Wahdat al-wujud, which means "oneness of being" or "unity of existence," is a controversial expression closely associated with the name of Ibn al-˓Arabi (d. 1240), even though he did not employ it in his writings. It seems to have been ascribed to him for the first time in the polemics of Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328). Through modern times, critics, defenders, and Western scholars have offered widely different interpretations of its meaning; in "Rûmî and Wahdat al-wujûd" (1994), William Chittick has analyzed seven of these.
Taken individually, the two words are among the most discussed in Sufism, philosophy, and kalam (theology). Wahda or "oneness" is asserted in tawhid, the first principle of Islamic faith. Wujud—being or existence—is taken by many authors as the preferred designation for God's very reality. All Muslims agree that God's very reality is one. Controversy arises because the word wujud is also employed for the "existence" of things and the world. According to critics, wahdat al-wujud allows for no distinction between the existence of God and that of the world. Defenders point out that Ibn al-˓Arabi and his followers offer a subtle metaphysics following the line of the Ash˓arite formula: "The attributes are neither God nor other than God." God's "signs" (ayat) and "traces" (athar)—the creatures—are neither the same as God nor different from him, because God must be understood as both absent and present, both transcendent and immanent. Understood correctly, wahdat al-wujud elucidates the delicate balance that needs to be maintained between these two perspectives.
Chittick, William C. "Rûmî and Wahdat al-wujûd." In Poetry and Mysticism in Islam: The Heritage of Rumi. Edited by Amin Banani, Richard Hovannisian, and Georges Sabagh. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Knysh, Alexander D. Ibn ˓Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition:The Making of a Polemical Image in Medieval Islam. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999.
William C. Chittick