D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

The early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 online

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Some, therefore, of those who have ascribed their
works to the Divine Being have endeavoured some-
what to soften or to modify this pretension ; they
employ some word which, though meaning the same as
" revelation," is not one of the synonyms ordinarily
employed in reference to the Holy Scripture ; Ibn
*Arabi, though boldly pretending to an office higher
than that of prophet, professes to have received
his book from the Prophet Mohammed in a dream —
taking care to call attention to a tradition according
to which Mohammed cannot be personated in a
dream by the devil, who otherwise is a quick-change
artist. And in the case of a work of the fourth
century of Islam, which appears to contain the
genuine and undiluted mysticism, the name employed
by the writer is far removed from those used of the
Koran : each set of aphorisms begins, " He caused
me to understand [some term] and said unto me " ;
where, however, the sequel shows that the speaker is


the Divine Being Himself, and the commentator
uses without hesitation the actual word whereby
Koranic revelations are described in the sacred volume
itself — " sendings down." These usually are brief
aphorisms, but occasionally they extend to compli-
cated paragraphs.

The work, like several other Arabic monuments, is
regularly embedded in a commentary, of which the
purpose is very often to give the opinions of the
author something like an orthodox colouring. Thus
the formula with which most of the aphorisms are
introduced,*' And he said unto me," where the pronoun
is shown by the sequel to refer to the Divine Being,
is explained away the first few times that it occurs :
the author means that the matter was put so distinctly
into his mind that it was as if the Divine Being had
said unto him. Early as this work is in the series
of mystic manuals, its author claims for those who
are possessed of the esoteric knowledge nothing less
than is claimed for them at a later time : such a
person is God's viceroy on earth. For such a person
religious exercises cease to have value ; he is above
all rules and regulations. The secret which is revealed
is that God exists and nothing' exists except God ;
the recognition of anything else except God is
" association," what in the Koran is called paganism.
The terms defined are largely connected with the
progressive attainment of this esoteric knowledge ;
knowledge is expressed by three different terms, of
which the intermediate appears to satisfy the writer
whom we have studied so long — Abu Talib al-]\Iekki.


The third stage, al-wakfah, "standing" or "under-
standing," is that which constitutes the goal of the
true mystic ; and it is that wherein all differences
between him and the Divine Being are sunk. For
him neither the present nor the future world has any
existence ; the word " other," " besides," is banished
from his vocabulary. He cannot pray : to do so
would be to acknowledge that God was different
from himself, and that there were things to be had
other than that identity.

It is in any case a bold achievement to compose a
long series of aphorisms supposed to be uttered by the
Divine Being, but what must be said for al-Niffari,
the author, is that his aphorisms are profoundly
earnest ; they rarely suggest conscious imposture, a
charge from which the work of his successor, Ibn
'Arabi, cannot easily be exonerated. They appear,
however, to contain constant repetitions of the same
thoughts in slightly different language ; the imagery
is at times extravagant and even grotesque ; and it
may often be doubted whether the propositions are'
meant to convey anything like their obvious meaning.
But whatever be the facts about the origin of the
work, it seems clear that we have in it as bold and
undiluted a statement of the esoteric doctrine of the
Sufis as can be found. The treatises that are diluted

with ethics or homilies appear to have halted half-way
on the road ; their authors may have themselves
failed to gain admittance into the inner circle, or have
been mentally unqualified for such progress. Clearly,
the stage at which both devotional practice and


ascetic practice are flung aside as rudimentary dis-
cipline lies beyond that at which the one or the
other constitutes the main occupation of life.

The revelations ordinarily consist of brief aphor-
isms, chiefly definitions ; sometimes, however, a fairly
lengthy paragraph is communicated at once, and at
times the revelation takes the form of a dialogue
between the author and the Divine Being ; or instead
of a conversation there is the description of a scene.
The practical aphorisms, i.e. such as could be called
precepts or directions for conduct, are few in number ;
and even these are seemingly contradictory. Certain
words and phrases appear to be employed in highly
technical senses, but not consistently.

What excites the wonder of the reader is that a
treatise of this sort should have been permitted to
survive, since its author makes very light of the
devotions of Islam. It would seem, however, that
among the few precepts which he receives, while that
of writing down his revelations is emphasised, some
stress is also laid on secrecy and care in the choice of
associates. Possibly he composed under an assumed
name, since the collectors of Sufi biographies seem
to take no notice of him ; and his commentator of
Tlemsen has not thought it worth while to give any
account of him, though he implies at times that he
was acquainted with his career, at any rate to some
extent. Nevertheless, the impression which the work
leaves on the mind is that its author knows his
business more than the other Sufis of the fourth
century, e.g. Abu Talib al-Mekki. One fancies that


he would have declared these people to have gone
no further than the gnosis, which was only the
second stage in the aspirant's course ; gnosis led
to understanding, which was the highest stage.
The understanding is the person to whom God is

The consequence that worship is inconsistent with
the state of understanding is quite fearlessly drawn.
*' The more the sight of God is extended, the
narrower becomes the sphere of worship. When I
have concentrated thy quality and thy heart upon
sight of me, what hast thou to do with supplication ?
Shalt thou ask me to remove the veil? I have
removed it. Shalt thou ask me to veil myself?
Then with whom wilt thou converse ? When thou
hast seen me, only two petitions remain for thee :
thou mayest ask me in my absence to maintain thee
in my sight ; and thou mayest ask me when thou
seest me that thou mayest say to a thing be and
it shall be. Yet I give thee leave to ask of me
when I am absent. If thou canst calculate, then
subtract the vision from the absence, and whichever
remains over, make that prevail in the matter of
petition — Le. since petition is only permitted in
absence, if there be more absence than presence, ask.
If I am not absent when thou eatest, then I shall
save thee the trouble of labouring for food. If I am
not absent when thou sleepest, I shall not be absent
when thou wakest. A resolve of thine to keep
silence when thou seest me is a screening ; how much
more a resolve of thine to speak. Such resolve can


only come about in absence. To no eye or heart do
I appear but I annihilate it."

The revelation dealing with the screening of the
vision is rather more mysterious. ** Ignorance is the
screen of vision, and knowledge is the screen of vision.
I am the unscreened outside and the unrevealed
interior. Who knows the screen is near the revela-
tion. The screen is one, but the causes which bring
it about are many. They are the specific screens."

Just as we find that in the idealism of Kant space
and time are shown to be forms of thought, i.e. to
exist for the mind only, so our mystic thinks the
same of night and day. " Eternity worships me, and
it is one of my qualities ; and out of its praise I have
created the night and the day ; I have made them
curtains spread out over the eyes and the thoughts,
and over the hearts and over the minds. Night and
day are two curtains spread out over all that I have
created, but having chosen thee for myself I have
lifted those curtains in order that thou mightest see
me ; and now that thou hast seen me, stand in thy
station before me, and abide in the vision of me ;
otherwise thou shalt be snatched by every being. I
have only raised the curtains in order that thou
mightest see me, and that I might strengthen thee
for the sight of the heavens splitting, and for the
sight of that which descends how it descends, and
that thou mightest see how that comes from my
presence even as there come night and day, and all
that I show unto thee."

The Kantian doctrine of space and time is ex-


pressed somewhat more distinctly in another " station."
" Everything that is on the dust is from the dust ;
look then at the dust, and thou shalt eliminate that
which is from it ; and shalt see that which transformed
it from one individual in the sight of the eyes to
another ; thus the individuals shall not distract thee.
Take to thyself helpers for the wandering of thy gaze ;
and when thy gaze no longer wanders then no helpers
are required. The dispensing with helpers shall not
be until there is no time ; and there shall be no time
only when there are no individuals ; and there shall
be no individuals only when thou seest them not, but
seest me."

[The aspirant, then, is to direct his thoughts to
the matter and the power which transforms it into
different substances and individuals ; this transforma-
tion takes place in time ; and only when the aspirant
has forgotten the individual existences, and realised
only the transforming power, can he do without
helpers, i.e. the ascetic practices which will enable
him to reach what is behind phenomena.]

The following " station " deals with " vicinity," i.e.
what is meant by being " near God," an epithet
which in the Koran is applied to a favoured class,
which includes the Christian Saviour. It is shown
that the notions of distance and vicinity in this con-
text have nothing to do with space.

*' He caused me to understand vicinity, and said to
me : Nothing is further from me than any other
thing, and nothing is nearer to me than any other
thing, except as I institute its nearness or farness.


" Distance is known to thee by vicinity, and vicinity
is known to thee by sensation ; the most elementary
acquaintance with vicinity is thy perceiving the
trace of my sight in everything, so that this affects
thee more than thy knowledge [of the thing].

"The vicinity which thou knowest, as compared
with the vicinity which I know, is like thy knowledge
compared with my knowledge.

" Neither my vicinity nor my distance is known to
thee, nor my description according as it really is.

" I am the near, yet not as one thing is near another ;
and the distant, yet not as one thing is distant from

" Thy nearness and thy farness are not thine ; it is
I that am the near and the distant, whose nearness
is distance and whose distance is nearness.

" The nearness and the distance which thou knowest
are measured by space ; but I am near and distant
without space.

" I am nearer to the tongue than its utterance, when
it utters ; whoso witnesses me makes no mention, and
whoso mentions me witnesses not.

" He who witnesses and mentions, if what he wit-
nesses be not real is screened by what he mentions.

" I make myself known to thee and thou knowest

me not — that is distance ; thy heart sees me, yet sees

me not — that is distance; thou perceivest me, yet

perceivest me not — that is distance. Thou describest

me, yet not according to my description — that is

distance. Thou hearest my addressing thee from thy

heart, whereas the address is from me — that is dis-



tance ; thou seest thyself, whereas 1 am nearer to thee
than thy sight — that is distance."

The following is an account of the main doctrine,
but rather obscurely and mysteriously expressed :

" Thou must not go out of thy house save unto
me ; thou shalt then be in my protection, and I shall
be thy helper.

" I am God ; thou canst not enter unto me by bodies,
nor perceive my knowledge by fancies.

" Whatsoever thou seest with thine eye and thy
heart of the realm of the manifest and the secret, and
whose submission unto me and humiliation before
me, and before the majesty of my might, I have made
thee witness through some knowledge which 1 have
established for thee, which thou knowest by witness-
ing, not by expression — beyond that knowledge I have
made thee pass, and from other infinite cognisances
and the tongues of their utterers, and have opened
unto thee therein my gates which are only entered
by him whose knowledge is strong enough to sustain
the knowledge of them, so that thou sustainest them
and not they thee ; by reason of what I have made
thee witness of them, and not permitted them to
witness of thee ; and so thou hast reached the bound
of the Presence, and the arrival of one and another
has been announced : thereupon reflect who thou art
and whence thou hast entered, and what thou didst
know so that thou couldst enter, and why thou didst
hear so that thou couldst sustain.

" When I shall cause thee to witness every exist-
ence at once, in one vision, then at that station I have


certain forms, which if thou knowest, invoke me by
them ; but if thou knowest them not, then invoke me
by the pain of this vision in thy troubles.

" The description of this vision is that thou shouldst
see the height and the depth and the length and the
breadth, and all that is therein, and all whereby that
is in what is manifest and abiding and subjected and
striving, and shouldst witness the existence of each
returning its gaze towards itself, since each particular
thereof cannot advance except towards its parts,
and shouldst witness the places thereof whereon the
eye falls, wherein existence establishes its hymnody
directed towards me with the eulogies of its praise,
staring at me with the glory- giving which distracts
it from everything else than its continuance in its
devotions ; then when thou seest [the existences] with
their faces [so] turned, say : O thou who conquerest
everything by the appearance of thy sovereignty, and
who appropriatest everything by the despotism of thy
might, thou art the Powerful who canst not be re-
sisted, and canst not be described ; and when thou
witnessest them staring in order to give glory, then
say : O merciful, O pitying One ; I ask thee by thy
mercy whereby thou hast established in thy know-
ledge and strengthened and elevated unto thy mention
and raised the minds unto yearning after thee, and
whereby thou hast ennobled the station of whom thou
wilt among thy creatures before thee.

" Knowledge is what thou feelest, but the realisa-
tion of knowledge is what thou dost witness. ^

*' Is not the fact that I have sent unto thee the


sciences from the direction of thy heart a withdraw-
ing of thee from the general to the special ? Is not
my privileging thee by making myself known to thee,
so that thou canst abandon thy heart and the sciences
which have appeared to thee, revelation ? Does not
revelation mean that thou shouldst banish from
thee everything and the knowledge of everything,
and witness me in that which I have made thee
witness ? So that no alarmer alarms thee at that
time, neither does any companion cheer thee, whilst
I make thee witness and make myself known unto
thee, though it were but once in thy lifetime ; telling
thee that thou art my friend, inasmuch as thou dost
negate everything by virtue of what 1 have made
thee witness, so that I become the controller of thee,
and thou comest between me and everything, and
thou art attached to me, whilst everything [else] is
attached to thee, not to me. And this is the descrip-
tion of my friends, and know that thou art my friend,
and that thy knowledge is the knowledge of my
friendship. So commit unto me thy name that I
may meet thee therewith, and set between me and
thee no name nor knowledge, and discard all names
and sciences which I display unto thee owing to the
majesty of my vision, lest thou thereby be screened
from me.

" Everything has its sorcery, and the sorcery of the
letters is the names ; depart from the names, thou
shalt depart from the meanings.

" He caused me to understand the command, and
said unto me : Execute what I command thee and


wait not for cognisance ; verily if thou wait for
cognisance of my command thou shalt disobey my

" If thou dost not execute my command until the
cognisance thereof appears to thee, thou obeyest the
cognisance of the command, not the command.

*' Knowest thou what it is which stops thee from
executing my command and wait for the cognisance
thereof? It is thy soul, which seeks knowledge that
she may be superior to my decrees, and that she may
go by her own guidance in its paths. Verily cog-
nisance has ways, the ways valleys, the valleys out-
lets and highroads, and the highroads difference of

" Execute my command when T command thee, and
ask not concerning the cognisance thereof; even so
those that are in my presence, the angels of the
decrees, carry out what they are commanded and
make no inquiries ; execute without inquiry, and thou
shalt be of me and I of thee.

" It is not out of grudging that I conceal from thee
cognisance of the command ; only cognisance is that
station of wisdom which I have set for thee ; and if
I assent to thy cognisance of anything, I command
thee to abide there ; and if thou abide not there,
thou disobeyest me, because I have made cognisance
a judgment, and when 1 show thee a cognisance, I
command thee to judge thereby.

" If I command thee, and thy intellect come and
intervene, then banish it, and if thy heart come and
intervene, then dismiss it, so thou mayest execute


my command, and let nothing else accompany thee ;
for then thou shalt advance therein ; but if anything
else accompany thee, then it will cause thee to stop
short of it, for thy intellect will stay thee until thou
knowest, and only when it knows does it give prefer-
ence, and thy heart will stay thee, and when it knows
it will favour."

The next translation is of a highly mystical passage :

" Instruction of the Sea.

" He caused me to understand the sea, and 1
beheld the boats sinking but the planks escaping.
Then the planks sank, and he said unto me. None
who sails escapes. He risks his life who flings
himself therein and sails not. He perishes who sails
and risks not ; in risking there is some safety ; for
the wave comes and raises what is beneath it, and it
sinks upon the shore. The surface of the sea is a
light that cannot be attained owing to the distance
of its path, and its bed is darkness that cannot be
endured ; and between the two are monsters from
which no one is secure. Sail not on the sea lest I
screen thee by the instrument ; and fling not thyself
therein lest I screen thee therewith. In the sea are
bounds, and which of them shall support thee ? If
thou givest thyself to the sea and art drowned there-
in, thou shalt be like one of its creatures. I should
deceive thee if I pointed thee towards any but
thyself. If thou perish in aught beside me thou
shalt remain even as thou hast perished therein.
The world is for him whom I have diverted from it
and from whom I have diverted it ; and the next


world is for him towards whom I have advanced it,
together with myself."

It appears from these quotations that the mysticism
of Islam is developed on lines of its own, and has
only a superficial resemblance to other sorts. Its
goal, Fana, " perdition," means losing consciousness
of all other existences besides that of God ; and this
goal seems so clearly suggested by the Koranic doc-
trine that nothing should be associated with God,
that we may even doubt the influence of India,
which in its philosophy of Maya or " delusion "
seems often to run on parallel lines. The problem of
Indian philosophy is, however, a different one, being
suggested by the doctrine of transmigration ; how is
the soul, constantly shifting from one embodiment to
another, to attain rest ? The problem of Islamic
mysticism is : how is the Moslem to fulfil the
command to associate nothing with God ? He fulfils
it in the first place by banishing from his mind all
desires except the desire for God ; by rejecting and
contemning earthly joys first, and then heavenly joys :
and since Paradise has no attraction for him, he
speedily arrives at the conclusion that the ceremonial
performances by which it is to be earned can have
only disciplinary, at most sacramental, value. But he
is then faced with the difficulty that his senses in the
first place and his intelligence in the second tell
him of other things existing besides God ; of various
phaenomena and noumena. He must then some-
how or other ehminate these also ; and finally elimi-
nate himself, because he must not treat himself as


diiferent from God, since otherwise he will be no
complete monotheist.

Now, what appears from the treatise whence these
extracts have been taken is that the author endeavours
to set forth matters of experience, propositions which
perhaps convey a meaning to one who has gone
through a certain training, but which are most
imperfectly understood by others : and it may be
gathered that even with himself the consciousness
was not persistent, but occasional. But just as with
the Indian philosophies the goal was the same,
though the methods were variable, so with the IMoslern
mystics the end was definite, though different sects
and orders supposed it could be attained by some-
what different modes of procedure. Philanthropy
and social reform seem, however, to have been rather
by-products of the movement than to have con-
stituted an essential part of it. The essential thing
is salvation, for which, curiously enough, a term
signifying perdition is employed.

Of sacred literature outside the region of Islam,
it is probable that parts of the Fourth Gospel bear
the closest resemblance which can be found to the
esoteric Sutism ; a question not easily answered is
whether we have independent products before us, or
whether the thoughts of Niffari are directly inherited
from the author of the Christian work.



As " a detailed account of everything " the Koran
might reasonably be expected to give clear and
satisfactory answers to those questions which come
within religious metaphysics, e,g, responsibility, and
the nature of the soul and of God. Possibly a
consistent system on these subjects is scarcely
attainable ; and one of even ostensible consistency
can only be devised by patient study and purely
objective speculation. The Prophet's busy and
active life neither favoured nor even permitted such
processes ; whence, when these questions became
troublesome, they had to be answered as best suited
the immediate need. Thus the Prophet's first and
main message appears to have been to warn his
countrymen of an approaching^ Day of Judgment,
accompanied by the resurrection of the dead ; and,
like the ancient Pharisees and Sadducees, he and they
appear to have differed on the question whether the
dead are or are not to rise. It seems, however, clear
that if the dead are to rise in order to be judged,
Paradise and Hell cannot follow immediately upon
death ; the ultimate condition indicated by those



two words must come after Judgment, not before.
Until, then, Moslems fought battles wherein they
slew Unbelievers and were themselves slain, there
was little difficulty in making the dead unconsciously
await the final trump, when they were to be raised
for judgment ; but the first of the Moslem battles
rendered such delay intolerable. The martyrs had
to enter Paradise at once, and the dead Unbelievers
had immediately to be convinced of their error.
Nevertheless, the doctrine of the Day of Judgment

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe early development of Mohammedanism; lectures delivered in the University of London, May and June 1913 → online text (page 13 of 18)