Mysticism -or Tasawwuf (Sufism), as it is more commonly known Mthroughout the Islamic world -is a wellspring of life for the human soul, for when the spirituality it stirs establishes its throne in the heart with the aid of heavenly directives, all selfishness and materialism fades away; and when this occurs its gifts will come to fruition.
Mysticism stimulates a state of awareness that guides those who practice it along the road to perfection. It provides these spiritual wayfarers with an allembracing ethical outlook that purifies the individual of the crass vulgarities manifest in the material world. This cleansing prepares wayfarers for the ultimate goal of uniting with the Beloved, who is none other than God Almighty.
Mysticism is essentially a mirror that reflects our spiritual condition. As we strive along the spiritual path, this mirror enables us to cleanse our hearts through introspection for introspection allows the shrouds of worldly passion that encircle the heart to unravel. By constantly curbing and combating lustful desires we will find the strength to abandon gradually all the diseases that afflict our character. When these desires begin to weaken, the transcendent element that is hidden deep within all of us will take bloom in our hearts, its seeds having been planted by introspection, contemplation, and self-accountability.
The adherents of Islam’s mystical path corroborate the statements presented above by way of this hadith kudsi‘ (sacred saying), wherein God declares:
My heavens and My earth cannot contain Me, but I can be contained within the heart of My faithful servant.
Hence God’s infinite light is to be found in the hearts of those who sincerely devote themselves to this spiritual path. In fact, the light produced by those journeying towards the Beloved has the power to purge every imperfection and lust from the heart, much like a diamond once extracted from the muck and mire is washed to present its true nature. We can likewise behold our true and splendid nature through such “washing”, thereby uncovering countless secret treasures before the throne of God after having eradicated the self [or ego]. Doing so will bring us into the state called fand' jillah by the mystics of Islam, a phrase meaning “extinction in God .”
Mysticism has been present among human beings long before the advent of historical Islam, for it is a phenomenon that emerges out of the mists of antiquity. The Islamic mystics, however, stress that their particular approach to spirituality flows out of the foundations of Islam, which are the Kur’an, the hadīth kudsī and the Sunnah (sayings and conduct) of the Prophet Muhammad as recorded in the hadith.
Those Kur’anic verses conveying mystical insight are abundant, among which is this one, Where God addresses the Prophet Muhammad:
And you (0 Muhammad) threw not when you threw, but rather it was God who threw... (Stirst ai-Anm 8:17)
It is important for us to explain the context of this verse to allow our readers to gain a greater understanding of its profound meaning. In the second year after the Prophet’s migration from Mecca to Madinah (an event known as the Hijrah), the polytheists of Mecca assembled a huge army that was to launch a surprise attack on the Muslim community. To counter this move, the Muslims went forth from Madinah and met the Meccans at the Wells of Badr on the seventeenth day of the month of Ramadan. This battle was made all the more perilous by the fact that it was carried out at a time when the Muslim community was in a vulnerable condition
As the battle raged, God commanded the Prophet Muhammad to grab a handful of sand and throw it towards the enemy ranks. The sand immediately materialized in front of the Meccan army as a powerful dust storm, causing
blindness among their ranks. Consequently, their assault ground to a halt. Seeing their foes waver, the Muslim warriors counterattacked and eventually overcame the idolaters. The victory at Badr presented an opening for the Prophet’s teachings to spread far and wide. The foundations of Islam were thus laid foundations that no adversary has been able to shatter ever since. Our mystics have extracted many meanings from this particular Kur’anic verse, taking it as scriptural proof of God’s absolute command over everything. Every act or movement that we make ultimately originates with God and ultimately goes back to God. To describe this principle with a simple allegory, the Islamic mystics have said that human beings are to God like pens in the hand of a scribe. The pen may write, but it is moved and directed by the scribe.
In addition to the aforementioned divine words, we have this sacred Kur’anic verse, which states:
God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. (Surat an-Ni'ir 24:35)
We also have verse 115 of Surat al-Balgarah, wherein God declares:
Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God. .. (Surat al-Bakarah 2:115)
The Islamic mystics see this particular verse as proof of the mystical theories of wahdat ul-wujud (the unity of existence) and wahdat ush-shuhud (unity of appearance), both of which will be discussed later on in our book. In this verse God declares that He can be seen reflected in all of creation. We should next examine this verse, in which God declares:
0 you who believe! If any from among you abscond your Faith, soon will God produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him, gentle with the believers, strong against the immoral, struggling in the way of God, and never afraid of the accusations of the fault-finders
(Surat: al-Ma’idah 5:54)
The Islamic mystics find confirmation in this verse for the emphasis they place on divine love. According to their perspective, this form of love expresses itself in two ways: Firstly, there is the love God has towards
Spiritually-perfected human beings and secondly, there is the love that such individuals have for God. Both of these “loves” are included in this Kur’anic Verse. In light of this we read God saying in the Kur’an:
Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, and We separated them... (Surat al-Anbiya’21:30)
As with all of the Kur’anic passages cited so far, our Islamic mystics extract many profound insights from this particular verse, the foremost being that it proves the concept of the primordial Haki'kat-i muhammadz'yyah, the “Muhammadan Reality,” which is the underlying and all-encompassing foundation of creation. According to this theory, the essence of all created things was pre-eternally condensed within the Hakikat-i muhammadiyyah. Then at God’s command, everything in existence emerged (and continues to emerge) out of this single reality, manifesting in the multitudinous forms they have been destined to possess. This concept is a bit complex to grasp fully, and it has been the subject of extensive discussion and debate between mystics and non-mystic thinkers over the centuries.
The great thirteenth century mystic Ibn Arabi wrote extensively on this theory, particularly in his work Fusus ul-Hikc'zm (The Bezels of Wisdom), a work that we hope to translate for our readers if the opportunity arises in the future.
Our mystics have likewise based their understandings of such topics as repentance, forgiveness, patience, reliance on God, prayer, remembrance, forsaking the world, and so forth, on the following Kur’anic verses:
And seek forgiveness of God. Indeed, God is ever Forgiving and Merciful. (Surat an-Nisa’ 4: 106)
Be mindful of your duty to God, and seek the way of approach unto Him... (surat: al-Ma’idah 5:35)
0 you who believe! Persevere in patience and constancy... (Surah Al-i ‘Imran 32200)
0 you who believe! Turn to God with sincere repentance... (Surat at-Tahri'm, 66:8)
And turn not away those who invoke their Lord, morning and afternoon seeking His Face. (Surat al-‘An‘am 6:52)
And worship your Lord until the certitude comes up to you. (Surat al-Hijr 15:99)
Know that this worlds life is only sport and play and gaiety and boasting among yourselves, and a vying in the multiplication of wealth and children, like the rain, whose causing the vegetation to grow, pleases the husbandmen, then it withers away so that you will see it become yellow, then it becomes dried up and broken down; and in the hereafter is a severe chastisement and (also) forgiveness from God and (His) pleasure; and this world’s life is naught but means of deception. (surat al-Hijr 15:99)
And rely on the Ever-living Who dies not, and celebrate His praise... (Surat al-Furkaan 25:58)
Verily, the promise of God is true: let not, then, this present life deceive you, nor let the chief deceiver [Satan] deceive you about God. (Surah Lukmén 31 :33)
THE HADiTH KUDsi
In addition to the Kur’an, the Islamic mystics adorn their mystical perSpective with the radiant light of the hadz'th kudsi, the extra-Kur’anic words that God revealed to the blessed Prophet Muhammad. One of the most wellknown of these sayings is:
I was a hidden treasure and loved to be known. Therefore I created Creation that I might be known.
The Islamic mystics stress that these words reveal God’s primordial love for His creation and that the entire cosmos was brought into existence solely to recognize and reciprocate this love. They assert that in pre-eterhity God was as He always has been and that nothing else existed save His Eternal divinity. God then desired to behold something other than Himself, and so He brought the universe into existence. However, since no reality truly exists apart from God, creation is nothing other than a glorious mirror
of the divine. This fact is alluded to in another hadith kudsi', wherein God declares:
And the most beloved things with which My slave comes nearer to Me is what I have enjoined upon him; and My slave keeps coming closer to Me through performing extra-obligatory worship until I love him, so I become his hearing with which he hears, and his sight with which he sees, and his hand with which he grips, and his leg with which he walks...
These words explain how those who submerge themselves in love of God will be united with the divine presence, much like the lover is united with the Beloved, or as the soul is entwined with the body. This particular hadith kudsi gives a clear explanation of the mystical concept of ittihād, the state where the spiritual wayfarer being annihilated in the never-ending divine ~ merges into God and becomes the Insan-i kamil, the “Perfected Human”. In the state of ittihad, the lover’s self is reduced to ashes, and he is dissolved into the ultimate beloved: God Almighty, who endures forever without equal. The mystic wayfarer thus becomes one in character and spirit with his beloved. In this transcendent state, the Insan-i kamil iinds that every act carried out and every word spoken arises not from the self, but from God. This concept is in accordance with this Kur’éinic verse where God describes the Prophet’s lofty spiritual rank:
Nor does he speak out of his own desire... (Surat an-Najm 53:3)
This hallowed verse reveals that the blessed Muhammad did not act or speak according to his will. Every word and every act emerged from him by the command of God. Any notion of self that the blessed Muhammad may have possessed was extinguished in the divine. What appeared after that was nothing other than his true essence.
In addition to the hadith kudsi there exist many other mystical sayings, or hadz'ths, uttered by sacred mouth of the Prophet Muhammad. Among the more famous of these hadiths is this:
He who knows himself knows his Lord.
Commenting on this particular hadz'th, the mystics of Islam maintain that as we aspire to journey along the spiritual path we must lirst come to realize that we are nothing; and having reached this point we must be prepared to truly understand that the only genuine existence is the existence of God. Moreover we have this blessed hadith from the Prophet, where he says:
Your greatest foe is the desire that emanates from between your two sides [i.e. the physical body].
In accordance with this hadith our mystics have continually battled to restrain any anger, lust or desire that may arise from within; for we will only be able to adorn our character with exemplary conduct when we have puritied ourselves of vice and imperfection.
In addition to the two hadiths above the Islamic mystics have demarcated using the unassailable words of the Prophet to prove their point -the various grades that the spiritually perfected possess in the mystical realm in relation to the martyrs, saints, and prophets. Here is a hadith regarding this issue:
Among God’s servants are some who are neither prophets, nor martyrs, but their rank with their Lord on the Day of Judgment will be so high that the prophets and martyrs will envy them.
After the exalted Prophet Muhammad spoke these words one of his companions asked: “Who are these people, 0 Messenger of God? Tell us about their qualities so that we may know them and perhaps come to love them.” The noble Prophet answered this question by saying:
They are those who are lovers of God. ’they have forsaken worldly ties and the charm of this life. Their faces are filled with divine light [nur] and they remain focused on that radiance. When others fear, they are not afraid, and when others are angry and worried, there is neither worry nor anger nor other concern among them.
When these blessed words came to an end, the Prophet recited this Kur’anic revelation:
Verily, the Friends of God [awliya’ullah], there is no worry upon them, nor do they grieve... (Surah Yunus 10:62)
Accordingly, these hadiths, these prophetic maxims, are part of the foundation upon which our mystics rest their spiritual endeavors. We should not forget to say that these wayfarers have as an exemplar the Prophet Muhammad, both in life and in conduct, to whom we shall devote the following section.
THE NOBLE PROPHET MUHAMMAD
In keeping with the advice of the Islamic mystics, we shall now cast a brief glance at the life and personality of the exalted Prophet Muhammad; for it is in the example, or Sunnah, laid out by his life that we can clearly see all of the essentials of Islamic mysticism manifest.
Before the revelation of the Kur’an and his ordination as God’s messenger, the noble Muhammad would often retire to a solitary cave atop Jabal an-Nur, a rugged mountain that rises above the city of Mecca. There he would seclude himself day and night, sometimes for months at a time. By focusing on the Creator, he would extinguish every worldly thought from his mind and ceaselessly polish his heart. It not surprising that a man of such lofty caliber would thrust aside the whole world in this way, absorbed in the divine as he sat in seclusion. By carrying out these spiritual exercises he ultimately converged with Hakk, the Real (i.e. God) and melted in Him.
The noble Muhammad would sit serenely in the absolute stillness of his cave, with his mind far away from the affairs of the material world and his heart stripped of any feeling for it. While his physical eyes could see nothing within the dark cave, the intuitive vision of his heart became intoxicated as he contemplated the iiawless and masterly creator of the universe. Muhammad beheld both the splendor of existence and, moreover, that of its all-powerful designer.
Whenever the sacred month of Ramadan came around the noble Muhammad would drop everything and depart to his cave atop Jabal an-Nur, giving full attention to his devotions. In his sanctuary, he completely set aside thoughts of family, home, and community, and this detachment from the world allowed him to inhale the spiritual delights of which Islamic mystics would later speak. This intense focus on spirituality, furthermore, caused the blessed Muhammad’s innermost self to be unveiled, his intellect to sharpen, and his heart to be puritied. Everything now came to be seen through the lens of Reality. With the passage of time the door to Truth
opened; and when he reached the age of forty, the honorable Muhammad had become suitably prepared with worthiness and spiritual capability to embark upon his exalted mission as God’s last messenger to the world.
One night, as Muhammad’s enchantment with the splendor of his beloved deepened, the Archangel Gabriel appeared. Drawing near to Muhammad, the angel declared
Read! In the name of your Lord Who created! He created man from a clot. Read! And your Lord is Most Honorable, Who taught with the pen. Taught man that which he knew not... (Surat al-Alak 96: 1-5)
Gabriel then conveyed verses of the Kur’an to the exalted Muhammad for the very first time with this command to “read”. Utterly bewildered by this supernatural experience, Muhammad told the angel that he could not read, to which the angel repeated the command to “read” twice more. When Gabriel voiced the command a third time, the noble Muhammad began reciting the divine revelation with perfect lucidity and at that moment he was charged with the burden of prophethood, as well as the enormous responsibility of conveying God’s word to the world.
We should not imagine that the blessed Muhammad only undertook such demanding spiritual exercises in the days before his prophetic mission. Not in the least! Even after revelation commenced and he was appointed God’s messenger his transcendent state continuously and exponentially expanded. In fact, he never ceased to demonstrate a worthy and righteous lifestyle, a lifestyle very well-known to Muslims. The Prophet was completely submerged in divine love, and he thrust aside all worldly concerns for the sake of divine love, and thus his life became a venerated model of virtue for his spiritual heirs.
The Prophet Muhammad’s matchless moral status can be observed throughout the countless scenes displayed by his biography. The clearest and most noteworthy proof of his unsurpassed spiritual rank is the extraordinary event called the 'Isra ’wal-Miraj. This event is mentioned in the Kur’fm, and it has been given extensive commentary in numerous important Islamic religious works works that continue to be studied.
For those who may not be familiar with this event, the ‘Isra’ wa’lMi‘raj is the night when the Prophet Muhammad was miraculously led by Gabriel
from Mecca to the Al-Aksa sanctuary located in modem-day Jerusalem, From the Al-Aksa sanctuary he was then transported through the heavens, Unfathomable mysteries were revealed to the Prophet during this supernatural journey, and these mysteries allowed him to arrive at the highest of all conceivable spiritual ranks.
In the course of the ‘Isra’ wa’l-Mi°raj a sacred ritual was held during which the blessed Prophet was bequeathed the mystic prototypes of the taj khirlcah and kemer (among other things). These sacred vestments were later inherited by our Bektashi dervishes, who have used them to this day.
A further display of the Prophet’s otherworldly character can be observed in his daily habits. He continuously observed perhfz (abstinence) eating little, or sometimes not at all. He dressed simply at all times, for he disliked ostentation. He also viewed excessive material wealth unfavorably. Our dear Prophet led the modest life that would later be emulated by our mystics. Much of the time the Prophet was found night and day engaged in prayer in the corner of his sanctuary. His eyes and his mind were incessantly focused on his love for God, the Lord of Reality. Indeed, the Prophet seemed forever occupied with worship, so much so that his feet often grew swollen from all of his standing in devotions. He likewise remained in prostration for hours.
“0 Messenger of God!” a companion of his asked one day, “So many verses of the Kur’an have been revealed to you. Why do you undergo all of these hardships despite the fact that God has already forgiven you of any previous or potential shortcomings?” “Should I not then be a grateful servant of my Lord?” the exalted Prophet responded. Furthermore, another one of his companions recalled that the Prophet once said: “I swear by God that I seek His pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.”
The guidance and teachings that the Prophet gave to his followers emphasized the worship of One God, the abandonment of sinful deeds, and the seeking of divine forgiveness. Also, he taught his followers to shun desire for this transitory world and to strive continually to purify the heart.
Let us now turn to some of the sayings of the exalted Prophet Muhammad, a man who at all times was true to his word and who forever made known what is right and good. Whenever any of his followers faced difficulties he advised them to be patient, to thank God and to seek forgiveness. He said:
0 people! Seek forgiveness from God. Seek His mercy; for I myselfask God for pardon a hundred times a day.
We can additionally see examples of the Prophet Muhammad’s spiritual state in the supplications that he made to his Lord:
0 Lord! I turn only to You! It is in You that I place my faith! Only upon You do I rely! For You I have struggled and for You is my remembrance! O my Lord! Before You I plead, for whom can I implore other than You? Do not place upon me sufferings I cannot hear! You are the Living and Everlasting! All else comes and goes, yet You remain eternal!
O Lord! Compel me to pray and make me steadfast! Diminish my stature in my own eyes and magnify me in the eyes of people!
0 Lord! Help me to know! Make me satisfied with mercifulness! Honor me with Your protection and bestow upon me wellbeing!
0 Lord! Please give me what is good, and protect me! Endow me with a virtuous character and increase my obedience to You, so thatI may carry out Your commands!
Such blessed words of the Prophet Muhammad have repeatedly been rehearsed by the mystics of Islam. These prayers clearly reveal the immeasurable spiritual vision that was present in the life and character of the illustrious Prophet Muhammad.