Call for Papers: The Oneness of Being (Waḥdat al-Wujūd): Interpretation, Reception, and Implications

Al-Mahdi Institute is pleased to announce the call for papers for its upcoming two-day conference on Monday 22nd April to Tuesday 23rd April 2024, titled: ‘The Oneness of Being (Waḥdat al-Wujūd): Interpretation, Reception, and Implications’ convened by Dr Zoheir Esmail. The deadline for abstracts is Monday 4th December 2023.

The fundamental tension between meaningful theological unity and self-evident multiplicity is one of the most complex rational problems that Muslim scholars have faced. Ensuring a clear separation between Creator and creation, while not allowing for an independent source of perfection other than God, gives rise to complex questions which need to be coherently answered for the rational integrity of an intellectual framework for religion. The Akbarian doctrine of waḥdat al-Wujūd (oneness of Being), developed by the school of Ibn ʿArabī, provides a powerful contribution to this intricate problem which reflects on the essence of tawḥīd, the most fundamental doctrine of Islam. But waḥdat al-Wujūd has received a mixed reception amongst different groups of Muslim scholars and has provided an impetus to charged and sometimes polarising discussion. It has inspired some towards stating the completeness of the doctrine such that no improvement can be made to it, and from others it has invoked rulings of takfīr (excommunication) for one who subscribes to it. The polemics are further confused by a plethora of possible meanings of the term, as well as unscholarly engagement with the concept by groups of Ṣūfīs who may have been unable to grasp the intellectual intricacies of a topic that comes with repeated warnings of the ease by which it can be easily misconstrued and misinterpreted. Erroneous interpretations, or the occurrence of mystical outbursts (shaṭḥīyāt) in mystics like al-Ḥallāj, which are interpreted as outward expressions of unbelief, serve to deepen disdain of more scripturally minded scholars who see the mystical process as one of misguidance and error. But amongst mystics and transcendental philosophers, certain readings of waḥdat al-Wujūd occupy an elevated position as a coherent solution to one of the most disturbing intellectual problems. Its role is beyond theological doctrine and the concept intersects with exegetical literature which engages with the scriptural sources in order to explain their obscurities and deeper meanings. As a doctrine that engages with the meaning of tawḥīd, its applications stretch to many aspects of Islam and indeed to the very core of what it means to be a Muslim. In order to negotiate the meaning of waḥdat al-Wujūd it is at times compared to other terms such as waḥdat al-mawjūd and waḥdat al-shuhūd.

The purpose of this two-day inaugural Mysticism and Spirituality conference at Al-Mahdi Institute is to explore the different perspectives and implications of the concept of waḥdat al-Wujūd and to reflect on its reception in the Muslim world. By discussing how various scholars from diverse denominations and in different geographical locations have engaged with the doctrine and its applications in elucidating the scriptural sources (Qurʾān, aḥādīth and liturgical literature), the papers presented at this conference will provide a more nuanced appreciation of the complexities involved in understanding the doctrine of waḥdat al-Wujūd in historical and modern contexts.

Applicants are invited to consider the following questions:

  • What are the various meanings of waḥdat al-Wujūd and how are they used in different contexts? Is there a right version of waḥdat al-Wujūd?
  • What scriptural evidence is there for the doctrine of waḥdat al-Wujūd?
  • How does waḥdat al-Wujūd empower mystics in their explanations of the nuances of tawḥīd?
  • What is the exegetical impact of waḥdat al-Wujūd in the theological, philosophical and scriptural traditions?
  • How have different groups of scholars reacted to waḥdat al-Wujūd and what kind of polemical works have been written by protagonists and antagonists?
  • What are the epistemological foundations of waḥdat al-Wujūd?
  • How does waḥdat al-Wujūd affect practical wayfaring?
  • What has caused the proclamations of takfīr (excommunication) on those who ascribe to the doctrine of waḥdat al-Wujūd?
  • How have scholars negotiated waḥdat al-Wujūd with other concepts such as waḥdat al-shuhūd and waḥdat al-mawjūd?
  • How have mystical outbursts (shaṭḥīyāt) been negotiated between various audiences?


The Conference 

This conference is organised by the Al-Mahdi Institute in collaboration with AMI Press. Shortlisted abstracts are expected to be developed into a full academic paper. The Al-Mahdi Institute will cover all reasonable travel and accommodation costs. The proceedings of the conference will be published in the form of an edited book in 2025. The language of the conference (and published papers) will be English only. The conference will run over two days, each having 6–8 papers, and includes lunch, refreshments, and dinner. Each paper should last no more than 20 minutes. All presenters are required to stay for the full two days.


 Schedule for Submissions 

  • Abstracts: The deadline for abstracts is Monday, 4th December 2023. Abstracts should be 300–500 words and should be submitted along with a CV (maximum 2 pages, with a listing of the applicant’s publications and recent work experience) in either MS Word or PDF format. Authors should also provide a short biography of themselves.
  • Shortlisting Abstracts: Abstracts shortlisted for the workshop will be notified by Friday, 15th December 2023.
  • Conference: Selected abstracts will be invited for a two-day conference on 22nd-23rd April 2024 at the Al-Mahdi Institute, 60 Weoley Park Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham B29 6RB. The conference co-ordinator will arrange travel and accommodation for you.
  • Full papers: Final papers must be submitted by 1st August 2024. Papers should be presented in line with the house style of AMI Press and have a word count between 8,000–12,000 words maximum, excluding bibliography.
  • Review: Authors should review the editor’s comments and recommendations and resubmit articles with appropriate changes. The outcome of the editor’s review will be communicated to authors by 30th September 2024.
  • Copyediting: The copyeditor will edit your paper and standardise it to match the AMI Press house style. Your copyedited paper will be sent to you by 31st October 2024.
  • Final paper: Any final amendments to papers should be submitted by 30th November 2024.
  • Publication: The edited volume is scheduled for publication in March 2025.


Submissions of Abstracts 

An abstract of no more than 500 words should be submitted in the form of a MS Word document or PDF attached to [email protected] by 17:00 UK time, Monday 4th December 2023. Applicants should submit a CV with a listing of publications and recent employment history.


Submissions Process (Full Papers)  

Full papers should be submitted in the form of a MS Word document attached to an email to [email protected] no later than 17:00 UK time, 1st August 2024.

The first page of the manuscript should contain the following:

  • The title
  • The name(s) and institutional affiliation of the author(s)
  • Short biography
  • The address, telephone, and email address of the corresponding author(s)
  • An abstract of 300 words maximum
  • A bibliography
  • 6 keywords.

Final submissions should be 8,000–12,000 words, excluding the bibliography, and written in accordance with the Chicago Manual of Style. Any specific conventions adopted by AMI Press will be communicated to authors in due course.