Sunday, October 30, 2011

When We Seek for a Better Situation

It’s sheer stupidity to seek to introduce in a given time what Allah has not manifested in it.

Only Allah does know what is better for the servant. Since the servant cannot predict what is good and what is bad for him, it is not fair for him to seek for a better situation. He is requested to make better use of whatever situation given to him rather than asking for a better situation. The servant becomes more sincere and honest if he works for the master in whatever situation he was asked to work without asking for a change in the situation of the work. If he believes that he can become more productive and efficient in a different situation, it is tantamount to believing that he knows better than Allah what situation is better for him.

(Ibn 'Athaillah. The Book of Aphorisms. Islamic Book Trust, Kualalumpur, 2010. p.11)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Story of the Visit of the Devil, the Accursed

Mu’adh ibn Jabal relates from Hadrat Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them):

One day, at the home of one of the Companions, a congregation was gathered around the Prophet. In the middle of a wonderful discourse, an ugly voice from the outside was heard. “O people inside, would you permit me to enter? I have business with you!” it said.

Everyone looked at the Prophet. He said to the ones present, “Do you recognize the owner of this voice?”
The Companions answered, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”
The Prophet said, “It is Satan the Accursed.”

On hearing that, Hadrat ‘Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), who was present, drew his sword. “O Messenger of Allah, permit me to go and cut off his head!” he said.

The Prophet replied, “No, ‘Umar, don’t you know that you cannot kill him? He has permission to exist until Doomsday.” Then he added, “Open the door and admit him, as he did not come on his own but on Allah’s orders. Listen to what he says, and try to understand.”

They opened the door, and he appeared in front of us as an old man, cross-eyed [or blind in one eye] and scant of beard, with only six or seven long hairs hanging from his chin. He had a very big head, his crossed eyes close to the top of his head, high on his forehead, with big thick hanging lips like those of a water buffalo. He saluted the Prophet and the Companions, to which the Prophet responded, “O Accursed, the salam and salutations belong to Allah Most High.” Then he said, “I heard you are here on business. What is it?”

Satan said, “I did not wish to come here, I was forced to. An angel came to me from your Lord, who honors whom He wishes, and said, “Allah Most High orders you to go to Muhammad, but you will go to him in humility and abasement, and be submissive and tractable. You will tell him how you seduce and mislead humankind. You are going to answer all his questions truthfully, without a single lie.” And Allah said that if I lied to you He would turn me into ashes and blow me away in the wind, and my enemies would laugh at me. I come with such orders, O Muhammad.”

Then the Prophet asked the Devil, “Tell me, who in the creation do you hate most?”
The Devil answered, “You, O Muhammad! There is no one in the whole creation that I hate more. There is none other like you.”

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, confirmed that the Devil was his own and all the prophet’s greatest foe. He asked, “Whom else do you detest, beside me?”

Satan said, “The young ones who have given up their pleasures and themselves for Allah’s sake; the people of knowledge who act upon their knowledge and who decline all that is doubtful; and the ones who are clean, so clean that they wash three times that which they wish to cleanse. After that the patient poor, who neither ask from others the things they need, nor complain. After that the thankful rich, who guve alms lawfully and spend lawfully.” [Hadrat Anas lists fourteen enemies after the prophets: the knowledgeable who act on what they know; readers of the Qur’an who pattern themselves on it; those who call to prayer for Allah’s sake; the satisfied poor; the compassionate; the generous; those who perform the morning prayer on time; advisors and reformers; abstainers from lawful food and sexual relations; those who are always in ablution; the modest; those who place their trust in Allah; benefiters of the poor; the devout who are busy in Allah’s service.]

Then the Prophet asked: “What happens to you, O Accursed One, when my people perform their prayers?”
“I shake and tremble as if stricken with malaria because I see your people raised in blessing and power each time they prostrate.”

“What happens to you, O Accursed, when my people fast?”
“I have my hands and feet tied until they break their fast.”

“What happens when they all meet on the Pilgrimage at the house of their Lord?”
“I lose my wits, I go mad.”

“What happens to you when they recite the Holy Qur’an?”
“I melt like lead turning to hot liquid in the fire.”

“And when they pay alms?”
“I am torn to pieces, as if the generous donor took a saw and sawed me into four pieces, because there are four blessings that the donor receives – the blessings of abundance, love and respect from Allah’s creatures, a shield from Hellfire, and relief from distress and troubles.”

Then the Messenger of Allah asked the Devil what he thought of his beloved Companions. About Hadrat Abu Bakr he said, “I hate him. Even before Islam he refused to obey, nay, even to hear me. How can he know listen to me? About Hadrat Umar ibn al-Khattab he said, “I run away whenever I see him!” About Hadrat ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan he said, “I am ashamed in front of him. Even the angels of mercy are ashamed in front of him.” And about Hadrat ‘Ali ibn Abi Thalib he said, “Oh, if I could just be safe from him, if he would just let me be, I would let him be. But he will not leave me alone!”

Having heard the answers of the accursed Satan, the Prophet thanked Allah and said, “Praise be to Allah who has blessed my people with such felicity and cursed you with such negativity until that appointed time.”

When the Devil hear that, he said, “Alas, alas for you, what felicity for your people? How can you feel there is safety for them as long as I exist? I enter their very veins, their very flesh, and they cannot even suspect, let alone see or feel me. I swear by Allah who has given me time until Doomsday that I will seduce them all, the intelligent and the simple-minded, the learned as well as the ignorant, the devout as well as the sinner. None will be safe from me except the true servants of Allah.”

The Prophet asked, “Who are the true servants of Allah, according to you?”
The Devil said, “You know well, O Muhammad, that whoever loves his money and his property Allah does not count among His servants. Whenever I see someone who does not say “mine” and “me”, who does not love either money or flattery, I know he is truly a servant of Allah and I run away from him. As long as aperson loves money, property, flattery, he obeys me: he is my servant. I need many servants and I have many servants. I am not alone. I have 70,000 children, each of them with his assigned duties. Each of my 70,000 children has 70,000 satans serving under him, all assigned to different posts. Many are with the young, and the older women, and with the theologians and preachers and shaykhs. There are almost no differences of opinion between your young people and my devils, and your children play happily with my children. And some of the devout and some of the pious get along very well with my people! My devils lead the imagination of the pious from one height to another. Arrogant, they leave the sincerity of their devotions. Soon they fight with each other, and they don’t even know what is happening to them. Then I whisper to them, “Disbelieve!”, but when they disbelieve, I say

I am free of you. Surely I fear Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

(Surah Hashr, 16)

Then the accursed Devil told how he profited from human habits that he liked. About lying he said, “Do you know, O Muhammad, that lying is from me, and that I am the first liar? Whoever lies is my best friend; whoever swears to the truth of his lie is my beloved. You know, O Muhammad, that I swore by Allah and lied to Adam and Eve. I swore to them both.

Surely I am a sincere adviser to you.
(Surah ‘Araf, 21)

“I also love rejection and gossip. They are my delightful fruits. I detest loving families. If they think of rejecting each other, separating from each other, and talk about divorce, even if just once, the marriage bond in Allah’s view is dissolved. The wife will be unlawful to the husband. When they sleep together, they will be adulterers. If they have a child he will be a bastard. I love all that.”

“O Muhammad, let me tell you about my friends who abandon prayers or delay them. When it is time for prayer I make them imagine that there is still time, that they are busy. They should enjoy what they are doing, they can always pray later! I hope they will die before doing their next prayer, and some of them do. Even when they do their prayers late, their devotions are thrown in their faces. If I cannot succeed myself, I send them a human satan who will prevent them from their devotions. If I don’t succeed again. In enter into their prayers. I tell them, “Look to the right, look to the left! Think of the past, plan your future!” And when they do, I caress their cheeks and kiss their foreheads and take the peace from their hearts. You know, O Muhammad, that the prayers of those whose attention is outside of them or who are imagining things that do not belong in the presence of Allah are also rejected and thrown in their faces.”

“And if I am not successful in that, I order them to do their prayers fast; they look like hens picking at grain. If I still don’t succeed, I follow them to the congregational prayers and put bridles on their heads. I pull, and lift their heads from the prostration before the imam, and I push their heads down before the imam touches his head to the ground, and I am overjoyed to remember that Allah will turn those unruly heads into donkey’s heads on the Day of Judgment. If I am still not successful, I try at least to make them crack their fingers while they are making prayers! Then they will be among those who offer me praise instead of Allah. Or at least I will blow into their noses and make them yawn: if they open their mouths, a little devil will enter into them through their mouths and increase their love and ambition for this world. The one who loves and is ambitious fro this world becomes my soldier; he obeys me and does as he is ordered.”

“O Muhammad, how can you hope and be serene about your people’s salvation and felicity? I have a trap at every corner for them. I go to the poor and tell them, “What has Allah done for you? Why do you pray to Him? Prayer is for those to whom He has given in abundance.” Then I go to those who are sick and tell them to stop praying, and remind them that even Allah said

There is no blame on the sick.
(Surah Nur, 61)

I hope that they will die having abandoned their prayers, so that Allah will meet them with anger in the Hereafter.

“O Muhammad, if I have told a single lie, may scorpions bite me, and ask from Allah that He turn me into ashes! O Muhammad, do not be sure of your people. I have already converted a sixth of them, who have left their religion.”

Then the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him asked, “O Accursed One, with whom do you most like to spend your time?”
“The usurer.”
“And your best friend?”
“The adulterer.”
“With whom do you share your bed?”
“The drunkard.”
“Who are your guests?”
“The thieves.”
“Who are your representatives?”
“The magicians and soothsayers.”
“What pleases you most?”
“Whom do you love most?”
“Those who abandon their Friday prayers; tyrants and oppressors; the arrogant; servile scholars who hide the truth for the benefit of tyrants; dishonest tradesmen; dealers in fraud; slanderers; those who stir up trouble among friends.”

Then the Prophet asked, “What breaks your heart, O Accursed One?”
“The determination and the firm footsteps of those who march against the enemies of Allah for Allah’s sake.”
“What gives you pain?”
“The repentance of the penitent.”
“What makes you grimace?”
“The alms given in secret.”
“What makes your eyes blind?”
“The extra prayer in the middle of the night.”
“What makes you bow your head?”
“Prayer done in congregation.”
“O Satan, according to you, who are the happiest among people?”
“The ones who purposefully abandon their prayers.”
“And the best among people?”
“The misers.”
“What prevents you from doing your job?”
“The gathering of people of knowledge and their discourses.”
“How do you eat your food?”
“With my left hand and the tips of my fingers.”
“When the sun is hot, where do you seek shade?”
“Under people’s dirty fingernails.”
“What did you ask from my Lord on the day you were rejected from His presence?”
“I had ten requests that were accorded.”
“What were they, O Accursed One?”
“I asked Allah to make me a partner in the properties and children of the children of Adam. He gave that to me, and He said

And incite whom thou canst with thy voice, and collect against them thy horse and thy foot, and share with them in wealth and children, and promise them. And the Devil promises them only to deceive.

(Surah Bani Isra’il, 64)

“I eat from the meat of animals killed without invoking the name of Allah, and from the food bought with money gained through interest, injustice, and tyranny. I am the shareholder of the property whose owner does not take refuge in Allah from me. I am part father of the child that comes from intercourse performed without invoking the name of Allah. I am the traveling companion of whoever rides in a vehicle that goes to an unlawful destination.”

“I asked Allah to give me a house, and He gave me public baths. I asked Allah to give me a temple, and He gave me the marketplaces as my temple. I asked Allah to give me a book. He gave me the books of poetry as my book. I asked for a call to prayer, and He gave me dance music. I asked for someone to share my bed, and He gave me the drunkard. I asked Allah for helpers. Allah gave me those who believe in free will. I asked Allah to give me brothers and sisters, and Allah gave me the squanderers who spend their money on evil things. Allah said

Surely the squanderers are the Devil’s brethren
(Surah Bani Isra’il, 27)

“Then I asked Allah to be able to see the children of Adam while they are unable to see me, and He accorded that to me. I wished that the very veins of the children of Adam be my routes, and it was given to me. So I flow in their veins as I wish, and I enter their flesh.”

“All these were given to me, and I am proud of what I have received. And let me add, O Muhammad, that there are more with me than there are with you, and until Doomsday there will be more with me than there are with you.”

Then the Prophet said, “If you had not proven what you said with the verses of Allah’s book, it would have been hard for me to confirm what you say.”

The Devil continued, “Do you know, O Muhammad, that I have a son whose name is ‘Atam [the first third of the night]? He pisses in the ear of the people who go to sleep without performing their night prayers. His urine puts them to sleep; otherwise no one could have gone to bed without finishing their prayers. Then I have a son whose name is Mutaqadi [one who presses for payment]. His duty is to publicize tha prayers, the devotions, the good deeds that are done in secret for Allah’s sake, because promises to reward the good deed done secretly a hundredfold. When deeds are publicized and received credit and praise from the creatures of Allah, Allah takes away 99 of the promised 100 rewards. Then I have a son whose name is Kuhayl [kohl]. His duty is to put kohl on the eyes of people who are in the presence of the wise or preachers. The ones whose eyes he has touched start falling asleep. They are thus prevented from hearing the words of Allah or receiving any benefit from them.”

The Devil talked about women. He said, “Whenever a woman leaves her seat, a devil sits in her place. On the lap of every woman sits a satan who makes her desirable to whoever looks at her. Then he orders the woman to open and show her arms, her legs, and her breasts, and with his claws tears her veil of shame and decency.”

The the Devil started to complain. He said, “O Muhammad, in spite of all this I have no strength to take away the faith of the faithful. I only take away their faith when they throw it away. If I were able, there would be no one on the face of this world who could say laa ilaaha illallah, Muhammad rasulullah. I would not leave a single one to pray or fast. All I can do is to give the children of Adam imaginations, illusions, and delusions – make the ugly appear beautiful, the wrong, right and the bad, good. Neither do you have the power to give faith. You are only a proof of the truth, because I know if you were given the power to give true faith you would not leave a single nonbeliever on the face of this world.

“The fortunate one who is a believer is fortunate in his mother’s womb, and the rebellious sinner is a rebel in his mother’s womb. As you are the guide of the fortunate, I am only the cause of sin for the ones who are destined to sin. Allah is He who renders one fortunate and another rebellious.” Then he recited

And if thy Lord had pleased He would have made people a single nation, and they cease not to differ, except those upon whom thy Lord has mercy, and for this did He create them. And the word of thy Lord is fulfilled: I shall fill Hell with jinn and men altogether.
(Surah Hud, 118-119)

And he recited:

And the command of Allah is a decree absolute.

(Surah Ahzab, 38)

The the Mercy upon the Universe told the Devil, “O Father of All Bitterness, I wonder if it is at all possible for you to repent and return to your Lord. I promise I would intercede for you.”

The Accursed One answered, “O Messenger of Allah, it is Allah’s justice. The ink on the pen that wrote the judgment is dry. What will happen will happen until Doomsday. The One who made you the master of all prophets, the speaker of for the inhabitants of Paradise, the One who chose you to be the Beloved among all His creation, chose me to be the master of sinners and the speaker for the inhabitants of Hell. He is Allah, devoid of all lack. O Muhammad, this which I have told you is my last word to you, and I have told nothing but the truth.”


We take refuge in Allah, the Lord of all the worlds visible and invisible, who existed before and will exist after, from the accursed Devil.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Three Pillars of Religion (Ad Diin)

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said: One day when we were with God’s messenger, a man with a very white clothing and very black hair came up to us. No mark of travel was visible on him, and none of us recognized him. Sitting down before the Prophet, leaning his knees against him, and placing his hands on his thighs, he said, “Tell me, Muhammad, about Islam (submission)”

He replied, “Islam means that you should bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is God’s messenger (shahada), that you should perform the ritual prayer (shalat), pay the alms tax (zakat), fast during Ramadan (shaum), and make the pilgrimage to the House (hajj) if you are able to go there.”

The man said, “You have spoken the truth.” We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he had spoken the truth. He said, “Now tell me about iman (faith)”

He replied, “Faith means that you have faith in God, His angels, His books, His messengers, and the Last Day, and that you have faith in the measuring out, both its good and its evil.”

Remarking that he had spoken the truth, he then said, “Now tell me about ihsan.”

He replied, “Ihsan means that you shouls worship God as if you see Him, for even if you do not see Him, He sees you.”

Then the man said, “Tell me about the Hour”
The Prophet replied, “About that he who is questioned knows no more than the questioner.”
The man said, “Then tell me about its marks.”
He said, “The slave girl will give birth to her mistress, and you will see the barefoot, the naked, the destitute, and the shepherds vying with each other in building.”

Then the man went away. After I had waited for a long time, the Prophet said to me, “Do you know who the questioner was, ‘Umar?” I replied, “God and His messenger know best.”
He said, “He was Gabriel. He came to teach you your Ad Diin (religion)”


Try to imagine the situation. The Messenger of God, at the time the greatest human being on the face of the earth (as far as his companions were concerned – and the historical record bears them out), is sitting at the edge of an oasis in Medina with a group of his companions, that is, people who have accepted that he is the mouthpiece of God. Suddenly a man appears whom no one recognizes.

Medina, at the time, is a tiny community in the midst of the desert (with a population of a several hundred or perhaps a few thousand). Everyone knows everyone. If a traveler arrives, it is no small event, given the difficulty of travel and the small population. Everyone learns about new arrivals within hours. The system of personal relationships established by familial, tribal, and other bonds ensures that news is spread around much more efficiently than can ever be accomplished by today’s six o’clock news. A man appears whom no one knows, but no one has arrived in town for several days, except the uncle of so and so, whom several of them have already seen.

Not only do the companions fail to recognize the man, but he also shows no signs of travel, which is very strange. If they do not know him, then he must be a newly arrived traveler. Someone would not be able to freshen up that quickly after several days of travel in the desert, even if he had traveled only by night on the back of a camel.

As soon as the man arrives, everyone is all ears. Who can this person be, and how did he get there without our knowing about it? Next strange fact: The man is obviously on familiar terms with the Prophet of God. He comes right up to him and kneels down in front of him, his knees against the Prophet’s knees. Notice that the Prophet himself is kneeling, not in prayer as modern Westerners might kneel, but simply because kneeling is, for most Orientals, the simplest and at the same time the most respectful way to sit. Remember that, even in houses, chairs were unheard of. People sat on the ground, as they still do in much of the world – and this includes some of the richest and most sophisticated parts of the world, such as Japan. For most of the ancient world, chairs were the prerogative of kings.

You would not go right up to a person and kneel with your knees touching his unless he were, for example, your brother or a very close friend. The normal procedure, even if the person sitting there was just an ordinary person, would be to greet him from a respectful distance and keep the distance. But the stranger from the desert obviously knows Muhammad very well. He even places his hands upon Muhammad’s thighs, which would be an unheard of piece of effrontery if the man were a stranger. Then the man addresses Muhammad by his name, whereas people always address him by his title, Messenger of God. The man begins talking without introduction as if he had been part of the conversation all along.

Once Muhammad answers the man’s first question, the man says, “You have spoken the truth.” Umar remarks, “We were surprised at his questioning him and then declaring that he had spoken the truth.” This is an enormous understatement. More likely, the companions were flabbergasted. What kind of insolence is this? To come up to God’s own messenger and begin to grill him, and then to pat him on the head as if he were a school boy! This is inconceivable. But then again, the companions took their clues from Muhammad. He was acting as if all this were perfectly normal and natural. What could they do but follow his example?

After the man leaves, Muhammad waits awhile, allowing his companions to think about this strange event. Finally, he tells them what had happened. They would not soon forget, and you can be sure that by that night, everyone in Medina had heard about Gabriel’s appearance. No one was supposed to forget about this visit, for the Prophet had just presented them with their religion in a nutshell. If they ever wanted to know what was essential in Islam, all they had to do was remember the strange events of this day.

(Sachiko Murata & William Chittick. The Vision of Islam. I.B. Tauris & Co. London, 1994. P xxvi-xxvii)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Continual Re-Creation

The concept of the continual re-creation of the cosmos became a mainstay of Islamic cosmological thinking. Many authorities interpreted this constant change and transmutation in terms of the interplay of the diverse divine names. Thus, at each instant, the divine mercy and gentleness create all things in the universe. In other words, at each instant God reaffirms His similarity with things and His presence in the cosmos. But God is also incomparable and other. Hence, just as His mercy creates, his wrath destroys. His unique and absolute reality displays “jealousy” (ghayra): it does not allow any “others” (ghayr) to exist alongside it.

At each instant, the divine gentleness brings the world into existence, and at each instant the divine severity destroys it. Every succeeding moment represents a new universe, similar to the preceding universe, but also different. Each new universe represents a new self-disclosure of God. According to the cosmological axiom, “God’s self disclosure never repeats itself,” since God is infinite.

The cosmos is a constantly shifting and changing pattern of relationships among God’s signs, which are the loci of manifestation for His names. The universe is created and maintained through the activity of opposite divine attributes that display the activity of the single Principle. Hence duality can be perceived at every level. However, if we look more closely, we should be able to see the opposing forces not as absolutely opposed, but rather as complementary or polar. Yin and yang are working together everywhere, producing transmutation and constant change.

The Qur’an quotes God as saying, “And of everything We created a pair” (51:49). Or again, “God himself created the pair, male and female” (53:45). All things in the universe are paired with other things. Several of the pairs mentioned in the Qur’an take on special importance as the fundamental principles of creation. These include the Pen (al-qalam) and the Tablet (al-lawh), which are specifically Islamic symbols, and heaven and earth, which find deep parallels in the Chinese tradition and elsewhere.

(Sachiko Murata. The Tao of Islam. State University of New York Press, Albany. 1992 P.11-12)

Shari’a – Tariqa – Haqiqa – Ma’rifa

Mystics in every religious tradition have tended to describe the different steps on the way that leads toward God by the image of the Path. The Christian tripartite division of the “via purgativa”, the “via contemplativa”, and the “via illuminative” is, to some extent, the same as the Islamic definition of “shari’a”, “tariqa”, and “haqiqa”.

The “tariqa”, the ‘path’ on which the mystics walk, has been defined as the path which comes out of the “shari’a”, for the main road is called “shar”, the path “tariq”. This derivation shows that the Sufis considered the path of mystical education a branch of that highway that consists of the God-given law, on which every Muslim is supposed to walk. No path can exist without a main road from which it branches out; no mystical experience can be realized if the binding injunctions of the “shari’a” are not followed faithfully first. The path, “tariqa”, however, is narrower and more difficult to walk and leads the adept- called “salik”, “wayfarer”- in his “suluk”, “wandering”, through different stations (maqam) until he perhaps reaches his goal, the perfect “tauhid”, the existential confession that God is One.

The tripartite way to God is explained by a tradition attributed to the Prophet: “The shari’a are my words [aqwali], the tariqa are my actions [a’mali], and the haqiqa is my interior states [ahwali].”

Shari’a, tariqa, and haqiqa are mutually interdependent:
The law without truth is ostentation, and the truth without the law is hypocrisy. Their mutual relation may be compared to that of body and spirit: when the spirit departs from the body, the living body becomes a corpse, and the spirit vanishes like wind. The Muslim’s profession of faith includes both: the words “There is no god but Allah” are th Truth, and the words “Muhammad is the apostle of God” are the Law. Anyone who denies the Truth is an infidel, and anyone who rejects the Law is a heretic.

“To kiss the threshold of the shari’a” was the first duty of anyone who wanted to enter the mystical path. The poets have often spoken in verses, and the mystics in poignant sentences, of the different aspects of these three levels (sometimes ma’rifa, “gnosis” would be substituted for haqiqa, “truth”). Thus it is said in Turkey:

Shari’a: yours is yours, mine is mine
Tariqa : yours is yours, mine is yours too.
Ma’rifa : there is neither mine nor thine.

(Annemarie Schimmel. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The University of North Carolina Press, 1975. P.98-99)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When God Does Not Seem to Answer Prayer

"Don’t let the delay in getting the gift (answer), despite your persistent appeal, fall in your despair. For, He has offered to reply to (your appeals) in a way He chooses for you rather than what you choose for you and at a time He desires rather than the time you desire."

If you insist on getting instant responses for your prayers, it shows your impatience and your incapability to understand the way, manner and method of His responses. He may be delaying the answer to give it in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time. Since you do not know what is good for you today and what will be good for you tomorrow and even what was good for you in the past, let Him decide on the time and manner of the answer. By showing frustration and impatience over not getting what you aspired, you are really doing an injustice to yourself.

(Ibn 'Ata'illah. The Book of Aphorisms. Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur. 2010. p.4-5)

The Human Being and The Cosmos

The human being and the cosmos are similar in that each was created in the form of God. However, the cosmos manifests the divine names in differentiated mode (tafsil). As a result, each and every divine name displays its properties and effects in the cosmos singly or in various combinations with other names or groups of names. Hence, in its spatial and temporal totality, the cosmos represents an infinitely vast panorama of existential possibilities. In contrast, human beings display the properties and effects of all the names in a relatively undifferentiated mode (ijmal). The properties of all the divine names are drawn together and concentrated within each of them. God created the cosmos in respect of the multiplicity of His names, but He created human beings in respect of the unity of His names, the fact that each and every name refers to a single Reality. Ibn ‘Arabi often expresses these ideas by employing the terms “small world” and “great world” – that is, microcosm and macrocosm. More commonly, he uses the expression “small human being” or “microanthropos” for human being and “great human being” or “macroanthropos” for the universe.

Since human beings are a part of the cosmos, the cosmos is not a complete divine form without them. Nevertheless, microcosm and macrocosm stand at opposite poles. The macrocosm, in its indefinite dispersion, is unconscious and passive. But the microcosm, through its intense concentration of all the divine attibutes, is conscious and active. Human beings know the cosmos and can shape it to their own ends, but the cosmos does not know human beings and cannot shape them except to the extent that it is a passive instrument in the hand of God.

The fact that the microcosm dominates over the macrocosm leads the Shaykh (Ibn ‘Arabi) to write at the beginning of the ‘Fusus al-hikam’ that the human being is the spirit of the cosmos, while the cosmos without the human being is like a proportioned and well-balanced body, ready and waiting for God to blow His spirit into it, but lifeless as long as the human being has not appeared. Similarly, he writes as follows in the ‘Futuhat’:

The whole cosmos is the differentiation of Adam, while Adam is the all-comprehensive book. In relation to the cosmos he is like the spirit in relation to the body. Hence the human being is the spirit of the cosmos, and the cosmos is the body. Through bringing together all of this the cosmos is the “great human being,” so long as the human being is within it. But if you look at the cosmos alone, without the human being, you will find it like a proportioned body without a spirit. The perfection of the cosmos through the human being is like the perfection of the body through the spirit. The human being is “blown into” the body of the cosmos, so he is the goal of the cosmos.(II 67.28)

In the same way, the Shaykh explains that the human being is the non-manifest reality of the cosmos, while the cosmos is the manifest form of the human being: “Distinguish yourself from the cosmos and distinguish the cosmos from yourself. Distinguish the manifest from the nonmanifest and the nonmanifest from the manifest. For within the cosmos, you are the spirit of the cosmos, and the cosmos is your manifest form. The form has no meaning without a spirit. Hence the cosmos has no meaning without you.”(III.363.2)

Because of the organic relationship between human beings and the cosmos, Ibn al-‘Arabi calls perfect human beings the “Pillar” of the cosmos. Without them, the cosmos would collapse and die, which is precisely what will happen at the end of time when the last perfect human being departs from this world. Cosmologically speaking, the corruption and decay of the natural and social environments in modern times is one of the outward signs of the diminishing number of perfect human beings on the face of the earth.

(William C. Chittick. Imaginal worlds: Ibn al-‘Arabi and the problem of religious diversity. State University of New York, Albany. 1994. P. 33-34)

The Originality of Sufism

Sufism is nothing other than Islamic mysticism, which means that it is central and most powerful current of a tidal wave which constitutes the Revelation of Islam.

As to the thousands of men and women in the modern Western world who, while claiming to be ‘Sufis’, maintain that Sufism is independent of any particular religion and that it has always existed, they fail to notice that by robbing it of its particularity and therefore of its originality, the also deprive it of all impetus.

Being totally dependent upon one particular Revelation, Sufism is totally independent of everything else. But while being self-sufficient it can, if time and place concur, pluck flowers from gardens other than its own. The Prophet of Islam said: ‘Seek knowledge even it be in China’.

(Martin Lings. The Originality of Sufism. In: What Is Sufism? University California Press, California. 1975. p. 15-16)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sufism in the West

In contrast to the fields of theology, philosophy, and the sciences, there were no translations of Sufi texts into Latin during the Middle Ages. The knowledge received about Sufism in the West by such men as Dante and, somewhat later, St. John of the Cross came from vernacular languages, oral transmission, and personal contact.

The first work to use the term “Sufism,” as tashawwuf has come to be known in the West, was in fact written in 1821 by a German scholar by the name of August Tholuck, who wrote a study of the subject entitled Sufismus:'sive Theosophia Persarum pantheistica'. The later eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries were also witness to the translations of Sufi texts from both Persia and Arabic into English, German, French, and some other European languages. The works of such translators as Sir William Jones, von Hammer Purgstall, and Rückert began to read in literary and even philosophical circles and attracted major figures such as Goethe and Emerson.

At the beginning of the last century the Swedish painter and esoterist Ivan Aguéli traveled to the Islamic world, was initiated into Sufism, and began to write seriously on the doctrines of Ibn ‘Arabi and other Sufi masters. ‘Abdul Hadi, as Aguéli was known in the Islamic world and later in Europe, must be given his due as a pioneer in the serious introduction of Sufism to the West. It must also be recalled that by the early twentieth century René Guénon had already come into contact with this current and that after 1930, when he migrated to Cairo, he lived openly as a Shadhili faqir.

The traditionalist or perennialist school that Guénon, known in the Islamic world as Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahid Yahya, “inaugurated” was to be of the utmost importance to the West in the presentation of authentic Sufism, in both doctrine and practice, his theoretical works being complemented by the operative teachings and spiritual practices issuing from the Algerian Shaykh Ahmad al-‘Alawi.

In the 1930s the appearance of the colossal figure of Frithjof Schuon (Shaykh ‘Isa Nur al-Din Ahmad) brought about the serious presence of the Shadhiliyya Order in the West. His works were complemented by those of several of his companions such as Titus Burckhardt (Sidi Ibrahim ‘Izz al-Din), and Martin Lings (Shaykh Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din), and many others.

Meanwhile, from the 1920s onward a number of Western academic scholars began to see the Quranic origin of Sufism and wrote serious work on it. This trend began with Louis Massignon, followed by such notable figures as Henry Corbin and Annemarie Schimmel. Today there are a number of academic scholars of Islam, following the example of these illustrious figures, who are making important contributions to the study of Sufism in European languages. Some of them also belong to various Sufi orders. After the Second World War other Sufi orders began to spread to the West and their Western followers, even if not academic scholars, have produced a number of valuable studies of Sufism.

(Seyyed Hossein Nasr. In : Sufism Love and Wisdom. Edited by Jean-Louis Michon and Roger Gaetani. World Wisdom Inc. Canada. 2006)