Sunday, September 30, 2012

Fana and Baqa Infinities of Islam

Infinities

Shono Momin Musalmano,
Kori Ami Nibedono
E Duniya Fana Hobe
Jeneo Jano na!

Hearken O Faithful Muslims,
How do you act ignorant while knowing
fully well that this cosmic world
(and your 'own' world, too) is going
to meet annihilation, soon!

 ~ A popular Bengali Song, translated in approx. meaning


Dr. Liaquat Ali Khan's paper titled: Fana and Baqa Infinities of Islam: Approaches to Islamic Law and Behavior is an excellent reading for those who are interested to delve into a broader implication of the Quranic terms Fana and Baqa in the reality paradigm, specially how the concept relates to human law and Divine Law. Dr. Khan is currently serving as Professor of Law at Washburn University and have produced some noteworthy works in the field of International Law, Islamic Law and Democracy. The scholarly paper on Fana and Baqa is made available in the public domain and a part of this paper: 'Introduction' and 'Fana and Baqa Attributes' is shared in this post.

Introduction


Jalaluddin Rumi’s poem narrating the conversation between the lover and the beloved captures the essence of fana (transient) and baqa (eternal) infinities. The lover comes to see the beloved and knocks at the door. The beloved asks: “Who’s there?” The lover replies: “It’s me.” The door is not opened. The lover goes away to perfect his longing for the beloved. Years later, the lover returns and knocks at the door. The beloved asks: “Who is it?” The lover replies: “You.” The door is opened.

This mystical narrative captures a Sufi truth that ego cannot reach the eternal love of God. The lover’s self-annihilation (fana) and complete submission to the beloved’s will is the inevitable precondition for the lover to experience eternal (baqa) love. The poem also captures the submission principle, a cardinal belief of Islam, under which Muslims, as individuals and communities, forego ego and completely submit to the Will of God.

Ego and love cannot coexist, but ego and law can. Secular law emanating from human ego can establish order and justice. Secular law anchored in human ego, however, mounts barriers to the understanding of God’s Law. Only when positive (man-made) law submits to the supremacy of the Word of God can human beings obtain the benefits of God’s Law. This willingness to submit positive law to God’s Law revealed in divine texts is the paradigmatic definition of Islamic law...

In popular vocabulary, “infinity” describes something everlasting or something that cannot be fully comprehended. God, space, time, and numbers have been associated with infinity... In this article, I use the word infinity in two distinct senses. First, I use it to describe the seemingly unending evolution, and eventual annihilation, of the physical universe whose beginning and end are unknown and uncertain; this is fana infinity. Additionally, I use infinity to describe permanence, timelessness, afterlife, and God’s Law; this is baqa infinity. The two infinities are related and yet they are mutually exclusive. Under Islam, what is permanent is not subject to evolution and annihilation, and vice versa. Thus, fana and baqa infinities describe two distinct dimensions of Islamic law, which are critical for understanding the sources of Islamic law and their socio-psychological influence on Muslim attitudes and conduct.

In Islam, fana and baqa infinities are not merely theoretical constructs for the consumption of theological elites. They also carry immense practical meaning for ordinary believers in their worldly affairs. These infinities bear upon core beliefs of the Islamic faith. Based on these conceptions of infinity, for example, Muslims believe that positive law (human law) is ephemeral but God’s Law is eternal. They also believe that the physical universe is transient but afterlife is everlasting. Believing Muslims conduct their lives seeking rewards both in the physical world and in the afterlife. For them, any notion of law that ignores, sets aside, or opposes the relevance of the afterlife and focuses exclusively on rewards and punishments rendered in the worldly life is inherently defective, for it fails to understand the normative hierarchy of Islamic law.

Fana and Baqa Attributes


The Qur’an uses fana and baqa paradigms to state that everything in the physical universe will perish except the face of God. The fana infinity intimates both the evolution and the annihilation of the physical universe. The physical universe is a phenomenal cosmos that is changing, expanding, and contracting in infinite ways that are both known and unknown to human beings. The Qur’an captures the ceaseless evolution of the physical universe in the words kun fayakoon, that is, “be and it is.”

In the words of Iqbal, an early twentieth century Muslim philosopher, kun fayakoon are not the words that God spoke just once at the time of creation. These words are the divine music of an ever-evolving, infinite physical universe. Montgomery Watt and Richard Bell, in commenting on numerous verses of the Qur’an, also note “God’s continuing activity in the present.” Kun fayakoon thus attests to constant unfolding of the physical universe. In recorded history, human beings have been continuously discovering new systems of knowledge that organize and move the physical universe. The unceasing evolution of the infinite physical universe, however, is beyond the full comprehension of human intellect.

Centuries before Islam presented the notions of fana and baqa infinities, Greek, Hindu, and Zoroastrian systems furnished insightful introductions to these infinities. The Greek literature, particularly Aristotle’s writings, which cultivated early Islamic philosophy and theology, clarified theoretical and practical understandings of fana infinities, including temporal, spatial, and mathematical infinities. Aristotle came close to understanding the baqa infinity when he distinguished between actual infinity and potential infinity to argue that actual infinity can be recognized in concept but not in reality. Greeks found the practical application of baqa infinity in the repetition of tasks. The Greek gods punished Sisyphus, a deceitful king who believed he was smarter than Zeus, by condemning him to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill only to watch helplessly while the boulder, just before reaching the top of the hill, rolled back down, forcing Sisyphus to start this endless drudgery again and again. This punishment was derived from a rudimentary concept of baqa infinity.

While the Greeks wrestled with baqa infinity, the Persians perfected the notion of fana infinity. Persian Zoroastrianism adopted a fana definition of the physical universe proclaiming that “God made the world in one day; he will one day destroy it.” Hindus captured the distinction between baqa and fana infinities by constructing the concept of endless reincarnation, a concept similar to Sisyphus’s punishment. Hinduism, however, offered non-being, achievable through good deeds, as the ultimate baqa infinity that defeats the cyclical infinity of life.

Under Islam, the fana infinity captures both the evolution and annihilation of the physical universe. God’s Law predicts the folding up of the physical universe. According to the Qur’an, the mountains, which represent the metaphorical durability of the material world, will be uprooted and scattered like dust. Even during the life-tenure of the physical universe, evolution and annihilation are its constitutive elements. Witness the evolution and annihilation of animals, birds, plants, and other organisms that inhabit the physical universe. Each life form evolves and replicates itself for an unlimited period of time. Potentially, every life form is infinite with no sunset provision on its longevity. Yet nature discontinues life forms.

While natural forces are primarily responsible for the extinction of life species, human beings may also unintentionally, unknowingly, or deliberately participate in destroying specific species of animals, birds, and plants. The extinction of dinosaurs, an animal species that evolved over millions of years, testifies to the natural fana of the life species in the physical universe. Likewise, human beings constitute an infinite life species. There is no assurance, however, that the human life will continue to exist as it has for millions of years. The Basic Code predicts the worldly fana of the human species. What appears to be infinite in the physical universe is indeed finite. The idea that the physical universe will ultimately be destroyed is a core Islamic belief and a foundational principle of Islamic law. The baqa (eternal) infinity is the complementary Islamic belief that further highlights the fana infinity. God’s Law revealed in divine texts is the manifestation of baqa infinity.

Some 8,000 light-years away, Eta Carinae,
a star a hundred times more massive than the sun
is approaching it's own fana or annihilation
The physical universe and the systems of knowledge, which animate cosmic phenomena, follow God’s Law. Nothing in the physical universe or its systems of knowledge is arbitrary, chaotic, or out of God’s control. According to Ibn Arabi, God’s Law is the spirit of the physical universe. God’s Law preceded the creation of the physical universe and it will survive the annihilation of the physical universe. Likewise, God’s Law that animates the human body does not die with the physical death of the human body. In this sense, fana and baqa infinities coexist in the physical universe.

Everything in the physical universe and beyond submits to God’s Law as preserved in umm al-kitab, the Mother Book. God’s Law is revealed to human beings through divine texts, including the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Avesta, the Torah, the Gospels, and the Qur’an. The Qur’an affirms God’s Law revealed in prior divine texts, clarifying confusions and misunderstandings. According to Islamic belief, the Qur’an has perfected God’s Law for human beings. This perfected divine law cannot be modified, altered, or set aside. God’s Law revealed in divine texts is immutable.

Secular and atheistic ideologies may challenge the epistemology of baqa sources. For example, ideologies like communism deny the existence of God and God’s Law. These types of ideologies may also disregard the related beliefs such as afterlife as irrational and unverifiable concoctions.

Persons who reject God’s Law, however, may still recognize the infinities of the physical universe. In addition to God’s Law, afterlife is part of baqa infinity. On the day of reckoning, human beings will be resurrected and they will face God’s justice and mercy in accordance with God’s Law. After justice has been done to each soul to the minutest level, a new life will begin. This new life, located in post-resurrection spatio-temporality (hell and paradise), is eternal “a place beyond which there is no beyond.”

No divine text intimates that afterlife will also end. In fact, there are strong indications in the Qur’an that post-resurrection life will last forever. As noted in the introduction, baqa and fana infinities inform the practical enterprise and dynamics of Islamic law. They determine the actual behavior of Muslims toward families, communities, and non-Muslims. These infinities illuminate the two distinct sources of Islamic law, one divine and permanent, and the other human and subject to change, though the two sources are related. The following discussion explores these sources of Islamic law and their internal relationship.

In the realm of law, two factors distinguish fana infinity from baqa infinity. First, what belongs to fana infinity experiences an endless process of progressive and regressive change. Cultures and communities that human beings construct, as well as the natural universe, which God created, are both dynamic and evolutionary - a phenomenon frequently described in popular maxims such as “everything changes” or “nothing stays the same.”

In contrast to fana infinity, baqa infinity remains the same; it is not evolutionary. The chief characteristic of baqa infinity is its immunity from change. What is evolutionary cannot be permanent and what is permanent cannot change. In the physical universe, some objects and systems are more durable than others, but all are subject to regressive deterioration. Likewise, positive laws are subject to transformation and have no permanence. Some positive laws are more durable than others, but no positive law is permanent in form, shape, or content. Fana infinity is the normal state of positive law.

Second, what belongs to fana infinity is subject to dissolution and eventual annihilation. Numerous life forms, including birds, animals, and plants, which replicate themselves for centuries, meet extinction. The life of a human individual is finite and transient, though the constitutive material of the human body is indestructible. By contrast, the human species as a life form is ceaselessly reproducing itself. The human species may also be evolving intellectually and spiritually. Despite its evolution, the human species possesses certain durable definitional characteristics that distinguish it from other species. According to natural probability, however, the human species cannot last forever. According to Islamic belief, the human species will cease to exist and will be resurrected on the Day of Judgment.

On both counts, the human species is not permanent. It is evolutionary as long as it survives. Positive law is also subject to dissolution. Statutes, customs, and constitutions - all bodies of positive law - are impermanent and face extinction.

According to Islam, transience is the sine qua non of all creation, including time, space, and life forms. The fana infinity of time, space, and life forms is fragile because all creation is subject to annihilation. All human affairs are subject to the logic of change and obliteration. Permanence has been denied to human acts, human ideologies, human constructs, and positive law. Nothing that human beings do is eternal. Only God and God’s Word are permanent.

Relying on distinctions between baqa and fana infinities, the following sections discuss the transience of positive law and the permanence of the Islamic Basic Code. The discussion highlights the conceptual and functional differences between positive law and the Basic Code.

[+] Continue your reading | You may read the full article from here.


Another paper by L. Ali Khan titled, The Paradoxical Evolution of Law presents law’s evolution as a paradoxical union of the finite and the infinite. At any given point in time, law is a finite body of norms, which can be identified. At the same time, law’s evolution is infinite because rule-mutations that alter those norms are indeterminable. In modern legal systems, law’s evolution occurs under the constraining influence of master texts, which provide normative durability by enshrining the fundamental norms of a legal system and fortifying them against change. Despite this stabilizing role, however, master texts are themselves open to mutations. Therefore, law’s evolution under the constraints of a master text mediates the paradoxical union of law’s finite and infinite nature. The paper may be accessed here (PDF).

* Selected Works of Liaquat Ali Khan
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