To Drive Away the Vampires: Music from the Balkans

Below is a wonderful sampler of music, via Baltimore-based Canary Records, from across the Balkans, culled from albums produced from the 1930s to the 1970s, so ‘modern,’ but not that far removed from the pre-radio, pre-recording, pre-nationalist past. One of the enduring legacies of the Ottoman Empire is the vast, diverse, yet inter-related soundscape of music practiced by the various ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups that dwelt in and moved across the Ottoman realms, carrying and transmitting and sharing their musical traditions, to the extent that no musical tradition remained sealed off from others. One can hear that multiplicity and interconnectedness in this lovely sampler; another good example, drawn from recent field recordings, is the album Mountains of Tongues, an assembly of contemporary ‘traditional’ music from the Caucuses, a region that, like the Ottoman Empire (which indeed included parts of the Caucuses) was and is a tapestry of traditions and identities.

Sufism in Chechnya

The following is one of four truly gorgeous and insightful short films of contemporary Chechen Sufi rituals. They are all well worth watching, as is the veritable treasure-trove of material the film-maker, Vincent Moon, has accumulated over the past few years, not only in the Caucasus but across the world.

LE GRAND JIHAD • soufisme en Tchétchénie (1) from Vincent Moon / Petites Planètes on Vimeo.

Advice for the Journey

In the vast field of medieval Arabic and Persian literature, it is not hard to find authors whose works seem all but impenetrable, cloaked in difficult syntax, obscure vocabulary, and constant, often infuriating motion from one perspective to another, full of occluded subjects, ambiguous referents, and unattributed references. ‘Azīz Nasafī, who seems to have lived at some point in the 13th century in what is now Uzbekistan, was not such a writer. Rather, his treatises, which defy easy categorization, are concise yet clear, carefully constructed with a pedagogical eye towards learners of varying skill levels; he is often humorous, drawing upon ‘real-world’ analogies in illustrating theological points. Some sources refer to him as a ‘Sufi,’ though this is a problematic characterization, as should be clear from the excerpt from one of his short treatises which I’ve translated and presented below, the Zubdat al-haqā’iq. He incorporates elements from the discursive tradition of Sufism, and had some sort of relationship or affiliation with a shaykh of the Kubrayi tariqa- but that is about the limit of it. He does not present himself as a Sufi shaykh, and his incorporation of Sufi material is selective. Likewise, he was clearly conversant with multiple streams of philosophy; his own particular philosophical perspective was a sort of monism, similar, but not dependent upon that of the rather more famous ibn ‘Arabi. But it would probably be inaccurate to simply call him a philosopher and be done with it.

And so on we might go with all of the conventional designations for thinkers and religious folk of this period- categories become rather difficult, if not impossible, to apply. He himself, in several of his treatises, deflects categorization: he instead tells his readers that his purpose is to present the teachings of multiple ‘schools’ of thought and practice, trying hard not to bias the reader in one direction or another. And, perhaps surprisingly given much of what we think we know about the Islamic middle ages, he is generally quite successful in his ecumenical endeavor. In the end, though, he does make sure that the most important things are clarified, the things that the spiritual seeker, he believes, cannot dispense with.

Regardless of how we classify him, ‘Azīz Nasafī was clearly a prolific enough author, with a deeply humane vision of religious and ethical practice, a vision he wished to impart to a wide audience. And he did reach a wide audience- his texts circulated far and wide, from South Asia to Southeastern Europe, both in their original Persian and translated into other vernaculars. Despite his relative obscurity in life, his texts and the mystical-ethical vision they contained have found considerable reception. I hope this short text, taken from the final section of the final chapter of the Zubdat, imparts a glimpse of that vision, as our author describes the sort of conduct the spiritual seeker ought to engage in, and what she ought to avoid, and how to truly become ‘an inhabitant of heaven.’

Finally, for more information on this figure, see the quite good Encyclopedia Iranica article on him: Nasafi, ‘Aziz.

O dervish! If you yourself are not able to arrive at the limit of spiritual stations, or spend the entire day in gazing upon the divine attributes and the spiritual stations, or persist in contemplating what no eye has seen nor ear heard nor thought entered the human heart, or always dwell in the highest heaven and in closeness to the Divine Presence in the station of absolute proximity, in the witnessing and the encountering of the Beauty of the Divine Presence, the Possessor of Magnificence—well, at least strive that you be saved from hell and become an inhabitant of heaven!

O dervish! Everything that falls into the salt mine becomes salt, and everything that falls into a filthy place becomes filthy—dirt from dirt, purity from purity! First of all you make yourself pure so that everything that comes from you is pure.

O dervish! Don’t obsess about praying a great deal, nor about fasting a lot. Don’t obsess about making the ḥajj a lot—just do what is obligatory. Don’t obsess about expanding your vocabulary, don’t obsess about reading lots of stories, don’t obsess about increasing in philosophical knowledge—just be content with the necessary amount. Rather, you should be concerned with being honest and good-hearted, for the torment of the folk of hell is mostly from dishonesty and bad-heartedness, while the comfort of the inhabitant of heaven is from honesty and good-heartedness. It is necessary that your inner self become honest and good-hearted so that you be delivered. For if you bind yourself with affectedness, you are in hell. It is necessary that you become such that, all day, goodness and comfort [towards others] spontaneously pour out of you. Do not be like those who all day, evil and pain [towards others] pour out of them. Their inner selves have become the doing of dishonesty and evil. Your inner self must be honesty and the doing of goodness.

O dervish! You will be ornamented with the characteristics of God when you entirely act with goodness, neither desiring compensation for yourself nor imposing obligation; rather, you take the obligation upon yourself. For bad-heartedness is when all day you cause pain to people and desire pain in people, whether by word, deed, or property. When you know the meaning of evil, it is necessary that you be far from it!

Good-heartedness is when all day you desire comfort for people and all the time cause comfort for people, whether by word, deed, or property. When you know the meaning of good-heartedness and bad-heartedness then know that everyone who is honest and good-hearted is delivered from hell and becomes an inhabitant of heaven. Then, if you seek either remaining [in this state] or a higher degree—it is well and good, in view of the fact that for the inhabitant of heaven everything that she achieves in this world or the other, her heaven becomes more expansive, while for inhabitant of hell everything she achieves in this world or the other, her hell becomes tighter.

O dervish! From the beginning to the end of spiritual journeying, this little treatise suffices for the spiritual wayfarers.

 ‘Azīz Nasafī, Zubdat al-haqā’iq.


The Mirror of the Heart

The following is from the opening pages of the superb treatise on Sufism, practical and theoretical, by Najm al-Dīn al-Rāzī Dāya (1177-1256), entitled Mirṣād al-‘ibād ilā ’l-mabdaʾ wa ’l-maʿād. Dāya was a disciple of another, rather more famous Najm al-Dīn, the one known as al-Kubrā; Dāya studied the Sufi path under him in the city of Nishapur. However, unlike his master, Dāya seems to have been little concerned with the practice of taking on disciples. Instead, in the course of his wandering life- from Central Asia to Anatolia to Tabriz to Baghdad, all during a period of intense and often violent change and dislocation in the region, with the Mongol invasions being the most famous of these changes. The period in which Dāya lived was also a period of incredible productivity in Sufi circles: many of the intellectual and organizational formations pioneered during the era would continue to deeply shape the practice of taṣawwuf up to the present. Two of Dāya’s works would become part of this long-term legacy: the work excerpted here, and the tafsīr to which he contributed, described in my previous post.

Unlike the tafsīr composed by al-Kubrā’s disciples, Dāya’s most famous work, the Mirṣād al-‘ibād, was composed in Persian, which was quickly becoming a central language of intellectual life across many Muslim communities, and not just in regions that were historically Persian-speaking. Dāya’s magnum opus, for instance, was composed in Konya, in Anatolia, under Seljuk Turkic patronage. Of course, Arabic remained the ‘first’ language of Muslim intellectuals, Sufi or otherwise, and would continue to be given at least nominal priority, even as more and more works were produced in Persian, and, in time, other vernaculars, including different Turkic dialects (themselves influenced heavily by the diffusion of Persian). In the excerpt given here, wholesale Arabic phrases are incorporated, without being translated (which is not always the case- many later authors will translate or expansively paraphrase almost all Arabic material in their works). However, alongside the direct quotation of Qur’an and hadith in Arabic is another feature deeply ingrained in Persian Sufic texts: the use of poetry, which in time would appear even in Arabic treatises as authoritative texts closely behind hadith in authoritative value.

As for the content of this excerpt: Dāya’s stated intention is to show the reader the incredible glory of human nature and potential, potential that must be ‘unlocked,’ or perhaps more fittingly, hammered back into shape. In the cosmology and anthropology he unfolds here- itself a piece with similar intellectual currents au courant among other thirteenth-century Sufis- the human person is the center of the created cosmos, and more. It is in the fully-realized human heart that the divine essence and attributes is truly manifest and refracted, as it were, to the rest of creation. The heart is, for Dāya, the supremely deiform aspect of the human person: but it must be refined through the careful tutelage of spiritual masters before it can shine with its primordial splendour. Here we see the deeply social setting of taṣawwuf: for the full realization of this high anthropology, particular human relationships are necessary. The return to the cardial deiform shape, the cosmic centrality, for which humans were created is possible: but it is only truly realized in the presence and under the care of an already-realized master, a Friend of God. And, for Dāya at least, it must occur gradually, as he makes clear in the final lines of this introduction.

Finally, a note on the remainder of the text, which in printed edition comes in at some 300 plus pages: after some further introductory material, Dāya presents some essential cosmology. This is followed by a description of the proper path to true gnosis, from basic adherence to the shari’a, adherence to a master, and, ultimately, divine realization. Next, Dāya turns to an examination of different sorts of human ‘types,’ which neatly leads into a concluding chapter on the different sorts of Sufis and Sufi organizations, which include people from the top of human society down to the ‘working classes.’

The purpose of the existence of the human person is gnosis (ma’rifat)[1] of the essence and attributes of God, just as David asked: O Lord, why did You create the creation? He said: I was a hidden treasure and I lovingly wished to be known, so I created the creation that I might be known.[2] True gnosis comes only from the perfect human person, notwithstanding the fact that in servanthood the angels and jinn are participants with humans—but as for the human person, he is distinguished from all other beings by the bearing of the burden of the trust (amānat) of gnosis that [is described in the verse] Verily, We offered the trust to the heavens and the earth, et al.[3] The intended meaning of ‘heaven’ is the folk of heaven, meaning, the angels; by ‘earth,’ the folk of earth, meaning, the animals, the jinn, and the devils; by ‘mountains,’ the folk of the mountains, meaning, the wild creatures and the birds. Out of these, none are capable of the burden of the trust except the human person, because, out of all His creation, it is the human soul that is the mirror of the beauty and majesty, which makes manifest the divine Presence, and is the point of manifestation of the universality of the attributes [of God]. [The words] He created Adam in His own image are an indication of this.

The quintessence of the soul of the human person is the heart, and the heart is the mirror, and each of the two worlds are the covering of that mirror. And the manifestation of the totality of the attributes of the beauty and majesty of the divine Presence are by means of this mirror that is We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in their souls. In this vein it is said:

The purpose of the being of mankind and jinnkind is the mirror/ The object of sight in the two worlds is the mirror.

The heart is the mirror of the beauty of the  King of Kings/ And these two worlds are the covering of that mirror.

And when the soul of the human person, which is predisposed for mirrorhood (āyina-gī), finds pedagogical upbringing (tarbiyat) and arrives at completion, it witnesses the manifestation of the totality of the attributes in itself, the soul itself recognizing why it was created. Then the reality of He who knows himself knows his Lord is realized, and he again knows what he is, and for whom the secret of grace and beneficience is found, just as [it is said]:

O copy of the divine book that you are!/ O perfect royal mirror that you are!

Outside, nothing in this world is/  From yourself, in seeking, is everything that you wish.

But until the soul of the human person arrives at the perfect degree of the limpidity of mirrorhood, he must engage in much journeying and struggle. This only be means of the main thoroughfare of the sharī’a and the true ṭarīqa,[4] and only by gradation. It is just as iron must be first extracted from a mine, then fashioned and shaped through skill and learning of various sorts which they manifest, just as transmitted by the master of the craft, before it can become a mirror.

The human person is in the beginning a mine of the iron of this mirror, for humans are mines, like mines of gold and silver. That iron must be, brought forth from the mine of the being of the human person through sound oversight (ḥusn-i tadbīr), and through pedagogical upbringing , so that you arrive at the degree of mirrorhood, by gradation and gradual advance.


[1] Gnosis being the special, experiential knowledge/comprehension of God, distinct from more discursive, rational reason, ‘ilm. The two are not necessarily opposed so much as they represent, in classical taṣawwuf, hierarchical degrees of knowledge.

[2] Probably one of the most famous and most cited of hadith among Sufis, this is a so-called hadith qudsi, or ‘sacred’ hadith, attributed directly to God. Its import for establishing Sufi cosmology is pretty evident, even apart from the expansions of meaning interpretation provides.

[3] A partial citation of Q. 33.72. The entire verse runs: Verily, we offered the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it. The human person accepted it; he is oppressive and ignorant.

[4] These two terms are frequently paired in Sufi texts, in order to emphasize the necessity of both the ‘external’ religious ‘path’ (the literal meaning of shari’a) and the ‘internal’ religious way (tariqa also meaning path or way): in other words, the whole gamut of Islamic practice, not just legal obligation or mystical practices.

Drip the Oil of Your Grace, My God


I have removed to a distance, Benevolent One, I dwelt in the desert
and I was hidden from You, the sweet Master.
I came under the night of life’s worry,
and there I sustained many stings and wounds,
having gone up I bear many blows in my soul,
and I cry out amid the suffering and trouble of my heart:
have mercy, have pity on me the transgressor!
O soul-loving doctor Who alone loves mercy,
Who heals the weak and wounded as a gift,
cure my bruises and wounds!
Drip the oil of Your grace, my God,
and anoint my injuries, wipe out my infections,
form scar tissues and bind up my severed
members, and remove all the scars, Savior,
and heal the whole of me completely as before
when I did not have defilement, when I did not have any bruise,
nor infected injury, nor stain, O my God,
but calm and joy, peace and meekness,
and holy humility, and patience,
the illumination of long-suffering and excellent works,
long-suffering and utterly unconquerable power.
Hence much comfort from tears each day,
hence the exultation of my heart
gushed forth like a spring, flowed everlastingly,
and was a stream dripping honey, and a drink of merriment,
continuously turning in the mouth of my mind.
Hence all health, hence purity,
hence cleansing of my passions and vain thoughts,
hence dispassion was with me like lightening,
and always associated with me. Understand me spiritually,
I who say these things, be not wretched, defiled!
The dispassion produced in me is the unutterable pleasure of communion,
and boundless desire for the wedding feast, for union full of God,
partaking of which I also became dispassionate,
I was burned up with pleasure, blazing with desire for it,
and I shared in the light, yes, I became light,
higher than all passion, outside all wickedness.
For passion does not touch the light of dispassion,
just as the shadow or darkness of night cannot touch the sun.
And so having become such, and being such a kind,
I was relaxed, Master, as I took confidence in myself.
I was dragged down by worry about perceptible matters,
I fell down, wretched, to the concern of life’s problems,
and I become cold like black iron,
and lying around for a long time I took on rust.
Because of this I shout to You asking to purified anew,
Benevolent One, and to be lifted up to the first
beauty, and to enjoy fully Your light
now and always unto all ages. Amen.

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), Hymn 46. Trans. Daniel Griggs

Concerning the Prayer-Rug, Matters Mystical and Practical

The translation below comes from a text I have previously written about here, the Futuvvatʹnāmah-ʼi Sultānī of Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī Wāʻiẓ Kāshifī (c.1420-1504/5). For more information on the text and on the content of futuwwa/futuvva, see the above post. In this excerpt, Kāshifī deals with a topic that is not exclusively futuwwa or Sufi-oriented: the prayer-rug (sajjāda), a piece of liturgical equipment often emphasized by Sufis and Sufi-oriented futuwwa brotherhoods and guilds, but also by many other Muslims, both then and now. Kāshifī’s discussion of the prayer-rug is two-fold: one, he lays out the proper practice and behavior associated with the use of the prayer-rug; I have included a partial excerpt of these instructions. Second, he develops the prayer-rug as a mystical symbol, and spins practice-based implications out of those mystical symbols. The prayer-rug, already featuring a sort of cartography in its very design (see the illustration below and note 1), is given a further sacred cartography.

Kāshifī’s treatment of the prayer-rug, with his mix of practical regulation, mystical interpretation, and multiple layers of meaning (right down to mystical significances for the letters of words), is not unique to this one item. Rather, in previous chapters he explores the proper practice, mystical meanings, sacred origins, and scriptural justifications for all sorts of items: Sufi cloaks, futuwwa-belts, various types of clothing, headgear, and so on. As throughout the treatise, his language is generally quite accessible, with simple sentences and frequent translations of Qur’an and hadith texts (though not in this passage, curiously). Granted, as seen here, some of the language is deliberately esoteric, and might well have stumped some initiates (though perhaps also delighting them). The sources of mystical interpretations are diverse: here, for instance, religious legend, scripture, hadith, and Akbarian philosophic theology are all in evidence. The result is a text that contains an intersection of material culture, ‘popular’ religion, and ‘elite’ religious and mystical thought and practice: a text that we can reasonably imagine ‘ordinary’ Persian-speaking craftsmen and other workers, as well as more well-to-do people, reading and thinking about, perhaps in the course of their every-day prayers.

An example, from the late 1500s, of a prayer-rug, not unlike the sort our author would have used and had in mind in writing this passage.
A particularly fine example, from the late sixteenth century Ottoman Empire, of a prayer-rug, not unlike the sort our author would have used and had in mind in writing this passage. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


If one asks, What are the judgments regarding the prayer-rug and the mosque? Say to him: four: first, just as when one enters the mosque he puts enters with his right foot first, so, he puts his right foot on the prayer-rug first. Second, just as when one leaves the mosque he puts his left foot out first, so, when getting up from the prayer-rug one puts out his left foot first. Third, just as one does not speak of worldly things in the mosque, upon the prayer rug one also should not speak of worldly things save under necessity. Fourth, just as one should be continued occupied with remembrance [of God] in the mosque, so upon the prayer-rug one should be continually attached to remembrance, and speak words having to do with God and the Prophet.

If one asks, What are the pious customs regarding sitting upon the prayer-rug? Say to him: three: first, upon coming to the prayer-rug, one prays two raka’a, just as in performing prayer in the mosque. Second, sitting facing the qibla. Third, paying attention to proper practice.

If one asks, How many are the proper practices (ādāb) of prayer-rug sitting? Say to him: four: first, that one sit on two [bent] knees on the prayer-rug, though if necessary, the right leg can be brought up and the left leg stuck out. Second, that it not come to pass that his feet become barefooted. Third, that he not blow his nose or spit. Fourth, in like manner he should be prepared in regards to whatever comes into existence from him, be it in word or in deed.

If one asks, To what do the four corners of the prayer-rug symbolically point? Say to him: the right-hand miḥrab-corner[1] symbolically points to Gabriel, and the protected land and Mount Ḥira that is in it. And the left-hand miḥrab-corner symbolically points to Michael and to the Mount of the Fig. And the right-hand corner that is across from the miḥrab-corner symbolically points to Israfil and to the Mount of Olives. And the left-hand corner that is across from the miḥrab-corner symbolically points to ‘Azrael and to Mount Sina. God has brought together these places in this verse: By the fig, the olive, Mount Sina, and this protected land (Q. 95.1-3). For in each place one of the divine books was sent down. The Torah of Moses was sent down on Mount Sina, on the Mount of the Fig the Gospel descended to Jesus, on the Mount of Olives the Psalms of David were sent down, and on Mount Ḥira that is in the protect land the greater part of the Qur’an was sent down to our master [Muhammad].[2]

Thus, the four corners of the prayer-rug symbolically point to the four archangels, the four sacred books, and the four blessed places. Thus whoever sits upon the prayer-rug it is incumbent that he be steadfast like a firmly rooted mountain, not attracting the wayward breeze of the soul, until the effluence of the divine Book and Word comes to him, and he find the rank of divine proximity. Also: the bearers of the divine throne are the four angels to which the four corners of the prayer-rug symbolically point, meaning that upon the possessor of the prayer-rug it is incumbent that the throne of his own heart, that is [as described in the following verse]: the heart of the believer is the throne of God and the heart of the believer is the house of God,[3] must be stretched out by possessing the four attributes [see below] until he finds a portion of the cry of the throne-bearer, as God says: Those who bear the throne and from around Him they worship with praise of their Lord, believing in Him and seeking forgiveness for those who believe (Q.30.7).

If one asks, What are the four attributes by which the heart can become a bearer of the Throne? Say to him: first, faith in the various parts of the shari’ah; second, belief in the mysteries of the Way; third, turning to the mystical traces of God; fourth, being illumined by the lights of divine knowledge.

If one asks, To what do the letters [in the word] prayer-rug (sajjādeh) symbolically point?[4] Say to him: the letter sīn is for the traveling and wayfaring of the possessor of the prayer-rug in the world of ruling (malakūt). The letter jīm is for his striving and struggle in the observation of the lights of divine power. The alif is for the instruction in the manifestations of the degrees of divinity. The letter dāl is for the remembrance (dhikr, sic.) of the [divine] presence living, not dying. The letter is for the destruction of the lower-self attributes and the satanic ones in the straitening of the temporal world.

Futuvvat-nāmah-i sultānī, Ḥusayn Vāʻiẓ Kāshifī Sabzivārī, 197-9. Trans. Jonathan P. Allen, 2012. No rights reserved.

[1] A prayer rug (sajjāda, P. sajjādeh) of this period (and previous and later ones as well) would have a stylized miḥrab (prayer niche) on it; the top of the miḥrab (which I have translated here as the miḥrab-corner) would face the qibla. See the illustration above.

[2] This is a curious bit of exegesis. In a brief survey of Arabic exegetical literature I made in preparing this post I found many opinions corroborating the identification of the protected land as that around Mecca (and perhaps also Medina), however, the rest of our author’s interpretation seems to be idiosyncratic to him. However, I did not survey any Persian exegetical literature (a somewhat more laborious task, as little of it is online, unlike Arabic tafsir), which would perhaps be the place to look. I suspect some legendary material lies behind these significations.

[3] A hadith, not a Qur’an citation; it is given, however, in Arabic, without an accompanying Persian translation as is often Kāshifī’s wont.

[4] Our author frequently finds mystical signification in the letters of words, often, as here, by linking each letter to relatively complex concepts of post-Akbarian Sufism. I am not sure if the practice should be interpreted as mnemonic device (I somewhat doubt it) or simply as another way of layering mystical and religious meaning upon material and ideational objects—even if the meanings are not necessarily comprehended by everyone in the targeted audience.

The Beauty and the Sublimity, Winter and Summer

The following is a single discourse from a collection of discourses by the seventeenth century Ottoman Sufi mystic and scholar Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī, featured previously on this blog here: Sufi Concision. It is a rather dense little piece, despite only being a couple paragraphs. I will keep my explication short, in part because I am reluctant to put words in the author’s mouth, and do not fully understand the lineaments and depths of his particularly cosmology and symbolic apparatus.

The central motif of this discourse is the contrast between manifestations of God’s beauty (al-jamāl) and His sublimity (aljalāl), a word that might also be translated as ‘majesty’ or ‘magnificence.’ The concept of a sort of dualism in God’s nature or manifestation of Himself had existed for some time in Sufi thought before Ibn ‘Arabi developed the idea into the form upon which our author here is drawing. The most explicit development of Ibn ‘Arabi’s thought on the beauty and the sublimity can be found in, not surprisingly, a short treatise titled Kitāb alJalāl wal-Jamāl, available in an English translation from the Ibn ‘Arabi Society. Therein Ibn ‘Arabi complicates previous ideas of God’s manifestations of beauty and majesty, arguing against a rather simplistic interpretation of those attributes and the ways in which they might be experienced by humans. Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī picks up this ‘complication’ of the attributes, and extends Ibn ‘Arabi’s original conception into the cosmological interactions of humans, nature, revelation, and God.

There appeared to me regarding [Muhammad’s] words, Winter is the spoils of the believer, that the most important of affairs for the perfect among the believers is the matter of religion, not the matter of this world. And winter aids in the realization of the latter matter, in that days are shorter and nights longer. For the shortening of nights makes fasting easier, while the lengthening of nights makes standing [in prayer] easier—in variance with summer, as the days are longer and the heat stronger, forbidding the aforementioned benefits. Sleep has the ascendency during summer nights due to their shortness and the languor of bodies [due to summer heat].

So know that summer is the site of the manifestation of God’s Beauty (al-jamāl) in deed in regards to outward form (min ḥaythu al-ṣūrah), however, in it is God’s Sublimity (jalāl) in potency in regards to inner meaning (alma’inā). But when earthquakes, violent storms, lightning strikes, and their like, occur in the summer, and as for winter in general, then it is the opposite: the Sublimity is manifest exteriorly, while the Beauty is manifest interiorly. Therefore, there does not occur in it what occurs in the summer as aforementioned. And in the nature of winter is a advantageous benefit which points to the fact that the perfect believer, whenever trial or trouble befalls him in regards to himself, to his possessions, or to his family, he takes advantage of that situation and recoups benefit. For if under every misfortune is another misfortune, on the contrary, the perfect one is he who finds sweetness in the Sublimity like that which he finds in the Beauty. And if not, then he is incomplete [in his mystical realization], because all that occurs is from God, and what is from God is not bitter to the true enraptured lover of God. It is the custom (sunnah) of God to first instruct someone through the Beauty, and if the person does not thus become aware of Him, He instructs him through the Sublimity. And if he does then become aware of Him, He uproots him—we take refuge in God from that and from all which is merely exterior.

The one who seeks ascension finds it in repentance and in the manifestation of his incapacity, not elsewhere. God possesses people who serve Him in hardship and ease equally—so look into what leads to Him: their perfect knowledge and complete tranquility of soul.

Ismāʿīl Ḥaḳḳī (1063/1652-1137/1725)

Sufi Concision

One of the most prolific Sufi masters and authors to live in the Ottoman Empire was a Turkish mystic and scholar named Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī (1063-1133/1652-1725), who spent his childhood near Edirne, then received his education in Edirne and Istanbul. After several years of traveling to various corners of the empire, he settled down in Bursa, where he lived as a Sufi master and teacher and eventually head of the Jilwatiyya order. Besides his training in the Sufi path, Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī received, and deployed in the course of his career, a broad education, from philosophy and music to Qur’anic exegesis and Persian poetry. He wrote a great deal- some 104 works, a majority in Turkish, though with a sizeable number in Arabic. The excerpt below comes from his primarily Arabic (with a little Persian mixed in) Qur’an tafsīr, the Rūḥ al-bayān, a multi-volume work that stands out as a quite original and often creative endeavor. Philosophy, mysticism, grammatical science, hadith, and many other components all make up this major work, which, so far as I know, has received little notice from Western scholars.

The excerpt below represents an aspect of Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī’s tafsīr that I think might well be unique to him (though of course I could be quite wrong on that, so don’t quote me on this!); if not unique, it still stands out as unusual and rare. After providing a somewhat eclectic but largely ‘exoteric’ interpretation of the first few verse of Sura al-Hūd, Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī presents a lemma-by-lemma ‘mystical’ commentary that is highly abbreviated, similar to the concise, abbreviated ‘exoteric’ commentaries that were especially popular in the Ottoman realms (see Bayḍawī’s relatively short commentary, the Tafsīr Anwār al-Tanzīl wa Asrār al-Ta’wīl, for an example). He titles these sections Stellar Interpretations, a phrase which immediately calls to mind mystical modes of exegesis (see note one below). Whereas most Sufi commentaries dealt with particular verses or blocks of verses, our author works through each lemma and line, integrating the whole of the text into a concise Sufic interpretation. What is the logic of such an approach? Perhaps Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī wishes to demonstrate the complete compatibility of the Qur’anic text with the Sufi path and Sufi doctrine. Against naysayers who might wish to contest the Qur’anic quality of Sufism (and especially the ibn ‘Arabi influenced Sufism someone like Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī espoused), our author presents a lemma-by-lemma reading of the scriptural text that uncovers Sufi belief and practice consistently and clearly, with little metaphysical or rhetorical maneuvering.

Alif-Lam-Ra: A Book whose verses were established, then were set forth in detail, from the Presence, Wise, Knowing. Serve none save God; I am to you from Him a warning, and good news. And you that seek forvgiveness of your Lord, then turn to Him, He gives you enjoyable provision to an appointed term. And there comes to every possessor of grace His grace. And if you turn back, then I fear for you the punishment of a great Day. To God you return, and He is over everything powerful.

And in the Stellar Interpretation [1] (al-ta’wīlāt al-najmiyya): Alif-lam-ra: the alif points to God (Allāh), the lam, to Gabriel, and the ra, to the Prophet (al-rasūl). A Book whose verses were established: meaning the Qur’an, a book whose verse are established by wise ordinance, as His words say: He makes you to know the Book and wisdom. So the Book is the Qur’an, and the wisdom is the realities, the meanings, and the mysteries that are incorporated in its verses. Then were set forth in detail: that is, these realities and wisdoms were made evident to the hearts of the gnostics. From the presence of [the] Wise: He deposited in [the Qur’an] the overwhelming wisdom which no one else is capable of depositing in it, and this is a mystery from among the mysteries of the inimitability (i’jāz) of the Qur’an. Knowing: over the instruction of those things from His presence to whomever He wills among His servants, as His words say: Then they found one of Our servants, unto whom We had brought mercy from Us and had taught him knowledge from Our Presence (Q. 18.65). Pointing out that the Qur’an has an exterior which the grammarians (ahl al-lugha) know about, and an interior which only the lords of hearts whom God has graced with knowledge from the Presence know about. And the summit of wisdom and its mystery is that you say: O Muhammad, what relates to you will not perish [?]. Serve none save God: that is, do not serve Satan, the world, the passions, nor what is other than God. I am to you from Him a warning: I warn you against being cut off from God, you that serve, obey, or love other than God; and the punishment of the servant is in Gehenna. And good news: I give you good news of mystical union and the graces of reunion [with God] in the house of magnificence, you that you serve Him and obey Him and love Him.

And the Prophet is specified by the call to God from among the prophets and the messengers, as indicated by His words: O Prophet, We sent you as a witness, a herald, a warning, and a caller to God by His permission (Q. 33.45). And you that seek forgiveness of your Lord: from what causes you to slip during the days of your lives into seeking other than God and the abandonment of seeking Him, and the occurrence of veiling [from God] and the vanities of people’s natural dispositions—for the seeking of of forgiveness is purification for your souls and cleansing for your hearts. Then turn to Him: return by preceding along the practice of wayfaring to God, so that repentance be a ornamentation for you after the purification of seeking forgiveness, per His words: He gives you enjoyable provision: the raising in stations from the low to the high, and from the high to the presence of the Exalted, the Great. To an appointed time: the termination of the stations of wayfaring (sulūk) and the beginning of the degrees of union. And there comes to every possessor of grace: possessor of truthfulness and struggle in the seeking. His grace: in the degrees of union; the witnessings are in accordance with the measure of the struggles. And if you turn back: to turn away from the seeking and the journey to God. Then (fa-): Say: I fear for you punishment of a great Day: the punishment of the Day of the cutting off from God, the Great—He is the greatest of the great, and His punishment is the hardest of strikings. To God you return: voluntarily or with detestation. If voluntarily, He will draw near to you with the utmost of attractions, as He said [in a ḥadīth qudsī: Whoever draws near to Me an inch, I will draw near to him a cubit. If with detestation, you deserve to be in the fire upon your faces. And He is over every thing: in both kindness and victorious might: powerful.

Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī, Rūḥ al-bayān, Volume 4, 93-94.

[1] Ta’wīlāt is a somewhat ambiguous word: it can mean simply ‘commentary’ or ‘intepretation’; it can mean ‘commentary by personal opinion,’ with a negative sense attached to it; or it can stand for ‘mystical’ interpretation. Here it would seem to entail aspects of all three meanings, though without any negative sense attached to it.

A Beginner’s Guide to Futuwwat

Upon reading the title of this post, you may be wondering, right off, what is futuwwat? You may be forgiven a lack of familiarity with the term; while once an ethical, spiritual, and organizational concept that animated communities across the Middle East and beyond, futuwwat (also known by its Persian translational equivalent, javānmardi) is not exactly in common currency anymore- though it is not extinct, either. Literally it could be translated ‘youngmanliness’; some scholars have suggested ‘chivalry’ or ‘Islamic chivalry’ as translations. Both of those get at some of the aspects of this term, but hardly explain it. To put it briefly (see the works cited at the end of this post for more information), the concept of futuwwat embodies a social ethic and set of practices informed by a rigorous morality, Sufic ascetic and mystical concepts and practices, and ideas on appropriate social behavior. While seemingly first developed by Sufi writers (though its origins are rather obscure, like the origins of many, perhaps most things), the ethics of futuwwat eventually became the ideological foundation for futuwwat-brotherhoods and futuwwat-influenced guilds, replete with distinctive rituals, mutual aid, group solidarity, and occasionally armed action on behalf of members or political causes. By the fifteenth century, the period from which the treatise below hails, futuwwat was firmly integrated and developed within both Sufi orders and urban workmen’s guilds, as well as groups devoted simply to futuwwat. The concept and associated practices would survive through those entities for a long time- in Egypt, for instance, futuwwat organizations were only ended through the drive for centralized state power after World War II. In the contemporary Persianate world (Iran, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, etc.), the futuwwat/javānmardi ethos lives on in the Zurkhaneh tradition and its associated athletic practices and ethos. At any rate, medieval and early modern futuwwat is still often something of a mystery, in part because expressions of futuwwat were so diverse and ranged across social classes. A primary source of information is the futuwwat-handbook genre, as represented by the translation below.

The author of the treatise excerpted from here was one Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī Wāʻiẓ Kāshifī (c.1420-1504/5), a scholar and writer who spent much of his life in and around the Timurid court in Herat. Kāshifī was a prolific author, writing everything from Qur’an commentaries (all in Persian) to a treatise on epistolography to a book on magic. Two of his shorter treatises, Anwār-i Suhaylī and Rawḍat al-shuhadāʾ, have had a long and vigorous historical afterlife. The first is a Persian translation of the long-popular story Kalīla wa-Dimna, itself transmitted into Arabic from Indian sources. Kāshifī’s version continues to be reprinted, and made its ways into Ottoman Turkish and, via that route, French, influencing the composition of La Fontaine’s Fables. As for the Rawḍat al-shuhadāʾ, a poetic work dealing with ‘Ali and his family (the title translates as Garden of the Martyrs), it continues in use among Shīʿīs as part of Muḥarram commemorations.

Kāshifī himself cannot be described as being simply either Sunnī or Shīʿī, as his work- including the one treated here- displays ideas and sentiments that could be classified in either theological camp; his work stands as an example of the ways in which even in the fifteenth century sectarian positions and affiliations were not absolutely fixed or determined. Indeed, futuwwat works historically had expressed strong pro-‘Alid sentiments; ‘Ali is frequently praised as the true exemplar of futuwwat, for instance. In Kāshifī’s treatment of futuwwat, devotion to the ‘house’ (that is, family) of Muhammad is front-and-center; at the same time, Sufism is also strongly on display and deliberately called upon. Kāshifī was affiliated, for a while at least, with the Naqshbandī order, a resolutely Sunni branch of Sufism; at the same time, he was perfectly capable of expressing ‘Shīʿī’ sentiments and doctrines. At any rate, his treatise on futuwwat is a significant one, given its length and depth: he tackles the issue from all its angles, from its Sufic, ethical aspect to its integration with guilds and other occupational groupings.

The excerpt below represents my first public attempt at translating from Persian into English; as such, I must present it provisionally, with the caveat that a couple of points in the text eluded my full comprehension, though I believe that I have conveyed the meaning accurately. In the handful of spots in this excerpt where the author writes in Arabic I have marked it in italics, for instance when Kāshifī quotes the Qur’an. I have not tried to rework the text to soften the edge of its insistence on lists; this ‘listing mentality’ is part of the utility and purpose of the text, and represents what was by Kāshifī’s time a pretty well established tradition in futuwwat texts, among other genres. Fortunately for me as a novice in Persian, the text as a whole is pretty straightforward and written in an accessible manner- while Kāshifī treats some ‘lofty’ themes and includes plenty of Sufi-inflected material, the work as a whole seems to be aimed at instructing the beginner in futuwwat, the proverbial man on the street who might wish to join a futuwwat-brotherhood or guild. As a result, we get a nice cross-section of social values- at least as expressed by the learned classes of which Kāshifī is a representative- that, while primarily located in those learned classes, can also be assumed to have had cachet among a wider body of the population. After all, as the composition and intended audience of this text make clear, futuwwat was not intended just for the learned elite or mystics: it was very often directed at, and a product of, the masses.

If one asks: how many are the conditions (shura’īṭ) of futuwwat? Say: Seventy-one: forty-eight are positive, and twenty-three are negative. As for those that are positive: first, Islam; second, faith; third, rationality; fourth, knowledge; fifth, gentleness; sixth, asceticism; seventh, piety; eight, truthfulness; ninth, nobility; tenth, marūwat; eleventh, compassion; twelfth, good deeds; thirteenth, fidelity; fourteenth, humility; fifteenth, trust in God; sixteenth, courage; seventeenth, zeal; eighteenth, patience; nineteenth, uprightness; twentieth, giving good advice; twenty-first, purity of soul; twenty-second, exalted intention; twenty-third, keeping secrets; twenty-fourth, visiting one’s kin; twenty-fifth, following the sharī’a; twenty-sixth, commanding the good; twenty-seventh, forbidding the wrong; twenty-eighth, respecting parents; twenty-ninth, service to one’s teacher; thirtieth, respecting the rights of all; thirty-first, speaking accurately; thirty-second, discretion with what one knows; thirty-third, seeking [only] the permitted things; thirty-fourth, giving greetings; thirty-fifth, keeping company with the good and the pure; thirty-sixth, keeping company with the reasonable; thirty-seventh, being thankful; thirty-eighth, aiding the oppressed; thirty-ninth, visiting the friendless; fortieth, thinking and weeping [over one’s sin]; forty-first, acting with sincerity; forty-second, keeping trust; forty-third, resisting the lower self and the passions; forty-fourth, being just; forty-fifth, satisfaction with [God’s] decree; forty-sixth, visiting the sick; forty-seventh, desisting from the rude; and forty-eighth, persisting in remembrance of God.

As for those that one ought to guard against doing, the first is differing with the sharī’a; second, speaking with corrupt language; third, slandering good people; fourth, too much jesting; fifth, empty words; sixth; too much laughter; seventh, breaking a promise; eighth, carrying out trickery and deceit with people of livelihood; ninth, being envious; tenth, being oppressive; eleventh, acting as an accuser; twelfth, laboring in love of this world; thirteenth, desiring acquisition of the things of this world; fourteenth, expecting things in advance; fifteenth, seeking out and talking about people’s faults; sixteenth, making false oaths; seventeenth, desiring the property of other people; eighteenth, exerting oneself with treachery; nineteenth, telling lies and reporting what one has not seen; twentieth, wine-drinking; twenty-first, eating the fruit of usury; twenty-second, practicing sodomy and adultery; and twenty-third, displaying bad conduct and bad trust with companions. Whoever is not familiar with these seventy-one conditions, futuwwat has not arrived with him. And God knows best.

If one asks: the letters of [the word] futuwwat—what do they signify? Say [to him]: the of futuwwat is an indication of annihilation (dalīl fanā-ast). So long as the attributes of the wayfarer himself are not annihilated, the attributes of the Friend cannot subsist.[1] The first is an indication of divestment (tajrīd). The wāw of futuwwa is an indication of fidelity (wafā), meaning, keeping a watch on one’s behavior (ādab) both exteriorly and interiorly. The second is an indication of the abandonment (tarikat) of all that is other than God.

If one asks: how many are the covenants of futuwwat? Say: two: one is essential, the other is merely verbal. The essential is for the sake of divine reality; the merely verbal is for the sake of seeking a blessing –just as on the [spiritual, or Sufi] Path (ṭarīqat) there is the khirqa of blessing-seeking and the khirqa of divine reality.[2]

If one asks: how many are the characteristics of the people of futuwwat? Say: there are ten characteristics that the people of futuwwat cannot dispense with. First: being truthful with God (ḥaqq). Second: equity with people. Third: overcoming one’s lower self. Fourth: service towards the great. Fifth: compassion towards the less fortunate. Sixth: good advice to one’s friends. Seventh: Humility towards the learned. Eighth: gentleness with the wise. Ninth: liberality towards enemies. Tenth: silence among the ignorant.

If one asks: with what do people compare futuwwat? Say: with the tree, that is, the good tree pointed out [in His words] God the exalted said: [A good word is] like a good tree—its roots are firmly established, and its branches are in heaven (Q. 14.24). If ones asks: what is the similarity and relation between a tree and futuwwat? Say: Just as a tree has roots, bark, branches, trunk, leaves, flowers, and fruit, so does futuwwat have brances, leaves, trunk, bark, flowers, fruits, and roots. If one asks: what is each one [of these]? Say: the root (bīkh) of the tree of futuwwat is its foundation (aṣl), and without it, the tree does not possess growth and increase (nushū ū namā nadārad) nor put forth fruit or leaves. Love of his eminence the Prophet of God, peace and prayer of God be upon him, and his pure family—that is [the root]. If someone worshiped for years and expended wealth and gold in measure to Mount Uḥud[3] upon the path of God, but every year he left off going on the ḥajj,  because in his heart there is no love for the family of his eminence the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon and his house, not even a whiff of heaven will he find. For as it is well-known that the root of the tree of futuwwat is love for the family of the Prophet, then it is necessary to know that its root is humility, its branch is brotherliness, its leaves are control over the passions, its bark is proper behavior and modesty, its flowers are good character and kindness, and its fruit is liberality and nobility.

If one asks: What is marūwat? Say: marūwat is a part of futuwwat, just as futuwwat is a part of the [Sufi] path.[4]

If one asks: because the foundation is the [spiritual] Path, why is this branch of knowledge (‘ilm) called the knowledge of futuwwat and not [simply of] the Path? Say: for everyone’s alloted sustenance is established upon a path of the Path. For instance, the path, step by step, of his eminence the Chosen One [Muhammad], peace and prayer of God be upon him, and that of the Approved [‘Ali], peace be upon him, is established [once and for all]. The allotted sustenance of that [path] is without descendants [i.e., has no further examples, is unique]. Regarding this matter of theirs they have said in a hemistich: ‘The first then the last, and the last then the first.’ As for everyone who strives in accordance with his own inclination and alloted sustenance, finds from futuwwat profit, and because of the things acquired from investigation into the aforementioned futuwwat, he becomes after these through the significations of the Path, of right behavior, and its supports, mystically knowledgeable, as we will make clear, with God’s help.

Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī Wāʻiẓ Kāshifī, Futuvvatʹnāmah-ʼi Sultānī (Tehran: Intishārāt-i Bunyād-i Farhang-i Īrān, 1350/1971), 25-29.

[1] ‘Annihilation’ here is the Sufi concept of ‘passing away’ into God, in which the ego is stripped of itself and only God is witnessed.

[2]  A khirqa is a patched robe worn as a marker of one’s affiliation with a Sufi order; there were (and are) varying degrees of affiliation, from the truly committed initiate- the ‘essential’- to someone merely seeking the blessing or grace expected through affiliation with an order or a well-known Sufi saint or master. The traveler ibn Battuta, for instance, was affiliated with a number of Sufi orders in the course of his travels, but was hardly a full initiate of many, or any, of them.

[3] A prominent mountain near Mecca.

[4] Marūwat, treated only briefly in this excerpt, is another difficult-to-translate term; it is close to the English ‘virtue,’ with its historical links to ideas of manliness and strength. Likewise, the Persian term (itself a loan from Arabic) conveys the idea of manly strength or vigour, but also hospitality, proper social deportment, and so on. ‘Masculinity’ is one possible translation, but only with the caveat that what is meant by masculinity is not necessarily what Western, contemporary cultures mean by it.


Select Bibliography

In addition to the selected works below, see the quite good (and freely available) Encyclopdia Iranica article, which has a much more extensive bibliography: Javanmardi.

Breebart, D.A. ‘The Fütüvvet-nāme-i kebīr. A Manual on Turkish Guilds.’ In Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. Vol. 15, No. 1/2 (Jun., 1972).

Cahen, Claude and Franz Taeschner. “Futuwwa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, edited by P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Leiden: Brill, 2010: Brill Online.

Cahen, Claude. “Mouvements Populares et Autonomisme Urbain dans l’Asie Musulmane du Moyen Age, III.” In Arabica, T. 6, Fasc. 3 (Sept., 1959).

Hosein Yousofi, G̲h̲olam. ” Kās̲h̲ifī.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2012.

Ridgeon, Lloyd V. J. Morals and Mysticism in Persian Sufism: A History of Sufi-Futuwwat in Iran. Routledge Sufi Series 10. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, N.Y: Routledge, 2010.

Ridgeon, Lloyd V. J. Jawanmardi: a Sufi Code of Honour. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

Taeschner, Franz. Zunfte und Bruderschaften im Islam : Texte zur Geschichte der futuwwa. Zürich: Artemis-Verlag, 1979.

Tor, D. G. Violent order: religious warfare, chivalry, and the ‘ayyār phenomenon in the medieval Islamic world. Würzburg: Ergon,, 2007.