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The Perfect Man-1

Emerald Hills of the Heart
Each group being based on their particular considerations, philosophers, theologians, and Sufis approach the universal man by a different rubric.
| M. Fethullah Gulen | Issue 158 (Mar - Apr 2024)

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The Perfect Man

In This Article

  • The universal man is such a polished mirror that God’s Essential Qualities qualifying Him as God are reflected in him at almost every moment, beyond all concepts of modality, and the earth becomes more valuable than the heavens because it is his residence.
  • People have only been able to continuously turn to God without failure by means of universal men. Masses have discovered their true goals under their guidance and interpreted things and events correctly by means of the lights that they have dissemi¬nated.
  • The universal man is a substance or an essence which has combined in his being without any con¬tradiction the spiritual or metaphysical and physical realms of existence, as well as its original and the shadowy or reflected, and its particular and universal, and its substantial and accidental dimensions.

Also known as the perfect man (al-insanu’l-kamil), the universal man is the brightest mirror of God’s Acts, Names, Attributes, and even His Essential Qualities that qualify Him as God. There is a rule that when an attribute is men­tioned without it being specified who the one or ones that have it are, then such an attribute belongs to the one who has it at the most perfect level. So, when we talk about the universal man, we mean, first of all, Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. Then come other Messengers and Prophets, and the greatest spiritual guides who are known as “means of Divine help” (ghawth) and “pole” or “axis” (qutb), and “those near-sta­tioned to God” (muqarrabun), and godly ones (abrar), and other saintly people, each according to their rank or degree.

Each group being based on their particular considerations, philosophers, theologians, and Sufis approach the universal man by a different rubric. In the language of philosophers and some theologians, he is the first intellect, the universal intellect, the comprehensive word, the encompassing point, the point of unity, the Divine mystery, the mirror of the Divine mystery, the great­est means, and so on; while he is mentioned by some Sufis with titles such as the guide, the one rightly guided, the one leading to truth, the perfect scholar, the perfecting one, the mature and per­fect, and the greatest cure, etc. All these definitions or titles can be summed up in a single sentence, which is that the universal man is the mirror of the Divine Existence and the two worlds. Being the essence, juice, voice, and translator of existence, he not only demonstrates “the Hidden Treasure” in all realms of existence and connects everything to the Divine Being, but he is also an articulate expression of the Being that is in the depth of his consciousness and the richness of his nature.

The universal man is such a polished mirror that God’s Essential Qualities qualifying Him as God are reflected in him at almost every moment, beyond all concepts of modality, and the earth becomes more valuable than the heavens because it is his residence. The universal man functions in effect as the intellect, heart and spirit of existence, without whom nothing can be understood correctly, no information can be developed into knowledge about God, and the mystery of the life of anything cannot be perceived. The whole physical realm when not viewed from his perspective is devoid of spirit, and any part of time which is not enlightened by him is in darkness. So, those who live in such a realm and at such a time are deprived of the light and the true life with respect to the heart and spirit, and cannot develop their human nature to its true and full potential.

People have only been able to continuously turn to God without failure by means of universal men. Masses have discovered their true goals under their guidance and interpreted things and events correctly by means of the lights that they have dissemi­nated. For this reason, those who have found and followed them have found the truth and those who have been able to penetrate their inner world have observed the Beauty of the Ultimate Truth to the extent of the transparence of their heart and spirit.

The universal man is an example in the name of religion and religious life. Belief, Islamic life and perfect goodness constitute his way; obtaining God’s good pleasure, his goal; loving God and making Him loved by others, his duty; Paradise and God’s vision are the surprising fruit of his thought, belief and life, provided ser­vanthood and worship should be made dependent on these.

The universal man always pursues a way to help others and to increase his knowledge of God. Since he lives in accordance with good morals, he always displays good and excellence. He always sees things from a beautiful perspective and therefore as beautiful, he thinks and acts beautifully, and speaks beautiful, useful things. In quest of God’s approval and good pleasure in all his acts, words, and manners, he always feels His company and He thinks of Him, mentions Him, speaks about Him, reminds others of Him with all his attitudes and expressions, and lives as the most articulate voice of truth. The greatest of the universal men, the pride of humankind, was foremost in having every good quality that could be found in a universal man. See­ing him once was enough for an unbiased one to be able to dis­cern the Divine mystery lying in the essence of Islam. As stated by ‘Abdu’l-Karim al-Jili, there has never been nor ever will be a second one qualified with human perfections to the degree of Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.

If perfection lies in refining the spirit and purifying the car­nal soul with the Divine Revelation and inspiration, and in developing the human faculties, overcoming bodily appetites and animal impulses, and attaining subsistence by the subsis­tence of His particular blessings in utmost submission and obedience to Him, so as to become thereby the most polished mirror to the Divine Names, Attributes, and Essential Qualities, then the only one who was able to achieve all these without the least imperfection, and whose servanthood or devotion was at the lev­el of “the distance between the strings of two bows or even near­er,” is the master of creation, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and salutations. He is foremost and unparalleled in perfection and, in the words of Bediuzzaman, the pride of humankind and the whole of creation, and the seal of Propheth­ood.

In the language of Sufism, the universal man is a substance or an essence which has combined in his being without any con­tradiction the spiritual or metaphysical and physical realms of existence, as well as its original and the shadowy or reflected, and its particular and universal, and its substantial and accidental dimensions. According to Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani, the holy per­son who is the pride of humankind was such a mysterious and precious book, and such a missive containing the truths related to Divinity and creation, that no one other than the fortunate who have been able to be purified of all corporeal dirt can perceive and recognize him perfectly. We see the universe as the macro­cosmos, but in truth and in God’s sight, humanity is greater than the universe. In the words of ‘Ali, the Fourth Caliph, his nature is more sublime than even the angels, with the worlds hidden in it. The fact that the universal man is a comprehensive mirror to God’s Existence and Essential Qualities, that the inner side or dimension of his being is the focus of the manifestation of all the Divine Names, Attributes and Essential Qualities, and that the outer dimension of his being, with all its words, lines and para­graphs, is a summary or index of all existence, in part explicitly, and in part allusively. As the Holy Existence is manifested on him in the universal, detailed form, that is, as he carries a line or a word from everything, even if in a very abbreviated form, every being is in one respect immanent in the mirror of his being. He finds the Divine Being in his heart as a hidden treasure. It is high­ly probable that one of the reasons why angels were commanded to prostrate before the first universal man—Prophet Adam—was because of the rich attributes he had in his being. Such richness as this required that the one endowed with it should respond with serious devotion. This was manifested as religion and religious life, which is a representation of the Divine way of acting and of His laws in the universe. God attaches special importance to us, and in return, we should try to please Him by practicing Islam in all its dimensions throughout our lives.

With respect to his relation with existence and events, the universal man is the vicegerent of God on the earth, who observes and knows the meaning of His Acts and orders, and is His witness. God looks at His creatures through his eyes, hears them through his ears, and gives them support through his hands. He is a man of perfect compassion, who embraces every­one in need of attention, support and maintenance. He feels com­passionate toward everyone, and like blood circulating in all the veins and arteries, his compassion is present in the body of soci­ety, keeping an eye on it to protect it against all harmful things and to meet its needs, controlling all its activities like the soul. As declared in the Qur’an, We have not sent you but as a mercy for all the worlds (21:107), and We have not sent you but as a bearer of good tidings and a warner for the whole humankind (34:28), God’s Messenger, who is the greatest of the universal men, upon him be peace ad blessings, is a mercy for all creation, living or non-living, and a guide and leader for all humankind, and a bearer of good tidings (in return for belief and good deeds) and a warner (against the consequences of deviations in belief and evil deeds). As for other universal men, each of them is, in adherence to the Messenger, also a mercy for all creation, and a guide and leader for humankind.

The universal man views things and events from the perspective of the Divine laws operating in the universe, and radi­ates the spirit of people, enlightening them concerning their nature and the nature of things, teaching them how things, events and Divine speeches recognize God, guiding them to the truth, refining their spirits and purifying their carnal souls, and awakening their faculties to the Ultimate Truth. People find their “direction” through him, and know their goals in life and advance straight to them with his guidance. He leads to perfec­tion the souls that have aptitude for perfection. Anyone who is favored with recognizing him and entering his aura will have entered the way leading to God, closing up the distances in their nature between them and Him. Everyone who overcomes their corporeality by such guidance, feels at heart His nearness beyond all concepts of modality, and according to their capacity are able to taste the pleasure of the “seeing” of Him with their insight, attaining His friendship with their spirit. Although everyone who has the necessary capacity and aptitude can feel certain degrees of pleasure of nearness to and friendship with Him, only the universal man favored with the universal manifes­tation of Him can be a perfect, spotless and bright mirror to Him.

As all conscious beings feel the mysteries of Divinity in the universal man, the Divine Being, in a particular sense, also observes all His manifestations in the other mirrors in that one polished mirror. This means that the universal man is such a comprehensive mirror that reflects the All-Permanent One among mortal beings that one who sees him knows what it means to have seen the Ultimate Truth, one who loves him knows what it means to love the Ultimate Truth, and one who follows him knows what it means to be on the way of devotion to the Ulti­mate Truth. We should point out once again that all these distinc­tive excellences belong, first of all, to God’s Messenger in the universal, perfect form. All other universal men can be favored with them in his footsteps in particular forms and degrees. They are heirs to God’s Messenger in learning, knowledge and in their love of God, in zeal, in feeling, in attractiveness to others and their attraction to God. Being called by the Messenger to the table where all these Divine blessings are offered, they call others to join them.

God always observes Himself and has others to observe Himself in different mirrors on the earth. Since the universal man is the most comprehensive and brightest mirror that perfectly reflects the Acts and Essential Qualities of the All-Merci­ful, he functions as one who “sees” and causes others to “see” Him. The places where and the times when there is not a univer­sal man are orphaned in one respect. For this reason, every time and space need the universal man as much as it needs air and water. Since God manifests Himself in the most comprehensive way in the universal man, it is extremely important for existence that a universal man should be present in every time and place. For such a one is the mirror of the Divine Being, with his knowl­edge being a ray of His Knowledge and himself being a mysteri­ous key to His secrets.

One who finds the universal man and shares the same atmo­sphere with him attains many mysteries and lights that others cannot, and becomes a source of lights for others. The universal man is aware of his position and task. He sees himself like a mirror reflecting the Divine lights, and never attributes to him­self his abilities and merits, or the tasks he performs. He attri­butes to God his every accomplishment in sincere conviction of the fact, You did not kill them but God killed them (8:17), and feels deeply in his consciousness the meaning of When you threw, it was not you who threw, but God who threw (8:17). Not merely attributing to God all his accomplishments, merits, and abilities, he rather regards them as His extra favors, saying:

That which I have—I am not worthy of it;
This favor and grace—why are they bestowed on me?

He never deviates into believing such doctrines as union and incarnation. In fact, in order to assert such doctrines, there must be two independent, self-existent beings, whereas, the universal man is not a self-existent being independent of God. The Divine Being is absolutely independent and Self-Existent, while all oth­er existing beings exist and subsist by the lights of His Existence and Self-Subsistence. Regarding any created, mortal being as God’s incarnation or as one united with Him in the name of exalting that being is sheer deviation.

The universal man is perfectly conscious that he is one cre­ated by God and is extremely aware of his being a servant. He never utters words of pride because of the favors he receives, nor does he fall into the error of regarding himself as being iden­tical with God because of his being a mirror to Him. He regards, feels and experiences whatever blessing he is favored with as a manifestation of the Divine Names or Attributes and is humble to the utmost degree before God. This is the state of his annihila­tion with respect to the carnal soul and egoism and the attain­ment of a new existence in heart and spirit. We can regard this as one who is not self-existent tasting the true existence by His Existence. In his Diwan, Mawlana Jalalu’d-Din Rumi says about the heroes of this favor:

In that station, one who exists has seemed to me as non-existent,
and another one who does not exist as existent.
Beyond the world which has the characteristic of a soul,
I have seen many dazzled and intoxicated with love of Him,
all of whom are beings of pure faithfulness and delight.


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