Second principle: What is the Ascension’s reality?
ANSWER: It is Prophet Muhammad’s journey through the degrees of perfection. Almighty God has various Names and Titles manifested in the arrangement and disposition of creatures, and displays diverse works of His Lordship—His upbringing, training, sustaining, and providing—as the results of executing His absolute authority in inventing and administering creatures in the levels of the “heavens” where He executes His Lordship in different ways and according to each level’s conditions.
Thus, to show His Lordship’s works to His special servant and thereby enable him to encompass all human perfections, receive all Divine manifestations, view all levels of the universe, announce His Lordship’s sovereignty, proclaim what He approves of, and unveil creation’s enigmatic meaning, God Almighty mounted him on Buraq (heavenly mount). God raised him through the heavens like lightning, promoted him to higher and higher ranks, and displayed Divine Lordship to him from mansion to mansion and from sphere to sphere. He also showed him the Prophets, his brothers, whose abodes are in the heavens of those spheres, one after the other. Finally He raised him to the station of the nearness of the distance between the strings of two bows and honored him with the special manifestation of all His Names to the fullest degree, with His Speech, and with the vision of Himself.
We may examine this sublime truth through two comparisons.
First comparison: As explained in The Twenty-fourth Word, a king has different titles by which he is known and mentioned in his government’s various departments, different designations and attributes among his subjects’ classes, and different names and signs for his rule’s levels. For example, he is the supreme judge in the justice department, chief administrator in the civil service, commander-in-chief in the military, and supreme teacher in the education department. He has a seat or a chair in each sphere and department, which has the meaning of a throne. That one king may have a thousand names and titles in his sovereignty’s spheres and his government’s departments, as well as a thousand thrones of sovereignty one within the other. It is as if, due to his public person and system of communication, he is present in every department. Through his laws, regulations, and representatives, he superintends all officials, watches all subjects, and is seen by them. Behind the veil at every level, he administers, executes his orders, and is watchful through his decree, knowledge, and power. He has a different center and headquarters in each sphere. Each sphere and department has different rules. The king designates one of his subjects, shows him to all those spheres and departments, and makes him witness his imperial dominion and commands unique to each. He then brings him to his presence, entrusts him with certain general and universal commands concerning all spheres and departments, and sends him back.
Similarly, the Lord of the worlds, the King of eternity, has at the levels of His Lordship’s manifestations Qualities and Designations which are all different but correspond to each other. In the spheres of His Divinity, He has Names and marks which are all different but whose manifestations are concentric with each other. In His majestic execution of His rule, He has representations and appellations which are all different but resemble each other. In the operations of His Power, He has titles which are all different but imply each other. In the manifestations of His Attributes, He has sacred ways of revealing Himself that differ but point to each other. In His modes of acting, He has wise operations which are of numerous sorts but perfect each other. In His colorful artistry and varied works of Art, He has magnificent aspects of Lordship which differ but correspond to each other.
He organized the universe in an amazing and wonderful fashion because of this mysterious reality. The universe has different formations one over the other, from particles to the heavens, from the heavens’ first level to God’s Supreme Throne. Each heaven is the roof of a different world, a chair for exercising Divine Lordship, a center for Divine operations. Due to His absolute Oneness demonstrating Itself through the concentrated manifestation of all His Names on single entities, all Divine Names may be found in all spheres and levels, and He may show Himself with all of His Titles in them.
However, just as the title of just ruler belonging to the king in the comparison dominates in the department of justice and the others are subordinate, in each level of creatures and in each heaven, a Divine Title dominates and the others are subordinate to It. For example, in whichever heaven Prophet Muhammad met Prophet Jesus, who was distinguished with the manifestation of the Divine Name the All-Powerful, Almighty God is in constant manifestation in that heaven, primarily with that very Name. Again, in the sphere of the heaven which is the abode of Prophet Moses, God’s title as the All-Speaking, with Which He distinguished Moses, is predominant.
Finally, since Prophet Muhammad was honored with the manifestation of God’s Greatest Name and of all His other Names as well as being given a universal Prophethood, he must be connected with all of His Lordship’s spheres. Therefore, the Ascension’s reality required Prophet Muhammad to meet with the Prophets whose seats are in those spheres and pass through all of those levels.
Second comparison: The title of commander-in-chief, a title of a king, is seen throughout an army’s ranks. A private sees his corporal as a sample of that imposing title, and so listens to and obeys him. A corporal sees his sergeant in the same way, and so obeys him. A sergeant sees his lieutenant in the same way, and so on. He will see the title in each sphere (e.g., captain, major, colonel, general, and field-marshal) in proportion to the sphere’s size.
If the commander-in-chief entrusts a soldier with a duty connected to all military ranks, or gives him a rank that allows him to appear in every office and control it like an inspector, the soldier must be given the necessary knowledge and be recognized by the personnel. Thus the commander-in chief arranges for him to make a study and inspection tour of all the ranks. After that, the soldier will be admitted into the commander-in-chief’s presence to have a private conversation, receive a decoration and decree, and be sent back from whence he came.
The following point must be noted: If, in addition to his political power, the king has spiritual, saintly power, he will not deputize others to act in his name in different offices. Rather, he will be present everywhere in person and give orders directly, appearing in the form of persons of certain rank. In fact, there are narrations of sultans who reached sainthood’s highest level and so executed their rule in many spheres in the form of certain individuals. Since the commander-in-chief in our parable is such a saintly, powerful king, the decrees and commands come directly from him in every office and are executed through his command, will, and power.
Similarly, the Ruler of the heavens and the earth, the Absolute Sovereign and Lord of eternity having the command of “Be!” and it is, has a sphere of Lordship, a level of rulership in the levels of creatures and classes of beings, ranging from particles to planets, from flies to the heavens, all of which differ but are related to each other. In each sphere, His regulations, statutes, and commands are carried out in perfect order and obedience. Thus in order to comprehend this universe’s elevated aims and tremendous results, witness the duties of worship particular to each level and class, observe the sovereignty of the One of Grandeur’s Lordship and His rule’s majesty, understand what is pleasing to Him, and be a herald of His sovereignty, one must travel through all levels and spheres of His rulership until reaching the Supreme Throne (the title of the greatest, all-encompassing sphere) and attaining to the ultimate rank that a servant can reach (called the nearness of the distance between the strings of two bows), and meet with the One of Majesty and Grace. This journey is the reality of the Ascension.
Like ordinary people travelling in their minds with the speed of imagination, saints journeying in their hearts with the speed of lightning, angels, whose bodies are of light, circulating between God’s Supreme Throne and the earth with the speed of spirit, the people of Paradise rising from the Place of Supreme Gathering to Paradise covering a distance of five hundred years with the speed of Buraq, Prophet Muhammad’s body will certainly accompany his elevated spirit in his journey as far as God’s Supreme Throne. For the body of Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, is the storehouse of all of his faculties and serves his spirit, which is pure light and has the capacity and characteristics of light, and is more refined than saints’ hearts, lighter than the deceased’s spirits and the angels’ forms, and finer than the beings’ ethereal bodies, in performing its duties.
Now we say to the unbeliever who does not recognize God or know of the Prophet, and so does not believe in the Ascension: The universe and all of those creatures exist, and diverse acts and a continual creation are observed in the universe. An orderly act must have an author; a meaningful book must have a writer; and a skillful design must have a designer. Therefore, the wise and purposeful acts filling the universe must have an author, and the meaningful letters and amazing inscriptions or designs covering the earth and renewed seasonally must have a writer and a designer.
In addition, the result of two rulers interfering in the same affair is disorder. But we can see that there is perfect order in everything, from a fly’s wings to the sky’s lamp (the sun). So the ruler is One, for if this were not true, and given that the art and wisdom seen in everything are so wonderful and amazing that they require an All-Powerful and All-Knowing Maker, there would have to be as many deities as there are creatures. Since such deities would be both opposite and similar to each other simultaneously [because the acts and creatures in the universe have infinite diversity and yet resemble each other in many ways], it is inconceivable that this amazing order would not be upset.
Also, since those creatures clearly move by a command and in a far more organized form than an army, and since each group of creatures, from heavenly objects to almond flowers, displays in a perfect and organized manner and in far more orderly fashion than an army, the uniforms, decorations, and other beautiful garments given to it by the Eternal All-Powerful One and carries out the duties and drills He has assigned to them, this universe has an Absolute Ruler behind the veil of the Unseen, Whose commands are heeded and carried out by all creatures.
As His wise acts and majestic works testify, that Ruler is a Majestic Sovereign. As shown by His favors, He is an extremely Compassionate Lord. As His most beautiful works of art bear witness, He is a Maker Who is a Lover of art and Who loves His own art. As is apparent from the decorations and curiosity-exciting arts He exhibits, He is a Wise Creator Who wills to attract the appreciative gaze of conscious beings to His works of art. As is understood from His Lordship’s wisdom, He wills to inform conscious beings of what the amazing and wonderful decorations displayed in the universe’s creation mean, and where creatures come from and where they go. Therefore this All Wise Ruler and All-Knowing Maker wills to demonstrate His Lordship.
He also wills to make Himself known to and loved by conscious beings through all these traces of grace and mercy, as well as the wonders of the art He displays. Given this, He will use an envoy to inform conscious beings of what He wants them to do and what pleases Him. He will choose a conscious being and declare His Lordship through him. To show His favorite arts, He will honor a herald with the nearness of His presence, and use him to exhibit them. To display His perfections by informing conscious beings of His lofty purposes for creating the universe, He will appoint one of them as a teacher and a guide so that the mystery of creation and the enigma of existence do not remain meaningless.
So that the beauties of the art He displays will not remain useless, He will choose a guide to teach the purposes contained in them. To inform them of the things that please Him, He will select a conscious being, raise him above all others, and use that person to inform others of those things. Reality and wisdom require this. As the one most worthy to perform these duties was Prophet Muhammad, who performed them perfectly, a fact attested to by the truthful and just witnesses of the world of Islam that he founded and the light of Islam that he showed, he would have to rise above all creatures and attain the rank of holding a universal and elevated conversation with the Creator of the universe. In this lies the Ascension’s reality.
In short, Since Almighty God formed, organized, and decorated this universe for mighty purposes and great aims, such as those mentioned above; and since among beings there is humankind to see the universal Divine Lordship with all Its subtleties, and this mighty Divine sovereignty with all its truths, most certainly that Absolute Ruler will speak to and inform us of His purposes. But not everyone can rise to the highest, universal position to receive the Ruler’s universal address directly. Given this, certain special people will be entrusted with that duty. Being human beings themselves, they can teach other human beings. They also should be extremely exalted spiritually, for only such people can receive God’s direct address.
The one who taught the purposes of the universe’s Maker most perfectly, unveiled the universe’s and creation’s mysterious meaning, and best heralded the beauties of His Lordship’s dominion was Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. He would therefore make a spiritual journey and rise above all others and to the most exalted and comprehensive rank; he would make an Ascension by journeying through the corporeal world and then reaching beyond the “seventy thousand veils” of the manifestations of Divine Names, Attributes and acts, and all levels of creation. This is the Ascension.
QUESTION: How can I believe this? What does it mean to journey thousands of years to a Lord Who is nearer to all things than themselves and to meet with Him after passing through seventy thousand veils?
ANSWER: Almighty God is nearer to everything than itself, but everything is infinitely far from Him. If the sun were conscious and could speak, it would talk to you via a mirror in your hand. It could do with you as it wished. Although it is nearer to you than your eye’s pupil, which is like a mirror, you are millions of miles away from it and cannot draw closer to it. If you rose to a position corresponding to the moon and came face to face with it, you would only be a kind of mirror to it.
Likewise, the All-Majestic One, the Sun of Eternity, is nearer to everything than itself, yet everything is infinitely far from Him. To be honored with a sort of nearness to Him, one should pass through all levels of existence. Freed from the restrictions of being a single particular, one should rise above the thousands of veils in the degrees of universality, draw near to a Divine Name encompassing all creation, and then traverse many other degrees beyond it.
A private is far below the commander-in-chief. He views him through an insignificant sample of command that he sees in a corporal, at a great distance and beyond many veils. To be nearer to his position, the private should be promoted to the higher and comprehensive ranks of lieutenant, captain, major, and so on. The commander-in-chief, however, is always present with the private through his rules, decrees, knowledge, and commands. If he is a saint having certain spiritual rank, he can be present with him personally, without the private seeing him. This truth has been argued convincingly in The Sixteenth Word.
QUESTION: I believe neither in the levels of heavens nor in angels. How can I believe that one can travel through the heavens and meet with angels?
ANSWER: It is really hard to convince those whose minds depend on their eyes. But since the truth is so brilliant that even the blind can see, we say the following: (Scientists generally agree that) space is full of “ether.” Such subtle and refined matters as light, electricity, and heat point to the existence of a more subtle and refined matter that fills space.
Just as fruits demonstrate the existence of the trees that bear them, flowers their flower-bed, shoots their field, and fish the sea, so too stars present the existence of their origin to the mind’s eye. Since there are different formations in the celestial realm and different rules are in force under different conditions, the heavens requiring the existence of those rules must be different. Just a person has, in addition to their bodily existence, immaterial forms of existence such as mind, heart, spirit, imagination, and memory, certainly the universe, the macro-human and the tree of which humanity is the fruit, contains other worlds beside the physical one. Also each world, from the earth to Paradise, has a heaven.
As for angels, we say: the earth is a medium-sized one among planets and highly small and dense among stars. And yet life and consciousness, which are luminous and of the greatest value among creation, are found on it in great abundance. So the stars, adorned castles and perfectly built palaces compared to the dark house of the earth, and the heavens, which are like the stars’ seas, are inhabited by conscious, animate, numerous, and different kinds of angels and spirit beings. The Twenty-ninth Word discusses angels in more detail.
In conclusion, the heavens are formed of “ether” and are the source of such subtle and refined matters, energies, or forces as light, heat, electricity, and gravity. As pointed to in the Tradition “Heaven is a wave stretched and restrained,” they were created in such a way that certain stars and planets can move easily within them. Wisdom and reason require that from the Milky Way to the nearest planet, there should be heavenly levels of different formations and a heaven as the roof of a world from the world of the earth to the Intermediate World (of the grave) and the World of Ideal Forms or Representations, and to the World of the Hereafter.
QUESTION: We can ascend only to a certain height by aircraft. How can someone bodily travel within a few minutes a distance that would normally take thousands of years to cover?
ANSWER: According to science, whose findings you accept without question, a heavy body like the earth travels about four hundred miles in a minute, and about two hundred million miles in a year. Should an All Powerful One of Majesty, Who causes the earth to make that regular motion and revolves it like a stone in a sling, be unable to convey a human being to His Supreme Throne? Should a Wisdom that causes the heavy earth to revolve around the sun like a dervish through a law of Divine Lordship (gravity) be unable to raise a person, like lightning, to the All Merciful One’s Throne through the “gravity” of the All-Merciful One’s Mercy and the attraction of the Eternal Sun’s love?
QUESTION: Even if he could ascend, why did and why should he? Would it not have been enough for him to ascend in heart and spirit like saints?
ANSWER: The All-Majestic Maker wanted to show His amazing signs in His domain’s inner and outer dimensions, make this world’s workshops and sources observed, and display the results of our actions pertaining to the Hereafter. Given this, and as required by reason and wisdom, He would take Muhammad to His Supreme Throne not only with his eyes (the key to the world of visible objects) and ears, (which perceived His signs in the world of sound and voices,) but also with his entire blessed body, which, as his spirit’s machine composed of different members and faculties, is the means for the fulfillment of his uncountable duties. Just as Divine Wisdom makes the body accompany the spirit in Paradise, because the body enables numerous duties of worship to be performed and innumerable pleasures and pains to be experienced, it also is pure wisdom that He would make Muhammad’s blessed body accompany his spirit in ascending to the Lote tree of the furthest limit, the “trunk” of the Garden of Refuge and Dwelling.
QUESTION: How, in the name of reason, can the distance that normally takes thousands of years to cover be covered in a few minutes?
ANSWER: In the All-Majestic Maker’s art, motions have infinitely different degrees. For example, the speeds of electricity, spirit, imagination, and sound are quite different from each other. Also, science has established that the speeds of planetary movements are astonishingly different. So why should it be unreasonable that Muhammad’s body acquired a sort of refinement, accompanied his spirit in the Ascension, and moved at its speed? Sometimes you sleep for ten minutes but have a year’s worth of experiences. If the words spoken and heard in a dream lasting for only a minute were collected, it would take a day and even longer to speak or hear them while awake. Thus a single period of time means a day for one and a year for another.
Consider this analogy: A clock measures the speed of a person, a cannonball, sound, light, electricity, spirit, and imagination. It has ten hands to show the hours, minutes, and seconds down to fractions of an hour to the tenth power. It also has ten circles, one round the other and sixty times larger than it, respectively. If the circle with the hour hand is the size of a normal clock, the circle with the fraction-of-an-hour hand to the tenth power would have to be the size of the earth’s annual orbit or much greater.
Suppose there are two people. One is mounted on the hour-hand and observes according to its motion, while the other is on the hand showing fractions of an hour to the tenth power. There would be a huge difference, as great as the proportion between a normal clock and the earth’s annual orbit, with respect to what they could see during the same time period.
Since time is like an aspect or a “ribbon” of motion, a rule that is in force in motion is also in force in time. While we would see the same amount of things during an hour as the one mounted on the hour-hand, which moves in the smallest circle at the slowest speed, God’s Messenger, like the one mounted on the hand showing fractions of the hour to the tenth power, gets on the mount of Divine assistance and, in the same space of time, traverses the entire sphere of contingency like lightning. Seeing the wonders in the inner and outer dimensions of contingent existence and rising as far as the boundary of the immaterial realm of the necessary existence (Divine realm’s limits), he is honored with Divine conversation and vision of His Beauty, receives the decree, and returns to his duty of Messengership on the earth. It was possible for him to do that, and he did it.
QUESTION: Even if this were possible, not everything possible occurs. Is there something similar that we can accept? How can we accept the occurrence of something unique, only because it is possible?
ANSWER: There are countless similar cases. For example, people with sound sight can ascend with their eyes to Neptune in a second. Astronomers can mount the laws of astronomy in their minds and travel beyond the stars in a minute. Believers can mount in thought on the acts and pillars of the prescribed Prayers and, leaving the universe behind through a sort of Ascension, go as far as the Divine Presence. Perfected saints can make a spiritual journey and travel the spiritual ranks beyond the realms of God’s Supreme Throne and His Names and Attributes in forty days. Such people as ’Abdu’l-Qadir al-Jilani and Imam ar-Rabbani truthfully reported that they used to ascend spiritually as far as the Divine Throne in a minute.
Angels, whose bodies are of light, come and go between the ground and the Divine Throne in a very short time. The people of Paradise will ascend to the gardens of Paradise from the Supreme Plain of Gathering in a short period of time. Many such examples demonstrate that it is pure wisdom, completely rational, and that it undoubtedly occurred that Prophet Muhammad, the lord of all saints, leader of all believers, head of all people of Paradise, and accepted by all angels, realized an Ascension, which marks his journey through and beyond all ranks of sainthood, in a form appropriate to his position.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi