Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education

The Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE) is a non-profit, tax exempt, religious and educational organization dedicated to serve Islam with a special focus on Tasawwuf(Sufism),

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Utmost State of Devotion for Prophet(saws) Fana Fi al-Rasul Part 4 of 4,Dr.Marcia Hermansen

Utmost State of Devotion for Prophet Muhammad (saws). Fana Fi al-Rasul.A lecture by Dr.Marcia K.Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Director World Islamic Studies ,Loyola University,delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference,1996,UIC,Chicago.Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (



Practical Aspects

Now we consider what the Sufis have said about the ways to achieve fana’ fir-rasul. According to Sufi theory, the utmost level of love and devotion for the Prophet is achieved through following both the shari’a and tariqa. In al-Jili’s treatise, Qab-i qausayn, this may be expressed by the idea that the connection to the Holy Prophet (al-ta’alluq bi-Muhammad) is of two types: formal and spiritual. (suri wa ma’navi).[1]
In the Islamic intellectual and spiritual disciplines such as calligraphy and traditional writings, one praises the Prophet and may even recite the fadha’il, all the various ways in which Muhammad is the most superior being in all of creation, spiritually, morally and physically. al-Jili suggests that this practice enables one to picture the physical form of the Prophet as a preliminary to the experiencing a vision of the Prophet .[2]
al-Jili cites the hadith which mentions that a person does not have faith until he loves Muhammad more than himself, his property and his children.[3] If you do not yet have this love, al-Jili says, you must recognize that your faith is deficient, so constantly ask God’s forgiveness (istaghfir Allah) repent of your sins and remember the Prophet, demonstrating proper respect for him, doing what he commanded and avoiding what he forbade (i. e., by following the shari’a and sunna), so that you can reach this (love) and be gathered with him on the Day of Judgment. For he has said, “A man will be with one he has loved”.[4]
On the theme of praising and remembering the Prophet an Urdu poet has said,
Bandigi ka husn barhkar hadd see bee hadd ho gaya,
hamd kartee kartee Ahmad see Muhammad hoo gaya[5]

“The beauty of servitude kept increasing until it transcended all limitation,
By continuously praising Allah, the one who praised so much (Ahmad) himself became worthy of praise (Muhammad)”

This act of praising or sending blessings (salawat or darud sharif) on the Prophet is based on the Quranic verse(33:56) which states that:
Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet. O you who believe send peace and blessings upon him.”
“Inna Allaha wa mala’ikatahu yusalluna ‘ala al-nabi. Ya ayyuha alladhina amanu sallu ‘alaihi wa sallamu tasliman”.
Following the pattern of many classical Islamic texts, al-Jili divides the ways of cultivating the connection with the Prophet into two main types, each of which has two sub-categories.[6] The first type of cultivation is the level of formal practices, the first category of these consisting of complete obedience to what was ordered in the Qur’an and shari’a, in one’s words, actions, and beliefs. The second sub-category of “formal” connection involves following the Prophet with intense love until you experience your love for him in your entire being. al-Jili exclaims, “For I find my love for him, by Allah, in my heart, soul, body, hair, and skin—just as I would feel cool water running through my whole being after performing intense exertions in great heat.”[7]
al-Jili notes that love for the Prophet is incumbent on everyone as God has said, “The Prophet is more deserving of the believers” (33:6) and he said, “Until I am dearer to him that himself, his property and his children”.[8]
The second type of connection is the spiritual (ma’nawi) connection, the first category of which may be attained by keeping the Prophet’s image constantly in mind. al-Jili suggests among ways to cultivate this spiritual attachment to the Prophet the contemplation of his virtues with awe and respect. If this is too difficult or abstract, then calling to mind his image if you have seen him in a dream; and if not, constantly sending blessings on him. During your dhikr imagine yourself with him in this life. If you haven’t done this but have visited his tomb, you may recall its image in your mind with such respect and awe that it is as if you experience his spiritual reality manifesting to you.[9]
al-Jili further counsels
Know that the reality of Muhammad has an appearance at every plane of existence (‘alam) corresponding to the condition of that plane so that his appearance in the physical world is not like his appearance in the world of spirits because the bodily world is restricted to an extent which does not permit what can be encompassed by the spirit world. Neither is his manifestation in the world of spirits like his appearance in the world of ideas because the world of ideas is subtler than the world of spirits and more expansive. Therefore, his appearance on the earth is not like his appearance in the heavens and his appearance in the heavens is not like his appearance at the right side of the Throne and his appearance at the right side of the Throne is not like his appearance before Allah, praised and exalted, above the Throne where there is no place or quality. The higher the station the more perfect and complete is his manifestation than at the lower station. Every manifestation has a majesty and awe in proportion to the position until it concludes at a place where no one among the prophets or angels may be seen and this is the meaning of his statement, “I have a time with Allah which no one can share except my Lord” or in another version, “I have a time with Allah which has no room for any near angel nor any messenger who has been sent”.[10] So raise your zeal, my brother, so as to see him at the highest manifestations at their greatest spiritual ranks, for he is he. I counsel you, O my brother, to constantly keep him before you in image and idea, and if you are diligent and keep him in mind always, in a short time as your soul develops closeness with him, he will appear to you externally and you can speak with him and address him, and he will love you and he will speak with you and address you and you will have attained the rank of being “one of the Companions”, may Allah be pleased with them and you will become permanently attached to them, God willing.”[11]
The second category of establishing spiritual attachment or connection to the Prophet is by recognizing that he is the isthmus (barzakh) between the two sides of existence—the eternal and the created.[12] This is associated with the image of the two-bow spans mentioned in the Qur’anic verse, “He drew near and suspended, and was two bow-spans away or closer” (53:9).[13] The imagery here, according to Sufi commentary, is that of a circle (the circle of existence) composed of two bows—the line dividing the circle into two halves is the string of each bow.[14] The early Sufi work, Kitab al-Tawasin of al-Hallaj, had already discussed this symbol in esoteric terms,
The distance between them was ‘two bow spans’. He hit the mark of ‘where’ (ayn) with the arrow of ‘between’ (bayn). He stated that there were two bow spans to specify the exact place, and ‘or’ because of the un-delineated nature of the Essence, ‘a little closer’ is the Essence of the Essence.”[15]
The bow string represents the balance between the things of this world and the spiritual realm—again, this could be an image of the balance between the rules of the shari’a, the external or zahir—and the tariqa—the inner and spiritual dimension behind these practices and indeed all activities.
This idea of the intermediary state (barzakh) is also seen in the Sufi concept of the ‘alam al-khalq (the world of created existence) and the ‘alam al-‘amr (the world of the divine command). The Prophet who transmits this ‘amr is the bridge between the worlds.
Similarly, in the Chishti spiritual path the station of the Prophet is associated with the realm of Jabarut, the World of Divine Dominion, between the realms of Lahut (divine) and Nasut (human). This is above the Malakut or the angelic plane and esoterically we can see the interpretation of being commanded by the shari’a as in the story the Primordial Covenant (mithaq) and the creation of Adam. One interpretation is that human beings are linked to the divine through the divine command and obeying the shari’a at a station even above the plane of the angels. The Prophet had brought this blessing to humanity through transmitting the divine command (‘amr).
Another esoteric reference to fana’ fir-rasul is the idea of sharh al-sadr (the opening of heart) referred to, for example, in Qur’an.(94:1).[16] At one level sharh al-sadr[17] is the experience of the opening of the heart and human consciousness to the divine love. In this, the Prophet’s experience is said to open the way. The verses of Qur’an, Chapter 94, promise that after difficulty will come ease.[18] From the experience of the longing lover who must watch every movement on his way to the beloved and who feels the pain of separation at every instant; one draws nearer to God until he or she can experience becoming the beloved of Allah (mahbub) who in turn can attain the station of wilayat (sainthood) in order to radiate this experience to other seekers, and in fact, the world at large.
This higher level of “sharh al-sadr” is related to the spiritual organ or receptor (latifa) known in Sufism as the mystery (sirr).[19]
I hope I have demonstrated the continuity in Sufi thought of the concept of devotion to the Prophet as a means to arriving at the highest levels of spiritual perfection. The particular formulation of “fana’ fir-rasul” may have been refined and further elaborated over time, but a consistent theme is the necessity to discover, in so far as one can, the aspects of divine love and mercy reflected through the presence of the Holy Prophet, and through following his guidance at both the levels of the outer law (shari’a) and the inner love which attracts to the path of spiritual perfection.
As Maulana Rum has said in his Mathnavi,
hich kas ra ta nagardad u fana
nist rah dar bargah-i kibriya
chist mi’raj-falak in nisti
‘ashiqanra madhhab-o-din nisti[20]

A person who has not experienced annihilation of self (fana’) has no access to the assembly of grandeur
Oh what is the ascent to the highest sphere, it is this non-existence
The religion of the passionate lovers is this very non-existence.
[1]Jˆlˆ, Qab-i qausayn, p. 234. The section on making this "connection" with the Prophet is found, in particular, in the sixth chapter of the treatise.
[2]Jˆlˆ, Qab-i qausayn. p. 234. I am indebted to Prof. Valerie Hoffman for making me aware of this text.
[3]Bukharˆ and Muslim in section on ˆman as well as other collections.
[4]Jˆlˆ, Qab-i qausayn, p. 235. Perhaps a reference to "Anta ma…a man a˙babta" Bukharˆ Fa∂a'il Ía˙aba.
[5]Kaif ˇonkˆ
[6]al-Jˆlˆ, Qab-i qawsayn, 234-237.
[7]Ibid, 235.
[8]Bukharˆ and Muslim in section on ˆman as well as other hadithcollections
[9]Ibid, p. 236.
[10]On this hadith, see note #28.
[11]Ibid, 238. Note that this hadith was also cited by Shabistarˆ, see notes #25, 27.
[12]This is discussed in some detail in the Gulshan-i raz, for example, "Know that just as previously was indicated the stages and steps of the emanation of existence constitute a circle, and emanation descends from the rank of oneness (a˙adiyyat) to aloneness (wa˙idiyyat) and from there to the universal intelligence and the universal soul and the world of the imaginal barzakh and the Throne, the Footstool, the seven spheres, the four elements and the three kingdoms of nature until it reaches the level of the Perfect Person, until the descending half of the bow becomes completed, and from the human level which is the last of the descents, progress will begin. In the opposite of the first journeying which was the travelling of descent, he (the seeker) will go to the beginning point which is the level of a˙adiyyat. When he attains union the bow of the half of the circle of ascent will be completed. The end point will thus unite with the beginning one, and the two bows will come together, the circle of existence will become completed and the first will be the same as the last and the last as the first.. . .
This progress and ascent will not be completed except by means of the Perfect Human since the rest of the human beings will become trapped in the intermediate realms and cannot attain to the rank of true perfection which is annihilation (fana') in the ultimate unity (tau˙ˆd)." p. 230.
[13]"thumma dana fa tadalla fa kana qaba qausayni au adna".
[14]al-Jˆlˆ, Qab-i Qawsayn, 237-239, Hoffman p. 14.
[15]al-Óallaj, Kitab al-ˇawasˆn, trans. Aisha Abd al-Rahman al-Tarjumana (Berkeley: Diwan Press, 1974) Also in the Arabic edition of Louis Massignon with a Persian translation by R¨zbehan Baqlˆ (Paris: Paul Guethner, 1913), 35.
[16]The expression "shara˙a ßadrahu l-il-islam" is also used in 39:22 and 6:125.
[17]This symbol of the Prophet's experience is discussed briefly by al-Óallaj in Kitab al-ˇawasˆn, see The Tawasin trans. Aisha Abd al-Rahman al-Tarjumana, 19.
[18]Qur'an 94.
[19] "In the first chapter of the Fusus al-Óikam Ibnu'l'…Arabˆ says that when God willed that His attributes should be displayed, He created a macrocosmic being (kawn jami…), the Perfect Man, through whom "God's consciousness (sirr) is manifested to Himself." Nicholson, p. 77. al-Jˆlˆ writes, "The nafs is the consciousness (sirr) of the Lord, and the essence of God: through that essense it hath in its essence manifold delights. It is created from the lght of the attribute of Lordship: many, therefore are its lordly qualities. . . God created the nafs of Muhammad from his own nafs; then he created the nafs of Adam as a copy of the nafs of Muhammad". Nicholson, Studies, p. 119, quoting Insan al-Kamil (2:48).
[20]The Mathnavi. Edited and translated by R. A. Nicholson (London: Luzac, 1925-1950). Book IV verse 232.


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