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UNIVERSE - MAN - TEXT: THE SUFI CONCEPT OF LITERATURE (WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO MALAY SUFISM)

UNIVERSE - MAN - TEXT: THE SUFI CONCEPT OF LITERATURE (WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO MALAY SUFISM)

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V.I. BRAGINSKY, who graduated from Moscow State University and took his
Ph.D. and D.Litt. at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences
of Russia, is currently Professor of South-East Asian languages and literatures at
the University of London. Specialized in Malay and Indonesian literature,
comparative literature, religion, and culture, he has previously published A
History of Malay Literature from the 7th to the 19th Century, Moscow, 1983,
and The System of Classical Malay Literature, Leiden, 1993. Prof. Braginsky
may be reached at SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh St. / Russell Square,
London WC1H OXG, UK.
V.I. BRAGINSKY, who graduated from Moscow State University and took his
Ph.D. and D.Litt. at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciences
of Russia, is currently Professor of South-East Asian languages and literatures at
the University of London. Specialized in Malay and Indonesian literature,
comparative literature, religion, and culture, he has previously published A
History of Malay Literature from the 7th to the 19th Century, Moscow, 1983,
and The System of Classical Malay Literature, Leiden, 1993. Prof. Braginsky
may be reached at SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh St. / Russell Square,
London WC1H OXG, UK.

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Published by: "Worldview of Islam Series" on Apr 29, 2011
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V.I. BRAGINSKY
UNIVERSE - MAN - TEXT: THE SUFICONCEPT OF LITERATURE(WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO MALAYSUFISM)
'Ifthou correctly readst thyself as thou dost read a scroll,Thou gainst eternity. Only the Spirit's true. The world's not true at all.'
Nizami,
Haft Paikar
[The Seven Belles]
It is almost superfluous nowadays to observe that literature, including thatof the Middle Ages, is a specific 'world in words' created for communicationwith the reader/listener, that is, in order to produce a definite impact on him.That the perception of the nature of this verbal world and the interpretationof the nature and purposes of its impact were considerably different inmedieval cultures from those in contemporary ones is another matter.Below I shall consider the complex of literary concepts in one of thegreat literary traditions of the East - the tradition of Muslim mysticism, orSufism -, investigating this complex in the context of the Sufi view of theworld on the one hand, and of the Sufi view of man on the other. Of course,I am primarily interested in the concept of literature as it existed in themedieval Malay world. However, a sufficiently profound and exhaustiveunderstanding of this is impossible in isolation from the doctrine ofliterature as elaborated by the Sufis of the Middle East, in particular in thePersian area.A study of the concept of literature in the context of the Sufi view of theworld and of man is impossible if one disregards the idea of analogy, orparallelism, between the macrocosm and the microcosm (man) that is soV.I. BRAGINSKY, who graduated from Moscow State University and took his
Ph.D. and D.Litt. at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Academy of Sciencesof Russia, is currently Professor of South-East Asian languages and literatures atthe University of London. Specialized in Malay and Indonesian literature,comparative literature, religion, and culture, he has previously published
AHistory of Malay Literature from the 7th to the 19th Century,
Moscow, 1983,and
The System of Classical Malay Literature,
Leiden, 1993.
Prof.
Braginskymay be reached at SOAS, University of London, Thornhaugh St. / Russell Square,London WC1H OXG, UK.
 
202
V.I. Braginsky
characteristic of Sufism as well as many other medieval traditions. It isprecisely the analysis and understanding of this idea that enables the scholarto grasp the essence of the Sufi concept of literature. I do not, of course,intend to make an all-embracing semantic, functional or historical study ofthe concept of macro-/microcosmic parallelism on the basis of aninterpretation of both the Universe and man as multilevel physical-spiritualorganisms, as quite enough work of this kind has already been done (see, forinstance, Berthels 1970). However, a preliminary and tentative classificationof the numerous types of expression of macro-/microcosmic parallelism willnot be altogether out of place in the framework of this article. Thisclassification is based on the following criteria:
anthropoidness
(ascription of external human features) or
anthropomorphism
(ascription of structural human characteristics) indescriptions of the macrocosm;
degree
of
abstraction
of descriptions, i.e., the prevalence in them ofcosmologico-physical or ontologico-psychic-somatic aspects of reality;
type
of
reduction
of descriptions (for instance, the use of the human faceas representative of the macrocosm).Among other forms of cosmo-/anthropogenesis, one finds an anthropoidrepresentation of the creation of the cosmos in the Sufi tradition. The firstthing that Allah creates here is the Light of Muhammad
(Nur Muhammad),
or Spirit, which is generally likened to a bird and yet, in the opinion ofmany commentators, is like a human being, with a head, hands, legs, abody, eyes, ears, etc. However, the reservation is then immediately madethat all these organs are spiritual
(ruhani),
or luminous
(nurani),
or sublime
('uluwwi)
- the same reservation that is made for the food and drink of theSpirit (Tujimah 1961:211-12). Subsequently, Allah gazes at the Light ofMuhammad with the 'gaze of Majesty', causing the Light to perspire.Created from it then are all the elements of the Universe, including theangels, prophets, and people of various faiths
(Hikayat Syah Mardan:66-7).
Passing from the quasi-mythological (the 'myth' of the Light ofMuhammad; cf. the Indian myth of PuruSa, the Chinese myth of P'anku;see
Drevneindiyskaya
1972:31-2; Yuan K'e 1987:34-5) concept of macro-/microcosmic parallelism to the more metaphysical ones, we can single outan intermediate anthropoid/anthropomorphic kind of expression of thiscorrespondence. It stands out because of a weakened external anthropoidnesscoupled with an increased degree of abstraction in the representations of themacrocosm. In these representations an integral anthropoid image is replacedby a series of metaphorical analogies between individual elements of theUniverse and of man. Series of macro-/microcosmic correspondences of thissort appear in the Arabico-Muslim tradition from at least the 10th centuryonward (see, for instance, 'Epistles of the Brothers of Purity', Bakhtiar1976:105), and later played an important role in
falsafah
(philosophical),Ismailite and Sufi treatises. Thus, in the Sufi treatise
Mirat al-Muhaqqiqin
[The Mirror of Those Seeking the Truth], ascribed to the Persian Sufi poet
 
Universe - Man - Text: The Sufi Concept of Literature
203Mahmud Shabistari (died 1320), mountains are likened to bones, trees to thehair on the human head, and bushes and grass to the down on the humanbody. There are as many parts of the human body (the head, hands, legs,spine and belly) as the seven climatic zones
{iklim)
on earth. Just as thereare 12 signs of the zodiac, so there are as many apertures in the humanbody. Just as the moon has 28 mansions, man has 28 nerves. The sevenplanets correspond to that same number of principal human organs, and soon (Berthels 1970:22-3).In the above description, the system of macro-/microcosmic corres-pondences is presented in a relatively gross, external, cosmologico-physicalform. Nevertheless, in Sufi anthropomorphic representations, descriptionswhich emphasize subtle, internal, ontologico-psychic-somatic qualities werepredominant. A representation of this kind is found in, for instance,Ghazali's (11th-century) doctrine of the hierarchy of three ontological'worlds', viz.
mulk, jabarut,
and
malakut.
In the macrocosm,
mulk
is thesphere of the manifest, the corporal, and that which is perceivable by thesenses, while
malakut
is the sphere of the non-manifest, the spiritual, andthat which is not perceivable by the senses, and
jabarut
is the sphere ofDivine Names connecting
mulk
and
malakut.
On the microcosmic level,
mulk
is the human body (flesh, bones, blood, etc.),
malakut
is the intellectand the essential human attributes (life, knowledge, will, etc.), and
jabarut
comprises the senses (sight, hearing, touch, etc.), serving as a link betweenthe physical and spiritual spheres. Unlike Ghazali, the Sufis of the Ibn
al-'
Arabi school
(wahdat al-wujud)
termed the connecting sphere
'malakut'
and the spiritual sphere
'jabarut'.
These they supplemented with a fourth,sublime world called
'lahut'
, the sphere of the Divine Essence, which theyconsidered at the same time as the most profound reality of man (Johns1957:75-6; Saeed Sheikh 1963:620; Bakhtiar 1976:13).Along with complete kinds of anthropomorphic representations of themacrocosm, Sufi works include reduced versions of these. Thus, themacrocosm might correspond to the human heart as a substitute for andreduced form of the microcosm. The eye was another such reduced form. Anelaborate doctrine of correspondences between various parts of the eye andthe ontological spheres and psychosomatic planes is found in one MalaySufi treatise. The white of the eye here is said to correspond to
nasut
(aconceptual synonym of
mulk),
the dark ring around the iris represents
malakut
(in Ibn al-'Arabi's terms), and the iris itself is likened to
jabarut,
while the pupil of the eye is a metaphor for
lahut
(Nieuwenhuijze1945:139). Finally, an important role was played in Sufi literature by thecomparison of (parts of) the human face to various ontological planes of themacrocosm. A mole symbolized the Divine Essence in its transcendentalaspect, the face itself corresponded to the Essence in its immanent aspect
(i.e.,
the Essence with its attributes and names), the eyes and the lipsrepresented attributes of Majesty and Beauty respectively, the down on theface corresponded to the first of the created worlds - the world of spirits -

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