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Fanaa (فناء) Context, origin: The concept of fanā was originally coined by the Sufi Abū Sa’id Karrāz, and is often attributed to Abū L-Qāsim al-Junayd. Fanā comes from a doctrine that has been developed since the execution of Mansur Al-Hallaj in 922 A.D. [1]. The terms fanā and baqa are drawn from the Koranic passage (55:26-27): “All that dwells upon the earth is perishing (faāen), yet still abides (yabqā) the Face of thy Lord, majestic, splendid” [2].

Definition: Fanā is a Sufi term meaning passing away [3] that refers to a stage of mystical development in the path of gnosis. Since this is an experiential concept, there is no one perfect definition of fanā. Two allied definition have been offered of fanā (1) the passing away from the consciousness of the mystic of all things, including himself, and even the absence of the consciousness of this passing away and its replacement by a pure consciousness of God, and (2) the annihilation of the imperfect attributes (as distinguished from the substance) of the creature and their replacement by the perfect attributes bestowed by God [4].

Connection to Sufism: After the death of its founder, Islam (like other religions) crystallized into differentiated exoteric and esoteric institutional forms: the exoteric “religious” or “outer” practice and the esoteric “spiritual” or “inner” practice. The exoteric crystallization within Islam became popularly known as the Sharia, Divine Law or Canon, and the esoteric crystallization as the Tariqa, the Way. The Tariqa’s focus and praxis became known as tasawwuf, or Sufism in English [5].


Differences from concept of nirvāna

Fanā is sometimes associated with the Hindu or Buddhist notion of nirvāna. Although it has some similarities to the concept of nirvāna, fanā does not denote the extinction of individual life [6].

Fanā is not a mere cessation of individual life, but the development of a more ample and perfect selfhood, thanks to the utter change of attributes wrung by the influence of God [7]. Fanã is not the experience of being freed from a painful circle of existence, since Islam lacks the idea of karma and accepts the reality of the individual soul. Fanā is, in the beginning, an ethical concept: man becomes annihilated and takes on God’s attributes – it is the place of the alleged hadith “qualify yourself with the qualities of God” or in other words through constant mental struggle exchange your own base qualities for the praiseworthy qualities by which God has described Himself in the Koranic revelation [8].

Fanā revealed

Explanation: Fanā can best be described as the stage when the Sufi passes away in mystical union with the divine, the standard grammatical distinction between the self and the other, human and divine, reflexive and non-reflexive, begins to break down (Sells 82). When one is working toward fanā, one becomes the locus for God’s attributes and in doing so involves a great deal of losing attributes of self-hood. This is a step of dissolving or extinguishing the boundaries of the ego or self and merging and anchoring it with the Divine Self is called fanā [9]. Fanā (passing away) and baqa (subsisting) are a correlative pair of notions in which fanā logically precedes baqā. Of the two terms, fanā is the more significant concept in Sufi writings.

Process: In realizing tawhid (affirmation of the oneness of God), the mystic has to pass away from any trace of individual self-consciousness so that his self is blotted out in actual non-existence and God alone exists and in truth subsists. This non-existence, however, equals the state of original existence humanity possessed in the presence of God at the primordial covenant prior to creation. The following Rumi poem provides a good analogy for this concept: “Let the servant be, in relation to God, like a marionette…let him return in finishing his life to his point of departure.” Example of Junayd: Junayd is often thought of in relation to fanā because it led to his execution. For this reason, it is helpful to study Junayd to better understand the concept of fanā. Here, fanā was exemplified as obliterating self-consciousness, losing the “you” because all existence is God. Junayd is quoted saying, “He (God) annihilates my construction just as he constructed me originally in the condition of my annihilation (Sells 260). It is in this losing the oneness of individuality that the true display of fanā is displayed.

Junayd’s Three Stages of Fanā & Baqā 1) Obliterate self-attributes, especially through opposing desires 2) Obliterate the pleasure of obedience, you are exclusively His 3) Obliterate self-consciousness, physical being continues but a person has no individuality cyclical, imperfect & painful

The transition from existence to non-existence or primordial existence is not a total annihilation, since the Sufi self is not reduced to pure nothingness. Rather, it is purification of the Sufi’s self which is drawn to higher forms of being and ultimately absorbed in God [10]. The crucial point of passing away is reached when the Sufi’s own self is stripped off, like a snake shedding its skin, and mystic’s own self-identity is obliterated. In shedding the self of ordinary self-perception – the self that is identifiable by a person’s name – the mystic reaches his true self that is ultimately and profoundly one with God [11]. Baqa is generally regarded as being more perfect than that of mere fanā. Baqa is the “return” to the world-which is, they emphatically state, not a simple return to the pre-fanā state of the mystic, since his experience has given him an altogether new insight-means to perceive its inadequacies and to endeavor to make it more perfect. Whereas the ordinary mystic stops at fanā and does not even wish to return to the world, it is the function of the prophet-the mystic par excellence-to be constantly both with God and with the world, to transmute the course of history through the implementation of the religio-moral divine Truth [12]. It is only as the mystic loses the identity with his own self, that he experiences identity with God ([13]).

Additional Information

It means to annihilate the self, while remaining physically alive. Persons having entered this state are said to have no existence outside of, and be in complete unity with, Allah.

Fanaa is similar to the concepts of nirvana in Buddhism and Hinduism or moksha in Hinduism which also aim for annihilation of the self. Fanaa may be attained by constant meditation and by contemplation on the attributes of God, coupled with the denunciation of human attributes.

It is a sort of mental, yet real, death. The person of the "Way" experiences it freely; it is the final passage which leads to the summit of the Stages. It liberates one from all contingency outside of their spiritual quest; the ultimate aim is the Truth. Three degrees may be distinguished here: fanâ' of acts, attributes and essence.

The Sufi fanâ in its triple manifestation does not have an exclusively negative effect or action; it is the annihilation of everything contingent, whether this be in the form of action, attribute or essence; more precisely, it is the annihilation of everything that is not God, and God is the supreme object of all good, all beauty.

Fanâ' thus conceived is an internal state which requires from the Sufi a sustained and permanent effort of concentration to break ones fetters and take on the demands and calls of truth, by ones acts, ones moral virtues, ones whole being. That implies perfect control of oneself: in words, deeds and thoughts.

It is at this price that one attains an interior spiritual state where one becomes the pure and clear mirror in which the lights of Truth are reflected in all their splendour.

There are three ways in ones journey towards God.

  • The first is the way of ignorance, through which each must travel. It is like a person walking for miles in the sun while carrying a heavy load on your shoulder, who, when fatigued, throws away the load and falls asleep under the shade of a tree. Such is the condition of the average person, who spends ones life blindly under the influence of ones senses and gathers the load of their evil actions; the agonies of their earthly longings creating a hell through which one must pass to reach the destination of ones journey. With regard to this person the Qur'an says, 'One who is blind in life, shall also be blind in the hereafter.'
    • The next way is that of devotion, which is for true lovers. Rumi says, 'one may be the lover of people or the lover of God; after perfection one is taken before the Majesty of love.' Devotion is the heavenly wine, which intoxicates the devotee until the heart becomes purified from all infirmities and there remains the happy vision of the Beloved, which lasts to the end of the journey. 'Death is a bridge, which unites friend to friend' (Sayings of Mohammed).
      • The third is the way of wisdom, accomplished only by the few. The disciple disregards life's momentary comforts, unties oneself from all earthly bondages and turns their eyes toward God, inspired with divine wisdom. One gains command over ones body, thoughts and feelings, and is thereby enabled to create ones own heaven within oneself, that one may rejoice until they merged into the eternal goal. 'We have stripped the veil from thine eyes, and thy sight today is keen', says the Qur'an.

All must journey along one of these three paths, but in the end they arrive at one and the same goal. As it is said in the Qur'an, 'It is God who multiplied you on the earth, and to God you shall be gathered.'==Grades==Perfection is reached by the regular practice of concentration, passing through three grades of development: *Faná -fi-Shaikh, annihilation in the astral plane, **Faná-fi-Rasul, annihilation in the spiritual plane, and ***Faná-fi-Allah, annihilation in the abstract. After passing through these three grades, the highest state is attained of Baqaa-bi-Allah, annihilation in the eternal consciousness.


  1. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam
  2. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica
  3. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam
  4. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam
  5. ^ Asceticism in Islam
  6. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica
  7. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam
  8. ^ Mystical Dimensions of Islam 142
  9. ^ Asceticism in Islam
  10. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica
  11. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica
  12. ^ Encyclopaedia of Islam
  13. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica


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