Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Stations (Maqamat)

Once the mystics had identified three main parts of religious life (shari’a, tariqa, haqiqa), they began to analyze the different stages and stations that the wayfarer has to pass on his way. They distinguished between maqam (station), and hal (state). “State is something that descends from God into a man’s heart, without his being able to repel it when it comes, or to attract it when it goes, by his own effort.” Or, as Rumi puts it more poetically:

The hal is like the unveiling of the beauteous bride,
While the maqam is the [king’s] being alone with the bride.
(M 1:1435)

The maqam is a lasting stage, which man reaches, to a certain extent, by hiw own striving. It belongs to the category of acts, whereas the states are gifts of grace. The maqamat (stations) define the different stages the wayfarer has attained in his ascetic and moral discipline. He is expected to fulfill completely the obligations pertaining to the respective stations, e.g. he must not act in the station of respect as if he were still in the station of repentance; he also must not leave the station in which he dwells before having completed all its requirements. The states that come over him will vary according to the station in which he is presently living: thus the qabd (contraction) of someone in the station of poverty is different from the qabd of someone in the station of longing.

The mystical theoreticians were not certain whether a state could be appropriated and kept for a while or whether it was a passing experience; they also differ in their classification of the stations and in their description of certain experiences that are seen sometimes as stations, sometimes as states. Even the sequence of the stations is not always clear; it varies according to the capacity of the adept, and God’s activity can change stations or grant the wayfarer a state without apparent reason.

Three of the early classifications show the variability of the sequence.
Dhun-Nun speaks of faith, fear, reverence, obedience, hope, love, suffering, and intimacy; he classifies the last three stations as confusion, poverty, and union.
His younger contemporary in Iran, Yahya ibn Mu’adh, gives a spiritual chain closer to the generally accepted form – repentance, asceticism, peace in God’s will, fear, longing, love and gnosis.
And the Iraqian Sahl at-Tustari, again a few years younger, defines the sequence as follows: response to God’s call, turning toward Him, repentance, forgiveness of sins, loneliness, steadfastness, meditation, gnosis, discourse, election, and friendship.

The manuals of Sufism enumerate still other stations; but the main steps are always repentance, trust in God, and poverty, which may lead to contentment, to the different degrees of love, or to gnosis, according to the mental predilection of the wayfarer. In order to enter the spiritual path, the adept – called murid, “he who has made up his will” (to enter the Path) – is in need of a guide to lead him through the different stations and to point the way toward the goal. Ad-din nasiha, “religion consists of giving good advice,” was a Prophetic tradition dear to the mystics, who saw in the constant supervision of the disciple’s way by the mystical guide a conditio sine qua non for true progress, though the image of the sheikh at-tarbiya, who acutely supervised every breath of the murid has developed only in the course of time.

(Annemarie Schimmel. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The University of North Carolina Press, 1975. P.99-101)

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