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Thursday, September 24, 2020

The un-gendered God: The land of Islamic prophecy and the Divine gender

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The Logos is made manifest in different ways and forms. From the prophetic circles to the lines of saints, as an eternal reality and the word has ever been manifesting from person to person and reality to reality. While in the Christian theological tradition the Logos is made manifest in the being of the Christ, in the Islamic prophetic way, it is made book. The Qur’an as the final revelation of the Divine is the uncreated and direct word that emanated from beyond seven heavens carried to the Prophet Muhammad by the great Namus, bearer of the heavenly secrets, the archangel Gabriel. The definitive description of the Logos as the word, while still being the manifestation of the divine within the cosmos itself is not gendered but the forms it takes can be gendered. Sacred metaphysics brings to reality the word being manifested in all of the prophets and some of the saints of various spiritual traditions, both male and female; for when Christ embodied the word, or he is the word which is of the fullness of God, then Mary carried the word within. Interesting!

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So if the Logos be gendered through the manifestations can God be gendered? Islamic theology and esoteric metaphysics rejects that proposition based on the primary fact that God transcends the boundaries of humanness and come unto them as the supreme creator who is at once their provider and sustainer. He speaks not as a counterpart to creation but as Lord and ruler of the universe. The Muslim who is grounded in any of the traditional theological schools is not fazed or troubled by the idea that God might after all be male or female. At a young age in the life of the believer he is made to understand that His creator is beyond the confines of subjectively owning any physical attributes that directly resemble creation.

If a being or essence that is as transcendent as the Qur’anic God, is presented to the mind that cannot penetrate beyond the confines of the universe or can only see as far as his eyes reach, how can he approach Him and be one brought close to his effulgent presence? Questions as this bewilder the mind of the human who yearns for proximity to the Divine, who is nothing like the created order of existence. Islamic breaks away from all other religions right at this point; for it tells of a God who is within creation through His beautiful names. The prophet Muhammad tells his companions that God has ninety-nine names and God Himself makes mention of this in the Qur’an, the logos made book.

Whiles there will be contention as to why Muslims use the masculine pronoun He for God, that question has long been answered by the theologians and exegetes in the early ages of Islam. Arabic has no neuter and using the masculine for genderless nouns is very normal and not seen as implying a gender for the genderless. So wherein the Divine is grammatically qualified in the masculine, it must be always remembered that it’s but the limited nature of men caught in the cosmic matrix and cannot go beyond the veil to speak celestial tongues,  and not necessarily a desire to make him look like a man.

However a radical distinction comes to play; for wherein the Divine is stripped of all forms of gender by theologians, the Sufis who tread the path of divine love and experiential knowledge, using the names create a whole metaphysic and epistemic based on metaphors that allude to the divine as the beloved. But whereas Christianity’s literalist and anthropomorphic God is masculine, as in the father, the mystical tradition of Sufism deploys metaphors using feminine mechanics to refer to the divine beloved. 

Layla is the beloved whose name means night. There are deep connotations in the name and the reality of Layla as the beloved who sends the lovers mad with yearning and longing for union. The night, like the black cloth drape over the Ka’ba, signifies a veil for the aspirant who desires to come face to face with his beloved.  And the greatest of all veils is the lower world of sensoria itself. As the aspirant approaches the divine courtyard he tears veils upon veils, which is reminiscent of the Hijab of the Muslim woman, which itself is a powerful symbolism; for wherein man is not required to cover his being, the woman is called upon to cover, precisely because she is magnetic and pulls gazes and inspires awe more like a metaphor for the Sufi’s beloved the All Pervading One.

The names as Divine theophany play an integral part in the creation of this metaphoric tradition. They were categorized into two major dimensions. The Jamali attributes which denote the beautiful nature of God such as Al-Rahman (The Merciful), Al-Karim (The Generous), and Al-Wadud (The Loving), these amongst others are seen as feminine; they denote softness and the overwhelming love of God as the Immanent ruler of the cosmos. The most striking similarity of these attributes and names in creation are in the woman, who came from the rib of Adam, so she is bent towards that which came forth from her and to stand up and walk away is to break. Yet coming from the rib of Adam doesn’t in anyway mean she is inferior, far from it, she is the completion of what is to be the vicegerent of God on earth. Without Eve, Adam is an incomplete being living in loneliness, nay a melancholy unbeknownst to him; a paradisal state without the presence of the supreme delight to both the eyes and the heart, Eve was the Layla of our father Adam, without whom human love will be naught hence a paradox it will be to love the source of all love.

The womb which is perhaps the greatest testimony to the metaphoric feminisation of the Names of Beauty. Aisha the wife of the Prophet narrated that, The Prophet said, “the word ‘Ar-Rahm’ (womb) derives its name from ‘Ar- Rahman’ (i.e. Allah). So whosoever keeps good relations with it (womb i.e. Kith and kin), Allah will keep good relations with him, and whosoever will sever it (i.e. severs his bonds of Kith and kin) Allah too will sever His relations with him.” The womb which is where the human being is contained for nine months before coming to this world is itself a place of mercy and the bleeding of the womb for its renewal points to the way the Divine renews His mercy within creation. The Prophets who are also sent to guide man to truth and light, are sent as renewals of mercy, flashes of light and sources of divine guidance, and the last of them is called ‘a mercy to the worlds’. The rain which He sends down to renew the earth and vegetate it after its death is also referred to as mercy. In a nutshell, wherever mercy is present, renewal is present too; for the etymology of mercy is the womb, which bleeds to renew itself and to bring forth the symbolic mercy of God: man.


The names of Majesty (Jalal) which are the presence of Divine rigour, names such as Al- Qahhar (The One who Subdues), Al-Khafid (The Abaser), Al-Jalil (The Majestic) among others are seen as predominantly masculine. The man in traditional wisdom or Sophia Perennis is looked at as the sharp edged one who is aggressive like the sun at noon, whereas the beauty of the woman is akin to moon and her symbol is blunt, she is essentially soft and exudes mercy and gentleness. That’s why man is supposed to be the protector of the woman not because she is inferior to him but for the simple fact that she is created to care and to add beauty and softness to the world of becoming. The majority of humanity since the beginning of time that embarks on the rigour of war, revenge and conflict has been the masculine. He was created sharp not blunt, so he must as needs be play that primordial role of his as a representative of the Just in creating a world of balance and justice. 


As for the pontifical man who serves as a bridge between heavens and earth, these are truths that he comes to see as self evident. Primordial man is at once an illuminating agent of the cosmos and a reminder unto the Promethean and fallen man. At the cosmic prologue wherein the souls where brought forth to testify to the Lordship of God, all were souls not yet in a gendered frame and thus witnessed in there truest essence. So ultimately for man to leave this lower world and ascend unto that being who is genderless, he must read the signs and symbols that bring forth the immanence of the Real not in making a gender of his holy essence. All forms of gendering of the Divine totality is but the outcome Promethean man’s to create a heaven on earth and make himself the centric pull of mankind, because the one adored and worshipped looks like him.  


One of the greatest faults of modernity is in the rendering the sacred a peripheral reality and not the concentric centre that shares space with all that is of this-worldly, for it brings to life the very essence of those mundane realities. The axes of existence of the human being as a spiritual entity who is beyond the reality of flesh, meat and bones is only discernable in the knowledge of the sacred. So in a secularied age when God or any mention of the sacred is looked at with distrust or naivety, how can man not make himself a god, thereby bringing to life the very sad fact of the fall, which led to man giving pagan attributes to the God of the feminine and masculine. So Islam reaffirms in the words of the Qur’an:


“Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

And there is none like unto Him.”


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