Ibn ʿAṭāʾ said, “He made Himself recognized to the common people with His creation, to the elect with His attributes, and to the prophets and the elect of the elect with His Essence.” The gaze of the common people is on the artisanry, the gaze of the elect on the attributes, and the gaze of the prophets and the elect of the elect on the Essence. The generality of the faithful look at the artisanry and from the artisanry reach the Artisan. The elect among the faithful know the attributes and from the attributes reach the Object of attribution and from the name the Named. Thus it was said to the Children of Israel, “Sacrifice a cow” [2:67], but they did not recognize it. So the cow was described to them, they recognized it, and they sacrificed it.
As for the prophets and the sincerely truthful, they recognize Him through Him, not through other than Him. They look from Him to Him, not from the other to Him. God alludes to this state when He says, “Dost thou not see thy Lord, how He stretched out the shadow?” [25:45]. He did not say, “Look at the shadow so that you may see My artisanry.” He said, “Look at Me so that you may see My artisanry. O paragon of the world! Look not at Gabriel’s coming, look at My sending. Look from Me to him, not from him to Me.”
Consider for a moment the female companions of Joseph. When the very entity of Joseph was unveiled to them, they were annihilated from themselves and became absent from Joseph’s attributes. When they saw him, they admired him greatly [12:31] and they cut their hands instead of the oranges. They were unaware of themselves and made absent from Joseph’s attributes. At the moment of face-to-face vision, they said, “This is no mortal!” [12:31]. They saw Joseph as an angel and were unaware of his human attributes. They were so busy contemplating Joseph that they did not attend to the attributes. If the essence of a created thing can have this sort of effect on the heart of female companions, what wonder is it that the self-disclosure of the Creator’s Essence to the secret core of the elect should do much more?
2:164 Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, the alternation of the night and the day,
the ships that run on the sea with what benefits people, the water that God sends down from heaven giving life to the earth after its death, the scattering of every beast therein, the shifting of the winds, the clouds subjected between heaven and earth—there are signs for a people who have intellect.
He says, “There are signs for a people who have intellect.” There are all of these, but it wants clever people to know, it wants seers to see. From every side is a road to the Real’s courtyard—it wants travelers! The whole world is a table upon a table, dish upon dish—it wants eaters! The beauty of the endless Presence is unveiled—it wants gazers!
Intellect [ʿaql] is the fetter [ʿiqāl] of the heart. In other words, it ties the heart back from everything but the Beloved and prevents it from unworthy follies.
In the creed of the Sunnis, intellect is light and its place is the heart, not the brain. It is the precondition for being addressed by God, not the cause of being addressed. It is merely the instrument of recognition, not the root.
The basis and profit of intellect are that the heart comes to life through it: that he may warn whosoever is alive [36:70], that is, whosoever has intellect. Hence, those who have no intellect are not counted among the living.
Intellect is three letters: ʿa means it “recognizes” [ʿarafa] the Real in the unreal; q means it “accepts” [qabila] the Real; l means it “clings” [lazima] to the Real.
The servant’s intellect is a divine bestowal and a lordly gift. The servant’s obedience is earned, but obedience cannot be set right without that bestowal, and that bestowal is useless without God’s success-giving.
Thus it has been reported that when the Exalted Lord created the intellect, He said to it, “Stand up.” It stood up. He said, “Sit.” It sat. He said, “Come.” It came. He said, “Go.” It went. He said, “See.” It saw. Then He said, “By My exaltedness and majesty, I have created you more eminent and honored. Through you, I shall be worshiped, and through you, I shall be obeyed.”
Because of these caresses, intellect began to admire itself. The Lord of the Worlds did not let that pass. He said, “O intellect, look behind yourself. What do you see?” The intellect looked behind itself and saw a form lovelier and more beautiful than itself. It said, “Who are you?” The form said, “I am that without which you are useless. I am success-giving.”