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Causality as a Veil: The Asharites, Ibn Arab

(11651240) and Said Nurs (18771960)

Ozgur Koca

To cite this article: Ozgur Koca (2016) Causality as a Veil: The Asharites, Ibn Arab (11651240)
and Said Nurs (18771960), Islam and ChristianMuslim Relations, 27:4, 455-470, DOI:

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VOL. 27, NO. 4, 455470

Causality as a Veil: The Asharites, Ibn Arab (11651240) and

Said Nurs (18771960)
Ozgur Koca
Claremont School of Theology/Bayan Claremont, Claremont CA, USA


This article explores the development of the idea of causality as a Received 1 July 2015
veil within the Islamic tradition. More specically, it examines Accepted 24 May 2016
how the rejection of the necessary connection between cause and
effect in the writings of the Asharites led to a highly sophisticated Ibn Arab; Asharite; causality;
reconstruction of causality in Ibn Arab (11651240) and Said occasionalism; Said Nurs;
Nurs (18771960). It also indicates some of the possible bearings veil; science
of the idea of causality-as-a-veil for the contemporary discussion
on the reconciliation of religious and scientic claims on the
nature of causality.

For a number of theological, pietistic, and philosophical reasons, Asharite occasionalism

argues that nite beings lack causal efcacy; God creates both cause and effect and
attaches them to each other on a self-imposed habitual and, thus, predictable path.
The logical conclusions are that there are no causal connections between two
moments in the world process, and that the world is re-created anew at each
moment. Ibn Arab shares most of these convictions and places them in a comprehen-
sive metaphysical framework where the world is a multiplicity of loci for ever-changing
and continuous manifestations of the divine properties. Accordingly, Ibn Arab sees
causality as a veil that at once hides and manifests the relations of the self-disclosures
of God depending on the observers propensities and intentions. Moreover, from an
ethical perspective the veil of causality preserves the necessary adab (courtesy, rene-
ment) of the Godservant relationship. Said Nurs draws on both the Asharites and
Ibn Arab in his treatment of causality. Like the Asharites, he rejects causal efcacy
in nite beings. The veil of causality, for Nurs, is a regulative idea rendering natural pro-
cesses approachable and making the world a more comprehensive mirror for the reec-
tion of the divine attributes.
First, the article explores the philosophical, theological and spiritual concerns that led
to the rejection of a necessary connection between cause and effect, subsequent recon-
struction of causality as a veil, and cosmologies that are offered to support this conclusion.
Second, it discusses some of the possible implications of the idea of causality-as-a-veil for
the contemporary religion-and-science discussion.

CONTACT Ozgur Koca

2016 University of Birmingham
456 O. KOCA

The Asharites
The classical Aristotelian doctrine of four causes understands causality as a necessary
relation between entities with distinct material and formal structures (Aristotle, Physics
II.1). The cause in virtue of a special formal and material composition brings about the
effect and if the cause occurs then the effect cannot fail to occur (Aristotle, Metaphysics,
IX.5, 1048a 57). This idea of a necessary connection between cause and effect has been
debated and both adopted and attacked by Muslim philosophers and theologians. Ibn
Sn, for example, like Aristotle, recognizes four types of cause: the efcient cause (illa
filiyya), the material cause (illa unsuriyya), the formal cause (illa sriyya), and the
nal cause (illa ghiyya). He takes these causes as explanatory principles necessary for
any exhaustive understanding of the natural world and, accordingly, envisages a necessary
relationship between cause and effect. Everything that exists is caused to exist necessarily.
Any contingent being is possible in itself but necessary due to its cause (yasru wjiban bi-
al-illa wa-bi-al-qiys ilayh) (Ibn Sn 1960, 39). This means that the connection between
cause and effect is a necessary one. Cause entails (lazima anhu) or necessitates (wajaba
anhu) its effect (Arif 2009, 5761).
However, Muslim theologians and philosophers have also raised sceptical challenges to
the idea of a necessary connection between cause and effect. This rejection is due largely to
some of the hidden theological and philosophical implications of the idea of necessity in
causality, such as the connement of Gods freedom, the co-eternity of the world with
God, and the denial of the possibility of miracles. This, in some cases, led to the afrmation
that God is the sole causal power in the world and the resulting re-construction of the idea
of causality as a veil.
Asharite occasionalism famously suggests that the relation between cause and effect is
not necessary; God creates both cause and effect and connects them to each other on a self-
imposed habitual path. The natural processes are regular and predictable not because there
is a necessary connection between cause and effect, but because God is the guarantor of the
consistent ow of natural processes. The idea of a necessary connection is replaced by the
idea of constant conjunction.
One of the earliest proponents of this idea was Ab al-H asan al-Ashar (d. 936). In his
Kitb al-Ibna, he writes:
None but God creates. The deeds of the creatures are decreed and created by God. The
Quran says: God created you and your deeds [Q 17.96]. Creatures cannot create and are
created themselves. Creatures neither harm nor benet themselves unless this is willed
by God. (Ashar 1967, 910)

Another important Asharite theologian, Ab al-Mal al-Juwayn (d. 1085), also writes:
The one who creates everything ex nihilo and continuously is the Lord of the Worlds. He is
the creator, there is no other creator. Everything which has a beginning [i.e. is nite] is in the
domain of the Divine Power (qudra). The servant is able to do anything because of Gods
power. God is the creator and the source of His servants deeds. (1996, 187)

Similarly, Ibn Frak writes: Everything that is created in time is created spontaneously
and new by God the exalted, without a reason (sabab) that makes it necessary or a
cause (illa) that generates it (1987, 131.78; cited in Griffel 2009, 127). Later, Ab
H mid al-Ghazl (d. 1111), probably the most famous defender of Asharite

occasionalism, states in his Tahfut al-falsifa that the connection between what is
habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not
necessary according to us (1997, 166). The causal connection, he argues, is due to
Gods decree, Who creates them side by side, not to its being necessary in itself, incapable
of separation (166). Observation shows only concomitance not any necessary connec-
tion between cause and effect.1
How did these theologians reach this conclusion? First, following their encounter with
Christian theology and Greek philosophy, Muslim theologians started to think about the
nature of the Godcosmos relationship in a more systematic manner. The weight of the
question seems to be rst felt on the discussion of the nature of the Quran as a manifes-
tation of Gods attribute of Divine Speech (kalm). The Quran is considered the word of
God. But it is also a part of the created world. How can the uncreated word of God
become part of the created world? To circumvent this difculty, the Asharite argues
that the Quran is both created and uncreated. Its linguistic properties, grammar,
letters and material pages are created but its content is uncreated. In other words, the
Divine Speech, as it is in itself (al-kalm al-nafs), is uncreated, but the Divine Speech,
as it expressed in sensory language (al-kalm al-lafz), is created. The Quran brings the
created and the uncreated together.
Now the Divine Speech is an attribute of God and this discussion on the Quran implies
that it is neither separate from nor identical with the world or God. When this logic is
extended to the other attributes of God such as power (qudra), will (irda) and knowledge
(ilm), one reaches the conclusion that God is pre-eternally qualied with these attributes.
Moreover, these attributes are to be understood in the conventional sense as that is what
seems to be the case in the Quran and in the Prophetic traditions (Hadith). A metaphor-
ical understanding of the divine attributes would entail a kind of deciency in the divine
nature (McCarthy 1953, 2426, 2831). This brings us to the conclusion that divine attri-
butes such as will, power and knowledge are co-eternal with God, all-pervasive and to be
understood in the literal sense.
According this robust understanding of the divine attributes, power, knowledge and
will, which make an entity causally efcacious, cannot be attributed to the entity itself
(Ibn Frak 1987, 283, 1718). It follows that nite beings lack causal efcacy. This is
why al-Ghazl writes:
All temporal events, their substances and accidents, those occurring in the entities of the
animate and the inanimate, come about through the power of God, exalted be He. He
alone holds the sole prerogative of inventing them. No created thing comes about through
another (created thing). Rather, all come about through (divine) power. (Marmura 1994,
314315; my emphasis; see also Marmura 1995, 94; Moad 2007)

To support this conclusion the Asharites offer a physical ontology, Asharite atomism.
For the Asharites, the world is composed of discrete and indivisible particles (al-juz
alladh l yatajazza or al juz alladh l yataqassam) and moments (waqt or tafra)
(Ashar 1963, 233; Dhanani 1994, 45; cf. Bolay 1987; van Ess 19911997, vol. 3, 224
229, 309335). Both space and time are atomized and the number of these atoms is
limited (Ibn Frak 1987, 202, 272).2 These atoms do not possess dimension and thus
do not occupy space, yet they have a location in the spatio-temporal realm and their con-
stitution can bring about the existence of an entity. However, the atoms do not subsist by
458 O. KOCA

themselves. God assigns the predicate or accident (ard) of subsistence (baq) to atoms
at each moment. The divine command Ibqa! (continue to exist!) assigns the accident of
duration and continuity to atoms (Ashar 1963, 358359; Ibn Frak 1987, 208, 237; see
also Perler and Rudolph 2000, 5156; Muhtaroglu 2012, 3035). Atoms in this system
are neutral and homogeneous loci of the manifestation of accidents (Frank 1966, 43).
This is to say atoms are created anew at each moment. This is a pulsating world. The
spatio-temporal reality is not a continuous ux but a multiplicity of atoms and moments
that are continuously renewed. Now this radical view detaches any two moments of causal
history from each other. There is no causal connection or glue between any two moments
of the world. As a stone appears to move in the air, its atoms and accidents are created in
different locations by God.
It seems that, for the Asharites, once this spatio-temporal view is established, it is an
easy matter to demonstrate that Gods attributes are co-eternal, all-pervasive and to be
understood in the conventional sense. Gods will exceeds all boundaries and miracles
are perceived as very rare but possible interruptions in causal order. The Asharite doctrine
of causality, more specically the idea of the continuous re-creation of the world, estab-
lishes Gods absolute control over the created order. For the Asharites, this is an
obvious implication of the unity of God, tawh d.3 From a more spiritual point of view,
the idea of the constant re-creation of the world paves the way for the realization of the
ultimate ideal of Islamic spirituality: to live in the presence of God (Sah h Bukhr
1.2.47). God is the ontological ground of everything and, thus, the real cause of all
events beneath the structure of so-called causal relations.
A question arises here. If nite beings are devoid of causal efcacy and if the idea of caus-
ality is a misinterpretation of Gods habitual and regular creation in the world, then what is
the reason for this cosmic illusion of causality? Recall that God acts on a freely-chosen, self-
imposed habitual path (ajra al-da) (Ibn Frak 1987, 131132). Thus, from an Asharite
theological point of view, it can be argued that the idea of causality, like a regulative idea
in the Kantian sense, helps conceive and manipulate the regularity and consistency of
natural phenomena that is actually a reection of Gods habitual creation (dat Allh or
sunnat Allh) in the world. In this regard, causality is an illusion but a necessary one, for
it guides our empirical investigation. It plays a positive role in knowledge acquisition so
long as it is used properly. This enables one to understand the law-like ow of phenomena,
and thus to interact with the world in a more meaningful manner.
But why does God not create directly but behind the structure of causality? As far as I
am aware, the only Asharite theologian who deals with this question, and in an indirect
manner, is al-Ghazl. He reminds us that the Quran sometimes attributes an act to a
causal agent, such as human beings or physical entities. God, exalted be He, related
acts in the Quran one time to the angels, one time to the servants and another time to
Himself (Ghazl 1346/1927, 192). How do we reconcile the denial of causal efcacy in
beings with these quranic statements? For al-Ghazl, the difculty can be addressed by
perceiving the secondary causes as loci (mahall) of divine actions. Here, beings are per-
ceived as causally inefcacious, neutral and receptive mirrors on which Gods attributes
are continuously reected. The real cause is God and beings are loci of the divine attri-
butes. Beings in a way mediate the divine causal power but, as Michael E. Marmura
(1995, 115) rightly observes, mediation does not necessarily mean the attribution of
causal efcacy to the mediator.

The language of mediation implies that there is a kind of medium between Gods acts
and human observation. This brings us very close to the idea of causality as a veil.
However, Asharite theologians do not use the term veil to talk about causality. The
rst person, as far as I am aware, who employs the term is Ibn Arab.

Ibn Arab
There are certain similarities between the treatments of the question of causality by the
Asharites and Ibn Arab. Both hold that the world is re-created anew at each moment.
They reject causal efcacy in secondary causality for similar pietistic reasons, namely to
establish the absolute dependency of entities on God. Both also perceive the divine attri-
butes as all-pervasive to an extent that nite beings are nothing but neutral and passive loci
without any positive activity.
These similarities are important, for in a certain sense they might allow us to treat Ibn
Arabs doctrine of causality as a continuation of the Asharites. I would however abstain
from reducing Ibn Arab to an Asharite occasionalist, because, rst, the theosophical4 and
metaphysical justications he presents to ground the tenets of his cosmology cannot be
found in the Asharites and, second, his relational, processual and gradational metaphys-
ical system allows for a different way of approaching the question of causality.
First, for Ibn Arab, God-relatedness is the most essential aspect of all reality. The
divine attributes (sift) and names (asm) are theological categories describing these
relations between the world and God. In accordance with these metaphysics, entities
are perceived as the sum of their relationships to God (Ibn Arab 19721991, vol. 2,
557.11).5 Natural phenomena are nothing but manifestations (tajall) of the Divine
Names (al-asm al-h usn). The world is a multiplicity of loci (majla) for the ever-chan-
ging manifestations of the divine attributes.6 All that exist are God and Gods theophanies,
instantiations, delimitations and manifestations. In other words, an entity is a collection
of divine acts or theophanies. The intensity and modalities of these acts or relations differ-
entiate one entity from another. As Toshihiko Izutsu (1983, 100) writes, according to Ibn
Arab, the world is nothing but the whole sum of the Divine Names as concretely actualized.
Second, Ibn Arab sees the world as a process, as the totality of discrete moments (n).
The world is re-created anew at each moment (tajdd al-khalq f al-nt). This is implied
in his theory of the new creation (al-khalq al-jadd). An entity comes into being and per-
ishes immediately afterwards. The continuation of the creative manifestation at each
moment leads to the delusion of subsistence in beings. But there is always a difference
between the two moments of the world process (l takrr f al-tajall). The difference
occurs, for novel self-disclosures occur. God is innite and the unexplored aspects of
the hidden treasure are made manifest. The uninterrupted ux of natural processes is
actually a conglomeration of droplets.
Why is this the case? Ibn Arabs theosophy provides multiple reasons. First, God is
innite (al-tawassu al-ilh). An innite being has innite potentialities waiting to be
actualized, hence continuous creation. Second, in a similar fashion to the Asharite
concept, the idea of the new creation establishes the absolute dependence of the world
on God. For, if the world were to remain in a single state for two units of time, it
would possess the attribute of independence from God (Ibn Arab 19721991, vol. 5,
3.199). Third, the idea of continuous creations obviously accentuates ones absolute
460 O. KOCA

need of God for the continuation of existence and Gods immanence. Thus he writes, God
is ever creating perpetually, while the engendered existence is in need perpetually (vol. 5,
280.31). Fourth, the idea of passivity in God is quod est absurdum. God never ceases being
the agent (vol. 5, 320.3).
In Ibn Arabs world, all that exists is God and Gods acts. Entities are individuations of
the collectivities of the divine acts. The world pulsates between existence and non-exist-
ence. These ideas render a necessary connection between cause and effect impossible in
Ibn Arabs metaphysical framework. In this world, the divine attributes are the causes
of everything. As Henry Corbin (1998, 202) observes, in the realm of phenomena there
is only connection without causality. No phenomenon is the cause of another. All causality
is in the Divine Names, in the incessant renewal of their epiphanies from instant to
In my view, in this context, the notion of causality could only describe the relations,
regularity and predictability of the self-disclosures of God. It is a representation of unceas-
ing and continuous manifestations of the divine attributes in the mind. It is how we
organize this ux of self-disclosures. There is no necessary relation between the two con-
secutive moments.
Despite these convictions, Ibn Arab still uses the term asbb, which means causes,
means or reasons, for he thinks the illusion of causal necessity exists for very important
reasons. He writes: God did not establish the secondary causes aimlessly (Ibn Arab
19721991, vol. 2, 208.16 [translation from Chittick 1989, 44]). God established causes
and made them like veils (h ujb). Hence, the causes lead everyone who knows that
they are veils, back to Him. But they prevent everyone who takes them as lords from reach-
ing the real Lord, i.e. God (vol. 3, 416.19).
The analogy of the veil is carefully chosen here. In Ibn Arabs parlance, the concept
refers to something that reveals and hides at the same time. God acts behind the structure
of causality. And it is not always easy to see God as the Engenderer of the (Secondary)
Causes (mukawwin al-asbb) behind the veil of causality (vol. 2, 414.1). It is however a
transparent veil in that, for those who are willing to perceive what is behind it, It is He
who discloses Himself in the forms of the secondary causes which are a veil, over Him
(vol. 2, 469.2).
The analogy also seems to suggest that secondary causality has an ethical function, in
that it preserves the necessary adab (courtesy, renement, morals) of the relationship
between God and His servant (vol. 2, 72; cf. Chittick 1989, 177). The courtesy requires
not to strip the veils (vol. 2, 552553; Chittick 1989, 176) for those who do not
deserve or are not ready for intimacy (vol. 2, 414; cf. Chittick 1989, 44, 175; Ibn Arab
1946, 185; cf. Izutsu 1983, 256257). The idea of causality must be preserved in conven-
tional parlance, for perceiving the beauty and wisdom of natural phenomena is not always
possible for everyone.

Said Nurs
Said Nurs, who in a very similar fashion to the Asharites and Ibn Arab and for reasons
analogous with theirs, denies causal efcacy in nite beings and then re-constructs the idea
of causality as a veil. Nurss occasionalism holds, on the one hand, that God is the creator
of both cause and effect and attaches them to each other in a self-imposed habitual pattern

and, on the other hand, attributes theosophical, epistemological and ethical functions to
secondary causality with the help of Ibn Arabs theory of the Divine Names the
basic premise of which is that the world is a multiplicity of loci for the continuous and
ever-changing manifestation of the divine attributes. He thus deserves a special attention
due to his extensive treatment of the topic.
Nurs inherits most aspects of Asharite occasionalism. The All-Glorious Maker, Who
is powerful over all things, has created causes, and so too does He create the effects.
Through His wisdom, He ties the effect to the cause (Nurs 2009, 243) God creates
both cause and effect and attaches them to each other, with the result that causal relations
in the world are orderly and consistent. The regularity of cause and effect relationships
might be deceiving in that when the two things come together or be together we
suppose that the two things cause one another (238). Since in causal relationships we con-
stantly observe that the non-existence of one thing is the cause of the non-existence of the
other, we wrongly suppose that the existence of one thing is also the cause of the existence
of the other (245). However constant conjunction (iqtiran) is one thing necessary connec-
tion (illiya) is another (182).
The regularity of natural processes is a reection of Gods creation on self-imposed
habitual paths (dat Allh or sunnat Allh).7 Natural laws do not govern the world.
They are simply the representations of the law-like creation of God in the world (Nurs
2009, 242). We construct the idea of laws or natures in our minds, and then, unjustiably,
posit them as the explanation of regularity. Therefore to set up in place of divine power
those laws, which proceed from the divine attributes of knowledge and speech and only
exist as knowledge, and to attribute creation to them (243) is an error.
Like the Asharites and Ibn Arab, Nurs presents a list of arguments to explain why,
from a more theological and spiritual perspective, one must deny necessary connection
in causality. Firstly, the robust unity of God precludes any type of intermediation
between God and the world. The divine unity (tawh d) and majesty (jall) demand
that causes withdraw their hands and have no true effect (Nurs 2005, 301). Second,
like the Asharites, he thinks the divine attributes are all-pervasive and thus are the real
causes of everything. No aspect of it [the earth] whether particular or universal can
be outside the divine will, choice, and purpose. However, as is required by His wisdom,
the Possessor of absolute power makes apparent causes a veil to His disposals (187).
Third, such spiritual goals as sincere worship (al-ubdiyyt al-khlisa), sincerity
(ikhls), submission to the will of God, and breaking the ego can only be attained by rea-
lizing the real cause of everything, God, beyond the illusory structure of causality.
Islam is the religion of the true afrmation of divine unity (tawh d-i haqiq) so that it dis-
misses intermediaries and causes. It breaks egotism and establishes sincere worship. It cuts
at the root of every sort of false dominicality, starting from that of the soul, and rebuffs it.
(Nurs 2007, 500)

All of this implies that, for Nurs, there is no causal efcacy in nite beings. The idea of
causality, very much like that found in both the Asharites and Ibn Arab, serves as a veil
with very important epistemological and ethical functions.
God creates cause and effect together directly. In order to demonstrate His wisdom and the
manifestation of His Names, by establishing an apparent causal relationship and connection
462 O. KOCA

through order and conjunction, He makes causes and nature a veil to the hand of His power.
(Nurs 2007, 23, my emphasis)

A question arises here. If everything is created by the divine power, will and knowledge,
why is the veil of causality necessary? Nurs assigns a number of ethical, epistemological
and theosophical functions to the veil of causality.
First, he argues that causes have been placed so that the dignity of power may be pre-
served in the supercial view of the mind (Nurs 2005, 187188). Causes have been
created to be the veils of the creative acts in states that are incompatible with the
dignity and perfection of the Eternally Besought One. The world is the domain of evil
as well as good. We witness many things in the world which, from an aesthetic point of
view, are unsightly, improper and even repugnant. Everything takes place in relation to
divine power, will and knowledge. How do we preserve Gods moral perfection while at
the same time admitting God is the creator of evil as well as good? We shall examine
how Nurs deals with the problem of evil. Here, sufce it to say that the gist of his argu-
ment is that the acquisition (kasb) of evil is evil, but the creation of evil is not evil (478).
From God comes good, but when human beings appropriate good they may turn it to evil
for themselves. To use Nurss favourite example, sun-light is good, but it also causes
corruption and decay for things which are not in proper relation with it. God creates
rain, which is good. One can benet from rain thoroughly. But one can make himself
or herself sick by developing an improper relationship with rain (479). The examples
suggest that evil emerges as a necessary concomitant of good, but only in relation to us,
not to God. In the inner face, that of reality, which looks to their Creator, everything is
transparent and beautiful (479). So even in cases of (apparent) evil and impropriety, it
is tting that the divine power should itself be associated with it (480), provided that
in this process God remains the source of pure good. That is to say, God is the creator
of both good and evil without this affecting Gods moral perfection.
The gist of the issue here is that not everyone sees the beauty and purpose behind
apparent evil. The deep metaphysics implied here cannot be taught to everyone. Here
enters secondary causality. Secondary causality acts like a veil for those who cannot see
the good behind apparent evil. Secondary causes, not God, are associated with evil, and,
thus, divine dignity and perfection are preserved. Causes have been put as intermediaries
so that unjust complaints and baseless objections should be directed at them and not at
the Absolutely Just One. For the faults arise from them, from their incapacity and lack of
ability (Nurs 2005, 301).
That is to say, the religious elite understand that God creates both good and evil, but
this does not prevent them from appreciating Gods moral perfection, because, the cre-
ation (khalq) of evil is not evil, the acquisition (kasb) of evil is evil. Here God remains
utterly perfect. But this higher theology is for the elite. Most human beings do not appre-
hend the elaborate metaphysics here; they see the secondary causality and attribute evil to
it. For those who can perceive the good behind evil, there is no need for a veil, and thus, the
veil of secondary causality disappears. For those who fail to see this, secondary causality
remains. But in all cases the moral perfection of God is preserved in the eyes of the servant.
To sum up, although there is no causal power beside God, God creates beneath the
structure of the illusory veil of secondary causality for a purpose because the idea of sec-
ondary causality preserves the adab (courtesy, renement, morals) of the Godservant

relationship. Gods moral perfection is preserved in the supercial view of the mind
(Nurs 2005, 188). The servant observes secondary causality to conform to the adab
necessitated by the nature of this relationship. He/she glories God in all circumstances
and secondary causality becomes the rst resort (marji) of complaint.
Second, causality has also an epistemological function. To borrow a term from Kant,
the idea of secondary cause is postulated as a regulative idea for practical purposes. In
reality, although we know that secondary causality is devoid of causal efcacy, the illusion
allows us to make sense of the world, to grasp the regularity of the world, to preserve the
predictability of the world. So for practical purposes we could act in the world as if caus-
ality is real.
By relating causes to effects, Allh has deposited an order in the universe through His will,
and obliged man through his nature, illusions, and imagination, to comply with the order and
be bound to it. Moreover, He directed all things towards Himself and is far above the effect of
the causes in His dominions (mulk). He charged man in belief and faith, to comply with this
sphere with his conscience and his spirit, and be bound to it. For in this world, the sphere of
causes predominates over the sphere of belief, while in the next world the truths of belief will
be manifested as supreme over the sphere of causes. (Nurs 2008, 26)

God is the creator of both cause and effect. But God does not create them in a chaotic
manner. God attaches cause and effect to each other on a self-imposed habitual pattern.
This world is predictable and consistent, because in this world habituality prevails.
These habitual patterns help human beings to make sense of the world and to interact
with it in a more efcacious manner. To discover the habitual creation of God, one rst
must realize the law-like ow of natural phenomena. Here, the idea of causality, although
it is a mental construction without an extra-mental reality out there, serves as a temporary
epistemological tool to perceive the regularity and consistency in the world.
For many people, secondary causality precedes divine causation. The idea of causality
provides a more common grounding between the religious elite and common people. It is
linguistically necessary to employ the language of secondary causality to communicate
with others. Nurs then allows the metaphorical use of secondary causality out of linguistic
Thus, we can conclude that, from an epistemological perspective, secondary causality,
for Nurs, is a regulative idea. It does not have a real existence, but it nevertheless allows
one to interact with the world in a more meaningful manner. As a reection of Gods
habitual creation in the mind, it enables one to decode the law-like ow of phenomena.
It also serves as an epistemological bridge to reach higher theological truths. It is a
means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a temporary station from which to set off on
a journey to the discovery of higher metaphysical truths and is not (or should not be) a
permanent epistemological abode. But only a minority of people go beyond the veil of
causality and discover the truth, that God creates both cause and effect. For the majority,
secondary causality is real. So, for the sake of communication with others, it is a linguistic
necessity to employ the language of secondary causality. Herein one acts as if secondary
causality is real without attributing causal efcacy to secondary causality.
Lastly, causality has theosophical functions. For Nurs, the world is a multiplicity of
mirrors reecting the Divine Names. The more expository the mirror, the better. This
is why, Nurs argues, the world is so variegated, in constant motion, and oscillates
464 O. KOCA

between rigour and mercy. The world is the domain of wisdom (dr al-h ikma) not the
domain of power (dr al-qudra). The apparent intermediaries between God and the
world allow a greater diversication and reection of the Divine Names. If God were to
create effects directly without causal relationships, most of the Divine Names, such as
wisdom, would be concealed from our sight. Causality or, in other words, the consistency
and graduality of natural processes, allows one to perceive Gods wisdom, will and subtlety
in the mirror of creation. As discussed above, all the Divine Names demand to be mani-
fested on their loci and, thus, be known by other conscious beings. By creating beneath the
structure of secondary causes, gradually and consistently, God transforms the world into a
more comprehensive mirror and allows a richer manifestation of the Divine Names.
O you unfortunate worshipper of causes and nature! Since the nature of each thing, like all
things, is created, for it is full of art and is being constantly renewed, and, like the effect, the
apparent cause of each thing is also created; and since for each thing to exist there is need for
much equipment and many tools. And that Absolutely Powerful One is in no need of impo-
tent intermediaries to share in His dominicality and creation. God forbid! He creates cause
and effect together directly. In order to demonstrate His wisdom and the manifestation of His
names, by establishing an apparent causal relationship and connection through order and
sequence, He makes causes and nature a veil to the hand of His power so that the apparent
faults, severities and defects in things should be ascribed to them, and in this way His dignity
be preserved. (Nurs 2009, 244)

A world where creation takes place instantaneously and chaotically would be a less
comprehensive and expository mirror. The consistency-cum-graduality of the ow of
phenomena allows the real manifestation of such divine qualities as wisdom, will, subtlety,
dignity and majesty. He forms certain beings out of elements of the universe in order to
demonstrate subtle instances of wisdom, such as displaying the perfections of His wisdom
and the manifestations of many of His names (253).
Nurs also provides arguments to support his occasionalist doctrine of causality. For
example, he suggests that there is a connection between causing and knowing.8 To be
the real cause of an arm moving, I need to know every single step namely, all the physical
and chemical reactions that take place at the atomic, subatomic, molecular and cellular
levels. In actuality, this apparently simple bodily motion happens through the partici-
pation of countless particles in very complex chemical processes. But we do not know
what truly happens in our bodies to bring about even the simplest bodily movements.
Thus, Nurs concludes, we are not the real cause. Similarly, particles atoms and mole-
cules or, in short, constitutive parts of the body cannot be the cause. In this case they
would need to have God-like attributes in order to be able to carry out these extremely
complex processes in harmony. That is because they would need to act with an eye on
the whole body and the whole universe so as to able to bring about this motion which
happens in relation to every other particle in the universe. Nurs writes: These acts
require consciousness. But your consciousness does not relate to them (uurun taalluk
etmiyor). Their cause is, thus, a Conscious Maker, and neither you nor your causes
(2003, 66; my translation).
Moreover, for Nurs, every particle acts as if it has an eye on the whole universe. The
regularity and resulting mathematicity and aesthetics testify that the constitutive parts
of the world do not move randomly and chaotically. Their motion reects a purpose,
plan, and beauty. Every particle acts in accordance with all other particles for the

continuation of mathematicity, aesthetics, and beauty in the world. Now, to act in accord-
ance with the whole, these particles need to perceive the whole. This cannot be attributed
to atoms or subatomic particles, for they lack the necessary intellect. To create a part in
relation to the whole universe one should have knowledge of the whole universe.9 One
may claim that he/she does own these properties to see and govern the whole universe,
but in this case one should realize that he/she is attributing God-like qualities to particles.
Atoms cannot be perceived as the real cause without exalting them to the level of God or
gods. This is absurd, Nurs concludes: atoms are not the real cause, but transparent veils
that at once hide and manifest the divine action. Atoms are mirrors reecting the innite
mind and power of God. The poverty (ajz) of atoms underlies, by way of contrast, every
attribute reected in their behaviour interactions, such as power, wisdom and knowledge.
To sum up, the veil of causality in Nurss thought has theosophical, epistemological
and ethical functions. From an ethical point of view, the veil of causality is necessary in
order for one to develop an authentic relationship with the Divine in accordance with
the adab (courtesy, renement, decorum) necessitated by the nature of this relationship.
From an epistemological point of view, causality is a regulative idea, a temporary epis-
temological station enabling one to reach a higher theological and spiritual level. God,
by creating beneath the structure of secondary causality in an ordered fashion, enables
human cognition to understand and to interact with the world in a more meaningful
and efcacious manner. From a theosophical point of view, the regularity and graduality
of natural processes transform the world into a more comprehensive and expository
mirror for the reection of the Divine Names, which demand to be manifested unceas-
ingly. Thus, although Nurs does not assign causal efcacy to causality, he presents a
world view in which the veil of causality is fundamentally important.

Causality as a veil and religion-and-science discussion

So far, I have discussed the theological, philosophical and spiritual underpinnings of the
construction of causality as a veil within the Islamic tradition. Now, I shall turn to indicate
some of the possible implications of this perception of causality for the contemporary dis-
cussion on the reconciliation of religious and scientic claims on the nature of causality.10
The fundamental presumption of scientic research is that the world is a causally closed
self-contained system and, thus, natural processes can be explained by means of the inter-
actions of physical constituents of the world that are governed by natural laws. This, from
a religious perspective, creates a problem, for, if the world is a self-explanatory system,
then the notion of divine action seems unnecessary, improbable and even inconceivable.11
The most common religious reaction to the notion of the causal-closedness of the world
is interventionism, which asserts that the world is, in fact, not self-explanatory; there are
causal gaps, and divine action can be perceived in these domains. This, however, is not an
attractive solution for those who seek to address both scientic and religious concerns, for
the proposed presumption of causal gaps seems to be a science stopper. It also reduces the
divine to a God of a few remaining gaps.
Another reaction might be to perceive the divine as a supreme being who created
the world but does not intervene in natural processes, as in deistic assertions. Although
this may be an attractive position for the preservation of the scientic presumption of
causal-closedness, it contradicts the most basic claims of most religions, namely that
466 O. KOCA

the very notions of revelation and miracles seem to imply divine intervention in
history. Herein the idea of a relatable personal divinity to whom one prays seems to
be endangered.
One may also offer philosophical systems that equate the world and the divine and per-
ceive the two as one and the same thing, as in Spinozas pantheism. The difculty here
seems to be that we may simply be offering a lexical equivalence to material naturalisms.
In other words, if God is everywhere, there is no way of saying God is here. If God is the
world, how can we persuade ourselves of the existence of God from natural phenomena?
(McMullin 1988, 74).
One may also utilize the most recent scientic theories to argue that there are certain
insurmountable boundaries to scientic research. If so, the divine may be inuencing the
world in domains that escape scientic research and without disturbing the regularity and
consistency of causal interactions.12 Chaos theory, for example, indicates that the universe
operates more like a cloud, not like a clock. John Polkinghorne has given special attention
to this theory and explored its theological promises. A highly sensitive chaotic system
depends on initial conditions to the extent that one can affect the development of the
whole system by means of introducing information; that is to say, without introducing
extra energy.13 God, then, may be intervening in this system by introducing information
without disrupting the law-like structure of the natural order.14 Others have traced the
implications of quantum physics.15 According to most interpretations of quantum
physics, there are real indeterminacies in the subatomic world. The indeterministic struc-
ture implies that, at the subatomic level, there are always multiple possibilities. God may be
acting by manipulating existing possibilities provided by the system. Thus it is scienti-
cally possible to argue that God intervenes in the subatomic world without disturbing
the causal order. Indeed, the probabilistic laws of quantum mechanics would be the de-
nition of the way God acts in the world (Murphy 1995, 344; see also Saunders 2002).
Others have traced the theological implications of the emergence theories to this discus-
sion (see Clayton 2009, 2004a). According to these theories, emergent properties arise
from but cannot be reduced to lower level interactions. Furthermore, they might exert
top-down causal inuence on the lower levels. Consciousness is a good example here in
that it depends on but cannot be reduced to brain activity. This makes it possible to envi-
sage that God may be inuencing or luring parts of the cosmos just as consciousness
exerts a top-down causal inuence on the brain (see Peacocke 1993, 159160; Clayton
1997, 232269, 2004b, 263264).
Several concerns may be raised about these proposals as well. First, scientic theories
are tentative. Thus, a proposed theological interpretation of a scientic theory is unlikely
to be conclusive. Second, scientic theories usually allow more than one theological or
philosophical interpretation. For instance, both non-deterministic and deterministic
interpretations of quantum theory are possible, although the former seems more persua-
sive (see Bohm 1952). Third, from a more theological perspective, the proposed interpre-
tations of modern scientic theories seem to suggest that God acts only in domains that
are beyond the scope of scientic research. This may be perceived as another form of
the God-of-the-gaps argument. Fourth, the above-mentioned theological interpretations
of modern scientic theories seem to presuppose a zero sum game between scientic
explanations and divine activity in the world; and this is a questionable presumption
(see Wegter-McNelly 2006, 162).

This whole discussion implies a need for a causal theory that can integrate religious and
scientic claims regarding Gods causal inuence in the world. To be a plausible option for
both sides, at least in the universe of the Abrahamic traditions, the required theory should
not be reducible to either deism or interventionism: deism, the idea of a passive God, is in
sharp contrast with the most basic claims of most religions, and interventionism is a
science stopper. It should also be able to indicate the possibility of talking about God
without positing causal gaps in the world and without offering merely lexical equivalences
to materialistic naturalisms, as this is arguably the case for pantheism.
Could the construction of causality as a veil offer an alternative here? In the writings of
Ibn Arab and Said Nurs, causality stands like a veil between the world and God in that
causality is located at the borderline of the worlds innity and proximity, like a thin veil
that is translucent in that it both exposes and conceals what is behind it, depending on the
observers standpoint. As such, it alludes to both the proximity and transcendence of the
world. The world is proximate in causality for the idea of causality renders the world pre-
dictable. But the idea of a veil also suggests that the world cannot be reduced to causal
relations hence transcendence. The veiled remains an enigma. Causality here is con-
ceived as a representation of natural process in the mind. The veil represents what is re-
presented, without exhausting it. It makes it possible to think about the presence of a
content in a container that exceeds its capacity (Levinas 1979, 289).
It is here that the question of causality can be rethought in the context of the con-
temporary religion-and-science discussion. The proximity of causality secures the regu-
larity of the world process. Natural processes remain predictable and causal histories
can be traced. Causality as a veil covers the whole face of natural processes. There
are no gaps and physical occurrences are law-like, so causality as a veil avoids the
God-of-the-gaps argument.
This brings us to an important question. If there are no causal gaps, how can one infer
the existence of God from the world? Here, the element of transcendence implied by the
idea of the veil becomes helpful. A thin veil is half-transparent and allows a certain per-
ception of the object behind it. It might offer a way to intuit the distance between the re-
presentation of natural processes in the form of causality in the mind and their irreducible
existence in extra-mental reality. Thus, the concept of the veil leads to a two-dimensional
understanding of causality. In this case, one may think of an element of transcendence in
causal relations without positing causal gaps or offering lexical equivalences to material
naturalism, such as deism or pantheism.
This element of transcendence remains at the margin in scientic investigations and so
can easily be overlooked because of the focus on the veil itself. It could, however, be accen-
tuated by religions in such a way that scientic knowledge of natural processes might exist
simultaneously with religious awe, without either negating or contradicting the other.

1. It must be noted that in modern scholarship there is a divergence of opinion as to whether he
truly rejected the necessity of causality.
2. Al-Ashar holds that a verse from the Quran indicates the limited number of these atoms:
And everything has been numbered by us (Q 36.1213) (McCarthy 1953, 92 [Arabic text],
127 [English translation]). See also Gnaltay 2008, 63.
468 O. KOCA

3. As Richard Frank (1994, 148) observes, [P]ositing man as the creator of his deeds implies
that there is another power beside Gods. This was tantamount to polytheism or at the
very least, dualism.
4. Here I use the term theosophy to mean a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of
divinity by starting from the sacred texts, the natural phenomena, and religious experiences.
5. I have consulted here the translation in Chittick 1998. See also Ibn Arab, 19721991, vol. 1,
160.4; vol. 4, 288.1; vol. 3, 373.1, vol. 2, 69.32, vol. 2, 61.10, vol. 2, 580.19, vol. 3, 397.8, vol. 2,
122.29, vol. 2, 480.33, vol. 2, 34.1, vol. 2, 93.19; Ibn Arab 1946, 65; see also Chitticks (1989,
4148) translations and comments; also Izutsu 1983, 63, 98100, 208; Chittick 2014.
6. The concept of loci must be properly understood here. The divine qualities are reected on
the loci of nothingness (adam al-mutlaq).
7. See, for example, Nurs 2009, 64. Thus, studying nature is the same as studying some char-
acter traits of God.
8. Along the same lines, the Flemish occasionalist Arnold Geulincx (16241669) wrote: You are
not the cause of that which you do not know how to bring about (Geulincx 1893, 150151).
9. See, for example:

Nothing can exist without everything else. Throughout the universe the mystery of co-
operation is both concealed and pervasive; intimated in every part of it are mutual assist-
ance and the reciprocal answering of needs. Only an all-encompassing power could do
this, and create the particle, situating it suitably to all its relations. Every line and word of
the book of the world is living; need drives each, acquaints one with the other. Wherever
they come from, they respond to the call for help; in the name of Divine unity, they meet
with their surroundings. Every living word has a face and eye that looks to all the sen-
tences. (Nurs 2005, 731)
10. I soon hope to submit a more extensive second essay on this topic.
11. For a discussion of this problem, see, for example, Kaufman 1972, 134, 271.
12. There are a number of excellent works on the history of the discussion. See, for example,
Barbour 2000; Peters 1998.
13. See, for example, Polkinghorne 1998; Saunders 2002.
14. For a defence of this position, see Polkinghorne 1989, 1999.
15. See, for example, Murphy 1997; Russell, Murphy, and Peacocke 1995.

Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.

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