CHAPTER II - Numerology: Secrets of Odd Numbers
“"Spiritual Knowledge is like water, it takes the color and shape of the cup.
Allah's Knowledge is so great, that however much we take, it is like a drop of a huge ocean.
It is like a vast garden, however much we have cut it, it is as if we had cut but one flower."
Seydina Shah Bah’uddin Naqshband
I – Two Interpretations of the Islamic Testimony of Faith
Numbers are an important part of spirituality. For instance the number 7 is universally associated with heaven. In order to better understand them we need to meditate upon the nature of the Attributes of God as described by the Islamic testimony of faith.
The first part of the testimony of faith states that “there is no god but God”. This utterance contains two important notions:
- Encompassment of God’s Attributes
- Uniqueness of God’s Attributes
1 – Encompassment of God’s Attributes
The interpretation of the testimony of faith as God’s encompassing Attributes could be paraphrased as such: “there is not a single event that appears except through the power of God”, or “every smallest event that appears is a manifestation of God’s Attributes”. Here the scientific term “event” refers to anything that becomes manifest in the universe (motion, human thought, emotion, energy displacement, etc).
This interpretation implies that God’s Attributes are reflected in the universe though an infinite numbers of ways, as stated in the Holy Quran:
Everyday He is upon a new task
Kullah yawmin huwa fee shani
Holy Quran. 55:29
Here the term “everyday” refers to the smallest possible unit of time and could be associated with the scientific term “event”.
2 – Uniqueness of God’s Attributes
The interpretation of the testimony of faith as God’s uniqueness could be paraphrased as such: “the One who is above the limits of the laws of the universe is God”, or “God cannot be compared to creation”. In fact, some Islamic scholars suggest that comparing God to His creation is not allowed because by doing so, one is inevitably putting a limit to His greatness.
The two interpretations of the testimony of faith are best understood through an example: let’s assume that two individuals are talking with each other somewhere in America. At the very same moment, a mother is giving birth to a son in China.
These two events (the conversation and the birth) appear simultaneously in the universe as manifestations of two Attributes of God: the Attribute of Speech and the Attribute of Life which our three friends inherit. However the two individuals and the mother have no knowledge of each other. God alone is able to know what is unknown to them. This is the manifestation of His Uniqueness. Let us now see how these two manifestations are related to numbers.
II – Superiority of Odd Numbers
The superiority of odd numbers lies in the fact that every one of them is made up of an even part to which the number 1 was added.
Example: 15 = 14+1
This 1 represents God while the even part (14) represents creation. Note the number 1 remains the same constant for every odd number. Indeed regardless of which odd number we choose, we will always find the number 1 “staying away” from the even part. This particularity is a manifestation of God’s Uniqueness (“God cannot be compared to creation, nor can He be associated with it”). Moreover, the even part of any odd number (the part that represents creation) is made up of a series of 1’s. For instance, in the example used above, 14 = 1+1+1+…1. This part is a manifestation of God’s encompassing Attributes as we find Him appearing in every part of creation through the series of 1’s. Therefore, one may realize that even numbers, which represent creation, carry only the encompassing manifestation of God while odd numbers carry both the encompassing and the restricting manifestations of His Attributes. Hence the reality of an odd number is higher than that of an even number.
III – Particularity of the Number 3
The number 3 is special in many instances. First of all, it could be qualified as the first odd number that is related to the universe or creation. Secondly, its essence embodies the reality of a very important sequential movement as we shall see. When it comes to mentioning odd numbers many of us think of the number 1 as the first in this category. However, the number 1 is related to God Himself and, as such, may not be fully understood through the laws of the universe. Indeed, as any other number, it is made up of an even part (0) and odd part (1) such that: 1 = 0 +1. However, its even part represents the non-manifested reality of God, which Islamic scholars call the Unknown (Hu). This particularity makes it impossible to fully understand the number 1. The next odd number is 3 which could therefore be considered as the first odd number. Its specialty comes from the fact that it represents a sequence of 3 spiritual events.
1 – The Number 3 and the Sequence of Spiritual Events
If we take the even part of an odd number, we may break it down in two subsequent identical parts. For instance, the even part of the number 15 is 14 which could be broken down as 7 and 7. Therefore, any odd number is made up of three components: the exclusive unitary part (1) and two identical parts that are combined together to make up the even part. These three parts that make up every odd number represent an important sequential movement in the order of manifestation of spiritual events. The first event is the initial form of an occurrence, the second event is opposite in form to the initial event and the third one is both a confirmation and a continuation of the initial action. Mathematically speaking we would get:
+ - +
plus, minus, plus
The first two signs represent the two combined units of the even part of an odd number. In our example above these units would be 7 and 7. The last sign represents the exclusive unitary part of the odd number, that is, the number 1.
a – The First Two Signs
The two combined units of an odd number’s even part represent the two types of divine Attributes: Beauty and Majesty. Beauty is represented by the first positive sign while Majesty is represented by the negative sign. These two types of Attributes are represented by opposite signs because they appear in the universe in opposite ways. For instance, God’s Beauty is manifested by life in the universe while His Majesty is manifested by death and the perishable nature of creation. All of God’s known Attributes could be categorized as either Beautiful or Majestic. In simple terms, the Beautiful Attributes may be understood as anything appearing to creation as sweet (love for instance) while the Majestic Attributes would appear as anything bitter (separation or death for instance). Therefore these two categories encompass all the divine Attributes. Although God’s Attributes appear in opposite ways (rain and hot air for instance) they share a common goal: to make creation know about its Creator. This goal is manifested in mathematics as what scientists call the fundamental goal of linear algebra as we shall see later. Therefore, although the manifestations of the Attributes are different in form their essence is the same. This paradoxical nature is manifested as the two units of an odd number’s even part which are always identical in essence but opposite in spiritual signs. A close look at the sequential order of spiritual events reveal that the Beautiful Attributes surround the Majestic ones. Indeed, the sequential order is “plus” (Beauty) followed by “minus” (Majesty) followed by “plus” (Beauty):
Beauty, Majesty, Beauty
Thus, the Beautiful Attributes encompass the Majestic ones. This sequential order is a manifestation of the authenticated traditional saying:
“My Mercy has overcome My Anger”
This divine saying, which was related by Prophet Muhammad (SAW), may be read as “My Beautiful Attributes encompass My Majestic Attributes”. This encompassment is manifested through the surrounding of the minus sign by the two positive signs.
b – The Last Sign
The last sequential sign represents the wisdom associated with the manifestation of any event in the universe. This sign is both a confirmation and a continuation of the initial action because it reveals the wisdom behind any action created by God in the universe. Since the first sign is from the Beautiful Attributes and since the last one is an extension of the first one, one may conclude that the wisdom associated with every creation is from the Beautiful Attributes. In other words, any event in the universe has a hidden wisdom and this wisdom is from the Mercy of God.
c – The Sequence of 3 Manifested in Islam and in Sufism
The Sequence of 3 is an important spiritual sequence in Islamic spirituality. For instance, Islam is made up of three levels: Islamic law (shari’a), spiritual path (tariqa) and divine Truth (Haqiqa). According to the sequence of signs (+ - +) , the last level (Haqiqa) represent a more elevated manifestation of the first level (shari’a). This is the reason why those who truly reach the last level of reality are also the most obedient to the Islamic law as one may not reach perfection in spirituality without adhering to the set of spiritual laws laid by God’s prophets.