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The Mystics of Islam by Jami

The Mystics of Islam by Jami

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Published by: Syed Ahamed on Jan 11, 2011
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1
 
THE MYSTICS OF ISLAM
by Reynold A. NicholsonRoutledge, Kegan Paul, London[1914]
S
Ū
F
Ī
SYMBOLISM
In reading the enraptured poetry of the S
ū
 ī 
s, it should be borne in mind that, though the symbols of earthly love and beauty are freely used, yet the real meaning is concealed. No doubt this wasoriginally done to keep secret their mystic love, lest the profane should scoff. But as time went oncertain words began to have a recognized meaning amongst them. For instance:EMBRACES and KISSES are raptures of love.SLEEP is contemplation, PERFUME the wish for Divine favour.IDOLATERS mean men of the pure faith, not infidels.WINE, which was forbidden by Mahomet to his followers, was used as a word-symbol by the S
ū
 ī 
s todenote spiritual knowledge, and the WINE-SELLER means the spiritual guide.A TAVERN is a place where the wine of Divine love inebriates the pilgrim.INTOXICATION means religious ecstasy, MIRTH the joy in the love of the Deity.BEAUTY means the glory of the Beloved.CURLS and TRESSES mean plurality veiling the face of Unity from its lovers.The CHEEK means Divine essence of names and qualities.The DOWN is the world of pure spirits which is nearest to Divinity.The MOLE on the cheek is the point of indivisible Unity.The TORCH is the light kindled in the heart by the Beloved.We thus see that to the S
ū
 ī 
the love between man and woman is a shadowed picture of the lovebetween the soul and God, and just as a lover will dream of his beloved, singing her praises, andthirsting for a sight of her face, so do the S
ū
 ī 
s eternally dream of their God, ever contemplating Hisattributes, and consumed with a burning desire for His presence.The history of mysticism contains many impassioned love songs to the Absolute, but in S
ū
 ī 
poetrythere is a peculiar richness, a depth, a colour which fascinates and charms so many of us.S
ū
 ī 
poetry abounds in allegories and love romances, the stories of Layl
ā
and Majn
ū
m, Y
ū
suf andZulaik
ā
, Sal
ā
m
ā
n and Abs
ā
l, in which it is easy to read the hidden meaning of passion for theAbsolute. Various are the love themes of the S
ū
 ī 
s; we hear songs of: the nightingale in love with therose, the moth fluttering round the light of the candle, the moaning dove who has lost her mate, thesnow melting in the desert and mounting as vapour to the sky, of a dark night in the desert throughwhich a frenzied camel madly plunges, of a reed torn from its bed and made into a flute whoseplaintive music fills the eyes with tears.
 
2
 
THE BELOVED
The S
ū
 ī 
s' conception of the Beloved is essentially personal, though there is nothing to show thatthey worshipped Him as a person, or assigned to Him a form.Being pantheists, they probably believed that He was the One Light shining in myriad forms throughthe whole universe, One essence remaining the same."Every moment the robber Beauty rises in a different shape, ravishes the soul anddisappears.Every instant the Loved One assumes a new garment, now of old, now of youth.Now He plunged into the heart of the substance of the potter's clay--the Spirit plunged like adiver.Anon He rose from the depths of mud that is moulded and baked,Then he appeared in the world."And J
ā
m
 ī 
declares:"In neighbour, friend, companion, Him we see,In beggar's rags or robes of royalty,In Union's cell or in distraction haunts,There's none but He, by God, there's none but He."The S
ū
 ī 
s realized that it is impossible in spatial terms to describe that which is even beyond purespirit.Plotinus has told us in a beautiful passage that"We must not be surprised that that which excites the keenest of longings is without any form, evenspiritual form, since the soul itself, when inflamed with love for it, puts off all the form which it had,even that which belongs to the spiritual world."The inability to describe to the uninitiated the secret love of the mystic for the Unknowable is madethe subject of an exquisite poem by the Indian poet Tagore:"I boasted among men that I had known you. They see your picture in all works of mine. They comeand ask me who is he? I know not how to answer them. I say, 'Indeed, I cannot tell.' They blame meand they go away in scorn. And you sit there smiling. I put my tales of you into lasting songs. Thesecret gushes out from my heart. They come and ask me, 'Tell me all your meaning.' I know not howto answer them. I say, 'Ah, who knows what they mean.' They smile and go away in utter scorn. Andyou sit there smiling."
*****[Scanned, proofed, and formatted in HTML by Chris Weimer, December 2001; graciouslydonated to sacred-texts.com for publication. This text is in the public domain in the US.Original pagination has been retained; footnotes have been embedded into the textwithin braces and in a smaller font({
i.e.
}). Characters with diacritics have been mappedto the closest ASCII character (
e.g.
Sûfî is transliterated Sufi). Greek letters have alsobeen eliminated, and (the two) words in Greek in the original are enclosed in Frenchquotes («»). All references to the 'Koran' in the text have been linked to thePickthallEnglish Version of the Qur'anat this site. Many of the verse references given by
 
3
 
Nicholson are one or two off from Pickthall and other translations; the hyperlinks havebeen adjusted but the original citation retained in these instances.]
THE MYSTICS OF ISLAM
INTRODUCTION
THE title of this book sufficiently explains why it is included in a Series 'exemplifying theadventures and labours of individual seekers or groups of seekers in quest of reality.'Sufism, the religious philosophy of Islam, is described in the oldest extant definition as'the apprehension of divine realities,' and Mohammedan mystics are fond of callingthemselves
Ahl al-Haqq
, 'the followers of the Real.' {
Al-Haqq
is the term generally usedby Sufis when they refer to God.} In attempting to set forth their central doctrines fromthis point of view, I shall draw to some extent on materials which I have collectedduring the last twenty years for a general history of Islamic mysticism--a subject sovast and many-sided that several large volumes would be required to do it anything like justice. Here I can only sketchin broad outline certain principles, methods, andcharacteristic features of the inner life as it has been lived by Moslems of every classand condition from the eighth century of our era to the present day. Difficult are thepaths which they threaded, dark and bewildering the pathless heights beyond; but evenif we may not hope to accompany the travellers to their journey's end, any informationthat we have gathered concerning their religious environment and spiritual history willhelp us to understand the strange experiences of which they write.In the first place, therefore, I propose to offer a few remarks on the origin and historicaldevelopment of Sufism, its relation to Islam, and its general character. Not only arethese matters interesting to the student of comparative religion; some knowledge of them is indispensable to any serious student of Sufism itself. It may be said, trulyenough, that all mystical experiences ultimately meet in a single point; but that pointassumes widely different aspects according to the mystic's religion, race, andtemperament, while the converging lines of approach admit of almost infinite variety.Though all the great types of mysticism have something in common, each is marked bypeculiar characteristics resulting from the circum-stances in which it arose andflourished. Just as the Christian type cannot be understood without reference toChristianity, so the Mohammedan type must be viewed in connexion with the outwardand inward development of Islam.The word 'mystic,' which has passed from Greek religion into European literature, isrepresented in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, the three chief languages of Islam, by'Sufi.' The terms, however, are not precisely synonymous, for 'Sufi' has a specificreligious connotation, and is restricted by usage to those mystics who profess theMohammedan faith. And the Arabic word, although in course of time it appropriated thehigh significance of the Greek--lips sealed by holy mysteries, eyes closed in visionaryrapture--bore a humbler meaning when it first gained currency (about 800 A.D.). Untilrecently its derivation was in dispute. Most Sufis, flying in the face of etymology, havederived it from an Arabic root which conveys the notion of 'purity'; this would make'Sufi' mean 'one who is pure in heart' or 'one of the elect.' Some European scholarsidentified it with
«sophós»
in the sense of 'theosophist.' But Nöldeke, in an articlewritten twenty years ago, showed conclusively that the name was derived from
suf 
 (wool), and was originally applied to those Moslem ascetics who, in imitation of Christianhermits, clad themselves in coarse woollen garb as a sign of penitence and renunciationof worldly vanities.

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