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Attributeless Waheguru

INTRODUCTION

Since the publication in 2006 of our first article, Nirgun-Sargun Conundrum, which sought to expose Sikhism’s contradictory theology-proper of God, we have successfully responded to all attempts at defending this incoherent concept. [1]

However, as is the case with all false theologies, there is more to this conundrum than meets the eye; and so the aim of this paper is to further unveil the inconsistencies inherent in this orthodoxy.

This will be done by critiquing the Nirgun saroop (form) of God sans attributes. Before this is undertaken, however, it is necessary, given the conspicuously apparent interpretational differences that exist among Sikh scholars vis-á-vis the theology of God, that we firstly delineate this disparity.

Once this is achieved, it will be contrasted against the coherent Islamic doctrine of Tawheed (Unity of Allaah’s existence) and its theological principles in order to demonstrate which theology-proper of God truly upholds both His absolute perfection and the theistic apodictic belief that He is, as St Anselm of Canterbury famously put it, “the greatest conceivable being” in every possible respect in comparison to which nothing greater, in any way, can possibly exist.

SIKH  PANTHEISM?

Sikh theology holds that God was, at one stage, sans attributes; that is to say, He was “attributeless” or “unattributed” prior to the becoming of the temporal world. This notion has been delineated by a number of prominent Sikh scholars in different ways. For example, Gurbachan Singh Talib puts it thus:

This EK Oankar is the transcendental, unattributed Absolute. In other words, it is that which is above all Existence, has no attributes, since these will limit its absoluteness and Eternity. [2]

While Dr Surjit Singh Gandhi affirms:

God is both Nirguna – Absolute and Sarguna – immanent. For Guru Nanak, God in his primal aspect is absolute, unconditional and attributeless. He who unfolded the three Gunas has made His abode in the fourth. In this absolute aspect God is beyond the scope of human comprehension.
… But in order that he should be within the range of human perception, He endows Himself with attributes. [3]

It is understood from Prof G.S. Talib that in the Nirgun state, God is void of all attributes:

He is nirguna or without attributes. Yet He is saguna or with attributes, too, because in the manifested state all attributes are His. [4]

Similarly, Rajinder Kaur Rohi states:

Being full of attributes (saguna), He is (nirguna) without any attribute also. [5]

Immanence and transcendence, with attributes and beyond attributes, relative and absolute are the qualities of the one and the only one; God, Who alone possesses these qualities and yet remains beyond the qualities and exists in the perfect unity of His being. [6]

In spite of attempted efforts made by Sikh scholars in forwarding reconciliatory explanations for these two divergent states, there exists a distinct lack of congruity over each states interrelatedness vis-á-vis its understanding.

Some Sikh scholars hold that in the Sargun saroop, Waheguru is, in his esse (essential divine nature), physically part of His creation in the literal sense; while others have adopted a diametrically opposite position.

Of the latter is Prof Daljeet Singh who, on the basis that “the becoming world is His creation, and not his emanation; nor is it identical with Him”, [7] has concluded that the “description of His immanence and its operation [is] metaphoric[al]” [8] and “a symbolic way of expressing God’s connection with the world”. [9] He elaborates that since “the universe is in time and space … is changing and is governed by fixed laws”, God, who is “[f]ree” of these limitations and conditions, “[can]not [be] determined by any laws known to us”. [10]

This figurative rendering of the creator-creation dichotomy is, however, rejected by a number of prominent Sikh scholars.

Prof Wazir Singh, head of the Dept. of Guru Gobind Singh Religious Studies at Punjabi University in Patiala, holds an entirely opposite theological belief. He is of the opinion that “God is identical with the universe” (bold ours) and reasons that since “the world as a totality … [is a] developing universe which is not a finally perfect order of things … [then] the nature of God must also be developing; if the world is finite so must be the Divine“. [11] (bold, underline ours)

He elaborates:

Most of us, I imagine, who are accustomed to thinking of God, in absolute terms, as the perfect, unsurpassable Being, might experience a sense of shock at the description of God in terms of relatively perfect, or a finite being. Recent philosophy, however, has experimented with the concept of a finite God, or God in the making. If the universe is not a closed or finished being, then the universe of tomorrow would not be the same as of today. God who is identical with the universe of today; will not, therefore, be identical with the universe of tomorrow, unless He also develops and identifies Himself with the changed universe. Hence, the concept of the developing nature of God, that is, an unfinished Being in process, or God that is becoming unfolding, actualizing His potentialities. [12] (bold ours)

Prof Wazir is, in actuality, pushed towards acknowledging and embracing this tenuous affirmation of God and His creation being identical because of his literalist interpretation of Waheguru’s Nirgun state being “transcendental”, “necessary and infinite” and its mutual opposite, Sargun, being “contingent and finite”. He explicates:

Those of the idealist philosophers who conceive the Absolute as the necessary, supreme and infinite Being, regard the universe as phenomenal, conditioned and finite. The world is contingent as against reality that is necessary, but the world is ultimately absorbed into the Absolute, since the two cannot be divorced from each other. Evidently, then, the necessary and infinite Being contains the contingent and finite within itself. The aspect that is supremely real or sat(i) is indissolubly associated with the aspect that is phenomenal or nam(u). Thus the sat(i) nam(u) of the mul mantra may be interpreted as the Real-cum-Apparent, Infinite-Finite, Being-Becoming. It does not mean that the Divine Being lacks perfection; it only implies that in His phenomenal; aspect He is finite, whereas, in His transcendental aspect He is infinite and perfect. [13] (bold ours)

The pure, shapeless essence turns into cosmic existence, with all its contours and contents, evolutionary processes and infinite creative advances. [14]

They are NOT one and the same but stand for two metaphysical Truths, which are fundamental to Sikh Cosmology. – Trilochan Singh on the Nirgun-Sargun paradox.

The problem with figuratively interpreting Sargun to the exclusion of Nirgun is that no objective reason is given for such a seemingly arbitrary choice. Hence, given this glaring problem, as well as the vastly more difficult logical problems that arise from the theological position opted for by Prof Wazir et al (to be further explored in detail below), Daljeet’s assumptive approach is an entirely convenient ad hoc escape route.

And since all of creation is a manifestation of Waheguru’s Sargun state, it is completely understandable why Dr Rohi also champions this more coherent assumption that Waheguru is, in the literal sense, intrinsically part of and identical to his creation.

While Daljeet asserts that “God is not the material cause of the world”, [15] Dr Rohi holds that “He prevails not only as being the basic substance or the material cause of the world but also as being the Person (purkha) Who creates as being the efficient cause as well” [16] (bold ours). Rohi continues:

It is the manifestation of God Himself in the forms and the inner essence of creation. This in fact is the expansion of God in the creation. The creation in other words is the inflow from the personal being of God. When God wants to create He just expands Himself into the forms, so, there is the creation. He Himself exists in the creation as the very ESSENCE of it. But, at the same time God is unmanifest, transcendent, formless, in His purely essential nature. [17] (bold, underline, capitals ours)

Similarly, Rajinder Kaur (not to be confused with R.K. Rohi), daughter of the famous Akali leader Master Tara Singh, holds:

God is everywhere by His essence, as He is the efficient cause of all being or existence. [18] (bold ours)

God is before space-time, after space-time and, also, in space-time. God as beyond space-time is named as ‘Adesh’ and ‘Akal’; while God in space-time is named as ‘Sarbatr Desh’ and ‘Sarbatr Kat’. [19] (bold ours)

Dr Gurdip Singh Bhandari illustrates how, before the becoming of the world, “every aspect of creation lies dormant in” Waheguru who, prior to the “Divine urge” whereupon the “the Formless assumes form … and thus this world of a myriad colours takes shape”, is in a “state of complete tranquillity and oneness”. [20] He then states:

God and His creation are one – the creation was merged in Him. God raised the creation out of Himself. It is a gradual unfoldment of what lay folded within the Ultimate cause – the Absolute Self.

From the state of Sunya,
The latent form became active.
The elements of air and water
Were evolved out of Sunya
Within the fire
Water and living beings is His Light,
And the power of Creation lies within Sunya
From Sunya came out the moon
The sun and the firmament…
The earth and heaven have been evolved out of Sunya. (GG, 1037-38) [21] (bold, underline ours)

Rohi also cites a number of scriptural proofs for her position. After repeating that “every finite and infinite thing and being was created from within God as His own manifestation” she cites Guru Gobind Singh as declaring:

When God manifested Himself He created countless creatures out of Himself and when He will withdraw His manifestation, everything will re-absorbed into Him. [22] [23] (bold ours)

And Guru Arjan Dev is quoted as saying:

Not only of one time or of one world, but for countless times, the countless creations have been issued fourth from God and re-absorbed into God. [24] [25]

Rajinder also makes mention of a number of similes and metaphors used by the Gurus in making clear God’s immanence:

The simile of the sun and its rays is also very freequently [sic] used. The rays have no independent existence of their own but are only the light of the sun. In the same way the universe only manifests the glory, ‘Ashnai’ [26] of the Lord. Just as the sun is present in its rays, in the same way God is immanent in his manifestations (rather creations).In his poetical vars, Bhai Gurdas, the best medieval Sikh Mystic Interpreter, has paraphrased this idea in ten stanzas. He says that just as one mind works through different sense organs, one moon is soon reflected differently in different waters, one copper when mixed with different alloys is known by different names, one gold assumes different forms when beaten into different ornaments, from the one and the same seed spring forth bunches, leaves, flowers and fruits, all different from each other, from the same cotton are woven clothes of different varieties, and from the same sugar and milk are produced various sugar-and-milk products, similarly we see the one God revealing Himself in various forms. [27]

The simile of ‘Per’ or ‘Tarower’ (tree) is very common in the Sikh Scripture. Just as a tree is immanent as the essence of every leaf, flower, fruit, branch and seed, in the same way God is present in each and every object, big or small, as its innermost essence. [28]

Prof Manmohan Sehgal of Punjabi University, Patiala, holds that Waheguru “lives within living beings in the form of soul. After one’s death, the part meets the whole and soul is dissolved in Him, who is the Absolute Soul. Even the physical elements of the Universe dissolve in Him after they perish” (bold ours). He further adds:

Hukam is both the cause and the effect and the Lord Himself is at once the Creator and the Creation:

For without Govind, he see-eth not another, Yea, He the One, the Creator and the Cause. [Guru Granth,p.189]

He has not separated Himself from the Universe after its creation. He is the purakh (u) that is, He lives within His Creation – omniscient, omnipresent as He is.

Pervadeth He all the spheres and all the parts and peoples of the earth. [Ibid.535] [29] (bold ours)

Likewise, Prof Surjit Singh Gandhi affirms that Waheguru “is omnipresent not only by knowledge and power but also by nature His eternal spirit pervades all beings” (bold ours) citing the following scriptural proof:

“On the mountain is God,
In the caves is God,
On the earth is God,
In the Sky is God,
Here is God,
There is God,
In the world is God
In the firmament is God.”
(Akal Ustat, 52, 53)

He continues:

The attribute of omnipresence of God also expresses the truth that the Being of God, is not separable from His activity. God is everywhere in the sense that He pervades everything and He makes His working felt everywhere. [30] (bold ours)

In essence, these explanations are more pantheistic than monotheistic, as Rajinder concedes in her response to Macauliff who, she believes, was “misled … [towards] the conclusion that the Sikh view of God is purely Pantheistic”. [31] (bold ours) And she recognises that the only distinction between a purely pantheistic doctrine and a partial one is that the former “reduces God to a substance or a principle” whilst the latter upholds God as “a Person ‘Purakh (Purusa)’, ‘Karta-Purakh’, ‘Adi-Purakh’, ‘Param Purakh’, ‘Akal-Purakh‘”. [32]

Daljeet, on the other hand, has set out in a number of his works to counter the position shared by the above list of illustrious academics who argue for a more pantheistic conception of Sargun. Although Daljeet accepts that there are “a number of places [in SGGS where] the Guru describes God as informing the river, the fish, the boat, and everything”, he condemns any pantheistic conclusions drawn from this as “superficial” because, as stated earlier, “all these verses are only a symbolic or another way of expressing the immanence of God”. [33]

However, rather than responding with an apologetic that is clear, methodical and lucid, Daljeet succeeds instead in presenting a confused [34] and jumbled explanation that raises more questions than answers.

For example, although most Sikh scholars agree, regardless of their differing interpretive stance over the Nirgun-Sargun duality, that Waheguru is Ik (One), Daljeet asserts that “when we say that God is both Transcendent and Immanent, it does not at all mean that there are two parts, stages, or phases of God. It is the Transcendent God who is everywhere, in each heart, place and particle. It is He who is both Transcendent and Immanent”. [35]

The point of confusion here is with Daljeet’s insistence that the Nirgun-Sargun states are not “two parts, stages, or phases of God”. As already alluded to above, according to Prof Bhandari, before Waheguru assumed form in his Sargun state, “[t]he Gurus … used ‘Sunya’ in conjunction with terms like samadhi, tari (trance, meditation) or sahaj (equipoise, balance) or sach (holy truth) … [to] describe the state of complete tranquillity and oneness of the Absolute Self, and refer to that latent form in which every aspect of creation lies dormant in Him, waiting for the operation of the Divine urge for its unfoldment”. [36] However, could Waheguru have been in Sunya, etc. after the becoming of creation? The answer is an obvious no.

What is more, in our article Bijla Singh is ‘Contradicting Allah’, we argued that Waheguru must have experienced both an intrinsic and a relational change with the becoming of creation:

According to Bijla, “Waheguru was only Nirgun” (bold ours) when there existed nothing, but “then” manifested as Sargun when “He created the entire creation”, while of course still fully remaining Nirgun. Since Nirgun and Sargun are descriptions of Waheguru’s intrinsic nature, i.e. his essence, thus Waheguru underwent an intrinsic change with the becoming of creation. To say otherwise is to deny the claim that Waheguru is Sargun, which he certainly was not sans creation. …

In addition, there must have also been for Waheguru a relational change with the becoming of creation. … In this regard, we wish to ask: could Waheguru have been omnipresent, within His creation and beyond, and all pervading without the existence of the creation? … Since the answer … is an obvious no, … [h]ence, there must have been for him a relational change with the becoming of creation. It is, therefore, apparent that Waheguru changed both intrinsically and relationally following creation.

These changes are also acknowledged by certain Sikh scholars. For example, Rohi states:

God is the Creator only in relation to the world, while in Himself, He is the ever-transcendent Absolute. The creator and the absolute are two phases of the One and the same Supreme Being. [37] (bold ours)

God is also transcendent because the immanence of God is not identical with the whole being of God. [38] (bold ours)

Prof Wazir shares this understanding:

The moment of transformation from the unrevealed to the revealed, from the unmanifest to the manifest, from the impersonal to the personal aspect, is the moment of creation. The pure, shapeless essence turns into cosmic existence, with all its contours and contents, evolutionary processes and infinite creative advances. What is potential in one phase becomes actual in the other. [39] (bold ours)

Similarly, Prof Trilochan Singh upholds that:

[E]kang (i.e. the numeral one) and oamkar are two different concepts standing respectively for the transcendent Self-Existent Being and the Immanent All Prevading [sic] spirit. The first is the Supreme and Absolute Being and the second is the creation out of His own Spirit. They are NOT one and the same but stand for two metaphysical Truths, which are fundamental to Sikh Cosmology. [40] (bold, capitals ours)

Given these persuasive arguments, it is difficult to see how Daljeet et al. [41] could seek to refute this position.

Moreover, assuming that this is not a genuine lapse in concentration or a typographical error on his part, what is perplexing is how Daljeet could have concluded that “the Transcendent God … is everywhere, in each heart, place and particle” when he himself recognises that not only is Waheguru, as the Transcendent, “beyond space and beyond time”, but that he only “becomes Immanent in it [creation]” after he “creates the universe … [while] being at the same time Transcendent”. [42]

Daljeet continues his apologetic ambiguity by claiming that “the Gurus say that before He created form, He was Formless; before He was Immanent, He was Transcendent only: and yet, all immanence, expression, creativity were inherent in Him, and so was His Word, in essence”. [43] We then have something called Naam. Daljeet reveals:

God’s immanent character was unexpressed. The expression of Naam was prior to the creation of the universe. “God manifested Himself into Naam and at the second place the world was created.” It is true that the Gurus quite often mention God as informing the universe. But in no scripture has the distinction between the transcendent and the immanent aspects of God been made more clear than in the Guru Granth; because God’s Immanence has been given separate names, i.e., of Naam, Will and Word. [44] (bold ours)

[I]t is not the case that there is no essence existing out there divested of all attributes. In reality, the essence qualified by the attributes of perfection essential to it is INSEPARABLE from them. It is only in the mind that the two are separated from each other and that the two are imagined to exist by themselves. In reality, there is no essence without an attribute; this is simply not possible. – Imam Ibn Abil-‘Izz (d. 729AH)

We are further told that this manifestation of ‘Naam extends to all creation. There is no place or space where Naam is not.’ [1. p. 4]. And with “numerous verses in Guru Granth Sahib where Naam and God have been described synonymously”, including “[b]oth Naam and God … mentioned as … ‘Permeating and informing all things, beings, space and interspace’ …. This unambiguously leads us to conclude that God and Naam are one and the same, and the latter may be called the immanent or qualitative aspect of God, since God has been described both as unmanifest (nirguna) and the Creator, and Ocean of values”. [45]

The same conclusion is reached by Dr Lalit Mohan Joshi, i.e. “nam is not mere name, but the Ultimate Reality itself … [the] Omnipresent Existence which manifests itself in the form of creation and is the source and sustenance of all beings and things (GG, 284) … Nam is the source of creation and like God is all-pervasive. At the same time, nam is coextensive with creation; there is no space where nam [sic] is not-jeta kita teta nau vinu navai nahi ko thau: all that Thou hast created is Thy Name, i.e. manifestation; there is no place where Thy Name does not pervade (GG, 4)”. [46]

In what has followed, the ambiguity arises from the way in which Naam has been expounded. Can this explanation serve to clearly and incontestably show a definitive distinction between Waheguru’s intrinsic nature and his creation? If Naam and Waheguru are “one and the same”, where Naam is said to be “permeating and informing all things, beings, space and interspace” and is “coextensive with creation” to the extent that “[t]here is no place or space where Naam is not”, then it is difficult to see how Waheguru and his creation are not identical. This definition of Naam’s near all-encompassing and all-pervasive presence in the world again lends more support towards a pantheistic view of Waheguru than the opposite.

The ambiguity does not end there. In spite of the obvious disparity that exists between the two saroops vis-á-vis Waheguru’s attributes, Sikh scholars, such as Parma Nand, remain intransigent in their insistence that “[al]though He manifests Himself in all forms, sentient and non-sentient being the enjoyer and the object of enjoyment, at the same time, yet, he remains One, changeless, constant and imperishable”. [47] (bold ours) This assertion, however, unsurprisingly smacks against the following observations:

1)   Those who unequivocally hold that the two phases or stages of Waheguru during his Sargun manifestation “stand for two metaphysical Truths”. How can a being remain changeless and constant in spite of this apparent change with the becoming of the universe.

2)   If his divine attributes (knowledge, wisdom, love, etc.) are a sine qua non of the Sargun state, then they must also be the same for the Nirgun counterpart in order to maintain that Wahegueu remains one in his essential being.

3)   If, however, he is changeless and constant in the sense of being a single, indivisible unit, then his Sargun state can never be inclusive of his attributes.

4)   If there were, indeed, two phases or stages with the becoming of the universe, then this certainly implies that Waheguru went through an intrinsic and relational change with the becoming of creation. Hence, it seems more plausibly consistent to conclude that there exists a division in Waheguru’s esse, for there is his atemporal transcendent side and, obversely, his temporal immanent side.

All in all, the Sikhs seem to be in a rather sticky catch-22 situation; they certainly are in no state to have their cake and devour it too.

Having evaluated this core ontological difference of opinion over whether Waheguru is, in his esse, physically part of His creation in the literal sense, we can now move on to examine a central doctrinal point which, to our knowledge, no reputed Sikh academic disputes: Waheguru was, in his Nirgun state and prior to the becoming of the temporal world, void of all divine attributes.

THE ATTRIBUTELESS GOD

It is not the case that He acquired the name Creator (Al-Khaliq) only after creating (something), or the name Originator (Al-Bari) only after originating (something).
– Imam at-Tahawi (d. 321H/ 933AH)

In Islam, it is heresy (Arabic: kufr – disbelief) to believe that Allaah, the Most High, was, is or could be void of any or all of His divine attributes sans creation or otherwise. In contrast, Sikhism, as we have shown, holds a belief that is diametrically opposed.

In complete contrast to the convoluted and unintelligible nature of Sikh philosophical theology, the Islamic understanding of the esse of God is pellucid and comprehensible. This is because, unlike the philosophers and false prophets who, in their misplaced attempt to decipher the divine, were entirely confined to the use of their limited intellects, God’s bona fide prophetic emissaries were exclusively privy to the truth of knowledge concerning His esse. Originating from the source of all truth who endowed humankind with reason and rationality, it is inconceivable to think that God would convey revelatory knowledge that would be incompatible with man’s intellect.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) famously said of Islam’s true religious intellectual elite:

The religious scholars are heirs of the prophets. [48] Indeed the prophets do not leave behind dinars or dirhams (pecuniary source); rather they leave behind the heritage of (revelatory) knowledge, and whoever acquires it has acquired an abundance of wealth. [49]

It is for this reason that the Muslim scholars, who inherited not only this pristine and authentic prophetic knowledge, but more importantly its correct understanding and interpretation, were able to derive sound and irrefutable principles vis-á-vis the divine names and attributes (al-asmaa was-sifaat) of Allaah.

In regards to this topic, the following cited principles will be used to dissect the notion of an attributeless God:

A. The attributes of Allaah, the Most High, are perfect, containing no deficiency in any sense at all. [50] [51]

B. Attributes of Allaah, the Mighty and Magnificent, are dhaatiyyah – those pertaining to His Self, and fi’liyyah – those pertaining to His actions, and there is no limit or end to His actions. ‘And Allaah does what He wills.‘” [52] [53] [54]

C. And it forms part of the faith in Allah that we believe in those Attributes with which Allah has qualified Himself and with which the Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allaah) has qualified Allah. Neither should alterations be made [ta’weel] nor negations [ta’teel], nor attributing a state of being [takyeef] nor of likeness to creation [tamtheel]. [55]

D. The divine names of Allaah can be derived from verbs and can, therefore, be either transitive (muta’addiyyah) or intransitive (ghayr muta’addiyyah). Those names that are transitive require affirmation of the following three categories:

1. The divine name itself,
2. The divine attribute it gives evidence to,
3. How this quality or attribute relates to the creation and its ruling and what it necessitates. [56]

While all others require affirmation of only the first two categories. [57]

To begin, Daljeet claims that it is meaningless to speak of a God with divine attributes, or one who exercises His Will, sans creation:

It is impossible to think of a God of Attributes or of His Immanence in the absence of a relative or changing world. That is why when God was by Himself, the question of ‘love and devotion, of good or bad actions, or of the saved or Saviour’ could not arise, there being nothing other than Him. [58]

Just like the Attributes of God, God’s Will too can be exercised only in a changing world and towards a goal. The very idea of a Will implies a direction and an aim. [59]

His reasoning proceeds as follows:

First, attributes and values have relevance only in a becoming or relative world. Because all perfection is static and all qualities are relative. A God of Attributes has, thus, a meaning only in relation to the changing world of man. Evidently, for the expression of attributes, a changing universe is essential and becomes an integral part of the creative plan of God. God and the universe are, thus, closely linked. It is impossible to think of a God of Attributes in the absence of a changing world. That is why when God was all by Himself, the question of ‘Love and devotion or good or bad actions’, [1. pp. 1035-6] could not arise. [60] (bold ours)

Daljeet’s assumption, in brief, is that a “God of Attributes” cannot be logically tenable without a created object towards which His attributes can be exercised.

It is impossible to think of a God of Attributes in the absence of a changing world. – Prof. Daljeet Singh

The premise on which this argument hinges, however, is the assumption that the divine attributes of God are analogous or comparable to the human; an assumption that violates principle C above, more specifically: tamtheel.

A leading scholar of the modern era, Shaykh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-‘Uthaymeen (d. 1421H/ 2000CE), briefly forwarded a definition for Tamtheel as “the act of mentioning an attribute together with its like”; [61] in Daljeet’s case: likening the attributes of God to His creation.

Given the relative nature of humanity, it goes without saying that such attributes can only be exercised in a changing and relative world. But, to say the same of God would necessarily require a concession to anthropomorphism on His part since there cannot be any logically plausible reason to support this assertion without affirming that God’s absolute perfect attributes are, either completely (tamtheel) or partially (tashbeeh), [62] comparable to those of the relative and imperfect human. Hence, what holds true for them must also hold true of God.

This fallacious assumption has been repeated throughout history by philosophers from different socio-religious backgrounds, including Muslims, ad nauseam. The irony after all this is that Daljeet himself actually clearly negates tamtheel (anthropomorphism):

We need hardly state that this idea of Personality in Theism is not analogous to the idea of limited personality in man, who is a finite being. [63]

Daljeet’s contradictory reasoning is further exposed as follows: If God’s “expression of Naam was prior to the creation of the universe where ‘God manifested Himself into Naam and at the second place the world was created'”, [64] or, as he puts it elsewhere, “God created Himself and Naam, and at the second place was created the universe”, [65] and yet it is both “impossible to think of a God of Attributes in the absence of a changing world” and for “God’s Will … [to] be exercised only in a changing world and towards a goal”, then how could Waheguru have exercised his will to do anything in the absence of the world?

To put it more lucidly, since the presence of a relative and changing world is a prerequisite to Waheguru exercising his will to create, where the act of creating is one of God’s divine attributes, how could he will to create Naam (or Himself), or anything else for that matter, before the becoming of such a world? Daljeet et al.’s position seems to be self-defeating.

Coming onto principles A and B, these have most comprehensively been explained by Ibn Abil-‘Izz (d. 792H), the well known commentator of the universally accepted book of creed ‘Aqeedah at-Tahawiyyah, authored by the great sage and scholar Imam at-Tahaawi (d. 321H/ 933CE).

The following points 13, 14 and 15 of Imam at-Tahaawi’s creed are directly concerned in tackling the general idea of an attributeless deity. The fact that the Imam was addressing these heresies at that time shows that such an idea preceded Guru Nanak and Sikhism by half a millennium:

(13) He has always existed with His attributes, even BEFORE the creation of the world, which did not add anything to His attributes that were not already present.

Just as He is Eternal along with His attributes, so He is Everlasting along with them.

(14) It is not the case that He acquired the name Creator (Al-Khaliq) only AFTER creating (something), or the name Originator (Al-Bari) only after originating (something).

(15) He was qualified with Lordship (rububiyyah) even when there was nothing to lord over. And He was the Creator even when there was nothing created. [66] (bold, capitals, underline ours)

Ibn Abil-‘Izz’s commentary of point 13 correlates with principle A wherein he reasons that “Allah is qualified from eternity with attributes of perfection, both attributes of essence and action”. [67] Shaykh ‘Uthaymeen makes clear the apparent distinction between the attributes of Allaah’s esse and His actions:

Allaah’s affirmed Attributes might either be permanent Attributes that are always with Him, or Actions that He performs when He likes.

As for His permanent Attributes [attributes of essence – dhaatiyyah], they are the ones that He never ceases to be described with, like having Knowledge, Power, Hearing, Sight, Honor, Wisdom, Highness, and Greatness.

As for His chosen Actions [attributes of action – fi’liyyah], they are the actions that are connected to His Will. If He wants, He does them, and if He does not want to do them, He does not do them …. [68]

Ibn Abil-‘Izz continues to declare:

It is not permissible to believe that Allah acquired an attribute after He did not have it, because His attributes are attributes of perfection, hence their absence would imply imperfection. It is not conceivable that He was first imperfect and then He became perfect. However, this is not cause to deny the active or voluntary attributes of Allah, such as creating and forming, causing life and death [etc.] …. [69] (bold ours)

Denying the active or voluntary attributes of God is precisely what Daljeet does by claiming that “when God was by Himself, the question of ‘love and devotion, of good or bad actions, or of the saved or Saviour’ could not arise, there being nothing other than Him”. [70]

We have already highlighted that though this limitation is necessarily true of mankind, there exists no logically plausible reason to extend this to include God. We have also mentioned, albeit in passing, that Sikhism is not unique in this belief. According to Ibn Abil-‘Izz, in proclaiming that “He [Allaah] is qualified with His attributes eternally from before the creation of the world”, Imam at-Tahaawi “refutes the … claim that Allah did not at first have the power to act or to speak, and then He came to have such powers. Action and speech became possible after it was first impossible. The impossible changed into the possible”. [71]

This is a convincing response when juxtaposed with the recognition that an absence of any, let alone all, of God’s attributes for a given duration implies imperfection. When Sikhs allege that Waheguru was attributeless in the pre-Sargun stage; they are, in fact, affirming that Waheguru became absolutely perfect after being imperfect at the moment of the becoming of the world. But why does Ibn Abil-‘Izz conclude that such a concept, á la Nirgun-cum-Sargun, implies the impossible changing into the possible? Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen offers the following answer:

Everything that truly exists must have an attribute, and that attribute must either be a perfect one or a deficient one. The latter is rejected when referring to the Perfect Lord who deserves our worship. [72] (bold ours)

While recognising why an absolute perfect deity must possess absolute perfect attributes, one may still be prompted to ask why “everything that truly exists must have an attribute”? Ibn Abil-‘Izz compellingly posits:

[I]t is not the case that there is no essence existing out there divested of all attributes. In reality, the essence qualified by the attributes of perfection essential to it is INSEPARABLE from them. It is only in the mind that the two are separated from each other and that the two are imagined to exist by themselves. In reality, there is no essence without an attribute; this is simply not possible. [73] (bolds, underline, capitals ours)

This a priori axiom that a living entity void of all attributes can only really “exist” as an abstract, nonconcrete, hypothetical and imaginary idea should be enough to pull the very rug from under Daljeet et alia.

While refuting the heretical beliefs of the infamous Avicenna, Shaykhul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah reaches the same conclusion in arguing that an “essence that is existing without knowledge and to which knowledge is added … is a corrupt representation”, [74] and that “an essence which has no attribute has no existence but in the mind”. [75]

Ibn Abil-‘Izz’s incisive evaluation uncovers further failings in the Sikhi doctrine:

Even if there were no attribute present except that of existence, even that would not have been separate from the essence. But in one’s mind they can be conceived of as an essence and an existence, each separate from the other, though in reality they cannot be and are not separate. [76]

A question arises from what Ibn Abil-‘Izz has adduced above: If we accept, for arguments sake, that Waheguru was attributeless sans creation: was he alive/ did he exist during His Nirgun saroop? It would be a travesty of intelligence for anyone to even hint at an answer in the negative. No one with a sound and sincere disposition could claim that an eternally existing deity cannot be described or could not possess the attribute of life/ existence for any given duration. It would clearly be nonsensical, semantically speaking, to accept that God was, even for an instant, non-existent, given that it contradicts the definition of the term eternality and, thus, completely negates the idea of an eternally existing/ living God.

And the same would be true, for example, in negating the attribute of knowledge.

It is not permissible to believe that Allah acquired an attribute after He did not have it, because His attributes are attributes of perfection, hence their absence would imply imperfection. – Imam Ibn Abil-‘Izz

What does it mean when someone claims a living entity is completely void of its necessary attributes or that “it is impossible to think of a God of Attributes”? It essentially entails the dismissal of any conceivable thought about the ineffable nature of the Nirgun state of Waheguru, even after the becoming of creation. In order to remain consistent in defence of this argument, it must be maintained that even speculating, for instance, over the relative spatial position of the Nirgun saroop in relation to the creation is futile. But, again this approach is self-defeating given that Sikhs readily affirm that the Nirgun state of God is wholly transcendent.

The problem becomes ever more acute when Sikhs fail to recognise the apparent disparity that exists where on one hand the mantra of Nirgun being “beyond the scope of human comprehension” and “ineffable” is continuously parroted, and yet on the other reams of scholarly work elucidating on the difference between the two states are readily produced and published. For example, we are reminded by Daljeet that “[t]he Gurus have cautioned us against the inadequacy of human logic to comprehend Him … The nature of God transcends all known categories of thought. The Creator of these limited categories cannot be judged by them”. [77] Similarly, Surjit Singh Gandhi echoes:

About Absoluteness of God, there is nothing man can say. [78]

God who is absolute, eternal, Akal and formless cannot be grasped by human understanding which is strictly limited and any effort to define Him would circumscribe the infinite to bring within narrow bounds the one who is boundless. God is ineffable and man’s proper and inevitable response to any authentic glimpse of the Being of God can only be that of Vismad of fear, of wonder before Him Who is beyond comprehension. ‘He is again Agochar (inscrutable beyond the reach of intellect). He is Alakh (ineffable). [79]

And yet Daljeet seemingly belies these cautions by conflictingly stating that Waheguru “is both in the universe and outside it”.[80] The reason for this is quite simple and one that Daljeet is fully cognisant of:

Perforce, He has to be explained, howsoever inadequately or symbolically, only in terms of that language. That is why the Guru has cautioned us against the pitfalls and inadequacy of human logic and language to comprehend the Timeless One. All the same, the Guru has mentioned the state when the Transcendent God was all by Himself and there was no creation. [81]

This paradoxical position is also mentioned by Prof Wazir Singh, who more accurately observes:

All the names that we utter in respect to God are functional or attributive names. The basic reality is nameless. Guru Gobind Singh expressly calls it ANAME (nameless). But, even the nameless can serve as a name. When we say Brahman is featureless, ‘featurelessness’ becomes its feature. In order to give expression to our sense of the Beyond, that which defies all expression or description, we coin several terms, just as Nothingness, Emptiness, Big Zero, Sunya, as well as Formless, Nirakar, Nirankar, and Nirgun. But again, Nirankar is a name, and so are other epithets so coined. Perhaps, we cannot do without names. It is our linguisic [sic] compulsion to assign a name or symbol to anything we know. It is human compulsion. [82] (bold ours)

And it goes without saying that this linguistic compulsion of assigning names would also entail the impossibility of rejecting the apparent meaning any name carries and its associative attribute. Hence, any rational minded person would be compelled, at least, to acknowledge that God’s attribute of life is an eternal sine qua non of His essential being, while also recognising that this would not be possible if the attribute were negated (ta’teel); or its apparent meaning misinterpreted/ distorted (ta’weel); or conditioned on futilely attempting to comprehend its reality/ modality (takyeef); or attempting to analogously liken Him in any way, shape or form to His creation.

As we have shown, Daljeet was forced into answering the paradoxical question of “what came first: the chicken or the egg?” by arguing that without the presence of a relative and changing world, Waheguru could not exercise his will or his attribute to create, raising the question of how he could have ever willed to create anything in the first place without the presence of a relative and changing world? This self-defeating argument proves the validity of principle D:

The divine names of Allaah can be derived from verbs and can, therefore, be either transitive (muta’addiyyah) or intransitive (ghayr muta’addiyyah). Those names that are transitive require affirmation of the following three categories:

1. The divine name itself,
2. The divine attribute it gives evidence to,
3. How this quality or attribute relates to the creation and its ruling and what it necessitates.

While all others require affirmation of only the first two categories. [83]

Since the attribute of life is, as we argued above, an eternal sine qua non of God’s essential being, it is intransitive. Unlike the divine names, such as, The Most-Merciful (Ar-Rahman), The Most-Loving (Al-Wudood), The All-Just (Al-‘Adl), etc., which are transitive and require an object for God to be merciful, loving or just towards, the same cannot be said of his names: The Ever-Living (Al-Hayy), The Unique (Al-Ahad), The Self-Sufficient (As-Samad), etc. It would be ludicrous to say that Allaah is necessarily self-sufficient or unique towards something external to himself!

If Sikhs, however, acknowledge the rationale behind principle D, they would be compelled, by extension, to reject this counter-intuitive notion that God was attributeless or ineffable sans creation.

These inconsistencies arising from such mentally oppressive and paradoxical ideas are not, however, something new to Sikhism. To the contrary, there existed, and still do, heretical Muslims who held equally perplexing views.

Historically, the first person associated to the Muslim community to introduce the heresy of negating Allaah’s attributes in toto was a man by the name of Jahm bin Safwan (d.128H/ 745CE) who, according to Shaykhul Ibn Taymiyyah, took this doctrine “from the students of the Jews and idolaters”, [84]. Ibn Taymiyyah elaborates:

Jahm used to deny Allah’s Names. He would not, therefore call Him: “Thing” nor “Living” nor anything else except in a figurative sense, because he claimed that it was at-tashbeeh (likening Allah to His creation) to call Him by any name, which was also used for creation. [85]

And like Daljeet et al., “Jahm did not affirm … [a] “Will” (al-Iraadah)” [86] for Allaah. Jahm’s reason for denying God’s names is, of course, based on his fallacious interpretation of principle C cited earlier. Tashbeeh did not simplistically mean anthropomorphism by the mere sharing of a name, but rather likening the reality or modality that the name stood for. For example, the names loving, knowledgeable, wise, etc. are accepted as attributes essential to both God and humankind; yet, it would be erroneous to claim that the reality or modality of God’s attributes are comparable to those of His servants.

What is more, Ibn ‘Uthaymeen identifies that since “al-Hayyu [the Living who does not die] is a name that comprises all the perfect Attributes of life” [87] (where the life of Allaah is incomparable to that of His creation since Allaah’s life is absolutely perfect and infinite whereas the creations’ is not [88] ); then, consequently, “the existence of the Creator is necessary, while the existence of the person is possible”. [89] It would, thus, be nonsensical to negate this, or any other, name merely on the basis of it being shared by two entities!

Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen also mentions a group who believed that God was “neither in ‘uluw (loftiness [transcendent]) nor in sufl (opposite ‘uluw: lowness); He is neither inside the world nor outside it; neither to the right nor to the left; neither joined nor separate”. He declares “this position [to be] absolute ta’teel (negation) because it is a description of al-‘adam (non-existence)”, while adding that some scholars said:

If we were asked to describe al-‘adam we would not find a more comprehensive definition than this description …. [90]

In essence, apart from a semantic one, there is no conceptual difference between systematically articulating this dual affirmatory-negatory approach of God’s attributes, and negating them in toto by describing Him as attributeless; they are both apt descriptions of non-existence.

Another possible answer to the above question could be that while the name, e.g. Ever-Living (al-Hayy), is affirmed, its associated attribute, life, is rejected and denied. Incidentally, this is not a hypothetical situation, for Shaykh ibn ‘Uthaymeen noted:

The third type is to reject the Attributes that are proven by the Names. Such a person affirms the Name, but rejects the Attribute that is included in this Name. Such as saying that Allah is All-Hearer, but without hearing; the All-Knower, but without knowledge; the Creator, but without creation; the All-Powerful, but without power… It is something that is unintelligible. [91]

Since it must be intuitively acknowledged that an eternally pre-existent living being is necessarily attributed with all its eternally pre-existent attributes, it follows that:

Allah is the essence that is qualified by His ever-present attributes. That is why the author [Imam at-Tahawi] said, “He has always existed with His attributes;” Note that he did not say, “He and His attributes are always existing” because in this case the conjunction would permit the possibility of difference between them. [92]

There can be no difference between Allaah’s attributes in terms of their existential reality: they are all eternally present and an essential part of His eternal esse.

Another major pitfall with this idea that attributes were brought into existence with the creation of Naam and the becoming of the world, is identified by Ibn Taymiyyah:

Allaah has informed us that He has created everything, and everything that is created is existential, and everything that is existential must have been brought about after once being absent. [93] (bold ours)

In this case, the opposite also holds true: whatever is brought into existence after once being absent is a created entity, and since God is the Creator and not created, He can never be absent in His esse, which must be inclusive of all His attributes, for any length of duration. This point is succinctly put by Ibn ‘Uthaymeen as follows:

Affirming the sifah (attribute) of hayaat (Life) for Allaah, and that His life is one of perfection, neither preceded by ‘adam [non-existence] nor coming … to naught nor characterized by imperfection. On the contrary, our life originates in ‘adam and will come to an end, and it is accompanied by imperfection. If fact, all of our life is imperfect, and that is why Allaah described it by ad-dunya. The Life of Allaah, however, is perfection from all angles because of His saying: “The Living,” where the particle “The” is for al-istighraaq, which comprises all the meanings of the qualities of the perfect life, as if He says, “There is no one who is truly living except He.” In fact, this is the case because there is none qualified with the life of perfection except Allaah, the Most Mighty and most Majestic. [94]

There are also the philosophical quandaries that ensue from the idea that Waheguru was in a state of Sunya. Daljeet details this doctrine as follows:

The Gurus have stated at a number of places that there was a stage when the Transcendent God was by Himself; and it is later that He started His Creative Activity. In Sidh Gosht, in answer to a question as to where was the Transcendent God before the stage of creation, Guru Nanak replied, “To think of the Transcendent Lord in that state is to enter the realm of wonder. Even at that stage of sunn (void), He permeated all that void.” [1. p. 940]. … The Gurus say, “When there was no form in sight, how could there be good or bad actions? When God was in the Self-Absorbed state, there could be no enmity or conflict. When God was all by Himself, there could be no attachment or misunderstanding. Himself He starts the creation. He is the Sole-Creator, there is no second One.” [1. p. 290]. “For millions of aeons, the Timeless One was by Himself. There was no substance or space, no day or night (i.e., no time,) no stars or galaxies; God was in His Trance.” [1. p. 1035].  “God was by Himself and there was nothing else …… There was no love or devotion, nor was His Creative Power in operation …… When He willed, He created the Universe.” [1. p. 1036]. [95]

The following metaphysical question comes to mind when faced with the notion that Waheguru arbitrarily decided at some moment to become immanent and create having, before then, remained in his Nirgun state from eternity past: Is it more befitting the absolute perfection of God to believe that he remained creatively idle for a duration before deciding to create, or that he has been creating continuously from eternity past without a moment of idleness?

We have already covered the doctrinal irrationality of an attributeless God arguing that God’s esse has always been inclusive of the divine name and attribute of creating even before the becoming of the temporal world; but, what is more befitting his absolute perfection vis-á-vis the aforementioned question?

The Islamic position on this is given in principle B cited above:

Attributes of Allaah, the Mighty and Magnificent, are dhaatiyyah – those pertaining to His Self, and fi’liyyah – those pertaining to His actions, and there is no limit or end to His actions. ‘And Allaah does what He wills.‘” [96] [97] [98] (bold ours)

In relation to there being no limit or end to His actions, then this cannot belong to the category of an infinite regression of causes because, as Ibn Abil-‘Izz argues, “this is impossible, for we cannot imagine that one cause derives its causative power from another cause, and that from a third cause and so on ad infinitum”. [99] Rather, Allaah’s endless actions belong to the category he defines as ‘necessary’ where:

[E]very act of His is preceded by another act. For example, He has been speaking since eternity whenever He pleased; obviously, His attribute of speech is not something that has happened to Him after a time. The same is true of the other acts that are essential to His life, for every living being acts and the difference between the living and dead is action. That is why a number of the Elders stated, “Living is acting.” ‘Uthman Ibn Sa’id said, “Every living thing acts. And our Lord has never been for a moment imperfect, without speaking, willing or acting.”

Hence, a God who is idle to the point of not willing to act for a given duration through eternity past is less perfect in comparison to one who constantly wills to act. According to Ibn Abil-‘Izz:

Since Allah is Living, Powerful, Willing and Speaking from eternity – all this being part of His essence – He would be doing one thing or another according to these attributes. Action is more complete than inaction. (bold ours) [100]

And so “first, Allah acts as He wills and pleases [and] He has always done so … [because] He cannot be thought of as losing [this ability] at any time”. [101]

However, Ibn Abil-‘Izz’s brilliant reasoning continues as he cautions against understanding God’s necessity to create to mean that these created “objects co-exist with Him”. To the contrary:

Allah precedes every single object He creates and is not preceded by any of them. Every created object has something first that went before it, except the Creator, Who has no first before Him. He alone is the Creator and everything else is created and comes into existence after a time when it was non-existent. [102]

Since Allah is Living, Powerful, Willing and Speaking from eternity – all this being part of His essence – He would be doing one thing or another according to these attributes. Action is more complete than inaction. – Ibn Abil-‘Izz

What should be borne in mind at this juncture is that the scholars who traverse the path and follow the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) do not in any way accept the notion that individual entities exist pre-eternally as a concomitant of God’s existence. And this is precisely the reason why Ibn Abil-‘Izz clearly delineates that “everything else is created and comes into existence after a time when it was non-existent” (bold, underline ours); meaning that we affirm the genus of infinite events, with each and every created object preceded by non-existence, and not a single pre-eternally existent object.

This understanding is, thus, in complete harmony with what Allaah and Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace and blessings of Allaah) respectively meant when they proclaimed:

“He is the First and the Last” [Qur’an 57:3]. And the Prophet (peace be on him) stated, “O Allah, You are the First, there is nothing before You. You are the Last, there is nothing after You.” [103]

As for the author’s words, “He is Eternal without a beginning. Everlasting without an end,” they explain the meaning of the divine names, the First [al-Awwal] and the Last [al-Aakhir]. [104]

With this in mind, Ibn Abil-‘Izz concluded that “since the existence of an endless series of events in the future is not inconsistent with Allah being the Last, without anything coming after Him, the existence of an endless series of events in the past is not inconsistent with Allah being the First, without anything going before Him. Allah is always there doing and speaking whatever and whenever He wills from eternity …”. [105]

CONCLUSION

The interpretational differences that exist among Sikh scholars vis-á-vis the theology of God, proves beyond doubt a distinct lack of hermeneutical homogeneity and conformity vis-á-vis the definition and understanding of the Nirgun-cum-Sargun transformational process.

Contrary to Daljeet Singh’s valiant efforts, what became clear was that not only were there Sikh scholars who believed that Waheguru was, in his Sargun saroop, physically part of His creation in the literal sense, i.e. in his esse, but that this interpretation was much closer to a pantheistic conception of Waheguru than the oft-espoused monotheistic one.

In regards to the doctrine of an attributeless deity, where God is said to be void of all his divine attributes sans the becoming of the temporal world, then the arguments in support of this were not only self-defeating, but also, when deconstructed and compared to the apodictically sound principles of Islamic theology, shown to be logically incoherent and wholly untenable.

For instance, the argument that the subsistence of a relative and changing world is a necessary prerequisite to Waheguru exercising his will to create turned out to be fallacious as it transpired that the actual cause (willing to create) bizarrely preceded its own condition (a relative and changing world)! This brought forth the paradoxical question of: “What came first: the chicken or the egg?”

Further, since God’s attribute of life is an eternal sine qua non of His essential being, belief in the doctrine of an attributeless God sans creation lead to the patently absurd idea of an eternally existing God not being described or not possessing the attribute of life/ existence for a given duration.

It was also shown that a doctrine which holds that God, viz. Waheguru, remained creatively idle through eternity past, i.e. choosing not to exercise his creative will before arbitrarily deciding at some moment to create, was less befitting the absolute perfection of God than one which affirmed that he, viz. Allaah, has been creating continuously, and thus, constantly exercising his divine will from eternity past without a moment of idleness.

All in all, it is reasonable to conclude in light of all the above that the Sikh theology-proper of God vis-á-vis the concept of an attributeless God is logically inconsistent and mentally oppressive in comparison to the coherent Islamic doctrine of Tawheed (Unity of Allaah’s existence) and its theological principles.

Subhanakallaahuma wa bi hamdika, ash-Shahaadu al-Laa ilaaha illa Ant, astaghfiruka wa atoobu ilayka.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks (jazakumullaahu khairan) to both Abu Iyaad Amjad Rafeeq (Aqidah.com) and Abu ‘Abdur Rahman (Islam-Sikhism Researcher/ Editor) for their critical feedback and sagacious comments and suggestions.

[1] See: I.S. Dhillon (1, 2, 3), Project Naad, Saajan Sandhu and Bijla Singh.
[2] J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, Concepts in Sikhism – Cognitive Psychology – Mind Map Approach to Understanding Sikhism for the Second Generation Sikh Children, (Global Sikh Studies.net, online Word file, 9 Dec. 2009), p. 202.
[3] S.S. Gandhi (2007), History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469-1606 C.E. Vol. 1, (Atlantic Publishers & Distributors), p. 129.
[4] J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, op. cit., p. 467.
[5] R.K. Rohi (1999), Semitic and Sikh Monotheism – A Comparative Study, (Punjabi University, Patiala, India), p. 99.
[6] Ibid., p. 100.
[7] D. Singh, K. Singh (1997), Sikhism – Its Philosophy and History, (Institute of Sikh Studies, New Delhi), p. 20.
[8] Ibid., p. 42.
[9] Ibid., p. 21.
[10] Ibid., p. 20.
[11] P. Singh (1985), Sikh Concept of the Divine, (Guru Nanak Dev University Press, Amritsar), p. 146.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid., pp. 146-7.
[14] S.S. Bhatia, A. Spencer (1999), The Sikh Tradition: A Continuing Reality (Essays in History and Religion), (Publication Bureau Punjabi University, Patiala, India), p. 91.
[15] D. Singh (2004), Sikhism: A Comparative Study of its Theology and Mysticism, (Amritsar, Singh Brothers), p. 196.
[16] R.K. Rohi (1999), op. cit., p. 96.
[17] Ibid., pp. 145-6.
[18] R. Kaur (2003), God in Sikhism, (Secretary Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar), p. 52.
[19] Ibid., pp. 39-40.
[20] J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, op. cit., p. 459.
[21] Ibid., pp. 459-60.
[22] Fn.15: see Dasam Granth. Charitropakhyan, Verse 389.
[23] R.K. Rohi, op. cit., p. 102.
[24] Fn.16: Guru Granth Sahib, p.131, Trans. G. S. Talib.
[25] R.K. Rohi, op. cit., pp. 102-3.
[26] Fn.17: “Whatever is there isyour creation and all manifest your Glory.” – Guru Nanak Sahib, Shabad Hazare.
[27] Fn.18: Bhai Gurdas – Varan.
[28] R. Kaur, op. cit., p. 54.
[29] P. Singh, op. cit., p. 75.
[30] S.S. Gandhi (2007), History of Sikh Gurus Retold: 1469-1606 C.E. Vol. 1, (Atlantic Publishers & Distributors), pp. 131-2.
[31] R. Kaur, op. cit., p. 54.
[32] Ibid., p. 55.
[33] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 42.
[34] His confusion is soundly typified by his erroneous interpretation of the Qur’anic verse: “Is He not closer (to you) than the vein of the neck.” (50:16) as a referral to God’s Immanence in Islam. (Ibid., p. 42.).
However, a correct understanding of Allaah’s relationship with his creation has been accurately delineated by Dr Rohi:

Although, God alone creates with His will the whole of what ever exists with just the utterence [sic] of the one word (kun). It is created with His creative might, but the creator and the creation are not one in existence. The actual power or existence of the absolute power does not get diluted with His creative act. God remains in His complete absolute transcendence. In His essential nature God is and remains beyond the created universe. In fact, the self of God neither bears comparison nor analogy to the essence of the beings and things which are subject to perish. But, on the other hand, it no way means that God created the world and set it apart to move unsystematically and uncared for. God is continuously in relation to the world.
(R.K. Rohi, op. cit., p. 66)

She also states:

According to the Semitic ideology, God ordered in the word ‘be’ and there was the creation. But He Himself remained beyond the created universe, His actual and essential being is no way manifested in the creation. God is neither present in the creation by His essence nor His essential existence is diluted in the forms of the creation. He remains in His fully essential and absolutely transcendent nature and maintains His purely personal existence. His presence in the creation is only in the form of the presence of His laws which run the whole of the creation without any defect.
Sikhism, however, holds somewhat contrary position while explaining the same phenomenon of the creation. (Ibid., pp. 145-6.)

In Sikhism on the other hand, the rule of the world is not maintained by God from beyond the creation as is held in the Semitic tradition. Rather, it is administered from within the creation itself. God prevails in the creation not by His laws or knowledge alone, He is present in the creation as the essence of it as well. (Ibid., p. 48)

Allaah’s continuous relationship with the world is, for example, through His absolute, perfect Knowledge and Mercy encompassing all things. Hence, when Allaah says in the Qur’an that He is closer to us than our own jugular vein, the earliest and best of generations – the Pious Predecessors (Salaf us-Saalih) – understood this to mean Him being closer to us through His Divine Knowledge.

[35] D. Singh, op. cit., p. 189.
[36] J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, op. cit., p. 459.
[37] R. Kaur, op. cit., pp. 41-2.
[38] Ibid., p. 67.
[39] S.S. Bhatia, A. Spencer, op. cit., p. 91.
[40] P. Singh, op. cit., p. 123.
[41] Such as Prof G.S. Talib, who preposterously reasons that since “God is both Transcendent and Immanent, [it] does not mean that these are two phases of God one following the other. God is One, and He is both nirguna and sarguna“. (J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, op. cit., p. 111)
[42] D. Singh, op. cit., pp. 188-9.
[43] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 39.
[44] D. Singh, op. cit., p. 197.
[45] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 38.
[46] J.S. Mann, S.S. Sodhi, op. cit., p. 316.
[47] P. Singh, op. cit., pp. 32-3.
[48] Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751CE) said:

This is one of the greatest qualities of the scholars, for the Prophets are the best of the creation of Allaah, and their heirs are the best of creation after them. As everything that is inherited passes to the heirs, they are the ones who take his place after he is gone, and there is no one who can take the place of the Messengers in conveying that with which they were sent, except the scholars, who are the most entitled of people to their legacy. This indicates that they are the closest of people to them, for the inheritance only goes to the closest of people to the deceased. Just as this applies to the inheritance of dinars and dirhams, so it also applies to the inheritance of Prophethood; and Allaah singles out for His mercy whomsoever He wants. (Miftaah Daar al-Sa’aadah, 1/66)

[49] Abu Dawood, Sunan, 3641; At-Tirmithi, Sunan, 2683; Al-Albaani, Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood, 2/407.
[50] Fn.11: Majmoo’ul-Fataawaa, 5/206; Mukhtasarus-Sawaa’iq al-Mursalah, 1/232 and Badaa’i’ul-Fawaa’id, 1/168.
[51] A. ibn ‘A.-Q. as-Saqqaaf, (Trans.) D. Burbank (1999), General Principles Regarding Allaah’s Attributes, (Salafi Publications, Article ID: AQD030010), p. 1.
[52] Fn.12: Soorah Ibraaheem (14):27.
[53] Fn.13: Al-Qawaa’idul Muthlaa, p. 30.
[54] A. ibn ‘A.-Q. as-Saqqaaf, op. cit., pp. 1-2.
[55] Ibn Taymiyyah; commentary: M. K. Harras (1996), Sharh Al-Aqeedat-il-Wasitiyah, (Dar-us-Salam Publications), p. 33.
[56] Examples of Allaah’s transitive divine names:


NAME

AFFIRMING THE NAME

AFFIRMING THE ATTRIBUTE

RULING & IMPLICATION
Al-‘Aleem
Al-‘Aleem
(Omniscient)
Allaah has ‘knowledge’ Allaah’s knowledge encompasses all things; nothing is hidden from Him

Al-Khaaliq

Al-
Khaaliq (The Creator)
Allaah ‘creates’ Allaah is the creator of all things

[57] Abu I. A. Rafiq (1998), General Principles Regarding Allaah’s Names, (Salafi Publications, Article ID: AQD030007), p. 3.
[58] D. Singh, op. cit., p. 190.
[59] Ibid., p. 191.
[60] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 22.
[61] M. bin S. Al-‘Uthaimin (2009), Commentary on Shaikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah’s Al-‘Aqidah al-Wasitiyyah Vol.1, (Darussalam, Riyadh, KSA), p. 145.
[62] Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen differentiated between the two as follows:

Tamtheel is to acknowledge that something is equal (in all aspects) to something else, and Tashbeeh is to acknowledge that something is similar (in some aspects) to something else.
Therefore Tamtheel is to make a likeness between two things in all perspectives and Tashbeeh is to make a likeness between them in most of their characteristics. Sometimes they are used interchangeably.
(M. ibn S. al-‘Uthaymeen; trans. A.-R. Harrison (2004), Explanation of a Summary of al-‘Aqeedatul-Hamawiyyah of Ibn Taymiyyah, (Tarbiyyah Bookstore Publishing, Texas, USA), p. 26.)

[63] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 41.
[64] D. Singh, op. cit., p. 197.
[65] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 39.
[66] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari (2000), Commentary on the Creed of at-Tahawi, (Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Sa’ud Islamic University, Imadat Al-Bahth Al-‘Ilmi, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in America), pp. 49, 57, 61 .
[67] Ibid., pp. 49-50.
[68] M. ibn S al-‘Uthaymeen (2003), Exemplary Foundations Concerning the Beautiful Names and Attributes of Allaah, (T.R.O.I.D. Publications; Toronto, Ont., Canada), p. 56.
[69] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., pp. 49-50.
[70] D. Singh, op. cit., p. 190.
[71] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., p. 53.
[72] M. ibn S al-‘Uthaymeen, op. cit., p. 40.
[73] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., pp. 50-1.
[74] Y.J. Michot (2003), A Mamluk Theologian’s Commentary on Avicenna’s Risala Adhawiyya – Part 2, (Journal of Islamic Studies 14:3, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, May 2003), p. 310.
[75] Ibid., p. 329.
[76] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., pp. 50-1.
[77] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 21.
[78] S.S. Gandhi, op. cit., p. 130.
[79] Ibid., pp. 132-3.
[80] D. Singh, K. Singh, op. cit., p. 21.
[81] Ibid., p. 39.
[82] S.S. Bhatia, A. Spencer, op. cit., p. 202.
[83] Abu L. A. Rafiq, op. cit., p. 3.
[84] Ibid., 5/20.
[85] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu’ Fataawa, 12/311 see also 8/460.
[86] Ibid., 8/230.
[87] M. bin S. Al-‘Uthaimin, op. cit., p. 245.
[88] Ibid., p.169.
[89] Ibid, p.170.
[90] M. bin S. Al-‘Uthaymeen, (Trans.) S. as-Saleh (1998), Explanation of Aayat al-Kursi, (King Fahd National Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data, Riyadh), pp. 75-6.
[91] M. bin S. Al-‘Uthaimin, op. cit., p. 157.
[92] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit.,, p. 51.
[93] The Decisive Criterion between the Awliyaa (friends) of the Most Merciful and the Awliyaa of Shaytaan, p. 196.
[94] M. bin S. Al-‘Uthaymeen, (Trans.) S. as-Saleh, op. cit., pp. 88-9.
[95] D. Singh, K Singh, op. cit., p. 39.
[96] Fn.12: Soorah Ibraaheem (14):27.
[97] Fn.13: Al-Qawaa’idul Muthlaa, p. 30.
[98] A. ibn ‘A.-Q. as-Saqqaaf, op. cit., pp. 1-2.
[99] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., p. 55.
[100] Ibid., pp. 55-6.
[101] Ibid., p. 57.
[102] Ibid., pp. 55-6.
[103] Fn.22: Part of a hadith recorded by Muslim, Adh-Dhikr, 2713. Also see Abu Dawud, Al-Adab, 5051; At-Tirmidhi, Ad-Da’wat, 3397; Ibn Majah, Ad-Du’a 3873; Ahmad, 2:381, 404.
[104] Ibn Abi al-‘Izz, (Trans.) M. ‘A.-H. Ansari, op. cit., p. 35.
[105] Ibid., p. 55.

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One comment

  1. Here is a brief response to provide some understanding on Nirgun-Sargun aspects of the Supreme with reference to Divine names in Gurbani.
    While the Ultimate Reality is unknowable and beyond ordinary experiences through meditation on the Name or Naam, human consciousness can both expand and find ways to relate to the Divine. The nirgun and sargun aspects allow us to respectively expand our understanding and to also relate to our Creator with adoration, devotion and love.
    Nirgun (“transcendence”) and Sargun (“manifest”) may be described conveniently by an analogy as two sides of one coin.

    The analogy is, at the very least, an interesting one because while the coin as a whole is considered a single object, the two sides are always considered opposite to each other both in terms of location, and in terms of form. For instance, if we take the Sterling coin, then one side is always referred to as ‘heads’ while the other ‘tails’.

    Hence, what you’re intending to convey through the use of this analogy is that Waheguru is made up of two separate, distinct and opposite parts: one that’s transcendent and the other that’s not, or as he puts it manifest. But, this raises a most peculiar dilemma, and that is, how a single being can be both transcendent and not-transcendent at the same time? If words and concepts mean anything to Sikhs, then it’s not possible for something to manifest itself and still be transcendent. The very act of manifestation into or, more accurately vis-à-vis Sikh theology, as the world itself, would cause this being to cease being transcendent.

    On the one side are the Transcendent Gunas (“attributes) or Nirgun aspects.

    When you say “on the one side”, is he being figurative or literal? If Waheguru is comprised of bipolar opposites, then this must mean that what Arvind means by “on the one side” is very much literal, which in turn would mean that he believes God literally has two opposite sides!

    On the other are the Sangun or manifest attributes. Nirgun aspects are beyond normal human experience and for this reason they transcend our common, everyday experience of lived reality.

    But not our understanding of reality!

    For example, among nirgun names of the Ultimate Reality would include: Ajooni (Unborn), Saibhang (Self-existent), Akaal (Timeless i.e. Eternal), Satnaam (Eternal Name), Karta Purakh (Primal Agent), Nirbhau (Fearless), Nirvair (Without Hatred), and many other names.
    When we consider Nirgun names, they are attributes we have difficulty comprehending because all sentient being have experienced birth (and by implication death).

    But no difficulty understanding these attributes!

    All of us are dependent for our existence on something or someone else such as for our existence as human beings we required a mother and a father for conception. So, we cannot say that we are unborn or self-existent. Similarly, our existence is shaped by ravages of time as our physical bodies grow, age and then ultimately die. So we are certainly not timeless or eternal. At birth we were given a name but this name is temporal, it’s not eternal or a marker of our true identity. While we believe that we have full agency, our volition is in fact limited by the set of conditions available to us at any given time. Humans have many fears including the fear of death and due to these fears we often see division, enemies and rivals. The Ultimate Reality is free of these realities and therefore is Nirgun.

    And all this is not beyond our understanding even if it is beyond our full comprehension.

    A realized person, a Gurmukh, after meditating upon these nirgun qualities with Grace may also slowly develop these qualities in their own psyche.

    We’ll have to take your word for it because neither you nor any Gurmukh can prove that. Thus, on that basis, said claim lends no weight to this discussion.

    So we find: Nirbhau japai sagal bhau mitai – “meditating upon the Fearless, all fears vanish” (Guru Granth Sahib Ji, 293-8).

    If you/ GGS say so!

    Nirgun qualities as expressed through Divine Names and they allow us to rise above our human condition and develop a vision of the Sacred with God’s Mercy.

    If you say so!

    Sargun names provide a complimentary way for us to relate to the Divine with our heart and emotions, through developing a relationship with our Creator. These names include: Mata (Mother), Pita (Father), Preetam (Lover), Data or Datar (Giver), Thakur (Lord), Khasam (Husband), Antarjaami (Inner-knower), diaal (Compassionate), Patit Paavan (Restorer of the Fallen), Partipaalak (Cherisher of All), Dukh Bhanjan (Destroyer of Suffering), Kirpal (Merciful), Swami, Saa-ee (Lord) and numerous other names. These names develop a relationship between the person and the Supreme.
    Name of Naam and meditating upon the virtues/qualities or Gunas of the Divine requires both expansion of human consciousness from ordinary experiences limited by time and space in order to recognize the Ultimate Reality free of constraints as Infinite, Unlimited and Eternal. At the same time, devotion through developing a sincere path with the Supreme through Sagun names develops a sincere relationship with the Creator.

    That all sounds pretty and flowery, but does nothing to address our argument.

    The idea that Nirgun-Sagun names of the Divine are somehow incompatible with each other, or with the Unity and Oneness of the Ultimate Reality demonstrates a lack of understanding of Gurbani.

    If you’re going to make headway in any debate, you must start quoting whatever it is you wish to refute!

    In any case, to attempt to downplay this argument as merely an incompatibility between names is disingenuous. Similarly, the use of the word ‘incompatibility’ also misrepresents our argument, which is that the two sets of names are contradictory in nature.

    The Guru Granth Sahib Ji starts with Ikonkaar and that Unity permeates the whole of Mool Mantra and the entire Gurbani. While multiplicity and many-ness do exist in Nature, they never negate the essential Oneness. Even with two sides, two aspects of Names, the Divine, the Ultimate Reality is never divided, never two and remains United even in diversity. Gurbani is non-dual but those lacking understanding with see duality in it. By sincere reflection and with Divine Grace, such individuals may overcome their errors.

    If your claims cannot be proven rationally, then what worth are your claims?
    Let’s take the simple example of Waheguru’s timelessness. If concepts make any earthly sense to you, and if Waheguru is, as you claim, “never divided, never two and remains United even in diversity”, then how can a single, united essence be both timeless and within time (temporal)? That’s just now possible!

    The only way around this would be for you to admit to a bipolar nature of God where one half would be entirely transcendent, and thus, timeless; the other entirely non-transcendent, and thus, temporal. But, this would make no sense since it is impossible for something to remain timeless in relation to temporal events. What’s more, since Waheguru underwent both an intrinsic and extrinsic change with the becoming of creation, or more accurately, some part of him literally became creation, he cannot have a bipolar nature.

    Either way, the Nirgun-Sargun dichotomy is irrational making no sense whatsoever.

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