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.

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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.

Lions, Pomegranates, and Sufi Saints

The following are more stories from ʻAbd Allāh ibn Asʻad al-Yāfiʻī’s collection of hagiographic tales, Khalāsa al-Mafākhir Fī Manāqib al-Shaykh ʻAbd al-Qādir, which I discussed previously here. The first few stories have to do with different saints, not ‘Abd al-Qādir himself. However, they reflect similar themes in the previously translated stories: the translocational capacity of the true saint, his bodily control, both over himself and over the bodies of others; his penetration of the minds of others; and his ability to manipulate nature for the benefit of his disciples. And while these rather entertaining and often amusing tales probably do not strike us in the modern world as elevated discourse akin to other forms of Sufi writing (say, Ibn ‘Arabī), they do include important Sufic vocabulary and seek to inculcate theological and mystical doctrine. The relationship between ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’ is stressed in them, as peoples’ interior states correlate directly with and indeed determine exterior happenings. The supreme example of this interior-exterior dynamism is the exalted saint, who has mastered his interior states and is therefore able to draw upon divine power in shaping ‘exterior’ events. Of course, it is also plausible that pious tales such as these functioned as much for entertainment as anything else—there being no necessary sharp demarcation between entertaining tales and pious, even pedagogical tales, either in our own age or in previous ones.

Addendum: I have added two more stories, both of which have to do with ‘Abd al-Qadir’s control over the magical forces of the unseen, particularly the jinn. They are pretty self-explanatory: in the first, ‘Abd al-Qadir knows how to manipulate the unseen forces of the world, as his instruction in the making of a magic circle indicates; but this knowledge is predicated upon his own saintly power, and not merely technique. Likewise, his contact with the ‘men of the unseen’ is because of his saintliness, his integral connection with the cosmos. The message of all such stories, besides the obvious intention of emphasizing the saint’s prophylactic power and intercessory worth, is to argue for the deep integration of the divinely-inspired saint with the entirety of the cosmos, seen and unseen. Again, the purification and divinization of the saint’s interior reflects on his relationship to the exterior world (and to the hidden world, which is both interior and exterior at once).

 Ḥikāya 89:

According to Shaykh al-‘Ārif Billah Abū Ḥafṣ ‘Umar ibn Maḥmud al-Maghrabī, God be merciful to him, who said: I was sitting with Shaykh Abū al-Barakāt ibn Ṣukhr in the side of the zāwiya,[1] and the impulsive thought[2] occurred to me of grilled meat in hot wheat bread.[3] So the impulsive thought increased in me; while I was like that suddenly a lion[4] came into our midst, and in his mouth was bread. He sat down by Shaykh Abū al-Barakāt, who said to him: ‘Go and put it in the hands of Shaykh ‘Umar.’ So the lion came and put it down and passed on by. In it was grilled meat and hot bread. Scarcely a moment had passed when a dusty, disheveled man descended to us from the air! As soon as I saw him, the desire for the meat and the bread went from me. The man went to the bread that had been brought by the lion, and ate it and everything wrapped in it. Then he sat down and related something to Abū al-Barakāt, then went back into the air from whence he had come. Shaykh Abū al-Barakāt said to me: ‘O Shaykh ‘Umar! The desire that gripped you was not yours, rather, it belonged to the man whom you saw. The man is among the pampered ones: if any impulsive thought arises in his soul, his impulsive thought does not cease until it is fulfilled. At this moment he is in the land of farthest China.’

Ḥikāya 90:

According to Shaykh al-‘Ālam al-Muqrī’ Abū al-Fataḥ Naṣr, who said: I went out one day in autumn with Shaykh Abū al-Barakāt from the zawīya to the mountain, and with him was a group of Sufis. Then he said: ‘Today we want sweet and sour pomegranates!’ And he had not even finished his words when all sorts of trees in this valley and mountain were filled with pomegranates. So he said to us: ‘Here you are! Pomegranates!’ So we picked from it many [fruits], and and we were picking pomegranates from apple, pear, and apricot trees, and other sorts. And we took from one tree both sweet and sour pomegranates, eating a great deal of it, until we were satisfied. Then we departed, and after an hour we returned, but the shaykh was no longer with us and we did not see a single pomegranate upon the trees!

Ḥikāya 91:

According to Shaykh al-Aṣīl Abū Muḥammad ‘Abdallah ibn Abū Mufraj ‘Abd al-Raḥman ibn al-Nāsik Abū al-Fataḥ Naṣrallah ibn ‘Alī al-Hamawī al-Shībānī, God be merciful to him, who said: I heard my father say: My father was walking along the edge of the mountain on a violently windy day, and a wind caught him and he fell. Shaykh Abū Barakāt was sitting facing the mountain, and he pointed with his finger in [my father’s] direction, so his place was fixed in the air between the summit of the mountain and the ground below, and he did not move to the left or the right, up or down, so that it was as if someone was grasping him and keeping him from moving. And he remained like that for an hour. Then the shaykh said: ‘O wind! Rise with him to the roof [or: surface] of the mountain!’ So the wind rose gently with him, as if someone were carrying him, until he arrived at the roof of the mountain.

Ḥikāya 94:

According to Shaykh al-Ṣalāḥ al-Majd ibn Sa’adān al-Wasṭī, God be merciful to him, who said: I was present in the majlis of Shaykh Isḥāq Ibrāhīm al-‘Azab, God be pleased with him, and he was talking with his companions, saying in one of his discourses: ‘My Lord has given me free disposal concerning everyone who is present to me, so that no one stands, sits, or moves in my presence save that I have governing jurisdiction over him.’ Then I thought to myself: ‘Ha! I will stand if I wish, and sit if I wish.’ Then the shaykh cut off his discourse, pointed at me and said: ‘If you are capable of it, stand!’ So I started to rise in order to stand, but I was incapable of motion—I [remained] as one sitting! So I was carried to my house upon the backs of men. I was incapable of moving about, and this condition remained for a month. I knew that it was because of my opposition to the shaykh. So I contracted repentence with God, and said to my family: ‘Carry me to the shaykh!’ They did so, and I said: ‘O my master! It was but an impulsive thought!’ Then he rose to stand, took me by the hand, and then he walked and I walked with him, and what was in me left.

Ḥikāya 95:

According to Shaykh al-Ṣāliḥ Abū al-Farj ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd Mu’ālī ibn Halāl al-‘Abādānī: I heard from my father a story he related from his father who said: I heard Shaykh al-‘Azab, God be pleased with him, say: ‘No one visits us (yazūrunā: a quasi-technical term for visiting a Sufi shaykh, or the tomb of a saint)  unless we want him to.’ So he [the relator’s grandfather] said: So I intended to visit him one time, and an impulse arose in me of this sort so that I said to myself: ‘Ha! I will visit him if he wants it or not.’ Then when I came to the door of the living-place [of the shaykh], I saw a mighty lion—he frightened me with his gaze! Then he bared his teeth at me, so I turned on my heels and fled! And my impatience had increased—or he [the relator] said, my fear—and I was used to hunting and killing lions, so when I was a ways away I stopped, and watched the lion: people were entering and leaving and he did not oppose them—they didn’t even see him, it seemed to me. The next day I came back, and he was in his same place, acting the same way, and when he saw me he stood up before me, so I fled from him. This was my condition in relation to the lion for a month: I was incapable of entering or even getting close to the door. So I went to one of the shaykhs of the Baṭā’iḥ[5] and complained to him about my condition, so he said: ‘Look within yourself for which sin has brought this about.’ So I mentioned to him my impulsive thought, and he said: ‘It has come from it—and the lion which you saw is the state (ḥāl) of Shaykh Ibrāhīm.’ He [the relator’s grandfather] said: So I sought God’s forgiveness, and intended repentance from my opposition. So I went to the living-quarters, and the lion stood and entered in, going to the shaykh and those mingling around him, and was hidden from me. And when I came before the shaykh, he said to me: ‘Welcome, O penitent one!’

Ḥikāya 96:

According to Shaykh Abū al-Ma’ālī ibn Masu’ūd al-‘Irāqī al-Tājir al-Jawharī, who said: I intended to travel one year to the land of the Persians for business, so [before setting out] I sent a pledge to Shaykh Ibrāhīm, and he said to me: ‘If you fall into hardship, call on my name.’ Then, when we were halfway through the stony wastes of Khurāsān, a band of robbers (literally, a ‘force,’ ḥīl) came out against us, and they seized our goods and carried them off in their hands, and we watched them go.[6] I remembered the words of Shaykh Ibrāhīm, but I was in a group of [mu’tabirīn—Shi’i?] among my companions, so I was embarrassed to mention the name of the shaykh with my tongue, so instead the cry for help from him pervaded me secretly—and my inner thoughts had not concluded when I saw him from afar upon a mountain; in his hand a staff with which he was motioning towards those robbers, so that they came with all our goods and surrendered them to us. And they said to us: ‘Proceed freely, rightly guided ones! We have a piece of information for you.’ We said: ‘What is it?’ They replied: ‘We saw upon the mountain a man, a staff in his hand with which he was motioning towards us to return your goods—and the wide expanses seemed narrow to us out of fear of him, for we perceived destruction for whoever opposed him. And there was one among us who had divided off [for himself] part of your goods, but with his staff [the shaykh] drove him back until he rejoined us—then we perceived him and thought that he must be from heaven!’[7]

Ḥikāya 115

According to Abū Sa’īd ‘Abdallah ibn Aḥmad al-Baghdādī who said: One of my daughters, named Fāṭima, who was a virgin, went up to the roof of our house and was kidnapped; she was then sixteen years old. So I immediately went to Shaykh Muḥya al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Qādir and told him of it. He said to me: ‘Go tonight to the ruins of Karkh (a suburb of Baghdad) and sit upon Khamis Hill, then trace around yourself a circle on the ground, saying as you trace it: In the name of God in accordance with the intention of ‘Abd al-Qādir. Then when the gloom of night comes, there will pass by you groups of jinn in different forms—but do not be frightened of their might. Then, when dawn is nigh[8] there will pass by you their king in the midst of an army of them, and he will ask you: What do you need? So say to him: ‘Abd al-Qādir sent me to you. Then tell him about the affair of your daughter.’ So I went and did as he commanded me. There passed by disquieting forms from among them [the jinn], but none were able to get close to the circle I was in. And troop after troop of them did not cease passing by until their king came, riding his steed, and before him were all his peoples. He stopped opposite the circle and said to me: ‘What do you need?’ I said: ‘‘Abd al-Qādir sent me to you.’ He got down from his steed, kissed the ground, and sat down outside the circle; those with him sat down also. He said: ‘What is your affair?’ So I told him the story of my daughter, and he said to those with him: ‘Who did this?’ But they did not know who did it, until one came with a demon (mārid), and she [the daughter] was with him, and it was said to him: ‘This one is from the demons of China.’ Then [the king of the jinn] said to him: ‘What possessed you to kidnap someone who is a loyal follower of the Pole [of the Saints] (al-quṭb)?!’ He replied: ‘The idea took hold of me.’ So he commanded him to be struck on his neck, and he gave me back my daughter, then I said: ‘Have you ever seen anything like tonight in your obedience to ‘Abd al-Qādir?’ He said, ‘Yes—he looks from his house to the demons that are in the furthest part of the earth. So they flee from fear of him to their dwelling places. Verily, when God raises a Quṭb, He gives him power over man and jinn.’

[Abū al-‘Abbās] said: I was lying up on top of the roof of the madrasa on Saturday night, between dinner and sunset, on the ninth of al-Rabī’ al-Ākhir, the year 552, and it was summertime. Our master Muḥya al-Dīn ‘Abd al-Qādir came before me, facing the qibla. And then I saw in the sky a man flying about in the air like an arrow. Upon his head was a fine turban, with an ‘adhiba [?] between his shoulders, the whitest of clothing upon him, and an apron around his waist. When he drew near to the Shaykh’s head, he dropped like an eagle descending on its prey, until he sat before him and greeted him. Then he went back into the air until he disappear from my sight. So I stood up and asked the Shaykh about him, and he said: ‘You saw him?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered, and he said: ‘He is one of the men of the roving unseen world, upon them be peace.’

ʻAbd Allāh ibn Asʻad al-Yāfiʻī, Khalāsa al-Mafākhir Fī Manāqib al-Shaykh ʻAbd al-Qādir, ed. by Aḥmad Farīd al-Mazīdī (Sirīlānkā: Dār al-Āthār al-Islāmīyah lil-Ṭibāʻah wa-al-Nashr, 2006), 168-169, 172-174, 190-191.


[1] A sort of Sufi retreat or meeting place, sometimes also a shrine.

[2] Khāṭir: In Sufic terminology, a khāṭir is a thought that ‘arises’ in one, without any intention on the person’s part, and often without the person’s control, though a person may choose to act upon the impulsive thought. It often has a negative valence, but not always. In this story, the impulsive thought is apparently linked to mystical, quasi-magical capacities, presumably granted to a supreme saint (here, a Chinese saint of some sort!).

[3] The theme of food, seen here and in several other antecdotes translated below, was already an old one in Sufi lore. Sweets, grilled meat, and bread appear again and again. See for instance several stories of al-Ḥallāj compiled and translated by Massignon: For further instances, see footnote 110 at p. 118, op. cite.; and Abū Ṭalib al-Makkī, Qūt al-Qulūb, Vol. II , 42; and the short Sufi story translated here. Finally, see Shazad Bashir, Sufi Bodies: Religion and Society in Medieval Islam (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011),

[4] This story and another further along feature lions linked to a Sufi saint (or saints, as here); besides the obvious symbolism of a powerful, majestic animal, the lion might also carry ‘Alid symbolism.

[5] ‘The Marshlands’—the area around the ‘Iraqi city of Wasit.

[6] A reminder of the often precarious nature of travel and commerce in the Middle Ages…

[7] The saint who works wonders from afar is a common theme in medieval hagiography the world over; the theme of the saint’s effective power being summoned by mention of his or her name is likewise common. In this story, part of the emphasis would seem to be upon the universal availability of the saint’s summoned power: even though the story-teller is ashamed to publicly invoke the saint, his invocation of the holy man ‘secretly’ (a term that has a double meaning in Sufi discourse, it should be noted) demonstrates both the saint’s awesome power and his clemency.

[8] Waqt al-saḥar; a slight change of vocalization would give waqt al-siḥr, time of magic or sorcery, not incidental I suspect.

The Palm Tree of the Soul: The Mystical-Philosophical Tafsir of ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Kashani

Few thinkers of any sort in medieval Islam have had as much influence in later Islamic traditions—Sunni and Shi’i and all the permutations within those categories—as the great Andalusian mystic, philosopher, and prolific author Ibn ‘Arabī. Like so many seminal philosophical and mystical thinkers, his later followers and interpreters would vary greatly in their defense, appropriation, and creative expansion of the master’s work and thought. This is perhaps especially the case for Ibn ‘Arabī, an especially dense and difficult author. Already a figure of controversy in his lifetime, Ibn ‘Arabī’s value and legacy continue to be contested points, both within the field of Islamic thought and practice and within the field of historical enquiry. The passage translated below was written by one of Ibn ‘Arabī’s many later followers. Like many others, ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Kashanī (d. 730/1329) drew upon the writings of the ‘Greatest Master’ in a creative fashion; he did not simply reproduce Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas or methods—an improbable task, anyway. Rather, as we see in this example of al-Kashanī’s tafsīr, he drew upon Ibn ‘Arabī’s language, concepts, and tendencies to craft his own system of mystical-philosophical theology and hermeneutic. Having studied Avicennian philosophy before embracing Sufism via Ibn ‘Arabī, al-Kashanī’s mystical-philosophical ‘system’ draws upon both traditions. His writings—several of which are commentaries upon the work of Ibn ‘Arabī—tend to have a highly pedagogical edge to them, both in intention and in format and composition. Suffice to say, al-Kashanī is a much easier writer to read than Ibn ‘Arabī. This is not to say his ideas or language are simple, however; they are not. But they are deliberately more accessible and systematic than Ibn ‘Arabi’s works.

Among al-Kashanī’s numerous extant writings, one of the most frequently printed is his Qur’an commentary. However, despite the virtually uncontested ascription of the Ta’wīlāt al-Qur’ān to al-Kashanī, this text has been repeatedly printed by modern publishing houses under the name Tafsīr al-Qur’ān al-Karīm and ascribed to Ibn ‘Arabī himself; as one scholar has suggested, this strategy is probably at least in part a marketing ploy.[1] At any rate, the tafsīr is relatively brief (for commentaries)—about a thousand pages in two volumes in the edition I am using—and very readable, particularly compared to Ibn ‘Arabī’s dense and rather convoluted style. Al-Kashanī, like many other ‘specialized’ commentators in other ‘genres’ of commentary, engages in selective commentary, rather than trying to comment on every single line. His concerns are, as might be expected from my brief synopsis above, philosophical-mystical. His exegetical method in most of the commentary might be described as ‘allegorical’ (a problematic but still useful term, I think). However, as I plan on posting excerpts from several more ‘allegorical’ minded commentators, from multiple high medieval traditions, in coming days, I will refrain from a further analysis. Rather, take note of the obvious exegetical moves al-Kashanī makes here, and the underlying philosophical, religious, and ‘mystical’ ideas and concerns he reveals in this short passage. What sorts of things does al-Kashanī presuppose about the world, things that would be accepted by most people in his society? What sorts of things might be contested in his analysis? How does his mystical ‘system’ correspond to the Qur’anic text, and is he consistent in his application?

[Text]: Q.19:22-26: So she [Mary] became pregnant with him and withdrew with him to a remote place. Then the labor pains brought her to the trunk of the palm tree; she said: O that I died before [this], forgotten, forgetting. Then he cried out to her from below her—Lest you be sadded, your Lord has placed flowing water below you. And shake towards you the trunk of the plam tree; there will fall to you ripe harvestable dates. So eat and drink and refresh yourself. And if you see anyone from among men, say: I have vowed to the Merciful a fast, so I will not speak today to anyone.

[Commentary]: And the union of the spirit of Jesus with the sperm (al-nuṭfa), however, is after the occurrence of the sperm in the womb and its repose therein, while it mixes and merges into one, becoming a nature (mizājan) fit for the reception of the spirit.[2] So she withdrew with him (bihu), that is, with him (ma’hu), to a remote place, far from the first eastern place, for it happened to her in a foreign place which is the world of physical nature (‘ālam al-ṭabī’a), the material horizon, and so He said: Then the labor pains brought her to the trunk of the palm tree, the palm tree of the soul. So he cried out to her from below her, that is, Gabriel cried out to her from the lowest [place] in relation to her place in regards to the heart, that is, from the world of physical nature, that which had saddened her with respect to it, the pregnancy which was the cause of her being pointed out and expelled. Lest you be saddened, your Lord has placed flowing water below you, that is, a small stream, from the unseen of physical-natural knowledge, and knowledge of the oneness of actions, with which God singled you out and purified you—as you saw He who generated the fetus from your sperm, uniting it together.

And shake towards you the trunk of the palm tree of your soul, which was lofty through hearing the Spirit, through your connection to the Spirit of holiness, and became verdant with true life, after its aridity from spiritual exercise and its dryness from being forbidden the water of passion and its life. And it bore fruit of gnosis (al-ma’ārif), and inner meaning; that is, Set it in motion with contemplation. There will fall to you, of the fruit of gnosis, and realities, ripe harvestable dates. So eat, that is, from above you, the dates of the realities, of divine gnosis, of knowledge of the manifestation of the [divine] attributes, of the gifts, and of the states. And drink, from below you, the water of the knowledge of physical nature, of the wonders of creation, of the mysteries of the divine actions, of knowledge of tawakkul, of the manifestation of the actions, of the virtues, of the acquisitions, as God says: They would have eaten from above them and from below their feet (Q. 5.66b).

And refresh yourself, by grace, by the blessed son, the existent through divine power, the gift through divine providence. And if you see anyone from among men, that is, from among the people of exotericism, those veiled from the realities by the outer appearances of the means, by the creation, by the judgements, from the wonders and from divine power—those who do not understand your word, and do not speak truthfully regarding you or your state, due to their conformity with custom, and their being veiled by intellects muddied by delusion, veiled from the light of God. Then say: I have vowed to the Merciful a fast, that is, not to talk about anything of your matter, nor to keep on talking with them about what they are not capable of receiving, as one speaks in accordance with his own state.

*

[Text]: Q. 20:6-13: And what is in the heavens is His, and what is on the earth, what is between the two, and what is under the ground. And if you speak publicly, He knows the secret and [the] more hidden. God—no god save He; His are the beautiful names. And has there come to you the story of Moses? When he saw a fire, he said to his people: remain; I espied a fire, perhaps I will you from it a firebrand or may find at the fire guidance. And when he came to it, it was cried out, O Moses! Verily, I am your Lord, so take off your two sandals, for you are in the holy valley Ṭuwa. And I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed.[3]

[Commentary]: And what is in the heavens is His, to and what is under the ground: evidentiary proof of the total embrace of His force and of His dominion over all, that is, everything is under His dominion, His force, His governing power, His effectual influence: you do not come-into-being, do not move, do not come-to-rest, do not change, do not subsist, save by His command. And likewise, you pass away in whole overcome by His oneness, and the obliterating power of His compulsion: you do not hear, do not see, do not strike, do not walk, except in Him and by His command.

And if you speak publicly, He knows the secret and [the] more hidden: evidentiary proof of the perfection of His kindness. That is, His knowledge is effective in all things. He knows their exteriors and interiors, the secret, and the secret of the secret. Likewise, if you act publicly, or covertly, then He knows it, public and covert.

And whereas the aforementioned attributes were the sources with which there is no attribute save under their totality, and there is no name save it is included in these aforementioned names, and the essence is not made multiple by them, so He says: God. That is the way-station (al-manzil) described by these attributes, He is God, there is no god save He, His unitary essence is not made multiple, nor is the reality of His He-ness [made multiple] by them, and He is not numerically compounded. For He is He in eternal duration, just as He was in eternity. There is no he save He, no existence other than Him in regards to His absolute unicity and His being the source of all things. Whereas He mentioned: His are the beautiful names which are His essence in regards to the particularization of the attributes.

When he [Moses] saw a fire, it is the Spirit of holiness, that which kindles from itself light in human souls; he saw it by the refreshed eye of his inner sight, by the light of guidance. He said to his people the capacities of the lower self, Remain, be at rest, and do not set out, since the course (al-sīr), rather, arrives at the holy world (al-‘ālam al-qudsī), and he is joined to it in the presence of these human capacities, from the outer and inner senses, the objects of concern for it.[4] I espied a fire, that is, I saw a fire. Perhaps I will bring you from it a firebrand, that is, a conjunctive luminescent aspect (hai’a), by which all of you (pl.) will be benefited. So [Moses] will be illumined and his essence become an excellent quality. Or I will find at the fire one who will guide me through knowledge and gnosis, the reason for divine guidance to God (al-Ḥaqq), that is, the [revealed] scriptures, by the conjunction through them to the luminescent aspect (hai’a: or, ‘form’), or the cognizant aspect.

And when he reached it, that is, was joined to it, it was cried out, from behind the fiery veil, which is the pavilions of glory and might, the divine presence being veiled by it. O Moses! Verily, I am your Lord! Veiled by the fiery form, which is one of the veils of might manifest in it. So take off your two sandals, that is, your lower self and your body, or rather two existents, because one, if he is stripped of the two, he is stripped of two existents. That is, likewise, in your spirit and your secret you were stripped of their attributes and aspects, so that you are joined to the Spirit of holiness, and stripped in your heart and your chest from the two, the cutting off of attachment to all things, the effacement of the traces, the extinguishing of the attributes and actions. He names them two sandals, and He does not name them two articles of clothing, because if he were not stripped of wearing the two, he would not be united to the world of holiness. And the state is the state of union, so He commands him with the cutting off of all things in view of Him, as He said: Be devoted to Him entirely. So it is as if his attachment susbsisted with the two, and the attachment through the two caused his foot to slip, [the foot] being the lowest aspect of the heart, designated by ‘front’ (ṣadr). Then the two, after the the spiritual, secretual betaking towards holiness, He ordered the cutting off of the two in the station of the Spirit, and for this He justified the necessity of the taking off by His words, You are in the holy valley Ṭuwa, that is, the world of the Spirit, clear of the traces of attachment, the forms of dependencies, and the extended attachments; [it is] named Ṭuwa, due to the concealment (ṭayy) of the conditions of the domain, and of the celestial and terrestrial bodies beneath it.

He has spoken truthfully who said: ‘He commanded him to put the two [sandals] down due to their being made from the skin of a dead donkey, without tanning.’ And it is said: ‘When He cried out, Satan whispered to him: “Satan cried out to you.”’ So he said: I am discriminating! I heard from six sides with all my members—and that could not be save from the cry of the Merciful.’[5]

I have chosen you, so listen to what is revealed: this He promised with the election that is after the perfect essential manifestation, that which leveled the mountain of his being  (wujūdihi) with the annihilation in it by being leveled, and his thunderstruck prostration at his recovery through Real Being, as God said: when he was restored he said: Glory to you! I turn to You, and I am the first of the believers: [God] said: ‘O Moses! I have chosen you in preference to all other people, as My messenger and My word.’ This manifestation is the manifestation of the attributes, before the manifestation of the essence. And for this He sent him, and he did not here ask Him for information concerning the revelation. And He commanded him with spiritual exercise, with being-present, with watchfulness, and He promised him the great resurrection in short time, so this election is close to the foundational choosing alluded to in His words: Then his Lord chose him; so turn to Him and be rightly-guided, a middle between him and between the electing.


[1] James Winston Morris, ‘Ibn ‘Arabi and His Interpreters:  Part II (Conclusion): Influences and Interpretations, in Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 107 101-119.

[2] Mizāj is derived from a root that means ‘to mix, to stir’; the term might best be translated as ‘humoral nature’ or ‘disposition,’ as the conceptions behind the term lie in Galenic theories of the humors and their particular presences and circulations in the body.

[3] Some readers will perhaps be familiar with a much earlier instance of a mystical/allegorical interpretation of the story of Moses: St. Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Moses. As we see here in al-Kashanī’s interpretation, Gregory reinterpreted the historically particular life of Moses along universal lines, as being the story of the human soul in its progress towards God. Likewise, al-Kashanī here finds in the story the opportunity to lay out theology and a supreme example of human experience of God. While he does not deny the historical particularity of the story, that historical particularity is not especially important here—rather, it is the universal truths al-Kashanī finds revealed, mystically and anagologically, in the story.

[4] I.e., Moses said to his lower capacities/potencies: remain here while I [viz., the higher self/spirit] go towards the fire. The sense is that the lower self cannot embark on the path to the ‘hallowed world.’ I am not entirely satisfied with my translation here, but I think the sense is clear.

[5] Al-Kashanī occasionally, as here, inserts material from ‘exoteric’ exegesis, most likely in order to demonstrate that his ‘esoteric’ reading of the text does not preclude more common, ‘established’ exoteric readings drawing upon other forms of explanation and exegetical authority. This is not unlike medieval Latin Christian exegesis, with its levels of meaning (four in many accounts, but more or fewer in other reckonings), the allegorical or the tropological not excluding the literal/historical. For al-Kashanī and other ‘esoteric’ exegetes of the Qur’an, however, the relation between the ‘literal/historical’ and the ‘allegorical/mystical’ could be somewhat more ticklish a subject than in Latin Christendom.

Sainthood, Revelation, and Epistemology

(The following post is a conclusion to a series of translations and accompanying short essays on ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī’s writings and historical afterlife; it is meant to be read in succession to those, which you may find here, here, and here.)

The following excerpt from the third discourse in ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī’s Futḥ al-Rabāniya is an extended treatment of ‘sainthood,’ on the one hand, and the nature of revelation and perception of the divine on the other. The passage is a little denser and at time difficult than the others translated here; as such, my translation of this text is therefore more tentative and, I think you will find, rougher, than usual. However, the basic gist is clear enough: the ‘friend of God’ occupies a special, indeed unique and exalted place, among God’s creatures. Such status has its benefits, which ‘Abd al-Qādir describes; crucially, it is generated by and sustained through the saint’s singular devotion to God. More important than any temporal powers or benefits, however, is the activation of one’s ‘inner eye,’ and even beyond that, the unmediated vision of God.

This is decidedly ‘Sufic’ material, I think, both in vocabulary and overall meaning and implied praxis (though see below for its particularly Ḥanbalī ‘spin’). It is also interesting to note the ways in which ‘Abd al-Qādir refers to himself, particularly in light of the later hagiographical traditions that built up around him. He definitely makes claims for himself: namely, claims for his own proximity to God and the realization of divine knowledge, perhaps even ‘sainthood,’ in himself. Rhetorically, however, these claims are made in order to bolster his preaching: as I have tasted the divine truth, so you can and ought to taste it, is the gist of ‘Abd al-Qādir’s claims for himself. Making such claims or proclamations also helps to resolve a central problem in ‘Abd al-Qādir’s preaching: the disconnection between the true ‘friends of God’ and the rest of creation. If one is to be ‘cut off’ from everything that is not God, how is one to ‘return’ to the world, and why? The saint, or ‘friend of God,’ is able to do so because he has realigned himself, away from ‘this world’ towards God alone. He can ‘report’ on the state of the friend of God and summon others to that state, without slipping back into ‘the world.’ As for any further ‘powers’ the saint might claim—miracles and the like, the stuff of later hagiography—while ‘Abd al-Qādir is not here concerned with such things, and makes no such claims overtly for himself, they do not seem to be ruled a priori.

That said, this discourse is firmly rooted in ‘Abd al-Qādir’s own historical exigencies and concerns as a good Ḥanbalī preacher. In discussing revelation, he first demarcates the distinction between prophet and friend/saint: prophets receive ‘the word’ (which we might well capitalize: the Word), while saints receive ‘report’—ḥadīth. That is, while the word and the report are both important and authoritative, the word is prior and possesses a greater definitiveness than report. As for the word/Word, ‘Abd al-Qādir takes up an issue that had caused all manner of controversy a few centuries before: the createdness of the Qur’an, an issue which served as a flashpoint for controversy over the place of kalām, revelation, reason, and governmental authority in religion, among other things. Here our homilist is concerned with defending the doctrine of the uncreated Qur’an by disavowing the legitimacy of arguing about it. While he includes a little defense of ibn Ḥanbal and his confrontation with the caliph, ‘Abd al-Qādir’s primary concern is to redirect potential energy spent in theological arguments towards what truly ‘benefits’ one: the singular pursuit of God and devotion to Him. Implictly argued as well, I think, is the idea that rational theological investigation is supplanted by the ascetic striving for the presence of God, which will lead to the full vision of God, a vision (implicitly here possible in this life) possible only for the ‘lovers’ of God, those who behold with ‘hearts unveiled.’

3rd Session [Excerpts]

The saints/friends of God (awlīya’ Allah) in their connection to people are deaf and blind to you, in that when their hearts are close to God they do not hear other than Him, and do not see other than Him. He bestows closeness upon them, and covers them in reverence, and benefits them with love as reward for their love. They are between the majesty and the beauty (al-jalāl wa al-jamāl); they do not incline to the left or the right; theirs is ‘facing’ without a ‘behind.’ Human, jinn, and angel serve them, and all sorts of creatures serve them in wisdom and knowledge. Grace nourishes them, and intimacy quenches their thirst. From the food of His grace they eat, and from the draught of His intimacy they drink. They are distracted from listening to the talk of people; they are worlds apart. They command the people what God commands and forbid the people what God forbids. According the Prophet, peace and prayer be upon him, they are the true heirs. Their occupation is the turning of people back to the door of God; they convey His definitive proof to them. They carry out things in their proper place and time, they give everyone his proper due, not violating anyone’s rights, not sating their own selves or natures. They love in God, and they hate in God. All of them are His; they have no participation in other than He. Whoever has this perfected for him, has friendship perfected for him, and there is realized for him salvation and felicity, and humans, jinn, angels, earth, and heaven love him.

O hypocrite! O servant of the creation, of the means, forgetful of God! Desire that this fall into your hands for your good, not for honor and might for yourself. First, surrender, then repent, then know, do, be purified—and if not, you are not rightly guided. Listen! There is no enmity between me and you other than that I speak the truth, but your love is not for the religion of God. I have been brought up in the difficult way of life of the teaching of the shaykhs, of exile and of poverty—if there is manifest from me to you a word, take it as from God, for it is He who makes me to speak it. If you come over to me, come over stripped of yourself, of your lower self, of your passions. If you have sight, then behold me also stripped [of these things]—but your illness is your emaciated understanding, O seeker of my friendship and benefit from me. My state has nothing to do with people, this world of the next. So however turns to me, accompanies me, thinks well of me, and does what I say, God willing, he will be thus.

God instructs the prophets in His word (bi-kalāmihu), while He instructs the saints with His report (bi-ḥadīthihu), and the report is inspiration (al-ilhām) in their hearts, for they [the saints] are the trustees of the prophets, their successors, their servants. God spoke: He spoke to Moses, the speech uncreated, speech of the indication of the unseen, speech by speaking he understood, reaching his intellect without intermediating means. And He spoke to our prophet Muḥammad, peace and prayer of God be upon him, this Qur’an, the firm rope of God, which is between you and between your Lord. He sent it down through Gabriel, upon whom be peace, from the presence of God through the heavens, sending it down to His Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, as was said and reported. It is not permitted to deny that and argue about it. O God! Guide all, turn all [to You], and have mercy on all.

It is related about the Commander of the Faithful, al-Mu’taṣim bi-Allah,[1] God be merciful to him, that he said at the time of his death: ‘O God! I repent of what I did against Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal. With my whole being, I did not take up anything of his affair—it was other than me that took that up.’

O poor one! Leave off speaking about what does not benefit you, abandon fanaticism for madhhab,[2] and busy yourself with what benefits you in this world and the next! You will behold through the proximity of your experience—remember my word, you will behold at the transfixion, with no helmet upon your head, which thing completely wounds it [?]. Empty your heart of the cares of this world, as you are captivated by it through proximity—do not seek the good of this life in it, in what falls into your hand. As the Prophet, peace and prayer of God be upon him, said: ‘[True] life is the life of the next world.’

Diminish your expectation, and there will have come to you renunciation (al-zuhd) in this world, because renunciation, all of it, is the diminishment of expectation. Part company with the companions of evil, and cut off friendship between yourself and them, rather, persist in friendship between yourself and the righteous. Part company with proximity on your part if they are the companions of evil. If they are the companions of good, still maintain distance. For everyone whom you love in friendship, there arises a relationship between you and him—so keep a watch on who you love in friendship.

O servant! Seek guidance through the workmanship of God, meditate upon Him through His workmanship, and you will be united to the Craftsman. The knowing, possessed of certainty believer has exterior eyes and interior eyes. He sees with his exterior eyes what God has created on earth, and he sees with his interior eyes what God created in the heavens. Then the veil is lifted from his heart so that he sees Him without likeness or conditioning, so that he becomes close, loving [towards God]—and nothing is kept from the lovers, in that the veil is lifted from the heart stripped of the creation, the lower self, one’s nature, the passions, and Satan. [God] sets forth the keys of the treasuries of the earth out of His hand; in His presence stone and mud are equalized. Be comprehending and meditative in regards to what I say, and understand: I speak with the inner heart of the word, with its essence, with its interior, the sincerity of its [inner] meaning.


[1] Reigned 833–842; succeeded his brother al-Mā’mūn, who had initiated the so-called Mihna, actions intended to consolidate an official ‘orthodoxy’ in theology, more or less along Mu’tazila lines. The issue of the createdness of the Qur’an was one of the central points of dispute in the course of the Mihna. After initially continuing al-Māmūn’s policies, al-Mu’taṣim changed course, as indicated in this short report.

[2] Madhhab here could mean either legal ‘school,’ or, perhaps more likely, theological ‘school,’ given ‘Abd al-Qādir’s targeting of ‘deviant’ theological opinions.

Strip Off the Clothing of This World and Don That of the Next

The following is a brief sermon by ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, delivered, according to the opening line, in his madrasa in Baghdad; it is taken from a collection titled Futḥ al-Rabāniya. Sermons seem to have been the form of discourse he was best known for. This one is a good example of some of ‘Abd al-Qādir’s defining themes, as well as an example of his method of sermonizing. As with preachers in many periods and milieus, ‘Abd al-Qādir employs vivid imagery, parallelism, repetition, and personal address; he is also relatively brief and straightforward, at least in this sermon (which, after all, was for a weekday evening). Who might have made up his audience? Practitioners of Sufism, at least in part: ‘Abd al-Qādir targets with condemnation a certain sort of Sufi in the opening lines; in addition to ‘Sufic’ resonances throughout the rest of the sermon, there is a further section towards the end in which he seems to be addressing the practice of prayerful seclusion (khalwa) and the way one makes oneself suitable for the practice.

As for the remainder of the sermon, the material would be applicable to anyone, whether practicing Sufism or not (and one should keep in mind that during this period the ‘institutional’ Sufism of the so-called orders was not really existent, at least not in the form it would take in the coming centuries). As has been evident in the other texts translated here, ‘Abd al-Qādir maintains a constant focus on the duality between interior and exterior and the necessity of uniting the two through the rectification of one’s interior state. Directly related to the making right of one’s interior state is the necessity of coming to a right relation with God. This right relationship, for our author, means a stripping away of everything that is ‘other than God.’ This stripping away is primarily on what we might call the emotional or volitional level: the true believer should rely only on God, should devote herself only to God. While good deeds and the keeping of the shari’a is certainly key for ‘Abd al-Qādir, even more important is making sure one’s inner state, one’s conceptions, volition, and sight are aligned with God, and not with anything else. Only when one has achieved this state of inner-outer congruence should one try to lead other people to God- another common theme for ‘Abd al-Qādir. Significantly for his later reputation, he does claim having achieved such a state, at least implicitly (else he would not be preaching).

In coming days I will conclude my mini-series, as it has developed, on ‘Abd al-Qādir with a few more translations from Futḥ al-Rabāniya and some concluding thoughts on the Hanbali Sufi’s development into a ‘saint of saints’ with global appeal, up to the present day.

8th Session

He said, may God be pleased with him, on Monday evening in the madrasa, on the nineteenth of Shawwāl, in the year 545 [February 8th, 1151 AD]:

The man whose clothes are clean but his heart is dirty, he is absentious in permitted things, lazy in lawful earning, and lives off of his religion[1] and never hesitates—he eats that which is clearly forbidden. His affair is hidden from the common people, but it is not hidden from the spiritual elite: all of his abstentions and obediences are done exteriorly. His exterior is built-up while his interior is in ruins. Listen! Obedience towards God is through the heart, not outward conformity! All of these things adhere to hearts, to secrets, to [inner] meaning. Strip yourself from what you are in so that God bestow upon you in exchange apparel which does not wear out. Strip, so that He may clothe you! Strip off the clothing of your laziness in [fulfilling] the rights of God (ḥuqūq Allah); strip off the clothing of your conformity with people and your associating of them [with God]. Strip off the clothing of the passions, of thoughtlessness, of vanity, of hypocrisy, of your love of acceptance by people and of their taking interest in you, and their giving to you. Strip off the clothing of this world and don that of the next world; let your strength, your power, your own good be rent asunder, and cast yourself between the hands of God, without power, without strength, without dependence on a means, without associating anything of creation [with God].

And if you do this, you will see His kindnesses come to you, strengthen you, His mercy knit you together, His munificence and grace clothe you and draw you into them. Flee to Him; be cut off [from other things] towards Him, naked, without ‘you’ and without other than you. Confine in Him, cut off and separated from other than Him, confide in Him, scattered and cast about until He unites you and confers upon you potencies within and without; until, if things are closed to you and you bear all manner of troubles, that [sort of thing] will not harm you, rather, He will preserve you through it. He who causes [al-ḥāq? perhaps read al-khalq?] to pass away by means of his confession of divine oneness; he who causes this world to pass away by means of his renunciation; he who causes other than his Lord to pass away by means of desire [for God]: he has perfected the good, the beneficial. And so acquire good of this world and the next by the death of your lower selves, your passions, and your demons before you die [physically]; particular death is incumbent upon you before general death.[2]

O people! Answer! Verily, I am God’s summoner—I summon you to His gate, to obedience to Him; I do not summon you to myself. The hypocrite does not summon people to God, rather, he summons them to himself; he seeks worldly affairs and approval, seeking this world. O ignorant one! Leave off listening to this discourse and sitting in your solitary cell with your self and your passion: you need, first of all, the companionship of shaykhs, the killing of the lower self and nature and what is other than the Master. Adhere to the door of their houses, I mean, of the shaykhs. Then, after that, withdraw from them and sit in your cell, alone with God. Then, if this is perfected in you, you will become medicine for the people, a rightly-guided guide by God’s permission.

[But for now] you, your tongue is pious, but your heart dissolute: your tongue praises God while your heart opposes Him; your exterior is Muslim while your interior is an infidel; your exterior is a monotheist while your interior is an associator. Your religion and your asceticism are exterior, while your interior is in ruins, like whitewash on an outhouse, or a lock on a refuse-bin.[3] When you are so, Satan encamps in your heart, and makes it his dwelling place. The believer should begin with the building of his interior, then with the building of his exterior, just as one who works on a house spends a great deal on its interior while its doorway is dilapidated. Then, when he finishes the interior fabrication, after that he works on the door. Likewise, the beginning [of the spiritual life] is in God and His good pleasure, then the turning to other people by His permission; the beginning is through the attainment of the other world—then we receive the portions of this world.


[1] ‘Abd al-Qādir is targeting here someone who rejects work and instead begs— living off of one’s religion. He probably has in mind ascetics and Sufis who took tawakkul—total reliance on God—very literally, rejecting any attempt at lawful earning in favor of waiting on God to send along livelihood either through gifts or through miraculous means. ‘Abd al-Qādir, like the writers of many early Sufi texts, rejects this interpretation of tawakkul.

[2] A paraphrase might make this line a little clearer: the particular death of dying to one’s self, passions, and the devil—a death that not everyone undergoes—before the common death, the death that all undergo—this particular death is incumbent upon you.

[3] I’m not quite sure how to translate this line so as to be in keeping with eleventh/early twelfth century conventions of waste disposal; the Arabic is qufl ‘alā mazbala. Mazbala can also mean dungheap; perhaps what is meant is a lock on an enclosure around a dungheap? The sense at least is clear:  keeping on a lock on a dungheap or pile of trash is absurd.

On Trials, Tawakkul, and Subduing the Self

As promised in my last post, below are some excerpts from one of the two extant collections of ‘Abd al-Qādir’s sermons and discourses, the Futūḥ al-Ghayb, a text which gained a selective commentary by none other than ibn Taymiyya (who, it should be remembered, was not entirely anti-Sufi but in fact favored and participated in certain aspects of Sufism). The excerpts I have translated below deal, in general, with the pious believer’s relation to God vis-a-vis the external world. The basic dilemma for ‘Abd al-Qādir is the question of how one can live what would appear to be a rather conventional, active life in the world, while relying entirely upon God and refusing to notionally associate anyone or anything else with God. The goal for ‘Abd al-Qādir, as with many other Sufis and other medieval Muslim ascetics and pious practitioners, is to enter a state in which all attachments, emotional and physical dependencies, and notional conceptions are stripped away from the created world and realigned with God.

How congruent is the world-view expressed in these writings with the image of the powerful Sufi saint, as seen in later hagiography? I will leave the reader to contemplate that question for now; I will take it up in more detail in a future post of excerpts from ‘Abd al-Qādir’s other sermon and discourse collection, al-Fatḥ al-Rabbānī.

3rd Discourse: On Trials

He said, may God be pleased with him and He please him: When the servant is tried with a trial, he first undertakes independent measures of himself, and if he is not delivered from [the trial], he seeks the aid of [other] people, such as holders of power, high dignitaries, lords of this world, spiritually powerful people, and doctors for illness and pains. And if he does not find deliverance in those measures, he turns to his Lord with supplication, humility, and praise. So long as he finds help in himself, he does not turn to [other] people, and so long as he finds help in other people he does not turn to his Lord. Then, when he does not find help in the Creator, he flings himself before Him asking and supplicating, with humility and praise, and neediness with fear and hope. Then God incapacitates his supplication and does not answer him until he is cut off from all means (al-asbāb). Now His power is operative in him, and His action acts in him, and the servant is annihilated from all means and motions, so that he is only spiritually remaining (fa-yabqā rūḥan faqaṭ), and he sees nothing save the action of God (f’il al-Ḥaqq). So he becomes of necessity certain of [divine] oneness, being made profoundly aware that in truth there is no Doer save God, no bringer-into-motion or bringer-to-rest save God, and that there is no good or bad, harm or benefit, giving or withholding, opening or closing, death or life, might or abasement, save by the hand of God.

And he becomes in the divine power (al-qadar) like the suckling child in the hands of the wet-nurse, like the dead body being washed in the hand of the washer, like the ball in the polo-stick of the horseman, turned and changed and modified. He simply is, and there is no motion in himself nor in anyone else, and he is hidden from himself in the action of his Master, seeing no one else other than his Master and His action. He neither hears nor comprehends any other. If he perceives or hears, it is His word that he hears, and His knowledge that he knows, by His blessing he is blessed, with His closeness he is glad. By His proximity is his adornment and exaltation, and by His promise health and peace; by Him is tranquility of soul; by His speech is amicability, from those apart from Him he feels fear and desolation. He takes refuge in and depends upon remembrance of Him, and he puts his confidence in Him and trusts in Him. He is guided, clothed, and attired in the light of knowledge of Him. He becomes aware of the wonders of His knowledge, and he comes close to the secrets of His power. And through Him he hears and takes heed, then upon that he gives praise, glory, thanksgiving, and supplication.

16th Discourse: On Tawakkul and Its Stations

Nothing veils you from the grace of God and commencement in His benefits save your reliance upon people, the means, craft and trade, and acquisition. People are your veil from livelihood (lit., eating) in accordance with the sunna, that is, [lawful] earning (al-kasb).[1] So do not persist in being dependent on people, hoping for their gifts and favor, asking of them, always going to their doors—you thereby associate God with His creation![2] So He punishes you by your being deprived of livelihood in accordance with the sunna, that is, earning of the allowed things of this world. Then, if you repent of dependence on people and your associating of them with your Lord, and turn to lawful earning and live by it, but you trust in [your] lawful earning, are tranquil in it, and forget the favor of your Lord—then you are an associator also. It is a hidden associationism (shirk khafī) more hidden than the first, so God will punish you, and veil you from His favor and commencement in it. And if you repent and cease, from the heart, from associationism, no longer trusting in earning, strength, or power, and look only to God—He is the Provider, He is the Causer, the One Who gives ease, the One powerful over earning, the Source of every good. Provision (rizq) is by His hand.[3] Sometimes He continues you in it [provision] by way of people, either through asking them for something in time or trial or testing, or through your asking Him. Other times, it is by way of lawful earning as recompense. Other times it is from His favor commencing without your seeing the means or cause.

So return to Him, and cast yourself between His hands. And so the veil between you and Him will be lifted, and your beginning and your future are by His favor, so that every need is met in accordance with your state, just as the kind, compassionate, loving doctor does for the sick person, so is protection from Him. Yours is purification from leaning towards other than Him; He pleases you with His favor. So when your heart is cut off from every intention, passion, pleasure, seeking, and loving, then there remains in your heart nothing other than His intention. If He wants the conveying of your portion which you will necessarily receive—it is provision for no one else in the creation other than you—there will be found in you desire for that portion and its conveyance to you. And He will continue you in at time of need, then He will give you success and make you to know that is from Him, He is the conveyer of it to you and the Provider of it to you. So now you will thank Him and know and understand. And He will increase departure from [dependence on] the creation in you, and distance from the people, and the interior [person] will be emptied of other than Him . Then, when your knowledge and your certainty are strengthened, your inner senses clarified, your heart enlightened, your proximity to your Master increased, and your place is in His presence, and you become fit for the preservation of the secrets—you will know when your portion comes to you, grace for you and glorification for your honour—favor from Him, gift and guidance.

God says: And we made among them leaders who rightly guided by Our command when they became patient and firmly believed in Our signs (Q. 32.24). And He says: And those who strive in Us, We guide them in Our path (Q. 29.69). And He says: Fear God; God knows you (Q. 2.282). Then He returns upon you the original formation [?]—so be in accordance with the clear warrant in which there is no difficulty of understanding, and with the prescriptive indications are like the illumining sun, and with His pleasing Word—which is more pleasing than every other pleasure; and true inspiration which is without dissimulation, clarified from the notions of the self and the whisperings of accursed Satan.

God says in one of His books [sic.]: O son of Adam, I am God, there is no god save Me—I say to a thing, Be, and it is. Obey Me, and I will make you to be able to say to a thing, Be, and it will be. And He has done that for many of the prophets, saints, and spiritual elite among the sons of Adam.[4]

46th Discourse: On the Death Without Life in It, and the Life Without Death in It

One day a matter caused me anguish, goading the self (al-nafs), so that it was said to me: What do you want? I replied: I want a death without life in it, and life without death in it. So it was said to me: what is the death without life in it, and what is the life without death in it?

So I said: The death without life in it is my death in relation to my manner of being among people, so that I do not perceive them in relation to harm and benefit, and my death from my self (nafsī, the ‘lower self’), my passions, my will, and my desires in this world and the next, so that I neither experience or am found in any of those.

As for the life without death in it: it is my life in the action of my Lord, without my own existence in it, and the death in that is my existence with Him. And this intention is the most precious intention I have desired since I came of understanding.


[1] Kasb, in Islamic jurisprudential understanding, is profit accrued in accordance with the shari’a. See Cahen, ” Kasb,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online , 2012.

[2] To ‘associate’ is to practice polytheism, effectively; in this case, ‘Abd al-Qādir is arguing, dependence upon creatures—people—is to put them in the place of God, as other gods alongside Him.

[3] Rizq is another deeply multivalenced word, in Sufi discourse and in wider forms of Islamic discourse. I have translated it ‘provision,’ but it could also be translated ‘sustenance,’ ‘livelihood,’ ‘daily bread,’ and so on. The essential idea here is that rizq is something provided by God; in much Islamic thought, rizq, like one’s time of death, is a determined thing (even the Mu’tazila, for instance, tended to accept the determined nature of rizq, for instance).

[4] This final paragraph is, needless to say, curious, and does not immediately seem to go along with the rest of the discourse—it is perhaps an interpolation by later redactors of the text. The lines cited seem to be a ḥadīth qudsī, of unknown provence to me.