In the words of Edip Harabi, a Turkish Sufi-Poet of the 19th c., we encounter the feminine voice reclaiming its lost place in the world of man:
O’ Muhammad, they say we are inferior!
Where is it men got this mistaken idea?
Where is it men got this mistaken idea?
They disgrace the Prophet’s family with their false claims and blasphemy.
Our Mother Eve---is she not a woman? Beloved Khadija—is she not a woman?
The Prophet’s daughter Fatima—is she not a woman? Is the Quran not full of praise of them?
These pure consorts of the pure heart---can they be any less?
Whoever calls women inferior cannot reach the Truth.
You wouldn’t expect these ideas from one who knows.
Who is it that gave birth to all these Prophets of Truth?
God didn’t do anything absurd in creating us.
We don’t accept being seen as somehow less.
Women raised every saint that has walked the earth.
I dare you to accept this.
Don’t think this world can’t exist without men.
Think of Mother Mary just once: She gave birth to the glorious Christ, fatherless.
O’ mankind, we are more courageous than yourself because we show respect to you out of love.
We travel together with you on the Path—leave all these claims behind!
We may look different to you in your dresses.
In reality we are not trailing behind you.
And we warn you, we don’t consider it courageous to claim we are inferior.
Did Muhammad, the Chosen, come from a lesser being?
Did Ali, the Valiant, come from a lesser being?
Beware! Do not call your mother inferior.
What she prays at night might change your life forever.
Listen carefully to the speech of Zehra.
O’ men and knowers of Truth tell us:
Did we not give birth to all the masters who led you on God’s Way?
A woman as a partner or spouse, gives man the opportunity to contemplate the Divine in herself. As Shaykh al Akbar Ibn Arabi points out, “ A man may most perfectly contemplate God in woman, since, in her, he contemplates at once his own servanthood and dominion and in union with her may experience, in microcosmic mode, that fusion of polar experience which is the Reality.”
What is meant here is that Adam was the first creation and Eve was produced as a consort of like nature, through him. Just as Adam comes after the Divine Creator , in a suppositional line of succession, Eve comes after Adam. Just as the Divine Whole is attracted to its part in Adam, man is attracted to his part in the woman. It is natural for the whole to be attracted to the part and for the part to long for the whole. This is a theme that is well known to the proponents of Tantric philosophy as well. The whole cycle of manifestation reveals level after level this same union between the higher and the lower, the Active and the Passive, Heaven and Earth, Purush and Prakriti.
In the Hindu tradition, the uniting of Purush, which is Consciousness, with Prakriti, that is the Creative Nature, is the beginning of the Cosmic Dance; it is the beginning of the Drama of Creation (LILA), which is simply the play or sport of Energy and Matter. This interaction of Energy and Matter (which are really inseparateable), creates the illusion of duality, the illusion of polarity. Energy and Matter are NOT really opposed to one another, just as two teams on a playing field are not really opposed to one another; it is just a sport, it is just a drama.
Islamic mysticism makes us aware of the same truth through the concept of Wahdat-al-Wujud, which simply means Oneness of Existence. We understand that actually it is the only one Divine Androgyne which is separated into two poles for the sake of fulfilling manifestation. When the One comes into external manifestation, it has to create the “other” for the sake of offering a distinction for the knowledge of Being. This is why life is based on dual principles like Divinity-Humanity, Creator-Creation, Light-Darkness, Male-Female etc. On deeper speculation one understands that there is in reality no other from whence this duality is surfacing, Thus at the culmination of his/her search man/woman realizes that it is only the One Being that has created duality and in turn multiplicity in order to experience the infinite richness of Its own Being.
When we talk of gender issues and dynamics, we see that what is the real cause of conflict is not so much a rivalry out of natural tendencies, but in fact, a false understanding of the Truth and of what is Real. Therefore we heard Edip Harabi remind us in his poem, “Whoever calls women inferior cannot reach the Truth.”
As long as man just looks at himself for perfection, he remains misguided, and when he searches for it in the Female and finds it, he has attained it. Shaykh Al Akbar Ibn Arabi says that man’s contemplation of the Divine is perfected in the woman, because in her he is able to see the perfect reflection of his own spiritual truth which is a product of both Male and Female qualities, as Jamal and Jalal. In Islamic theology, the male principle as the active, aggressive and conquering one is represented by the term Jalal , and the female one as passive, receptive and submitting symbolized as Jamal. The submission , though I dare to add, is not simply a defeatist surrender in this respect, but in truth a willful acceptance for the sake of some requisite transmutation. In other words, the submission turns into a creative act with regard to a future becoming. As in the case of impregnation, the female’s acceptance of the seed is submission with regard to that, but creative with regard to birth.
Hazrat Inayat Khan said, “Everything that is to be built on the spiritual plane is finished when it is also built on the physical plain.” And I would make it relevant to our discussion by interpreting it to mean that for manifestation to give meaning to its Divine purpose, it is necessary for the Male-Female to complement each other here in the material realm. As long as the imbalance remains through the bias to supercede or overpower the other, the Blueprint for the Divine Image to be reflected here on earth will remain unfulfilled.
Ibn Arabi has also explained that the term “women” represents the various aspects and nature of the cosmic pole, suggesting nature, form, body, receptivity, fertility, becoming, beauty and fascination. In other words the Feminine, symbolizes microcosmically, that very principle of the cosmic image, which reflects to the Divine Subject the panoramic beauty of His Own Infinite possibility to become. We are also introduced to an interesting analogy by Ibn Arabi of the term “Rahma” which is the Creative Mercy to “Rahm” an Arabic term for the womb. The Creative Mercy is that which brought creation into existence giving the creaturely existence an opportunity to Know and to be Known. Allah says in the Quran that His Mercy precedes His Wrath; another pointer to the all-encompassing and inclusive nature of the Feminine Principle.
After all it is the Universal Nature that held within it all the things that could unfold in a succession of an outpouring of forms. It became the seedbed for the fruition of Eternal Consciousness. Absolute Consciousness or the Total Intellect had to pour into the Universal Soul or Nafs-e-Kull in order to enter into the experiential realm. This way though the Masculine as Consciousness is stationed at a rank above the Soul, yet it is dependent on the Soul for its very manifestation. This hints at the interpenetration of all the levels and sub-levels of Existence. We may also think of the hologram model of the universe which is presented to us by modern physicists. Every part of the whole contains the complete whole in it. This way we realize that ultimately each in existence is a complete existence and there is no less or more. It is in recognizing this Truth that we can overcome our superficial beliefs that are a victim of limitation, ignorance and misjudgment, and prejudice stemming from that.
I am reminded here of Prophet Muhammad’s [peace and blessings of Allah be upon him] saying in which he addressed his daughter Fatima r.a as , “Umme Abiha”, meaning “mother of her father”. Fatima, the radiant, enjoys as much veneration in Islam, as Mary in Christianity. Beyond the surface meaning of the appellation which may have been her nurturing and loving devotion to her father, lies a deep mystical allusion of interest to us here. Allah as Ahad was the Unknowable Essence existing by Itself, without a beginning or an end. In successive descents of devolution , the One Absolute Being gave rise to manifestation. It was the desire for Creation in Being that manifested the First Light. This First Light is called the Nur-e-Muhammadi or the Haqeeqat-e-Muhammadi in Islamic theology and in Gnostic Christianity, The Logos or the Divine Prophetic Word. We have heard as a reference from the Bible, “In the Beginning was God and with Him was The Word.” For the sake of convenience in understanding we can further translate this into Divine Consciousness or Knowledge or Intellect. This stage of manifestation as yet did not bear any resemblance to the manifestation in form. Subsequently were created the blue-prints of cosmic being in the form of the essences and realities. They were in turn typified and differentiated. Where Purush is the Undifferentiated Consciousness, the Male Principle, Prakriti is the Creative Spirit of the World, or the Female Principle. The Devi Upanishad of the Hindus says, “Great Goddess who art Thou? She replies, “I am essentially Brahman. From One has proceeded the world comprising Prakriti and Purush, the Void and Plenum. I am all forms of Bliss and Non-Bliss. Knowledge and Ignorance are Myself. I am the entire world.”
In Islamic theology and cosmology, we see the Universal Nature or the Total Soul as Prakriti, allowing itself to be pervaded by Consciousness and then in turn producing it in the forms of nature as the different things or entities. The name for God as Creator in Arabic is “Fatir”, and there is also a sura or chapter of the Quran named by it. Among certain mystical circles it has a direct relevance to “Fatima’’, the name of the Prophet’s daughter. The Arabic name “Fatima” is said to mean a weaned child, or the infant separated from the mother’s breast.
It was only when the transcendent male aspect of Divinity came to dwell in Its immanent female aspect, that the experiential state could be entered upon.
In the patriarchal age of the rule of the distant Father-God, the spirit of the Sacred Feminine became increasingly suppressed. The Age of Unity that we are now living in requires the coming together of the transcendent Father-God with the Immanent, Ever-Present Mother-God in order to bring true realization to our Life-Experience. The full potential of our being can only be achieved through the marriage of contraries.
In alchemy this is a central theme, where the marriage of Sulphur [the Spirit or Male principle] and Quicksilver [the Quintessentia or Female principle], the Sun and the Moon, the King and the Queen forms the basis for the Great Work. Alchemy tells us that man as a result of his lost Adamic state is divided within himself. The parable of the Fall is actually explaining the Divine Sport or Leela as it is called in the Hindu tradition, of the inherent duality of human nature being born of the two underlying principles of creation, Active and Receptive, becoming aware of this opposition and thus being expelled into the current of degeneration and death; a natural sequence for consciousness to be purged of the deceptive effects of manifestation as multiplicity. Man can regain his integral nature only when the two powers , whose discord has stunted his evolution, are again reconciled with one another. The regaining of this integral nature is a prerequisite for the Union with God. The widespread chaos and destruction the world is witnessing today is a result of this natural attraction being repulsed by our artificial intelligence. The earth is longing for heaven, the body for the Spirit and yet there is some lack in our understanding that has convinced us that this is not possible. We must break the barrier of this false illusion and step forward to welcome the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth as Jesus said.
The Quran says that from water is the creation of every living thing. Jesus is that blessed current that emerges from the Pure Sea “Mare” of Creativity.
Peace in the world today and in the future begs for a shift in our understanding and a true and sincere acknowledgement of the Unity of Being. Andrew Harvey leaves us with a hard warning in his book, “The Return of the Mother”, “She [The Mother} is asking us to grow up to the grandeur of that [our mutual] relationship. It is an inner grandeur, but it is too searing, too immense for some people who wish for a veil between themselves and Her. She is not going to allow that veil in this time, all the veils between us and Her are burning down in this era, so that a new, ecstatic, intimate, infinitely direct and practical relationship can be created between Her and the entire Human race, far beyond dogma, far beyond religion, in the heart of Love, in the restored human body, in the illuminated Heart-Imagination. It is a huge revolution and birth , and that is why it is also a huge suffering.”
We see that the earth is suffering in myriad ways today. The earth is convulsing, the sky is shedding tears of suffering in torrents, the winds are howling; all because Nature sees what man does not see: Man is failing to live up to the Divine Trust. Pillage and destruction rule the hour. Greed, Conquest, Aggression, Monopoly, Hate, Intolerance have become the law of the materialist’s gospel. The Masculine-Feminine energies must enter into a synchronized relationship before the inexorable force of annihilation devastates all beyond the hope of a rebirth. The fallow ground of human consciousness, lies in wait, after being worked upon by the tools of contrariness, to now receive the seed of Unity. This seed of Unity-Consciousness is what will make humanity grow into the humanity of Divine Hope. We had to suffer the devastation in order to know what is eternally preserved and beyond destruction. We as a human race have lost touch with that compassion and unconditional love which is the very ground of our being. This alienation from our true essence is what has created disharmony in our lives. Peace is a quality inherent to us but has been lost due to the distortions we have superimposed upon it. When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is within you”, he was not pointing to some transcendent heaven removed from everyday life, but a place of salvation at the core of our very selves. As a realized sage he was pointing to a state within man where opposites have been reconciled, where the heart and mind have become one with God.
The Church Father Hippolytus said, while explaining the view of the Simonian sect: There are two aspects of the One. The first of these is the Higher, the Divine Mind of the Universe, which governs all things and is masculine. The other is the Lower, the Epinoia or Thought, which produces all things and is Feminine. As a pair united they comprise all things. Since He Himself brought forward Himself, by means of Himself, manifesting to Him His own Thought, it is not correct to attribute creation to Thought alone. For She [the Thought] conceals the Father within Herself, the Divine Mind and Thought are intertwined. Thus, though they appear to be a pair, one opposite the other, they are actually one. This once again takes us back to our earlier reference of “Umme Abiha”. To reach the Kingdom here on earth , we must realize and affirm with our whole being the Reality of Oneness, of Unity as the Kalimah of Unity proclaims, “La ilaha illallah.” There is no god only the One Being. We must find the treasure-house within where all the contraries dissolve into a singular harmony. Where we can sing like Rumi: One day in Your Wine-shop I drank a little wine, and threw off this robe of this body. And knew drunk on You, the World is Harmony. Creation, Destruction, I am dancing for them both.”
The patriarchal understanding separates the Creator from Creation and divorces Heaven from Earth. This results in dismemberment of our psyche, of our emotional, mental, spiritual and material existence. A purely patriarchal or matriarchal solution is not the answer. A true union and mutual respect is what is called for. To see one in the other and the other in the one and both wholly in the One is what is needed. The Power of the Sacred Feminine teaches an integral world-view. We must learn to harmonise, fuse and transform. Aggression, greed and intolerance must melt into compassion, generosity and acceptance. Catastrophe can become grace only if we succeed in facing bravely this current challenge. Be it male or female, each one has to invoke the Sacred Feminine within, especially now and for the coming times.
It is no mere chance that visionaries like Sri Aurobindo and Hazrat Inayat Khan both proclaimed a century ago the ultimate resurgence of the Feminine. Sri Aurobindo’s prophetic words were: If there is to be a future, it will wear the crown of Feminine Design. Hazrat Inayat Khan left us with the caveat: I see as clear as daylight that the hour is coming when woman will lead humanity to a higher evolution.
by Naila Amat-un-Nur
The paper was presented at the GPIW conference held in Jaipur, India in March 2008. The theme of the conference was 'The Divine Feminine.'