Islamic Studies Fana and Baqa
Kazuyo Murata
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0256


Fanāʾ and baqāʾ, or “annihilation” and “subsistence,” respectively, are two technical terms in Sufism that describe two contrasting states of the human being on the path to God. A key Quran reference is Everything upon the earth is undergoing annihilation, but there subsists the face of your Lord, Possessor of Majesty and Generous Giving (Q 55:26–27). Some Sufis categorize fanāʾ and baqāʾ as “states” (aḥwāl) of the human being, while others call them “stations” (maqāmāt), “waystations” (manāzil), “fields” (maydān), and so on, all of which are hierarchically ordered to indicate progressive stages of the spiritual journey. In most schematization, fanāʾ is followed by baqāʾ, with the latter constituting a more advanced stage than the former. While Sufis over the centuries have developed slightly different formulations of these two terms, a basic sense of fanāʾ is the annihilation of the human selfhood in the sheer presence of God, which is followed by baqāʾ, where the human selfhood returns and subsists. The selfhood at the stage of baqāʾ is understood to be different from the selfhood before it was annihilated. As fanāʾ and baqāʾ constitute a pair of opposite states of the human being, they are closely related to other pairs of opposite states, such as intoxication (sukr) and sobriety (ṣaḥw), expansion (basṭ) and contraction (qabḍ), and gathering (jamʿ) and separation (tafriqa). By discussing fanāʾ and baqāʾ together, Sufis made the point that the journey to God does not end in the annihilation of the self-awareness. Rather, the highest stage is where the human being is able to retain self-awareness while being fully aware of divine presence at the same time. One may say that the stage of subsistence after annihilation is roughly analogous to the state of the philosopher in Plato’s allegory of the cave when he returns to the cave after having seen the world of Forms above ground. The stage of subsistence after annihilation is where human beings can live an earthly life in full harmony with God’s will while retaining individual awareness and sobriety that enable them to speak to and guide others. Sufis regard this to be the state of the prophet Muhammad and the state to aspire to through the spiritual discipline of the Sufi path.

Reference Works

These encyclopedia entries in English provide useful background for understanding fanāʾ and baqāʾ. Those who are new to the subject are recommended to begin with Böwering 1988 and Mojaddedi 2011, followed by Gardet 1960–2007 and Rahman 1960–2007, with supplementary use of Carra de Vaux 1913–1936. Lajevardi and Waley 2008 focuses on Bāyazīd and discusses his understanding of fanāʾ.

  • Böwering, Gerhard. “Baqāʾ wa fanāʾ.” In Encyclopaedia Iranica. Edited by Ehsan Yarshater. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988.

    The most extensive reference work on the two terms including a substantial bibliography. Available online.

  • Carra de Vaux, B. “Fanāʾ.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 1st ed. Edited by M. T. Houtsma, T. W. Arnold, R. Basset, and R. Hartmann. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1913–1936.

    The oldest Brill reference for the term fanāʾ. Concise and may be more useful for understanding the history of Western scholarship on fanāʾ than the concept itself. Available online by subscription.

  • Gardet, L. “Ḥāl.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960–2007.

    Provides necessary background for understanding fanāʾ and baqāʾ by putting them in the context of the discussion of the states (aḥwāl) of the human being. Available online by subscription.

  • Lajevardi, Fatemeh, and M. I. Waley. “Bāyazīd Basṭāmī.” In Encyclopaedia Islamica. Edited by Wilferd Madelung and Farhad Daftary. London: Brill, 2008.

    See the section on “The Nature and Description of Fanāʾ (Annihilation),” which explains Bāyazīd’s conception of fanāʾ. Available online by subscription.

  • Mojaddedi, Jawid. “Annihilation and Abiding in God.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Edited by Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011.

    The most extensive and latest reference work on fanāʾ and baqāʾ published by Brill. Available online by subscription.

  • Rahman, F. “Baḳāʾ wa-Fanāʾ.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam. 2d ed. Edited by P. Bearman, T. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, and W. P. Heinrichs. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1960–2007.

    After Mojaddedi 2011, the most useful reference work on the two terms. Available online by subscription.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.