Some Muslims suggest that the fact that we only have experience of the illusion of matter in our minds is not compatible with Islam, and maintain that religious scholars in the past rejected this fact. That is not actually the case, however. On the contrary, what we are saying here is in complete conformity with the verses of the Koran. It is exceedingly important for a definite understanding of many verses and subjects revealed in the Koran, such as heaven and hell, timelessness, infinity, resurrection and the Hereafter.
Unquestionably, even if he is unaware of this subject, a person can still live in complete faith. He can have faith, with all his heart and feeling no doubt, in what God has revealed in the Koran. We must still make it clear, however, that an awareness of this subject allows such a person to deepen his faith and certainty. A number of Islamic scholars of the past looked on the matter from that same point of view. The only factors that prevented what they had to say from being widely spread and known were 1) the fact that the level of science when they lived was unable to totally clarify the subject and 2) the existence of trends that were apt to lead to its being misunderstood.
The most important of those Islamic scholars who explained the true nature of matter was Imam Rabbani, who has been widely respected in the Islamic world for hundreds of years and is seen as "the greatest reformer of the 10th century according to the Muslim calendar." In his book Letters, Imam Rabbani provides a detailed commentary on this very subject. In one of his letters, Imam Rabbani says that God created the entire universe at the level of perception:
… The Glorious God assigned an appearance from all appearances for names from all names in the sphere of non-existence with his Perfect Might. And He created it at the sphere of sensations and perceptions. At the time He willed and in the way He willed … Even in the exterior level, there is nothing permanent and existing other than the being and attributes of Almighty God...1
In another letter, Imam Rabbani once again stresses that all that exists is created only at the level of senses and perceptions:
I have used the following sentence above, "God's creation is at the level of senses and perceptions."2
On close examination, Imam Rabbani is careful to emphasize that the world we see, in other words all that exists, has been created on the level of perception. Another of his statements on the subject is as follows:
Nothing but God exists on the outside… Perhaps all of Almighty God's creation finds constancy on the level of perception… It only has permanency thanks to God's artistry on that one level. In short, it only has permanency and appearance on one level. It does not have existence on one plane and appearance on another…3
Explanations by Muhyiddin Ibn al-'Arabi
The great Islamic scholar Muhyiddin Ibn al-'Arabi also believed that the only thing that has definitive existence is God, Who has created the whole universe only on the perceptual level. He is known as "The Greatest Master" (Shaykh al-Akbar) on account of the depth of his knowledge, and in his work The Essence of Wisdom (Fusûs al-Hikam), he reveals that the universe is but a shadow existence consisting of what is manifested by God:
I say that you must know that apart from God, all that exists, or everything in the universe, stands in the same relation to God as a shadow to a man. That being the case, everything apart from God is but His shadow… There is no doubt that the shadow exists in perception. 4
The Prophet Muhammad said that "people are asleep and wake up when they die." This is to say that the objects seen in the world when alive are similar to those seen when asleep while dreaming, meaning that they exist in the imagination.5
The Perversion of Philosophers
These explanations regarding the fact that the matter is illusion are misunderstood by some people and likened to the views of some ancient Greek philosophers or some other disbelieving philosophers. Indeed, there have been philosophers who said matter is illusion, yet these people went astray since they failed to grasp that this illusion was created by God. For instance, ancient Greek sophists said, "Matter is a perception we have created ourselves." This view is rationally and scientifically flawed, and departs from true religion. As stressed from the very beginning, the truth is that matter is created by God and does exist, but we don’t know the actual matter but merely a version of it we perceive in our minds.
It is a grave error to confuse this false view of those philosophers with the explanation given here by Islamic scholars about the "nature of matter." In fact, Imam Rabbani mentions those philosophers who depart from the truth when discussing the subject of matter. He stresses that what he says is very different to their twisted views. He says the following in his Letters:
When I refer to the world as "imaginary," I do not mean that it is made and shaped by the imagination … Of course, what it really means is that God has created the world on the perceptual level …
On the other hand, philosophers who are comprise a group of lunatics actually talk about something else. What they mean is that the world is the work of imagination and it is shaped by the imagination. There is a great difference between the two.6
As we have seen, the fact that we merely deal wih the version of matter in our minds is a very important fact also stated by Islamic scholars. Yet throughout history, this issue has never been accessible to the masses; only a limited number of people knew about it. In this century, this fact has now become explicable, thanks to the evidence science has provided. The fact that we have no experience of the actual material world that exists outside our minds is, for the first time in history, being clearly and comprehensibly explained. For this reason, everyone must seriously consider the matter. Muslims in particular must attach vital importance to it, because comprehending the true facts about matter is important for attaining true faith in God. Otherwise people will assume matter to be the absolute truth, which will help the development of materialist philosophies that deny God or perverted faiths.
Materialists tell the lie, "Matter is all that exists, and there is no God". We, on the other hand, say, "The only absolute being is God; matter is created by Him but we merely deal with its version in our minds." All power belongs to God, Who creates matter at every moment. That is the true meaning of "La Ilaha Illallah", the basis of Islam, which means "there is no deity other than God". There is no deity other than God. And in fact, there is nothing other than God. There is only God and His manifestations. Everything we see around are but His manifestations.
Having a grasp of the true facts about matter is important because it will help people to comprehend this inner meaning. The fact that having a grasp of this fact is an attribute peculiar to people of profound faith and wisdom is stated in a verse:
God bears witness that there is no deity but Him, as do the angels and the people of knowledge, upholding justice. There is no deity but Him, the Almighty, the All-Wise. (Koran, 3:18)
1- Imam Rabbani, Letters of Rabbani, Vol II, 470. Letter, p. 517-518
2- Imam Rabbani, Letters of Rabbani, Vol II, 357. Letter, p. 163
3- Imam Rabbani, Letters of Rabbani, Vol II, 470. Letter, p. 519
4- Muhyiddin Ibn al-'Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam, p. 117-18
5- Muhyiddin Ibn al-'Arabi, Fusus al-Hikam, p. 220
6- Imam Rabbani, Letters of Rabbani, Vol II, 480. Letter, p. 543, 545