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What is the concept of hoolol in Sufuism?

From my understand it is the concept that that Allah dwells in the creation? This to me opens the door to great forms of shirk as this seems a concept from Hinduism.

As i have herd such statements among the sufis : Ibn Arabi said, "العبد رب و الرب عبد" or "al-abd-u rabb-un wa-r-rabb-uabd-un" (the slave is the lord and the lord is the slave)."

In my understanding Allah resides above al-arsh : The Most Merciful [who is] above the Throne established.(Quraan 20:5)

This to me is a concept very far from Islam and the tawheed of Allah. Pleases help me to understand this concept and its validity as this is very confusing to me.

  • I'd appreciate hearing any objection you might have to my answer. Feel free to comment. – infatuated Aug 3 '16 at 2:51
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What is hulool

Shortly one could say hulool الحلول is incarnation. It means that one thing is absorbed or incarnated in an other thing by a complete mixing. It's usually an expression used by those who pretend that Allah may incarnate in one of his creations and be unified with it. (See also this fatwa in Arabic)

This is one of the esoteric terms of 'aqidah that are mostly used by sufis. You may also find

... Hulool and ittihaad الاتحاد (union with the divine) – which includes the term wahdat al-wujood وحدة الوجود (“unity of being”). (Taken from the following fatwa/source)

Here some more details from this fatwa:

Al-Jarjaani (may Allah have mercy on him) said:

Complete hulool is the union of two bodies in such a way that pointing to one is also pointing to the other, such as the juice in an orange.

Incomplete hulool is when one of the two entities acts as a vessel containing the other, such as water in a jug. (At-Ta‘reefaat, p. 92.)

This is what is meant by hulool: affirmation of two entities, one of which is present in the other.

What is meant by this word as used by Sufis and others is the incarnation or presence of Allah – may He be glorified and exalted – in His creation or in some of His creation.

Hulool may be divided into two types:

  1. General hulool, which is the belief that Allah, may He be exalted, is present in all things.

But this hulool is similar to the idea of the incarnation of the divine (i.e., the Creator God) in the human (i.e., the created being), whilst affirming that the two entities are distinct and separate; in other words, He is not unified with the one in whom He is present, rather He is everywhere yet separate. Thus this is confirmation of two separate entities.

  1. Specific hulool, which is the belief that Allah – may He be glorified and exalted – is present in some of His creation, whilst believing that there is a Creator and a created being.

Hulool and ibn 'Arabi

First of all note that ibn 'Arabi ابن عربي is not ibn al-'Arabi أبو بكر بن العربي the maliki fiqh, hadith and tafsir scholar. But ibn 'Arabi was a dhahiri so through him the knowledge and books of ibn Hazm a-dhahiri was spread in the middle east. Both are borne in al-Andalus but there's at least one century time difference between both of them.

Ibn 'Arabi rejected both hulool and itihad saying:

من قال بالحلول فدينه معلول، وما قال بالاتحاد إلا أهل الإلحاد

which means: Who affirmed hulool (incarnation) his religion is unhealthy (ill), and none affirmed al-Itihaad (unity or uniffication) expect the apostates.
Note that the Arabic Wikipedia site on him seems to emphasize that only ibn Khaldun and ibn Zor'ah al-'Iraqi declared him as kafir etc.. While scholars like a-Dhahbi, al-Manawi and ibn Taymiyyah mostly didn't give much comments on him or just quoted him or quoted what others said about him without any own annotation.

The statement of ibn 'Arabi

His full statement is:

العبد رب والرب عبد يا ليت شعري من المكلف

This is an indication to what one could conclude from the sahih hadith.
The more one gets close to Allah by doing ordered worships first and adding the more and more of optional worships and good deeds the more one gets a level where one is worshiping Allah as if one could see him and he would be guided by Allah in his actions (for details read this fatwa).

So yes if taken literally the verse seems clearly indicating kufr, but (maybe) one must look behind the letters and words to understand the meaning.

  • +1 For supplying a critical perspective with sources (although islamqa doesn't seem like a credible authority on Sufi thought to me). That said, your answer (and probably any answer to such a sophisticated topic) has the potential for many ambiguities arising from the terms and definitions. Sufi terms can be used in a variety of very nuanced senses depending on the author and context. Therefore it is a difficult job to fully understand what any Sufi thought on such sophisticated topics through isolated quotes and commentaries by non-Sufi scholars. – infatuated Aug 4 '16 at 10:05
  • @infatuated I'm not familiar with sufism, but I try to see different perspectives, so yes I quoted fatwas from islamqa -IMO an ambivalent but often useful source, even if they seem not to answer my Questions ;)- and other sources. – Medi1Saif Aug 4 '16 at 10:09
  • Yes, and I was also going to post another comment: there's also the problem of inaccurate translation of the terms. For example the penultimate statement you quoted from Ibn Arabi is understood as rejecting the idea of unity between Allah and creation, which is really a misleading attribution since Ibn Arabi is widely known for his belief in and extensive thoughts on the Sufi doctrine of Unity of Existence. – infatuated Aug 4 '16 at 10:10
  • The problem is the identical translation of two different concepts in Sufi jaron, i.e. اتحاد and وحدت. The former should be translated to "unification" while the latter to "unity" and therefore the quote in question which talks about اتحاد rather than وحدت is rejecting unification of Allah and creation not unity which would be also consistent with Ibn Arabi's belief in Unity of Existence. – infatuated Aug 4 '16 at 10:10
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Salaam! This is rightly a very sensitive issue! It is true that misconception of the doctrine of omnipresence leads to blasphemous assumptions like equating God with creation.

But it's a faulty approach to try to do away with an apparently blasphemous statement by selectively quoting Quranic verses. Because just as one can highlight some verses to indicate Divine transcendence such as the verse 20:5 that apparently you quoted to argue that God is fully separate from creation, one can also quote verses that apparently suggest the very contrary, that God is united with and present within creation? Consider these examples:

  • "He is the apparent and the hidden" (57:3), verse that if literally understood, implies that God is virtually everything because all things are either apparent like the natural universe or hidden such as angels, so we can summarize the verse by saying "He is everything" or "He is the creation" which would resemble the Sufi statement that you have quoted!

  • "He is with you wherever you be"(57:4) and "We are closer to him than his vein"?! (50:16) The question that these verses raise is that how God can always accompany us and be closer to us than our vein without becoming subject to time and space or becoming part of the creation?

If one closely studies the Sufi works he will realize that their thoughts have been an outcome of deep contemplation of these very perplexing aspects of the Holy Quran. One can opt for the Ash'arite or Salafi solution (or non-solution) which is to abstaining totally from any attempt at making sense of these troubling aspects of the Quran but the Sufi argument is that through exercise of intellect and spiritual insight one can get closer to the true essence of the ambiguous aspects of the Divine scripture.

So the worst way to approach the profound thoughts of the Sufis is to approach them from a background of superficial prejudice and to quote their statements out of context and then expect ourselves to correctly comprehend them based on our primitive conceptions. The result is typically ending up associating things to the prominent figures in Sufi wisdom such as Ibn Arabi that they had never meant such as the allegation of holul i.e. Divine physical incarnation in created beings which is only a misconception of the implications of the Sufi theory of Unity of existence.

This is a general precaution in regards with approaching Sufi thought that I found very noteworthy since the consequence of the widespread anti-Sufi prejudice in the Ummah has been discouraging thousands of intelligent Muslims that could otherwise deeply benefit from the profound wisdom of Sufi metaphysics that who have managed to come up with very intelligent solutions to the perennial questions of theology that have belittled theologians of past religions.

But focusing on your particular question, fortunately there have been two questions and answers in the past on this site that respectively explain away your issue with what seems to be the equation of God and His creation in Sufi literature and the allegation of holul, and provide a broad outline of Sufi ontology crucial for correct interpretation of their actual meaning. So please have a look at: Does Allah exist in life forms? and The concept of eternity in Islam.

  • I'd appreciate to read objections to my answer by the down-voter or any readers. Thanks! – infatuated Aug 3 '16 at 2:54
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    Contentious issues get obstinate reactions from downvoters, regardless of how truthful the answer. – G. Bach Aug 3 '16 at 14:30
  • +1: It's an interesting answer to an interesting question and makes me want to know more; it's a pity such questions which are part of the esoteric side of Islam are too little understood and so easily down-voted, as opposed to its exoteric aspects. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 4 '16 at 7:18
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    @MoziburUllah, Indeed! I understand the marginalization of esoteric religion as the marginalization of true religion itself! But I also believe the Muslim Ummah had already stepped on this path when Ali ibn Abi Talib who was the first bearer of Islam's esoteric wisdom was isolated after the Prophet's passing. But thankfully due to the efforts of Ali's descendants and the thinkers that they inspired esoteric Islam was never passed into eternal oblivion. – infatuated Aug 4 '16 at 7:34

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