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?
— The Collector, in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
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).
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.
In a recent Marvel publication, the “soul stones” have been called the “source code” of the multiverse:
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
These are attributes that belong solely to God’s Essence (dhat or zat). They are six in number.