What about some assertions of certain saints?
Such famous saints as Muhy al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi, the author of al-Futuhat
al-Makkiya (literally, Makkan Openings), and Sayed ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili,
the writer of a well-known book named al-Insanu l-Kamil (the Universal Man)
tell about the seven layers of the earth, a place after the Mount Qaf, which
they call the White Earth, and a strange thing they name ‘Mashmashiya’. The
sciences of geography and geology do not, however, recognize such places,
nor indeed are there places with such names on the earth. If such assertions
of theirs are not true, how can they then be regarded as saints and people
of the truth?
They are both saints and people of the truth. What they saw has a reality
but they may have erred in interpreting their visions and in naming them.
Such men of vision cannot interpret their visions while they are in a
trance-like state, just as a man cannot interpret his dream while he is
still dreaming. Such visions can be interpreted only by the pure people of
truth and verification who are truly the heirs of the Prophetic mission.
Certainly, such people of vision come to be aware of their mistakes and
correct them and so they have done when they attain to the rank of people of
pure truth. Now consider the following parable in order to understand the
reality of this matter.
There were once two pious shepherds. They milked their animals,
collecting the milk in a wooden bowl and one of them laid a flute across the
bowl. Then one of them went to sleep. While he was sleeping, the other
noticed that something like a fly flew from his friend’s nose and after
buzzing around the milk for a while, went through the flute and disappeared
into a hole at the foot of a gum-tree. Shortly afterwards, the fly-like
thing came out of the hole and, passing through the flute again, came back
to the nose of the sleeping shepherd, causing him to wake up. When awake,
the shepherd told his companion that he had had a strange dream. ‘May God
turn it to goodness,’ his friend said, and asked him what he had dreamt.
Thus came the reply: ‘I saw a milky lake across which was lying a strange
bridge. It was a covered bridge with windows. I passed along the bridge, and
saw a place covered with tipped bushes, at the foot of which was a cave. I
went into the cave and found a treasure therein.’
His friend, who was a wise fellow, interpreted the dream like this: ‘The
milky lake you saw is that wooden bowl, and the strange bridge is this flute
of ours lying across it. The bushes are that gum-tree over there. As for the
cave, it is that small hole. Now, fetch the axe so that I can show you the
treasure.’ They dug the tree up and found the treasure, which would make
them both happy in the world.
Thus, what the man who had a sleep saw is not unreal, but he has no right
to make his vision correspond literally to the reality since he is liable to
confuse the non-material world with the material one. The waking man, on the
other hand, is competent to interpret the dream because he can distinguish
between the world of dream and the material one. What that tells us is that,
in order to reach the reality, one must distinguish between the material and
spiritual worlds. Consider that you have a small room with four walls each
of which is a mirror. When you enter this room, you will see multiple images
of it as if it were a town quarter. Now if you say that you see your room as
big as a town quarter, you will be right. But if you claim that your room is
really as big as a town quarter, this will be wrong since you have confused
the world of ideas with the material world.
Another point to be mentioned in this respect is that the descriptions
given by some discerning, pious people about the seven strata of the earth
should not be considered only from the viewpoint of geography. They speak,
for instance, of the stratum of the jinn, which is a thousand times as vast
as the earth itself. This is unrealistic, indeed. But, if we consider the
earth like the seed of a pine tree, then the ideal earth ‘tree’ to grow from
it in the world of ideas or of the spirits, will indeed be like a huge pine.
Because of this, some people of spiritual vision, during their progress on
the spiritual path, see some strata of the earth as very vast in the world
of the ideas. Since these two worlds, the world of the ideas and the
material world, resemble each other in appearance, the visionaries confuse
them and write down their visions as if they were the material facts. That
is why their descriptions are regarded as unrealistic. The fact is that just
as a big palace or a big garden is reflected in a mirror, so in the domain
of the earth can be reflected the world of ideas or spiritual realities a
thousand times as big as the earth.
Conclusion: This fact reveals that the rank of spiritual vision is
somewhat lower than the rank of belief in the Unseen. That is to say, the
conclusions that some saints reach through spiritual discovery carry little
weight when compared with those that are witnessed by the pure people of
truth and verification who rely on the Divine revelation, that is, on the
Qur’an and the Sunna. This means that all kinds of spiritual states and
visions, and the conclusions arrived at through contemplation and
intellectual intuition or spiritual discovery should be judged in the light
of the principles of the Qur’an and the Sunna, and of the standards derived
from them by the pure people of truth.