Can modern Physics explain Wahdat-al-Wujud ?


Reprinted with permission from Dr. Fariduddien Rice

Dr. Rice has a Ph.D. in Physics and works as a postdoctoral research fellow in quantum physics. He currently resides in Australia.  Here are two letters written by two different people concerning Wahdat-al-Wujud and Sufi technical terminology and what follows are Dr. Rice's excellent responses to them.

The first correspondent "rombios786" said: 

"I have studied modern physics (sub-atomic particle physics) and found a great similarity with Wahdat-al-Wujud doctrine. It seems that every sub-atomic particle is interconnected and makes a whole unity, exactly what Wahdat-al-Wujud says."

Dr. Rice replied:

I would caution you against making this kind of connection. "Wahdat al-Wujud" is a statement regarding Allah, whereas physics is the study of Allah's creation. To my understanding, Wahdat al-Wujud is not about creation. I think a good article about Wahdat al-Wujud can be found by Ustadha Umm Sahl, at this address.

As for studying physics, Allah's creation is miraculous, and it is a pleasure to study the miraculousness of Allah's creation. 

Men who celebrate the praises of Allah, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the (wonders of) creation in the heavens and the earth, (with the thought):  "Our Lord! not for naught hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee!  Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire." [Qur'an 3:191, Yusuf Ali translation]
I think this wonder at Allah's creation can be found in many branches of physics, from quantum physics, to special and general relativity, to nuclear and particle physics. We are lucky we live in a time where we can learn so much about the wonders of Allah's creation.  I think this is enough reason to put in the time and effort to study science.  The truth is, the more you know, the more you are amazed!  (At least this is my experience!)

As the Qur'an repeatedly says, the phenomena in nature are among the Signs of Allah, so we certainly should have people in the Ummah who study the Signs of Allah....  (It is a lucky job to have.) 

A second correspondent "Araeen" said:

. . ."look for instance at the article by Nuh's wife, Umm Sahl, which you had referred. [See link above]. She has cleverly re-interpreted Wahdat-al-wujud and deflected all criticism from Nabulsi. When she came to a matter she could possibly not  reinterpret, she acknowledged her inability, 

"As for Sheikh `Abd al-Ghani "taking his information from the Preserved Tablet  of Allah", what could he have meant by this? I honestly don't know..." 

I praise her for her honesty. But it reveals the manhaj (methodology) of later  Sufis like herself. 

How are they able to make their ta'weel convincing? Simple. They say you just see the surface of the words, you are unfamiliar with what the Sufis ACTUALLY  mean by these statements, hence you are bound to misunderstand. 

What is the reply to them? Simple. Those words written by the ones they try to defend are not in a language incomprehensible to mankind, it is Arabic. There  is no hidden meaning to these words. If we were to follow this track, then Christians and polythiests can also be absolved!!!

Dr. Rice replied:

There is a fundamental flaw in Araeen's argument, which is essentially his apparent argument that technical terminology can be understood by all laypeople.

Often, what we are discussing when we refer to specific Sufi terminology is what is really a type of technical terminology.  It is analogous to technical terminology in other fields.  The reason it is used is the same reason that such terminology is used in other fields of knowledge -- so that things can be referred to in a very specific way, to others who are also very familiar with the specific area of knowledge.

Here is an analogous example, from physics.  It is the beginning of the abstract from a paper which is in front of me right now:

"We theoretically investigate the quantum interference of entangled two-photon states generated in a nonlinear crystal pumped by  femtosecond optical pulses."
The above sentence is in English.  From Araeen's argument, he says it is clear and understandable.  However, clearly in practice, the above sentence may not make much sense unless you know something about the technical topics it refers to, specifically, unless you knew what 'quantum interference,' 'entangled two-photon states,' a 'nonlinear crystal,' and 'femtosecond optical pulses' were.

It is similar for Sufi terminology. Sufis speak of certain states and experiences, which would be impossible to understand unless you had some experience of them yourself.  To specifically describe these states, they can use a highly specific technical terminology.  If you haven't had any taste of these experiences, you are liable to completely misinterpret what is being spoken about....

And Allah knows best.

As-Salaamu Alaikum

Dr. Fariduddien Rice