Islamic Imagination

God is as His servant imagines Him to be [Prophetic tradition]

The creative is generally considered to be the realm of reality understood with the mind through imagination. Imagination necessarily requires mental images that may not actually be present to the senses, such as, an inner perception of light. Imagination can also be understood to mean a source of energy through the development of the capacity to obtain new forms of previously confined energy. By imagining a new way of knowing and understanding we can experience a new energy source that lies deeply within each of us. The experience of resonance is a field of energy that vibrates within the magnetism of the universal chain of being. This opens the human being to experience consciousness.

One of the unique features of Sayyid Ghauth Ali Shah (may Allah be pleased with him) perspective on religious matters is his view of imagination as a principle and power. It is also the ultimate barrier in the souls ascent to its Ultimate Source. Imagination rests on the imaging principle by which an idea assumes a form whether in thought or in the material world. As a power, it is the souls act and also one of the reasons for ‘her’ imprisonment. We are being told through several discourses that each religious form, besides giving signs of the Ultimate Reality, rests on a collective imagination, and most people project images derived from their environment and culture to describe the Reality beyond sensible the world.

There is, however, an important function of the imaging principle in one particular mystical practice, namely meditation on the image of one’s own spiritual guide. This is recommended to enable the novice to transcend his or her ego and persona and connect with the guide so that an inner path is opened between them for communicating guidance and support. But there is an underlying mystery in this particular mystical practice. The image of the teacher within the mind of the novice is also a point of contact between their souls at the frontier of imagination. The novice is thus brought to the ultimate barrier with the help of the guide, at which point the guide self-annihilates and thus both step into the realm, which is beyond all imaging.

Sayyid Ghauth Ali Shah (may Allah be pleased with him) points out that each soul, here in body, is under some dominant mode of her imagination. One may think that there nothing is real beyond this world, such things as heaven and hell are a fantasy and an illusion, as if the scriptures are all false. One may take the view that everything is symbolic without any real connotations. It is this challenge, which has troubled religious thought throughout the centuries. Ghauth Ali unties this knot in one of his unique ways. The first postulate is that all is real, for all issues from the Reality of the Supreme Source. Whatever is manifested both in the sensible world and in the world of imagination is under one attribute or another of the same Reality whether you call it God or refer to it by any other name. Every form of life, every idea and every image is an attribute of the same Eternal Essence. So also the dominant mode of imagination under which on lives, under which one entertains hopes and fears.

At this stage we notice two mystical Paths appear before the seeker: the path of divine attributes and the path above it, that of Divine Essence. Attributes manifest the essence and essence holds and envelopes the attributes. Where one begins, where one ends, there is neither any knowledge nor any utterance about its mystery. Hence, the Quran says, He is the first and the last, the hidden and the manifest [Q. 57.3.]

Hazrat Ghauth Ali Shah (may Allah be pleased with him) was a sayyid, and his heredity goes back through thirty-two generations to the Prophet and was also related to Shaikh Sayyiduna Abdul Qadir Jilani (may Allah be pleased with him). He was initiated into the 3 major Sufi Orders – Qadiriya, Suhrawardiya and Naqshbandiya and was also initiated into several dimensions of mystical life by 19 spiritual elders, 11 of whom were Muslim and 8 of whom were Hindu. We therefore have in Hazrat Sayyid Ghauth Ali Shah (may Allah be pleased with him) life the richest and rarest convergence of the two mighty streams of spirituality, the Islamic and the Vedantic. [Courtesy and Source: Solomon’s Ring – The Life and Teachings of a Sufi Master by Gul Hasan. Translated from Urdu by Hasan Askari]