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

"God is Light of Heaven and Earth " Part 3 of 3-Dr. Marcia Hermansen

God is Light of Heaven and Earth Quran 24:35,A Sufi Commentary. A lecture by Dr.Marcia Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Director World Islamic Studies Program,Loyola University,delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1997,UIC, Chicago,Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education ( )


TRANSCRIPT: Part 3 of 3

For (lâ sharqiyya wa lâ gharbiyya), Qushayrî cites the hadith:

"The truth transcends all attachment". This is the attribute of the strangers. In other words truth overcomes all attachment as light overcomes darkness. For, "Islam began as a stranger and will return as a stranger".[1]

Qushayrî illustrates the concept of progress toward spiritual realization when he describes levels of the light as representing the lights of ‘aql, fahm, ‘ilm, yaqîn, tawhîd, ma‘rifa--that is, ways of understanding or illumination through reason, understanding, certainty, unity, and gnosis.[2]
Near the conclusion of his Mishkât al-Anwâr, al-Ghazâlî unfolds a complex allegorical system in which the five main symbols of the verse are taken to be an allegory for five levels of the spirit.[3]
The sensory spirit is the niche
the imaginative spirit is the glass
the intelligent spirit is the light giving lamp
the ratiocinative/discursive spirit is the tree
the transcendent prophetic spirit is the oil.[4]

Ghazâlî explains that

"Light is the form behind all colour". Those endowed with insight never see any object except that they see Allah along with it.
Some only see objects through Allah, while others see Allah in and through those objects.
The first call are, "Does it not suffice that you Lord sees all," 41:53
and the second in the words, " We shall show them our signs on the horizons and in themselves." 41:53
The first have the direct intuition of Allah while the second infer Him from His works.
The first are the saints (auliyâ'), the second are the learned who are "those firmly established in knowledge."[5]

The Persian commentary on the Gulshan-e Râz, using the symbols of the Light Verse, reflects the transmission of the philosophy of Ibn ‘Arabî into poetic expression.

man va tû ‘ârid-i dhât-i wujûdîm
mushabbakhâ'-i mishkât-i wujûdîm

hameh yek nûrdân ashbâh va arvâh
gah az âînah paidah, gah-z misbâh[6]

These are but temporary forms of the one being, yours and mine
Lattice grills through which the lights of existence can shine
Bodies and spirits, into one container for this light are bound
Which sometimes in the mirror and sometimes in the lamp itself, is found.

This commentary further notes that,

Pure being (wujûd mutlaq) is the lamp (misbâh) and the world is the niche (mishkât) in which the lamp is concealed.
The connection and flowing of the spirit in the body and the flowing and manifesting of absolute being of the Real in all separate and material existences is described in the "Light verse".[7]

Najmuddîn Dâyâ portrays the human being as being the bridge or balance between the world of spirits and the world of animality. In a tafsîr of the Light Verse he speaks of the primordial human, Âdam, containing or uniting in himself spiritual centers, or latâ'if, which correspond to the symbols of the verse. Thus, the human heart is the glass, the niche is the body, the lamp is the "mystery" (sirr), the oil is the spirit (rûh) taken from the blessed tree "of my spirit",[8] and the wick is the "arcane" (khafî).[9]

Practice (A’mâl Qur'âniyya)

The idea of using (a‘mal) or reciting certain phrases from the Qur'ân as a spiritual practice for purification of the self or for invoking blessing is a sunna established by many sound hadith.
The mystery of the universe is coded in the chapters of the Qur'ân according to Shabistarî, since "every world (‘âlam) is like a particular chapter of the Holy Book".

az-û har ‘âlami chûn sûra-i khâs
yeki zi-û Fâtiha v-un dîgar Ikhlâs

According to these verses and Lâhîjî's commentary, these descending spheres of existence are located between the world of the first chapter (al-Fâtiha) and that of Ikhlâs (#112). The Bismillâh of the Fâtiha represents the World of the Universal Intellect (‘aql-i kull),[10] and the level of Absolute Oneness (ahadiyya).
The Light Verse, (âya nûr) represents the universal soul (nafs-i kull) which is like the lamp (misbâh) of unity (wâhidiyya) illuminating the world of existent things.
The Throne verse[11] (âya ‘arsh), represents the third level which is the outer sphere.
The verse of the Footstool (Âyat al-kursî)[12] represents the eighth sphere, while the seven heavens correspond to the seven readings (sabî mathânî), of the Qur'ân.[13]
The symbols of the Light Verse have at times been read as indicating the practices farâ'id, nawâfil, dhikr, and ‘ubûdiyya, i. e., the obligatory acts of worship, the extra (supererogatory ones), the remembrance of Allâh, and the highest state of servitude.
In his discussion of ‘ubûdiyya, ‘Ayn al-Qudât quotes Uvays Qarnî as saying,

"When servitude is perfected the servants' pleasure becomes like the pleasure of God".
People asked, "What is servitude?"
Uvays replied, "When you become free while you are a servant."[14]

In the Light Verse in particular, we have indications of the practice of dhikr and the recitation of the Qur'ân as a source of increasing the light of the soul through polishing the mirror of the heart. This is indicated by the hadith, "Every thing has a polish and the polish for the heart is the recitation of the Qur'ân",[15] or according to another version, "the polish of the heart is the remembrance of God".[16]

Najmuddîn Kubrâ wrote,

As for the share of the elect in witnessing the lights of the Divine attributes and His essence by being shown the Truth in themselves, it is because Almighty (ta’alla) God created the human soul as a mirror capable of witnessing (shuhûd) His essence and bringing together His attributes, if it is pure from two hindrances (sadâ); despicable (dhamîma) qualities and vile characteristics. Its polish is the kalima, "There is no God other than Allâh."

Denial by the negation, "Lâ ilâha" "there is no God", closes off all which is other than Allâh, while affirming with the affirmation (illâ Allâh)"except Allâh" has within it the light of the Divine beauty and majesty, so that we see with the light of God,[17] the body, to be like the niche; the heart, to be like the glass; the sirr to be like the lamp, and the glass like unto a shining star kindled from a blessed olive tree. This is the tree of spirituality (rûhâniyya) neither of the East, i. e., not of the eternal pre-existent (qadîma azaliyya), nor of the West, i.e., not transitory (fâniyya), setting in the sky of existence in the non-existence of the essence (‘ayn) of non-existence.[18]

"Its oil would almost," this is the human spirit would "burn forth" with the light of the intellect "even if fire scarcely touched it." This is the fire of the Divine light, the greatness of the Divine majesty and the glory of His might. That is, you perceive through the intelligences branded with the imprint of temporal origination (hudûth) until the light of non-existence theophanizes to the light of the intellect outside of non-existence, as He said, "light upon light".

"Allah guides whoever He wills to His light",

That is, by the light of the lamp of the Mystery (sirr) of the one whom He wants, by the light of the timeless and the light of the heart becoming illuminated, as well as the niche of the body--and their rays combine so that the senses and the human earth shines with light so that the earth becomes illuminated (ashraqat) by the light of its Lord at the station of, "I become for him his hearing, and his sight and his tongue" and "through Me he hears and through Me he sees and through Me he speaks". In this there in a indication that the intellect is a particularly human characteristic and that there is no way for it to become united with the light of Allâh, for this is particularized for the Divine guidance as a grace and a favor. The servants are not capable acquiring this by their own efforts, this is a grace of Allâh which he bestows on whom He wills.[19]

In another of his writings, Fawâ'ih al Jamâl, Kubrâ explains:

"There are lights which ascend and lights which descend. The ascending lights are the lights of the heart; the descending lights are those of the Throne. Creatural being (wujûd) is the veil between the Throne and the heart. When the veil is rent and a door to the Throne opens on the heart, like springs toward like. Light rises toward light and light comes down upon light, "and it is light upon light."[20]

In the Mirsâd al-’Ibâd of Kubrâ's disciple, Najmuddîn Dâyâ, also known as Râzî, further descriptions of the light of the dhikr may be found.

Dâyâ writes, "In Explanation of Witnessing the Lights and their Levels" that:

God Almighty said, "The heart did not lie about what it saw, will you the dispute with him about what he saw, for indeed he saw Him descending at a second descent" (53:13)

The Prophet (S) said, "Righteousness (Ihsân) is that you worship Allah as if you see Him".[21]

When the mirror of the heart gradually becomes polished by using the polish of "la ilâha illâ Allâh", and the rust of the instinctual nature and the darkness of the human attributes are erased from it, it may become receptive to the lights of the unseen world, at first like a lamp, candle, torch and fire. After that, the higher lights will manifest, at first in the form of stars, small and large, and then later in the form of the moon and then in the form of the sun. Finally lights free of any position will appear.

Know that the origin of these lights varies--the spirituality of the seeker, the saintliness of the shaykh, the prophethood of our master, (S), the spirits of the prophets, the saints, the shaykhs, the Mighty Presence, and the dhikr, "la illâh illâ Allâh", and other forms of dhikr, the Qur'ân, Islam, îmân, and the various types of worship and obedience. Each one has a different light, and from every source a certain light arises according to that source, and each light has its own taste and colour.
As for those lights seen in the form of a lamp, candle, and so on, these are lights derived from the saintship of the shaykh or from the Prophethood of Muhammad (S) who is the illuminating lamp (sirâj munîr), or from sciences derived from the light of the Qur'ân, or the light of faith. This lamp or candle is in reality the heart. . . .

The higher ones are derived from the light of spirituality (rûhâniyya) that manifests in the sky of the heart in proportion to its being polished. When the mirror of the heart becomes as pure as a star, the light of the spirit becomes manifest to the amount of a star. . . .

Take the case of Abraham. Did he see the sun, moon and stars in the interior world or in the external world? The answer is, that it makes no difference. Once the mirror of the heart becomes pure, sometimes the person will see the vision in the Unseen World coming from the world of the heart by means of the imagination (khayâl). Sometimes it may happen that he or she will see it by witnessing in the external world by mean of the senses. A thing which has a connection to and is a locus of manifestation for the lights of God becomes like the sun, the moon, and the stars which receive the reflection of the lights of God since, "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth". In reality it is the heart which perceives the light and the Mighty Presence which displays it. Once the experience of, "This is my Lord,"[22] comes from realizing God, the Unseen and the visible, the outer and the inner, become as one.[23]

The Role of the Prophet in this Symbolism

Finally I would like to review some themes which emerge from tafsîrs of the Light Verse with specific reference to the role of the Prophet Muhammad.
The lamp symbol of this Âya naturally evokes the name of the Prophet, (sirâj munîr) 33:46. al-Ghazâlî refers to the "Sirâj Munîr" as the Prophetic spirit which is the source of the kindling of the light (of faith or enlightenment).[24]
As a living example, the experience of the opening and cleansing of the heart of the Prophet (sharh al-sadr) is clearly related to the idea of the spark which causes light to shine forth. In fact, some commentators have mentioned the correspondence of the Niche to the Prophet's breast (sadr) as in the âya, "the one whose breast Allâh has opened to Islam is illuminated (‘alâ nûr) from His Lord."[25]
The phrase, "Light upon light", as already mentioned, reminds us of the Prophet's role as the light of guidance "nûr al-hudâ", as in the verse, "a light and a Book manifest." 5:15
The "nûr muhammadî" (Muhammadan Light) concept is an early one in Islam. Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân Sulamî in "Haqâ'iq al-tafsîr" wrote:

When God willed to create Muhammad, He made appear a light from His light. When it reached the veil of the majesty it bowed in prostration before God. God created from its prostration a mighty column (amûd) like crystal glass (zujâj) of light that is outwardly and inwardly translucent.[26]

The poet, Muhammad Iqbâl, referring to this light, wrote,

"One is either shining with the light of Prophet Muhammad,
or still searching for him."[27]

yâ zi nûr-i mustafâ ou râ bahâ ast
yâ hanûz andar talâsh-i mustafâ ast.

A Christian scholar, Paul Nywia, who had deeply studied mystical tafsîr, commented that there is no extreme gap between early Qur'anic interpretations and those of the later Sufi tradition. The difference is that later Sufis gradually incorporated their personal experience of the Prophet as a spiritual example of the living Qur'ân into their interpretations.

"It is clear that the symbolic interpretation of the verse in terms of Muhammad marks an important step on the path towards his idealization at the same time as it confirms the existence of allegorical and spiritual exegesis in the early tradition. From Muqâtil to Kharrâz there is neither rupture nor innovation, simply for Muqâtil the setting remains outside of consciousness, its exemplary nature was not yet lived, but rather "imagined".[28]

I would like to conclude with some verses excerpted from the Kitâb al-Tawâsîn of al-Hallâj which could be taken as a tafsîr of the Light Verse.

The Tâ Sîn[29] of the Sirâj

sirâjun min nûr al-ghaibi
wa bâda wa ‘âda
wa jâwaz as-sirâju wa sâda
qamarun tajallâ min bayna-l-aqmâr
burjuhu fî falak-il-asrâr

A lamp from the light of the Unseen
appeared and came near
The lamp excelled and prevailed
a Moon shining forth among the Moons
a constellation in the secret sphere.

God called him "unlettered"
Because of the focus of his vocation,
and "sacred" due to his great blessedness,
and "Makkan", due to his constant "nearness"[30] to God, in location.

Allâh expanded his breast and raised his stations
He made his command obeyed, and his moon to shine forth among the nations,

There is no light more luminous or bright, more ancient than pre-eternity
except the numinous light of the Master of nobility.

kalâmuhu nabavî, îlmuhu ‘alavî
îbâratuhu ‘arabî, qabîlatuhu lâ mashriqî wa lâ maghribî

His speech is prophetic, his knowledge the best
His mode of expression Arabic, his tribe is "neither of the East nor of the West."[31]

[1]Ibid, 285.
[3]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât al-Anwâr, Gairdner trans. p. 150ff.
[4]Alûsî cites the philosophical tendencies in interpretation including Ibn Sînâ's tafsîr which is remarkably similar to al-Ghazâli in its interpretation of the symbols as allegories for levels of the intellect in acquiring, representing, and using knowledge. Rûh al-Ma‘ânî XVIII, 171-2.
[5] This interpretation is similar to one found in Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[6]Shabistarî, Gulshan-i Râz, 188.
[7]Ibid, Lâhîjî's commentary, 188.
[8]Qur'ân 15:29.
[9]Dâyâ, Mirsâd al-‘Ibâd Hamid Algar translation, 143-144. On the Sufi theory of the latâ'if see Marcia K, Hermansen, "Shâh Walî Allâh's Theory of the Subtle Spiritual Centers" A Sufi Theory of Personhood and Self-Transformation." Journal of Near Eastern Studies (1, January 1988), 1-25.
[10]As confirmed in the hadith, "Awwal mâ khalaqa al-’aql." Ibn Athîr, Jâmi’ al-Usûl fî Ahâdîth al-Rasûl, IV, (Beirut: Dâr al-Fikr, 1970), #1992, 18.
[11]Âyat al-’arsh ( al-Rahmân ‘alâ al-’arsh istawâ).
[12]Qur'ân 2:255.
[13]Gulshan-e Râz, 140-1. The rest of Shabistarî's verse is
"duvvum nafs-i kull âmad âya-i nûr
keh chûn misbâh shud dar ghâyat-i nûr
seyyum âyat dar û shud ‘arsh-i rahmân
chahârum âyat-i kursî hami khwân
pas az veh jarmhâ-i âsmânî-st
keh dar veh sûrah-i sab’ ul-mathânî-st"
[14]Ibid, Tamhîdât, 261.
[15]Cited in al-Baghawî, Mishkât al-Masâbih. Trans. James Robson (Lahore: Ashraf, 1963), p. 482. Baihaqî transmitted it. Not in the six collections.
[16]Cited in Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, Hamid Algar translation, p. 294.
[17]A reference to a hadith, "Be careful of the insight (firâsa) of the believer for he sees with the light of God".
[18]Henry Corbin, commenting on this passage, writes, "In the Sufism of Najm Kobrâ, the reiteration of the negative part of the shahâda (nullus Deus) is designed to be a weapon against all the powers of the nafs ammâra (the lower ego); it consists in denying and rejecting all pretensions to divine prerogatives, all claims inspired in the soul by the instincts of possessiveness and domination. In the positive part of the shahâda (nisi Deus) on the other hand the exclusive nature and powers of the One and Only One are affirmed." The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism (Boulder: Shambhala, 1978).
[19]Najmuddîn Kubrâ, Manuscript of "‘Ayn al-Hayât ". Princeton Yahûda 2587.
[20]Translated by Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, 72. This can also be related to the experience of the Mir’âj.
[21]Mirsâd al-‛Ibâd, 299. This is the definition of "ihsân" given in the hadith of Jibrâ'îl.
[22]Qur'ân 6:76, 6:77, 6:78. This and other tafsîrs recall the story of Abraham who turns from worshipping the heavenly bodies to the worship of the One God.
[23]Mirsâd al-’Ibâd, 305.
[24]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât, Of the transcendental spirit of prophecy it is written that, "Its oil would shine forth although fire had not touched it" but it becomes "light upon light" when touched by that fire". 97.
[25]Alûsî, 170.
[26]Bøwering, 149.
[27]From Muhammad Iqbâl, "Javîd Nâmah" Kulliyât-i ash’âr-i fârsî Maulânâ Iqbâl Lâhûîri (Tehran: Kutubkhâneh-i Sanâ'î 1964), 341.
[28]Paul Nywia, 97. The glass (zujâja) as the "Light of Muhammad" is a common allegory in Sufi tafsîr.
[29]Note that Tâ Sîn is one of the names of the Prophet and according to some commentators could stand for "Tûr-i Sînâ".
[31]Selection from "The Tâ Sîn of the Sirâj". al-Hallâj, Kitâb al-Tawâsîn ed. Louis Massignon (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1913), 9-12.

"God is Light of Heaven and Earth" Part 2 of 3-Dr. Marcia Hermansen

God is Light of Heaven and Earth Quran 24:35,A Sufi Commentary. A lecture by Dr.Marcia Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Director World Islamic Studies Program,Loyola University,delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1997,UIC, Chicago,Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education ( )

VIDEO LECTURE: Part 2 of 3

TRANSCRIPT: Part 2 of 3

Every one of these lights has a people and a state and a location. All of them are from God, which God mentions in his saying, "Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth." Every one of his God-servants has a source of inspiration (mashrab) from one of these lights and perhaps he may have a share of two or three of them, but they shall not be completed except by Mustafâ (S), because he stands with Allah ⁄ by virtue of his correct servitude and love. Thus he is light (nûr) and he comes from his Lord enlightened (‘alâ nûr)

Ja‘far said, "He illuminated the heavens with the light of the stars and the sun and the moon; and he illuminated the two earths with the light of the plants, red, white yellow, and so on. And He illuminated the heart of the believer with the light of faith and Islam, and He illuminated the paths (turuq) to Allâh with the light of Abû Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmân and ‘Alî, may Allâh be pleased with them. . On account of this the Prophet said (S), "My companions are like the stars, whichever of them you follow, you will be rightly guided."[1]. . .

He (Ja‘far) said about "neither of the East nor the West"
"neither fear requiring despair nor hope engendering cheerfulness--so remain between fear and hope".

In this example, which constitutes the fragment which we have of Ja‘far's tafsîr, we find the three themes of symbols, philosophy, and practice.
Some of the ideas put forward include the stages of spiritual progress (maqâmât), the concept of a source of inspiration which varies from one person to another (mashrab), the practice of pure service/worship of Allâh, (‘ubûdiyya), and the concept of balance or polarities.
Following this extended example, let us take briefer selections from other tafsîrs in order to illustrate the three dimensions, beginning with the symbolic or allegorical approach:


The Companion and early, Ibn ‘Abbâs, said, "the niche (mishkât) is the heart, the glass is the soul and the light of Muhammad is the lamp".[2]
Sahl al-Tustarî 283/896, who was the author of the oldest continuous mystical commentary on the Qur'ân wrote:

(God is the light of the heavens and the earth) i. e., the one who beautifies the heavens and the earth by lights. (like unto his light) can mean, "like unto the light of Muhammad (S)".[3] Hasan al-Basrî said, "by this is meant the heart of the believer and not the light of Muhammad because the hearts of the Prophets (S) are more illuminated than can be described by the likeness of these lights," and he also said, "the light symbolizes the light of the Qur'ân, the lamp of lamps; and its lamp (sirâj) is gnosis (mar‘ifa) and its wicks (fatîla) are the acts of duty (farâ'id), and its oil is sincerity and its light is the light of attaining union. Thus the more purified that sincerity (ikhlâs) becomes the more the lamps gives light, the more the duties increase in truth the more the lamp increases in light.[4]

In terms of the interpretations of spiritual psychology, the commentary by Lâhîjî on Shabistarî's Gulshan-i Râz, indicates that,

"the lamp (misbâh) is the spirit, the niche (mishkât) is the body, the glass (zujâja) is the heart like a shining star, the blessed tree is the lower soul (nafs)."[5]

The commentary of Khwâja ‘Abd Allâh Ansârî (1089) completed by Rashîd al-Dîn Maybûdî (1126), quotes Husayn ibn Mansûr (al-Hallâj) as saying:

"The light of inspiration (wahi) is in the head, the light of intimate prayers (manâjât) is between the eyes, the light of certainty is in the hearing, the light of elucidation (bayân) is in the tongue, the light of faith is in the breast, the light of the glorification of God is in the natural disposition. If any one of these lights catches fire, it will become dominant over the rest and take precedence over them. Then when this dies down, the power of that light will still remain more abundant and complete than it had been. If all of them catch fire it will be a case of "light upon light."[6]

‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî (1131), a Sufi who was executed, and the author of a number of mystical works, one of which was commented on by the Chishtî Sufi, Gîsû Darâz, cites Qur'ân 66:8. "Our Lord, perfect our light for us,"[7] as well as a prayer attributed to the Prophet regarding light in order to enrich the resonances of understanding this verse.[8]
The Prophet's prayer is:

"O Allah appoint for me a light in my heart and light in my tomb and light before me and light behind me; light on my right hand and light on my left; light above me and light below me; light in my sight and light in my perception; light in my countenance and light in my flesh; light in my blood and light in my bones. Increase to me light, and give me light, and appoint for me light, and give me more light, give me more light, give me more light!'[9]

In a nineteenth century tafsîr, the Baghdadi Sufi, al-Alûsî, summarizes allegories of the light as possibly representing the Qur'ân, guidance, faith or obedience. (hudâ, îmân, ta‘ât).[10] If taken as God's light as in the phrase, "light upon light", it may refer to the Qur'ân, divine unity, the divine laws, or guidance (tauhîd, sharî‘a, or hudâ).[11]
Three sources from which this light may emerge according to the commentaries are God, the Prophet, and the heart of the believer.
The "Blessed Tree" is interpreted by some commentators as referring to the lineage of Prophet Abraham, for example, al-Ghazâlî[12] and al-Qushayrî, who said, "the light of Muhammad gnosis is kindled from the tree of Ibrâhîm."[13] Ansârî notes that some of the interpreters say that the allegory is that the niche represents Ibrâhîm, the glass, Ismâ’îl, and the lamp, Muhammad.[14]
The commentator, al-Alûsî, cites in this context the Qur'ânic verse. 14:24.
"A good word is like a good tree, its roots are firm and its branches are in the sky."[15] This is a particularly useful association since it is related to the idea of God coining symbols for humanity.[16]
Among the richest evocations of the tree symbolism are the interpretations found in the Tamhîdât of ‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî. Here the meaning of the "blessed olive tree' may be taken to refer to the spiritual experiences of the Prophet, or to the Prophet himself.

Once you see the tree of Tûbâ,[17] then you will know which one is the "the lote tree of the furthest reach" (sidrat al-muntahâ)[18] and in turn which one is the "olive tree". It is, "I spent the night in the presence of my Lord."[19] The basis of all of these is the same, they simply have different names.

Sometimes they may call it "a tree" sometimes they call it Mount Sinai (tûr sînâ) sometimes they may call it "the olive". Read, "By the fig tree and the olive tree"[20] From the tree of, "[a voice] called out [from the right bank of the water course in the sacred hollow coming] from the tree, 'O Moses'"[21] these words should be listened to; and the tree that "grows out of Mount Sinai",[22] will lead you to the secret of the olive tree.
Do you know which of these is the mountain of Sinai, "But, look to the mountain"[23] it must be this mountain. Ibn ‘Abbâs said. "this means 'look at the light of Muhammad, peace be upon him'". They call the light of Muhammad a mountain since the source and the homeland totally come from his light. "Qâf, by the noble Qur'ân"[24] also bears testimony to this mountain.[25]

A verse mentioning the "tree" which may be related in interpretation is 36:80, "He knows all action, who has made for you fire out of the green tree, and from it you kindle." Traditional tafsîrs comment on this âya as a proof of God's ability to create an afterlife. The fire from the green tree, could, however, be taken as an allusion to the Prophet as in Yusuf Ali's commentary, "Thus a new life results from man's contact with the Perfect Man who God has sent, and this new life is the basis of life after death,"[26] which may lead to the further association with the idea that the fire of divine love may be kindled by love of the Prophet.
In terms of further allegories, mystical commentaries on the phrase, "Light upon Light" make associations to the Prophet and Qur'ân, or to the combination of the believer's efforts to reach God with Allâh's grace drawing him or her nearer.
Ecstatic Sufis have interpreted this "light upon light" as the lover of Allâh being extinguished in the divine realization like the moth consumed in the flame, the well known image in the Persianate poetic tradition.[27]

The Light Verse in addition to representing "light" as the principle sustaining all existence, contains elements which indicate spiritual principles of contrast and balance. These are embodied in the symbols of "neither of the East nor of the West". (lâ sharqiyya wa lâ gharbiyya)

In this context Sufi tafsîrs mention the contrasts of:
jamâl and jalâl[28] (beauty and majesty)
lutf and qahr[29] (gentleness and forcefulness)
the white and the black light[30]
wujûd and shuhûd being and witnessing

The East and West may represent "pre-eternity" (azal) and "post-temporal infinity" (abad), or "this world" (dunyâ) and "the next world" (âkhira).[31] In Lâhîjî, the East is said to represent the spirits and the West, the bodies.[32]
The concept of a balance between contrasting elements is put forth by al-Qushayrî who interprets the phrase "light upon light" (nûr ‘alâ nûr) as referring to lights acquired by effort (iktisâb) combined with those acquired by divine grace (fadl).[33]
Qushayrî continues that, "neither of the East nor of the West" means that fear is not isolated from hope, rather there should be a balance.[34]
This is then developed in terms of the Sufi theories of "states and stages" and the necessity of maintaining a balance between them. Examples of these stages are:

haiba/uns awe and intimacy
qabd/bast contraction and expansion
mahv/ sahv effacement and sobriety
fanâ/baqâ annihilation and subsistence[35]
[1]Ja‘far also offered interpretations about the lights of the angels, and the four caliphs.
[2]Quoted in ‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât (Tehran: University of Tehran, 1963).
[3]On "the Light of Muhammad" specifically, see Annemarie Schimmel, And Muhammad is His Messenger: The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1985), 123-143.
[4]Tustarî, Tafsîr Qur'ân al-‘Azîm, 8.
[5]Muhammad Lâhîjî, Mafâtih al-i’jâz fî sharh gulshan-i râz, ed. Kaiwân Sami’î (Tehran, 1958), 189.
[6]Maybûdî, Kashf al-asrâr (Tafsîr Khwâja ‘Abd Allâh Ansârî) VI (Tehran: Intishârât-i dâneshgâh-i Tehran, 1952), 546-7.
[7]"rabbunâ atmam lanâ nûranâ".
[8]Tamhîdât, 323.
[9]Translated in Constance Padwick, Muslim Devotions (London: S. P. C. K., 1969), 212.
[10]Alûsî, Rûh al-Ma’ânî, XVIII, 164-166.
[11]Ibid, 169.
[12]Mishkât al-Anwâr, 127.
[13]al-Qushayrî, Latâ'if al-ishâra, vol. 4 (Cairo: Dâr al-kâtib al-‛arabî, 19 ).
[14]Kashf al-Asrâr, 534.
[15]"kalima taiyyiba ka shajaratin tayyibatin asluhâ thâbit wa far‘uhâ fî--l-samâ"
[16]"yudribu al-amthala li n-nâsi." Alûsî also notes that some say it is the tree of inspiration (wahi) p. 170.
[17]A tree found in Paradise. See also Mullâ Sadrâ, Tafsîr, 68. "The shoot (nihâl) of the tree of ˇûbâ is the World of Possibility".
[18]Qur'ân 53:14, 16.
[19]"Ubaytu ‘inda rabbî" The hadith about why the Prophet could fast continuously, since his Lord, "fed me and gave me things to drink". Bukhârî Saum.
[20]Qur'ân 95:1. A variant manuscript has, "Know the fruit of this tree, 'by the fig and the olive' i. e. know love and affection."
[21]Qur'ân 28:30. The verse continues , "I am Allâh, the Lord of the Worlds". Commenting on this Qur'ânic verse Shabistarî said, "ravâ bâshad anâ Allâh az darakhtî, cherâ nabûd ravâ az nîkbakhtî". "It was accepted that a tree said, 'I am Allâh', why wasn't it permitted for a good person to say it", a reference to Mansûr al-Hallâj. Gulshan-i râz, 316.
[22]Qur'ân 23:20.
[23]Qur'ân 7:143. "Oh my Lord, show me that I may behold You." He said, "You shall not see Me but look to the mountain."
[24]Qur'ân 50:1.
[25]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 263-4. Mullâ Sadrâ repeats some of this commentary, p. 57.
[26]Yusuf Ali, Quran. n. 2098a, p. 850. On the equivalence of the tree and the Perfect Man see Gulshan-i Râz, 51.
[27]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 260.
[28]There is a brief discussion of this polarity in understanding the Divine in Ignaz Goldziher, Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1952), 211-213.
[29]Najmuddîn Râzî, Mirsâd al-‘Ibâd, ed. Muhammad Amîn Rîâhî (Tehran, 1973), 308-9. Translation by Hamid Algar, The Path of God's Bondsmen from Origin to Return (Delmar, NY: Caravan Books, 1982).
[30]Especially ‘Ayn al-Qudât and Najmuddîn Kubrâ.
[31]‘Ayn al-Qudât, Tamhîdât, 264 and others.
[32]Gulshan-i Râz, 189.
[33]Qushayrî, 284.
[34]Ibid. Note the continuity with Ja‘far al-Sâdiq's interpretation.
[35]Qushayrî, 284.

"God is Light of Heaven and Earth" Part 1 of 3-Dr. Marcia Hermansen

God is Light of Heaven and Earth Quran 24:35,A Sufi Commentary. A lecture by Dr.Marcia Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Director World Islamic Studies Program,Loyola University,delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1997,UIC, Chicago,Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education ( )

VIDEO LECTURE: Part 1 of 3

TRANSCRIPT: Part 1 of 3


Allâh is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is a niche within which there is a lamp--the lamp is in a glass, the glass as if it were a shining star--kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive tree neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil would shine forth even if no fire touched it; Light upon Light. Allah guides to his Light whomever He wills, and He coins similitudes for people, and He has knowledge of all things.

This study will point out some elements of mystical commentaries on the "Light Verse" over the centuries with particular reference to their interpretations of the role of the Prophet Muhammad within the teachings of Islam.
Let me make the introductory point that the phrase, "light upon light"--"nûr ‘alâ nûr", in this verse has been taken by some commentators to point to the Prophet's role of interpreting and embodying the teachings of the Qur'ân. (5:15) "There has come to you from Allâh a light and a clear Book".[2]

The science of tafsîr begins from the time of the Prophet (pbuh), since there are chapters in hadith collections such as Muslim and Bukhârî which collect the statements of Muhammad explaining various âyât of the Qur'ân. Among the Companions of the Prophet there were Sahâba who focused on elements of the transmission and early sciences of the Qur'ân. For example, the Huffâz and the Qussâs were Companions who dedicated themselves to memorizing the Qur'ân and to gathering any information that they could about its interpretation and the accounts of the earlier Prophets recounted in the scripture. Companions especially noted for tafsîr of the Qur'ân are among the most prominent transmitters of ahâdîth as well, such as ‘Abd Allâh ibn Mas‘ûd, ‘Ikrima, and Ibn ‘Abbâs.
Just as there developed regional schools of hadith and legal madhâhib, there developed transmissions of tafsîr focused around the cities and regions of Mecca, Medina, Iraq, and Khurasan.

Categories of interpretation:

The Qur'anic commentaries vary in scope with some commentators, including many Sufis, going through the entire Qur'ân verse by verse to write a "continuous" commentary. Other studies may be done of only one or a few chapters, often the Fâtiha, or the shorter chapters at the end of the Qur'ân. Still other interpretations involve only a few verses, interspersed within other discussions or cited to illuminate relevant points.
General discussions of tafsîr broadly categorize approaches under the divisions of:[3]

1) Tafsîr bi-l riwâya or bi l-ma'thûr. That is, using the hadith of the Prophet and the reports of the Companions about certain verses, as well as comparisons to other Qur'ânic verses in order to shed light on certain terminology and topics.

2) Tafsîr bi-l dirâya or "bi'l ra'i" or "tafsîr using ijtihâd". This is where a Companion or a later commentator used reason to judge among the existing reports or to derive interpretations of verses based on the text.

3) Tafsîr bi-l ishâra, literally, the interpretation of the subtle allusions, which is also known as tafsîr faidî or kashfî, that which uses mystical experience or disclosure. This approach is particularly found among the mystics or Sufis who draw on traditional sources but also used spiritual experiences.[4]
There are a number of principles of tafsîr ishârî. In addition to presenting exoteric aspects of the text's meanings, methods for exploring the further implications include the principle of "tarâduf" or "al-nazâ'ir", synonyms and parallels, that is, looking for the subtle meanings or aspects of meaning (wujûh)[5] by comparing appearances of the same term at various places in the text of the Qur'ân. Muqâtil Ibn Sulaymân, for example, did this at an early period,[6] and then later was followed in this method by al-Hâkim al-Tirmidhî (c. 900).[7]

The History of Esoteric Qur'ân Commentary

Within the interpretive tradition of the mystics there are further dimensions of tafsîr. It is reported that Ja‘far al-Sâdiq said at the beginning of his tafsîr that the Qur'ân has been revealed at four levels of meaning:

The book of God contains four elements: in it there is expression (‘ibâra), then allusion (ishâra), then the subtle meanings (latâ'if), and then the realities (haqâ'iq). ‘Ibâra is for the common person, allusion (ishâra) for the elect, the subtleties are for the saints, and the realities for the Prophets"[8]

The concept of Ishâra (allusion) does not mean exclusively the symbolic or allegorical but also refers to the attempt to communicate some of the ineffable realities or dimensions of mystical insight.

And thus it is, that by the very nature of the experience, the language of ishâra tends, on the one hand, to become an esoteric language not understood by the uninitiated or deliberately made incomprehensible to them, and on the other hand, tends to destroy itself as inadequate and as a veil between the Sufi and the object of his experience; God. The novice, remarked Junayd, must find God at the same time as his allusion, but he who has attained the highest of mystical states (ahwâl) must find God in the abolition of the allusion.[9]

The early Sufi commentator, Sahl al-Tustarî (860)
cited a hadith "that every Qur'ân verse has four dimensions: Zâhir, bâtin, hadd, and muttala’, which he glossed as respectively: wording, meaning, regulation, and intuition of the true import of the verse."[10]
The Light Verse has occasioned extensive mystical commentary and several treatises have been written on it alone, for example, Mishkât al-Anwâr[11] of al-Ghazâli and Tafsîr Âya Nûr[12] of Mullâ Sadr al-Dîn Shîrâzî.
The Sufis would not see their commentaries as distinct from the basic science of tafsîr, or as diverging from it. One of the earliest extant tafsîrs, that of Muqâtil (767) contains many of the interpretations found continued through the tradition of tafsîr, both ma'thûrî and ishârî, until today.[13] Thus, the idea that Qur'ânic commentary of the Sufis is a later creation or innovation is patently false.
Still, it would be accurate to say that there is a specific tradition of ishârî or mystical commentary of which the first representative may have been Ja‘far al-Sâdiq. Fragments of a tafsîr attributed to him have been cited in the later works, in particular, that of al-Sulamî,[14] and he is also associated with the branch of mystical tafsîr specializing in the science of the single letters cited primarily at the opening of certain verses, the Muqatta‘ât.
In terms of extant continuous tafsîrs, that is, the ones which treat the entire text of the Qur'ân, the first one which we have is that of Sahl al-Tustarî 796-245/860.[15] Bøwering observes that, "Despite its rigid framework as a running commentary, the Tafsîr fails to form a unified and neatly structured text. As a whole, it rather conveys the image of patchwork and disjointedness."[16] Following that, after some span of time over which Sufi thought became increasingly developed, is the tafsîr of Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî (d. 1021), entitled Haqâ'iq al-Tafsîr[17] which quotes heavily from the intervening masters of Sufism.
In attempting to get some broad grasp of esoteric or ishârî commentaries, one can speak both of the broad historical periods of their composition as well as the incorporation of intellectual tendencies emerging within the articulation of the Islamic tradition over time.
For example, an article by Abdurrahman Habil[18] speaks of an early phase represented by the tafsîrs cited above; then a phase corresponding to that of the Sufi manual writers such as al-Sarrâj (988), al-Kalâbâdhî (995), Abû Tâlib al-Makkî (996), and al-Qushayrî, or if you will, marked by a more sober "Junaydian" tendency. This is succeeded by a more philosophical or "wujûdî" phase following Ibn Sînâ's philosophy and reflecting the increasing absorption of the concepts of Ibn ‘Arabî's system[19] of mystical thought. al-Dhahabî describes a strain of "nazarî" or theoretical philosophical interpretation gradually incorporated by the mystics and philosophers in to their interpretive discourse.[20]
One aspect not given special mention in Habil's framework is what may be termed the influence of ecstatic love and longing for union with God which is also reflected in Qur'ân commentaries. The two brothers, Muhammad Ghazâlî and Ahmad Ghazâli, may be taken to portray these divergent trends in Sufi thought. In the case of the former, a more sober and intellectual approach, and in the latter, the more ecstatic and poetic tone such as that taken by al-Hallâj, ‘Ayn al-Qudât Hamadânî, Rûzbehân Baqlî, etc. In addition, one may speak of tafsîr as reflecting sectarian perspectives such as Mu’tazilî, Shi’î, or Ismâ’îlî. Thus Dhahabî, in his work, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn, (Qur'ân Commentary and the Commentators) uses broader categories such as nazarî/philosophical and ishârî/mystical, as well as the names of sectarian groups, in order to classify tafsîrs.
In later periods, the Naqshbandî Sufis made an especially great contribution to tafsîr in both South Asia and other parts of the Islamic world. Among their representatives I may cite Shâh Walî Allâh (1762),[21] Thanâ'ullâh Panipatî (d. 1810),[22] and Mahmûd al-Alûsî (1854).[23]
Many Chishtî tafsîrs are still in manuscript including those of Shaykh Muhammad Chishtî of Gujerat (1575) and the "tarjumat-al-Qur'ân" of Muhibbullâh Allâhabâdî (1648).[24] In 1713 the Chishtî, Shâh Kalîmullâh Jahânabâdî, composed a brief Arabic tafsîr Qur'ân al-Qur'ân bi-l-Bayân in order to facilitate the understanding of the holy book.[25]
In order to counter the idea that tafsîrs composed by mystics are solely esoteric in intent, it should be noted that Sufis such as Shâh Walî Allâh[26] in the eighteenth century and Khwâja Hasan Nizâmî Dihlavî (1957)[27] in recent decades, made efforts in the field of translating the Qur'ân into language comprehensible by the ordinary Muslim.
While one often thinks of contemporary tendencies in tafsîr as being modernist or de-mythologizing, such as those of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khân or the Manâr of Rashîd Ridâ in Egypt, the Sufi tradition continues as well.[28]

Main Ideas in Sufi Interpretations of the Light Verse (Âya Nûr)

Having given this brief introduction to the subject, let me proceed by citing some examples of the Sufi interpretations of Âya Nûr.
I have concluded, after studying quite a number of mystical approaches to the understanding of this verse, whether in continuous or partial tafsîrs, that one way to consider their themes is to present them under three aspects.

1) Sufi approaches to the individual symbols and allegories of this verse.

2) Sufi approaches to the structures organizing these symbols as explaining stages of spiritual development or existential understanding.

3) The practical consequences of the Sufi interpretation of this verse.

An early example of mystical interpretation of this verse, is one attributed to Ja‛far al-Sadiq:[29]

(Allâh is the light of the heavens and the earth) There are different lights, the first is the light of protecting the heart, then the light of fear, then the light of hope, then the light of recollection (tadhakkur), then seeing with the light of knowledge, then the light of modesty, then the light of the sweetness of faith, then the light of Islam, then the light of ihsân, then the light of blessing, then the light of grace, then the light of favor, the light of munificence (âla'), then the light of generosity (karam), then the light of affection, then the light of the heart, then the light of comprehensiveness, then the light of awe (haiba), then the light of perplexity, then the light of life, then the light of intimacy, then the light of honesty, then the light of resignation, then the light of contentment, then the light of glory, then the light of majesty, then the light of power, then the light of divinity, then the light of oneness, then the light of uniqueness, then the light of pre-existence, then the light of eternity, then the light of continuity, then the light of the aftertime, then the light of subsistence (baqâ'), then the light of universality, then the light of divine selfhood (huwiyya).[30]
[1] A version of this paper, "Sufi Interpretations of the Light Verse (Qur'an 24:35)" was published in Islamic Quarterly, 1998 pt. 1, (XL11 #2), 144-155, pt. 2 (XL11#3), 218-227.
[2]Interpretation of "Light upon Light," Alûsî, Rûh al-Ma‘ânî XVIII (Cairo: Idâra al-tabâ‘a al-munîriyya, 1927), 169. "qad ja'akum min Allâhi nûr wa kitâb mubîn".
[3]This terminology is presented, for example, in Badmas 'Lanre Yusuf, "Evolution and Development of Tafsîr", Islamic Quarterly XXXVIII (1, 1994):34-47, pp. 36-38.
[4]In al-Futûhât al-Makkiyya Ibn ‘Arabî discusses the methodology of tafsîr ishârî. Cited in Muhammad Husayn Dhahabî, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn II (Cairo: Dâr al-kutub al-hadîtha, 1976), 372 ff. Dhahabî also refers to this method as "tafsîr faidî", 352 ff.
[5]Paul Nwyia, Exegese Coranique et Langage Mystique: Nouvel Essai sur le Lexique Technique des Mystiques Musulmans (Beirut: Dar al-Machreq, 1991), 117-56.
[6]Muqâtil's work, al-asbâh wa-l-nazâ'ir fî-l Qur'ân al-karîm (Cairo: al-hai'a al-misriyya al-‘âma l-il-kitâb, 1975) treats many Qur'ânic concepts by tracing their aspects (wujûh) in various citations. "Nûr" is one of the terms which he researched, finding ten different implications of its use. pp. 303-305.
[7]See Nwyia, 117 ff.
[8]Sulamî at the beginning of "Haqâ'iq al-tafsîr". Cited in Paul Nwyia, 167, 175.
[9]Paul Nwyia, "Ishâra" Encyclopedia of Islam IV, 114. The Junayd citation is from al-Sarrâj, Kitâb al-Luma' 224.
[10]John Burton, "Quranic Exegesis" in Religion, Learning, and Science in the Abbasid Period: The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature III (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 52, citing al-Dhahabî, II, 380 ff.
[11]al-Ghazâlî, Mishkât al-Anwâr ed. ‘Abd al-’Alâ Afîfî (Cairo: Dâr al-Qaumiyya, 1964). English translation W. H. T. Gairdner, The Niche for Lights (Lahore: Muhammad Ashraf, 1952).
[12]Mullâ Sadrâ Shîrâzî, Tafsîr Âya Mubâraka Nûr, ed. Muhammad Khwâjuavî (Tehran: Intishârât Maulâ, 1983).
[13]On Muqâtil's somewhat controversial reputation see Claude Gilliot, "Muqâtil, Grand Exégète,Traditionaliste, et Thèologien Maudit" Journal Asiatique CCLXXIX (1991):39-92.
[14]There are some indications that these citations are partial. It is said that the portion used by Sulamî was transmitted by Ibn ‘Atâ (921), and some other fragments are cited by Khargûshî, Tadhîb al-asrâr, and Rûzbehân Baqlî in ‘Arâ'is al-Bayân. Nywia, Exégèse, 158.
[15]Tafsîr al-Qur'ân al-‘Azîm (Cairo; al-Bâbî al-Halabî, 1911). Tustarî and his commentary have been studied by Gerhard Bøwering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Qur'anic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl al-Tustarî (d. 283/896). (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1980).
[16]Bøwering, Mystical Vision, 128.
[17]The Minor Qur'ân Commentary of Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî ed. Bøwering (Beirut; Dâr al-Mashriq, 1995). Bøwering is preparing an edition and study of the full tafsîr.
[18]Abdurrahman Habil, "Esoteric Qur'ân Commentary" in Islamic Spirituality: Foundations I ed. Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Crossroad, 1987), 24-47.
[19]Ibn ‘Arabî, Tafsîr al-shaykh al-akbar (Cairo: Mustafâ al-Bâbî al-Halabî, 1899). Probably the work of Kâshânî (1330).
[20]Muhammad Husayn Dhahabî, al-tafsîr wa-l mufassirûn II (Cairo: Dâr al-kutub al-hadîtha, 1976), 340.
[21]al-Fauz al-Kabîr fî-Usûl al-Tafsîr, (Karachi Qu'rân Mahal, 1964). Urdu translation by Maulânâ Rashîd Ahmad Ansarî (Lahore: Maktaba Burhân, 1963). English translation by G. N. Jalbani, The Principles of Qu'rân Commentary, (Islamabad: National Hijra Council, 1985). He provides a brief commentary on Âya Nûr specifically in al-Tafhîmât al-Ilâhiyya II (Hyderabad: Shâh Walî Allâh Academy, 1957), 63-65.
[22]Tafsîr-e Mazharî (Delhi: Nadwat al-musannifîn, 1971).
[23]Rûh al-Ma’ânî. On his methodology see, Mahmûd al-Sa’îd al-Tantâwî, Minhâj al-Alûsî fî Rûh al-Ma’ânî (Cairo: Majlis al-a’lâ li-l-shu'ûn al-islâmiyya, 1989).
[24]Ibid, 269.
[25]Khalîq Ahmad Nizâmî, Ta'rîkh-i Mashâ'ikh-i Chisht V (Delhi: Idâra-yi Adabiyyât-i Dillî, 1980), 100-102.
[26]Fath al-Rahmân (Karachi: Tâj Company, n. d.)
[27]Qu'rân-i Majîd ke tarjuma aur tafsîr (Delhi: Khwâja Aulâd Kutub Ghar, 1962-3).
[28]A contemporary English Sufi partial commentary including reflections of the Light Verse is Abu Bakr Siraj Ed-Din (Martin Lings) The Book of Certainty (New York: Samuel Weiser, 1970).
[29]al-tafsîr al-Sûfî l-il-Qur'ân ‘inda as-Sâdiq ( Cairo: Dâr al-Andalûs, 1979) edited by ‘Alî Zai’ûr. 175-6. Also edited by Paul Nwyia "Le tafsîr mystique attribué a Ja’far al-Sâdiq" in Mélanges de l'Université Saint Joseph Beirut XLVIII Beirut: 1968, 211-212. al-Sâdiq is partially cited in Baqlî, Arâ'is al-Bayân (Lucknow: Nawal Kishore, 18--), 84.
[30]Discussed in Nwyia, Exégèse Coranique, 172-174.

Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam.Dr.Arthur Buehler-Part 2 of 2

Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam. A lecture by Dr.Arthur Buehler, Professor, Islamic Studies, University of Victoria at Wellington, NZ, delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1996, UIC, Chicago.Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (



C. Islam and Sufism

In terms of personal experience islam and tasawwuf represent two aspects or modes (within the religion commonly known as Islam) of spiritual involvement. These are two of three levels or domains of Muslim practice described in “Gabriel's hadith,” which describes works (islam), faith (iman), and perfection (ihsan).
Abu'l-Husayn an-Nuri (d. ca. 295/908) and al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi (d. ca. 298/910) expanded this threefold pattern to a fourfold framework of correspondences in the heart (represented by concentric circles). Accordingly, the breast (sadr) is connected to the external aspect of religion, islam, the domain of jurists; the first interiorization is iman located in the heart (qalb), the specialty of theologians and philosophers; the inner heart (fu'ad) is the locus of intuitive “gnosis” (ma`rifa), associated with perfection (ihsan), and the innermost essence of the heart (lubb) represents the ultimate experience of Oneness (tawhid). The latter two domains are typically those of sufis.
Conceptually both Gabriel's and Nuri's framework are interlocking hierarchies, i.e., each of these inner levels of the heart encompasses and transcends the other. For example, one can perform the outward obligations of Islam, such as prayer or fasting, without any inner commitment whatsoever. The Qur'an refers to such a situation, e.g., Say [to the Bedouin] `You do not have faith.' Instead say `We have submitted;' since faith has not yet entered your hearts [Q. 49:14]. Faith transcends works while including them; just as perfection (ihsan) includes both faith and works. According to this normative Sufi construct one cannot practice Sufism without acting outwardly as a Muslim and having a sincere faith commitment.
The principle of encompassing hierarchies also applies to hierarchies of knowledge associated with these levels. Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi in his Kitab bayan al-`ilm immediately refutes the jurist's equating of jurisprudence (fiqh) with the entirety of religious knowledge (`ilm), citing a hadith where the Prophet declares a tripartite knowledge. For at-Tirmidhi these three types of knowledge are jurisprudence (fiqh), wisdom (hikma), and gnosis (ma`rifa). The sufis are the only ones who combine all three types of knowledge and thus know both the lawful and unlawful and the realm of the supernatural (`alam al-malakut) while feeling God's majesty in their hearts.[1] As the notable sufi Abu'l-`Abbas al-Mursi (d. 686/1287) bemoaned, “We have partaken of the knowledge of jurists but they have not partaken of ours.”[2] Transformed by spiritual experiences, sufis found jurists who specialized in external visually observed actions to be particularly myopic when these same jurists claimed exclusive authority.
Sufis, particularly those who had studied hadith, respected the oral transmission of scripture but it was difficult for them to accept a limited notion of religious knowledge (`ilm) based solely on rote memorization of transmitted material. “Gnosis” (ma`rifa), claimed by sufis to be a higher form of infallible and certain knowledge, was devoid of the errors found in the ordinary, acquired knowledge of the ulama. One who had certainty (yaqin) through direct intuitive knowledge of God overshadowed ordinary ulama who had to rely on long chains of transmitters, some of whom might not have been reliable. In Abu Sa`id-i Abu'l-Khayr's (d. 440/1049) words, “Having seen who needs reports?”[3] Speaking from the depths of spiritual experience, Abu Yazid Bistami (d. 261/875) proclaims, “You have had your knowledge from a dead man who had it from a dead man while we had our knowledge from the living one who never dies.”[4]
Works are accomplished by observable bodily actions; faith is developed through increased knowledge (`ilm); gnosis (ma`rifa) unfolds through a purified, tranquil soul (an-nafs al-mu²ma'inna); and love, the most subtle of human expressions is communicated through the most rarified human aspect, the spirit. The main purpose is to visualize certain processes, one of which has already been illustrated above: as one moves inward from the outer circumference, one is moving into more encompassing and deeper/subtler experience.
The second dynamic involves lateral movement around the circumference, (the jurist expression of religion), a legitimization process, and centripetal movement toward the center across the circles (the sufi expression of religion), a transformation process. Jurists are interested in the external symbols and outward behavior that are associated with maintaining and outwardly legitimizing Islamic social structures through a system of law, schools, and mosques. For this reason their activities and interests overlap considerably with that of the rulers who have the power to enforce such concerns and who need such legitimacy to keep their power. It is ulama who justify war in the name of jihad and who provide the basis of salvation to give meaning to such endeavors (martyrs go immediately to heaven). This outer level supplies soteriological formulae, important psychologically, to enforce the dictates of society (if you do these things you go to heaven otherwise you go to hell). This is the stick approach to human psychology which has its usefulness. The jurist's expression of religion integrates and stabilizes society. The sharia is the “kernel” that protects, legitimizes, and tempers the precious “seed” of spiritual practice.
This spiritual practice is required for the integration and stabilization of the outer social structure, presumes movement, change, and transformation within the individual. Instead of jihad as war, sufis stress the “inner struggling (jihad) in the path of God,” controlling the desires and ignorance of one's lower carnal nature (nafs). The transformation process implies an unfolding, a transcending of prior states and perceptions. Often this transformation in the Sufi environment is associated with the spiritual experiences associated with performance of Sufi exercises.
Gifted and persevering travelers on the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi path may reach a stage of greater intimacy, returning to the everyday world transformed by their experiences; they normally show no outward signs of their extraordinary achievements: they are extraordinarily ordinary. After having traveled in the spiritual depths, they appear to bend over and prostrate in prayer just as they had before embarking on the Path. Rather than being merely the appearance of worship (surat-i `ibadat), however, their ritual practices have manifested the reality of worship (haqiqat-i `ibadat). When the traveler has come back radically changed to the temporary abode of the phenomenal world, every action performed in this world takes on an extraordinary quality. In Muhammad `Umar Birbali's words, it is a “revolution of Reality” whereby, “the disciple experiences such a revolution in his own ego that, having lost his first [way of] being, he experiences in his existence the certainty of another [way of] being. [It is] in regard to this great revolution [that] I have named my book Revolution of Reality (Inqilab al-haqiqat).”[5]
In actual human life abstractions such as circles, vectors, and radii have little meaning. Practicing sufis work and live in the everyday world and attempt to recreate a quasi-monastic life in the world, which includes an emphasis on ritual purity, the segregation of sexes, and a plethora of utterly mundane details. Yet, it is precisely the genius of Sufism that enables the life of the ordinary householder to be imbued with spirituality. Although this study emphasizes the importance in Sufism of training in a meditative discipline, this is only a minuscule slice of what Sufism means to contemporary South Asian Muslims who visit sufis. A tour of Sufi lodges in South Asia demonstrates that the primary activities of sufis are assisting believers in their worldly affairs, counseling them in mental/physical health problems, and making amulets to protect them. One conclusion of this study is that Sufism has always had this worldly component, especially since the development of the Sufi lodge in the tenth century. I suspect that only a minority of those going to Sufi shaykhs have ever yearned for mystical experience (those relative few had importance beyond their numbers). Few twentieth-century Indian Naqshbandi shaykhs have emphasized a contemplative discipline and guided others along the Path. The scholarly and popular western notion that simply equates sufis with mystics needs to be properly nuanced.
[1] Franz Rosenthal, Knowledge Triumphant: The Concept of Knowledge in Medieval Islam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), pp. 179-181.
[2] Tarif Khalidi, Arabic Historical Thought in the classical period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 213.
[3] Muhammad b. Munawwar, Asrar al-tawhid fi maqamat Shaykh Abi Said, 2 vols., ed. Muhammad Rida Shafi`i Kadkani (Teheran: Mu’assasa-yi Isharat-i Agah, 1987), p. 102.
[4] Kamil Mustafa Al-Shaibi, Sufism and Shi`ism (Surrey: LAAM Ltd, 1991), p. 65.
[5] Muhammad `Umar Birbali, Inqilab al-haqiqat, 2d ed. (Lahore: Aftab-i `Alam Press, n.d.), pp. 6-7 (introduction).

Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam.Dr.Arthur Buehler- Part 1 of 2

Sufism: Holistic Approach to Islam. A lecture by Dr.Arthur Buehler, Professor, Islamic Studies, University of Victoria at Wellington, NZ, delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference 1996, UIC, Chicago.Sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (

Sufism: A Holistic Approach to Islam

Arthur F. Buehler
Victoria University, Wellington, NZ
A. A Brief History of Sufism

Even during Muhammad's lifetime some of his followers desired to enter into a more intimate relationship with God beyond performing required ritual practices. Over the next three centuries a discipline of pious self-examination and refined religious psychology came into existence. The specialized technical vocabulary of this discipline, now known as Sufism, came directly from the Qur'an. Muslims who engaged in these pious activities, in addition to the required religious practices of the wider community, became known as sufis, presumably because they wore simple woolen (sufi) robes as tokens of their interiorized piety. In short, Sufism can be both an Islamic religious science and the collective spiritual practices of a person who desires to have a more encompassing experience of submitting to God (the literal meaning of islam).
Sufism (or a variant thereof) is the word used in western languages since the nineteenth century to designate an Arabic word, tasawwuf, the practice of those wearing wool. As an Arabic term it misleads people by labeling a profound practice by an exterior, often ostentatious distinction of the type of clothing one wears. The ascetic al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110/728) accused sufis of concealing pride in their hearts by wearing such clothing. The English version, “Sufism,” is not any more felicitous since the “ism” of Suf-ism has allowed misconceptions, all too prevalent today in western countries, to consider Sufism and Islam as separate religious paths. This linguistic awkwardness points to other prevalent misunderstandings of Sufism. Sufi practice began in the Arab-speaking world and is coterminous with the worldwide spread of Islam itself.
To the extent that sufis desire closeness or intimacy with God, Sufism can be roughly translated as Islamic mysticism. Insofar as these interior experiences and transformations are not apparent to others (in contrast to woolen clothing) Sufism can be said to be the esoteric aspect of Islam. Sufism is not a discipline where its practitioners have “secrets” to conceal. Reports from the earliest Muslim sources communicate what the Sufi enterprise entails in a more holistic manner.
B. Gabriel's Hadith
It is related that one day a man came walking from the desert into the presence of the Prophet and his companions. He proceeded to ask the Prophet a few questions. He asked first about submitting to God (islam) and Muhammad replied that Islam consists of the five pillars (attestation of one God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God, prayer, fasting, alms and pilgrimage). To everyone's shock, the guest remarked that the Prophet had spoken correctly. He then inquired about faith (iman) and the Prophet responded by listing the articles of faith mentioned in the Qur'an, e.g., God, His messengers, angels, scriptures, and the Day of Judgment. His last question was about beneficence (ihsan) and the Prophet answered that ihsan was worshiping God as if you see Him; if you do not see Him He sees you. At that point the visitor left and Muhammad informed his astounded companions that the angel Gabriel had visited them in human form.
Such a three-dimensional conception of Islam assumes that different persons have varying potential and ability for spiritual accomplishment. The vast majority of Muslims seek salvation through their daily practice of islam, informed by a faith commitment (iman). For a person who has an inclination to delve further into either of these dimensions of the Islamic tradition, he or she can spend a lifetime studying their respective fields of knowledge. Sufism encompasses the activities working toward the field of consciousness and experience represented by ihsan. Such an enterprise, explicit in the Naqshbandi context, assumes a firm foundation in faith (iman) and in the practice of submitting to God (islam) before achieving an extraordinary degree of proximity to God. Surely not all who call themselves sufis are able to achieve this advanced goal and not all of the few who reach this stage are necessarily sufis.
Another oft-mentioned triad associated with explicating Sufism is shari`a (Arabic original meaning: path leading to the water hole but now commonly meaning Islamic law), tariqa (Arabic word meaning path or method), and haqiqa (Arabic for truth or reality). For Muslims the shari`a represents the wide path outlining the timeless God-given rules that govern everyday life for all humans. It is the path leading to salvation. The tariqa is a narrower path, often associated with the Sufi path, leading to haqiqa, the experience of the Ultimate. These three interrelated aspects of Islam have been depicted as the one circle of shari`a with a multiplicity of radii or paths (the tariqas) leading to the center (haqiqa). In transformative terms, shari`a [hereafter sharia] is medical science, tariqa is preventing disease and taking medicine, and haqiqa is eternally perfect health. The latter metaphor implies a necessary doctor or guide who has eternally perfect health -- the heirs of the Prophet Muhammad. These triads clearly show the critical role of Islamic law in the practice of Sufism.

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.

Utmost State of Devotion for Prophet(saws) Fana Fi al-Rasul Part 3 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 (
TRANSCRIPT: Part 3 of 4
Returning to the commentary on the Gulshan-i Raz, Lahiji further observes,
Thus due to loving me (Muhammad) the characteristic of belovedness (mahbubiyyat) will become present in you and just as I am the beloved of God, you will also become the beloved of God because of this connection to me, and God will love you and through the decree of, “When I love him I become his hearing and his sight” you will reach the rank of “perfected one” and union, at the station of wilayat of the Prophet which is “Essential Unity” (tauhid-i dhati);--that of “la yas’ni fihi malak muqarrab wa la nabi mursal” (there is no place for any near angel or any prophetic messanger)[1] and you will become a location of the manifestation of the Muhammadan perfections, may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
Out of love he became the beloved of God
Whatever he desired became the will of God
Love became the manifestation of harmony
Without love the world is imperfect
Due to love fire became light
Due to love the demon became a houri
Due to love thorns became roses
Due to love vinegar became honey
Once the sun of love begins to shine
Mastery becomes servitude and servitude becomes mastery.

Along this same theme, a further line from Shabistari reads,
“From ‘if you love me’ you will achieve it””
Lahiji comments on this line, saying:
That is, the lover (muhibb) of God and the supreme lover (‘ashiq-i mutlaq) since he knows that the means of achieving the desired end which is attaining union with the Beloved, depends on obeying the Prophet and on following his speech, actions, and deeds, according to one’s ability, will give priority to making attempts and efforts to follow in the footsteps of the Prophet on the path of shari’a and tariqa. Every mirror in which the belovedness of the Holy Prophet shines through the saint (wali) finds a way to the place of solitude of “Allah will love you”[2] which is the rank of “mahbubiyyat”. Then the “muhibb” and the “mahbub” become a single entity and all duality and otherness is eliminated”.
Once love becomes perfected, the friend of Allah (wali), due to his following the Prophet, certainly attains the rank of “the belovedness” (mahbubiyyat) of Allah which is, “Follow me, and Allah will love you .[3]
We see the doctrine of fana’ fir-rasul fully articulated in the later 18th century work, ‘Ilm al-Kitab,[4] of the Naqshbandi Sufi and Urdu poet, Khwaja Mir Dard (d. 1785) who writes
Since the Prophet is an intermediary (wasta) between humans and God the exalted, fana fi-Allah is impossible without fana’ fir-rasul. Thus the spiritual guide (murshid) is an intermediary and means of connection (wasila) between the umma and the Prophet. Without fana fi-s-shaiykh, fana fir-rasul is illusory and imaginary.[5]
In every Sufi tariqa, according to the masters of the spiritual path, there have been determined to be three types of fana, firstly fana fi-l-shaykh, secondly fana fir-rasul, and thirdly, fana fi-Allah. Proximity (qurb) to Allah will not be achieved by the spiritual aspirant (salik) without these three fanas. They say that the salik progresses from the degree of fana’ fi-s-shaykh and by means of the Pir then arrives at the level of fana fir-rasul.”[6]
[1]"I have a time with Allah, beyond any of the nearest angels and any of the prophetic messengers", is a Sufi hadith, the meaning of which is discussed by al-Jˆlˆ in his both his treatise Qab-i Qausayn p. 238 and his treatise Nasˆm al-sahar (Cairo: Maktaba al-Jindˆ, n. d.), p. 50-52 which is the 12th part of the same larger work al-Nam¨s al-a…Ωam wa-l qam¨s al-aqdam fˆ ma…rifat qadr al-nabˆ ™ (The highest realm and the greatest ocean in recognizing the stature of the Holy Prophet™) as Qab-i qausayn, which is its tenth section. All but three sections of this larger work appear to be lost.
[2]The conclusion of the Qur'anic verse.
[3]Gulshan-i raz, 239-240.
[4]Delhi: al-Anßarˆ, 1890. In fact the last three sections of over one hundred in Dard's book are on the themes of fana', the virtues of mu˙abbat (love), and following the Prophet. pp. 634-648.
[5]Ibid, 55.
[6]Khwaja Mˆr Dard …Ilm al-Kitab (Delhi: al-Anßarˆ, 1890). Dard goes on to say, "After the appearance of the †arˆqa Mu˙ammadiyya, blessings and salutations upon its master, and the emergence of this lofty †arˆqa which is the most exalted of paths and their seal, this interpretation was required until progress had been made to that more complete level. Then for the guidance of the people of Mu˙ammad, the pure ones manifested (the station of) subsisting through the Prophet (baqa' bi-ras¨l). When this world-illuminating sun rose, all the stars went into obscurity so that in every place spiritual energy (fai∂) emerged from this same spiritual connection (nisbat) and all groups came under and beneath its sway. Thus, all the groups branch out from the hand of the mediation of the master of this spiritual connection (nisbat) encompassing the entire Muslim community in every path and group which exists. Because the essential, partial, accompanying and inclusive in following him was recorded and all the saints, gnostics, believers and Muslims entered under this noble spiritual affiliation to Mu˙ammad; what level could ever be higher than this level of pure (Mu˙ammadiyya) Mu˙ammadanism; so that a person could reach anything higher? . . . No sharˆ…a will be affirmed after the sharˆ…a of Mu˙ammad, not even at the inner (ba†inˆ) level, nor will any new †arˆqa ever appear." (p. 116)

Utmost State of Devotion for Prophet(saws) Fana Fi al-Rasul- Part 2 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 (



Another allusion to the role of the Prophet as a bridge or station on the way to the realization of God is the expression (qab qausayn)--“the distance of the two bow spans”, mentioned in al-Najm. (53:9). “He descended and drew near until he was two bow spans away or nearer”. The Sufi, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jili, has written a treatise on this topic entitled, Qab-i Qausayn wa multaqa al-namusayn (“A distance of two-bow spans and the meeting of the two realms).[1] Note that al-Jili’s more famous work, al-Insan al-Kamil fi ma’rifat al-awakhir wa’l awa’il,[2] is considered an important development in the concept of fana’ fir-rasul since in it he elaborates the concept of the “Perfected Human Being” indicated more briefly in Ibn ‘Arabi. It was also al-Jili who explained how the most highly developed Sufis could begin to merge aspects of their individual consciousness with the consciousness of the Prophet.[3]
Further elaboration of the concept of fana’ fir-rasul may be found Muhammad Lahiji’s (d. 1516) commentary on the Gulshan-i Raz of Mahmud Shabistari (d. 1320). According to Annemarie Schimmel, “This poem (the Gulshan-i Raz) is the handiest introduction to the thought of post-Ibn ‘Arabi Sufism; it deals with the Perfect Man, the stages of development, and mystical terminology, among other things.”[4] The selection quoted below is cited from the chapter, “The Station of Muhammad is the Pinnacle of Perfection of the Realized Ones (wasilan)” [5]
Since the furthest limit of the perfection of the perfect ones and those who have achieved union ends at the station of the praised one, Muhammad—he (Shabistari) said, “Follow the footsteps of Muhammad in the Mi’raj (the Night Journey in which the Prophet ascended to meet with Allah” First comes the perfection of existent things and the Seal of the Prophets, due to the ascension (mi’raj) of baqa’ after fana’, and sobriety after intoxication. Then comes (the stage of) traveling in God (sair b-illah), which is the station of his (the Prophet’s) constancy and the transcending of otherness and duality as indicated in the hadith—“whoever sees me sees (the truth) God”.[6]
This is the station of confirmation (tahaqquq) in true existence without non-existence, knowledge without ignorance, power without weakness, and will without compulsion, and this is the level of “so that through me he hears and through me he sees and through me he speaks”.[7]
We can thus observe how the Sufi, Lahiji, in his commentary explaining Shabistari’s poem is using concepts drawn from the Qur’an and hadith. For example, he cites both the hadith, “Whoever sees me” (man ra’ni),[8] and the hadith of supererogatory practices (nawafil)[9] which states that a worshipper approaches God through extra acts of worship and devotion until God become the source of all his actions. Each hadith can be related to how the stage of fana’ fir-rasul leads to the further station of annihilation in the Divine consciousness (fana’ fi-Allah).
Continuing with Lahiji’s text:
Since the Muhammadan station which is the oneness of union (ahadiyyat al-jam’) is an expression of the union of the end point with the beginning he (Shabistari) says:
“Once the end point reaches the beginning
There you find no place for either angel or messenger.”[10]
This, then, also refers to the transition from annihilation in the Messenger (fana’ fir-rasul) to annihilation in the divine (fana’ fi-Allah) through mentioning a hadith describing the station attained at the height of the Mi’raj.
A further relevant selection drawn from the commentary on the Gulshan-i Raz is the chapter entitled, “The Spiritual Path of the Saint (Wali) in Attaining the Rank of Mahbubiyyat (Belovedness) and Wilayat (Friendship/Saintship)”
Lahiji writes:
Since without perfect love which is a connection between God and the creation, reaching the station of perfection cannot be attained, Shabistari says that:
You must go from the level of “in kuntum tuhibbuni” (if you love me) to the place of seclusion of “yuhbibkum Allah” (God will love you).
This is a reference to the Qur’anic verse (3:31), “Say if you love Allah, then follow me (the Prophet) and God will love you.”
This citation evokes the Sufi terminology of the “muhibb” and the “mahbub”. A Sufi once explained to me the relationship of the muhibb and the mahbub on the spiritual path. The muhibb is the one who is aspiring to fulfill love and who is making efforts toward perfection and the love of Allah and his Prophet—but the muhibb, like the lovers of this world, must be vigilant and aware of his faults, he will be held to account for his smallest imperfections and errors. The mahbub on the other hand is that enviable state of what we might call in today’s language being “the recipient of unconditional love”, the mahbub basks in the delight and ecstasy of knowing and receiving this divine love, seemingly without any effort.[11]
In Sufism progress is conceived of as occuring from “fana’ fi-s-shaykh” to “fana’ fir-rasul” and then on to “fana fi Allah”. The secret of this is that often it takes the attention of the spiritual teacher, the shaykh or pir, to awaken the aspirant to these other levels. The love of the Shaykh allows the Sufi to experience the quality of belovedness (mahbubiyyat), so that she or he can develop this relation to the Prophet. In turn, the overwhelming effect of becoming conscious of the spiritual reality of the Messenger transforms the love of the individual to a cosmic love which prepares for the experience of the constant love of Allah which sustains all beings.
[1]This treatise of al-Jˆlˆ may be found in al-Nabhanˆ, Y¨suf ibn Isma…ˆl. Jawahir al-bihar fˆ fa∂a'il al-nabˆ al-mukhtar (Cairo; al-Babˆ al-Óalabˆ, 1960), pp. 214-239, which is a collection of texts on the virtues of the Prophet by various great thinkers in Islam. A further work of Nabhanˆ on the meaning of the Prophet's life is al-Anwar al-mu˙ammadiyya min al-mawahib al-laduniyya (Beirut: Matba…a al-adabiyya, 1310).
[2]Cairo: al-Babˆ al-Óalbˆ, 1981. This work was studied by Reynold A. Nicholson in Chapter Two of Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1927), pp. 77-142. A study of al-Jˆlˆ and one of his texts is Naja˙ Ma˙m¨d al-Ghunaymˆ, al-ManaΩir al-Ilahiyya (Cairo: Dar al-Manar, 1987).
[3]Vincent Cornell, Mirrors of Prophethood The Evolving Image of the Spiritual Master in the Western Maghrib from the Origins of Sufism to the end of the 16th Century (Ph. D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles, 1989), p. 579. For a relevant discussion of al-Jˆlˆ's Insan al-Kamil and the symbolism of the relationship of the Sufi Shaykh to the Holy Prophet see Cornell's thesis, pp. 551-612 and his article, "The Logic of Analogy and the Role of the Sufi Shaykh in Post-Maranid Morocco" International Journal of Middle East Studies 15 (1983): 67-93.
[4]Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1975), p. 280.
[5]Mu˙ammad Lahˆjˆ, Mafati˙ al-i…jaz fˆ shar˙ gulshan-i raz, ed. Kaiwan Sami…ˆ (Tehran, 1958), p. 229.
[6]Ibid. See footnote #8.
[7]An allusion to the hadith of nawafil. "Wa ma yuzalu …abdˆ yataqarrabu …alaiya bi-l-nawafil". Bukharˆ Riqaq and Ibn Óanbal.
[8]See note #9.
[9]See above note #23.
[10]Gulshan-i raz, 229. See note #28 on the hadith which is alluded to here.
[11]This is also described in the Gulshan-i raz, pp. 240-243.

Utmost State of Devotion for Prophet(saws) Fana Fi al-Rasul- Part 1 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 (


Fana fir-Rasul: The Utmost Degree of Devotion to the Prophet Muhammad
Marcia K. Hermansen,Professor of Theology,Loyola University

The following paper will consider the theme of the utmost degree of love and devotion to the Prophet Muhammad which among the mystics is characterized as “annihilation in the Prophet” (fana’ fir-rasul).[1]
In Sufi thought the two terms, fana’ and baqa’ are used as pairs in order to illuminate their respective qualities. “Fana’” in English is sometimes translated as “annihilation” and when indicating the role of a spiritual seeker, this may allude to the idea of the loss of self-identification or ego consciousness in the awareness of something far greater and encompassing.
Abu Sa’id Kharraz ( d. 899),[2] one of the earliest Sufis to speak about fana’, is quoted by al-Hujwiri in the Kashf al-Mahjub as saying,
Annihilation (fana’) of a person is the person’s extinction from perceiving his own servitude (‘ubudiyyat), and subsistence is the person’s subsistence in witnessing Divinity (ilahiyyat), i. e., it is an imperfection to be conscious in one’s actions that one is a servant, and one attains to real servitude (bandagi) when one no longer regards the actions as his own, but is annihilated so as not to see them, and becomes subsistent through beholding the grace of Almighty God. Hence, all one’s actions are referred to God, not to one’s self, and whereas a person’s actions that are connected to himself are imperfect, those that are attached to him by God are perfect. Once the God’s servant is annihilated from his own attachments, he subsists through the beauty (jamal) of Divinity.[3]
al-Hujwiri’s Kashf al-Mahjub further relates fana to safa—“being pure from all existing things”. al-Hujwiri quotes Ibrahim ibn Shayban, an early Sufi, who says, “the knowledge of annihilation and subsistence (fana’ and baqa) turns on sincerity (ikhlas) and unity (wahidiyya) and true servitude; all else is error and heresy”.[4]
al-Kalabadhi (d. 995) also spoke of fana and baqa. For example, he describes how there are two kinds of people in the station of fana’; some who should not be followed as models since they are absent from their own attributes, although they are preserved in their duties to God, and others who are leaders to be followed since they have the qualities of subsistence (baqa’) and manage their affairs though the divine qualities, not through their own attributes.[5]
We later see the polarity of fana’ and baqa’ expressed in the teaching of the Naqshbandi Sufi Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1625), author of the well-known collection of letters, Maktubat[6] In Sirhindi’s formulation, baqa was associated with the station of the Prophet who returns to the world and humanity to work for social and spiritual upliftment after having passed through the state of annihilation or self-effacement (fana’) in the realization of the divine.[7]
Recently scholars of Islam in the West have been debating the origin and emphasis of the doctrine of devotion to the Prophet in Sufi thought. Some have identified it as symptomatic of a modern reformist attitude moving away from the idea of mystical union in the divine through accentuating the personality of the Prophet and the study of his sayings, the hadith.[8] In response, others[9] have tried to show that the idea of the Prophet as the Perfect Man and a particular object of devotion is an early and persistent theme in Sufism which can be traced to certain doctrines of Ibn ‘Arabi which were given a practical as well as a philosophical articulation in the works of ‘Abd al-Karim al-Jili (ca. 1408). I might further add that even in the case of later Sufis this emphasis on the veneration of the Prophet does not diminish the emphasis on trying to draw nearer to Allah, it is rather a means to this end.
When it comes to the issue of the source for these concepts, it must be emphasized that the Sufis of the past drew on the Qur’an and the hadith for their understanding of the Prophet, augmented and interpreted of course by their own spiritual experience. For example, an early work such as the Kitab al-Tawasin of Mansur al-Hallaj (922) may be seen in part as a commentary on Chapter 53 of the Qur’an (al-Najm) which elaborates the spiritual role of the Prophet disclosed in its symbols.
The Quranic verses most often cited in the context of discussing the concept of “fana’ fir-rasul” are:
“Surely you possess a noble nature” (khuluq ‘azim). (68:4)
According to Ibn ‘Arabi’s interpretation the Qur’an’s commendation to the Prophet that he has a noble nature (khuluq ‘azim) is a reference to the perfection of Muhammad’s realization of his own original nature, created upon the divine form.[10] This process of coming to manifest the Divine Attributes is known as “takhalluq”.
Yet another Qur’anic verse related to devotion to the Prophet is,
“If you love Allah then follow me, so Allah will love you.” (3:31)
“In tuhibbuna Allah, f-attabi’uni yuhbibkum Allah”
This verse certainly represents devotion to the Prophet and the connection between this love and following the the injunctions of the Islamic law (shari’a).
In addition to these Qur’anic verses whose outer meanings clearly point to the spiritual effects of utmost love and devotion to the Prophet, there are many esoteric allusions in the Qur’an as well as many citations in the hadith referring to this spiritual role. Some of these will be mentioned during the course of this paper.
Sufis have often commented on the meaning of hadith such as “Whoever sees me has seen his Lord”,[11] which discuss the results of love for the Prophet and developing the connection to him.
Iqbal uses this hadith as part of the following verse:[12]
bi-chashm-i man nagah avardeh-i tust
furugh-i la ilah avardehi tust
ducharam kon bi subh-i „man ra’an’i”
shabam-ra tab-i mah avardehi tust!

It is you (O Holy Prophet) who has brought me insight
It is you, who has brought “there is no God but Allah”’s light
Enlighten me with the dawn of, “Whoever has seen me”
It is you who has brought the illumination of the moon to my night.
Having made these introductory points, in the following part of this paper I would like to discuss some theoretical and practical dimensions of the doctrine of fana’ fir rasul or the utmost degree of love and devotion for the Prophet.
I will first discuss some of the Sufi expressions of the concept of fana fir-rasul.
What does fana’ mean? In Arabic it conveys the idea of “passing away” or “annihilation”. For example in Sura al-Rahman the Qur’an says “everything upon earth is perishing and the face of God remains” (55:27). We have shown that early Sufis used the concept of fana’, but the specific connection of fana’ with devotion to the Prophet was only gradually elaborated in their writings. Thus it can be asserted that in early Sufism, the precise expression “fana’ fir-rasul” was not used, although allusions implying such a concept can be traced, especially in post-Ibn ‘Arabi (d. 1240) writings. An important step in this process was the articulation of the Prophet’s exemplary station using the expression “al-insan al-kamil”, indicating the idea of the perfect or complete human exemplar.[13] By the time of al-Jili this had become a concept capable of extensive philosophical and doctrinal articulation of the Prophet’s role in an exemplary and ontological sense.
A further aspect of this doctrine is the high rank of Muhammad among the Prophets and the Perfect men is demonstrated, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, by the hadith in which Muhammad says that he was given the all-comprehensive words (jawami’ al-kalim). These words, according to Ibn ‘Arabi, represent the names of Allah and indicate the all-inclusiveness of the message brought by Muhammad and why he will be the master of humanity of the Day of Resurrection. This indicates that the religion brought by Muhammad comprises all other revealed religions and that he is the most perfect of perfect men. In addition it is interpreted by “the Greatest Shaykh”, Ibn ‘Arabi, as referring to Sufi practices of devotion to the Prophet.
Another element of doctrine connected with the fana’ fir-rasul concept is the relationship between the divine plane (lahut) and the human plane (nasut) as mediated by the Prophet. Thus, while humanity forms a barzakh—boundary or point of mediation—between the spiritual and the material worlds, in the sense that Adam is composed of both the earthly matter and the divine spirit (ruh),[14] the Perfect Human being, i. e., the Prophet, constitutes the Supreme Barzakh (al-barzakh al-a’la).[15]
In Sufi tafsir and terminology this relation of the barzakh is coded in the Qur’anic references to the “maraja al-bahrayni yaltaqian, baynahuma barzakhun la yabghian.” (al-Rahman 55:19-20). “He has given freedom to the two great bodies of water so that they might meet, yet between them is a barrier which they may not transgress.”[16] The two seas here are said to represent the higher and lower realms, or the divine and human levels.
[1].Many scholars translate "fana'" more technically as "annihilation" in the sense of loss of self-consciousness or identification.
[2]For a discussion of this terminology and its early development see Gerhard Bøwering, "Baqa' and Fana'" in Encyclopeadia Iranica III (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983-), 722-44.
[3]al-Hujwˆrˆ, Kashf al-Ma˙j¨b, trans. R. A. Nicholson (London: Luzac, 1976), 245. I have modified the translation slightly.
[4]Ibid, 246. al-Hujwˆri says about al-Kharraz that, "he was the first to explain the state of annihilation and subsistence, and he comprehended his entire doctrine in these two terms. p. 242.
[5]al-Kalabadhˆ, Kitab al-Ta…arruf, trans. A. J. Arberry, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1935), 144-5.
[6]For studies of Sirhind^ and his thought in English see Yohanan Friedmann, Shaikh A˙mad Sirhind^, (Montreal: McGill University Press, 1971), J. G. J. ter Haar, Follower and Heir of the Prophet: Shaikh A˙mad Sirhind^ (1534-1624) as Mystic (Leiden: Het Oosters Instituut, 1992), Fazlur Rahman, Selected Letters of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi. (Karachi: Iqbal Academy, 1968).
[7]See, for example, Fazlur Rahman ed. Selected Letters of Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindˆ, (Karachˆ; Iqbal Academy, 1968), pp.31-61.
[8]Beginning with Gibb and continuing through Fazlur Rahman, and John Voll.
[9]For a good example of this see O'Fahey, R. S. Enigmatic Saint: Ahmad ibn Idris and the Idrisi Tradition. Evanston: Northwestern U. P., 1990, pp. 1-9, and the more recent article "Neo-Sufism Reconsidered" by O'Fahey and Radke in Der Islam (LXX,1):52-87.
[10]Valerie J. Hoffman, "Annihilation in the Messenger in the Writings of al-Jˆlˆ", unpublished paper", p. 5. I am indebted to Professor Hoffman for sharing this valuable paper with me before its publication.
[11] "Man ra'anˆ fa qad ra'a al-˙aqq". Bukharˆ, Ta…bˆr Muslim Ru'ya, and others. This is often translated as "Whoever sees me (the Holy Prophet in a dream) has seen truly". i. e., Only the Prophet can take on his own form in dreams, and therefore if he appears in a person's dream it is deemed to be veracious..
[12]From Armaghan-i Óijaz (Gift of the Hijaz) n Kulliyat-i ash…ar-i farsˆ Maulana Iqbal Lah¨ˆri (Tehran: Kutubkhaneh-i Sana'ˆ 1964), 449.
[13]For example in Fuß¨ß al-Óikam ed. Ab¨'l-…Ala …Afˆfˆ (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-…arabˆ, 1980), p. 55.
[14]See my article, "Pattern and Meaning: The Paradigmatic Structure of the Adam Stories in Qur'anic Narrative," Studies in Religion 17 (1, 1988): 41-52 for a discussion of Adam's nature as a combination of these aspects.
[15]Chittick, p. 30 Also pp. 125-143 on the Supreme Barzakh.
[16]The barrier is also mentioned in Qur'an 25:53.

Shah Wali Allah & Devotion to the Prophet(saws) Part 2 of 2,Dr. Marcia Hermansen

Shah Wali Allah (r.a) and Devotion to the Prophet Muhammad (saws) by Dr. Marcia Hermansen is Director of the Islamic World Studies Program and Professor in the Theology Department at Loyola University Chicago where she teaches courses in Islamic Studies and the academic study of religion. She received her Ph. D. from the University of Chicago in Arabic and Islamic Studies . Delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference held at University of Illinois at Chicago on September 17, 1994, sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (


Shah Wali Allah and Devotion to the Prophet (saws)
Part 2
Marcia Hermansen, Ph.D

In the second volume of the author’s most famous work ,Hujjat Allah al-baligha ( The Conclusive Proof from God ), under the topic of Spiritual Practices ( ihsan ), specifically the form of remembrance ( dhikr ) of sending blessings on the Prophet ( saws ), he discusses several well known hadith on this theme:
The Prophet (saws) said.” Whoever sends one salutation to me, I salute him in return ten times” and “The closest person to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the one who has sent the most salutations to me.” I say “The inner meaning of these hadith is that human souls must turn to the divine states. There is nothing more effective in this {endeavor} than turning towards the lights of God’s process of drawing nearer to us ( tadalliyat ), turning towards the emblems of God on His earth, opening ourselves to receive them and reflecting deeply on them and especially on the spirit of those who have drawn near to Allah. They are the best among the Higher Angels and are intermediaries of God’s generosity to the people of the world, in the sense already mentioned. Remembering the Prophet (saws) with reverence and seeking Allah’s good things for him are a sound means of turning to God, due to their element of preventing deviation-in so far as a person is only remembering the Prophet (saws) in order to seek mercy for him from God Exalted.
The spirits of perfected ones, once they have separated from their physical bodies, become like a restrained wave. They are unshaken by a changing will or a chance motive, while the souls who are below them can become attached to them through concentrated zeal (himma) so that they become clothed in light from them and in form appropriate to the spiritual.
This is what is expressed in his saying (saws) “There is no person who sends salams to me but that God returns my spirit to me so that I can return salams to him.” I have witnessed such things on innumerable occasions during my voyage to Medina in the year 1144/1732.”
In Fuyud al- haramayn some of these occasions are recorded. Fuyud al- haramayn means “The Emanations of the Two Holy Cities,” and the majority of emanations refer to the person of the Prophet (saws) in the role of a spiritual guide who answers questions about Islamic doctrine and spiritual practice posed by the Sufi during waking visions and dreams. These demonstrate the sense of the Prophet (saws) as a living presence who continues to inspire and guide his followers directly. In some visions the Prophet (saws) mentions the high rank of the Ulama (scholars) and the muhaddithun (scholars of hadith), and in a number of others he refers specifically of familiar conflicts which are causing tensions in the Muslim umma (community) at the time of Shah Wali Allah (r.a). Some of these issues were, for example which of legal schools should be preferred, the ranking of early caliphs, and the wahdat al-wujud (unity of existence) versus wahdat al-shuhud (unity of awareness). In his answers one sees the tendency to moderate and resolve such disputes, a tendency which Shah Wali Allah (r.a) adopted in his major works, legal opinions, and fatwas (formal declarations about sharia).
Al-Durr al-thamin
The treatise al-Durr al-thamin fi mubashsharat al-Nabi al-amin is an unusual work since it contains forty reports which were received directly from the Prophet (saws) during the visionary experiences of either Shah Wali Allah (r.a), his father or his spiritual teachers. The first section records the compiler’s own visionary experiences and repeats some of the visions found in the work Fuyud al-haramayn. Two of the reports of his father’s visionary experiences are especially relevant to the theme of this conference:
#16- The durud (prayer of benediction) he received from his father. “My father commanded me to say the following salutation on the Prophet (saws), Allahumma salli ala muhammadin al nabi al-ummi wa alihi wa barik wa sallim.’ And I received this in a dream and saw that the Prophet (saws) approved of this salutation.”
#22- On the celebration of the mawlid, “My master, my father, informed me, saying, “On the mawlid days I used to have food prepared in honor of the Prophet (saws). One year I did not have anything to make the food with except fried chick peas, so I distributed these to the people. Then I saw him with those chick peas in front of him, and he was smiling delightedly.”
Atyab al-nagham
The work Alyah al-nagham fi madh Sayyid al-‘arab wa-al-‘ajam is comprised of four Arabic poems and their explanations in Persian, composed by the author at the request of his disciple, Muhammad Amin Kashmiri. He begins the work by stating, “This poor person. Wali Allah, may God forgive him, says that praising the Master of the Prophets (saws) and recording his outstanding traits (manaqib) are important ways of honoring his presence and remembering his Prophetic mission. Therefore I agreed to compose a qasida on this topic.” What follows is a description of each of these four poems.
1) The first qasida is the one which he calls Ayab al-nagham fi madh Sayyid al-‘arab wa-al-‘ajam (The Best of Melodious Recitations in Praise of the Master of the Arabs and non-Arabs). He states that it resembles the Arabic qasida of Sawad ibn Qarib, one of the Companions. The themes elucidated in the poem progress through twelve sections and feature difficult Arabic terms which are explained in the Persian commentary. The commentary is said to have been completed on 24 Rabi’ al-thani 1156 (17 June 1743).
2) The second of the Arabic poems is the “Humziya,” a form of verse in which every couplet ends in the letter “hamza” (the glottal stop of the Arabic alphabet). It is in the form of na’t (a poem in praise of the Prophet (saws). According to Baljon the poem was written in 1157/1745 and the commentary in 117/1762.
3) The third is called “ta;iya,” a verse form in which every couplet ends in the letter “ta’.” Its orientation is mystical. In the commentary, Shah Wali Allah (r.a) mentions the subtle spiritual evolution of the world (adwar).
4) The fourth is “lamiya,” a verse form in which every couplet ends in the letter “lam.”
The poem, “Atyab al-nagham,” is divided by the author into twelve sections. For each couplet he has provided a Persian commentary which explains the difficult words and the internal references to Koran or hadith.
The first section is the commencement of the poem, in which he mentions some difficult circumstances of the times, for which help must be sought for the spirit of the Prophet (saws).
The second section explains the most outstanding trait (manqaba) of the Prophet (saws), which is intercession for the community on the Day of Judgment- as described in the sahih(sound) hadith collections.
The third section puts forth some of the evidence (dala’il) of Muhammad’s prophecy foretold by previous prophets such as Ibrahim, Ismail, and Isa (upon them be peace).
The fourth section clarifies another dimension of the evidence of prophecy, evidence gained by contemplating the qualities (shama’il) and virtues of the Prophet (saws), such as the following: moderation of the character, eloquence, bringing benefit to humanity, temperance, nobility, great zeal, courage, a forgiving nature, patience, asceticism, and so on.
Section five points out another type of evidence of prophecy which includes the situation of the Arabs and non-Arabs and their religions before the mission of the Prophet (saws). It reflects on the state of the “Illiteracy” of the Prophet (saws) and the fact that he did not frequent the company of scholars. The manner in which the Prophet improved the situation of his people also constitutes a proof of his authenticity.
Section six explains yet another type of evidence that becomes apparent when reflecting on the divine law, which constitutes guidance for establishing worship, refining the soul, managing the household, and governing the state.
Section seven concerns the evidence of the Prophet’s miracles.
Section eight features a prayer for the family and companions of the Prophet (saws).
Section nine recalls and prays for the generations of Muslims who have firmly preserved the religion century after century.
Section ten discusses the love of the Prophet (saws) and the Uwaysi connection.
Section eleven completes the qasida with the supplication (ibtihal) for the Prophet (saws).
In all, the poem and commentary are about twenty three pages.
In his work al-Tafhimat al-ilahiya, Shah Wali Allah (r.a) also discussed the practice of sending salutations to the Prophet (saws):
“Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, and may salutations and blessings be upon our Master, Muhammad (saws), and upon his family. If someone were to hold that there is no benefit in sending salutations to the Prophet (saws), because the meaning of salutations is seeking mercy, ennobling, and confirming, and because the Prophet (saws) has already reached a limit which cannot be surpassed, then this would be oppose the [hadith] text which says “Whoever sends salutations to me once, I will salute them ten times.” Thus this benefit returns to the one who sends salutations.
From this brief introduction we learn that Sha Wali Allah (saws) who is recognized as one of the great Muslim scholars, both advocated and practiced sending salutations to the Prophet, commemorating his noble birth (Mawlid), and experiencing him as a living presence and spiritual guide.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shah Wali Allah & Devotion to the Prophet(saws) Part 1 of 2 , Dr.Marcia Hermansen

Shah Wali Allah (r.a) and Devotion to the Prophet Muhammad (saws) -A Video Lecture by Dr. Marcia Hermansen is Director of the Islamic World Studies Program and Professor in the Theology Department at Loyola University Chicago where she teaches courses in Islamic Studies and the academic study of religion. She received her Ph. D. from the University of Chicago in Arabic and Islamic Studies , delivered at International Mawlid un Nabi Conference held at University of Illinois at Chicago on September 17, 1994, sponsored by Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (


Shah Wali Allah and Devotion to the Prophet (saws)
Part 1
Marcia Hermansen, Ph.D

Devotion to Prophet (saws) played a prominent role in the thought & practice of Shah Wali Allah of Delhi (r.a), a great Muslim Scholar & Thinker who died in 1176/1762.Shah Wali Allah ( r.a) was also a Naqshbandi Sufi with links to the Naqshbandiya-Mujaddidiya, as well as to many other Sufi orders. He is respected throughout the Muslim world and his works are still studied in Egypt, Iran and Malaysia. In the sub-continent, all groups honor his contributions, including followers of the Deobandi school, the Ahl-e-Hadith , and even Abu al- Ala Mawdudi , who has written of his contributions.
Works of Shah Wli Allah (r.a) which concern the Prophet (saws)
A number of Shah Wali Allah ‘s lesser known works deal with the theme of devotion to the Prophet (saws).Examples of such works are Fuyud al-harmayn (The Emanations of the Two Holy Cities), Atyab al-nagham ( The Best of Melodious Recitations ) and al-Durr al-thamin ( The Precious Pearl). This devotion is also demonstrated by the fact that early in his career he translated an abbreviated biography of the Prophet (saws), Nur al- uyun fi talkhis siyar al-Amin al- mamun by Shaykh Abu al-Fath Muhammad ibn Muhammad from Arabic into Persian, giving it the title Surur al- makhzun ( The Hidden Happiness ).
Some of these works refer specifically to practices of devotion in honor of the Prophet (saws) including the celebration of the mawlid by Shah Wali Allah and his father, the Naqshbandi spiritual guide, Shah Abd al-Rahim (d.1131/1719). Other reflect the process of communication which went on between the Sufi and the spirit of the Prophet (saws) in dreams and waking visions.
Fuyud al- Harmayn
Fuyud al-Harmayn was composed early in the career of Shah Wali Allah ( r.a) and reflects the Indian Nqashbandiya-Mujaddidiya Sufi tradition of compiling treatises containing the spiritual visions and dreams with which they were inspired during the performance of the pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Mecca and Medina.
In this work Shah Wali Allah recounts these visions and the answers to spiritual questions which were provided to him during them. Many of the visions feature the spirit of the Prophet (saws) whom he experiences as his spiritual guide.
In one section he specifically mentions attending a ceremony ( Mawlid ) in honor of the Prophet’s birthday (saws) while he was in Mecca for the Hajj season. 1144/1732..
“The light of Mercy ( rahmat ) is the strongest and is very apparent. Before this I had attended a blessed Mawlid in Mecca in honor of the birthday of His Honored Presence, may peace and blessings of God be upon him.People were reciting salutations and memorializing the remarkable signs which surrounded his noble birth and the visions which preceded his mission. Then I saw lights which flashed once and I cannot say whether I perceived this with my physical sense of sight or with my spiritual insight, and God knows better which of them was. I reflected upon these lights and I found that they came from angels who are in charge of such apparitions and gatherings, and I saw that the lights of the angels are mixed with the lights of Mercy.”
A further report that concerns Shah Wali Allah (r.a) and the commemoration of the Mawlid is “As was my old custom on the 12th of Rabi al-awwal, I read the Koran and had food distributed.” He then reports on the blessings of such actions, which issue from the angels and the spirit of the Prophet (saws).
In the second volume of the author’s most famous work ,Hujjat Allah al-baligha ( The Conclusive Proof from God ), under the topic of Spiritual Practices ( ihsan ), specifically the form of remembrance ( dhikr ) of sending blessings on the Prophet ( saws ), he discusses several well known hadith on this theme:
The Prophet (saws) said.” Whoever sends one salutation to me, I salute him in return ten times” and “The closest person to me on the Day of Resurrection will be the one who has sent the most salutations to me.”
Source: Remembrance. Proceedings of the First Annual International Milad an-Nabi Conference,Chicago,1994. Edited by Professor Alan Abdal Haqq Godlas.Published by Naqshbandiya foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE)