Pantheistic Tendencies in Islamic Mysticism
The following are excerpts from A History of Islamic Philosophy by Majid Fakhry, 3rd edition (pages 248-257), related to the pantheistic tendencies in Islamic mysticism.
'[T]here is little in the early Sufi ideal of life for which a basis cannot be found in the Koran and the Traditions, and Massignon is probably right in asserting that "from the Koran continually recited, meditated upon and practiced, Islamic mysticism proceeds in its origins and its development." The concepts of religious poverty (faqr), meditation (fikr, dhikr), fortitude (sabr), renunciation (zuhd), and even the love of God and His contemplation can be shown to be a logical development from that other-worldly strain in the Koran to which we have already referred. What might be rightly regarded as a non-Islamic component of Sufism is the tendency in the writings and practices of the earliest Sufis to go beyond the ritual aspect of the religious law (al-Shariah) and to reach out to a reality (Haqiqah) that thoroughly transcends it. It signifies that in this process of reaching out, not only the law, but even Muhammad, as the vehicle of divine revelation, are dispensed with and the believer desires a direct fellowship or communion with God.'
'Despite those inherent tendencies, the early mystics remained generally firm in their adherence to orthodoxy. Even al-Junaid, who had sown the seeds of a unitary mysticism conditioned by Hindu concepts of the self, did not draw all the possible logical consequences that later and bolder spirits were to draw.
Of these bolder men who became so "intoxicated" with divine love that they could not help taking the final step across the pantheistic abyss, the two best known in the ninth century are al-Bistami (al-Bastami) and al-Hallaj.'
'Whatever the constructions that have been put upon them by later scholars, al-Bastami's "extravagances" (shatahat) bear on the general mystical themes of ecstasy or union with God and imply a clear presupposition of self-deification.'
'The Hindu influence on this type of mysticism has been shown by Zaehner to be unmistakable. There is a clear link to Vedantic metaphysics not only in the case of al-Bastami's Indian master, al-Sindi, who taught him some "ultimate truths", but also in the very complexion of his thought and its "nihilistic" implications. Al-Bastami lived at a time in which the revival and systematization of Vedantic thought itself was being actively pursued by Shankara (d. 820) and his school. His ecstatic utterances, such as the already quoted "Glory be to me" (Subhani) or "I am Thou" or "I am I," all purport to assert his total self-identification with the divine and have numerous parallels in the Upanishads and the Vedanta. Perhaps the wildest of all his utterances in the one in which he speaks of his search for God: he could not find God and therefore took His place on the Throne.'
'How a Muslim could make such extravagant claims that placed him almost above God and yet go unscathed in the ninth century is truly surprising. However, a note made by later authors gives us the clue to this problem. When al-Bastami was accused of laxity in the performance of his ritual duties, we are told, he resorted to the expedient which other Sufis also employed: affected madness. This device apparently saved his life as well as the lives of numerous fellow Sufis.
There was one ninth-century Sufi, however, who was not willing to resort to this dodge, and the price he paid for his extravagances was very high. Al-Husain b. Mansur al-Hallaj...'
'[The] condition of personal communion with the I-Thou is what he called the 'essence of union' ('ain al-jam'), in which all actions, thoughts, and aspirations of the mystic are wholly permeated by God. But, according to him, this union did not result, as it had in the case of al-Bastami, in the total destruction or nullification of the self, but rather in its elevation to joyful and intimate communion with the Beloved.'
'[He] was finally convicted on the charge of blasphemy by decree of a canonical jury... and was countersigned by the caliph. ...[A]lthough he had been ordered to be whipped and decapitated by the caliph, in an excess of zeal, the vizier ordered him to be whipped, mutilated, crucified, decapitated, cremated, and his remains scattered to the four winds. Nothing like this had ever happened in the whole history of Muslim piety.'
However, these pantheistic tendencies were soon countered by post-Hallajian mystics, who were too eager to make mysticism compatible with orthodoxy:
'The great figures in the history of post-Hallajian mysticism, such as al-Ghazali and Ibn Arabi, addressed themselves primarily to the task of systemization or synthesis.... [al-Ghazali] A man of greater learning and intellectual earnestness than any of his masters, he pledged his full support to orthodoxy and bent his efforts to bringing everything he cherished into harmony with it.... Without divorcing himself explicitly from the extravagant Sufis referred to earlier, and whom he sometimes reproaches for divulging what ought to have remained secret, al-Ghazali like his master al-Junayd artfully skirts the pantheistic abyss without falling into it. His mysticism might then be looked upon as an attempt to give the monotheistic ideal of Islam a greater degree of metaphysical cogency.'