Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Shaykh Isa's Alawi Ijaza

The following are some excerpts from Schuon's correspondence where he directly addresses the issue of the ijaza that he received from the Alawiyyah Tariqah. A formal break was made with the Alawiyyah of Mostaghanem in the 1950's when the current functionaries refused to accept his mantle of shaykh in conjunction with his refusal to accept their "propagandist program." It is evident that he did in fact establish a traditional filiation (according to Guenon's terminology) by receiving initiation from Shaykh Al-Alawi but his status as a muqaddam was ambiguous based upon the contents of his ijaza which allowed him the pre-existing right to bring people into Islam, as well as the fact that he was not instructed in whether or not he could initiate others into the practice of the invocation of the Unique Name. He assumed the mantle of Shaykh based upon a spontaneous interior recognition which was corroborated by the dreams of his disciples, not based upon the formal recognition of his master, a situation not uncommon within the annals of traditional sufism. These circumstances were, in fact, similar to those of Shaykh Al-Alawi himself. Although undisputedly a muqaddam of Shaykh Al-Buzidi, Shaykh Al-Alawi's own appointment as shaykh was also based upon interior recognition and dreams. The excerpts are as follows:

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The determining particularity of the Maryamiyah Tarîqah does not lie in the fact that I have Christian disciples, nor in my relationship with the American Indian world; it lies in the fact that certain graces that have been decisive for the Tarîqah were given to me directly from Heaven. I am thinking here, and first of all, of the Supreme Name, that Heaven revealed to me when I found myself in Paris; despite this Heavenly favor, I went to Mostaganem a year later to receive the Name there from the Khalîfah. Next I am thinking of the Six Themes, that were given to me in Lausanne; finally, I am thinking of my books and of my texts, that is to say, of my way of presenting the Doctrine and the Path. All of this was bestowed to me by Heaven, and this circumstance obviously confers a very particular coloration to our Tarîqah.

(Letter 9/13/87)

Contrary to what you have been told, I was initiated by Shaykh Al-Allâwî during my first visit to Mostaganem in the presence of Sidi Addah bin Tunes; it was in 1933. Two years later, during my second visit to Mostaganem, Sidi Addah informed me of his decision to confer on me the function of Moqaddam, and he gave me a diploma—an ijâzah—signed by himself. I have this document in front of me on my desk as I write these lines.

After the death of the Khalîfah Sidi Addah, it was impossible for me to accept the propagandist program of his son, Sidi Al-Mahdi; as a result, his partisans became hostile toward me. Some of them claimed that I had never met Shaykh Al-Allawî and that I had been initiated by Sidi Addah; and others seem to be saying now that I would have solicited the function of Moqaddam and that Sidi Addah would have refused to give it to me. This shows how poorly people know me, all the more as no respectable man stoops to beg for a dignity.

When Sidi Addah gave me the diploma, there was there a faqîr, whose name I have forgotten, serving as a witness. If he is still alive and if he is suffering from cerebral arteriosclerosis and amnesia, this is not my fault; perhaps he is confusing two completely different things, assuming this is the person who is your informer.

Shaykh Al-Allawî will never ask me: “What have you done with my tarîqah?” for the Allâwiyah Tarîqah is spread out in various countries in the East and does not depend on me in any degree. Moreover, if Shaykh Al-Allâwî had asked me this question, it would imply that he recognized me as his successor, and even as his unique successor, something that I could not be if I have never been named Moqaddam, as you claim while believing all that people tell you.

(Letter 11/30/1987)

What I received in Mostaganem, by way of teachings, was the legal minimum of the sharî‘ah and, from the Shaykh Al-‘Alâwî, the Initiation. As for the metaphysical ideas, I “heard” them in Mostaganem—at least in a certain form—but did not “receive” them, for they were already familiar to me, on the one hand thanks to the Vedânta and on the other thanks to the celestial gift of pure intellection. Likewise, my function of murshid and my quality of Shaykh al-Barakah are gifts from Heaven; my title of moqaddam was only an administrative measure, which moreover was unnecessary according to Shaykh Abdul-Wâhid. As for the Method, namely the Invocation, it is a gift from Heaven through the intermediary of the Barakah of Shaykh Al-‘Alâwî, qaddasa ’Llâhu sirrahu; it comes with another gift: the Six Themes, which constitute, in all that they imply, the very substance of our Way. Allâhu karîm.

(Letter 3/16/1988)

The following is a fascimile of the ijaza presented to Shaykh Isa by Shaykh Adda Bentounes in 1935:


The following is a partial translation of the above from Frithjof Schuon: Life and Teachings by Jean-Baptiste Aymard and Patrick Laude, p. 21:

"I attest ... that we have had the visit of that person of pure soul, excellent virtues, and “sincere penitence,” our brother in Allâh Sidi ‘Îsâ Nûr ad-Dîn, European by birth and residence, and that he has recently had prolonged contact with us, which has allowed us to scrutinize his spiritual states, his words and his actions, and we have—and the truth must be told—seen only what reassures the believer and pleases the initiate of Allâh, the Loving-Kind and the Knowing, “who chooses for Himself whom He pleases, and guides to Himself him who turns to Him in penitence.” Considering the foregoing in the light of our knowledge of this brother in Allâh, I have authorized him to spread the call to Islam among his own people, the Europeans, transmitting the word of the Tawhîd ..."

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Q&A on the Traditional School

Why do you adhere to the principles of the traditional school?

I was initially attracted to the principles of the traditional school because they provide profound and intellectually satisfying answers to various important questions and problems. I think that this is a legitimate motivation to adhere to any perspective, even if it later proves to be false.

Does this mean that you are an ideologue?

Not necessarily as this depends upon the firmness of one's convictions. While I recognize the intelligence of various teachings of the traditional school, my own adherence is not dogmatic and uncompromising as would be the hallmarks of ascribing to them as an ideology.

How can you expect others to ascribe to the traditional school?

Historically, the school has never been subject to any kind of popularization or propaganda. The exponents explained various subjects to the best of their ability and those inspired by them continued to read and draw practical conclusions from their teachings.

Is one a traditionalist out of faith or intellection?

I believe that one is a traditionalist out of faith or perhaps more appropriately intellectual assent to principles. Once a transition is made from mediate and discursive knowledge to immediate and intuitive knowledge then one has become a gnostic.

Did the exponents of the traditional school indicate the means whereby their assertions may be verified?

Yes. The expositions of the traditional school are based upon the science of metaphysics. Unlike the discursive methods of philosophy, metaphysical principles may be applied in different domains and given a certain degree of rational demonstration but they are not susceptible to proof through dialectical reasoning alone. Within the school, expositions of traditional doctrine are generally considered to be theoretical and propaedeutic to metaphysical realization which is obtained with the support of sacred rites and contemplative disciplines but which ultimately comes from God.

Why do traditionalists sometimes argue with others and engage in polemics and apologetics?

People interested in the traditional school generally discuss and dispute amongst themselves to explore various subtleties of doctrine and method. They also sometimes engage in apologetics to explain their understanding of principles to those who are condemnatory toward them. Most disputes can be reconciled through the reminder that engaging in a path of self-discipline and devotion that leads to knowledge of God is ultimately more important than thinking about it and discussing it.

What is "initiation" and how does it work?

As it pertains to the spiritual life, I think that initiation can be described most succinctly as a catalyzing spiritual influence often transmitted ritually from one person to another. How it works is perhaps best explained by Plato who said that, "after much converse about the matter itself and a life lived together, suddenly a light, as it were, is kindled in one soul by a flame that leaps to it from another, and thereafter sustains itself."

Does a person really need to join a spiritual order as a rule rather than as an exception if they seek to actualize the spiritual reality of being human?

While there are many different possibilities within the domain of spirituality, the phenomenon of initiation always takes place through transmission whether or not this occurs within the context of a particular organization. This is not to say that a catalyst cannot occur independently or individually as in the case of mysticism, but simply that with regard to initiation in a specific rather than a general sense, we are speaking of a transmission that occurs between people usually in association with some kind of direct physical contact or agency.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Ibn Arabi and Other Religions

I think that the passage from the Futuhat al-Makkiyya being considered by Keller and Chittick is ambiguous and inconclusive even with the continuation provided by Keller. Both authors are translating the same passage in a similar manner and drawing vastly different conclusions by each applying his own preferred interpretation. Personally, I would lend more credence to Chittick's interpretation principally because Ibn Arabi's writings are a premier focus of his scholarship toward which he appears to have devoted a lifetime of investigation.

Later in his article, Keller stated, "In fact, one looks in vain in the works of Ibn al-`Arabi for the belief of the validity of currently existing non-Islamic religions, for this is kufr." On the contrary, there is a lengthy historical precedent of conflicting opinions among Islamic scholars regarding the attribution of heresy to Ibn Arabi precisely due to the articulation of perspectives that contradict normative elements of Islamic faith. Shaykh G.F. Haddad has catalogued numerous of these positions and even contributed the opinion that portions of the Fusus al-Hikam must have been foreign interpolations because they contradict the normative principles of Islam. He wrote, "The attribution of this work in its present form to Ibn 'Arabi is undoubtedly incorrect as the Fusus contradicts some of the most basic tenets of Islam ... such as ... the abrogation of all religious creeds other than Islam ..."

In The Exo-Esoteric Symbiosis, Frithjof Schuon expresses the opinion that the clearest testimony of Ibn Arabi regarding the perspective of universality may be gleaned from The Ringstone of the Wisdom of Unity in the Word of Hud as follows (according to the Dagli translation):

"At all events, it must be that each individual be possessed of a belief regarding his Lord, by means of which he returns to Him and within which he seeks after Him. The Real discloses Himself to him within it and acknowledges it. If He disclosed Himself to him as something else he would deny it and seek refuge from it, and would, in reality, be showing bad adab with Him, although in his own eyes he is conducting himself with adab with Him. One only believes in a divinity through what he has made within his own soul. The divinity of beliefs comes about through this making. They see naught but their own souls and what they have made therein. So contemplate the fact that the hierarchy of mankind in their knowledge of God is their very hierarchy in terms of their vision on the Day of Resurrection. I have taught you the reason that makes this necessary. Beware lest you bind yourself with a specific belief and reject others, for much good will escape you. Indeed, the knowledge of reality as it is will escape you. Be then, within yourself, a hyle for the forms of all belief, for God is too vast and too great to be confined to one belief to the exclusion of another, for indeed He says, Wheresoever ye turn, there is the Face of God."

Of course, even an explicit description such as this may be subject to different interpretations and nuances of translation. However, overall I believe that the proposed interpretation is consistent with Ibn Arabi's metaphysics with the caveat that he not only exclusively followed the religion of Islam but likewise considered it preeminent among the traditions.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Islam and "Perennialism"

One explanation concerning why perennialism might be included among a list of those things that cause one to doubt Islam is the acknowledgement that a common perspective among perennialists is to depreciate exclusive religious identity in favor of identity as a metaphysician following the religion of the heart. The notion that Islam was arbitrary and expedient in principle (even if providential) and that neither Guenon nor Schuon can be considered converts is an important point of explanation among some of their followers. In perennialism (considered as a movement with ideological tendencies) this indicates a shift of primacy from revelation toward intellection wherein gnosis supplants the religion of the Prophet Muhammad - May peace and blessings be upon him. Intra-traditionally, a similar confluence of ideas may be found in the interplay of nubuwwah and wilayah. The difference is that this interplay occurs within an Islamic context wherein the intellect is still viewed as a ray of the nur muhammadiyah rather than a star shining solitarily above a plethora of religious firmaments. I imagine that the initial encounter of such ideas can be somewhat confusing or disconcerting for those who principally or exclusively identify themselves as Muslims, particularly if they have a propensity toward esoterism as taught by these figures.

***

Especially following the release of the Study Quran, many popular Islamic scholars (in the sense of addressing the populace rather than being in themselves well-known) are portraying the perennial philosophy in its ideological form (i.e. Perennialism) as a threat to the articles of Islamic faith determined by the majority of the community. Anyone who adopts a pluralistic perspective is considered by these scholars to have forfeited the correct view which may be interpreted as a crisis of faith even though it does not involve the introduction of doubt concerning God or Islam. I imagine that many Muslims, presented with a teaching that appeals to their intelligence but which contrasts to the teaching that appeals to their fear of God and desire for salvation will feel themselves deeply conflicted over the matter.

***

I think that the issue is a little more complicated than Islam reigning among the religions or otherwise abrogating them, and so forth. Islam in fact identifies itself as the religio perennis (din al-fitrah, din al-hanif, and even din unqualified), the haqiqa muhammadiyah as the source of all legislative prophets, and the shahadah as the philosophia perennis or essence of all revealed messages. I wonder how many intellectually inclined Muslims upon being exposed to perennialism think to themselves, why the need for a secular perennial philosophy?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The "Legal Minimum" in the Maryamiyyah

The following are some words written in response to the quote attributed to Guenon:

"... In Lusanne, the ritual observances have been reduced to a strict minimum ... It seems that I was entirely correct when I said that soon enough it will no longer be a tariqa but a vague universalist order ..."

When Frithjof Schuon (Shaykh Isa) brought the Alawiyyah to Guenonian study circles in Europe and assumed a position of leadership and initiatic guidance, first as muqaddam and later as shaykh, he and his disciples were faced with a series of challenges including among other things the formulation and administration of the community in the absence of extensive exposure to, training within and oversight from Mostaghanem, the clarification of a universalist identity within the context of an Islamic practice, and learning how to adapt the traditionally very strict interpretations of shari'ah prevalent in tasawwuf within a modernist (and sometimes hostile) ambiance and western culture. Concerning the last problem, I believe that (in the beginning of his career, at least) he maintained a thoroughly respectful consideration of the rights and necessity of the Shari'ah. He wrote, for example that "man must have the corresponding mentality, in order to be able to use any spiritual means at all ... Islamic law [...] creates and maintains precisely that attitude of soul and spirit without which the benefit of a higher means of grace is impossible." (5/14/44)

Considering his influences retrospectively, he stated, "What I received in Mostaganem, by way of teachings, was the legal minimum of the sharî‘ah." (3/16/88) In fact, the shari'ite instructions that he provided to fuqara throughout his lifetime are substantially identical, if somewhat less descriptive, than those provided in the text of Al-Murshid al-Mu'in used by Shaykh Ahmad al-Alawi and Shaykh Mawlay al-Arabi ad-Darqawi, consisting of the fard actions of the five pillars according to Maliki fiqh. As stated by Shaykh Ad-Darqawi, "We think that obligatory things are enough for him when they are accompanied by what we mentioned. That will enrich him greatly. A lot of actions will not be enough for him if he does not have that which we mentioned."

My impression from his early instructions and considerations was that the aim was not to create a justification for transgressing the law but rather to provide guidelines for fuqara that would enable them to fulfill their ritual obligations within all situations while additionally taking into consideration limitations arising from the non-Muslim heredity of his European disciples. Some of the explanations from his correspondence include the following:

"In Judaism the sharî’ah is indivisible and absolute; Jewish esoterism makes of this indivisibility and absoluteness a precondition, and it allows for no compromise. Either one submits to the couple of hundred prescriptions, or one is no longer a Jew; as a result, the majority of today’s Jews no longer belong to orthodox Judaism. The Islamic sharî’ah in contrast is characterized by its flexibility: it takes into account a legal minimum—what is indispensable, fardh—and to claim that this is not all of Islam is an erroneous opinion, it is Pharisaism. Of course—and this is something that my opponents consider to be a valid objection—a born Muslim living in Dâr-al-Islam will hardly be satisfied with the legal minimum, for he has little reason for this: he has been raised in Islam and masters its forms with ease, and in fact has learned hardly anything other than those forms; in addition, he is backed by the rhythms of the entire social life." (10/15/53)

"As for ourselves, I will say that it would be quite abnormal ... that men finding themselves objectively and subjectively in our situation be Moslems in exactly the same way as Moslem born people, including esoterists; this is what explains in part that it is normal for the sharî‘ah to be reduced, among us, to a strict minimum, notwithstanding justifications that result, on the one hand from a hostile ambience, and on the other hand from the graces of the Divine Name." (1/28/56)

"... the properly religious side of Islam—or the formal aspect—is something that encompasses the whole individual; now it is impossible to conceal something that encompasses us totally. We must therefore reduce the sharî‘ah to its simplest expression, even in conditions where such a simplification is not called for exoterically. I am basing myself here on the argument of dâr al-harb, not on that of the haqîqah. One must choose: if one does not want to simplify the sharî‘ah, then one must become a missionary. An essence can be concealed, but not a form. Another point to be made in this vein of ideas is that the sharî‘ah is much harder in the conditions of our life than it is in the East; things that are simple in themselves can become complicated. Now the general tendency of the sharî‘ah is to avoid complications." (4/4/56)

What may have aroused the consideration of the more conservative of his Muslim followers with respect to the implementation of the Shari'a was probably not the referenced legal minimum, which is not uncommon, but rather the allowance of further simplifications that went beyond the obligatory proscriptions. As far as I can tell, this primarily concerned concessions permitted in extenuating circumstances including to reduce the number of rakat, to pray them inwardly, and in extreme situations, to recite the Fatihah only. It seems fairly clear from his explanation that he allowed this as an exceptionally necessary concession without making it a general rule pertaining to all circumstances. In his words,

"Difficulty, in a dogmatic doctrine, begins only with the restrictions of moral and social opportunism and the “pharisaism” resulting from it. By “pharisaism” I mean a formalism that, in given circumstances, is opposed to the nature of things and becomes thereby “unreal”; moreover this is what allows one to speak of “formalism”. The accumulation of prayers that have not been performed on time is of the same order, except when it is impossible to replace them, at their respective times, by inner prayer, or even simply by a single Fâtihah, recited mentally and with a perfect concentration; I take responsibility for this alleviation, by virtue of the compensatory power of the invocation envisaged in its universal nature, but also, jointly, by reason of the abnormal circumstances in which we live. In my personal experience, to imagine ritual gestures that one does not perform is something artificial and “unreasonable”, but every one is free to do as they wish, for if I authorize simplifications, I do not however forbid the difficulties that the sharî‘ah or the sunnah may entail, that is obvious. In case a prayer is forgotten, it goes without saying that one must make it up in good and due form, even if one reduces it to two raka‘at. Something which is not allowed – be it said in passing - is to postpone the midday prayer till the evening in order to be able to recite the Shahâdah –or another dhikr—at noon, for the temporal limits of prayers are an essential element of Islam; one may delay a prayer because of dhikr, but not skip a whole time period of prayer." (1/28/56)

While he does not make any particular reference to it, I have always believed that these simplifications, under appropriate conditions, are entirely consistent with the latitude contained within the Quran and Sunnah in such examples as the salat al-safar and the salat al-khawf. According to The Study Quran commenting upon 2:239, "One can be fearful when in battle or under persecution. Commentators mention that in cases of fear, such as during open warfare, one can pray while riding or walking, whether it is in the direction of the qiblah (facing the Kaʿbah) or not. One can, rather than bow and prostrate, nod and lightly move one’s head in a manner corresponding to the motions of the prayer; according to some, one can shorten one’s prayers down to one cycle of prayer, rather than two, three, or four (IK)."

The situation concerning the status of the Shari'a is complicated by the shift in self-identity arising from a metaphysical perspective (a subject for separate examination), but as concerns the notion that the Maryamiyyah is somehow a vague universalist organization that is still perpetuated today, I believe that this is largely the result of misunderstandings arising from lack of adequate information.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Critically Engaging the Legacy of Frithjof Schuon

While the Admin is free to do as he pleases with regard to the parameters of the group, I think that this message raises some very interesting points for discussion. Regarding Nima's article, while I disagree with his approach (and virtually everything he represents), I believe that his unnamed correspondents are real and that they have raised valid concerns, excesses notwithstanding. I think the wiser course of action would be to discuss the article openly and dispassionately if it pertains to matters of general interest rather than calling for a ban on dissenting views. Exposure to different perspectives is, in my experience, an important element in the advancement of learning and the frequent inspiration of fruitful discourse. There are many examples throughout history of valuable treatises on Sufism being produced in response to critics and detractors.

There are a few other issues raised that I would like to express disagreement with for the sake of discussion. These include the idea that the legitimacy of Schuon's teachings and authority are self-evident or obvious, and that to reject them for any reason amounts to a censorious moral failing. On the contrary, my own association with this legacy over the last ten years has revealed it to be fraught with ambiguities, contradictions, and occasionally duplicity. While it is certainly true that Schuon has produced some remarkable books with valuable doctrinal insights and that furthermore the eloquence of the prose may arise organically from the integrity of the message, I do not believe that this necessarily indicates ipso facto the absolute moral integrity or infallibility of the man. Nor is it to say that the books themselves are free from problems for the discerning reader.

I will provide one example in response to two of the issues raised here, that of the moral failing of the dissenter and the determination of authority.

You wrote, "To doubt the authenticity of his authority as a spiritual master and to criticize the authority of the Tariqah Maryamiyyah reveals a lack of respect for the sacred and an anti-traditional attitude."

In response to a correspondent from a letter in the 40's, Schuon suggested that one should not attribute moral deficiency to others who hold opposing views as follows:

". . . I cannot, quite logically, understand why you would attribute purely psychological motives to those who think differently from you, as if the mere fact of not sharing your ideas excluded a priori any intellectual motive for doing so; yet, to communicate one’s own point of view and to demonstrate the defectiveness of that of others, it would suffice to expose ideas objectively without worrying about individuals...Would it not be far simpler and more normal to admit, as the sufficient reason for the intellectual attitude of people you have in mind, the incompatibility of your ideas with theirs? Your psychological suppositions concerning these people are arbitrarily disrespectful, and humiliating for them; now the fact of humiliating without good reason is always a sign of pride, and nothing could be farther from spirituality than pride. By what right do you attribute to those who do not think like you motives that are more or less despicable, or in other words, by what right do you attribute their intellectual position to a quasi moral deficiency?"

In the same letter, he also stated that because a disciple is by definition a beginner, that he is patently incapable of discerning the level of realization of a given master and that an appeal must be made to the criteria of the tradition within which an individual claims mastery as well as the traditional integrity of the method that he teaches as follows:

"The disciple cannot know more than that the Guru is spiritually superior to him; and this he can know only thanks to the tradition to which he belongs, and from which the Guru is issued. Once the disciple attains to the degree of the Guru, he can then seek another Guru, and so on and so forth; but it is in any case impossible for the disciple to know the “realization” of the Guru, and moreover this would be of no use at all. Only tradition can make up for this impossibility facing the disciple, and it does so on the one hand through the silsilah, which constitutes a first guarantee, and on the other hand by the doctrinal light which allows the disciple to recognize the spiritual superiority of the Master ...

This is not at all “self-evident”, and if there is something that seems evident to me, it is the exact contrary of what you are saying, namely that the disciple could never be brought to the Goal by any means whatsoever; the means, whatever it may be, must on the contrary correspond to the Goal, and it is precisely tradition, with all the degrees it contains, that guarantees, by its very structure, this correspondence. This is why “the line followed” has to be traditional; tradition is nothing other, in its most inward aspect which is also its essential reality, than the prototype of the way. The traditional virtue of the method is everything, for without it there would be no guarantee for the disciple to be rightly guided ..."

In the successive decades since writing these passages, he eventually came to posit the opposite view with regard to himself, asserting that doubts concerning his teaching were caused by either stupidity or satanic influence and that the evidence for his authority was to be derived from the high caliber of his teachings rather than from the criteria of tradition. His legacy, personality, and teachings are at turns profound, mysterious, multifaceted, and even contradictory. I believe that it is important not to limit ourselves to laudation or allow sentimentality to eclipse the capacity for discernment even if this means encountering undesirable opinions or critically engaging dissenting views.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Quran as the Sun of the Intelligence


فَآمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَالنُّورِ الَّذِي أَنزَلْنَا وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرٌ

Excerpted from The Niche for Lights by Al-Ghazali, translated by W.H.T. Gairdner

Further you must notice here, that while the intelligence of men does truly see, the things it sees are not all upon the same plane. Its knowledge is in some cases, so to speak, given, that is, present in the intelligence, as in the case of axiomatic truths, e.g. that the same thing cannot be both with and without an origin; or existent and non-existent; or that the same proposition cannot be both true and false; or that the judgment which is true of one thing is true of an identically similar thing; or that, granted the existence of the particular, the existence of the universal must necessarily follow.

For example, granted the existence of black, the existence of "colour" follows; and the same with "man" and "animal"; but the converse does not present itself to the intelligence as necessarily true; for "colour" does not involve "black", nor does "animal" involve "man". And there are many other true propositions, some necessary, some contingent, and some impossible. Other propositions, again, do not find the intelligence invariably with them, when they recur to it, but have to shake it up, arouse it, strike flint on steel, in order to elicit its spark. Instances of such propositions are the theorems of speculation, to apprehend which the intelligence has to be aroused by the dialectic (kalâm) of the philosophers. Thus it is when the light of philosophy dawns that man sees actually, after having before seen potentially. Now the greatest of philosophies is the word (kalâm) of Allah in general, and the Koran in particular.

Therefore the verses of the Koran, in relation to intelligence, have the value of sunlight in relation to the eyesight, to wit, it is by this sunlight that the act of seeing is accomplished. And therefore the Koran is most properly of all called Light, just as the light of the sun is called light. The Koran, then, is represented to us by the sun, and the intelligence by the Light of the Eye, and hereby we understand the meaning of the verse, which said: "Believe then on Allâh and His Prophet, and the Light which We caused to descend;" (64:8) and again: "There hath come a sure proof from your Lord, and We have caused a clear Light to descend." (4:174)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Alif-Bā': The Primordial Image




God has made one hundred and four books descend from Heaven. The knowledge contained in one hundred of these books he stored in four of them: the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Koran. The knowledge contained in the first three of these four books, he set down in the fourth, the Koran. He set down this knowledge in the Mufassal. This he set down in the Fatihah. Lastly, he set this down in the bā‘ of the Basmallah.

- Prophet Muhammad

All that is in the world is in the Qur'an, and all that is in the Qur'an is condensed in the Fátiha of the Book, and all that is in the Fátiha is in the basmala, and all that is in the basmala is in the bá' and I am the point under the bá'.

- Imam Ali

When the blissful fire shone for the Bā’ on the tree of its soul, it penetrated the darkness of the invisible canopy of its night, away from its own world, so as to acquire fire for its constitution, or to find within itself direction in its journey from itself to itself. It was carved out of an upright portion of the tree of the Alif that is the name of God.

Remove your shoes - that is, your character and your being - for indeed, you are at the Blessed Valley, and you are occasion of doubt and defilement. There is no place for you in the Blessed Valley of the dot unless you rid your being and your character of doubt and defilement until nothing is left in this sacred place except the Most Holy God. Under His direction the Bā’ grasped the hand offered as a sign of concord.

- Abd al-Karim al-Jili, The Cave and the Inscription

... they say that existents were made manifest through the bāʾ of bismillāh, since it is the letter that comes after the alif which [itself] is analogous to the Essence of God. Thus it [the bāʾ] is an allusion to the First Intellect (al-ʿaql al-awwal), which is the first thing that God created and the one to whom God’s statement, “I have not created anything more beloved to Me or more noble in My eyes than you: through you I grant, through you I seize, through you I reward and through you I chastise” is addressed [as per] the ḥadīth.

- Tafsir Al-Kashani, 1:1

Glory be to him who has made the letter alif, alone , the origin of All and the symbol of the pure and absolute Essence; who has made the letter bā‘ the cipher of the First Determination, the First of all limited beings beneath absolute being, the first of its epiphanies; and who has made the other letters the symbols, respectively, of the other existences. He has written the entirety qua entirety on the pages of the invisible universes with the Pen ofthe primordial Will. He has given the name of The Mother of the Book (the archetype of archetypes) to the letters of the eternal quiddities and individuations. He has composed its Verbs, perfect and imperfect, of the existence of beings. He has ordained the Signs of the universes of the Invisible and of the Visible in the Book of Horizons, to which refer the verses: "By Mount Sinai! By a Book written on an unrolled parchment (52:1-3)."

- Haydar Amuli, al-Muhit al-A'zam

Whenever I speak of the Point I mean the Secret of the Essence which is named the Oneness of Perception (Wahdat ash-Shuhūd), and whenever I speak if the Alif I mean the One Who Alone is (Wāhid al-Wujūd), the Essence Dominical, and whenever I speak of the Bā‘ I mean the ultimate Manifestation which is termed the Supreme Spirit ...

- Ahmad al-Alawi, The Book of the Unique Archetype

According to the traditional doctrine of the 'science of letters', Allah created the world not by the alif, which is the first of the letters [of the Arabic alphabet], but by the bā‘, which is the second; and, in fact, although unity is necessarily the first principle of manifestation, it is duality that manifestation immediately presupposes, and it is between the two terms of this duality as between the two complementary poles of manifestation represented by the two extremities of bā‘, that all the indefinite multiplicity of contingent existences will be produced. It is therefore bā‘ which is properly the origin of creation, and the latter is accomplished by it and in it, that is to say it is both the 'means' and the 'place,' according to the two meanings that the letter has when taken as the preposition bi [i.e., 'by' and 'in']. The bā‘ in this primordial role represents ar-Rûh, the Spirit, which one must understand as the total Spirit of universal Existence, and which is essentially identified as Light (an-Nûr); it is produced directly by 'divine commandment' (min amri 'Llah), and after it is produced, it is in every way the instrument by which this 'commandment' brings about all things, which are thus all 'ordered' in relation to it; prior to it, there is then only al-amr, the affirmation of pure Being and the first formulation of the Supreme Will, since before duality there is only unity, as before the bā‘ there is only the alif. Now the alif is the 'polar' letter (qutbâniyyah), of which the very form is that of the 'axis' through which divine 'order' is carried out; and the upper point of the alif, which is the 'secret of secrets' (sirr al-asrâr), is reflected in the dot of the bā‘, inasmuch as this dot is the center of the 'first circumference' (al-dâirah al-awwaliyyah) that defines and envelopes the domain of universal Existence, a circumference, moreover, which seen in simultaneity in all possible directions, is in reality a sphere, the primordial and total form from which all particular forms will be born through differentiation.

- Rene Guenon, Ar-Rûh

The supreme Qutb is attended by the two Imams of the right and of the left, and the ternary thus formed is represented in the pyramid by the triangularity of each of its faces. On the other hand, the unity and the binary which constitute this ternary correspond to the letters alif and ba, according to the respective numerical values of these letters. The letter alif has the form of a vertical axis; its upper point and the two ends of the horizontal letter bā‘ form (according to a schema of which one could find equivalents in various symbols pertaining to other traditions) the three angles of the initiatic triangle, which in fact must be considered as one of the 'signatures' of the Pole.

- Rene Guenon, A Hieroglyph of the Pole

'Heaven covers, Earth supports.' So runs the traditional formula that defines with the greatest of precision the roles of these two complementary principles and symbolically demarcates their positions, respectively above and below, in relation to the 'ten thousand beings' - that is, the totality of universal manifestation. Here we find postulated on one hand the 'actionless' quality of the activity of Heaven, or Purusha; and on the other hand the passivity of Earth, or Prakriti, which strictly speaking is a 'ground' or 'support' for manifestation, and consequently also a plane of resistance and halting for the celestial forces and influences acting downwards from above. Furthermore, this is applicable at any level of existence, for essence and substance can always be envisaged as principles that in a relative sense - that is, in relation to each particular state of manifestation - correspond to universal Essence and universal Substance in their relation to the totality of manifested existence ...

It is common knowledge that in the case of a complementary relationship between two terms where one is viewed as active and the other as passive, the active term will generally be represented symbolically by a vertical line and the passive term by a horizontal line. At times Heaven and Earth are also depicted symbolically in this way; but in this particular case the two lines do not cross each other to form a cross as they usually would, because it is obviously appropriate that the whole of the symbol of Heaven should be placed above the symbol of Earth. This gives us a perpendicular with the horizontal at its foot, and these two lines can beviewed as the altitude and base of a triangle, the sides of which descend from the 'pinnacle of Heaven' to determine the real extent of the surface ofthe Earth-that is, to mark offthe 'ground' that serves as the support for manifestation. [A similar arrangement of the two letters alif and bā‘ in the Arabic alphabet also corresponds to the same symbolism.]

- Rene Guenon, Heaven and Earth

The letter alif (ا) by its very verticality symbolizes the Divine Majesty and the Transcendent Principle from which everything originates. That is why it is the origin of the alphabet and the first letter of the Supreme Name of God, Allah, whose very visual form conveys the whole of Islamic metaphysical doctrine concerning the nature of Reality ...

He who loves God empties his heart of all but Him; the alif of Allah pierces his heart and leaves no room for anything else. That is why Hafiz sings in a famous verse,

There is no trace upon the tablet of my heart save the alif of the stature of the Friend.

What can I do, my master taught me no other letter.


One need only 'know' this single letter in order to know all that is to be known, for the Divine Name is the key to the Treasury of Divine Mysteries and the path to the Real. It is that Reality by virtue of the essential identity of God and His sanctified Name.

As for the bā‘ (ب), the second letter of the alphabet, it's very horizontality symbolizes the receptivity of the maternal and passive principle as well as the dimension of beauty which compliments that of majesty. The intersection of the two letters constitutes the point which stands below the bā‘ and which symbolizes the Supreme Center from which everything issues and to which everything returns. In fact all manifestation is nothing other than that point for how can the One bear otherness to that which would compromise it's oneness? That is why the alif and bā‘ themselves together with all the letters of the Arabic alphabet constituted of that point which, while being one in itself, is seen as many in the mirror of multiplicity.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Spiritual Message of Islamic Calligraphy

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Imam Al-Mahdi: The Hidden Guide and Master of Time




The Apostle of Allāh, may Allāh bless Him and His Family, said: “The days and nights will never end until Allāh sends a man from my House, whose name will be the same as mine. He will fill (the earth) with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.” He, may Allāh bless Him and His Family, said: “If only a single day remained for the world, Allāh would lengthen that day so that He could send on it a man from my descendants, whose name is the same as mine. He will fill the world with justice and fairness as it was filled with oppression and tyranny.”

- Shaykh Al-Mufid, Kitab al-Irshad, Chapter 11

The Mahdī is the one who shows humans the Path. All the Prophets before him guided humans to the Path of God, but their words were veiled, and their Sciences were hidden because the times required this. But once the process has reached its end and the lifting of the veils has come near and the Cycle of Unveiling (dawr-i kashf) has arrived, clear proofs will come out into the open, and well-ordered signs of that will appear. The person who will appear then will guide the humans without [having recourse to] veils and symbols, and he will unveil to them all of the [True] Knowledge that had been in the religious Laws and the [prophetic] Books, and every Wisdom and Mystery that had been hidden. The name of that person [i.e., Mahdī] is derived from [the root] HDY [to guide], which implies that there is no way for anyone to avoid him and his Call (daʿwat), or to escape from his arguments and proofs, because he guides the humans to that which is in their own inner reality (ḥaqīqat-i īshān) and shows the way to those sciences to which ‘the Horizons and the Souls’  bear witness and opens the way for the souls to know the spiritual dominion of God, so that the souls become one with the True Realities (ḥaqāyiq) and the Spiritual Support [of the ‘chosen ones’, taʾyīd].

- Abu Ya'qub Sijistani, On the Fifth Creation, VI 6.1

Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi entitled Sahib al-zaman (the master of time), who is the last Shi'ite Imam, went into minor occultation upon the death of his father. From 260/873 to 329/940. He had four representatives (na'ib) to whom he appeared from time to time and through whom he ruled the Shi'ite community. This period is thus called the minor occultation (al-ghaybat al-sughra). Henceforth, there began the major occultation (al-ghaybat al-kubra) which still endures. During this time, according to the Shi'ah, the Mahdi is alive but invisible. He is the axis mundi, the invisible ruler of the Universe. Before the end of time he will appear again on earth to bring equity and justice and to fill it with peace after it has been torn by war and injustice. The Mahdi is an ever-living spiritual being who guides on the spiritual path those who are worthy and whose succor all the devout ask in their daily prayers. He who is spiritually qualified is, in fact, in inner contact with the Mahdi.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Ideals and Realities of Islam, pp. 162-164

In the same way that he has the duty of guiding men outwardly, the Imam also bears the function of walayat and the esoteric guidance of men. It is he who directs man’s spiritual life and orients the inner aspect of human action toward God. Clearly, his physical presence or absence has no effect in this matter. The Imam watches over men inwardly and is in communion with the soul and spirit of men even if he be hidden from their physical eyes. His existence is always necessary even if the time has not yet arrived for his outward appearance and the universal reconstruction that he is to bring about.

- Allama Tabataba'i, Shiite Islam, pp. 194-195

This polar function culminates in that of the major Pole, the major polar function (qutbiyah kubra) of the "pole of poles". This is the esoteric dimension of prophecy, and as such it can belong only to the Imam. Every Imam of each of the great prophets has had his turn at being the pole of poles. In the present, post-Muhammadan period, the qualification belongs to him who, as the esoteric dimension of the Seal of the prophets, is the Seal of all the Friends of God: the twelfth Imam, at present occulted, invisibly present to this world until the day of his advent.

- Henry Corbin, Temple and Contemplation, p. 66

[T]he Twelfth Imam ... is the Hidden Imam, both in Shi'ism and in Sufism as it exists in the Shi'ite world. Inasmuch as the Imam, although in concealment, is alive and is the spiritual axis of the world, he is the pole (Qutb) with whom all Sufi masters are inwardly connected. He is to Shi'ism what the supreme pole is to Sufism in its Sunni context. In Shi'ism the Imams, especially 'Ali, the first, and the Mahdi, the last, are the spiritual guides par excellence. The Hidden Imam, representing the whole chain of Imams, is the pole that attracts the hearts of the believers and it is to him that men turn for guidance. Moreover, the Imam also exists within the hearts of men. He is the inner guide who can lead man on the journey beyond the cosmos and also into the inner dimensions of his own being, if only man could reach this inner pole. That is why certain Shi'ite gnostics and Sufis have instructed the disciple to seek the 'imam of his being'. The possessor of the power of walayah or initiation, by virtue of which the Imam in fact becomes the Imam, is the esoteric interpreter of things, of religion and of nature. And it is, in the Shi'ite view, the Imam's inward connection with the Sufi masters that enables them to gain the power of initiating and guiding men so that these men too can in fact reach the inner pole of their being.

- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Sufi Essays, p. 66

At any given point in time, there could be several saints and friends of God (awliya’) who have achieved human perfection. If so, then each of them would be capable of guiding, instructing and assisting the wayfarers of the spiritual path. However, there is only one Imam at a time, who would be the vicegerent of the Messenger of God, the possessor of the Greatest Guardianship (al-wilayat al-kubra), the upholder of both the shariah and the tariqah (the exoteric and the spiritual paths), one who predominates over all planes of existence, and one who encompasses every affair in the contingent world, particular and universal alike. All of the saints are under his guidance and follow his shariah and tariqah. It is necessary for a wayfarer to be constantly attentive of him, and this is what [is meant] by companionship (murafaqah). Murafaqah is derived from rifaqah (company) and rafiq (companion), but it is not limited to physical company and presence. Instead, what matters in the spiritual journey is spiritual companionship. Just as the spirit of a saint or master encompasses the wayfarer, the wayfarer should also be continuously heedful of his master [and see himself under his master’s guardianship] so that companionship may hold [because companionship is something mutual]. This companionship of the wayfarer with the Imam is the main driving force that advances the wayfarer on his journey. [T]he Imam [is] the particular master, which, at the time of the Greater Occultation (al-ghaybat al-kubra), is only Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-‘Askari, who is the Imam of the Time and the Final Proof of God (may the Supreme God hasten his reappearance).

- Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Husayni Tihrani, Treatise on Spiritual Journeying and Wayfaring, Notes