As we continue to contemplate together the depth of the meaning of Al-Fatiha and Siratal Mustaqim which for Sufis is the "Path of Direct Experience," or Al-Fana', it is important to understand what Al-Fana' really signifies.
Rom Landau in his book "The Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi" looks at the Sheikh al-Akbar's perspective:
"Ibn 'Arabi devotes a great deal of thought to mystical experiences and the 'mechanism' within them. The usual Sufi term for 'union' with God is fana' (passing away, or annihilation). But not all Sufis agree on its meaning, nor on the meaning of its opposite pole, the term baqa', or enduring. Most of the Sufis before Ibn 'Arabi use the word fana' to describe a purely subjective state. They agree that in fana' consciousness of the phenomenal world is lost; that fana' leads to a gradual unification with God; and that it involves a giving up of all personal desires, and resignation to the will of God. But, as Dr. Affifi points out, with the exception of Al-Qushayri, no Sufi defines fana' or baqa' as clear psychological states: the one as 'abandonment of the phenomenal', the other as 'concentration of the Divine and spiritual'. As Al-Qushayri says (in his Risalah, p. 32), 'the two states together are like a lover's absorption in the beloved'. Practically all other Sufi statements on fana' were vague.
Ibn 'Arabi was not only a Sufi but also a philosopher, whose intellectual capacities were second to none in Muslim thought. In his views on fana' he disagrees not only with most Sufis but also with Western mystics who describe a state corresponding to fana'. How can even a mystic, he asks, 'die to self', and yet be conscious of God? Consciousness (irrespective of its object implies continuation of self. A passing away of self cannot mean anything but sleep. In such a state, 'the mystic is neither with his "self" nor with his "lord"; he is asleep, he is unaware'. Ibn 'Arabi dismisses as ignorance the assumption that the mystic has become God or dies to himself.
Ibn 'Arabi considers fana' from both a mystical and a metaphysical aspect. In a mystical sense, fana' is a passing away of ignorance and a becoming aware of the essential oneness of the whole. It is realization of one's non-existence as form (phenomenon). This, he claims, can be achieved only intuitively. In a metaphysical sense, fana' is a passing away of the forms of the phenomenal world and continuation of the one universal essence. It is the disappearance of form at the moment of the manifestation of God in another form', or as he puts it, 'the disappearance of a form is its fana' at the moment of the manifestation of God in another form'. (Fusus, p. 230). It can be said then (on the basis of Ibn 'Arabi's, and the atomists', doctrine of the world as being in a constant process of creation, that is, of destruction and recreation) that fana' is catching the infinitesimal moment between the annihilation of one Divine Attribute and the emergence of a new Attribute. (What Ibn 'Arabi appears to mean is that, since Divine Attributes, by their very nature, exist in time, only the 'instant' between them belongs to eternity - the dimension of pure essence. And so it is only then that the timelessness of fana' can be reached.)
In his endeavour to give an objective assessment of fana', Ibn 'Arabi delineates it as a gradual process which he divides into seven stages. These are as follows:
1. Passing away, from sin. This Ibn 'Arabi does not interpret in the usual Sufi manner as the abandonment of all sin, but as a realization that all actions are right (not in a moral sense but as coming from God). That which is sin, is to regard one's actions as coming from oneself.
2. Passing away from all actions in the realization that God is the agent of all actions.
3. Passing away from all attributes of the 'form' in the realization that they all belong to God. As Ibn 'Arabi puts it; 'God sees Himself in you through your own eye and, therefore, He really sees Himself: this is the meaning of the passing away of attributes.' (Fusus, p.198).
4. Passing away from one's own personality in the realization of the non-existence of the phenomenal self, and the endurance (baqa') of the eternal substance which is its essence.
5. Passing away from the whole world in the realization of the real aspect which is at the bottom of the phenomenal.
6. Passing away from all that is other than God, even from the act of passing away (fana' al-fana'). The mystic ceases to be conscious of himself as contemplator, God being both the contemplator and the object of the contemplation. (This is very different from the common Sufi view of the disappearance of consciousness which Ibn 'Arabi defines as mere sleep.)
7. Passing away from all Divine attributes. The universe ceases to be the 'effect of a cause' and becomes a 'Reality in appearance' (Haqq fi Zuhur). This seventh stage represents the fullest realization of the oneness of all things, and must be the final aim of all mystical endeavour.
It may be objected that Ibn 'Arabi tries in vain to give an intellectually acceptable explanation of the mystical experience, since such an experience is essentially incommunicable. It must, however, be conceded that no individual experience that involves quality and not merely quantity is communicable except by approximation. No one has ever been able to convey to others the essence of the feeling of being in love, or of the sensation of plunging headlong into icy water. All communication is effected by symbols, whether verbal, mathematical, or of any other nature. Though the symbols used by a mystic differ more profoundly from the experience they symbolize than do most symbols from their respective experience, the difference between the two kinds of symbols is not fundamental. If we wish to communicate a mystical experience, we can do it only by employing symbols similar to those we employ when communicating any kind of qualitative experience. These symbols, being media belonging to a plane different from the plane of the things they symbolize, must needs distort the truth of the experience. It may well be that a mystical experience sweeps through the different stages as tabulated by Ibn 'Arabi as though in a flash, and that his detailed tabulation is too complex and artificial to explain it. It may seem too particularized and intellectual, but it contributes to a clearer understanding of the mystical experience.
Summing up, we might say that for Ibn 'Arabi the goal of fana' is the attainment of true knowledge by the passing away of everything phenomenal, that is, everything other than God. Attainment of such knowledge can be equalled with awareness of God. This, however, must not be interpreted as becoming God. Rather is it God's recognizing Himself through, and within the medium of man."
~Excerpted from "The Philosophy of Ibn 'Arabi" by Rom Landau (1959) pp. 51-54