Journeying Through the Veils

The below passage is from an introductory ‘handbook’ of Sufism in Arabic by the seventeenth century Aleppine Sufi Qāsim al-Khānī (d. 1697). His description here is hardly original, rather, it represents the shifting through and representation of centuries of Sufi thought and practice. At times his writings reflect a concern with theological ‘deviance,’ a particularly acute concern for Sufis like him who sought to defend and perpetuate the long tradition of Sufism- including the many theo-philosophical developments of the thirteenth century, such as those associated with Ibn ‘Arabi. Many of these beliefs and practices came under increasing scrutiny in the Ottoman Empire and elsewhere from the sixteenth century onward, even if such critiques did not become truly mainstream until much closer to our own age. al-Khānī seeks to defend such beliefs as ‘oneness of being,’ while also decrying allegedly incorrect interpretations of such beliefs, for instance here:

That which benefits the wayfarer in his journey is witnessing (shuhūd) of oneness of being not its gnosis. Witnessing is a state (ḥāla) necessarily realized from struggle, privation, successive exercise, lowliness, poverty, and need. And this state does not benefit the wayfarer unless there is with it following of the Shari’a, for if there is not with it following of the Shari’a, then it is damning zandiqa [heresy or deviance].

The passage below is less concerned with fending off theological error; rather, it presents a pretty traditional Sufi understanding of spiritual journeying: the passage through successive ranks of ‘veils’ preventing human cognizance and connection with God. As it is written in a straight-forward, pedagogically-inclined manner, I will leave off further commentary of this fine example of early modern Sufi teaching.

And the greatest of the veils that are between the servant and his Lord are the veils of sins, because they are darkness. As for veils other than them, to be sure the servant should hasten to dispel them, although they are luminescent, not totally veiling the servant. For the likeness of the veil constituted by sins is the likeness of an encompassing wall between you and your goal, and you cannot see essence or trace, due to its preventing, nor shape—which is different from the luminescent veils. They are like glass, with what is behind them being seen, obscuring and revealing by their increase or decrease. If the glass is increased greatly, then the intended object behind it is hidden, though the hiddenness of what is behind the wall is not the case here—at least the shape of the object can be discerned. All of this is what can be seen with the eye of the senses.

The heart is likewise. So long as its eye, which is called discernment (al-baṣīra) is veiled by the darkness of disobedience, which is called overcoming, imprinting, and sealing, it does not see anything of the lights of the Unseen, and has no awareness of what sin and evil does to it.

Then if one turns from what one is in, the veils of sins are lifted from his heart, and he beholds divine things, and begins to feel fear concerning his punishment, and hopes for reward, and persists in obedience to God, and turning away of evil deeds. Now he is veiled with luminescent veils, which are his dependence upon these deeds, for he now believes that he is the one who brings them into existence.

Then, after that, God lifts this veil from him, through the blessing (baraka) of acts of obedience, and he sees that the grace upon him belongs to God, for God causes him to be successful in these deeds, and that he is insufficient in giving thanks for them, and that the effective Giver is God. If God desires of someone good, he invests him with the garment of pious fear (taqwa) so as to make sound his presentation before His presence—and nothing of good or evil is by the hand of the servant, rather, all is by the hand of God.

Then, when this veil is lifted from his heart, he imagines that he has attained to God, for there is spiritual delight in this station. But if the hidden subtleties encompass him, this veil too is raised from him, and he does not cease cutting through the veils, one after another, as per the arrangement of stations and gates as in this book, until he attains to true station, the stopping place of the Most Veiled—so understand!

Do not believe, because of the likeness of the veils to panes of glass, that God is a thing which can be seen by the perceiving eye—for He is free of that. God take in hand your guidance!

Qāsim al-Khānī, al-Sayr wa al-sulūk ilā malik al-mulūk

Sufi Air Delivery

[The Sufi shaykh] Abū Turāb al-Ramlī: He was setting out from Mecca with his companions when he said to them: ‘You will go on the road to Jeda, while I go on the road to Tubuk.’ They said: ‘The heat is oppressive!’ He said: ‘No help for that—but, when you get to Ramla, go into the house of So-and-So, our friend!’ When they arrived in Ramla, they went into his house. He brought them four pieces of broiled meat, and a hawk swooped down from the sky and snatched one of the pieces. They said, ‘Well, that wasn’t meant for us,’ and ate the remaining pieces. When, after two days, Abū Turāb came, they asked him: ‘Did you find nothing on the journey?’ He answered: ‘No, rather, on such-and-such day a hawk tossed a piece of hot broiled meat to me!’ They said: ‘Well then, we have eaten together, for it was snatched from us.’ Abū Turāb said: ‘True, it was thus!’

From Jāmī (1414-1492), Nafaḥāt al-uns ḥaḍarāt al-quds

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.

Two Brothers

The following is an excerpt from a seminal Moroccan hagiographic work, the Dawḥat al-Nāshr of Muhammad ibn ‘Askar al-Ḥassanī al-Shafshāwanī. In it, ibn ‘Askar presents biographies of various saintly figures from the course of the tenth century (A.H.), many of whom lived in Fes or in the Rif region, including Chefchaouen, the author’s hometown. This text would be followed with numerous other such literary works, many of which reference the Dawḥat al-Nāshr.

The stories that fill this work provide a fascinating glimpse into the life of sixteenth-cenutry Morocco, both in the cities and in the countryside, as exempified in this short excerpt. It is also a display of the seemingly ever increasing importance saints, living and dead, played in pre-modern Moroccan society (something that has endured, in fact, into the modern age, despite many contrary forces). The power deployed by the saint can be manifest in a variety of ways, in both the natural realm and within the social and political realm. Sometimes that power is subtle, dependent upon the spiritual capital the saint has accumulated and how he chooses to deploy it. Othertimes, it is more spectacular, as in the story below of the interconnection between one anchorite saint and the raw energy of nature. Saintly practice is not monolithic: in this entry, we see two brothers, both powerful saints, living very different sorts of pious, ascetic lives. One is very urban in orientation, both before and after his conversion to the ascetic life; the other is a seeming Islamic analogue of the anchorites of late medieval Europe. How they relate to wider social and political life thus varies: our anchorite rejects marriage and cuts himself off from normal social relations; his brother’s effacious prophecy, however, is driven by a concern for familial honour, a fundamental—and very public—basis of social relations.

This variety, and the variety of responses to saints, both within and without the hagiographic text, run throughout ibn ‘Askar’s work, and indeed in the larger world of Moroccan hagiography and saint-veneration, itself subject, not to stasis and homogeneity, but diversity, divergence, and important changes over time.

The Brothers ‘Abd al-Raḥman and ‘Alī ibn Raysūn

Among them, the two sublime shaykhs, Abū Zayd ‘Abd al-Raḥman and Abū Ḥassan, fathered by Abū Mahdī ‘Īsa al-Sharīf al-‘Alamī, from among the descendants of the Pole of the West, Shaykh Abū Muhammad ‘Abd al-Salām ibn Mashīsh, God be pleased with him.

As for Abū Zayd, he was devout, ascetic, and learned, austerity and reclusion from the world being predominant in him, and miraculous signs were manifest in him. The men of the Banū Rāshid present their daughters to him for marriage without obligation, but he did not accept one of them, but rather abandoned the people, and [abandoned] his possessions in the open space before his house, not resisting those who took and bore them away. His way was the heavens, and perhaps the heavens raised him up until oneness was bestowed upon him, and he became estranged from normal relations with the people until he saw neither closeness nor distance, and his house was always locked upon him, and his bedding was the rinds of oaks.

I saw him once when I was young, and he called out a greeting to me; my father was among his companions.

No one knew about his passing away until the wind whipped up that night in the summer, the darkness deepened, the thunder roared, the lightning flashed from every direction, and lightning  bolts struck, so that the people of Tazroute were frightened, and went out to the mosque, saying, ‘Let us seek this shaykh quickly that he might tell us what is going on!’ They then went to the house and it was locked, so they called out and he did not answer them at all, so they tried to open it but were not able until they smashed up the door. Then they found him, dead, lying upon his right side, facing the qibla, as if he were sleeping, God me merciful to him. When they entered his house, the winds calmed and the thunder ceased.

He passed away at some point in the ‘fifties of this century, and was buried in the cemetery of Tazroute around Jbel al-‘Alm, in the land of the Ghumāra.

As for Shaykh Abū Ḥassan, he had, during his brother’s lifetime, worked as a merchant buying and selling goods in the markets, but when his brother passed away he swore off the world, embarked upon pious devotion, and clung to the holy. He was joyful, outstanding, naturally inclined to have a happy countenance, noble virtues, and peace of heart. He was always immersed in litanies—his was a tongue that did not cease from recitation and remembrance for even an hour.

When Sultan Abū Ḥassūn al-Murīnī entered Fes in the ‘sixties, he seized hold of the Qā’id Muhammad ibn Rāsid al-Idrīsī. Fervent respect for kinship compelled Shaykh Abū Ḥassan to go and intercede on his behalf, but Abū Ḥassūn was not to be interceded with. So [Shaykh Abū Ḥassan] went to the Kairouan Mosque [in Fes], uncovered his head, and said: ‘By God! Abū Ḥassūn shall on no account remain in [Fes], and ibn Rāshi shall go forth safe and sound, through the effacious blessing (baraka) of the People of the House (ahl al-bayt).’ And it was as he said: Abū Ḥassūn died after a month, and ibn Rāshid was related and returned to his former state. [Shaykh Abū Ḥassan] passed away around the year 963, and was buried beside the grave of his brother. I accompanied him, God be merciful to him, for a long time, and I took the way of the people and benefited by him, God be merciful to him.

Muhammad ibn ‘Askar al-Ḥassanī al-Shafshāwanī, Dawḥat al-Nāshr

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)

A Moving Experience

Sufism, particularly in its more ecstatic and speculative forms, was not universally admired in the Ottoman world (or in the contemporary world, for that matter). Opposition to particular Sufi practices and doctrines, or Sufism as a whole, could come from various quarters, whether from the ranks of the learned elite or from the pious masses. In the short story below, taken from Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Tāshkubrīʹzādah’s biographical dictionary (a frequent contributor to this blog in recent days, regular readers will notice), we see both the tenor this opposition could take, and an instance of a rather dramatic conversion from an anti-Sufi stance (or, at least, anti-ecstatic Sufism). The story mostly speaks for itself. A couple of things are a little less obvious perhaps: one, note that the Sufi shaykh featured here is described as only having a Turkish name, unlike the majority of people featured in Tāshkubrīʹzādah’s collection. Does this indicate a rural origin, or perhaps outsider status vis-a-vis the ‘learned hierarchy’ of Istanbul and the rest of the empire? Why does Tāshkubrīʹzādah give only this one anecdote for substantial content of this shaykh’s life? I’m not sure. Ottoman Sufism and religion in general is an area of study I’m still very much a novice in; I might also add, my transcription of the Turkish shaykh’s name is a contingent guess for now. I have but lately begun studying Ottoman Turkish, and will probably come back and modify my transcription in time to something more accurate.

Among them, the Knower of God, Shaykh Sūndīk known as Qūghejēdede: He was a master of great divine ecstasies, sunnaic states, and performed miracles.

It is related that he met with Mullah al-Karamāsī—the qāḍī of Constantinople[1]—along with Mullah Ḥamīd al-Dīn ibn Afḍal al-Dīn, who was at the time a mufti. Mullah al-Karamāsī complained to him regarding the Sufism of the age, in that they danced and entered trance-states during dhikr,[2] which was in disagreement with the shari’a. So Mullah ibn Afḍal al-Dīn said to Mullah al-Karamāsī that their leader was this shaykh, pointing to Qūghejēdede, and said: If you make him sound, all will be sound. At that Mullah al-Karamāsī stood up and took Qūghejēdede to his house and fetched his disciples [of Qūghejēdede], and prepared food for them. After finishing the food, he said to them: ‘Sit, and practice your remembrance (dhikr) of God in propriety, sobriety, and silence!’ They said: ‘We will do that.’ Then, when they began their dhikr, Qūghejēdede shouted very loudly in Mullah al-Karamāsī’s ear, so that the Mullah stood up, threw off his turban from his head[3] and his outer robe from his shoulders, and began dancing and entered a trance-state until an entire third of the day had passed. When the Mullah’s disturbance had stilled, Qūghejēdede sad: ‘For what were you so disturbed, O Mullah—and you had said it was evil?’ The Mullah replied: ‘I repent! And I revoke before God that rejection [of Sufism], and I will never return to it!’

The aforementioned shaykh died in the city of Constantinople and was buried in it—God hallow his mystery (sirrahu).

Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 220-1. Translation by Jonathan P. Allen, 2012. No rights reserved.


[1] That is, the chief judge of Constantinople/Istanbul.

[2] Dhikr—literally, ‘remembrance’—is a Sufi practice in which the name of God or certain short devotional phrases or prayers are uttered (either vocally or silently/mentally) in succession, over and over, sometimes leading up to a trance-like state (though not in all forms of dhikr).

[3] An action strongly indicating abandonment of propriety and self-control.

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.

The Traces of Reverent Fear

The sixteenth-century Ottoman scholar Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah‘s biographical work, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah, is full of fascinating lives and vignettes, dealing with all sorts of people within the Ottoman realms, from powerful judges to humble rural mystics. While many of his entries are perfunctory, giving only basic data and usually some nice words about the subject’s piety, other entries include short stories, relate sayings or teachings of the person under discussion, and sometimes include observations from the author’s own personal experience. In the case of the following short life, we get most of those things, albeit in a short space. We see, among other things, the sort of spiritual and social capital and cache a single Sufi could draw upon, touching everyone from a young Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah to a burnt-out scholar to the Sultan himself.

Among them, the Knower of God the Exalted, Shaykh Muṣlaḥ al-Dīn al-Ṭawīl:

He was from the rural district of Naḥḥās in the province of Kastamonu. At first, he busied himself with exalted knowledge (al-‘ilm ash-sharīf)[1] and was well-known by virtue of his reception among the learned men of his time. Then love for Sufism arose in him, and he made the rounds among the shaykhs of his time, until he settled upon Shaykh al-Alhī, and persisted in his service until [the shaykh] died. In his presence he joined the Sufi path and achieved the furthest perfection. He was cut off from the people, stripped of the states of the world, without inclination towards the customs of the people. One saw in his outward visage the traces of reverent fear and sublimity, though he was in companionship kind and beautiful. As a child I saw him, and he brought about in me great reverent fear, and this reverent fear is in my heart up to the present.

He wrote an epistle in the time of the Sultan Bayazīd Khān and sent it to him, mentioning therein relinquishment from the throne and the chair. He mentioned in its conclusion that if there befell injustice in any region among the various regions, the upright people of that region would see in their dreams the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, sorrowing. And the upright people of the rural district of Naḥḥās saw the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, sorrowing, so they kept watch and found in that region great injustice. That injustice was described, and Sultan Bayazīd Khān lifted that injustice from the people of that region.

And it is related about one of the members of the learned class, that he said: I went into his [Shaykh Muṣlaḥ al-Dīn al-Ṭawīl] service once, and said: I want to abandon this path. He said: Which path? I replied: [That of] knowledge (‘ilm). He replied: Have you found a better path? Then he was silent. Then he said to those present: Do you know Sinān Jalabī al-Karmiyya’ī? They replied, Yes, we know him. He said: How do you know him? They replied, He’s an excellent judge. He said: He is a most perfect person of the Sufi path—but none of you know this his state! The one who has exalted intention perfects the path, be he a judge or a professor, though no one is aware of it, but he who does not have exalted intention, his lower self spurs him on to abandoning the path of knowledge, but that will not be made possible for him, and he is forbidden from the Path.

Among his many mystical states was [the following occurrence]: he unrolled his mat in a place close to the grave of Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn in the city of Bursa, and he recited Surah Ya-Sin every morning for forty days, and when those forty days were completed, he died, and was in buried in the place of that mat, his secret be sanctified.

Aḥmad ibn Muṣṭafá  Ṭāshkubrīʹzādah, Al-Shaqāʼiq Al-Nuʻmānīyah Fī ʻulāmāʼ Al-Dawlah Al-ʻUthmānīyah (Bayrūt, Lubnān: Dār al-Kitāb al-ʻArabī, 1975), 217-218. Trans. Jonathan Allen, 2012. No rights reserved.


[1] ‘Ilm here means the study of things such as jurisprudence (primarily), hadith, grammar, rhetoric, and so on- the standard curriculum of an Ottoman madrasa; it might most accurately be translated ‘exoteric knoweldge.’It is commonly contrasted with ma’rifa, or esoteric knowledge, also, perhaps most accurately, translated as ‘gnosis,’ which focuses on the personal, experiential nature of this knowledge, as opposed to ‘ilm, which is transmitted and standardized.

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.

Vice and Virtue

The following translation is another excerpt from the philosophical-mystical Qur’an commentary of ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kashanī (d. 730/1329), previously discussed here. In this excerpt, which is ostensibly related to a large chunk of verses from Sura al-Nur (Q. 24), most of which have to do with ‘legal’ matters. Our commentator, however, takes these verses as an opportunity to expound upon the nature of vice and virtue and proper moral behavior and nature. In the Western Latin exegetical tradition, similar material might fall under the label of ‘tropological’ exegesis. In the tropological mode, a commetator seeks to locate the moral meaning or message behind a particular passage, usually for the purpose of presenting a lesson or example for good behavior. In this case, al-Kashanī is interested, first of all, in expounding on the ‘ontology’ of good and evil acts, reflective of his general philosophical-mystical purpose. Secondarily, his ontological exposition serves to draw out a moral message and a warning against the cultivation of vice.

Readers familiar with Western Latin moral philosophy and theology from the same period in which al-Kashanī is writing will probably recognize some common themes and concepts. This is, of course, not accidental: al-Kashanī is drawing upon many shared elements, particularly those often labeled ‘neo-Platonic.’ Of course, the paths taken by al-Kashanī on the one hand and Western philosophers and theologians on the other were quite different in many ways, and the systems and final forms which they created and used varied considerably. In al-Kashanī’s case, his philosophical commitments are filtered through and transformed by his engagement with the mystical theology of Ibn ‘Arabi. In this passage, however, the Great Master’s influence is not especially evident; philosophical language and concepts, creatively interpenetrated with the Qur’anic text and concepts, are front and center.

[From] Those who come with a lie to His words, Theirs is forgiveness and noble sustenance: verily, the magnitude of the matter of falsehood, and the harshness of the threat (al-wa’īd) attached to it—in that no other matter of disobedience is so harshly dealt with, and the seriousness of the punishment for it, in that neither adultery nor murder are treated so seriously: this is because of the magnitude of the vileness, and the weight of the disobedience. It is in relation to the potency (al-quwa)[1] that is its origin (maṣdaruhā). And the condition of the vices, in veiling their practitioner, diverts away from the divine presence and the holy lights, and is involvement in physical destruction, a darkened gulf in view of the disharmony with its locus of manifestation. For the more that the potency that is [a vice’s] origin and its initiatory source is exalted, the vice that derives from it is all the worse through opposition. For vice is what stands opposite virtue, and when the virtue is especially exalted, what stands opposite it as vice is especially base. Lying is the vice of the potency of speech, which is the most exalted of human potencies. Adultery is the vice of the desiring potency, murder is the vice of the irascible potency. On account of the exaltation of the first [the potency of speech] over the other two [lying] increases the baseness of its vileness.

And that is because man is man on account of the first [potency of speech], as it raises him to the higher world, and it turns him to the divine side, and is his attainment for mystical knowledge and miraculous wonders, and is his acquisition for good deeds and happiness. He is by it, so if is corrupted by the overcoming of satanic influence upon it, and is veiled from the Light by the overwhelming of darkness, it becomes a great unhappiness, and incurs the punishment of the Fire. For it is the stainer and the total veil: Nay, rather, it stains their hearts, what they have acquired; they will be on that day veiled from their Lord. (Q. 83.14-15) And for this the eternity of the punishment is necessary, and the persistence of the torment is by the corruption of belief apart from corruption of deeds, as God does not forgive that one associate another with Him, though He forgives all other than that to whomever He wills.

As for the other [potencies], as each of them traces back in its external manifestation to the reigning potency of speech, then perhaps [the vice] is effaced by its [the potency’s] reassertion, and it subjects it to itself through the stilling of its agitation and the calming effect of its sovereignty through the overwhelming of the strength of the light. It exercises sovereignty over [the vice] naturally, like the state of the censuring soul during repentance and contrition. Or, perhaps [the vice] persists through obduracy, and the abandonment of seeking forgiveness. In these two states the vices of the two [potencies] do not overcome the station of the mystical secret, nor the locus of [divine] presence, or intimate conversation with the Lord, nor do they overstep the bounds of the heart, nor bring about the veiling of primal human nature from reality, inverting through variance with these, except that you see the satanic temptation towards humanity, making him further from the divine presence than the predatory and the beastly, and further from his own natural capacity. For man, by the rootedness of the vice of the potency of speech becomes satanic; rootedness in the vices of the other two cause him to become animalistic, like a predator or beast—and every creature is morally sounder and closer to joy than Satan.[2] And for this reason God said: Shall I reveal to you upon whom the satans descend? They descend upon every lying, evil one (Q. 26.222).

And He forbids here from following the footsteps of Satan, for verily the perpetration of the like of these vile deeds is only through following after him and obeying him. And [Satan’s] companion is part of his army and his following, but is even baser and lower than him; he is cut off from the grace of God which is the light of right guidance; veiled from His mercy which is the overflowing of perfect grace and happiness. He is accursed in this world and the next, odious towards God and the angels. His limbs bear witness against him; he changes their forms, their outward manifestation is made unseemly by the wickedness of inner essence and soul, entangled in filth. Verily, the like of this wickedness does not originate save from the wicked, as God said: Wicked women belong to wicked men. As for the good who are free of the vices, their originates from them good and virtue—Theirs is forgiveness, through the veiling of their attributes by the divine lights, and noble sustenance, from the mystical meanings and the mystical knowledge found in their hearts.


[1] This word might also be translated as ‘faculty’ or ‘capacity.’

[2] Translating al-shayṭān as ‘Satan’ is problematic, as the term can mean both the individual, singular Satan familiar to Western religious discourse, as well as ‘satans,’ or evil spirits of the sort usually referred to in English as ‘devils’ or ‘demons’ (the latter word being especially apropos, as one often encounters, especially in Sufi writings, the idea of ‘personal’ satans, malevolent daemons as it were). I have tried to preserve the ambiguity by translating al-shayṭān as ‘Satan’ when the singular individual is referred to; ‘satans’ when the evil spirits are meant. See Andrew Rippin, ‘S̲h̲ayṭān.’ Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2012.