The Levels of RealityJanuary 23, 2022
Even though human reality is a uniform element, it has different levels which lead to different realities.
Level 1 is made up of our external sense perception, our worldly thoughts such as that for making a living
Level 2 is made up of sleep as perception by the imagination.
Man lets the perceptions of his imagination rove in his inward (being). With his external senses, he perceives some of them as unencumbered by time, place, or any other condition of the body. He sees them in places where he (himself) is not.
If they are good, they present him with the glad tidings of pleasure he may expect in this world and the other world as our truthful (Prophet) promised.
These two levels are shared by all human individuals, but, as one has seen, they differ as to the way perceptions are attained in them.
- Level 3 is that of prophecy.
It is restricted to the noblest representatives of humankind by virtue of the fact that God has distinguished them through the knowledge of Himself and (the declaration of) His oneness, through His revelation brought to them by His angels, and through the obligation to achieve the improvement of mankind with respect to conditions altogether different from the outward human conditions.
- Level 4 is death.
Here, human individuals leave their outward life for an(other) existence before the Resurrection. (That existence) is called Purgatory (barzakh), 434 In it, they enjoy bliss or receive punishment, depending on their activities (while alive). Then, they come to the Great Resurrection, where they receive the great reward, that is, either bliss in Paradise or punishment in Hell.
Level 1 and 2 are attested by intuition 435.
Level 3 is attested by the prophetic miracles.
Level 4 is attested to by the divine revelation given to the prophets (and which speaks) of revivification, 436 the conditions of Purgatory(barzakh), and the Resurrection. Moreover, logic requires its (existence).
God has called our attention to that in many verses concerned with the rising (of the dead). The best argument for the correctness (of these verses) is that if, apart from their visible (existence in this world), human individuals had no existence after death, where they will encounter conditions befitting them, it would have been something frivolous to create them in the first place. If death is non-existence, it would mean the return of the individual to non-existence. In that case, there would have been no sense in creating them in the first place. It is, however, absurd to assume that the wise (Deity) would act frivolously. 437
Now, after (the existence of) the four levels has been established, we want to explain how human perceptions with regard to those four levels clearly differ. This will reveal the intricacy of (the problem of) ambiguity.
At Level 1, human perceptions are clear and obvious.
God says= “God brought you forth from the wombs of your mothers. You did not then know anything. And He gave you hearing and vision and hearts.” 438 With the help of these perceptions, man is able to master the habits of knowledge, to perfect his human reality, and to satisfy the requirements of divine worship which brings him to salvation.
At Level 2, human perceptions are the same as those of external sense perception. Although the limbs of the body are not used as they are in the waking state, yet the person who has a (dream) vision ascertains everything perceived by him in his sleep without any doubt or misgiving.
The limbs of the body are not employed in their ordinary manner.
Concerning the real character of this state, people are divided into two groups:
The philosophers assume that imaginary pictures are transmitted by the imagination through the motion of thinking to the “common sense” which constitutes the connecting link between external and inner sensual perception. As a result, (these pictures) are represented as something perceived in the external (world) by all the senses. The difficulty here is that true visions from God or the angels are more firmly and definitely perceived than visions of Satanic imaginations, although the imagination active in both is one and the same, as the (philosophers) have established.
The second group is that of the speculative theologians. Their summary statement of the problem is that it is a kind of perception created by God in (the realm of) the senses, and thus takes place in the same way that (perception) takes place in the waking state.
This (explanation) is better, even though we are not able to perceive how it takes place.
Perception in sleep is the clearest evidence (we have) for the fact that sensual perception operates at the subsequent levels. It is not known to us 439 how sensual perception takes place on the third level-that of the prophets - but they themselves have a more than certain (knowledge of) perception through intuition. The Prophet sees God and the angels.
He hears God’s speech from God Himself or from the angels. He sees Paradise, Hell, and the divine throne and chair. He breaks through the seven heavens in his ascension. 440 He rides al-Buraq 441 and meets the prophets in (the seven heavens) and prays with them.
He perceives all kinds of sensual perceptions, exactly as he perceives them at the levels of body and sleep, (but) through a kind of necessary knowledge that God creates for him, and not through ordinary human perception by means of the limbs of the body.In this connection, no attention should be paid to Avicenna’s remarks.
He brings prophecy down to the level of sleep and says that the imagination transmits a picture to the “common sense.” 442 The argument against the (philosophers) in this connection is (even) stronger in the case of sleep (dream visions). As we have established, that process of transmission (by the imagination) is by nature one and the same. In this way, revelation and prophetic dream vision would in reality be identical as to their certainty and reality. However, this is not so, as one knows from the dream vision of the Prophet just six months before the Revelation.
The dream was the beginning of the Revelation and the prelude to it, which shows that, in reality, it is inferior to (revelation). The same follows from the process of revelation itself. It was a very difficult matter for the Prophet, as is stated in sound tradition (the Sahih). 443 The Qur’an was (at the beginning) revealed to him in individual verses.
Later on, the (long) ninth surah (al-Bara’ah) was revealed to him in one piece during the expedition to Tabuk while he was riding on his camel. 444 If the revelation had merely been the result of a process whereby thinking descends to the imagination and from the imagination to the “common sense,” there would not have been any difference between those stages (of the revelation).
At level 4 - that of the dead in Purgatory (barzakh), which starts with the grave when they are free from the body, or during their rising when they reassume a body -the dead do have sensual perceptions. In his grave, a dead person sees two angels who question him. 445 With the two eyes of his head, he sees the seat he will occupy in either Paradise or Hell. He sees the persons who attend the burial and hears what they say, and he hears the tapping of their shoes when they leave him.
He hears the (declaration of the) oneness of God or the affirmation of the two confessions of faith which they suggest to him, 446 and other things. According to sound tradition (the Sahih), the Messenger of God was standing at the well of Badr into which the dead Qurashite polytheists had been thrown .447
When he called them by their names, ‘Umar asked him= “O Messenger of God, are you speaking to those dead bodies?” Muhammad replied, “By Him in Whose hand my soul rests, you people do not hear what I am saying any better than they.” 448 Furthermore, during the rising of the dead and on the Day of Resurrection, the dead behold the different grades of bliss in Paradise and punishment in Hell with their own eyes and ears, exactly as they used to behold (things) during their life. They see the angels and they see their Lord.
Thus, sound tradition (in the Sahih) mentions, “You will see your Lord on the Day of Resurrection like the moon on a night when the moon is full. You will not suffer any harm in seeing Him.” 449 The dead did not have such perceptions while they were alive. (Still,) they are sensual perceptions like those (they had while they were alive). They take place in the limbs of the body by means of (some kind of) necessary knowledge that God creates, as we have stated. The (explanation for the) secret of it lies in the knowledge that the human soul grows in the body and through the perceptions of the body. When it leaves the body in sleep or in death, or when a prophet, in the state of revelation, changes from human perceptions to angelic ones, the soul takes its means of perceptions along, but free of the limbs of the body.
With (these means of perception), the soul perceives, on the (other) level, whatever perceptions it wants to perceive, but these perceptions are on a higher plane than those that the soul had while it was in the body. This was stated by al-Ghazzali, who added that the human soul has a form that it retains after its separation (from the body) and that, just like the body’s own structure, includes two eyes, two ears, and all the rest of the limbs of the body serving (man) to attain perception. 450 I would say, (however,) that al-Ghazzali here refers to the habits obtained through using all those limbs of the bodyin addition to (mere) perception. 451
When one understands all this, one will realize that perceptions exist on all four levels.
However, they are not everywhere the same as in the life of this world.
They differ in intensity according to the conditions affecting them. The theologians have indicated this fact in the summary statement that God creates in (the senses) a necessary knowledge of the thing perceived, whatever it may be. By that, they are referring to the same thing we have been explaining.
This is our brief attempt at classifying the problem of “ambiguity.” To attempt to discuss it more widely, would take us beyond comprehension. Let us beseech 452 God that He may guide us and that we may learn through His prophets and His Book how to acknowledge His oneness properly and how to attain salvation.