Can Some Saints be Present in Many Places at the same Times?
A single being may gain universality by means of various mirrors; while being in reality a single individual, he may become like a universal with general functions. For example, the sun is a single individual, yet by means of transparent objects, it becomes such a universal that it fills the earth with its reflections and images. It even has as many manifestations as drops of water and shining objects. Although the sun’s heat, light and the seven colors in its light each encompass the things which confront them, each transparent thing contains the sun’s heat, and its light and seven colors, together with its image, and becomes a throne for it. This means that on account of unity being manifested in all the objects with all its attributes the sun encompasses all the things which confront it. While on account of oneness being manifested in a single object with all or many of its attributes at the same time the sun is present in each thing with many of its attributes.
We have passed from comparison to discussion of a thing’s presence somewhere through some sort of manifestation of its being. Out of the many types of possible manifestation, I will point out only three which will be a means to understanding this phenomenon:
The first: There is reflection of dense, material objects. Such reflections are other than the thing reflected, they are not of the same identity as it. They are also lifeless, having no quality other than their lifeless appearance. For example, if you enter a store full of mirrors, one Said will become thousands of Saids, but only the one living Said is Said. The others are dead, having no characteristics of life.
The second: There is reflection of material, light-giving objects. Such reflections are neither identical with the original nor other than it. They are not of the same nature as the original but they have most of its features, and may be considered as living. For example, the sun is reflected in countless objects. In each of these reflections is present either the sun’s heat or its light, together with the seven colors in light. If the sun were a conscious being, with its heat as its power, its light its knowledge and its seven colors its seven attributes, then the single sun would be present in all objects at the same moment. It would be able to rule over or make contact with each freely, one without hindering the other. It would also be able to meet with all of us by means of our mirrors. While we are distant from it, it would be nearer to us than ourselves.
The third: There is reflection of the pure spirits that were created from light and have been able to preserve their original purity. Such reflections are both living and identifiable with the original. However, since such spirits or pure spirit beings reflect or manifest themselves according to the capacity of the receptive object or the mirror, the reflections cannot be wholly of the same nature as the original. For example, at the moment the Archangel Gabriel (pbuh) was in the presence of the Prophet in the form of Dihya, a Companion, he was at the same moment prostrating with his magnificent wings in the Divine Presence before God’s Most Exalted Throne. Again at the same moment he was present in innumerable other places, relaying the Divine Commands. Any one duty that he performs is not an obstacle to another. It is just in the same way that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), whose essence is light and whose identity is of light, in this world hears all the blessings called upon him at the same moment by all his community. On the Day of Judgement he will meet with all the purified at the same time. In fact, some of the saints who have acquired a high degree of purity and refinement and are called ‘substitutes’ (abdal) are observed in many places at the same time, and the same person is seen to be performing numerous different acts at the same time. Indeed, just as things like glass and water act as mirrors to material objects, so too, the air and ether, and certain beings of the world of ideas or immaterial forms, are like mirrors to spirit beings. They become like a means of transportation with the speed of lightning and imagination, by which spirit beings travel in those pure realms and refined abodes. They go through thousands of places at the same time.
Thus, helpless and subjugated objects like the sun, and creatures like spirit beings restricted by matter, can both be present in numerous places at the same moment simply by virtue of being either light-giving creatures or created of light. Despite being particulars bounded by certain conditions, they become like absolute universals. With a limited power of choice they can do many things at the same time. As for the Most Holy Being, He is absolutely transcendent and free of matter, and exalted above and exempt from any restriction and from the darkness of density and compactness. All the lights in the universe and all the luminous beings whether from among light-giving ones or those created of light are but a dense shadow of the sacred lights of His Names. All existence and all life and the world of spirits and the world of ideas or immaterial forms, are but a semi-transparent mirror of His Beauty. Also, His attributes are all-embracing and His essential ‘functional’ qualities are universal. Now, what thing may escape or remain concealed from His manifestation with all His Attributes including particularly His universal Will, absolute Power, and all-encompassing Knowledge? What affair could be difficult for Him? What individual could be distant from Him? What person can draw close to Him without acquiring universality?
Indeed, although through its unrestricted light and immaterial reflection, the sun is nearer to you than the pupil of your eye, because of your being bounded by certain conditions, you are very distant from it. In order to draw near to it, you have to transcend numerous restrictions and acquire many universal attributes. Simply, you have, in effect, to acquire an identity unaffected by heat and a form capable of receiving all the manifestations of the sun or of living in its vicinity. Only then may you be able, to a degree, to directly approach the sun in its essential identity, and meet with it without veil. In just the same way, the All-Majestic One of Grace, the All-Gracious One of Perfection, is infinitely near to you, while you are infinitely distant from Him. If you have enough intellectual and spiritual capacity, try to see the points in the comparison corresponding to the reality.
The first matter
Second: You ask about the number of the worlds which the interpreters mention as eighteen thousand in the interpretation of the phrase, the Lord of the Worlds in the Sura al-Fatiha, the Opening Chapter of the Qur’an.
Brother, I do not know what they mean by ‘eighteen thousand’. What I can say on this question for the time being is as follows:
The expressions of the Wise Qur’an should not be restricted to one meaning only. Rather, each has a universal content addressing each learning level of mankind at all times. So, any interpretation put forward during history points to only one aspect of that universal content. Every interpreter or every gnostic, depending on either his spiritual discovery or intuition, or the evidence he obtains, or his natural disposition, prefers one of those aspects. A group of interpreters have, through their insight or research, judged the number of the worlds to be eighteen thousand. For example, in the Qur’anic expression, He let forth the two seas that meet together, between them a barrier they do not overpass14, which are emphatically repeated by saintly people in their daily recitations, there is an indication to all of the pairs of ‘seas’ or realms, spiritual or material, figurative or actual, from the realms of Lordship and servanthood to the spheres of necessity and contingency, from this world to the Hereafter, including the visible corporeal world and the World of the Unseen, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and the Suez Canal, salt water and sweet water in the seas and under the earth, and the big rivers such as the Euphrates and Tigris carrying sweet water and salty seas to which they flow. All of these, together with many others I do not deem necessary to mention here, are included in the content of the aforementioned Qur’anic expression, whether in the literal or figurative sense.
Likewise, the expression, Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds, has numerous aspects. Because of this, men of truth and discernment, each depending on his own insight and spiritual discovery, explain it differently.
Such is my understanding of this expression that there are thousands of worlds in the sky; some of the stars, for example, each may be a particular kind of those worlds. Also, on the earth, each species of creatures constitutes a world; and each human being is a little world. The expression of the Lord of the Worlds means that every world is directly trained and administered by God’s Lordship.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.