The Mystical and Idealistic spirit in Islam

The mystical philosophy which forms the life and soul of modern Persian literature owes its distinct origin to the esoteric significance attached by an important section of Moslems to the words of the Koran. The elevated feeling of Divine pervasion with which the Prophet often spoke, the depth of fervent and ecstatic rapture which characterized his devotions, constitute the chief basis on which Moslem mysticism is founded. During his lifetime, when the performance of duties was placed before religious speculation, there was little scope for the full development of the contemplative and mystical element in Islam. This mystical and contemplative element exists in all religions and among every people. And yet it varies with the peculiarities of the individual and the race, and according to their tendency to confound the abstract with the concrete. The Hindu looks on absorption of the finite into the Infinite as the culmination of happiness; and to attain that end he remains immovable in one spot, and resigns himself to complete apathy. The sense of infinity makes it difficult for him to distinguish objectively between the priest and the God, or himself and the God; and eventually between the Deity and the different forms of nature in which He is supposed to be manifested. Gradually this train of contemplation leads to the formal conclusion, as appears from the Bhagavad Gīta, that Creator and creation are identical. We see thus how curiously pantheism, in its extreme manifestation, approaches to fetishism, which preceded every other idea of the Divinity. In its infancy the human mind knows no spiritual sentiment but one of unmixed terror. The primeval forests, which the hand of man has not yet touched, the stupendous mountains looming in the distance, the darkness of the night, with the grim, weird shapes which hover about it, the howling of the wind through the forest tops, all inspire fear and awe in the infant mind of man. He worships every material object he finds more powerful or more awe-striking than himself or his immediate surroundings. Gradually he comes to attach an ideality to all these objects of nature, and thinks these idealities worthy of adoration. In process of time all these separate idealities merge in one universal all-embracing Ideality. Materialistic pantheism is the first step in the rise from fetishism.

Neo-Platonism, itself the child of Eastern thought, had impressed its character on Christianity, and probably given rise to the eucharistic idea. With the exception of Johannes Scotus and Eckhart, the mystics of Europe during the Middle Ages fought only on this ground. Mysticism, properly so called, with its higher yearning after the Infinite, was ushered in by the Moslem doctrine of "inward light."

The idea among the nobler minds in the world of Islam, that there is a deeper and more inward sense in the words of the Koran, arose not from the wish to escape from the rigour of "texts and dogmas," but from a profound conviction that those words mean more, not less, than the popular expounders supposed them to convey. This conviction, combined with a deep feeling of Divine pervasion,--a feeling originating from and in perfect accordance with the teachings of the Koran and the instructions of the Prophet, led to the development among the Moslems of that contemplative or idealistic philosophy which has received the name of Sufļsm, and the spread of which, among the Mohammedans, was probably assisted by the prevalence of Neo-Platonic ideas. Imam al-Ghazzali in the East, and Ibn-Tufail in the West, were the two great representatives of mysticism among the Moslems. The former, as we have already seen, dissatisfied with every philosophical system, which based knowledge on experience or reason, had taken refuge in Sūfļsm. Al-Ghazzalī's influence served greatly to promote the diffusion of Sufļsm among the Eastern Moslems, and idealistic philosophy was embraced by the greatest intellects of the Mohammedan East. Moulānā Jalāl ud-dīn of Rūm ( Turkey), whose Masnavī is venerated by the Sūfī; Sanāļ, whom Jalāl ud-dīn himself has called his superior; Farīd ud-dīn Attār, Shams ud-dīn Hāfiz, Khākāni, the moralist Sa'di, the romancer Nizāmī,--all belonged to this school.

It must not be supposed that al-Ghazzālī was the first preacher of "inward light" in Islam. Intuitive knowledge of God (ta'arruf) is inherent in the Faith. The intent (niyyet) of "approach" (kurbat) to and communion with Him is the essential preliminary to true devotion; the "Ascension" (the mi'raj) of the Prophet meant the absolute communion of the finite with the Infinite. Not only does God speak to the hearts of men and women who in earnest sincerity seek divine help and guidance, but all knowledge is from the Supreme Intelligence; it comes to the Prophets by direct revelation and often "The sacrament of the heart" is conveyed by Him to His chosen few, "fi-sirrati-kalbi, without an intermediary. This in Islām is called 'Ilmi-ladunni. 3 It is referred to in the Koran, where it says, "We taught him [His chosen servant] knowledge from Ourself." The same conception of intimate communion with God occurs in the well-known hadis, where the Almighty says, "My earth and My heaven contain Me not, but the heart of My faithful servant containeth Me." 5 And the Divine promise finds a responsive note in the human heart when it is uplifted in prayer: "The Almighty God hears whatever prayers (lit. praises) I offer Him. O my Lord, I thank Thee."

The same transcendentalism is to be found in other traditions; and Ali discourses on the inward light in his sermons; Fatima'-t az-Zahra, "our Lady of Light," dwells on it in her preachings; and it finds ecstatic expression in the prayers of the grandson of Ali, the son of Husain the Martyr. But nowhere in these earliest records of the conception of "Inward Light" is there any ground for the suggestion that either the Prophet or the direct inheritors of his spiritual heritage ever preached the abandonment of the affairs of the world in the pursuit of Truth, or the observance of asceticism which he so strongly reprobated. And that is exactly what has happened in the evolution of Moslem esotericism. In the endeavor to obtain spiritual perfection numbers of Moslems have forgotten the precept that human existence depends on constant exertion. How this has taken place is not without interest.

The mystic cult neither in Christianity nor in Islam is a new development. It existed in the Roman world and was not unknown to the Jews. In Aryan India, it practically ran riot and was cultivated in every form. From India it was transported into Western and Central Asia, where it assumed from time to time most fantastic shapes. Wherever it was planted it implied the abandonment of all commerce with the outside world, the renunciation of family ties and obligations, and the concentration of the human mind on one object to the exclusion of all others. This, in fact, represents the essence of the mystic cult. The call of Jesus was an echo of the world-old teaching of the Mystic. The Prophet of Islam, on the other hand, emphasized the faithful performance of the less impressive duty, the service of man, as the most acceptable worship to God. His call was the direct antithesis of the older conceptions.

Unfortunately, the convulsions that followed on the breakup of the original and true Caliphate with the assassination of Ali, the sack of Medīna with all its attendant horrors, and the pagan license which came into vogue in social life under the more dissolute Ommeyyade sovereigns of Damascus, drove many earnest-minded Moslems to take refuge in retirement and religion. From piety there is only a step to Quietism. Thenceforward the evolution of the mystical cult runs a natural course. The adoption of the distinctive woollen garment (the khirka) as a mark of penitence and renunciation of the world dates from early times. The Sufi theory of spiritual development is based on complete self-abnegation and absolute absorption in the contemplation of God. The Sufi believes that by this absorption and mental concentration he can attain a far closer communion with the Divinity and a truer cognition of the Truth. This belief, whilst it no doubt led many pious and devout men and women to consecrate their lives to religion, produced at the same time a rank growth of fantastic ideas.

Ali the Caliph and the Imams of his House are regarded as having possessed in a superlative degree the "Inward Knowledge." Abū Nasr as-Sarrīj, in his work al-Luma' on the philosophy of Sūfļsm, quoting Junaid says, that had Ali not been occupied in so many wars, he would have imparted to the world the vast measure of the 'Ilm-ul-ladunni with which he was endowed. And in the Tazkirat-ul-Awlia of Farīd-ud-dīn 'Attar the first place in the list of mystic saints is given to Ja'far as-Sādiq, the sixth apostolical Imam. It is worthy of note that in the case of almost every Sufi saint the line of spiritual descent is traced back to Ali and through him to the Prophet. A few only trace it to Abū Bakr.

The holy men and women who flourished in the first two centuries were more Quietists than Sūfis. They had abandoned the world and devoted themselves exclusively to devotion and piety (zuhd and takwa). Such were Imam Hasan al-Basri, Ibrāhim ibn Adham, Ma'rūf Karkhi, Junaid, Rābi'a, the pious lady whose name has become famous in the annals of Islam, Bāyezid Bistāmi and a host of others. In the third century when Junaid flourished, Sūfļsm had become a recognized offshoot of Islamic philosophy, but owing to the scope it afforded to indulgence in undisciplined thought, Sūfļsm began to assume in different minds distinctly non-Islamic shapes. Abū Nasr as-Sarraj denounces the erratic tendencies which now emerged from the welter of old ideas and conceptions. Some of the professors of the mystic cult anticipated Johannes Agricola in declaring that perfect knowledge absolved the "knower" from all trammels of the moral law.

As- Sarraj was the predecessor of al-Ghazzalī in his endeavour to systematise Sufļstic philosophy. In spite of his efforts to shape Sūfļsm into a disciplined channel, it still continued to run in the old gnostic and often antinomian currents. And yet throughout the five centuries which elapsed between the death of the Prophet and the rise of Al-Ghazzālī there flourished numbers of men and women revered for their learning, piety and nobleness of character. One of these was the famous Imām-ul-Haramain, the master of al-Ghazzālī.

To Imām al-Ghazzālī eastern Sūfļsm owes in a large measure its systematization and most of the colour and beauty in which it is clothed. His appearance on the stage of the world was well-timed; for the Sunni Church, owing to causes which I propose to review briefly, needed vitalization.

Al-Asha'ri died in 320 of the Hegira; al-Ghazzālī was born exactly 130 years later, towards the close of the fifth century of the Moslem era, and began his work of revivification when he was forty years of age. The sixth century was the most critical in the history of Islām. Whilst the faith of Mohammed was involved in a deadly struggle with Christendom which threatened its very existence, an insidious enemy within its own bosom was poisoning its life. Hasan Sabbāh's tenets inculcated implicit and unquestioning obedience to him as the vicegerent of the Fatimide Caliph Nizār, commonly regarded by the sect as the incarnate Imām; he taught that the "path" to Truth led to and through him. His disciples, drugged by hashish, obtained on awakening a foretaste of the delights he promised them in after-life as the reward for their obedience and unfaltering execution of his orders. Beautiful maidens gathered from every quarter helped in fastening his chains on the neck of his votaries. His emissaries, actuated by varied motives, but all subject to an irresistible driving force, abounded in every city, township and village of Central and Western Asia. Every household contained a concealed member of the dread fraternity. Neither heroic service to the Faith, nor learning, devoutness or nobility of character was a protection against these nihilists of Islām. The best and noblest of Moslems were struck down by these enemies of society. Their propaganda was not confined among Moslems alone. Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus alike became the victims of their insidious methods of proselytism. Both men and women, and even children, were seduced from their faith by alluring hopes of immediate reward from Heaven. To contend against these enemies of Islām it had become essential to galvanise the conservative forces into fresh vitality. Whilst Asha'rism had hardened into a rigid formalism, among the populace the cult of the mystic had run wild. Every man or woman who found the discipline of the Faith irksome turned to Sūfļsm, to a life independent of rules. Philosophical reasoning brought no immediate relief or consolation to minds in terror from enemies within and without. There was a general relaxation in ethical conceptions and an amazing deterioration in ideals. It was just at this critical period in the life of Islām that al-Ghazzālī's call to a mystical life in God, and to the attainment of truth by the individual soul in direct communion with the Almighty, struck a responsive chord in many distracted hearts. It relaxed the tension and gave orthodoxy a new weapon with which to fight the disruptive teachings of Hasan Sabbāh's emissaries.

It is a dispensation of Providence that wherever a religion becomes reduced to formalism cross-currents set in to restore spiritual vitality. The author of The Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity enumerates the men, each of whom, according to his light, tried to vitalise the old creed of Palestine. But it was the Prophet of Nazareth who, by his mystical summons to the worship of the Spirit in place of the national God of Israel, infused new life into Judaism.

Al-Ghazzālī was preceded by other intuitionalists besides the Apostolical Imāms. Immediately before him came as-Sarrāj and al-Kushairi. 2 But al-Ghazzālī set the coping stone upon their work, and freed the Sunni church from Asha'rite dogmatism.

The story of al-Ghazzālī's life told by himself, of his trials and tribulations, of his doubts and his hopes, of his final emergence from "darkness into light," is an interesting record of spiritual growth finally ending in Quietism, a form of spiritual relief which brings solace and comfort to many a heart tossed on the ocean of doubt.

Al-Gliazzālī was born in 450 of the Hegira (1058 A.C.) at Tūs, a township in the neighbourhood of Meshed in Khorāsan. He must have been gifted with a peculiarly virile and independent mind, for, as he tells us in the Munkiz, he had abandoned in early youth that test of orthodoxy in all creeds called taklīd or conformity. To abandon taklīd and strike out a path for the exercise of individual judgment in the domain of religious thought has been in all ages and in all creeds regarded by dogmatic theologians as a sin of the first degree. Orthodoxy in the Sunni Church meant conformity with the principles of one or other of the founders of the four schools of law. Ghazzālī, with an audacity which demands admiration, refused to adhere to any particular dogma without independent examination. 2 But as he always called himself ash-Shāfe'i', he must have conformed more or less to the doctrines of that school. Ibn Khallikām, in fact, says al-Ghazzālī was a doctor of the Shāfe'i sect. "Towards the close of his life the Shāfe'is had not a doctor to be compared to him." In the twentieth year of his age al-Ghazzālā proceeded from Tūs to Naishapur, a great centre of learning until its destruction by the Mongols in 1256 A.C. Here he enrolled himself in the Nizāmičh College, which had been founded only a few years before, as a pupil of the Imām ul-Haramain al-Juwaini. Al-Ghazzālī studied with this saintly Imām until his death in 478 A.H. (1084 A.C.). Al-Ghazzālī was then in his twenty-eighth year; ambitious, energetic, well-versed in all the learning of the Islāmic world, he betook himself to the court of Nizām-ul-Mulk, 3 the great Vizier of the Seljukide sovereign Malik Shah. Nizām-ul-Mulk by his munificent patronage of scholarship, science and arts, had gathered round him a brilliant galaxy of savants and learned men. He recognised the worth of the new aspirant for his help and support, and after a short probation in his own entourage conferred on al-Ghazzālī a professorial seat in one of the colleges in Bagdad. Nothing shows so clearly the extraordinary solidarity of the intellectual world of Islām nor the link throughout the vast extent of the territories over which the Seljukide sovereigns in the plenitude of their power held sway as the manner in which officials of every rank, including professors and lecturers, were transferred from one centre to another.

In Bagdad al-Ghazzālī performed his professorial duties for six years. His lectures attracted pupils of all classes from every part of the Empire to hear his discourses on scholastic theology and logic. Towards the end of 488 A.H. (1095 A.C.) he was compelled to leave Bagdad in consequence of a severe nervous breakdown. The very subjects on which he lectured strengthened his doubts in the teachings of the schoolmen and divines of his Church. Asha'ri had emerged from his retreat after a fortnight's contemplation of the comparative virtues of Rationalism and Patristicism. It took ten years for al-Ghazzālī to find the resting-place for his soul. That rest he found, as he tells us himself, in the Master's words read in the light of the revelation which the Fashioner of the Universe vouchsafes to all hearts that seek Him. During his prolonged wanderings lie visited every centre of learning and every scholastic or religious institution, where he found scholars or holy men engaged in the pursuit of knowledge, secular or divine. Al-Ghazzālī was in Jerusalem just before the crusading storm burst on that devoted city (Sha'bān 492). He seems to have tarried longest at Damascus, where he lectured in a corner of the cathedral mosque situated on the west bank of the river. The cloister he occupied in the mosque is still called the Zāvia of Imām al-Ghazzālī. When he returned to Naishapur after his long wandering, he was forty-eight years of age, still in the prime of life, worn and scarred, though he had found what he sought--the knowledge of God and peace of soul. His great and generous patron, Nizām-ul-Mulk, had been assassinated by an Isma'īli Fidāi, one of Hasan Sabbāh's emissaries, in 485 A.H. (1092 A.C.), whilst al-Ghazzālī was still lecturing in Bagdad. Malik Shah had died six months after the assassination of his faithful servant, the bulwark of his empire. Sultan Sanjar, one of Malik Shah's sons, now reigned over the shrunken patrimony of Tughril and Alp Arslān, and Fakhr-ul-Mulk, a son of Nizām-ul-Mulk, held at this time the office of Vizier under Sanjar. As great a patron of learning as his distinguished father, Fakhr-ul-Mulk at once requisitioned the services of Ghazzālī and appointed him to a high professorial post in the Maimuničh-Nizāmičh College at Naishapur. Here commenced that marvellous activity of a prolific mind which has left its impress on the emotional and mystical side of Islām.

The Munkiz-min-az-Zalāl ("The deliverer from darkness") was evidently written about this time. In this book, which is not more than a discourse, he divides the "seekers of truth" (at-tālibin) into three classes or groups (sinf). The first group consists of the dogmatic theologians (the Ashar'ite Mutakallimin). These people base their conceptions on "deductions" (rāi) and speculation (nazar). Their unsatisfactory dogmatism is ruled out in rather a measured criticism. In the second group are included the Bātinis or Isma'īlias, those who profess to derive their knowledge from a "living Imām." After an examination of the views of the philosophers, among whom are included the authors of the Ikhwān-us-Safā, "which is no more than a compilation of philosophy," al-Ghazzālī subjects the teachings of the Ta'limis, that is the Isma'ilias, to a merciless criticism and exposes their anti-Islāmic character. To their assertion that they follow a living Imām, he replies, "There is the Prophet, why should we follow any other leader." 4 And he adds that these misbelieving heretics would not have met with so much success among the people, had their opponents (implying the dogmatists) not been so remiss and feeble in their arguments. In the fourth group come the Sūfis, the intuitionalists, people of "vision and manifestation." In other words, they see Truth where others find the Divine Essence from reason. According to the historian Ibn-ul-Athīr, who compiled his great work in Mosul not long after al-Ghazzālī's death, the Ihya-ul-'Ulum ("the Revivification of Knowledge") was written before the Imām returned to Naishapur. There is some difference of opinion on this point; although by consensus it is by far the most important of his productions. The Ihya-ul-'Ulum is an encyclopędic work dealing comprehensively with the philosophy and ethics of Sūfļsm.

Al-Asha'ri had condemned all enquiry into the mysteries of existence. Although equally dogmatic in his denunciation of philosophers and philosophy, of rationalism and its ideals, al-Ghazzālī gives them a hearing; appraises their work and finds it wanting, wanting in the capacity to attain the goal to which, according to him, humanity should strive. And what is more, as people of the same kibleh he includes them within the pale of Islām. It is extraordinary that the greatest mystics of the succeeding ages make little reference to him. Jalāl-ud-dīn sings of Attār and Sanāi but expresses no obligation to al-Ghazzālī for his transcendentalism. Is Cairo Ed. India Office copy.

A short reference to some of the subjects with which it deals will show its extraordinary range and the industry and intellectual powers of the writer. The book (in vol. i.) opens with a disquisition on the excellence of learning (knowledge)--fazīlat-ul-'Ilm; and it is established by roofs furnished by reason and authority (ash-shawāhid ul-'aklieh wa'l nalish); there is a disquisition on the "excellence of Reason" (Sharaf-ul-'akl) and the difference between soul (nafs) and Reason ('akl); and Islām and Imān (faith). Toleration is extended to all who bow to the same kibleh (i.e. are followers of Islām). In vol. ii. he deals with the duties of man to man, of the reciprocal duties of children and parents. He defines here the meaning of nafs (the soul) and rūh (the spirit), of kalb (the heart), and 'akl (Reason); he points out the distinction between intuition (ilhām) and instruction (ta'allum). And in this volume he deals with the whole philosophy of Sūfļsm (tarīk-us-Sufiyeh fi-istikshāf il-Hak wa-tarīk un-nazāir).

The other two volumes are mainly concerned with the ethics of Islam; he condemns pride, anger and vindictiveness, avarice and miserliness; and commends condescension and humility (hilm), forgiveness and mercy, generosity (sakha) and kindness. The Ihya-ul-U'lum is held in high esteem also among the Shiahs; in the Bihār-ul-Anwār, in the thesis on Reason and Knowledge it is mentioned as one of the Isnāds or "supports."

it because the impetus he gave to emotional Islam lost its force in the life and death struggle with the crusading hordes which lasted for nearly two centuries? To the Christian onslaught in Western Asia, followed by the Mongol avalanche which swept over mid-Asia, destroying in its course every vestige of civilization and culture, is entirely due the long night that followed the sack of Bagdad. It is not improbable that the force of his example and precept became barren in the cataclysm that overwhelmed Islam not long after his death. And yet the faith in communion with the Almighty, with its aspirations and inwardness, survived in the hearts of the truly earnest and devout disciples, and the 'arif claimed to have visions where the philosopher and the rationalist obtained cognition by reason. The emotional part of al-Ghazzalī's mystical philosophy found refuge in the monasteries of the dervishes; zāvias, rabāts and khankahs sprang up on all sides. Wherever the holy men who claimed a transcendental insight, an insight beyond the ken of reason, took up their abode, disciples clustered round them; they founded orders, and imparted mystical knowledge to their followers. Many were sincere and honest, others were impostors. The influence and teachings of the first, whilst they lasted, were undoubtedly beneficent; the influence of the others, with their sundering tendencies from Islam, were demoralizing.

Al-Ghazzālī himself did not place his trust in dogmatic theology (Kalām) and denounces it as opposed to reason, but the exact sciences, arithmetic, geometry and the connected branches, are considered by him as absolutely unassailable and not open to doubt or controversy. At Naishapur he wrote, among other works, the Makā'sid ul-Falāsifa ("The Aims of Philosophy"), and the Tahāfut-ul-Falāsifa ("the Destruction of the Philosophers"), both directed against philosophy and those who cultivated it, and in both he tries to prove the futility of philosophic reasoning and the unsatisfying character of the teachings of philosophy.

On the assassination of his patron and friend Fakhr-ul-Mulk Ali by an emissary of that arch-enemy of ordered society "the Old Man of the Mountain," Hasan Sabbāh, in the Muharram of 500 A.H. al-Ghazzālī retired sorrow-stricken to his native' city of Tūs, where he had built a madrassa for students and a khānkāh (monastery) for his disciples. Here he lectured, and here he laboured on his works which have made him a personality in the world of Islām. The great Sufi died on Monday the 14th of Jumādi 11. 505 A.H. (18th December 1111).

With him passed away one who, in spite of his mysticism, was endowed with a particularly virile character, the influence of which lasted long after his death. Imam al-Ghazzalī as a follower of Shāfe'i, was bitterly hostile to Imam Abū Hanīfa, whose encouragement of analogical reasoning and of the exercise of ratiocination he seems to have strongly disapproved. Whilst on the one hand the mystic Imam by his Quietism chilled the blood in the veins of the Moslem races and arrested their energies 3 for progress and development, on the other he imparted to Ash'arism an idealism it did not previously possess.

The desire to enforce conformity and repress "heresy" has been the curse of every religious system where ecclesiastics and legists have usurped authority in the church. Islām has not escaped from it, though it has been less harsh to "unbelievers" than to its own "innovators," whom orthodoxy designated as ahl-ul-bida'. Men suffering from spiritual exaltation, or whose minds had become unhinged by excessive self-mortification, along with rationalists and reformers, became the victims of persecution. The story of Mansūr al-Hallāj is one of the most pitiful in the annals of mysticism. Farīdud-din-'Attar was, like Firdousi, an adherent of the House of Mohammed; he was also a Sūfi of the first degree. In the Mazhar-ul-'Ajāib 'Attar gives an account of his sufferings; of his expulsion from the place of his birth (Tūs); of the confiscation of his property and goods, and of his subsequent wanderings. Many of them suffered the penalty of death; in the case of others the punishment was posthumous; their works were consigned to the flames. Even al-Ghazzālī's Ihya-ul-'Ulum met with that fate in Cordova, at one time the home of Saracenic culture. But these repressive methods did not succeed in stopping the spread of the mystical cult. Every holy man round whom gathered disciples became a saint or wall. The saints were credited with supernatural powers; and although the most noted Sūfis of early times who rank now as walls of the first rank, like Junaid and Bāyezid Bistami, strongly discountenanced thaumaturgic practices, the Tazkirat-ul-Awlia, and the Nafahāt-ul-Uns recount remarkable acts by the saints outside ordinary human experience. These wonders are called karāmāt, performed as they are by virtue of the powers gifted to them by God. In these days they would probably be attributed to what is called "psychic influence." Hypnotism and mesmerism, under the name of tāsir ul-anzār, and telepathy have long been known in the East. Some of the acts might be due to unconscious hypnotism.

Sufļsm travelled speedily from Irāk and Persia into India, where it found a congenial soil. A large number of Sūfi saints, both men and women, flourished in Hindustan and the Deccan and acquired great fame in their lifetime for sanctity and good work. Their tombs are up to the present day the objects of pilgrimage to Moslems and, remarkable to note, to Hindus as well. These saints taught their disciples who congregated in the colleges or monasteries they established Islāmic theosophy is one of the most pitiful in the annals of mysticism. Farīdud-din-'Attar was, like Firdousi, an adherent of the House of Mohammed; he was also a Sūfi of the first degree. In the Mazhar-ul-'Ajaib 'Attar gives an account of his sufferings; of his expulsion from the place of his birth (Tūs); of the confiscation of his property and goods, and of his subsequent wanderings. Many of them suffered the penalty of death; in the case of others the punishment was posthumous; their works were consigned to the flames. Even al-Ghazzālī's Ihya-ul-'Ulum met with that fate in Cordova, at one time the home of Saracenic culture. But these repressive methods did not succeed in stopping the spread of the mystical cult. Every holy man round whom gathered disciples became a saint or wall. The saints were credited with supernatural powers; and although the most noted Sūfis of early times who rank now as walls of the first rank, like Junaid and Bāyezid Bistami, strongly discountenanced thaumaturgic practices, the Tazkirat-ul-Awlia, and the Nafahāt-ul-Uns recount remarkable acts by the saints outside ordinary human experience. These wonders are called karāmāt, performed as they are by virtue of the powers gifted to them by God. In these days they would probably be attributed to what is called "psychic influence." Hypnotism and mesmerism, under the name of tāsir ul-anzār, and telepathy have long been known in the East. Some of the acts might be due to unconscious hypnotism.

Sufļsm travelled speedily from Irāk and Persia into India, where it found a congenial soil. A large number of Sūfi saints, both men and women, flourished in Hindustan and the Deccan and acquired great fame in their lifetime for sanctity and good work. Their tombs are up to the present day the objects of pilgrimage to Moslems and, remarkable to note, to Hindus as well. These saints taught their disciples who congregated in the colleges or monasteries they established Islāmic theosophy appears to have preceded Nizām uddin Awlia into India. He died at Ajmere at the age of 97 in 663 A.H. (1265 A.C.). His mausoleum at Ajmere is the resort of pilgrims, both Moslem and Hindu, from all parts of India.

Another wali, Burhān ud-din, is buried in Burhanpur (named after him) in Central India. Shah Kabir Dervish flourished in the reign of Farrukh Siyar in the eighteenth century. He is buried in Sasseram in Behar. One of his descendants is still in charge of his monastery. Ameer Khusru, poet laureate of Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Pathan King of Delhi, is also claimed as a Sūfi saint.

In the West, orders of dervishes sprang up on all sides. One of the most famous and probably the most influential is the Kadiria / Qadiriyah founded by the celebrated Sunni saint Sheikh Muhiud-din Abd ul-Kādir Ghilani (may Allah be pleased with him).  Another was founded by Moulana Jalāl ud-din, which is called after his title the Moulaviya and has a great reputation for the holy life of its members. The Nakshbandia is another powerful order, which has many adherents in India.

But it is given to few to be saints and to still fewer to combine a holy life of concentrated devotion with the discharge of the daily duties of life. To the bulk of humanity the call to abjure the world and to betake ourselves to complete absorption in the contemplation of the Divinity is an inducement to mental lethargy. The responsibility for the present decadence of the Moslem nations must be shared by the formalism of the Asha'ri and the quietism of the Sūfi. Mystical teachings like the following:

The man who looks on the beggar's bowl as a kingly crown And the present world a fleeting bubble, He alone traverseth the ocean of Truth Who looks upon life as a fairy tale.

I must now return to al-Ghazzālī's conceptions of Sūfi theosophy and theosophical life. He certainly did not claim any exclusive knowledge of the mysteries of Creation nor were his doctrines so esoteric as those professed by latter-day Sufis. Like as-Sarrāj he propounded a scheme of life which he considered formed the true Path (tarīkat) to the ultimate goal "the attainment of nearness to God," and final peace in the Beatific Vision. But as his insistence on the Path depends on the larger theory of the Cosmos it is necessary to say something about its essential features. His enunciation about all nature and all existence being the direct Creation of God the Almighty is but an echo of what is told in the Koran. His theory assumes a broader aspect when he begins to state his conception of the universe as a whole. He divides Creation into two categories, viz. the Visible and the Invisible. The Visible world ('ālam-ul-Mulk) is the world of matter; and is subject to the law of evolution, to change and growth. Here he is in accord with the Rationalists (the Mu'tazilas).

The invisible world, imperceptible to human sense, he divides into two sub-categories; first, the 'ālam-ul-jabarūt, which stands between pure matter and pure spirit; it is not wholly matter nor wholly spirit but partakes of the character of both. The forces of nature belong to this category. Had al-Ghazzālī lived in these days he would probably have assigned some of the discoveries of modern science like the properties of radium to the 'ālam-ul-jabarūt. His idea of the purely spiritual world, al-'ālam-ul-malakūt, forms the most interesting part of his theory. The 'ālam-ul-malakūt is the realm of "Ideas." The human soul belongs to this world. It comes as a spark from its original home and on separation from the earthly body, it flies back to the region whence it came.

These divisions are merely al-Ghazzālī's deductions from the Koran. His abhorrence of analogical reasoning does not prevent him from arriving at the conclusion by the usual process of ratiocination. Neither the theory nor the division was altogether new, for they had been anticipated by alFārābi in his 'Uyūn-ul-Masāil. According to the Mu'tazilas, the references in the Koran to the "Balance" (Mizān) in which human actions are weighed, to the "Pen" (Kalam) and Tablet (Lauh) with which and on which the decrees of Providence are inscribed, are allegorical. As already mentioned, al-Asha'ri affirms them to be actual, corporeal objects. Imām alGhazzālī takes another course; he relegates them to the 'ālam ul-malakūt, the realm of abstract ideas." It was thus he endeavoured to reconcile Patristicism with his doctrine of "inward light" and its longings for the upward flight of the human soul.

Some of the extreme Sūfis believe that when the final nearness is attained the human soul becomes absorbed in the Divinity. This is called hulūl (absorption) and sometimes ittihād (union). But this pantheistic conception is strongly repudiated both by as-Sarrāj and al-Ghazzālī; though often the words wisāl and waslat are used to signify the closeness of the approach to the Divine Essence. Even when the Sūfi talks of fanaf'il Allāh (annihilation in God) he does not mean to imply that the human soul becomes merged in the Universal Soul. AlGhazzālī's notion, like that of his great predecessor, is that the individual soul (rūh) at the Almighty's bidding emanates from a realm, the 'ālam ul-Malakūt, nearest to the Divine Essence, and on its separation from the corporeal body reverts to its original home; and that this is the meaning of the Koranic declaration "We come from God and unto Him we return."

The Mu'tazili, the Asha'ri and the follower of al-Ghazzālī do not differ in the essentials; their difference is due more to the angle from which they look at the dogmas of the Faith. The rationalist holds that a knowledge of God is attainable by Reason. He appeals to Reason because the call of the Koran to the worship of one God is based on Reason. The Asha'ri believes because he is so taught; the Sūfi believes because, as he says, of "the inward light." According to the Sūfi, the seeker for Truth by intensive "inwardness" and communion with God can rise by successive stages of exaltation to a state when he can actually have a vision of the Divine Essence. The first step for the novitiate is to form the niyyat (the resolve or intention); then comes tauba (penitence and renunciation). He is now on the forward path, this stage is called mujāhada (probation or striving). After a prolonged probation the ecstatic soul appears in the Presence still veiled. Hāfiz, in a mood of exaltation, refers to this stage, technically called Muhāzara, as huzūri, when the soul presents itself in absolute surrender to God and "abandonment of the world and all its vanities." The next is "the uplifting of the veil " (mukāshafa), when the veil which curtained off the Unseen is lifted and the God becomes revealed to the worshipper's heart; the last stage is the Vision (mushāhada), when the entranced Soul stands in the presence of Truth itself, and the light falls distinctly on "the human heart."

Even in the primary stage, the psychological effort to concentrate all thought on one object causes the disciple (the murīd) to see visions, hear the voices of angels and prophets, and gain from them guidance. Exactly parallel forms of psychological exaltation have appeared in Christianity in all ages. In the phraseology of the Sūfi the effort by which each stage is gained is called (hāl) a "state." It is a condition of joy or longing. And when this condition seizes on the "eeker," he falls into ecstasy (wajd). The dervishes in their monasteries may be seen working themselves up into a condition of "ecstasy."

The Sūfi holds that the knowledge of God is vouchsafed to him by inward light; the Rationalist affirms that the cognition comes to him from Reason, a gift of the Creator. Does not the Koran constantly appeal to human reason and human intelligence "to reflect, to consider, to speculate" about God's Creation and the mysteries of nature? Had the Koran condemned the exercise of reason, would it have exhorted the people to whom it spoke to look at the marvels of nature and draw their own conclusions whether this wonderful world was a creation of accident, or was brought into existence by an all-pervading Intelligence. Religion and Rationalism are correlated and bound together. If we find anything in the Koran which seems superficially to be in conflict with the results of philosophy, we may be sure there is an underlying meaning, which it should be the work of reason to unravel. Ibn Rushd places this proposition with extreme lucidity in his Fasl-ul-Makāl. 2 He affirms that there is no disagreement between religion and philosophy; religion is revelation from God; philosophy is the product of the human mind. He was thus not far removed from al-Ghazzālī's plane. For al-Ghazzālī did not believe like Asha'ri that the earth was flat because it was said in the Koran "God had spread it out as a carpet." He accepts all the revelations of science and the conclusions of mathematicians and astronomers. The stars and planets revolve round the world according to pre-ordained laws. Nature itself contains its own proof of the Power, Benevolence and Intelligence that brought it into existence. He is thus in complete accord with Ibn Sīna, Ibn Rushd and the rationalists in general. Examined closely it will be seen that the mind of al-Ghazzālī, who saved Asha'rism from becoming a hardcrusted formalism, and by joining it to an exalted form of emotionalism infused into it fresh vitality, ran really in the same groove as the minds of those masters.

The Senussi confraternity is not a religious order like the Kāderia, but unquestionably, in the civilising and uplifting work it is doing in Northern and Central Africa, it imparts a mystical meaning into the teachings of its Ikhwān. They convey to their converts and disciples some of the lessons of "inward knowledge" without detaching them from the world of struggle and advance.

The exalted idealism which breathes in the Prophet's words, in the preachings of the Imāms and in the teachings of the expounders of "inward light," rationalists, philosophers and Sūfis alike, has modelled the lives and inspired the actions of the noblest men in Islam. Heroes like 'Imād-ud-dīn Zangi, rulers like Salāh-ud-din bin Ayyub (the Saladin of European history) have found in it their guiding star. And poets like Sanāi, 'Attār and Jalāl ud-dīn have given fervent expression to that universal Divine love, which pervades nature from the lowest type of creation to the highest, and their idylls are regarded by many Moslems with a respect only less than that entertained for the Koran.

But Sūfļsm in the Moslem world, like its counterpart in Christendom, has, in its practical effect, been productive of many mischievous results. In perfectly well-attuned minds mysticism takes the form of a noble type of idealistic philosophy; but the generality of mankind are more likely to unhinge their brains by busying themselves with the mysteries of the Divine Essence and our relations thereto. Every ignorant and idle specimen of humanity, who, despising real knowledge, abandoned the fields of true philosophy and betook himself to the domains of mysticism, would thus set himself up as one of the Ahl-i-Ma'rifat. And that this actually occurred in the time of Ghazzālī we see by his bitter complaint that things had come to such a pass that husbandmen were leaving their tillage and claiming the privileges of "the advanced." In fact the greatest objection to vulgar mysticism, whether in Islām or in Christendom, is that, being in itself no religion, wherever it prevails it unsettles the mind and weakens the foundations of society and paralyses human energy; it naturally drifts into anthropolatry and naturalistic pantheism.

Yet the benefits conferred by the nobler type of idealistic philosophy are too great to be ignored; and the Idealism of Averroes developed in Europe the conception of Universal Divinity. Christian Europe owes its outburst of subjective pantheism--and its consequent emancipation from the intense materialism of a mythological creed--to the engrafting of Moslem idealism on the Western mind. It was the influence of Averroistic writings that attracted the attention of reflecting people to the great problem of the connection between the worlds of matter and of mind, and revived the conception of an all-pervading spirit, "which sleeps in the stone, dreams in the animal, and wakes in the man," "the belief that the hidden vital principle which produces the varied forms of organisation is but the thrill of 'the Divine Essence' that is present in them all."

"I would have said He was the Soul of the Universe if I had known the relation of the human soul to the body, for He is present and hidden in the heart of every atom."

The End.

Courtesy: The Spirit of Islam: A History of the Evolution and Ideals of Islam with a Life of the Prophet. Contributors: Ameer Ali - author. Publisher: Christophers. Place of Publication: London. Publication Year: 1922.