicity and purity. The tea-room is the house of peace.
Both the tea ceremony and its host must be approached in a spirit of reverence. Every tea ceremony is a once-in-a-lifetime occurence: even if one participates in others, this unique occasion, in this moment with this host, will never be repeated again. So one must appreciate its worth.
The host first brings the tea utensils—such as the bowls and tea-whisk—into the room. A light meal may precede the serving of tea. The guests are offered sweets, and then tea is prepared and served. The tea is prepared by stirring pulverized tea leaf in hot water with the tea-whisk. It is usually thin and frothy with a mildly astringent flavor. Sometimes, a much thicker “dark tea” is made. After the tea is consumed, the guests may inquire about the various implements. These are then carried out of the room, and the tea ceremony is concluded.
The tea ceremony originated in the principles of Zen Buddhism and came to be considered a method of self-realization. The well-known wakeful effect of imbibing tea helped Zen priests to keep their minds alert during concentration. The myth that the first tea plants were formed from the eyelids of Bodhidharma, who cut them off and dropped them on the ground in his struggle to remain awake, underlines the awakening influence of tea. Monks would gather before an image of Bodhidharma and drink tea out of a single bowl as if it were a sacrament, a holy nectar. The tea-room design resulted from emulation of  the Zen monastery. Zen itself originated as a synthesis of Taoism and Buddhism, and the Taoists claimed tea as an essential ingredient of the Elixir of Immortality.
As one sits sipping tea, one’s mind goes back to the origin of things. One is reminded of the transience of this world, of the evanescence of life. The sharing of tea is not an end in itself but a means to an end—namely, the cultivation of the five essential qualities of courtesy: sincerity, harmony, respect, cleanliness, and tranquillity.

The Symbolism of the Tea Ceremony

We approach the “tea house” or tea hut through a grove or garden. The garden symbolizes the world of nature, the world of multiplicity we normally inhabit with all its kaleidoscopic phenomena. Passing through this world, we are approaching a momentous revelation: a state of higher wakefulness or higher consciousness.
Traveling along the winding path of life, one arrives at length at an unpretentious hut. Yet appearances can be deceptive. We should not be fooled by the humble appearance of the hut or of its host, because it symbolizes the Truth of the universe, and the tea master symbolizes the Master of Wisdom—the sage, or one who has already awakened—who will assist in our own awakening. The true meaning of life will then stand revealed. The hut is a microcosmos, at once the heart of the universe and the heart of man.
One washes using a basin in order to purify oneself physically. One must also purify one’s heart/mind by doing good deeds and meditating on God. The Great Spirit, the spirit of all spirits, is all-purity. One must become pure and white as fresh snow in order to wake up to God’s presence within oneself. To rinse one’s mouth is to “speak no evil,” and to wash one’s hands is to “do no evil.” This has the same meaning in the Ablution (abdest/temizu: literally, “hand-water”) that precedes the Formal Prayer (salat, namaz). In order to approach God, one should be cleansed in heart and mind, and be clean physically from the top of the head to the tip of the toe. That which is impure cannot be united with that which is all purity.
The hut itself may be made of wood obtained from trees. In winter, trees shed their leaves and appear as if dead, yet in the spring they come to life again. Similarly, human beings die but live again in the real world of the Great Spirit. And we may know this true life even while here on earth, if we purify our bodies and minds.
Or the hut may be made of bamboo. Bamboo, because it is hollow, can also be used to make pipes for music. According to legend, the Chinese emperor Huang-ti wanted music to be played that would help establish his empire’s harmony with the universe. Hence he sent a scholar, Ling Lun, to the western mountain to cut bamboo pipes that could emit sounds matching the call of the phoenix bird. The phoenix is a legendary bird that rises from its own ashes, and symbolizes the Perfect Human Being who “dies before s/he dies” to enter a different form of existence. The Complete Human then becomes a bridge between Heaven and Earth, harmonizing both. As for the bamboo pipe, it is a mode of the reed flute (nay) of Sufism, best known to us through its use in Rumi’s poetry.
The sage, Rumi tells us, must make himself empty like a reed (or bamboo) pipe, so that the divine Spirit of God may be breathed into it. Emptiness, in other words, is not a goal but a precondition for the true goal. We must make ourselves empty, passive, receptive like the earth, in order that the Heavenly Lord, the Creative, the active, may enter into our hearts, may work His art within us—may turn us into awakened human beings. “The way of Yang is fullness and the way of Yin is emptiness.”25 Quiescence of the Base Self, humility, so that God’s light may shine through: this is the true meaning of being a servant of God. It is to the reed pipe and this sublime inner meaning that Rumi refers below:

Hearken to this Reed forlorn,
Breathing, ever since ‘twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain
Of impassioned love and pain.
“The secret of my song, though near,
none can see and none can hear…
‘Tis the flame of Love that fired me,
‘Tis the wine of Love that inspired me.
Wouldst thou know how lovers bleed,
Hearken, hearken to the Reed!” 26

Not just the human being but all of nature, in fact, is animated by the Spirit of God. In a simile, Chuang Tzu describes how the wind makes all the hollows, the nooks and crannies of nature resound and sing. This is no ordinary wind but the Cosmic Wind, corresponding to the “Breath of the All-Compassionate” described by the great Sufi, Ibn Arabi. Though the wind is invisible, we feel its existence through its activity. Even so, we are able to perceive the existence of the Agent through His acts, which go on ceaselessly throughout the entire universe.
Leaving all unnecessary articles outside the entrance, one enters the hut. This is equivalent to leaving behind one’s “excess baggage,” one’s preconceptions and impurities, but especially one’s Base Self. One’s crawl through the entrance signifies humility and is, in Sufic terms, symbolic of Prostration in Formal Prayer, which is the fitting attitude in confronting the Sacred. The natural branch-post at its center is at once identified as the “pillar of the universe,” which supports the entire cosmos. One side of the branch-post is the area where the tea is prepared, the other side is where it is served. The pillar thus separates and unites the spiritual and physical worlds, and events that are decided in the spiritual world later find realization in the physical world, its projection.
The master serves us tea. Even so does the Sufi master impart his spiritual power and blessings (baraka, fayz) to the Hearts of those who visit him with the requisite courtesy. One’s “tea bowl” must be empty; nothing can be poured into it unless there is room. This has been allegorized in Sufi literature as the “tavern” where the owner of the tavern, the Sufi master, serves “divine wine.”
This is not ordinary wine. Rather, it symbolizes the intoxicating fire of love, the love of God, and by extension also the love of everything in the universe. How beautifully an old popular song captures this sense:

Loves a lover
I’m a lover
Everybody loves me
And I love everybody
‘cause I’m in love with You.

This is probably the most important treasure Sufism has to contribute to the rich traditions of the world: the message of all-embracing Love. Emptiness or poverty, self-effacement (faqr, wabi) is the first step. This leads to longing (hasrah). Longing leads to burning (trial by fire—purification by the fire of love). This is the “poverty of poverty” (faqr squared). And when one is emptied of even that (faqr cubed), when even the ashes are removed, when self-annihilation (jakumetsu: “death of tranquillity,” fana, nirvana) is complete, that—according to the great Sufi sage Geylani—yields God. Then, one is sabi with the Sabi, alone with the Alone.
As a Sufi poem puts it, in the state of Unity “There is no one who comes, none who goes.” Rikyu the teamaster has aptly summarized this aloneness of the Absolute:

The snow-covered mountain path
Winding through the rocks
Has come to its end;
Here stands a hut,
The master is all alone;
No visitors he has, nor are any expected.
“When the Uncarved Block shatters, it becomes vessels.”27 When Spirit descends into Multiplicity, it finds its home in the hearts of human beings. As a Sacred Tradition states, “The heavens and the earth cannot contain Me, yet the Heart of My believing servant does.” The tea bowl symbolizes the Heart, or sacred center. Hence, when the Zen Master Chao-chou tells a monk, “Go wash your bowl,” he is, from the Sufic point of view, instructing him to clean out or purify his heart. The tea bowls also stand for man in his totality, or the universe of which man is a reflection.
Look closely into the cup. There are numberless tea grains at its bottom. These represent the infinite multiplicity we behold in the universe. Each grain of the powdered tea represents one of the myriad things in the universe. Taken together, they signify totality. But without the pure water, which represents the Great Spirit of God, they cannot be made into tea that leads to awakening, just as without the sacred, the universe is a great aggregate of dust particles—subject to the laws of statistical mechanics—with no further apparent significance. When the tea-whisk of one’s invocation (dhikr) calls forth the presence of God, then the whole universe will be sacralized, it will be awash with the Divine. Thus the elixir of wakefulness is prepared. The calligraphy serves as an aid to meditation, and the flower points to its fruits.
The sunken hearth is the abode of fire, not immediately visible to the senses. We know of its presence indirectly, through its action, the boiling of the tea kettle. The fire is a symbol for the power of God that energizes the universe. The heat that brings the water to the boil also represents the concentration and effort which will effect one’s spiritual transmutation into a sage. Moreover, although each person drinks from a separate bowl, the kettle from which all the teas are poured is one. The Source is one. Even so does the spiritual power (baraka) of a Sufi sheikh fill the hearts of the disciples—hence the image of the mystical cupbearer, a tavern owner dispensing (spiritual) wine.
In drinking tea together, each person is aided in remembering his own center, which is also the center of every being and of the universe itself. The Divine Spirit is always flowing like water, giving His power and life to everything. The pervading influence of Spirit, like water, is everywhere. The water also reminds us of Lao Tzu: “The softest substance in the world vanquishes the hardest.”28 Water turns rock to sand. If one makes oneself humble and gentle like water, lower than all things, one will become stronger than rock.
Only in being nothing may one become everything, and only then does one realize one’s essential brotherhood with all sentient beings. The person who drinks assists in the sacrifice of his own self, or ego, and is thus enabled to realize the Divine Presence in his own center. To wake up means to perceive that in reality, the little individual self does not exist, and that only the Great Self exists. Then, one can comprehend the true meaning of the following paraphrase from D.T. Suzuki: “when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it, and this very moment of lifting my bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space.”29

25 Ilza Veith (tr.), The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine (Huang Ti Nei Ching Su Wen), Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973 [1949], p. 234.
26 These opening verses of the Mathnawi have been translated by Reynold A. Nicholson—Rumi: Poet and Mystic, London: Allen & Unwin, 1950, p. 31.
27 Tao Te Ching, Chapter 28.
28 Tao Te Ching, Chapter 43.
29 D.T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971 [1959] (Bollingen Series 64), p. 314.


Black Panther, Afrofuturism, and Islamic Sufism

Human beings: The noblest among you in the eyes of God is the most pious.
—God (49:13)
Human beings, your Lord is one and your father is one. All mankind is from Adam and Eve. An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab over an Arab. Also, a white has no superiority over a black, nor does a black have any superiority over a white. In God’s sight, superiority resides only in piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim, and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.
—The Prophet (the Farewell Sermon)
The movie Black Panther (2018) has been a tremendous box office success. It grossed an astonishing $218 million on its first weekend. The bold film earned more in its first four days than any movie in history at the North American box office, except for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. After only 10 days, it outgrossed almost all other Marvel films, and this was just the beginning.
As a comic-book superhero, Black Panther debuted in 1966, a few months before the revolutionary Black Panther Party was formed. Politically, however, the hero was already empowered. And now his adventures have moved to the big screen.
Black Panther (T’Challa) is actually the king of Wakanda. He owes his extraordinary strength and agility to a bulletproof nanotech bodysuit and a quasi-magical potion. His sister is a tech genius who plays Q to Black Panther’s James Bond, providing him with a dazzling array of hyper-tech gadgets and weapons.

A True Story
Sometime around the Christmas of 1996, a man went on the Lesser Pilgrimage to Mecca. After the mandatory part of the Pilgrimage was completed, he spent his days (and nights) in the vicinity of the Kaaba (“the Cube”), praying at times and exploring at others. On one of these days, he was on the upper floor of the structure then surrounding the Kaaba (it has been demolished since and rebuilt differently). The Afternoon Prayer Call was sounded, and as people got ready to perform the Obligatory part of the Afternoon Prayer, two men came up and stood in the same line with him, one on either side.
Because of the great heat, everyone was barefoot. When the time for the first bending came, they bowed in genuflection. The man fixed his gaze on the big toe of his right foot, which was the proper thing to do. However, he could also see the feet of the men adjoining him. What he saw was this:
At first he couldn’t make sense of what he saw. What’s this? he thought. He was seeing three pairs of feet, yet the outer pairs were somehow different from the center pair. But because of visual symmetry, the center pair logically had to be his. Then it dawned on him.
With a shock, he realized that the men on his two sides were black. Yet as they moved up to stand in line with him, he had not noticed them as such at all… until he saw his own feet between theirs.
This is what Islam does to you, my friends. This is what Islam does for you, my friends. Islam makes you racially color-blind, no matter whether your skin is yellow, white, black, brown, or red.
Wakanda is a fictional supercivilization at the center of Africa, a cloaked technopolis that exists in secrecy, somewhat like an America—only more advanced—in the heart of that continent. Ages ago, a meteor containing the fantasy metal Vibranium—which has potentially devastating properties—landed somewhere around present-day Rwanda, providing the energy and raw materials resources for the development of Wakanda. (Niger, the world’s fifth richest uranium country, is not at the right place, but it’s close enough to have served as inspiration.)
To the outside world, Wakanda may seem like an African country in need of aid. From above, it appears as a dense jungle, but this is a holographic projection. Beneath that façade, its capital, the Golden City, is actually a technotronic utopia of skyscrapers that might put London’s Shard to shame, with mag-lev trains and flying-saucer-like craft as the principal means of transport. Its hidden splendor symbolizes the richness of the African heart. According to one reviewer, Wakanda is the real superhero in this movie.

Envisioning Afrofutures
Coined in 1992 by cultural critic Mark Dery, afrofuturism refers to a combination of African mythologies, science fiction, and hi-tech to empower black people in the future. It is a cultural movement that plays out in art, music, science fiction novels, fashion, and now the cinema. Wakanda is a black utopia: “a place of Afro-futurism, of what African nations can be or what they could have been and still be had colonialism not taken place.” (quoted in the New York Times.) And King T’Challa is a black version of Batman: rich, powerful, tech-savvy, and a fighter against injustice.
Seen in this light, Black Panther is the quintessential Afrofuturist movie of our time. Its immense success will likely inspire sequels, prequels, and spinoffs in the future. Moreover, it does not shy away from political issues, but tackles them head-on.

The Face-off
(Note: possible spoilers in this section.)
Into Wakanda’s paradise steps the revolutionary-cum-villain Killmonger (above left), a special-ops soldier and a relative of the king, a kill list as long as your arm, and a potentially earth-shaking agenda: global revolution. He challenges Black Panther for the throne.
His grievance: hitherto, Wakanda has kept its wealth and its technology to itself. His intention, however, is not to share these with the rest of humanity—which is what Black Panther would do.
Rather, he intends to foment uprisings and revolutions everywhere. There are two billion of our brothers in the world, he says, and he will use the vibranium and advanced weapons of Wakanda to liberate them all. He is going to burn it all down: the brothers will rise up all over the world, kill all the rulers, their children, and anyone who opposes them. He intends to topple the world’s racial order: “The world is gonna start over and this time we’re on top.” White supremacy will be replaced by black supremacy all over the world.
But what then?
One of the leading characters nails it on the head, not only for the present but also for that imagined future, when she tells Killmonger: “You are so full of hatred, you will never be a true king.”
Killmonger represents the temptation of black radicalism. It is to the credit of director Ryan Coogler that Black Panther is not your ordinary superhero movie, but explicitly brings thorny social issues up for debate.
Ultimately, Killmonger is defeated by Black Panther, who, as his speech at the U.N. during the finale bears witness, represents the best that Africa has to offer humanity:
Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.
Of the two, this is certainly the nobler vision—and its sentiments are entirely in accord with Islam and Sufism.

With its lavish design, dynamic action scenes and stunning visual effects, the film sets a new standard for superhero movies. Click here for a longer video of the car-chase scene.
Islam and Race
So, let us turn to two scholars who have devoted considerable thought to the question of race in relation to Islam. The first of these is orientalist Bernard Lewis. His initial study on the subject, Race and Color in Islam, was published in 1971. An updated version was published in 1990.*
Lewis explains the position taken in essential sources, that is, in Islamic theology and law. The first go-to source is, of course, the Koran. Lewis states that there are only two verses in the Koran that deal with the issue of color, one of which has already been quoted in the epigraph above. (The other, 30:22, is less relevant to our subject.) He concludes:
It will be clear that the Qur’an expresses no racial or color prejudice. What is perhaps most significant is that the Qur’an does not even reveal any awareness of such prejudice.
(Bernard Lewis, Race and Slavery in the Middle East, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 21. Emphasis added.)
What this means is that racial differences are totally irrelevant in the sight of God—racial discrimination is beneath God’s contempt. The Prophet clarified this further: “God doesn’t look at your outward appearance or your possessions. He only looks at your heart and your deeds.” (Muslim, Birr (Piety), 33, etc. See also 1 Samuel 16:7.) Another Prophetic Tradition states: He who has a white mother has no advantage which makes him better than the son of a black mother.” (Ibn al-Mubarak, Kitab al-Birr wa’l-Sila.)
As a result, beginning with the Prophet and his Companions—such as the black slave Bilal ibn Rabah of Abyssinia, whose liberation (emancipation) was arranged by the Prophet—racial preference has never been part of Islam. The Prophet also appointed Usama ibn Zayd, a black man and the son of a freed slave, as commander of his army for his last expedition. He thus demonstrated that race and color do not prevent a person from attaining high ranks in society, including the highest: You should listen to and obey your ruler, even if he is an Ethiopian (black) slave…(Bukhari, 9.89.256.)

Toynbee on Islam
Arnold Toynbee was a world-famous historian of the twentieth century and the author of the monumental twelve-volume A Study of History. Although he was culturally Christian in outlook (while describing himself as post-Christian), Toynbee praised Islam among the world’s great religions for being fundamentally free of any racist tendencies. Rabbi Jacob Agus has observed that Toynbee regarded the biblical notion of a “chosen people” (the doctrine of divine election) as “the source of the self-aggrandizement of Christian nations in the modern world.” (The Essential Agus (1997), p. 330.) Thus, they commited “the sin of self-glorification—what Toynbee has called ‘the idolization of the ephemeral [in our terminology, the Base] self.’ (Agus, “Toynbee’s Epistle to the Jews.”**)
In the first volume of A Study of History, Toynbee wrote:
Arabs and all other White Muslims, whether brunettes or blondes, have always been free from colour prejudice vis-à-vis the non-White races… [Muslims] divide Mankind into Believers and Unbelievers who are all potentially Believers [thus, no race-based division is implied]; and this division cuts across every difference in Physical Race. . . (Emphasis added.)
Bernard Lewis’s observations are pertinent for what comes next:
The advent of Islam created an entirely new situation in race relations. All the ancient civilizations of the Middle-East and of Asia had been local, or at the most regional. Even the Roman Empire, despite its relatively larger extent, was essentially a Mediterranean society. Islam for the first time created a truly universal civilization, extending from Southern Europe to Central Africa, from the Atlantic Ocean to India and China. By conquest and by conversion, the Muslims brought within the bounds of a single imperial system and a common religious culture peoples as diverse as the Chinese, the Indians, the peoples of the Middle-East and North Africa, black Africans, and white Europeans. Nor was this coming together of races limited to a single rule and a single faith. (Ibid. p. 18. Emphasis added.)
The only race missing in this list is the American Indian. Back to Toynbee:
…White Muslims were in contact with the Negroes of Africa and with the dark-skinned peoples of India from the beginning and have increased that contact steadily, until nowadays, Whites and Blacks are intermingled, under the aegis of Islam, throughout the length and breadth of the Indian and the African Continent. Under this searching test, the White Muslims have demonstrated their freedom and race-feeling by the most convincing of all proofs: they have given their daughters to Black Muslims in marriage.
(Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. 1, London: Oxford University Press, 1934, p. 226.)
After the Second World War, Toynbee returned to the subject of Islam’s humanism at greater length. Some excerpts from his Civilizaton on Trial follow.
Two conspicuous sources of danger—one psychological and the other material… in our modern Western society are race consciousness and alcohol [today, one would add drugs]; and in the struggle with each of these evils the Islamic spirit has a service to render which might prove, if it were accepted, to be of high moral and social value.
The extinction of race consciousness as between Muslims is one of the outstanding moral achievements of Islam, and in the contemporary world there is, as it happens, a crying need for the propagation of this Islamic virtue; for, although the record of history would seem on the whole to show that race consciousness has been the exception and not the rule in the constant inter-breeding of the human species, it is a fatality of the present situation that this consciousness is felt—and felt strongly—by the very peoples which, in the competition of the last four centuries between several Western powers, have won—at least for the moment—the lion’s share of the inheritance of the Earth.
[T]he triumph of the English-speaking peoples has imposed on mankind a ‘race question’…
As things are now, the exponents of racial intolerance are in the ascendent, and, if their attitude towards ‘the race question’ prevails, it may eventually provoke a general catastrophe. Yet the forces of racial toleration … might still regain the upper hand if any strong influence militating against race consciousness that has hitherto been held in reserve were now to be thrown into the scales. It is conceivable that the spirit of Islam might be the timely reinforcement which would decide this issue in favour of tolerance and peace.
Western civilization has produced an economic and political plenum and, in the same breath, a social and spiritual void.
If the present situation of mankind were to precipitate a ‘race war,’ Islam might be moved to play her historic role once again.
(Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, London: Oxford University Press, 1948, pp. 205-212.)
Toynbee’s long journey through the rise and fall of civilizations led him, in the end, to the conviction that religion was essential to their existence. In his An Historian’s Approach to Religion, Toynbee reached an important conclusion: the barrier that separates man from God, he said, is his own self-centeredness, which must be given up in order to fully experience Absolute Reality. (pp. 274-275.) (About this, see the sidebar on the Base Self below.)

At this point, it would not be out of place to look at the opinions of some prominent Afro-Americans.
James Baldwin, the famous author, lived intermittently in Istanbul, Turkey (a Moslem-majority country), for almost a decade in the 1960s. In a documentary, Baldwin said he felt more comfortable as a black man in Istanbul than in Paris or New York. He wrote:
“All of the western nations have been caught in a lie, the lie of their pretended humanism; this means that their history has no moral justification, and that the west has no moral authority.”

“I have a dream”
Almost everyone knows about the famous speech that Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 1963. Some excerpts:
I have a dream that one day … the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day … not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, … little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

Letter from Mecca
Yet even as MLK spoke those words, his dream was a living reality across vast swathes of the planet. The following year, another famed man, Malcolm X, made the Pilgrimage to Mecca. His impressions deserve to be quoted at length. Excerpts from his letter of April, 1964 follow.
Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this Ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.
America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered ‘white’—but the ‘white’ attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color.
You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of my thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.
During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed (or on the same rug)—while praying to the same God—with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the actions in the deeds of the ‘white’ Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan, and Ghana.
With racism plaguing America like an incurable cancer, the so-called ‘Christian’ white American heart should be more receptive to a proven solution to such a destructive problem. Perhaps it could be in time to save America from imminent disaster—the same destruction brought upon Germany by racism that eventually destroyed the Germans themselves.
[This is] the only way left to America to ward off the disaster that racism inevitably must lead to.
I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so-called Islamic jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.
—Muhammad Ali Clay on alleged “Islamic” extremism
“Those who go to extremes are ruined.”  
—The Prophet of God (Muslim, 2670)
… And Today?
Of course, some things have changed in the ensuing decades. We have come from interracial marriage to a black man as US president. And yet, social justice in America hasn’t really improved. As Suzy Hansen (a journalist who contributes to the New York Times Magazine) remarks, in some ways it has declined. A recent Foreign Affairs article states: “de facto segregation is firmly in place in much of the country.”  (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2018.) The Preamble to the Declaration of Independence doesn’t seem to have sunk in just yet:  “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…”
White supremacist attitudes still simmer just below the surface, accompanied by their reaction, racial animosity on the part of blacks. These sociological stressors are not quickly or easily dissipated. Black racism, no matter how justified in view of its historical backdrop, emerges as the mirror image of white racism.
The only solution is to renounce racism altogether, in whatever form. And a postracist society can be achieved only if Islam is embraced, as both Toynbee and Malcolm X wisely pointed out.
This is primarily an individual choice. But if enough people make it, it will become a collective choice.

Is the “Other” Our Greatest Enemy?

In the end scene of The Flash, S03E20, Flash’s worst enemy, Savitar,
is finally revealed as none other than—the Flash himself.
We have an enemy. It always plots our downfall and destruction. Yet it takes a long time to discover who it is, if we are ever even able to. That is because our greatest enemy is situated inside us. The inner beast is worse than the greatest external enemy you can think of. “Your own worst enemy,” said the Prophet, “is your (Base) Self betwen your two flanks.” He also said: “The greatest battle is the battle against the (Base) Self.” I have known a woman who, more than anything else, wished to be close to her grandchildren. Yet when the opportunity was granted her, she inadvertently ruined it with her own hands.
I know a woman who, above all else, desired to secure a better future for her children. Yet when it was presented to her on a silver platter, she dashed it to the ground with the back of her hand.
I have known a girl who wanted to live in another country. But when she was presented with the opportunity, she wrecked it all by herself. No outside help was needed.

In the movie Doctor Strange (2016), the guru called the Ancient One triggers an out-of-body-experience (OOBE or OBE) for Dr Stephen Strange. Like an astronaut doing EVA (extra-vehicular activity) outside his space capsule, Strange is in for some breath-taking experiences. Click here for a longer video, and expect some psychedelic (mind-expanding) scenes.

Whether male or female, the human constitution comprises three items: the physical body, the spirit, and the self or ego.
The spirit has its own aspirations. It has wings, it wants to soar.
The self, too, has its inclinations, but these are very different from those of the spirit. The ego is selfish. The spirit wants to rise up, the self wants to drag it down.
This is because in its initial condition, the self is in a raw, unrefined state. For this reason, it is called the Base Self (nafs al-ammara) in Sufism.
The solution, however, is not to destroy it, because that is not possible short of suicide, which is a form of murder and hence, forbidden (4:29). What is necessary is to purify the self, to raise it to levels beyond the Base Self, until it reaches a stage where it shows zero resistance to the urge of the spirit to rise.

In The X-Files, S11E03, the doppelgängers of various people bring about their doom.
The Base Self will not miss the slightest chance to make you shoot yourself in the foot. Never side with your Base Self. Rather, step on it when it rears its head. It’s the hardest thing to do, but also the most necessary.
For instance, when your rage is about to boil over, do as the Prophet said: “When anger rises within you, remain silent.” Don’t say a word until it has passed.
Don’t engage in Illicit Gain. And don’t even approach Illicit Lust—extramarital sex with another (“marriage” being confined to a spouse of the opposite sex).
Otherwise, if you allow the Base Self to have its way, sooner or later it will ram you into a tree… or crash you into a wall.
You have been warned.

It is Better to Love than to Hate

Let us not make our hate our religion. Let us not make anger our religion.
As Muhammad Ali (born Cassius) Clay observed, “Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” (Note: Clay moved from Sunni Islam to Sufism in his later years.)
The Buddhist Dhammapada states: “Hatred does not cease by hatred; hatred ceases by love.” Master Kayhan called this statement the interpretation of Koranic Verses and the Prophet’s Sayings. He said:
We’re human. We’re all brethren. All human beings aren’t relatives, they’re brothers and sisters. From one father and one mother. We’re not going to say ‘Go over there’ to non-Muslims. We’re going to love them, too. They’re brethren even if they don’t accept us.
(H. Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 56.)
He also said: “Love one another, love even an ant.” (And wasn’t this what Jesus also preached?)
“Our enemy is hate.”
—Yunus Emre, Turkish Sufi mystic-poet
But if we can’t love, let us at least learn to accept. Acceptance goes beyond tolerance, because you tolerate what you don’t like (you “grin and bear it”), whereas acceptance is being at peace with the “other” in full knowledge of the other’s faults, without attempting to change them or protest them.
In the first of Master Ahmet Kayhan’s “invitations to peace,” we find the following lines:
Man has an unbreakable, indissoluble partnership with neighbors or people of foreign countries whom he regards as enemies. Yes: human beings are partners in this global marketplace.
1. All human beings worship God [atheists being the exception that proves the rule]. But they express their faith in their own language [in their own various ways]. Humans share a belief in God.
2. They learn knowledge using the resources of the same world. They teach their learning in schools, they serve one another with knowledge. The brain of man is the computer of knowledge and emotion, the heart the center of intuition and love. Thus, human beings are shareholders in the knowledge imparted by such a brain and heart.
3. All human beings are descended from Adam and Eve (not from the apes). Human beings are united in a common wellspring of genesis.
4. Each human being, each society, does not have a separate sun. They benefit from the light of the same sun; they share the same sun.
5. They share the same water in this world. They drink the same water, they use the same water. They are shareholders in water.
6. Earth is the mortar of our mortal existence, and soil is what we live on. Human beings share the same earth.
[7. They breathe the same air. Leonardo da Vinci died five centuries ago. Yet with every breath, you inhale 100 million atoms that were once breathed by da Vinci!]
[Therefore,] what befits man is peace. And to achieve peace, the pen, the tongue, and unity are indispensable; it is essential to unite.
(Ahmet Kayhan, Man and Universe (Turkish, 1989), pp. 236-7.)

In this global village that is our spaceship, may humanity finally unite as one tribe, one racethe human race—however hard that might prove to achieve.
* The new version was published under the title Race and Slavery in the Middle East. The change in title would seem to reflect an attempt on the part of Lewis (or his publishers) to shift any blame away from Islam, and ascribe it more to social, historical and geographical circumstances. Racist tendencies may exist in Islamic societies, but they contradict the high ideals of Islam itself.
In addition to the issue of race, Lewis also focuses on slavery, which I have dealt with elsewhere (in “Islam and Democracy”). Some sources, such as this one (pp. 297-99), claim that Lewis’s findings about Islamic slavery are misleading, calling them a gross oversimplification and citing significant achievements by black people in the Maghreb of which Lewis seems unaware. They also point out that some practices in real life violated the egalitarian message of the Koran and the Traditions of the Prophet—the primary sources of Islam: The moral principles suggested by the Quran and Hadith regarding the emancipation of enslaved people and the promotion of human rights and dignity conflicted with the interest of the dominant class and slave culture. (p. 298.)
What distinguishes American slavery—which is the one we are really familiar with—from other ancient slave systems, is that it is race-based. (Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2018.) In other cases, slaves could be white, black, and so forth, but slavery was not built on white dominance. Thus, slavery and race are ordinarily separate topics for discussion; only in the American case do they merge. (The difference in the case of South Africa is that, unlike the Transatlantic slave trade that exported enslaved people from Africa, it was based on the enslaved society that existed within South Africa.)

Slavery was an entrenched condition in ancient societies, and Islam, while it vastly improved the lot of slaves, did not prohibit slavery immediately, but left it to linger on until it died out of itself. Ideals are not always easy to attain by real people living in an imperfect world. 
And not just ancient societies: in the British Empire, slavery was only finally abolished in 1928 (it didn’t end in 1833). As for the United States, an article (by a  law professor, no less!) was published there only recently, arguing for the reintroduction of slavery. (“What if you could get your own immigrant?”)
The examples given by Lewis notwithstanding, students of the institution of slavery in Islam have found that in general, what Muslims actually did with their slaves adhered closely to the requirements of the Prophet’s Traditions, Islamic theology and law:
the condition of the slaves with their Muslim masters was tolerable and not too much in variance with the quite liberal regulations which the official morality and the law had striven to establish.
(Robert Brunschvig, “‘Abd,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, second edition, Leiden: Brill, 1960, vol. 1, pp. 24 – 40.)
Returning, however, to the subject of race, we find Islam to be delightfully free of any racial prejudice, no doubt due to its total absence in the Koran, as pointed out by Lewis in the above quote.
**Agus writes this in a different context, but it sits equally well here.

The Infinity Stones and Sufism

With the movie Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (2018) coming up, this seems like a good time to take a closer look at one of the main elements of that saga.
In an earlier article (“Superheroes and Sufism”), I wrote about the Sufic concept of the Imaginal World (âlam al-mithal). This is not an imaginary or illusory world, but a very real one that acts as a bridge between Descartes’ res cogitans (mind) and res extensa (matter)—a third realm in which “thoughts are things.” I also said that comic-book and science-fiction writers may access the Imaginal World in some of their flights of imagination. Hence, we can profitably explore some of the concepts coming from these sources.
In the 18 or so Marvel movies to date, one thread has run through them all, binding them together. This thematic unity was a conscious decision on the part of the moviemakers, and is provided by what have become known as the “infinity stones.”
(Important note: What follows should not be construed as a blanket endorsement of all ideas or entities in the Marvel world.)

The Infinity Stones
The infinity stones first made their appearance in 1972. They were initially called “soul gems,” and then “infinity gems.” Also, the colors ascribed to each have changed over time. Probably the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) version will come to be the one finally accepted. 
But what is their origin and their nature?
 “Before creation itself, there were six singularities. Then, the universe exploded into existence and the remnants of this system were forged into concentrated ingots… Infinity Stones.”
    — The Collector, in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
 Let’s unpack this. A “singularity” is a region where the ordinary laws of physics do not apply. Since all physics pertains to post-Big-Bang circumstances, the stones are symbols for those pre-physical singularities.

“They were once a single unit, a lone entity. They were a sentient being of limitless power. At the time, this being was the only living thing that existed within any and all realities. It was all that was and all that was was it. This being was infinity and forever. No one would fault you if you were to call it God. … The core of this being’s might was reincarnated in the form of the six infinity gems. They are the ultimate in power…” (Thanos Quest #2 ff.)
Here we see the pages of a comic book directly tackling abstruse matters of theology and cosmogony.
The six primary Gems are the Space Gem, the Time Gem, the Mind Gem, the Soul Gem, the Power Gem and the Reality Gem; a seventh Gem (Ego) is sometimes added. When the six gems are combined in a specially designed glove (the “infinity gauntlet”), the owner has access to the combined and mutually-enhancing powers of them all.
The main characteristics of the stones are as follows.
Space Stone: Its owner can be in multiple places in the universe, or even nowhere. It teleports anything from one point in the universe to the other. (This is known as “Spacefolding” (tayy al-maqân) in Sufism. Some Sufis, such as Somunju Baba, are known to have implemented multiple location.)
Time Stone: From the beginning to the end of time, any moment is accessible or visible to its owner. It can also speed up, slow down, or locally reverse the passage of time. (In Sufism, this is known as “time dilation” (bast al-zaman) or opening a pocket of “time within time.”)
In Doctor Strange (2016), the “Sorcerer Supreme” uses the Time Stone to reconstitute an apple. Similarly, Khidr uses the waters of immortality to reconstitute a fish (see story below).
Mind Stone: Lets the owner control the minds of others, allows the use of telepathy and telekinesis. At the limit, it encompasses the collective consciousness of the universe.
Soul Stone: Allows the user to control all life in the universe.
Power Stone: Gives its owner incredible power—superhuman strength.
Reality Stone: Allows the user to alter reality, to implement alternate realities, to make one’s wishes come true.
At their limits, these are all powers of God. Although not figuring as yet in the MCU, the Marvel world even has a concept of God: The One-Above-All is the supreme being within the Multiverse, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient, and is above all other cosmic powers and abstract entities.

The Attributes and Names of God
In a recent Marvel publication, the “soul stones” have been called the “source code” of the multiverse:
All-New Guardians of the Galaxy v1 #10 (Nov. 2017). “Hard drive” apparently refers to DNA.
This is where the divine attributes or qualities of God come in. These constitute an important element in Sufic discourse.
Before creation itself, there were God’s Names (corresponding to His Attributes). They are the heavenly—even pre-heavenly—archetypes of the omniverse (similar to Platonic archetypes). In pretty much the same sense as that used for the Marvel stones, they are its “source code.” Various combinations and intersections of the Names that correspond to these Attributes give rise to the phenomenal world we witness.
God has many positive attributes (sifat al-subutiyya), paramount among which are eight. These are possessed to a far lesser degree by human beings. The eighth, Creation (out of nothing), is not possessed by human beings in a literal sense. 

 1. Life (Hayah)—“God, … the Living, the Everlasting” (2:255).
 2. Knowledge (‘Ilm)—“He has knowledge of all things” (57:3).
 3. Will (Iradah)—“Doer of whatever He wills” (85:16).
 4. Power (Qudrah)—“You have power over all things” (3:26).
 5. Hearing (Sam‘)—“He is the All-Hearing” (42:11).
 6. Sight (Basar)—“He is the All-Seeing” (42:11).
 7. Speech (Kalâm)—“He spoke directly to Moses” (4:164).
 8. Creation (Takwin)—“He is the Creator of all things” (6:102).
The Names vs. the Stones
Let us now see how the infinity stones measure up with respect to these Attributes/Names.
Space: To the Grand Saint Abdulqader Geylani, God said: “There is no space for Me. I am the space of (all) spaces.”
Time: According to the Prophet, God said: “Human beings abuse (that is, speak badly of) Time (Dahr), but I am Time; in My Hands are the night and the day.” (Bukhari, 8.73.200, etc.) While this probably means that time is under the command of God, since God identifies with time, there is nothing more to be said about the matter.
Mind: Corresponds to God’s Names “the All-Knowing” (al-Alim, the Name belonging to His Attribute of Knowledge) plus “the All-Aware” (al-Khabeer) (66:3). (In Arabic, the word for mind, aql, is better rendered by reason, which is bound by the rules of logic. Hence, to attribute “Mind” to God would, in Arabic, be to limit the Illimitable. The English expression “the mind of God,” which seems perfectly sensible to us, would not have the same connotation in Arabic. Rather, God is the Creator of mind, along with all else. And one of the first things He creates is the Universal Intellect (aql al-kull).)
Soul:  In the sense of Spirit, or the difference between life and death (that which animates the physical body), this falls under the divine Attribute of Life (Hayah) and the Name “the Living” (al-Hayy). The Soul Stone, too, pertains to life.
Power: This is directly one of the eight positive Attributes of God: Power (Qudrah). The corresponding Name is the All-Powerful (al-Qadir).
Reality: God is Absolute Reality, the Reality of realities; the Real (al-Haq) is one of the Beautiful Names of God.
We thus see that four of the six are Attributes of God (Power, Time, Reality and Soul/Life). Mind corresponds to two Names, while Time and Space are fields of action for the Sufis.
Finally, let us take up the rarely-discussed seventh stone. (The stages of selfhood in Sufism are also seven in number.)
Ego: the “I,” or the self (nafs), the locus of consciousness or awareness. We have already seen above that God is the All-Aware—He possesses infinite consciousness. In Sufism, the divine selfhood is referred to as “the Total Self” (nafs al-kull) and corresponds to God’s Essence (dhat). However, the Prophet discouraged discussion about the latter, since human beings haven’t the least idea what they’re talking about.
Thanos is “the Mad Titan” who wants all the stones and their powers for himself. His equivalent in the DC Comics world is Darkseid (left), and in Tolkien’s LOTR (Lord of the Rings) cycle, Sauron (right). He represents the Base Self (nafs al-ammara) at its rawest and most depraved: he wishes to subjugate all that exists. “The universe belongs to me!” he exclaims; “Infinity is clay waiting for me to mold it.” He starts saying things like: “All that is is slave to my whim. I am Reality. I am Infinity. I am the Almighty.” (Thanos Quest #2, Jan. 1990.) No wonder they call him insane.

Thanos wants power, but when he gets it, the only way he can think of using it is to kill off half the universe. This is not unlike Nimrod, the foe of the prophet Abraham: “I let live, and make to die.” Abraham replies: “Yes, but can you restore them to life once they are dead?” God later causes a tiniest creature, a mosquito, to enter Nimrod’s ear. It causes him such distress that he orders his henchmen to strike his head repeatedly. He does not survive the ordeal.

The Story of Khidr and Alexander the Great
Thanos might have learned some wisdom if he had come across the story of Khidr, the famous “Green One” of Sufism. Here is the story, as dictated by Master Ahmet Kayhan himself:
According to legend, after gathering his entire army, Alexander the Great, with a sign from the Esoteric, started looking for the Elixir of Life in order to achieve immortality. After a considerable amount of exploration, two soldiers set out from the camp one day to continue the search, with the understanding that they would return and report if they happened to find the Elixir.
Around noon they arrived at a river. In order to have lunch, they took out some dried fishes and proceeded to eat. When they threw the remaining skeleton of a fish into the river, an amazing thing happened. The skeleton regained life, took on flesh and appeared to them in the form of a living fish.
The one known as Khidr peeled a fish, ate its meat and, holding the skeleton from its tail, immersed it in the water. The fish immediately reconstituted, regained life and started squirming in his hand. To his friend, Elias [Elijah], he said: ‘We have found the Elixir.’ They drank from the water, and also watered their horses. Their human attributes disappeared, and sublime, divine attributes came over them.
This is the story. Now for the truth:
This water was a flowing water, a river. Whoever drank from this
water should have become like Khidr and Elias. However, since their
goal was the Elixir, only these two ascended, only they could ascend by
this water.
The story goes on:
The two friends returned to the army of Alexander the Great,
but they did not tell Alexander about their discovery. Instead, they
requested permission to leave the army and go back. Alexander did
not grant their request, since he did not want his army to break ranks.
In spite of their leader’s ban, however, Khidr and Elias left the army
and started off. Alexander sent his army after them, and ordered their
capture. However, during a close pursuit, both of them were suddenly
lost from sight.
Did the earth swallow them up, or were they raised to the sky?
All the attempts of Alexander’s men to find them met with failure.
So they went back, and reported to Alexander the Great.
Alexander then said:
‘I overexerted myself and my army in order to achieve immortality,
yet the Elixir fell to their lot. Mine was only a rebellion against the will
of God.’
(Henry Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), pp. 40-41.)
And this is exactly the predicament of Thanos, whose name is the diminutive form of the Greek athanasius, “immortal.” He wishes to achieve immortality, which his name promises, but his insane quest for infinite power only amounts to a rebellion against God.
In the second part of the story related by Master Kayhan, Khidr teleports (“spacefolds”) the prophet Moses back home, exercising the power attributed to the Space Stone.

The Fisher King
Thanos’s quest for the infinity stones is not too different from the quest for the Holy Grail. So let us take a closer look at that legend, as expressed through the tale of the Fisher King:

Once there was a boy who wanted to be king, and in a trial of ordeals he spent a night alone in a forest. Lucky boy that he was, the holy vision of the Grail, the symbol of Grace, appeared to him. A voice told the child: ‘You will be the Grail’s Guardian. It will heal men’s hearts.’
But the boy, blinded by the prospect of a life full of power, beauty and glory, could only think of the omnipotence the Grail would confer on him. In this state of mind he touched the Grail, which seared his hand and disappeared.
From that day the boy is wounded, both materially and spiritually. He grows to be a young man, a king, but he is sullen and listless; life has no meaning, no purpose. His knights return empty-handed from every search for the Grail.
One day, as he lies dying, he is offered a
drink by another person. His wound is healed. He looks at the cup, and recognizes it as the Holy Grail. He asks: ‘How were you able to find the Grail, which neither I as king, nor my knights have ever been able to?’ The person replies: ‘I did not know you were a king. I only saw your suffering.’ It is he who has become Guardian of the Grail.
Thus the Grail will not be found by those who search for it out of selfish desire. It is again compassion, the urge to help others in need, that will cap our spiritual quest. Such power is entrusted only to those who are willing and able to give, not those who will block or misappropriate it.
(Henry Bayman, The Teachings of a Perfect Master (2012), p. 20.)
As I have written elsewhere, only the Purified Self (nafs al-safiyya or nafs al-zakiyya) can be trusted and entrusted with boundless power and knowledge, because only that Self is able to act with justice and love. The Purified Self
contemplates knowledge as divine truth solely out of its love for
Truth, not out of lust for the power that knowledge will give.
Only the Purified Self is worthy of possessing knowledge, and
deserves Truth, because it will never misappropriate, misuse, or
abuse it.
(Henry Bayman, The Station of No Station (2001), p. 63.)
 As with knowledge, so too with power. One who attains the Purified Self, the seventh and last level of selfhood, becomes a Perfect Human (insan al-kâmil).

While we’re at it, let’s take a brief look at the Negative Attributes (sifat al-salbiya) and Essential Attributes (sifat al-dhatiya) of God.
Negative Attributes
These are attributes that cannot posited of God, since they are not worthy of His perfection. Hence, we deny them of God, we negate them for God.

1. Associate (shareek). God has neither a colleague nor a partner.
2. Compound (murakkab). God is neither made, nor composed, of any material(s). God is One (112:1) and cannot be divided, even in the imagination.
3. Space or place (makân). God cannot be confined to a place, for He has no body (jism).
4. Interpenetration (hulûl). This implies the entering of two separate things into each other. But God’s absolute unity precludes the existence of anything else. Even heaven and hell would cease to exist if God manifested in them.
5. Locus of variation (mahall al-hawadith). God is not subject to change.
6. Visible (mar’i). God is not visible; He cannot be seen because He has no physical body. “Eyesight cannot comprehend Him” (6:103).
7. Need (ihtiyaj). God is not dependent on or in need of anything. Rather, He is the All-Sufficient (as-Samad, 112:2), on which all other things depend.
8. Added attributes (sifat al-zâ’id). The attributes of God are not separate from His Being. For example, we say that God is All-Knowing (‘Alim), but this does not mean that His Knowledge is something separate added onto Him. All His attributes belong to His Own Being.
Essential Attributes
These are attributes that belong solely to God’s Essence (dhat or zat). They are six in number.

1. Eternal pre-existence (qidam). Before anything else, God was; nothing antedated Him (qidam literally means “predating”).
2. Eternal post-existence (baqa). God will have no end in time. After all else has passed away, He alone will be (baqa literally means “survival”).
3. Existence, or Being (wujud). God is infinite Being; true being belongs only to Him.
4.  Unity or Oneness (wahdaniyah). God is nondual, nonmultiple, indivisible. This is not a mathematical enumerability, such as the number “1” constitutes among an endless sequence of numbers, but an all-comprehensive unity beside which nothing else exists. God is One without a second.
5.  God is unlike anything else that He has created subsequently (muhalafah lil-hawadith).
6.  God stands by His own Self; He exists self-sufficiently, without need of anything else (qiyam bi-nafsihi).
These too can be called negative attributes, since they belong to none except the Essence of God. There are also overlaps with the eight negative attributes listed above.