Invocation

PRAISE to the Holy Creator, who has placed his throne upon the waters, and who has made all terrestrial creatures. To the Heavens he has given dominion and to the Earth dependence; to the Heavens he has given movement, and to the Earth uniform repose.
He raised the firmament above the earth as a tent, without pillars to uphold it. In six days he created the seven planets and with two letters he created the nine cupolas of the Heavens.
In the beginning he gilded the stars, so that at night the heavens might play tric-trac. With diverse properties he endowed the net of the body, and he has put dust on the tail of the bird of the soul. He made the Ocean liquid as a sign of bondage, and the mountain tops are capped with ice for fear of him. He dried up the bed of the sea and from its stones brought forth rubies, and from its blood, musk. To the mountains he has given peaks for a dagger, and valleys for a belt; so that they lift up their heads in pride. Sometimes he makes clusters of roses spring from the face of the fire; Sometimes he throws bridges across the face of the waters. He caused a mosquito to sting Nimrod his enemy who thereby suffered for four hundred years. In his wisdom he caused the spider to spin his web to protect the highest of men. He squeezed the waist of the ant so that it resembled a hair, and he made it a companion of Solomon; He gave it the black robes of the Abbasides and a garment of unwoven brocade worthy of the peacock.
When he saw that the carpet of nature was defective he pieced it together fittingly. He stained the sword with the colour of the tulip; and from vapour made a bed of water-lilies. He drenched clods of earth with blood so that he might take from them cornelians and rubies. Sun and Moon — one* the day, the other the night, bow to the dust in adoration; and from their worship comes their movement. It is God who has spread out the day in whiteness, it is he who has folded up the night and blackened it.
To the parrot he gave a collar of gold; and the hoopoe he made a messenger of the way. The firmament is like a bird beating its wings along the way God has marked out for him, striking the Door with his head as with a hammer. God has made the firmament to revolve — night follows day and day the night. When he breathes on clay man is created; and from a little vapour he forms the world.
Sometimes he causes the dog to go before the traveller; sometimes he uses the cat to show the way. Sometimes he gives the power of Solomon to a staff; sometimes he accords eloquence to the ant. From a staff he produces a serpent; and by means of a staff he sends forth a torrent of water. He has placed in the firmament the orb of the proud, and binds it with iron when glowing red it wanes.
He brought forth a camel from a rock, and made the golden calf to bellow. In winter he scatters the silver snow; in autumn, the gold of yellow leaves. He lays a cover on the thorn and tinges it with the colour of blood.
To the jasmine he gives four petals and on the head of the tulip he puts a red bonnet. He places a golden crown on the brow of the narcissus; and drops pearls of dew into her shrine. At the idea of God the mind is baffled, reason fails; because of God the heavens turn, the earth reels. From the back of the fish to the moon every atom is a witness to his Being. The depths of earth and the heights of heaven render him each their particular homage. God produced the wind, the earth, the fire, and blood, and by these he announces his secret. He took clay and kneaded it with water, and after forty mornings placed therein the spirit which vivified the body. God gave it intelligence so that it might have discernment of things. When he saw that intelligence had discernment, he gave it knowledge, so that it might weigh and ponder. But when man came in possession of his faculties he confessed his impotence, and was overcome with amazement, while his body gave itself up to exterior acts.
Friends or enemies, all bow the head under the yoke which God, in his wisdom, imposes; and, a thing astonishing, he watches over us all. At the beginning of the centuries God used the mountains as nails to fix the Earth ; and washed Earth’s face with the water of Ocean. Then he placed Earth on the back of a bull, the bull on a fish, and the fish on the air. But on what rested the air? On nothing. But nothing is nothing — and all that is nothing. Admire then, the works of the Lord, though he himself considers them as nothing. And seeing that His Essence alone exists it is certain there is nothing but Him. His throne is on the waters and the world is in the air. But leave the waters and the air, for all is God: the throne and the world are only a talisman. God is all, and things have only a nominal value; the world visible and the world invisible are only Himself.
There is none but Him. But, alas, no one can see Him. The eyes are blind, even though the world be lighted by a brilliant sun. Should you catch even a glimpse of Him you would lose your wits, and if you should see Him completely you would lose your self.
All men who are aware of their ignorance tuck up the flap of their garment and say earnestly: ‘O thou who art not seen although thou makest us to know thee, everyone is thou and no other than thou is manifested. The soul is hidden in the body, and thou art hidden in the soul. O thou who art hidden in that which is hidden, thou art more than all. All see themselves in thee and they see thee in everything. Since thy dwelling is surrounded by guards and sentinels how can we come near to thy presence? Neither mind nor reason can have access to thy essence, and no one knows thy attributes. Because thou art eternal and perfect thou art always confounding the wise. What can we say more, since thou art not to be described!’
O my heart, if you wish to arrive at the beginning of understanding, walk carefully. To each atom there is a different door, and for each atom there is a different way which leads to the mysterious Being of whom I speak. To know oneself one must live a hundred lives. But you must know God by Himself and not by you; it is He who opens the way that leads to Him, not human wisdom. The knowledge of Him is not at the door of rhetoricians. Knowledge and ignorance are here the same, for they cannot explain nor can they describe. The opinions of men on this arise only in their imagination; and it is absurd to try to deduce anything from what they say: whether ill or well, they have said it from themselves. God is above knowledge and beyond evidence, and nothing can give an idea of his Holy Majesty.
O you who value the truth, do not look for an analogy; the existence of this Being without equal does not admit of one. Since neither the prophets nor the heavenly messengers have understood the least particle, they have bowed their foreheads on the dust, saying: ‘We have not known thee as thou must truly be.’ What am I then, to flatter myself that I know Him?
O ignorant son of the first man, the Khalif of God on earth, strive to participate in the spiritual knowledge of your father. All creatures that God draws out from nothingness for their existence prostrate themselves before him. When he wished to create Adam, he made him go out from behind a hundred veils, and he said to him, ‘O Adam, all creatures adore me; be adored in your turn.’ The only one who turned from this adoration was transformed from an angel into a demon. He was cursed and had no knowledge of the secret. His face became black and he said to God: ‘O thou who art in possession of absolute independence, do not abandon me.’
The Most High replied: ‘You who are cursed, know that Adam is both my steward and the king of nature. Today go before him, and tomorrow burn for him the ispand.’ When the soul was joined to the body it was part of the all: never has there been so marvellous a talisman. The soul had a share of that which is high, and the body a share of that which is low; it was formed of a mixture of heavy clay and pure spirit. By this mixing, man became the most astonishing of mysteries. We do not know nor do we understand so much as a little of our spirit. If you wish to say something about this, it would be better to keep silent. Many know the surface of this ocean, but they understand nothing of the depths; and the visible world is the talisman which protects it. But this talisman of bodily obstacles will be broken at last. You will find the treasure when the talisman disappears; the soul will manifest itself when the body is laid aside. But your soul is another talisman; it is, for this mystery, another substance. Walk then in the way I shall indicate, but do not ask for an explanation.
In this vast ocean the world is an atom and the atom a world. Who knows which is of more value here, the cornelian or the pebble? We have staked our life, our reason, our spirit, our religion, in order to understand the perfection of an atom. Sew up your lips and ask nothing of the empyrean or the throne of God. No one really knows the essence of the atom — ask whom you will. The Heavens are like a cupola upside down, without stability, at once moving and un-moving. One is lost in contemplation of such a mystery — it is veil upon veil; one is like a figure painted on a wall, and one can only bite the back of one’s hand.
Consider those who have entered in the way of the Spirit. Look what has happened to Adam; see how many years he spent in mourning. Contemplate the deluge of Noah and all that patriarch suffered at the hands of the wicked. Consider Abraham, who was full of love for God : he suffered tortures and was thrown into the fire. See the unfortunate Ishmael offered up in the way of divine love. Turn towards Jacob who became blind from weeping for his son. Look at Joseph, admirable in his power as in his slavery, in the pit and in prison. Remember the unhappy Job stretched on the earth a prey to worms and wolves. Think of Jonah who, having strayed from the Way, went from the moon to the belly of the fish. Follow Moses from his birth: a box served him for a cradle, and Pharaoh exalted him. Think of David, who made himself a breast-plate and whose sighs melted the iron like wax. Look at Solomon whose empire was mastered by the Jinn. Remember Zacharias, so ardent with the love of God that he kept silent when they killed him; and John the Baptist, despised before the people, whose head was put on a platter. Stand in wonder at Christ at the foot of the cross, v/hen he saved himself from the hands of the Jews. And finally, ponder over all that the Chief of the Prophets suffered from the insults and injuries of the wicked.
After this, do you think it will be easy to arrive at knowledge of spiritual things? It means no less than to die to everything. What shall I say further, since there is nothing more to say, and there remains not a rose on the bush ! O Wisdom! You are no more than a suckling child; and the reason of the old and experienced strays in this quest. How shall I, a fool, be able to arrive at this Essence; and if I should arrive, how shall I be able to enter in by the door? O Holy Creator! Vivify my spirit! Believers and unbelievers are equally plunged in blood, and my head turns as the heavens, I am not without hope but I am impatient.
My friends! We are neighbours of one another: I wish to repeat my discourse to you day and night, so that you should not cease for a moment to long to set out in quest of Truth.
Excerpt from: The Conference of the Birds (Manṭiq-uṭ-Ṭayr) by Hazrat Faridi-ul-Din Attar (r.a) Translation 1954 by C. S. Nott

Illumination & Ecstasy

GOD, who is described in the Koran as “the Light of the heavens and the earth,” cannot be seen by the bodily eye. He is visible only to the inward sight of the ‘heart.’ In the next chapter, we shall return to this spiritual organ, but I am not going to enter into the intricacies of Sufi psychology any further than is necessary. The ‘vision of the heart’ (ru’yat al-qalb) is defined as “the heart’s beholding by the light of certainty that which is hidden in the unseen world.” This is what ‘Ali meant when he was asked, “Do you see God?” and replied: “How should we worship One whom we do not see?” The light of intuitive certainty (yaqin) by which the heart sees God is a beam of God’s own light cast therein by Himself; else no vision of Him were possible.

“‘Tis the sun’s self that lets the sun be seen.”

According to a mystical interpretation of the famous passage in the Koran where the light of Allah is compared to a candle burning in a lantern of transparent glass, which is placed in a niche in the wall, the niche is the true believer’s heart; therefore, his speech is light and his works are light and he moves in light. “He who discourses of eternity,” said Bayazid, “must have within him the lamp of eternity.”

The light which gleams in the heart of the illuminated mystic endows him with a supernatural power of discernment (firasat). Although the Sufis, like all other Moslems, acknowledge Mohammed to be the last of the prophets (as, from a different point of view, he is the Logos or first of created beings), they really claim to possess a minor form of inspiration. When Nuri was questioned concerning the origin of mystical firasat, he answered by quoting the Koranic verse in which God says that He breathed His spirit into Adam; but the more orthodox Sufis, who strenously combat the doctrine that the human spirit is uncreated and eternal, affirm that firasat is the result of knowledge and insight, metaphorically called ‘light’ or ‘inspiration,’ which God creates and bestows upon His favourites. The Tradition, “Beware of the discernment of the true believer, for he sees by the light of Allah,” is exemplified in such anecdotes as these:

Abu ‘Abdallah al-Razi said:

“Ibn al-Anbari presented me with a woollen frock, and seeing on the head of Shibli a bonnet that would just match it, I conceived the wish that they were both mine. When Shibli rose to depart, he looked at me, as he was in the habit of doing when he desired me to follow him. So, I followed him to his house, and when we had gone in, he bade me put off the frock and took it from me and folded it and threw his bonnet on the top. Then he called for a fire and burnt both frock and bonnet.”

Sari al-Saqati frequently urged Junayd to speak in public, but Junayd was unwilling to consent, for he doubted whether he was worthy of such an honour. One Friday night he dreamed that the Prophet appeared and commanded him to speak to the people. He awoke and went to Sari’s house before daybreak, and knocked at the door. Sari opened the door and said: “You would not believe me until the Prophet came and told you.”

Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah was sitting in the congregational mosque when a pigeon, overcome by the intense heat, dropped on the floor. Sahl exclaimed: “Please God, Shah al-Kirmani has just died.” They wrote it down, and it was found to be true.

When the heart is purged of sin and evil thoughts, the light of certainty strikes upon it and makes it a shining mirror, so that the Devil cannot approach it without being observed. Hence the saying of some gnostic: “If I disobey my heart, I disobey God.” It was a man thus illuminated to whom the Prophet said: “Consult thy heart, and thou wilt hear the secret ordinance of God proclaimed by the heart’s inward knowledge, which is real faith and divinity”–something much better than the learning of divines. I need not anticipate here the question, which will be discussed in the following chapter, how far the claims of an infallible conscience are reconcilable with external religion and morality. The Prophet, too, prayed that God would put a light into his ear and into his eye; and after mentioning the different members of his body, he concluded, “and make the whole of me one light.” {The reader should be reminded that most, if not all, mystical Traditions ascribed to Mohammed were forged and fathered upon him by the Sufis, who represent themselves as the true interpreters of his esoteric teaching.} From illumination of gradually increasing splendour, the mystic rises to contemplation of the divine attributes, and ultimately, when his consciousness is wholly melted away, he becomes transubstantiated (tajawhara) in the radiance of the divine essence. This is the ‘station’ of well-doing (ihsan)–for “God is with the well-doers” (Holy Quran: 29.69), and we have Prophetic authority for the statement that “well-doing consists in worshipping God as though thou wert seeing Him.”

I will not waste the time and abuse the patience of my readers by endeavouring to classify and describe these various grades of illumination, which may be depicted symbolically but cannot be explained in scientific language. We must allow the mystics to speak for themselves. Granted that their teaching is often hard to understand, it conveys more of the truth than we can ever hope to obtain from analysis and dissection.

Here are two passages from the oldest Persian treatise on Sufism, the Kashf al-Mahjub of Hujwiri:

“It is related that Sari al-Saqati said, ‘O God, whatever punishment thou mayst inflict upon me, do not punish me with the humiliation of being veiled from Thee,’ because, if I am not veiled from Thee, my torment and affliction will be lightened by the recollection and contemplation of Thee; but if I am veiled from Thee, even Thy bounty will be deadly to me. There is no punishment in Hell more painful and hard to bear than that of being veiled. If God were revealed in Hell to the people of Hell, sinful, believers would never think of Paradise, since the sight of God would so fill them with joy that they would not feel bodily pain. And in Paradise there is no pleasure more perfect than unveiledness. If the people there enjoyed all the pleasures of that place and other pleasures a hundredfold, but were veiled from God, their hearts would be utterly broken. Therefore it is the way of God to let the hearts of those who love Him have vision of Him always, in order that the delight thereof may enable them to endure every tribulation; and they say in their visions, ‘We deem all torments more desirable than to be veiled from Thee. When Thy beauty is revealed to our hearts, we take no thought of affliction.'”

“There are really two kinds of contemplation. The former is the result of perfect faith, the latter of rapturous love, for in the rapture of love a man attains to such a degree that his whole being is absorbed in the thought of his Beloved and he sees nothing else. Muhammad ibn Wasi‘ said: ‘I never saw anything without seeing God therein,’ i.e. through perfect faith. Shibli said: ‘I never saw anything except God,’ i.e. in the rapture of love and the fervour of contemplation. One mystic sees the act with his bodily eye, and, as he looks, beholds the Agent with his spiritual eye; another is rapt by love of the Agent from all things else, so that he sees only the Agent. The one method is demonstrative, the other is ecstatic. In the former case, a manifest proof is derived from the evidences of God; in the latter case, the seer is enraptured and transported by desire: evidences are a veil to him, because he who knows a thing does not care for aught besides, and he who loves a thing does not regard aught besides, but renounces contention with God and interference with Him in His decrees and acts. When the lover turns his eye away from created things, he will inevitably see the Creator with his heart. God hath said, ‘Tell the believers to close their eyes’ (Holy Quran: 24.30), i.e. to close their bodily eyes to lusts and their spiritual eyes to created things. He who is most sincere in self-mortification is most firmly grounded in contemplation. Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah of Tustar said: ‘If any one shuts his eye to God for a single moment, he will never be rightly guided all his life long,’ because to regard other than God is to be handed over to other than God, and one who is left at the mercy of other than God is lost. Therefore the life of contemplatives is the time during which they enjoy contemplation; time spent in ocular vision they do not reckon as life, for that to them is really death. Thus, when Bayazid was asked how old he was, he replied, ‘Four years.’ They said to him, ‘How can that be?’ He answered, ‘I have been veiled from God by this world for seventy years, but I have seen Him during the last four years: the period in which one is veiled does not belong to one’s life.'”

I take the following quotation from the Mawaqif of Niffari, an author with whom we shall become better acquainted as we proceed:

“God said to me, ‘The least of the sciences of nearness is that you should see in everything the effects of beholding Me, and that this vision should prevail over you more than your gnosis of Me.'”

Explanation by the commentator:

“He means that the least of the sciences of nearness (proximity to God) is that when you look at anything, sensibly or intellectually or otherwise, you should be conscious of beholding God with a vision clearer than your vision of that thing. There are diverse degrees in this matter. Some mystics say that they never see anything without seeing God before it. Others say, ‘without seeing God after it,’ or ‘with it’; or they say that they see nothing but God. A certain Sufi said, ‘I made the pilgrimage and saw the Ka‘ba, but not the Lord of the Ka‘ba.’ This is the perception of one who is veiled. Then he said, ‘I made the pilgrimage again, and I saw both the Ka‘ba and the Lord of the Ka‘ba.’ This is contemplation of the Self-subsistence through which everything subsists, i.e. he saw the Ka‘ba subsisting through the Lord of the Ka‘ba. Then he said, ‘I made the pilgrimage a third time, and I saw the Lord of the Ka‘ba, but not the Ka‘ba.’ This is the ‘station’ of waqfat (passing-away in the essence). In the present case, the author is referring to contemplation of the Self-subsistence.”

So much concerning the theory of illumination. But, as Mephistopheles says, “grau ist alle Theorie“; and though to most of us the living experience is denied, we can hear its loudest echoes and feel its warmest afterglow in the poetry which it has created. Let me translate part of a Persian ode by the dervish-poet, Baba Kuhi of Shiriz, who died in 1050 A.D.

  “In the market, in the cloister–only God I saw.

In the valley and on the mountain–only God I saw.

Him I have seen beside me oft in tribulation;

In favour and in fortune–only God I saw.

In prayer and fasting, in praise and contemplation,

In the religion of the Prophet–only God I saw.

Neither soul nor body, accident nor substance,

Qualities nor causes–only God I saw.

I oped mine eyes and by the light of His face around me

In all the eye discovered–only God I saw.

Like a candle I was melting in His fire:

Amidst the flames out flashing–only God I saw.

Myself with mine own eyes I saw most clearly,

But when I looked with God’s eyes–only God I saw.

I passed away into nothingness, I vanished,

And lo, I was the All-living–only God I saw.”

 

The whole of Sufism rests on the belief that when the individual self is lost, the Universal Self is found, or, in religious language, that ecstasy affords the only means by which the soul can directly communicate and become united with God. Asceticism, purification, love, gnosis, saintship–all the leading ideas of Sufism–are developed from this cardinal principle.

Among the metaphorical terms commonly employed by the Sufis as, more or less, equivalent to ‘ecstasy’ are fana (passing-away), wajd (feeling), sama’(hearing), dhawq (taste), shirb (drinking), ghaybat (absence from self), jadhbat (attraction), sukr (intoxication), and hal (emotion). It would be tedious and not, I think, specially instructive to examine in detail the definitions of those terms and of many others akin to them which occur in Sufi text-books. We are not brought appreciably nearer to understanding the nature of ecstasy when it is described as “a divine mystery which God communicates to true believers who behold Him with the eye of certainty,” or as “a flame which moves in the ground of the soul and is produced by love-desire.” The Mohammedan theory of ecstasy, however can hardly be discussed without reference to two of the above-mentioned technical expressions, namely, fana and sama‘.

As I have remarked in the Introduction the term fana includes different stages, aspects, and meanings. These may be summarised as follows:

  1. A moral transformation of the soul through the extinction of all its passions and desires.
  2. A mental abstraction or passing-away of the mind from all objects of perception, thoughts, actions, and feelings through its concentration upon the thought of God. Here the thought of God signifies contemplation of the divine attributes.
  3. The cessation of all conscious thought. The highest stage of fana is reached when even the consciousness of having attained fana disappears. This is what the Sufis call ‘the passing-away of passing-away’ (fana al-fana). The mystic is now rapt in contemplation of the divine essence.

The final stage of fana, the complete passing-away from self, forms the prelude to baqa, ‘continuance’ or ‘abiding’ in God, and will be treated with greater fullness in Chapter VI.

The first stage closely resembles the Buddhistic Nirvana. It is a ‘passing-away’ of evil qualities and states of mind, which involves the simultaneous ‘continuance’ of good qualities and states of mind. This is necessarily an ecstatic process, inasmuch as all the attributes of ‘self’ are evil in relation to God. No one can make himself perfectly moral, i.e. perfectly ‘selfless.’ This must be done for him, through ‘a flash of the divine beauty’ in his heart.

While the first stage refers to the moral ‘self,’ the second refers to the percipient and intellectual ‘self.’ Using the classification generally adopted by Christian mystics, we may regard the former as the consummation of the Purgative Life, and the latter as the goal of the Illuminative Life. The third and last stage constitutes the highest level of the Contemplative Life.

Often, though not invariably, fana is accompanied by loss of sensation. Sari al-Saqati, a famous Sufi of the third century, expressed the opinion that if a man in this state were struck on the face with a sword, he would not feel the blow. Abu l-Khayr al-Aqta had a gangrene in his foot. The physicians declared that his foot must be amputated, but he would not allow this to be done. His disciples said, “Cut it off while he is praying, for he is then unconscious.” The physicians acted on their advice, and when Abu ’l-Khayr finished his prayers he found that the amputation had taken place. It is difficult to see how any one far advanced in fana could be capable of keeping the religious law–a point on which the orthodox mystics lay great emphasis. Here the doctrine of saintship comes in. God takes care to preserve His elect from disobedience to His commands. We are told that Bayazid, Shibli, and other saints were continually in a state of rapture until the hour of prayer arrived; then they returned to consciousness, and after performing their prayers became enraptured again.

In theory, the ecstatic trance is involuntary, although certain conditions are recognised as being especially favourable to its occurrence. “It comes to a man through vision of the majesty of God and through revelation of the divine omnipotence to his heart.” Such, for instance, was the case of Abu Hamza, who, while walking in the streets of Baghdad and meditating on the nearness of God, suddenly fell into an ecstasy and went on his way, neither seeing nor hearing, until he recovered his senses and found himself in the desert. Trances of this kind sometimes lasted many weeks. It is recorded of Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah that he used to remain in ecstasy twenty-five days at a time, eating no food; yet he would answer questions put to him by the doctors of theology, and even in winter his shirt would be damp with sweat. But the Sufis soon discovered that ecstasy might be induced artificially, not only by concentration of thought, recollection (dhikr), and other innocent methods of autohypnosis, but also by music, singing, and dancing. These are included in the term sama‘, which properly means nothing more than audition.

That Moslems are extraordinarily susceptible to the sweet influences of sound will not be doubted by anyone who remembers how, in the Arabian Nights, heroes and heroines alike swoon upon the slightest provocation afforded by a singing-girl touching her lute and trilling a few lines of passionate verse. The fiction is true to life. When Sufi writers discuss the analogous phenomena of ecstasy, they commonly do so in a chapter entitled ‘Concerning the Sama‘.’ Under this heading Hujwiri, in the final chapter of his Kashf al-Mahjub, gives us an excellent summary of his own and other Mohammedan theories, together with numerous anecdotes of persons who were thrown into ecstasy on hearing a verse of the Koran or a heavenly voice (hatif) or poetry or music. Many are said to have died from the emotion thus aroused. I may add by way of explanation that, according to a well-known mystical belief, God has inspired every created thing to praise Him in its own language, so that all the sounds in the universe form, as it were, one vast choral hymn by which He glorifies Himself. Consequently, those whose hearts He has opened and endowed with spiritual perception hear His voice everywhere, and ecstasy overcomes them as they listen to the rhythmic chant of the muezzin, or the street cry of the saqqa shouldering his waterskin, or, perchance, to the noise of wind or the bleating of a sheep or the piping of a bird.

Pythagoras and Plato are responsible for another theory, to which the Sufi poets frequently allude, that music awakens in the soul a memory of celestial harmonies heard in a state of pre-existence, before the soul was separated from God. Thus, Jalaluddin Rumi:

  “The song of the spheres in their revolutions

Is what men sing with lute and voice.

As we all are members of Adam,

We have heard these melodies in Paradise.

Though earth and water have cast their veil upon us,

We retain faint reminiscences of these heavenly songs;

But while we are thus shrouded by gross earthly veils,

How can the tones of the dancing spheres reach us?”

{E. H. Whinfield, abridged translation of the Masnavi, p. 182.}

 

The formal practice of sama quickly spread amongst the Sufis and produced an acute cleavage of opinion, some holding it to be lawful and praiseworthy, whilst others condemned it as an abominable innovation and incitement to vice. Hujwiri adopts the middle view expressed in a saying of Dhu ’l-Nun the Egyptian:

“Music is a divine influence which stirs the heart to seek God: those who listen to it spiritually attain unto God, and those who listen to it sensually fall into unbelief.”

He declares, in effect, that audition is neither good nor bad, and must be judged by its results.

“When an anchorite goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his cell, but when a wine-bibber goes into a cell, that cell becomes his tavern.”

One whose heart is absorbed in the thought of God cannot be corrupted by hearing musical instruments. So, with dancing.

“When the heart throbs and rapture grows intense, and the agitation of ecstasy is manifested. and conventional forms are gone, this is not dancing nor bodily indulgence, but a dissolution of the soul.”

Hujwiri, however, lays down several precautionary rules for those who engage in audition, and he confesses that the public concerts given by dervishes are extremely demoralising. Novices, he thinks, should not be permitted to attend them. In modern times these orgiastic scenes have frequently been described by eye-witnesses. I will now translate from Jami’s Lives of the Saints the account of a similar performance which took place about seven hundred years ago.

“There was a certain dervish, a negro called Zangi Bashgirdi, who had attained to such a high degree of spirituality that the mystic dance could not be started until he came out and joined in it. One day, in the course of the sama‘, he was seized with ecstasy, and rising into the air seated himself on a lofty arch which overlooked the dancers. In descending he leaped on to Majduddin of Baghdad, and encircled with his legs the neck of the Sheykh, who nevertheless continued to spin round in the dance, though he was a very frail and slender man, whereas the negro was tall and heavy. When the dance was finished, Majduddin said, ‘I did not know whether it was a negro or a sparrow on my neck.’ On getting off the Sheykh’s shoulders, the negro bit his cheek so severely that the scar remained visible ever after. Majduddin often used to say that on the Day of Judgment he would not boast of anything except that he bore the mark of this negro’s teeth on his face.”

Grotesque and ignoble features–not to speak of grosser deformities–must appear in any faithful delineation of the ecstatic life of Islam. Nothing is gained by concealing their existence or by minimising their importance. If, as Jalaluddin Rumi says:

  “Men incur the reproach of wine and drugs

That they may escape for a while from self-consciousness,

Since all know this life to be a snare,

Volitional memory and thought to be a hell,”

 

let us acknowledge that the transports of spiritual intoxication are not always sublime, and that human nature has a trick of avenging itself on those who would cast it off.

THE MYSTICS OF ISLAM by Reynold A. Nicholson Routledge, Kegan Paul, London [1914]

Seventy Thousand Veils

“Love is not to be learned from men: it is one of God’s gifts and comes of His grace.”

“None refrains from the lusts of this world save him in whose heart there is a light that keeps him always busied with the next world.”

“When the gnostic’s spiritual eye is opened, his bodily eye is shut: he sees nothing but God.”

“If gnosis were to take visible shape all who looked thereon would die at the sight of its beauty and loveliness and goodness and grace, and every brightness would become dark beside the splendor thereof.”

“For sight is the keenest of our bodily senses; though not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her.”

“Gnosis is nearer to silence than to speech.”
“When the heart weeps because it has lost, the spirit laughs because it has found.”

“Nothing sees God and dies, even as nothing sees God and lives, because His life is everlasting: whoever sees it is thereby made everlasting.”

“O God, I never listen to the cry of animals or to the quivering of trees or to the murmuring of water or to the warbling of birds or to the rustling wind or to the crashing thunder without feeling them to be an evidence of Thy unity and a proof that there is nothing like unto Thee.”

“O my God, I invoke Thee in public as lords are invoked, but in private as loved ones are invoked. Publicly I say, ‘O my God!’ but privately I say, ‘O my Beloved!'”

“Seventy Thousand Veils separate Allah, the One Reality, from the world of matter and of sense. And every soul passes before his birth through these seventy thousand. The inner half of these are veils of light: the outer half, veils of darkness. For every one of the veils of light passed through, in this journey towards birth, the soul puts off a divine quality: and for every one of the dark veils, it puts on an earthly quality. Thus the child is born weeping, for the soul knows its separation from Allah, the One Reality. And when the child cries in its sleep, it is because the soul remembers something of what it has lost. Otherwise, the passage through the veils has brought with it forgetfulness (nisyan): and for this reason man is called insan. He is now, as it were, in prison in his body, separated by these thick curtains from Allah.

“But the whole purpose of Sufism, the Way of the dervish, is to give him an escape from this prison, an apocalypse of the Seventy Thousand Veils, a recovery of the original unity with The One, while still in this body. The body is not to be put off; it is to be refined and made spiritual–a help and not a hindrance to the spirit. It is like a metal that has to be refined by fire and transmuted. And the sheikh tells the aspirant that he has the secret of this transmutation. ‘We shall throw you into the fire of Spiritual Passion,’ he says, ‘and you will emerge refined.'” {“The Way” of a Mohammedan Mystic, by W. H. T. Gairdner (Leipzig, 1912), pp. 9 f.}

THE MYSTICS OF ISLAM
by Reynold A. Nicholson
Routledge, Kegan Paul, London
[1914]

Poetry and Sufism: A Few Generalities

By Dana Wilde

[Here is a draft, a sort of outline of ideas toward a basic understanding of the relationship between Sufism and poetry, with an exposition of basic ideas about what poetry is and does, and might do. – Dana]

It’s not surprising that Sufis place so much emphasis on music and especially poetry in their teachings and their understanding of the Way to salvation or reunion with the Divine. The general Sufi sense of what reality consists in is inherently poetic; it seems not only to parallel the cosmos that a poetic imagination, in the most general terms, conceives, but really seems to embody that version of reality.

Let me make some observations about what poetry is, actually, and then we can see how it aligns and intersects with the Sufi view of the world. Much of what follows is apt to seem painfully obvious, or self-evident. But my experience is that it’s always of vital importance to keep the basic underpinnings, the basic facts and understanding of your subject, clearly in view at all times when working out more complex problems; otherwise, the complexities take on lives of their own and begin to detach themselves from their sources — which mystics say is our essential problem.*

All poetry is inherently mystical. In the first and most basic way, its primary aim is to communicate at nonrational levels. This idea is easy to grasp rationally, on the face of it, but tricky to grasp in practice or as a matter of fundamental understanding because of the way we learn to read and think of poetry in the modern age. That is, as dutiful and well-trained followers of the scientific method, we learn to analyze poetry using primarily logic and rationality and to frame verbal summaries of what a poem “means” based on these rational analyses. Analysis no doubt has a place in understanding poetry because poetry is made of language and language requires us to create categories to communicate; that is, especially in the modern (not to say, English-speaking) world, we think of language as an instrument that conveys practical, sortable, down-to-earth “meanings,” which implies meanings we can grasp at pragmatic, rational levels, concrete or abstract. So since poetry is made of everyday words, our natural disposition is to try to grasp its rational, utilitarian meanings.

Lots of people who read poetry in this analytical framework get frustrated very quickly. This frustration sets in because poetry’s rational, utilitarian meanings are sometimes hard to grasp and even harder to paraphrase. These meanings often do not seem self-evident and often seem obscure or veiled, and even when they are eventually grasped, they can seem trite or useless, and one wonders why in the hell there should be so much work to understand such a simple thing, a thing that could be said much more directly.

Actually, there is an answer to this objection: The poem whose rational meaning seems trite probably (if it’s a truly worthwhile poem) was meant to convey a whole different range of meaning — the kind of meaning I’ve called nonrational. In other words, while analysis of a poem’s meaning has its place, it is unfortunately the least appropriate method of understanding poetry because poetry’s major meanings are nonrational.

To say this in yet other words, the meaning you can think of is usually not the most powerful or affective (sic) meaning the poem conveys, or builds up — let’s begin to disperse the subject-object understanding of what happens when you read or hear a poem. Instead, the poem through its verbal impact spurs you to “feel” or “sense” meanings rather than “think” meanings.

It does this in two general ways: through image and metaphor, and through its sound.

If you are still with me in this overly abstract discussion, then you probably begin to see why Sufism devotes itself to poetry. There is more to say about this.

Metaphors exist to convey, or evoke, or create sensibilities that cannot be conveyed or created using direct terms. For our purposes, this means metaphors evoke “feelings” in the range of emotions, but also sensibilities, in the range of intuitions, and of moral and spiritual senses of meaning which are very difficult or impossible to express directly. For a simple example, Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” a poem most Americans are familiar with, evokes through its imagery a sense of gorgeous winter beauty and peace, inside which is a certain friction or tension. Now, the poet could have expressed this feeling in direct terms by saying: “A man was struck by the beauty and peace of the snowy woods, but he felt a certain tension because he had to continue on his way.” Even this sentence contains helpful imagery, but it in a way encapsules the rational gist of the poem. But the imagery of the poem creates in the reader the actual feelings of peace, beauty and tension; these actual feelings make up a range of experience entirely different from the experience of the rational thought that sums up the poem.

In other words, metaphors make you feel a meaning rather than think it. They circumvent the limitations of rational analysis and expression, and aim at the heart, to use an old-time metaphor. When you read a poem and have no idea what the rational meaning is, and yet you feel an emotion of some kind aroused by the images or events in the poem, then your inability to paraphrase or summarize the poem is of no account, really; you have grasped the poem by feeling the emotion. The emotion is the meaning.

In keeping with the mystical sense that there are levels or stages of reality, poems build up not only emotional responses, but also (let’s say) intuitive, moral and spiritual responses. If you are sufficiently self-aware, you can distinguish in your reading or hearing of poetry different qualities of experience which are distinct from basic emotions like sadness or humor, but clearly real in your psyche. For example, in reading or hearing the story of Jesus’ Passion, emotions of regret or sorrow or joy may arise, but also, deeply moral responses are also triggered in people, and if you push this, you can see that the Passion can catalyze a deep inner response of faith; it is virtually impossible to say what “faith” is, but you can certainly feel it, even though it is not an emotion like anger or happiness (although it may entail such emotions). So the experience of faith can be expressed directly in sentences like, “It’s important to have faith,” or “Faith is very powerful,” but the feeling itself – beyond emotion — can actually be evoked through the story and figures in the Gospels. (Similarly for the story of the Prophet and the hadith.) Words can catalyze deep inner sensibilities and experiences. This is what poetry is. This is why I say poetry is inherently mystical: because it aims to evoke and create deep inner experiences that can (and should?) culminate in spiritual experiences. All poetry has the potential to trigger spiritual experience.

Now I said that one way poetry has its effect is through imagery and metaphor; and the other way is through its sound, or really, its music. Nowadays, because of our reliance on print (and electronic) media, it takes a little work to grasp the fact that only in the last hundred years or less have people thought of poetry as primarily a private, silent reading experience. Before our time, poetry was spoken aloud – more accurately, it was chanted or sung, in all cultures. (There is an early, early recording of Tennyson reciting his poetry, and though very scratchy, the sound of it is astonishing: He chants, declaims the poems in a chilling, almost supernatural thunder of half singing, half saying.) The “reasons” poetry was chanted or sung are manifold, all the way from the simple fact that when poetry was first composed there was no such thing as writing, up to the more complex observation that language has musical properties.

The important thing to observe here is the universal feeling that music is meaningful. More: Pure music — like a Mozart sonata or a Mevlevi arrangement of drums and instruments without voice — is meaningful to virtually everyone despite the fact that it conveys no rational message at all. In listening to music, one feels the rhythms and hears the sounds, the tones, chords and melodies, and responds in one’s own way. Language in its sonic form does the same thing as music. Words can be built up in powerful rhythm patterns; alliterations, assonances and rhyme sequences can be created that are not only pleasing to the ear, like melodies, but also powerful in ways that reach the body the same way instrumental music reaches through the body and touches the psyche. Music can be hypnotic, and so can poetry. The sound of words is very powerful because it is musical.

So the music of poetry creates nonrational meanings in the same way as instrumental or vocal music. Moreover, poetry uniquely combines music and imagery, and can shape specific meanings, or experiences. At this point it is important to recall that we are speaking almost strictly of only nonrational meanings: Poetry’s primary shaping of meaning occurs at nonrational levels through music and imagery. And then, as a bonus, poetry also can utilize the aspects of language which reach for the rational mind, as well.

Poetry’s primary meanings are nonrational. This poses problems for discussions of poetry in college classrooms, because college lays almost all its emphasis on rational understanding.** But on the other hand, poetry’s unique ability to reach beyond the rational and into the nonrational lends itself directly to Sufi teaching.

Sufi teaching addresses the inner human being. One aspect of the inner human being is the rational mind, and so in Sufism we find complex statements concerning metaphysics and cosmology, and we find certain philosophical explanations and analyses. But these texts are clearly less important to Sufism than is poetry. And the reason must by now be clear: Poetry addresses — or better, shapes the emotional, moral and spiritual faculties or elements of the inner person. The expressed aim of Sufi teaching is to help the individual align him or herself with the Divine, to “perfect” himself – which means, to purify his inner self (we can refer to terms like “nafs” — the “animal soul” — at this point) so it is worthy of “the beloved,” or indeed simply capable of being there, so to speak.

There is a sentence in Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching which seems deeply Sufic to me; Wilhelm interprets: “All that is visible must grow beyond itself into the realm of the invisible.” In Sufism and most of the mystical tradition, there is a sense that every individual is in fact perpetually in touch with the Divine, and his or her task is to find that spark or element of the Divine, which (in many forms of mystic expression) is to say, to find the true self, the self that is the Divine as opposed to the false, or worldly, or detached and apparently isolated self. In all mystical traditions, there is said to be a “way” to do this; there is a path that can be followed back to our origin, a way from the visible to the realm of the invisible.

The “way” varies in scope and detail from culture to culture, religion to religion. Some religions and mystical traditions prescribe the same purgative activities for all disciples, such as Buddhism, which in essence (apparently) trains everyone in the same methods of meditation. But in Sufism, the way is highly personal: The master assesses the needs of the individual and assigns the work appropriate to those particular needs. One might say, the Sufi master shows the individual the right trail among many possible trails. The aim is to awaken (to use a classic mystic metaphor) the individual to his or her state or level and to help him find the right methods of purgation (the second step along the mystic way) that clear away the fogs of our material existence — the “visible” world.

Somehow, in other words, the Sufi master has to make the student aware of his inner self, the self that is an element of, or is the Divine. Poetry and music touch the inner sensibilities — the emotional, intuitive, moral and spiritual parts of the inner self. They open the person living in the visible world to the realities of the invisible world.

Sufism places emphasis on metaphor as a key to understanding because it conveys or creates meanings that are beyond the visible world — which is also to say beyond the limits of logic, analysis, rationality — and touches the emotional, intuitive, moral and spiritual worlds. Hence poetry.

Sufism places emphasis on music for the same reason: Music’s meaning lives at supra-rational levels. Again – hence poetry.

Poetry is an instrument of awakening and instruction. It is a way of opening the mind to the divine reality, a way of helping people to grow out of the visible into the realm of the invisible. To broaden the point a little, this is the reason religious liturgies are chanted and often seem filled with “mystery”: The liturgy, which is in fact a form of dramatic poetry, creates the emotional, moral and spiritual atmosphere for the Divine to be present; the sound and rhythm (or music) and in many cases the imagery of the liturgy open the worshipper’s mind to the possibility of some sort of contact with the Divine.

Now there are a couple more basic points to be made about this. One is that the mystical traditions all focus their attention on the relation of the individual self to the Divine (in a very general sense, the “true self”). In some versions of the Way, the activities necessary for the traveler to make his way back to the spiritual origin are generalized to all wayfarers (as in the example of Buddhism). But in Sufism, there are many different kinds of training, and many different ways for many people with different spiritual needs. This aligns in a way with the inescapable fact that any given poem has multiple meanings; there are as many meanings of a poem, it has been said, as there are readers.

This is a way of saying that the individual shapes his or her own spiritual experience in the same way that he or she shapes the meaning of a poem. There is no poem acting in one way on all readers, giving one meaning and one meaning only; and this is because the act of reading — or better, hearing — is not a subject-object activity, one thing acting on another: Reading or hearing is a collaboration of a force of words and the listener’s shaping imagination. Each person brings a different set of experiences, understandings, dispositions, interests to each poem, and hence finds different meanings than other listeners.

But as with spiritual experience, which has a single source in the Divine, each hearer of a poem meets a single source — the poem, which if well-wrought has the capacity to create specific inner effects, open specific emotional, intuitive, moral, spiritual doors. Whatever is revealed in that opening will look different, or feel different, to different listeners, but if the poem is well-made it will be the same revelation. Sufism naturally uses poetry because the apprehension of a poem is an analogue for the apprehension of, or maybe a glimpse of the actual contact of the Divine: That glimpse or apprehension or contact is the same for all and different for all.

To recall a maxim of Western mysticism, each person creates his own heaven or hell.

The same varying apprehension of meaning is derived from music, naturally, music and poetry being similar if not essentially the same.

In Sufi poetry, there are a couple of metaphors which do not align immediately with the figures, and the categories of figures, in other mystical literature. To place this statement in a more specific context, most depictions of the Way insist in one sense or another on the moral virtues, most clearly delineated for us, maybe, by Socrates, who named temperance, courage, justice, wisdom, honesty and piety, among others. I mention temperance first because it is a virtue (to retain the Platonic term) stressed repeatedly in the Socratic dialogues and also in Christianity and Islam. But in Sufi poetry, paradoxically, intemperance seems to be represented as a virtue; intoxication and erotic longing are metaphors of certain human relationships with the Divine.

Now there is a reason for this, and it is figured – or actually, embodied — in Sufi poetry. This whole article has been pointing at the fact that poetry and music are used to open the inner self to its own reality, and to its relation to the Divine. When I noted above that poetry and music can be “hypnotic,” I meant in a general way that poetry and music can create an “altered state of consciousness” (to use a phrase current a few decades ago) and that some form of altered consciousness is needed to awaken an individual to the reality of who he or she “really” is and what that self consists in. This awakening and subsequent state of consciousness looks to the everyday world like insanity, and to the experiencer it is sometimes represented in Sufi poetry as a delicious bewilderment — seemingly the antithesis of Platonic, Christian or Islamic temperance.

Now paradoxically, this sense is not peculiar to Sufism, but is found in other mystical literature — the prime example being Socrates himself, perhaps, who in the Allegory of the Cave describes the mystic climbing out of the cave into enlightenment, and then upon returning is thought to be insane by the cave dwellers because he tells them the shadows on the wall are unreal and urges the dwellers to unshackle themselves. The enlightened man is seen as insane.

The theme of divine madness is treated in more detail in Plato’s Phaedrus. Significantly, one of the kinds of madness Socrates questions there involves words, their power, and the use and misuse of that power. Although Socrates operated largely along very rational lines, it is significant that in the last hours of his life he began writing poetry, at least partly because he felt it was an obligation to the gods that he had not yet discharged — but we may also note that he deliberately chose to put himself in a poetic, nonrational frame of mind just as he was to pass on. In other words, he sought the madness, the “altered state,” or indeed the intoxication that poetry evokes, or creates.

Poetry can literally be intoxicating. A brief anecdote, one among many that might be told: Years ago a couple of friends and I were reading poems of Robert Frost aloud in the living room, and although we were very temperately drinking black tea (not beer or wine as we well might have been), I began to feel quite tipsy, the early sweet fuzzy stages of drunkenness that incite one to intensify the pleasure by drinking more. Only a few moments after I silently noted this strange tipsiness in myself, one of my friends said with bewilderment, “Man, these poems are making me drunk.”

The Sufi metaphor of intoxication as a spiritual state is partly figurative but partly literal. Intoxication is a metaphor for madness, and madness is a metaphor for the spirit’s condition, or transformation, or unfolding into reality, in the presence of the Divine. But amazingly, where poetry and music are involved, intoxication is not only a poetic figure, but is also a literal condition of the body as well as the mind. Poetry’s music and imagery affect the body and the mind — the exterior and interior — alike, as if they were the same thing.

This is exactly what Sufism, and indeed all the mystical traditions (or all that are not strictly gnostic, let’s say), seek to reveal: that the cosmos is a unified whole, one, or One. The music of poetry and the images and metaphors of poetry intoxicate the body and mind — together they change the state of outer and inner awareness of the hearer. Poetry affects the whole human being. It’s not surprising that Sufis place so much emphasis on music and poetry in their Way to reunion with the Divine.

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Footnotes

*I am making some vast generalizations here, all of which surely are not universally true. But I’ll ask you to understand these generalities as observations of tendencies, some very strong, and to accept them either as self-evident, or as a matter of trust in my judgment, or as propositions to entertain and play along with.

**A pedagogical question arises (tangential to this discussion) about how to teach the nonrational elements of poetry, how to approach and discuss them in the classroom, if they’re so important, without the discussion degenerating into a chaos of personal anecdote and wild, egocentric misreadings. I have no concrete answers to this question beyond advising: Always read poems aloud. I can only sum up the difficulty by recalling a scene in Star Wars in which Obi Wan Kenobi sternly tells Han Solo he wants “to avoid any Imperial entanglements,” and Solo replies, “Well that’s the trick, isn’t it?”

Humility

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A sagacious youth of noble family landed at a seaport of Turkey, and, as he displayed piety and wisdom, his baggage was deposited in a mosque. One day the priest said to him: “Sweep away the dust and rubbish from the mosque.”Immediately, the young man went away and no one saw him there again. Thus, did the elder and his followers suppose he did not care to serve. The next day, a servant of the mosque met him on the road and said: ‘Thou didst act wrongly in thy perverse judgment. Knowest thou not, O conceited youth, that men are dignified by service?” Sorrowfully, the youth began to weep. “O soul-cherishing and heart-illuminating friend!” he answered; “I saw no dirt or rubbish in that holy place but mine own corrupt self. Therefore, I retraced my steps, for a mosque is better cleansed from such.”

Humility is the only ritual for a devotee. If thou desire greatness, be humble; no other ladder is there by which to climb.

The Bustan of Sadi, tr. by A. Hart Edwards,

Beneath a Canopy of Stars

Navigators Reverie: Beneath a Canopy of Stars: This is work in progress a new series of images which incorporates some fresh photography juxtapositioned with images of vintage celestial maps.

 Let us be like
two falling stars in the day sky.
Let no one know of our sublime beauty
as we hold hands with God
and burn
Into a sacred existence that defies –
That surpasses
Every description of ecstasy
And love.

Hazrat Hāfez-e Shīrāzī r.a

Flowers every night

Blossom in the sky;

Peace in the Infinite;

At peace am I.

Sighs a hundredfold

From my heart arise;
My heart, dark and cold,
Flames with my sighs.

Hazrat Maulana Jalal-ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (r.a)

 

The hidden banner is planted in the temple of the sky; 
there the blue canopy decked with the moon 
and set with bright jewels is spread.
There the light of the sun and the moon is shining: 
still your mind to silence before that splendour. 
Kabîr says: “He who has drunk of this nectar, 
wanders like one who is mad.”

 The Songs of Kabir, tr. by Rabindranath Tagore

The Story of Hatam Taei and the Messenger Sent to Kill Him

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One of the kings of Yemen was renowned for his liberality, yet the name of Hatam Taei was never mentioned in his presence without his falling into a rage. “How long,” he would ask, “wilt thou speak of that vain man, who possesses neither a kingdom, nor power, nor wealth?” On one occasion he prepared a royal feast, which the people were invited to attend. Someone began to speak of Hatam, and another to praise him. Envious,the king dispatched a man to slay the Arabian chief, reflecting, “So long as HatamTaei lives, my name will never become famous.

The messenger departed, and traveled far seeking for Hatam Taei that he might kill him. As he went along the road a youth came out to meet him. He was handsome and wise, and showed friendliness toward the messenger, whom he took to his house to pass the night. Such liberality did he shower upon his guest that the heart of the evil-minded one was turned to goodness.

In the morning the generous youth kissed his hand and said, “Remain with me for a few days.” I am unable to stay here,” replied the messenger, “for urgent business is before me.” “If thou wilt entrust me with thy secret,” said the youth, “to aid the will I spare no effort.”

“O,generous man!” was the reply, “give ear to me, for I know that the generous are concealers of secrets. Perhaps in this country thou knowest Hatam Taei, who is of lofty mind and noble qualities. The king of Yemen desires his head, though Iknow not what enmity has arisen between them. Grateful shall I be if thou wilts direct me to where he is. This hope from thy kindness do I entertain, O friend!”

The youth laughed and said, “I am Hatam Taei, see here my head!Strike it from my body with thy sword. I would not that harm should be fall thee, or that thou shouldst fall in thy endeavor.”Throwing aside his sword, the man fell on the ground and kissed the dust of HatamTaei ‘s feet. “If I injured a hair on thy body,” he cried, “I should no longer be a man.” So saying, he clasped Hatam Taei to his breast and took his way back to Yemen.

“Come,” said the king as the man approached, “what news hast thou?” Why didst thou not tie his head to thy saddle-straps? Perhaps that famous one attacked thee and thou wert too weak to engage in combat.” The messenger kissed the ground and said, “O, wise and just king!I found HatamTaei, and saw him to be generous and full of wisdom,and in courage superior to myself. My back was bent by the burden of his favors; with the sword of kindness and bounty he killed me.”

When he had related all that he had seen of Hatam Taei ‘s generosity, the king uttered praises upon the family of the Arab chief and rewarded the messenger with gold.

Excerpt From: Bustan by by Sheikh Muslih-uddin Sa’di Shirazi r.a

Extra Note: HatamTaei was an Arabian chief who was renowned for his generosity. He was born in Yemen, in Arabia Felix, and lived some time before Hazrat Mohammed (p.b.u.h) in the sixth century. Many legends have been woven around his life and character.