By Dr Ghayur Ayub
Every religion revolves around theology as it is the main component of its format. The other two ingredients are philosophy and spirituality. Theology as the main pillar, deals with notions of godhead, spirit and soul. Godhead being the prime mover in this trio, took the central place in the history of religions, although it was the spirit linked to dreams in the primitive human mind which initiated the process. Today, in developed and organised religions, one can say that religion without theology is like a body without a head and theology without godhead is like a head without a face. Thus, religion without theology becomes nothing more than a system or a doctrine.
Some philosophical and spiritual minds ignore this fact and try to understand religions philosophically or spiritually. Such people with minimum knowledge of theology, fantasise to be the master of religions, act like village schoolmasters trying to impress others. They ignore the fact that theological knowledge is completely different from philosophical or spiritual knowhow and that theology strives on intuition and not on logic of philosophy or conduct of spirituality. They also ignore the fact that intuition is an illogical knowledge which deals with the world of the unknown and the three entities of that world cannot be conceptualised through logic. In scientific terms, it is akin to rationalising particle and wave of quantum physics through the laws of convention physics.
Let us take the three entities – godhead, spirit and soul – of theology one by one.
Godhead can be symbolised with a tree. The root is unknown, the trunk is multiples in one, and the branches are individualised multiples.
i) Root is analogous to the highest state which is God and is unknown. In that state, He is nondefinable and in an absolute unity sharing no otherness. His knowledge is inner and not manifested. He is formless, limitless, and colourless. He is the first, the last, the inward, the outward and the infinite. He has absolute power, the strength of which is indescribable and immeasurable. He is absolute knower of absolute knowledge only known to Him. He is conscious of His own infinite ‘I-ness’ with no ‘otherness’ and with no abstraction, detection, addition or deletion. He is an indefinable singularity the nature, power and form of which is beyond human comprehension. Quran uses the word ‘I’ for God and defines Him perfectly in Sura Akhlas. (112:1-4)
ii) Trunk is symbolised as the state of godhead where all the multiples are immersed in one, in an abstract form without overtly showing the details. Hence, His truth is manifested in occult plurality and such plurality is bounded in unity. This is the state wherein the knower, the knowledge and the known meet in multiples in singleness. Quran uses the word ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ for godhead in this state.
iii) Branches which consist of individual leaves, flowers, fruits and seeds describable in details, symbolises a state of godhead that is perceived in specific details as He is individualized, personalized and presented in meticulous equivalences. According to Sufis, whichever way one looks, he can find, perceive, discover, and see godhead in this personalised and describable state. This is the state of divine attributes which are 99 in number. The question is what are these attributes. In simple words, they are distinct from each other and identical to God, but still they are not like God, as they: range second to God; depend on God; display diversity; are hidden sometimes and manifest at other times; have no self-consciousness; and finally, their manifestations may conflict with each other.
The resultant manifestations of 99 attributes come out in countless multiples in the form of numerous illuminations. If we compare the numerical aggregation of 99 attributes with 4 genes in our body, we can get some idea of its multiplicity. For example, the different combinations of the 4 genes result in 100,000 chains and six billion character codes. Comparing the multiple of 4 with the multiple of 99 result in non-graspable accumulations of shades or illuminations of attributes. Quran refers to godhead in this state as ‘He’ or ‘Him’ and symbolizes him with someone or something such as ‘hand’, ‘face’ or ‘shadow’ etc.
It is in this sense, that godhead can be compared cerebrally with a tree. Unfortunately, many people confuse the three states, mistaking root for the trunk and trunk for the branches and vice versa.
After talking briefly about the godhead, let us say a few words about the spirit. Quran mentions spirit nineteen times;
Five times as God’s breath;
Four times as God’s transmutation;
Four times as God’s command;
Twice as an entity accompanying angels;
Twice as an entity linked with the Quran;
Once as an entity bracketed with Mary.
Once as a person coming to Mary
It is always mentioned in singular and never in plural. When a few Jews asked Prophet Muhammed about its nature, he replied, “the spirit (Ruh) proceedeth at my Lord’s command, but of knowledge only a little to you is given.” This became a verse in the Quran. (17:85). Sufis link spirit with ‘Divine Command’ as part of enlightening process of soul through intuition, inspiration and revelation
This brings us to the third entity of theology-the soul. The Oxford Dictionary gives ten different definitions of ‘soul’, but the closest is the one which links it with ‘self’. Quran says soul is from God. Sufis mention three, five or even seven forms of souls ranging from restless, selfish and egoistic, to selfless, non-egoistic and contented. As oppose to spirit, Quran mentions soul in singular as well as plural. Also, as oppose to spirit, the soul keeps on changing from time to time, from place to place, and from environment to environment as the age of individual advances. So, the soul of a new born is different from the soul of an old man.
These are the three fundamental entities of theology which makes the essential pillar of any religion.