16. The science of Sufism.454
This science belongs to the sciences of the religious law that originated in Islam. Sufism is based on (the assumption) that the method of those people (who later on came to be called Sufis) had always been considered by the important early Muslims, the men around Muhammad and the men of the second generation, as well as those who came after them, as the path of truth and right guidance. The (Sufi) approach is based upon constant application to divine worship, complete devotion to God, aversion to the false splendor of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, property, and position to which the great mass aspires, and retirement from the world into solitude for divine worship. These things were general among the men around Muhammad and the early Muslims.
Then, worldly aspirations increased in the second [eighth] century and after. People now inclined toward worldly affairs. At that time, the special name of Sufis (Sufiyah and Mutasawwifah) was given to those who aspired to divine worship. Al-Qushayri says: "No etymology or analogy can be found for this term in the Arabic language. It is obvious that it is a nickname. Theories deriving the word from as-safa' (purity, sincerity), or from as-suffah (bench), or from as-saff (row) 455 are improbable from the point of view of linguistic analogy." (Al-Qushayri) continued: "The same applies to the derivation from as-suf (wool), because the Sufis were not the only ones who wore Wool." 456
I say: The most obvious etymology, if one uses one, is that which connects the word with as-suf, because Sufis as a rule were characterized by the fact that they wore woolen garments. They were opposed to people wearing gorgeous garments, and, therefore, chose to wear wool.
The Sufis came to represent asceticism, retirement from the world, and devotion to divine worship. Then, they developed a particular kind of perception which comes about through ecstatic experience.457 This comes about as follows. Man, as man, is distinguished from all the other animals by his ability to perceive. His perception is of two kinds. He can perceive sciences and matters of knowledge, and these may be certain, hypothetical, doubtful, or imaginary. Also, he can perceive "states" persisting in himself, such as joy and grief, anxiety and relaxation, satisfaction, anger, patience, gratefulness, and similar things. The reasoning part 458 active in the body originates from perceptions, volitions, and states. It is through them that man is distinguished (from the other animals), as we have stated. 459 They originate from each other. Thus, knowledge originates from evidence, grief and joy from the perception of what is painful or pleasurable, energy from rest, and inertia from being tired. In the same way, the exertion and worship of the Sufi novice must lead to a "state" that is the result of his exertion. That state may be a kind of divine worship. Then, it will be firmly rooted in the Sufi novice and become a "station" for him. Or, it may not be divine worship, but merely an attribute affecting the soul, such as joy or gladness,460 energy or inertia, or something else.
The "stations" (form an ascending order). The Sufi novice continues to progress from station to station, until he reaches the (recognition of the) oneness of God (tawhid) and the gnosis (ma'rifah) which is the desired goal of happiness. Muhammad says: "Whoever dies confessing that there is no God but God, enters Paradise." 461
Thus, the novice must progress by such stages. The basis of all of them is obedience and sincerity. Faith precedes and accompanies all of them. Their result and fruit are states and attributes. They lead to others, and again others, up to the station of the (recognition of the) oneness of God and of gnosis ('irfan). If the result 462 shows some shortcoming or defect, one can be sure that it comes from some shortcoming that existed in the previous stage. The same applies to the ideas of the soul and the inspirations of the heart.
The novice, therefore, must scrutinize (muhasabah) himself in all his actions and study their concealed import, because the results, of necessity, originate from actions, and shortcomings in the results, thus, originate from defects in the actions. The Sufi novice finds out about that through his mystical experience 463 and he scrutinizes himself as to its reasons.
Very few people share the (self-scrutiny) of the Sufis, for negligence in this respect is almost universal. Pious people who do not get that far perform, at best, acts of obedience 464 freed from the juridical study of how to be satisfactory 465 and conforming (in the execution of the acts of divine worship). The (Sufis), however, investigate the results of (acts of obedience) with the help of mystical and ecstatic experience, in order to learn whether they are free from deficiency or not. Thus, it is evident that the Sufis' path in its entirety depends upon self-scrutiny with regard to what they do or do not do, and upon discussion of the various kinds of mystical and ecstatic experience that result from their exertions. This, then, crystallizes for the Sufi novice in a "station." From that station, he can progress to another, higher one.
Furthermore, the Sufis have their peculiar form of behavior and a (peculiar) linguistic terminology which they use in instruction.466 Linguistic data apply only to commonly accepted ideas. When there occur ideas not commonly accepted, technical terms facilitating the understanding of those ideas are coined to express them.
Thus, the Sufis had their special discipline, which is not discussed by other representatives of the religious law. As a consequence, the science of the religious law came to consist of two kinds. One is the special field of jurists and muftis. It is concerned with the general laws governing the acts of divine worship, customary actions, and mutual dealings. The other is the special field of the "people" (Sufis). It is concerned with pious exertion, self-scrutiny with regard to it, discussion of the different kinds of mystical and ecstatic experience occurring in the course of (self-scrutiny), the mode of ascent from one mystical experience to another, and the interpretation of the technical terminology of mysticism in use among them.
When the sciences were written down systematically and when the jurists wrote works on jurisprudence and the principles of jurisprudence, on speculative theology, Qur'an interpretation, and other subjects, the Sufis, too, wrote on their subject. Some Sufis wrote on the laws governing asceticism and self-scrutiny, how to act and not act in imitation of model (saints). That was done by al-Muhasibi, in his Kitab ar-Ri'ayah.467 Other (Sufi authors) wrote on the behavior of (Sufis) and their different kinds of mystical and ecstatic experience in the "states." Al-Qushayri in his Kitab ar-Risalah, and as-Suhrawardi 468 in the Kitab `Awarif al-ma`arif, as well as others, did this.
Al-Ghazzali combined the two matters in the Kitab alIhya'. In it, he dealt systematically with the laws governing asceticism and the imitation of models. Then, he explained the behavior and customs of the people (Sufis) and commented on their technical vocabulary.
Thus, the science of Sufism became a systematically treated discipline in Islam. Before that, mysticism had merely consisted of divine worship, and its laws had existed in the breasts of men. The same had been the case with all other disciplines, such as Qur'an interpretation, the science of tradition, jurisprudence, the principles of jurisprudence, and other disciplines. (They were only later on) treated systematically.
Mystical 469 exertion, retirement, 470 and dhikr exercises 471 are as a rule followed by the removal of the veil (kashf) of sensual perception. The Sufi beholds divine worlds which a person subject to the senses cannot perceive at all. The spirit belongs to those worlds. The reason for the removal of (the veil) is the following. When the spirit turns from external sense perception to inner (perception), the senses weaken, and the spirit grows strong. It gains predominance and a new growth. The dhikr exercise helps to bring that about. It is like food to make the spirit grow. The spirit continues to grow and to increase. It had been knowledge. Now, it becomes vision. The veil of sensual perception is removed, and the soul realizes its essential existence. This is identical with perception. (The spirit) now is ready for the holy gifts, for the sciences of the divine presence, and for the outpourings of the Deity. Its essence realizes its own true character and draws close to the highest sphere, the sphere of the angels. The removal of (the veil) often happens to people who exert themselves (in mystical exercise). They perceive the realities of existence as no one else (does).
They also perceive many (future) happenings in advance. With the help of their minds and psychic powers they are active among the lower existentia, which thus become obedient to their will. The great Sufis do not think much of the removal (of the veil) and of activity (among the low existentia). They give no information about the reality of anything they have not been ordered to discuss. They consider it a tribulation, when things of that sort happen to them, and try to escape them whenever they afflict them.472
The men around Muhammad practiced that kind of (mystical) exertion. They had a very abundant share in the acts of divine grace, but they did not bother with them. (The description of) the virtues of Abu Bakr, Umar, 473 and Ali contain much (information) to this effect. They were followed in this respect by the Sufis who are mentioned in the Risalah of al-Qushayri, 474 and their later successors.
Recent mystics, then, have turned their attention to the removal of the veil and the discussion of perceptions beyond (sensual perception). Their ways of mystical exercise in this respect differ. They have taught different methods of mortifying the powers of sensual perception and nourishing the reasoning spirit with dhikr exercises, so that the soul might fully grow and attain its own essential perception. When this happens, they believe that the whole of existence is encompassed by the perceptions of the soul, that the essences of existence are revealed to them, and that they perceive the reality of all the essences from the (divine) throne to light rain. 475 This was said by al-Ghazzali in the Kitab al-Ihya', after he had mentioned the forms of mystical exercise.
The 476 (Sufis) do not consider removal (of the veil) sound, unless it originates in straightforwardness.477 People who do not eat and who retire (from the world), such as sorcerers, Christians, and other ascetics, may obtain removal (of the veil) without the existence of straightforwardness. However, we mean only that removal (of the veil) which originates in straightforwardness. It may be compared with (the reflections of) a mirror. If it is convex or concave, the object reflected by it appears in a distorted form different from the actual form of the object, but if the mirror is flat, the object appears in its correct form. As far as the "states" impressed upon the soul are concerned, straightforwardness means to the soul what flatness means in a mirror.
The recent (Sufis) who have occupied themselves with this kind of removal (of the veil) talk about the real character of the higher and lower existentia and about the real character of the (divine) kingdom, the spirit, the (divine) throne, the (divine) seat, and similar things. Those who did not share their approach were not able to understand their mystical and ecstatic experiences in this respect. The muftis partly disapprove of these Sufis and partly accept them. Arguments and proofs are of no use in deciding whether the Sufi approach should be rejected or accepted, since it belongs to intuitive 478 experience.
Some 479 details in explanation:
Hadith scholars and jurists who discuss the articles of faith often mention that God is separate from His creatures. The speculative theologians say that He is neither separate nor connected. The philosophers say that He is neither in the world nor outside it. The recent Sufis say that He is one with the creatures, in the sense that He is incarnate in them, or in the sense that He is identical with them and there exists nothing but Himself either (in the) whole or (in) any part (of it).
Let us explain in detail these dogmatic opinions and the real meaning of each of them, so that their significance will be clarified. We say:
Separateness has two meanings. It may mean "separateness in space and direction." 479a The opposite, then, would be connectedness. In this sense, the statement of (separation) 480 implies (that God is in some) place, either directly - which would be direct anthropomorphism (tajsim) or in directly - which would be indirect anthropomorphism (tashbih) 481 in the way in which one speaks about (God's having) direction. It has been reported that an early Muslim scholar similarly professed the separateness of God, but a different interpretation is possible.
The speculative theologians, therefore, did not acknowledge this (kind of) separateness. They said: It cannot be said that the Creator is separate from His creatures, and it cannot be said that He is connected with them, because such a statement can be made only about things in space. The statement that a particular thing 482 can be described as devoid of one concept and at the same time of the opposite of that concept depends upon whether the description is sound in the first place (or not). If it is impossible, (the statement is) not (correct). It is, in fact, permissible to describe (a certain thing) as devoid of one concept and at the same time of the opposite of that concept. Thus, a solid substance may be described as not wise and not ignorant, not powerful and not weak, not causing harm [?] and not being harmed. 483 Now, the correctness of describing God as separate in the way mentioned is predicated upon the possibility of ascribing direction to Him in the proper meaning of the word, but this cannot be done with the Creator, who is free from (such a description).
This was mentioned by Ibn at-Tilimsani 484 in his commentary on the Luma' of the Imam al-Haramayn. He said: The Creator can neither be said to be separate from the world, nor to be connected with it. He is not in it and not outside it. That is what is meant by the philosophers when they say that He is neither in the world nor outside it. They base themselves (on the assumption) that there exist substances (atoms) that exist not in space. The speculative theologians did not acknowledge their (existence), because they would have to be considered equal to the Creator in the most specific qualities. That is fully dealt with in the science of speculative theology.
The other meaning of separateness is "being distinct and different." The Creator is called separate from His creatures in His essence, identity, existence, and attributes. The opposite is being one, mingled, and merged (with something else).
(God's) separateness in this sense is assumed in the dogmas of all orthodox people, such as the great mass of early Muslims, the religious scholars, the speculative theologians, and the ancient Sufis, such as the men mentioned in (alQushayri's) Risalah, and those who follow them.
A number of recent Sufis who consider intuitive 485 perceptions to be scientific and logical, hold the opinion that the Creator is one with His creatures in His identity, His existence, and His attributes. They often assume that this was the opinion of the philosophers before Aristotle, such as Plato and Socrates.
That is what the speculative theologians mean when they speak about the (oneness of God with His creatures) in theology and try to refute it. They do not 486 mean that there could be a question of two essences, one of which must be negated or comprised (in the other) as a part (in the whole). That would be clear distinctness, and they do not maintain that to be the case.
The oneness (assumed by the Sufis) is identical with the incarnation the Christians claim for the Messiah. It is even stranger, in that it is the incarnation of something primeval in something created and the oneness of the former with the latter.
(The oneness assumed by the Sufis) is also identical with the stated opinion of the Imamiyah Shi'ah concerning their imams 487 In their discussion, the (Shi'ah) 488 consider two ways in which the oneness (of the Deity with the imams) is achieved. (1) The essence of the primeval (Deity) is hidden in all created things, both sensibilia and intelligibilia, and is one with them in both kinds of perception. All of them are manifestations of it, and it has control over them-that is, it controls their existence in the sense that, without it, they would not exist. Such is the opinion of the people who believe in incarnation.
(2) There is the approach of those who believe in absolute oneness. It seems as if in the exposition of the people who believe in incarnation, they have sensed the existence of a differentness contradicting the concept of oneness. Therefore, they disavowed the (existence of differentness) between the primeval (Deity) and the creatures in essence, existence, and attributes. In (order to explain) the differentness of the manifestations perceived by the senses and the intellect, they used the specious argument that those things were human perceptions that are imaginary. By imaginary, they do not mean imaginary as part of the sequence: known, hypothetical, doubtful, but they mean that all those things do not exist in reality and exist only in human perception. Only the primeval (Deity) has real existence (and nothing else) either outwardly or inwardly. Later on, we shall, as far as possible, 489 establish this.
In order to understand this intellectually, it is useless to rely upon speculation and argumentation, as is done in connection with human perceptions. This (sort of insight corresponds to) angelic perceptions and is transferred from them (to human beings). Prophets have it through natural disposition. After them, saints have it through divine guidance. But one errs if one wants to obtain it by scientific methods.
Authors have occasionally tried to explain the (Sufi) opinions concerning the revelation (kashf) of existence and the order of the realities of existence according to the approach of the people who (have the theory of) "manifestations" (mazahir).490 As compared to people who cultivate speculation, technical terminology, and the sciences, (it must be said that) they have always added obscurity to obscurity.
An example is al-Farghani,491 the commentator on Ibn al-Farid's Poem 492 He wrote a preface at the beginning of his commentary. In connection with the origin of the world of existence from the Maker and its order, he mentions that all existence comes forth from the attribute of uniqueness (wahadniyah) which is the manifestation of unity (ahadiyah)493 Both of them together issue from the noble essence that is identical with oneness and nothing else. This process is called "revelation" (tajalli). The first degree of revelation (tajalli), in (Sufi) opinion, is the revelation, as such 494 of the essence. This implies perfection, because it emanates creation and appearance, according to (God's) statement in the prophetic tradition transmitted by (the Sufis): "I was a concealed treasure. I wanted to be known. Therefore, I created the creatures, so that they might know Me." 495 This is perfection in creation descending to the level of existence and particularization of the realities. It is, in (Sufi) opinion, the world of ideas, the nubilous ('amd'iyah) presence, 496 and Muhammadan reality. It contains the realities of the attributes, the writing tablet and the pen, the realities of all the prophets and messengers, and the whole of the people of the Muhammadan nation. All this is the particularization of the Muhammadan reality. From these realities, other realities issue in the atomic (haba'iyah) presence,497 which is the level of the ideas (mithal). From there, then, issue in succession the (divine) throne, the (divine) seat, the spheres, the world of the elements, and the world of composition. All this is (originally) in the world of mending (ratq), but when these things manifest themselves, they are in the world of rending (fatq). End of the quotation.
This school is called that of the people of revelation, manifestations, and presences. It is a theory that people cultivating (logical) speculation cannot properly grasp, because it is obscure and cryptic. There also is a great gap between the theories of people who have vision and intuitive experience and those of people who cultivate logical reasoning.498 (Sufi) systems (like the one mentioned) are often disapproved of on the strength of the plain wording of the religious law, for no indication of them can be found in it anywhere.
Other (Sufis) turned to affirming absolute oneness. This is a theory (even) stranger than the first one to understand in its implications and details. They believe the components of everything in existence to possess powers that bring the realities, forms, and matters of the existing things into being. The elements come into being through the powers that are in them. The same is the case with matter, which has in itself a power that has brought about its existence. Composite things contain such powers implicit in the power that brought about (their) composition. For instance, the mineral power contains the powers of the elements of matter and, in addition, the mineral power. The animal power contains the mineral power and, in addition, its own power. The same is the case with the human power as compared to animal power. The firmament contains the human power and something in addition. The same applies to the spiritual essences.
Now, the power combining everything without any particularization is the divine power. It is the power distributed over all existing things, whether they are universals or particulars, combining and comprising them in every aspect, with regard to appearance and hiddenness and with regard to form and matter. Everything is one. (Oneness) is identical with the divine essence. In reality, (the divine essence) is one and simple. The thing that divides it is the way (we) look at it. For instance, as to the relationship of humanity to animality, it is clear that the former is included under the latter and comes into being when it comes into being. At times, (the Sufis) represent the relationship as that of genus to species, (which exists) in every existing thing, as we have mentioned.499 Or, they represent it as that of the universal to the particular, according to the theory of ideas (mithal). At any rate, they always try to get away from any thought of composition or manifoldness. They think that (manifoldness) is brought about by fancy and imagination.
It appears from the discussion of Ibn Dihaq,500 who explains this (Sufi) theory, that what the (Sufis) say about oneness is actually similar to what the philosophers say about colors, namely, that their existence is predicated upon light. When there is no light, no colors whatever exist. Thus, the (Sufis) think that all existing sensibilia are predicated upon the existence of some (faculty of) sensual perception 501 and, in fact, that all existing intelligibilia and objects of imagination are predicated upon the existence of some (faculty of) intellectual perception. Thus, every particular in existence is predicated upon (the existence of) 502 the human (faculty) that perceives it. If we assumed that no human being with perception exists, there would be no particularization in existence. Existence would be simple and one.
Thus, heat and cold, solidity and softness, and, indeed, earth, water, fire, heaven, and the stars, exist only because the senses perceiving them exist, because particularization that does not exist in existence is made possible for the (person) who perceives. It exists only in perception. If there were no perceptions to create distinctions, there would be no particularization, but just one single perception, namely, the "I" and nothing else. They consider this comparable to the condition of a sleeper. When he sleeps and has no external sense perception, he loses in that condition all (perception of) sensibilia, with the exception of the things that the imagination particularizes for him. They continued by saying that a person who is awake likewise experiences particularized perceptions only through the type of human perception (that exists) in him. If he had not that something in him that perceives, there would be no particularization. This is what the (Sufis) mean when they say "imaginary." They do not mean "imaginary" as a part (in the sequence) of human perceptions. 503
This is a short exposition of (Sufi) opinion, as gathered from the discussion of Ibn Dihaq. It is most erroneous. We know for certain that a country which we have quitted on our travels or to which we are traveling, exists, despite the fact that we do not see it any more. We also have definite knowledge of the existence of heaven that overlooks 504 (everything), and of the stars, and of all the other things that are remote from us. Man knows these things for certain. No one would deny to himself (the existence of) certain knowledge. In addition, competent recent Sufis say that during the removal (of the veil), the Sufi novice often has a feeling of the oneness (of existence). Sufis call that the station of "combination" (jam').505 But then, he progresses to distinguishing between existent things. That is considered by the Sufis the station of "differentiation" (farq). That is the station of the competent gnostic. The (Sufis) believe that the novice cannot avoid the ravine of "combination," and this ravine causes difficulties for him because there is danger that he might be arrested at it and his enterprise thus come to nought.506
The different kinds of mystics have thus been explained.
The recent Sufis who speak of the removal (of the veil) and supersensory perception have delved deeply into these (subjects). Many of them turned to (the theory of) incarnation and oneness, as we have indicated. They have filled many pages with (their exposition of) it. That was done, for instance, by al-Harawi,507 in the Kitab al-Maqamat, and by others. They were followed by Ibn al-'Arabi and Ibn Sab'in 508 and their pupils, and then by Ibn al-'Afif ('Afif-ad-din),509 Ibn al-Farid, and Najm-ad-din al-Isra'ili,510 in the poems they composed.
The early (Sufis) had had contact with the Neo-Ismailiyah Shi'ah extremists who also believed in incarnation and the divinity of the imams, a theory not known to the early (Isma'iliyah). Each group came to be imbued with the dogmas of the other. Their theories and beliefs merged and were assimilated. In Sufi discussion, there appeared the theory of the "pole" (qutb), meaning the chief gnostic. The Sufis assumed that no one can reach his station in gnosis, until God takes him unto Himself and then gives his station to another gnostic who will be his heir. Avicenna referred to this in the sections on Sufism in the Kitab al-Isharat. He said: "The majestic Truth is too exalted to be available equally to all who seek it,511 or to be seen save by one person at a time." 512
The theory of (successive "poles") is not confirmed by logical arguments or evidence from the religious law. It is a sort of rhetorical figure of speech. It is identical with the theory of the extremist Shi'ah about the succession 513 of the imams through inheritance. Clearly, mysticism has plagiarized this idea from the extremist Shi'ah and come to believe in it.
The (Sufis), furthermore, speak about the order of existence of the "saints" who come after the "pole," exactly as the Shi'ah speak about their "chiefs." 514 They go so far (in the identification of their own concepts with those of the Shi'ah) that when they construed a chain of transmitters for the wearing of the Sufi cloak (khirqah) as a basic requirement of the mystic way and practice, they made it go back to 'Ali.515 This points in the same direction and can only (be explained as Shi'ah influence). Among the men around Muhammad, 'Ali was not distinguished by any particular practice or way of dressing or by any special condition. Abu Bakr and 'Umar were the most ascetic and pious people after the Messenger of God. Yet, none of these men was distinguished by the possession of any particular religious practice exclusively peculiar to him. In fact, all the men around Muhammad were models of religion, austerity, asceticism,516 and (pious) exertion. This is attested by their way of life and history. Indeed, with the help of these stories, the Shi'ah try to suggest that 'All is distinguished from the other men around Muhammad by being in possession of particular virtues, in conformity with well-known Shi'ah beliefs.
It 517 is obvious that the Sufis in the 'Iraq derived their comparison between the manifest and the inner (world) from the Isma'iliyah Shi'ah and their well-known theory concerning the imamate and connected matters, at the time when the Isma'iliyah Shi'ah made its appearance. The (Isma'iliyah Shi'ah) considered the leadership of mankind and its guidance toward the religious law a duty of the imam. Therefore, they assumed that there could be no more than one imam if the possibility of a split were to be avoided, as is established in the religious law. (Correspondingly, the Sufis) then regarded as a duty of the "pole," who is the chief gnostic, the instruction (of mankind) in the gnosis of God. Therefore, they assumed that there could be only one, on analogy from the imam in the manifest (world), and that he was the counterpart of the imam.518 They called him "pole," because the gnosis revolves around him, and they equated the "saints" with the 'Alid "chiefs," in their exaggerated desire to identify (their concepts with those of the Shi'ah).
An instance of what I have just been saying is the lengthy discussion of the Fatimid in Sufi works.519 The early Sufis made neither negative nor affirmative statements on the Fatimid. The lengthy discussion of (recent) Sufis was derived from the discussion (of the subject) and the dogmas (concerning it) expressed by the extremist Shi'ah in their works.
"God guides to the truth." 520
I 521 consider it appropriate to quote here a remark made by our shaykh, the gnostic and chief saint in Spain, Abu Mahdi 'Isa b. az-Zayyat.522 He repeated it very often. It concerns some verses from the Kitab al-Maqamat of al-Harawi which suggest, and almost profess openly, the theory of absolute oneness. These are the verses: 523
The oneness of the Unique One has never been declared (properly) by anyone,
Since anyone who declares His oneness is one who denies (His true oneness).
Declaration of the divine oneness by a person who speaks about His attributes,
Is dualism,524 which the Unique One has nullified.
His (Own) declaration of His (Own) oneness is the (true) declaration of His oneness.
And to describe Him with attributes is deviation. 525
Abu Mahdi says in defense of al-Harawi: People have found it difficult to (explain how one could) use the expression "one who denies" for those who "declare the oneness of the Unique One," and the expression "deviation, heresy," for those who describe Him with attributes. They have disapproved of the verses quoted. They have attacked the author and contemned him. But we say that, according to the view of that group (of Sufis to whom al-Harawi belongs), declaration of the divine oneness means the negation of the very essence of createdness through affirmation of the very essence of primevalness. The whole existence is one reality and one being (anniyah). The great mystic, Abu Sa'id al-Kharraz, 526 thus said, "The Truth is the very essence of that which is manifest, and the very essence of that which is inwardly hidden."
The (Sufis) are of the opinion that the occurrence of any numerical plurality in that (divine) reality and 527 the existence of duality are imaginary and, compared with sensual data, are on the level of shadow pictures, or the pictures 528 in mirrors. Everything, except the very essence of primevalness, if one follows it up, turns out to be non-existent. This, they think, is the meaning (of the statement), "God was, and nothing (was) with Him. He is now in the same state in which He was." 529 This, too, is what is meant by the verse of Labid, which the Messenger of God considered to be true:
Indeed, everything but God is vanity.530
(This is what) the (Sufis) say. Consequently, a person who "declares the divine oneness and describes God with attributes" speaks about: (1) a created being who declares the divine oneness -that is, he himself; (2) a created declaration of the divine oneness-that is, his action (of declaring the divine oneness); and (s) a primeval being who is declared to be one-that is, his worshiped Master. Now, it has been mentioned before that declaration of divine oneness is negation of the very essence of createdness, but now, the very essence of createdness is (here) definitely stated (in connection with the declaration of divine oneness) and, in fact, in more than one (way). Thus, the divine oneness is actually denied, and the claim (to have declared the divine oneness) is false. It is the same as if someone were to say to someone else who is with him in a house, "There is nobody in the house except you." Whereupon the other person would reply at once, "This could be correct only if you were non-existent." And a competent (scholar) remarked in connection with the statement, "God created time," that these words contain a basic contradiction, because the creation of time precedes time, yet is an action that must take place in time.
These things are caused by the difficulty of expressing the realities and the inability of language to convey the truth with regard to them and give them their due. If it is certain that he who declares (the divine) oneness is identical with Him whose oneness is declared,531 and that anything else is altogether non-existent, then the (declaration of) divine oneness is truly a sound one. This is what is meant by the (Sufi) statement, "Only God knows God." 532
There is no objection to a person's declaring the oneness of the Truth, while retaining the outlines and traces (of worldliness). This belongs to the chapter (dealing with the fact) that the good actions of pious people may be the bad actions of persons who are close to the Divine. It results from the lack of freedom, servitude, and doubleness 533 (of the human condition). For those who have ascended to the station of "combination," it constitutes a defect. They are conscious of their rank and know that (their imperfection) is a deception resulting from (human) servitude, that vision can eliminate it, and that the very essence of "combination" can cleanse them from the uncleanliness of their createdness. The type (of persons) most firmly rooted in this assumption is that of those who hold the theory of absolute oneness and who say that gnosis, however interpreted, revolves around reaching the Unique One.
The poet uttered the remark (quoted) as an incitement and exhortation, referring to a higher station in which doubleness is eliminated and absolute oneness in (its) essence, not merely as a figure of speech or (some kind of) expression, is attained. Those who are safe and sound 534 can rest. Those who have trouble with the reality of (oneness 535 ought to become) familiar with (God's) statement, "I am his 536 hearing and vision." 537 If the concepts are known, there can be no quarrels about the words. All this teaches realization of the fact that there is something above this level, something about which one cannot speak and about which there is no information.
This much of a hint is sufficient. Going deeply into matters like this (lowers) the veil. That is the gist of the wellknown (Sufi) statements.
Here ends the quotation from shaykh Abu Mahdi b. azZayyat. I quoted it from the book on love by the wazir Ibn al-Khatib,538 entitled at-Ta'r f bi-l-hubb ash-sharif ("Information on the Noble Love [of God]"). I heard it from our shaykh Abu Mahdi himself several times. However, I think that the written form (in Ibn al-Khatib's work) preserves it better (than my memory), because it has been a long time (since I heard Abu Mahdi tell it).
God gives success.
Many jurists and muftis have undertaken to refute these and similar statements by recent Sufis. They summarily disapproved of everything they came across in the (Sufi) path. The truth is that discussion with the (Sufis) requires making a distinction. (The Sufis) discuss four topics. (1) Firstly, they discuss pious exertions, the resulting mystical and ecstatic experiences, and - self-scrutiny concerning (one's) actions.
(They discuss these things) in order to obtain mystical experiences, which then become a station from which one progresses to the next higher one, as we have stated.539 (2) Secondly, they discuss the removal (of the veil) and the perceivable supernatural realities, such as the divine attributes, the (divine) throne, the (divine) seat, the angels, revelation, prophecy, the spirit, and the realities of everything in existence, be it supernatural or visible; furthermore, they discuss the order of created things, how they issue from the Creator Who brings them into being, as mentioned before. 540 (3) The third topic is concerned with activities in the various worlds and among the various created things connected with different kinds of acts of divine grace. (4) The fourth topic (finally) is concerned with expressions that are suspect (if understood) in their plain meaning. Such (expressions) have been uttered by most Sufi leaders. In Sufi technical terminology, they are called "ecstatic utterances" (shatahat).541 Their plain meaning is difficult to understand.
They may be something that must be disapproved of, or something that can be approved, or something that requires interpretation.
As for their discussion of pious exertions and stations, of the mystical and ecstatic experiences that result, and of self-scrutiny with regard to (possible) shortcomings in the things that cause these (experiences), this is something that nobody ought to reject. These mystical experiences of (the Sufis) are sound ones. Their realization is the very essence of happiness.542
As for their discussion of the acts of divine grace experienced by Sufis, the information they give about supernatural things, and their activity among the created things, these (also) are sound and cannot be. disapproved of, even though some religious scholars tend to disapprove. That is not right. Professor Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini, a leading Ash'arite, argued that these things should be disapproved of, since they might be confused with the (prophetical) miracles. However, competent orthodox scholars have made a distinction between (miracles and acts of divine grace) by referring to "the (advance) challenge" (tahaddi),543 that is, the claim (made by a prophet in advance) that the miracle would occur in agreement with the prophetic revelation. It is not possible, they said, that a miracle could happen in agreement with the claim of a liar. Logic requires that a miracle indicate truthfulness. By definition, a (miracle is something that) can be verified. If it were performed by a liar, it (could not be verified, and thus) would have changed its character, which is absurd. In addition, the world of existence attests the occurrence of many such acts of divine grace. Disapproval of them would be a kind of negative approach. Many such acts of divine grace were experienced by the men around Muhammad and the great early Muslims. This is a well-known and famous (fact).
Most of the (Sufi) discussion of the removal (of the veil), of the reception of the realities of the higher things, and of the order in which the created things issue, falls, in a way, under the category of ambiguous statements.544 It is based upon the intuitive experience of (Sufis), and those who lack such intuitive experience cannot have the mystical experience that the (Sufis receive from) it. No language can express the things that (Sufis) want to say in this connection, because languages have been invented only for (the expression of) commonly accepted concepts, most of which apply to the sensibilia.545 Therefore, we must not bother with the (Sufi) discussion of those matters. We ought merely to leave it alone, just as we leave alone the ambiguous statements (of the Qur'an and the Sunnah). 546 Those to whom God grants some understanding of those (mystical) utterances in a way that agrees with the plain meaning of the religious law do, indeed, enjoy happiness.
(Finally,) there are the suspect expressions which the Sufis call "ecstatic utterances" (shatahat) and which provoke the censure of orthodox Muslims. As to them, it should be known that the attitude that would be fair to the (Sufis) is (to observe) that they are people who are removed from sense perception. Inspiration grips them. Eventually, they say things about their inspiration that they do not intend to say. A person who is removed (from sense perception) cannot be spoken to. He who is forced (to act) is excused (when he acts, no matter what he does). (Sufis) who are known for their excellence and exemplary character are considered to act in good faith in this and similar respects. It is difficult to express ecstatic experiences, because there are no conventional ways of expressing them. This was the experience of Abu Yazid al-Bistami 547 and others like him. However, (Sufis) whose excellence is not known and famous deserve censure for utterances of this kind, since the (data) that might cause us to interpret their statements (so as to remove any suspicion attached to them) are not clear to us. (Furthermore, any Sufis) who are not removed from sense perception and are not in the grip of a state when they make utterances of this kind, also deserve censure. Therefore, the jurists and the great Sufis decided that al-Hallaj 548 was to be killed, because he spoke (ecstatically) while not removed (from sense perception) but in control of his state. And God knows better.
The early Sufis who are mentioned in (al-Qushayri's)
those outstanding Muslims to whom we have referred above, had no desire to remove the veil and to have
such. (supernatural) perception. Their concern was to follow
their models and to lead an exemplary life as far as possible.
Whenever they had a (supernatural) experience, they turned
away from it and paid no attention to it. Indeed, they tried to avoid it.550
They were of the opinion that it was an obstacle
and a tribulation and belonged to the (ordinary) perceptions
of the soul, and, as such, was something created. They also
thought that human perception could not comprise all the
existentia and that
the knowledge of God was wider, His
creation greater, and His religious law more certain for
guidance (than any mystical experience).551
did not speak about any of their (supernatural) perceptions.
God gives success.