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According to Najm-i RazI
1. “Know thyself...”
Islamic mysticism recognizes itself in the Koran as well as in a certain
number of extra-Koranic tradition which, as guiding statements, are usually
attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or in some other way ‘naturalized’ as
part of Islamic tradition. Such extra-Koranic wisdom includes the Gnostic
sentence “He who knows himself knows his Lord”, which is known in
Arabic as man (arafa nafsahu faqad ‘arafa rabbahu. A very similar sentence
has been found in the writings of Clement of Alexandria (d. 215 AD);1and
this in turn calls into play an even older model, the famous oracular saying
of Delphi, “Know thyself...”. Thus we read in the opening pages of the
Rawshana’i-nama, a mystical poem traditionally ascribed to the
1lth-century Isma‘111poet Nasir-i Khusraw:
Thus spake [the wise]:
‘Go, know thyself!’
Know both the way
of unbelief and
of religion,
of good and bad!
For this way you’ll find the
way to God;
This is certain evidence
for you.
1. See especially F. Rosenthal (1970), pp. 137ff., 185f.
302 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
Once you have known your
self truly,
You will also attain gnosis of
the Real ( ‘irfan-i Haqq).
(Nasir-i Khusraw 1348 h.s., p. 511,
lines 6-10. Cf. also ibid. p. 528, lines 7ff.)
As with most oracular sayings, our Gnostic sentence can be interpreted in
various ways. In its Arabic form, the difficulty is compounded by the fact
that the Arabic term used for ‘self, nafs, can also mean ‘souf, and ‘souF
designated - in the classical Sufi use of the word - not in the first place that
which leads to God but on the contrary the ‘compulsive souf, the ‘seat of
evil’, or the ‘flesh’ if you like. However, even if we leave the ‘compulsive
soul’ and the like out of the picture for the time being, our Gnostic sentence
has led to so many contradictory interpretations that one could write a whole
book on this subject alone, as an Iranian scholar has pointedly noted
(J . Huma’I, note to Mahmud-i Kashani n.d. [intro, dated 132 h.s./l365 h.q.],
p. 92).
An interpretation that at first seems innocuous postulates that things are
recognized through their contrary. Without night I cannot know the day. By
tasting the bitter, I learn to appreciate the sweet. Through the imperfect I can
gain an idea of the perfect. The classical 9th-century mystic TirmidhI is said
to have put it this way: “He who does not know what it means to be a servant
of God, has even less an idea of lordship” (Hujwlrl 1336/1965, p. 178).2The
much later Kubrawi Sufi Simnani (1261-1336) commented on our Arabic
sentence in a similar vein: “He who recognizes himself as being weak,
deficient, imperfect and needy knows his lord as powerful, sublime, perfect
and self-sufficient”, or “He who recognized himself as contingent being
knows his lord as the necessary being; he who recognized himself as
multiple knows his lord as one; he who recognizes himself as tarnished with
the faults of forgetfulness and ignorance knows his lord as sublime and
perfect; he who recognizes himself as serf, knows his lord as Lord”. (‘Ala’
al-Dawla al-Simnanl 1362 h.s./1404 h.q. [1983/84 AD], pp. 478f).
This kind of God-cognition through self-cognition seems, at first sight, to
have little to do with what is commonly known as mysticism. The terms and
images used here to highlight the contrast between humans as the utterly
imperfect and God as the Perfect hardly convey an idea of the God-
2. For the importance of the notion of ‘servanthood’ in Tirmidhl’s own writings, see
B. Radtke and J. O’Kane (1996) index s. vv. ‘abd, ‘abid, ‘ubuda, ‘ubudiyya, servitude.
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 303
intoxicated enthusiasm of the mystics. They are marked by the strict rules of
a religion in which man, a feeble serf, faces an absolute king. Yet, it was
precisely on this sense of the absolute dependence of ‘God’s bondsmen’ that
the Islamic mystics’ relationship to God was based. They did not consider
themselves ‘God’s children’. Going even beyond the merely devout feeling
of the serf lying in the dust at the feet of his master, they rather intensified
the sense of nothingness to such a degree that it was transposed onto the
plane of absolute non-being and being, or ‘annihilation’ i f ana’) and
‘subsistence’ (haqa ’), respectively. This is the point made by one of the
1lth-century authorities of Sufism, Hujwlri, who noted in his widely used
Sufi manual, The Unveiling o f the Veiled: “It happens that cognition of
Being in the absolutely Real (God) produces despair about one’s own being.
Once the ‘serf has recognized the ‘master’, he sees his whole existence in
the bonds of his power... Hence states the Prophet: ‘He who knows himself
knows his Lord’, meaning, whoever knows himself inannihilation i f and’)
knows God in subsistence {baqd’)” (Hujwlri 1336/1965, p. 353).3
It probably lies in the nature of the matter that this intensification of the
feeling of nothingness vis-a-vis an absolute Being leads to a point where it
seems to turn into its exact opposite. A little before Hujwlri, the equally
authoritative theoretician of Sufism, Qushayri, made a distinction between
an annihilation ‘which concerns the attributes’ and one ‘which concerns the
essence’, (Qushayri 1379/1959, p. 40, lines 16-17),4thereby hinting at what
Najmuddln-i Kubra (1145-1221) was later to state explicitly:
The more your being disappears [is ‘annihilated’], the more you don His
being. First, the attributes of your being disappear, the blameworthy along
with the praiseworthy. Therewith you don the attributes of His being,
including the attributes of grandeur [or ‘Majesty’, jalal] and of grace [or
‘Beauty’, jamdl]. Thereupon, your essence disappears, so His being covers
[you]. At this moment there is no being but His being.
(F. Meier (ed.) 1957, Arabic text para 141; German intro pp. 82-87)
The same passage from opposition to unity already seems to have been
achieved, on the cognitive plane, by J unayd, the leading master of the
9th-century Baghdad Sufis. When he was asked about the nature of the
knowledge of God, he at first explained it by saying: “The coming-about of
your own un-knowing and the being-there of His knowing!” But when he
3. Also cf. p. 247.
4. Section on fa n d ’ and baqa’, in fine.
304 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
was pressed to say more, he exclaimed: “He is the one who knows and he is
the one who is known!” (Al-KalabadhI 1380/1960, p. 66).
Another classical Sufi statement that can similarly convey an idea of non-
dualistic consciousness is this: “I knew God through God and I knew what is
other-than-God through the light of God”.5
Thus the reduction of man to the level of ‘feeble serf, really, to nothing,
is counter-balanced - often for the very same mystics - with a heightening or
broadening of his being to the point where he becomes the All, the very
image of God. The celebrated 9th-century Khurasanl mystic, Bayazld-i
BastamI, whose paradoxical utterings can give an impression of extreme
self-denial and extreme self-elevation at the same time, is also credited with
a saying prefiguring the concept of the ‘Perfect Man’ (al-insan al-kamil al-
tamm), (Nicholson 1921, p. 77) which would eventually become one of the
doctrinal keystones of Sufism, especially wiht the great Ibn ‘Arab! (1165-
1240). Najm-i RazI, of whom we shall be shortly speaking, has expressed
this idea in a Persian quatrain that makes the point in such a succinct way
that it has become, so to speak, the common good of persian myticism; it is,
in fact, often quoted anonymously and also ascribed to others. Addressing
the human being, the poet states:
O thou copy of the
script divine!
O thou mirror of the
royal beauty!
Naught in the world lies
outside of thee;
Ask of thyself thine every
desire, thou art it!
(Najm-i RazI 13 52/1973A, p. 3/
English translation by H. Algar 1982, p. 28)
In view of this optimal broadening of the image of man one may wonder
what has happened with the sense for human imperfection. Najm-i RazI, as
we shall see later, can give us an interesting answer to this question. To
5. According to Hujwlri (1336/1956), p. 344, this is a saying of ‘All, whereas SulamI (1960),
p. 64, ascribes it to Bayazld-i BastamI. The ‘light of God’ could refer to the Prophet
Muhammad, as is suggested by the variants found in Sarraj (1914), p. 104, where a similar
saying is attributed to Dhu al-Nun al-Misrl, and in Shi’ite tradition (Kulaynl, Usui min al-
Kdfi, Book Tawhid, Chapter 3).
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 305
prepare for this answer, we shall first present his theory of mystical
2. Najm-i RazFs theory of mytical cognition
Najm-i RazI, properly Najmuddln-i RazI,6known also by his sobriquet
of Daya (the ‘wetnurse’), belongs to a distinguished circle of mystical
thinkers who enmerged from the school of Najmuddln-i Kubra. The above-
mentioned SimnanI, about three generations his junior, also belonged to
this school. RazI, born probably in 1177 or 1178 in the city of Ray (hence
his surname RazI), spent some critical years in Khurasan and Khwarazm,
where he came in touch with Kubra and some of his immediate disciples.
Among the latter, Majduddln-i Baghdadi (from Baghdadak, a village in
Khwarazm) seems to have played a decisive role as his teacher of Sufism.
As well, this teacher, rather than Kubra himself, may have impressed on
RazI the model of a certain Sufi involvement in worldly matters, for he was
indeed for some time an influential figure at the court of the
Khwarazmshah; he died, however, under somewhat unclear circumstances,
most likely in 1209.7In the tumultuous years 1220-21 we find RazI on the
flight before the rampaging Mongols. Like many other Iranians of those
days, such as the family of the famous RumI, he emigrated to ‘Rum’ or
Anatolia, which seemed to him to be the last refuge of the Islamic faith.
This was to be the site of his Persian masterpiece, Mirsad al- ‘ibad min al-
mabda’ ila al-ma-ad (The Path o f God’s Bondsmen from Origin to
Return), a work written in the first place for dervishes, though also a
princely code of conduct and a spiritual counsel for practitioners of the
most diverse professions. The original ‘dervish version’ of this book,
issued in 1221 in the Anatolian town of Qaysariyya [modern Kayseri], was
soon followed by a ‘royal version’ or second recension, which was
dedicated to the Seljuk sultan ‘Ala’uddln Keyqubad I, and completed in the
town of Slwas on 31 J uly 1223. Still another version of basically the same
book appears to have been issued only a few years later under another title,
Asadi’s Symbol in the Psalms o f David (Marmuzat-i Asadi dar mazmurat-i
6. On him, see Mohammad-Amln RIahl, article “Daya, Najm-al Din Abu Bakr ‘Abdallah”, in
Encyclopaedia Iranica.
7. For this date (i.e. 606AH), which is indicated by RazI himself, see W. Shpall, “A Note on
Najm al-DIn al-RazI and the Bahr al-haqd ’iq”, Folia Orientalia 22 (1981-84), pp. 69-80.
Concerning the circumstances of Baghdadi’s death, see my review of H. Algar, The Path in
JAOS 107,4 (1987) pp. 803-05.
306 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
Dawudif and was dedicated to a local rival of the sultan, ‘Ala’uddln Shah
Dawud b. Bahramshah. Addressing himself in this way to princes of this
world, RazI was making an attempt to alert them to the inner meaning of
the ‘kingship’ they embodied in fact - the Islamic prince being the
‘Shadow of God’ - and thus ‘to know themselves’ as ‘kings’ in a mystical
or esoteric sense. Whether these spiritual counseling efforts met ready ears
in the Anatolian court circles may, however, be doubted. RazI probably did
not stay in Anatolia for very long, as he appears to have spent the last three
decades of his life in Baghdad, where he died in 1256 and was buried in
the Sufi cemetery.
Given that virtually nothing is known of Razl’s activities as a Sufi
master, no direct disciples of his being on record, his fame as a Sufi rests
almost entirely on his writings, particularly The Path. Indeed this work
became, despite its outspoken Sunni outlook, one of the most popular works
of Persian Sufism that was being read and studied all over the Eastern part of
the Islamic world including Shi‘ite Iran. It seems that RazI himself had a
sense of its importance, for he wrote towards the end of his life still another
version of it, this time in Arabic, thereby ensuring that, as he put it, the
Arabs may no longer be “deprived of its benefits”. This Arabic version is
titled Guiding Lights for the Travelers to God and Stations o f Those Carried
Away through God (Manarat al-sd ’inn ila Allah wa-maqdmat al-ta ’irm bi-
One of the distinguishing virtues of the Path may be seen in the fact that
the theme of god-cognition is discussed in it in a systematic and clear way.
In dealing with this theme, the author does not beat around the bush but goes
straight to the heart of the matter. He distinguishes three different basic
forms of ‘knowing’ or ‘cognition’ (ma‘rifat)9, all of which he establishes as
valid if unequal forms of god-cognition: first, that of reason or the intellect
(ma ‘rifat-i ‘aqlT); second, what amounts to a kind of intllectual vision; and
third, what is best rendered as experience - although the terms used by the
author to designate the latter two are somewhat unusual, as we shall see in a
The first fundamental form, the rational, is accessible to all beings
endowed with reason, even the unbelieving. It permits to recognize the
8. Edited by M. R. Shafi‘1 Kadkani with an English introduction by H. Landolt, Tehran
9. The tripartite cognition corresponds more or less to the concept of three stages of
‘presence’ ihudur) or ‘certitude’ (yaqln) in classical Sufism; see, e.g., Qushayri’s Risala
(p. 43, lines 6ff. and p. 47, lines 19ff.)
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 307
existence of God by inference of the cause from the effect, the creator from
the creation or, in more philosophical terms, the necessary from the merely
possible or contingent. There is effectively little difference between this
form of ‘philosophical’ god-cognition and the rational approach cherished by
the dialectical theologians. Nonetheless, the latter, i.e., the Sunnite-Ash’arite
theologians, are singled out in one version of The Path -the above-
mentioned Asadi’s Symbol (Najm-i RazI 1352/1973B, intro pp. 13f.) —as
enjoying a somewhat higher status (maqdm) than the philosophers; for in
addition to God’s existence, they also know God’s attributes through
The second, or visionary, basic form of god-cognition involves a quite
different approach. RazI calls it literally, ‘speculative cognition’ (ma‘rifat-i
nazarf)\ but this term, contrary to its usual meaning, does not refer here to
the formal ‘speculations’ of the just mentioned theologians, but to
‘speculating’ in a much more fundamental way. The one who is
‘speculating’ in this way looks at the world as speculum or Mirror, as it
were: beholding God’s attributes in every atom of the world, he recognizes
the world as totally endowed with divine qualities. It would appear,
therefore, that RazI assigns to this second stage of god-cognition the view
known as wahdat al-wujud - roughly, something approaching a form of
pantheism or panentheism.
However, it should be noted that the ‘world’ in this context comprises not
only the objective world of nature, but also the domain of supra-sensory
phenomena. The subtle organs of perception necessary for this vision are
seen as supplementing reason on a higher level. They grow in a human being
only in the course of a maturation process, which is induced by the mystical
praxis of religion.
The ‘real’ or ‘true’ cognition (ma‘rifat-i haqlqi), then, corresponds to the
completion of this maturation process, whereby the visionary cognition is
replaced by the experiential, as the third fundamental form of god-cognition.
RazI calls this the ‘cognition through witnessing’ (mafifat-i shuhudl), the
term he employs for the unmediated experience: that of the moth throwing
itself into the flame. This evidently corresponds to what is sometimes termed
wahdat al-shuhud.1G
It seems quite obvious that the difference is greater between rational
cognition, on the one hand, and the visionary and experiential, on the other,
10. Razl’s tripartite scheme, then, amounts to saying that wahdat al-wujud is an advanced but
not the highest stage, a claim which was later vigorously made by SimnanI (cf. Der Islam
50, 1, (1973) pp. 29-81.)
308 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
than that between the latter two, which both belong after all to the domain of
the mystic. We shall come back to the distinction between the second and
third forms of cognition below. At this point let us first take up the question
of how RazI arrived at putting rational cognition on a par with the two forms
of mystical cognition, even if only as, say, a prior stage to them. Is it not
really the direct opposite to them?
As a matter of fact, while Islamic mysticism may be said to be more
‘rational’ on the whole than other mystical traditions, the insufficiency of
human reason has been consistently emphasized by Sufis. Even a Sufi such
as Razl’s younger contemporary, Sadruddln-i Qunawi (Konyavi, 1210-
1274), who unlike our author shows much sympathy for the ‘philosopher’,
still accepts the validity of reason only in a limited sense, as an instrument to
be supplemented by higher organs of perception or cognition (Qunawi 1995,
Ar. Text pp. 165f./German p. 29)." This, in fact, is precisely the view held
by RazI as well, as we shall see in more detail later. However, in a particular
treatise known as the Treatise on Love and Reason, (Risala-yi ‘ishq u ‘a q l f 2
where ‘Love’ stands, of course, for the way of the mystics, he expounds on
the natural opposition between love and reason in such a way that the two
appear to be as radically incompatible as fire and water - or so it seems at
first sight.
In particular, Razl’s target here is the famous philosophical postulate of
the unity of intellect, of the subject and the object of intellection, and the
claim that the intellect in its perfection comprises everything in existence.
Not unlike Ghazall before him, he only cites the philosophers to beat them
with their own weapons. Thus, he accepts their definition of the human
intellect as the organ capable of perceiving the quiddity (mdhiyat) or essence
of things for the sole purpose of demonstrating that this ‘essence’ is not
identical with the reality of the thing itself: it is only an image that was
abstracted from the real object, not the object itself in its concrete reality
(haqiqat). For example, the intellectual perception of the quiddity of an
orange detects nothing of its color, smell or taste. I f then, the intellect has to
11. Also see my review in BSOAS 61, 2 (1998) pp. 332-334. Qunawi may well have known
RazI, even if the ‘meeting in Anatolia’ reported by J am! (1370 h.s.), p. 437, seems
12. Whether this treatise is a ‘work of youth’, as I assumed in the original German version, is
uncertain. The oldest extant MS, copied in 704 AH in Sabzawar in the Madrasa ‘Ala’iyya
(see Risdla text (1966) pp. 99f., intro pp. 10ff), was probably ordered by ‘Ala’ al-Dawla
al-Simnani: we happen to know that the latter spent some time in 705/1306 in a place
called Rahatabad-i Khusrawjird-i Bayhaq (cf. Landolt, (ed.) Tehran (1351/1972), Persian
text p. 102, intro pp. 18f. and 48f).
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 309
resort to the help of special organs to grasp even the things of this world, he
argues, how could it, out of its own perfection, grasp what lies beyond it in
its reality (Najm-i Razi 1345/1966, pp. 68-74).
Of course, Razi does not use this argument - which he might well have
taken from Suhrawardi’s criticism of Peripatetic theory of knowledge13- to
say that a ‘real’ grasp of the thing in itself is impossible. What he infers from
his critique of the power of reason is simply this: that only its very opposite,
that is, ‘love’, is capable of grasping the thing ‘as it really is.’ His
argumentation here relies almost entirely on poetic images. Thus, reason is
personified as the ‘teacher of arrogance’ (,khwajagi-amuz), in contrast to
which ‘love’ is the ‘sorrow’ which is a ‘kingdom-burner’ (padishahi-suz).
Like water, reason draws everthing down under, intensifying existence in the
material world, that is, in the wrong direction, while the fire of love is the
‘bestower of annihilation’ (fanabakhsh), striving ever upward to the ‘center
of celestial unity’ (ibid., pp. 6 I ff; cf. p. 54).
Now this poetic imagery should not, of course, be misunderstood as a
kind of romantic demonisation of the mind as the antagonist per se. Razi was
not a romantic but a religious thinker standing firmly in the medieval
intellectual tradition. He suggests on the contrary that perfect love and
perfect reason are a united pair within the figure of the Prophet Muhammad;
for within this perennial figure, the fire of divine love has indeed ignited the
pure spirit-oil of reason in such a way that the ‘lamp’ really ‘bums’ and there
is ‘light upon light’, as indicated in the Koranic ‘Light Verse’ (24:35) (ibid.,
pp. 76ff.; cf. p. 36). Moreover, like his philosophical opponents, our
religious thinker cannot do without the idea of a ‘universal intellect’ ( ‘aql-i
hull), which he discusses at some length in the cosmological sections of the
Path (Najm-i Razi 1973A, pp. 46ff., 5If., 56ff.; cf. p. 21 OF). There is no
place to dwell extensively on this here; but we must mention the point
characteristic for our author, and which does set him apart from the purely
philosophical tradition: the Universal Intellect, which is the foundation of the
order of the world, of the inward (or angelic) aspect of nature (malakut),
does not serve as the highest hypostasis; it constitutes only the substructure
of the ‘Spirit of Life’ (riih) itself. This Life-Spirit and the Universal Intellect
are related to each other like Adam and Eve, or Love and Reason in the case
13. On this criticism, see especially Hossein Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study o f
Suhrawardi’s Hikmat al-Ishraq, Atlanta 1990, pp. 118ff, and 140ff. Note, however, that
Razi may well have borrowed Suhrawardi’s arguments without accepting his philosophy
of ishraq. Being an admirer of the Sufi Abu Hafs ‘Umar al-Suhrawardl (d. 632/1234),
whose generally anti-philosophical views he shared, he was hardly a friend of the ishraqi
philosopher Suhrawardi (d. 587/1191).
310 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
of Muhammad: while they are at the origin of the opposition between love
and reason in mankind; fire and water in nature, they really belong together
like ‘light above light’. Indeed, before the splitting of the ‘primordial
substance’ (jawhar) into the opposing elements of fire and water, they
circulated through the worlds as cosmic light-rays entwined on top of each
other. Only after the splitting apart the opposites pulled away from each
other: fire moving always upward, water downward. Interestingly, however,
even after the splitting, according to Razi, some part of the water in the form
of steam joins the fire in its thrust towards the origin above. Thus, only the
water not warmed by fire, in other words, profane reason, stays ‘below’.
Once ‘warmed’, reason too has the possibility of ascending to higher
The concept of the dual light emanation as well as the image of the
secondary warming of water by fire make it evident that reason and love in
Razl’s thought are not after all as irresolvable contraries as would appear on
first view. Indeed, we can already gain the idea of the way it works out, how,
despite his apparent contempt for reason, Razi can nevertheless recognize it
as the lowest step on a scale which ends in pure mysticism at the top. Both
the lower and the upper end of this scale, in fact, represent a certain kind of
perfection, a twofold potential for ‘perfection’ (kamaliyat) innate in
mankind, which our author discusses at some length in the Treatise on Love
and Reason (Najm-i Razi 1345/1966, pp. 42-48).
According to this model, the human being is, first, the perfect recipient of
emanation from the Intellect (iqabul-i fayz-i ‘aql) because within man as end-
product of the creation process all the other forms of creation are present. As
such, he is the ‘perfectly balanced structure’ (kamal-i taswiya) alluded to in
the Koran (38:72), the microcosm containing the inner aspect {malakut) of
the entire creation. Even though ‘perfect’, however, this potentiality, which
Razi identifies with man’s natural, rational potential for cognition, represents
only an indirect link to the prime source of emanation since it is conditioned
by the entire creation process preceding its coming-about.
In contrast to this, the second kind of potential for perfection, the
mystical one, represents a timeless, immediate emanation {fayz-i blwasita).
Like the rational one, this mystical kind of perfection too corresponds to a
predisposition of man, but unlike the former, it is not the result of any
natural creation process but is due to a secret that is hidden, according to our
Muslim mystic, in the Koranic images of the ‘molding of Adam’s body with
God’s two hands’ and of the direct ‘infusion of the divine life-spirit’. Instead
of ‘perfection’, therefore, we should perhaps rather use words such as
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly.. 311
‘wholeness’ or ‘completeness’ in this case, for this concept clearly involves
the existence of man as body and soul taken as a whole. As we shall see
later, this concept is one of the cornerstones of Razi’s mystical doctrine, in
which hierarchical emanation theory is tied in an original way with belief in
a creation act willed out of love.
Obviously this idea of the human being also implies the claim of
mysticism to lead man beyond merely intellectual perfection towards his true
self, to ‘hatch’ him, as our author likes to put it. Philosophers and
theologians who practice intellectual perfection in such a way that the
spiritual and angelic prevail over the animal in them, may be counted among
those called in the Koran ‘the Companions of the Right’ (ashab al-
maymana) and can serve as sites of manifestation of divine ‘grace’ (lutj),
counter to the ‘Companions of the Left’ (ashab al-mash ’ama), in whom the
animal and demonic prevail over the spiritual and the angelic, whereby they
serve as sites of manifestation of divine ‘wrath’ (cjahr). There exists,
however, according to the Koranic imagery (56:8-11) which is brought to
play here, yet a third group, known as the ‘Outstrippers’ (al-sabiqun) or
‘Those Brought Nigh’ (al-muqarrabun). To this third group belong only
those few, the elect, the prophets and the great mystics (awliya ’) who are by
essence beyond all duality, indeed beyond their own dual nature as a body
and a soul {ibid., pp. 50-61, 66f., 8If). It is their task ‘to hatch the SImurgh’s
egg’ and to make sure, through appropriate care, that the ‘birds’ can grow
towards their true goal {ibid., pp. 83-99). Razi evidently counted himself to
this third group, as may be seen from one of his quatrains, in which he
alludes to his sobriquet of Daya, or ‘wetnurse’:
Whatever you’ve seen of us
is only our shadow;
Beyond both worlds
we stand, my boy.
Our substance comes
in our work
not in our selves.
I ’m the wetnurse of others,
and He that of me.
{Ibid., pp. 86f.)14
14. Variant in Mirsad (1973A) p. 80.
312 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
It is by no means incidental to Razl’s elaboration of his theory of
mystical upbringing that time and again he uses images out of the domain of
organic life, of ‘gardening’. After all, his entire spiritual pedagogy is based
on the decisive assumption that humankind is established to attain wholeness
or completeness on the basis of its body-and-soul ground-plan. The same
dynamic principle makes it also possible to say that humankind is
fundamentally higher that God’s intimate angels themselves.15Indeed, for
Razi, the angels are purely static representatives of intellectual or celestial
perfection. In this very perfection they are, according to rank, bound to their
‘designated station’ (maqam malum, Kor. 37:164). They cannot grow
beyond it. “Man, on the contrary, is capable of ascending (itaraqqi), as
recipient of emanation from the Intellect, so that the intellect of every one
can develop, through spiritual breeding (tarbiyat), from potential to act,
possibly reach another’s intellect, or even go beyond. So, perfect capability
[of attaining all] the levels of the Intellect belongs to man; for he possesses
the instruments needed for this spiritual breeding (parwarish-i an), including
the outer senses, the inner faculties, and other organs of perception such as
the ‘heart’, the ‘inner consciousness’ [or ‘secret’, sirr], and the ‘spirit’, all of
which he has to perfection” (ibid., p. 46).16
At this point it becomes clear how Razl’s idea of the human effectively
differs from that of the ‘philosophers’. What distinguishes human beings,
according to our mystic, enabling them to grow above solely rational
knowledge in contrast to the angels, is precisely what the philosophers in
general rate as inferior to it, namely, concrete perception of the realm of the
particulars. This positive valuation of the concrete world, expressly inclusive
of the outward senses, also appears to involve a certain turning away from
the strongly spiritualist trend of Kubra’s mysticism and more towards Ibn
‘Arabi’s view that vision of God is impossible without vision of the world.
A similar view is mirrored in Razi’s cosmology. Our author goes as far as
to deny perfect god-cognition to the original spirit, which enjoyed cognition
of only universals before the creation of the world. He bases this on the
famous tradition according to which God himself stated that he created the
world because he had been a “hidden treasure wanting to be known’ (Kuntu
15. A view often held in Islam. Cf. A. J . Wensinck, The Muslim Creed, London 1965,
pp. 200Ff.
16. The ‘inner [or psychic] faculties’ (quwdyi bdtin, also called quwd-yi basharl by Razi)
include, for example, the ‘imaginative faculty’, etc., constituting the ‘inner senses’ of
Peripatetic philosophical psychology. As for the ‘other organs of perception’, they are also
‘inner senses’ but do not belong to the same category according to Razi: they are, rather,
the truly mystical perceptive organs (see below).
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly.. 313
kanzan makhfiyyan...). So, on the one hand, the spirit lost its immediate
vicinity to God when it came down into the world of bodies and the ‘seventy
thousand veils of light and darkness’ appeared as a result; but paradoxically,
this very alienation, this acquaintance with the ‘veils’ brought the spirit
closer to its true destination, that is, perfect cognition of God. To put it in a
nutshell, only the sowing of the seed of the spirit in the earth of the body can
lead to the growing of those perceptive organs which the angels lack. This
means that the step from merely rational god-cognition towards the vision of
‘all atoms of all worlds’ as a ‘manifestation of the divine Attributes’, or the
emergence of mystical ma ‘rifat-i nazarl in a given individual, is only made
possible thanks to the descent of the spirit to the bodily world (Najm-i Razi
1973A, pp. 101-114; 117f.).17
One has to add, though, that this transplanation of the spirit into the body
is only the necessary prerequisite for this developement to happen; it does
not by itself guarantee its realization or completion. What is decisive is the
care and growth of the truly mystical organ, the ‘heart’. But it remains true
that, according to Razi, it does not matter whether vision (mushahadat)
happens in the ‘inner’ or the ‘outer’ world once the ‘heart’ is ‘pure’ or
‘clear’. Such a ‘heart’ may equally mirror suprasensory visions within itself
with the aid of imagination, or behold the reflection of divine radiation in the
physical world with the help of outer perception. Once the mirror of the
heart is perfectly ‘clear’, the mystic can ‘see God in all things’, whether he
looks into or outside himself.
Now while this kind of ‘vision’, the equivalent of ma ‘rifat-i n a z a r l , may
convey an impression of some sort of pantheism or panentheism, it should
nevertheless be recalled, as was indicated earlier, that it constitutes by itself
only the threshold of the ‘real’ or highest form of god-cognition, the
ma’rifat-i shuhudl. J ust as the spirit, mythologically speaking, must be
‘planted’ in the realm of the body, through which it comes to view things, it
must return to its origin. The ‘veils’ must be lifted, so that the unity of the
viewer with the viewed may be realized; or more precisely: that one may
attain what our mystic sometimes calls the ‘vision of the Viewed through the
eyes of the Viewed’ - a paradoxical formula reminiscent of the ‘intoxicated’
language of his older contemporary Ruzbihan-i Baqll (d. 1212) (Najm-i Razi
17. Cf. p. 267. Before its descent, the Spirit had ‘knowledge of (danist) God’s Unity, but it
‘knew’ (shinakht) it yet not.
18. That mushahadat or ‘vision’ in this context is the equivalent of ma'rifat-i nazarl, i.e. the
second stage of ‘god-cognition’, is evident from a comparison of Razi (1973A), pp. 305
and 118. Also compare Razi (1973B), paras 47-49.
314 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
(1973A), pp. 305f.; Razi (1973B), para 50).19More often, however, to point
to the characteristic difference of the higher ma ‘rifat-i shuhudl, Razi tends to
omit the term ‘vision’ {mushahadat) altogether, replacing it with ‘unveiling’
(,mukdshafat)20 and reaching for other supravisual ‘senses of the heart’.
Amongst the ‘five senses of the heart’ with which, if they are ‘sound’, one
can ‘perceive the totality of the suprasensory world’ { ‘dlam-i ghayb), the
heart’s ‘palate’ is the one designated for the ‘taste of love, faith and mystical
cognition (7rfdrif (Najm-i Razi (1973A), pp. 192f.; Razi (1973B), para 65).
According to Kubra, the difference between the ‘visionary’ and the
‘experiential’ lies in the former coming about through the opening up of the
inward sight (baslra), while the ‘experiential’, defined as a state of ‘being
inwardly touched by something met’, refers to a real ‘transformation of
being {tabdll al-wujud) and of the spirit’. This total transformation appears
to be the final stage of a process which includes at some earlier stage a
transformation of the five senses into ‘other senses reaching into the supra­
sensory realm’. Kubra does not say precisely what these ‘other senses’ are;
he only hints at an answer to this question by comparing them to the powers
of imagination, those ‘servants of reason’ that are active in our dreams
(Meier 1957, paras 41-43/German intro pp. 97ff). By doing so, he implicitly
admits their identity with the so-called ‘faculties of the soul’ of Peripatetic
school-psychology. Razi, on the contrary, makes a clear distinction between
those ‘faculties’ of the philosophical tradition, which he usually calls the
‘human faculties’ (quwa-yi basharT), and the ‘inner perceptive organs’
{mudrikat-i batinl), which are the above-mentioned mystical ‘senses of the.
heart’. Unlike the ‘human faculties’, these mystical organs are properly
derived from the Sufi tradition: they belong to a scale of ‘subtle substances’
{lata ’if) serving traditionally as a link between the material and the spiritual,
between the human and the divine, such as the ‘heart’ {qalb or dil), the
‘spirit’ (ruh), and the ‘secret’ or ‘inner consciousness’ (sirr). However, in
adopting this Sufi tradition, Razi modifies and expands it in a significant
way by placing ‘intellect’ ( ‘aql) instead of the traditional Tower soul’ (,nafs)
at its bottom level, by putting the ‘spirit’ above the ‘secret’, and by adding
another type of ‘secret’ consciousness, the ‘arcane’ {khafi), at the top, so that
the gamut extends in ascending order over the following five ‘subtle
19. For Ruzbihan, see H. Corbin, En Islam iranien: Aspects spirituels et philosophiques,
vol. in, Paris 1972, pp. 77ff. and 127ff.
20. This deviates from more generally used terminology, where mushahada takes precedence
over mukdshafa. See Qushayri (1379/1959), p. 43; Abu Hafs al-Suhrawardl (1966),
p. 529; Mahmud-i KashanI, Misbdh (n.d), p. 131.
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 315
substances’: ‘intellect’, ‘heart’, ‘secret’, ‘spirit’, ‘arcane’ (Razi 1973A,
pp. 55, 117, 121, 200, 311-315 and Razi 1973B, para 45). Again one can see
here that ‘intellect’ is not excluded from the realm of the mystical but it
occupies only the place traditionally assigned in Sufism to the ‘lower soul’.
Obviously, this fivefold structure of ‘subtle substances’ or ‘senses of the
heart’ parallels the five external senses in some way. In fact, our author is
quite explicit in establishing a parallel between the physical sense of touch
and the intellect considered as one among the five ‘senses of the heart’. He
writes: “J ust as the tactile sense is present in every limb of the body,
enabling the body with all its parts to benefit from whatever is accessible to
the tactile sense, the same applies to the intellect with regard to the heart, so
the heart in its totality is enabled, thanks to intellect, to benefit from all
intelligibles”. In a similar way, the ‘heart’ qua ‘subtle substance’, the
‘secret’ and the ‘spirit’ can function as sight, hearing and olfactory ‘senses of
the heart’, respectively, while the ‘arcane’, of course, plays the role of the
palate (Razi 1973A, p. 193; 1973B, para 65).21
In the light of the foregoing descriptions, it is more than evident that the
arcane, or ‘palate of the heart’, is the true organ of mafifat-i shuhudl, the
direct mystical ‘experience’. What is fundamentally meant by this
‘experiencing’ or ‘tasting’ of cognition can, however, be fully understood
only when we return with Razi to the Koranic ‘Niche of lights’ (24:35) and
imagine the arcane as the wick in the burning oil-lamp. Indeed, he explains,
when God kneaded the clay of Adam’s body, that is, the dark niche, he also
put into it the glass, the lamp, and the wick - respectively, the ‘heart’, the
‘secret’, and the ‘arcane’. Then He poured the oil, that is, spirit of His spirit,
into that glass.
Now the Koranic verse referred to reads, “the oil wellnigh would shine,
even if no fire touched it”. This mean, according to our author, that the
spirit-oil has in itself an extraordinary Tight-potentiality’ (;nuranlyat) due to
which the ‘glowing glass’ (the heart) is perfectly capable of illuminating the
inner recesses of the niche, namely, as intellect. What is thus illuminated in
the inner recesses of the niche is, however, only what is called the ‘human
faculties’ {quwa-yi bashari, i.e., the ‘faculties of the soul’ according to the
philosophical tradition as indicated above), while the light-rays shining out
through the latticework of the niche are known as the ‘outer senses’.
Therefore, while admitting the extraordinary power of this self-sufficient
Tight-potentiality’ coming out as intellect, Razi places the emphasis on the
21. The equivalents for sirr and ruh are designated somewhat differently in Razi (1973A),
pp. 312F.
316 Recherches en spiritucilite iranienne
word ‘wellnight’ in the verse under discussion. As long as the ‘oil’ is not, in
fact, ‘touched by fire’, it is only an improper or non-authentic (majazi) glow
that obtains. One is reminded here of the ‘cold water’, Razl’s metaphor for
the intellect of the philosophers and dialectical theologians. His point is that
neither the pure spirit-oil (the angelic world, malakut) nor the niche with the
glass though without lamp, oil and wick (the carnal world, mulk) can by
themselves make the true Light shine forth. Man in his wholeness is needed
for the ‘hidden treasure’ to appear; the entirety of the lightniche, in which
the lamp is lit by the ‘fire of divine light’. But only the ‘wick’ and the ‘oil’
can really ‘tell the tale’ of this theophany (tajalli), when they both ‘let go
their being’ (badhl-i wujud = fana’) to experience the ‘savor’ of ‘burning’. It
is the wick which makes the love-play between fire and oil possible,
whereby the oil exchanges its ‘non-authentic being’ for ‘true Being’ (wujud-i
haqlql = baqa’) and the heretofore hidden ‘fire-potential’ (;nariyat) becomes
manifest as real (Razi 1973A, pp. 120-125; 1973B, paras 55-60).
3. The praise of folly
Najm-i Razl’s image of man presented above needs further elaboration.
Given the human being’s potential for becoming a perfect ‘knower of God’,
less on the basis of his rational capability than due to his integration of all
contradictions, it is reasonable to expect that this relative devaluation of the
‘luminous’ side will be counterbalanced on the other side with a certain
revaluation of the ‘shadow’.
This is precisely what happens in the case of our author. As we shall see,
Razi does not shrink from applying the consequences of his holistic thinking
to his theory of the soul (nafs), so that one cannot help being reminded of
basic insights of modem depth psychology when reading this medieval
Muslim mystic. His interpretation of the sentence ‘He who knows
himself...’, now understood as ‘He who knows his soul...’, amounts, in
short, to a recognition of the dynamic value of the non-rational, ‘dark’ side
of the soul.
Underlying this theory of the soul is a well-known Koranic verse that is
frequently quoted by the mystics, perhaps because more than any other it can
suggest an idea of that mystere which, to quote a word from Henry Corbin, is
“at the same time mystere de Dieu and mystere de VHomme” (Corbin 1971,
pp. 94-110, esp. 97).
Literally it says: “we [God] offered the pledge (al-amdna) to the heavens,
the earth and the mountains, but they refused to bear it and shrank from it.
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 317
But man has born it. Indeed he has been arrogant (zalum) and foolish
(jahul)” (33:72).
The specific place assigned to man in his Koranic verse has always
puzzled interpreters. Modern religionists, suggesting that the mysterious
‘pledge’ may mean life itself, have paralleled the theme with a neo-Sudanese
creation myth in which the creator-god Soko first asked the stones if they
wanted to have children and then die, like humans.
“No!”, they answered, so that thereafter they existed forever but remained
sterile, in contrast to humans who are mortal but procreative.22
However, to explain why man is called ‘arrogant’ and ‘foolish’ in this
context, a closer point of association could perhaps be found to start with in
the myth of the prohibited tree of knowledge or cognition. Moreover, this
association can be supported by an ancient exegetic tradition according to
which no more time passed between man’s acceptance of the pledge and his
loss of paradise than between the Islamic noon and afternoon prayers
(Tradition from Mujahid, cited in Maybudi 1339 h.s./1380 h.q., VIII, p. 94).
For our mystic, in any case, it is perfectly clear that the pledge is none
other than the ‘burden of cognition [or gnosis]’ (bar-i amanat-i ma'rifat);
and he establishes a direct link between the acceptance of this burden by
man and the ‘arrogance’ and ‘folly’ for which he is - apparently - being
blamed. Here, Razi offers an interpretation which seems to be truly his own.
He shows himself to be once again a master in the artful preparation of his
unique mixture of emanation philosophy, creation account, and above all, a
good dose of poetic imagery, a pinch of which we have already received.
Right on the first pages of his principal work our author draws up a rather
particular theory of emanation (Razi, 1973A, pp. 37ff). He likens the
emanation process to the six-times boiling down of a single mass of sugar.
This process is carried out by God himself in such a way that what is left at
the end is not fire and water but fire and earth, constituting, as one is quickly
aware, nothing else than precisely ‘arrogance’ and ‘folly’.
In this imagery, the first degree of emanation is represented by the as yet
unboiled, white [or colorless] raw sugar (qand-i sapid), the sugar straight
from the cane as it were, that is, as God produced it out of the light-ray of
absolute Unity (ahadiyat). This first emanation is, of course, the ‘pure spirit
of Muhammad’. From this ‘white’ raw sugar God created, one after the
other, six different categories of spirits (arwah) that correspond to the six
‘decoction phases’ of the sugar. These existed before the creation of the
corporeal world.
22. Cf. R. Paret (1993), p. 402.
318 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
Razi classifies these six categories of spirits under two different general
rubrics, so that we actually have two parallel waves of emanation from the
second to the seventh stage. Under the first rubric, there are: 1. the spirits of
the prophets, 2. those of the great mystics (awliyd’), 3. those of the believers,
4. those of the sinners ( ‘asiyan), 5. those of the ‘hypocrites’ (munajiqan),
6. those of the unbelievers (kafiran). Under the second: 1. the spirits of
humans collectively, 2. those of the angels, 3. those of the jinn, and
4. through 6. those of other categories of demons and devils (shayatln,
mar ad a and abalisa).
On a lower level, the spirit of animals and plants was created from the
remains of the last decoctions of demons’ and devils’ spirits, while the
elements of the material world were made out of the remaining murky sugar
Now, the fundamental idea Razi wishes to convey is that the darkness
and turbidity of the sugar are generated not only in the material world. On
the contrary, they are already ‘programmed’ as part and parcel (t a ‘biya) of
the ‘white’ raw sugar and become only increasingly present with each phase
of the boiling process. The first two decoctions produce a still relatively pale
sugar (nabat-i sapid and shikar-i sapid)', the third and fourth provide a
reddish substance {shikar-i surkh and tabarzad), while the fifth and sixth
result in a dark or ‘black’ sugar {qawalib-i siyah and qutara). However, in
every case the substance contains both light and dark elements, though one
may not always be able to detect this. Each of the six kinds of sugar has its
own perfection and its proper place in the process; each has its specific
function and none can take the place of any other, as our mystic emphasizes.
That there be no doubt about what he means, he solemnly declares:
“Here now, a subtle mystery is being unveiled, of the subtlest nature,
which no one has mentioned up to now. The matter is this that the darkness
and turbidity that were present in the [original] sugar {qand) were
programmed in such a way that darkness became the carrier of heat, turbidity
that of density, and wherever in the various kinds of sugar [the six phases of
boiling down] one finds more darkness and turbidity, there is
correspondingly greater heat and density. Thus, shikar is one degree warmer
and denser than nabat [i.e. the first phase], and the same applies analogically
to the other kinds” {ibid., p. 40).
Heat, of course, is the quality of fire, and one of fire’s characteristics is
that it is ‘rebellious’ or ‘arrogant’, pushing upward. That is why Iblls - the
Devil, refusing to prostrate before Adam, created of cl ay- arrogantly
declared: “I am better than him!” (Koran 7:11-12); for he is created of fire.
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 319
Density, on the other hand, is the quality of earth, which is the fundamental
substance of baser genres. Indeed the special characteristic of earth is its
commonness and coarseness, whence comes the fact that animals are of
grosser type and baser aims, seeking earthen, perishable fodder; for they are
of the very earth. From the fire-quality stems all wrong-doing, and from the
earth-quality, all ignorance. Drawn to the edge, these qualities are called
zaluml and jabull -they paradoxically turn out to be precisely that
‘arrogance’ and ‘folly’ which together enabled man to accept the ‘burden of
Fire obviously plays a decisive role in the thought of our Iranian mystic.
We already have come to know it as the divine fire of love in his
interpretation of the theme of the ‘light niche’ - the fire igniting the ‘spirit-
oil’ in the ‘lamp’, and whose blaze is experienced by the black ‘wick’, the
‘arcane substance’ of man. In the present context, too, Razi underscores its
role as the ‘fundamental substance of love’, while at the same time pointing
to fire as the essence of that power in man which oversteps defined limits,
the ‘sinful arrogance’ personified by Iblis, the Devil. This association is no
coincidence; rather, it becomes thoroughly meaningful when we envision the
‘love-fire’ of the mystic as a kind of passionate ‘insubordination’. In fact,
Razi clearly stands in the tradition of that Islamic love-mysticism whose
prominent representatives such as Ahmad-i Ghazall (the brother of the
famous theologian) were accused by more conservative theologians for
having attempted to ‘save the honor of the Devil’.23To be sure, one cannot
really speak of a true rehabilitation of the Devil in the case of our author. For
him, it is only in combination with that other human characteristic which the
Devil definitely lacks, namely, ‘folly’ with its earthen heaviness or density,
that the ‘impish arrogance’ of man is to be valued positively as a
precondition for his assuming the ‘burden of cognition’. Still, it is
remarkable that Iblis, as Adam’s tempter in paradise, serves indirectly as the
instrument of salvation history. When Adam let himself be seduced by Iblis
to eat of the ‘tree of eternity’ (Koran 20:118/120), his only error was that he
did it out of the wrong impulse, due to his ‘innocence’ (az salamat-i dil)\ for
this tree, constituting the ‘inner truth of religion” (haqlqat-i din), was indeed
ultimately meant for man. Now the tree in question was (according to the
tradition prevailing in Islam) a ‘wheat-tree’; and everyone knows that wheat
23. Cf. H. Ritter (1955), pp. 540ff. Ahmad-i Ghazali’s Tajrld j i kalimat al-tawhid does indeed
assign a crucial function to the Devil within the ‘citadel’ La ilaha ilia Allah, as I have tried
to show elsewhere (cf “Sakralraum und mystischer Raum im Islam”, Eranos-Yearbook 44
(1975) pp. 231-265, esp. 256ff.) [here: pp. 327-355],
320 Recherches en spirituality iranienne
cannot be eaten raw, but must first be wrought into bread, being passed from
one master-artisan (uslad) to another and dealt with appropriately. Similarly,
the wheat of religion, which Adam had eaten raw, had to be passed from one
prophet to the next to be skillfully worked, until it emerged as the perfected
bread of religion from the ‘oven of love’, Muhammad (Razi 1973A, pp. 147-
To return to the other human characteristic, the earthen heaviness of
‘folly’ (jahull) that resulted from the turbidity and increased density of the
‘sugar’, we have seen that its proper representatives within the creation are
the beasts fashioned from ‘earth’. However, the particular quality of this
weighty element is not only ‘commonness and coarseness’, as we have
already heard. The sugar’s turbidity that leads to bodily existence, and of
which the angels, being spirits of light, possess but little, is at the same time
the ‘dough-base of humility and submission to a higher principle’
( ‘ubudlyat), i.e. the basic religious attitude of man towards God. The angels
did possess the spiritual clarity to recognize the ‘burden of the pledge’, but
they lacked the strength to carry it. That is why “the heavens refused to bear
it and shrank from it”, as it is said in the Koranic verse. The animals, on the
other hand, would have been strong enough to carry the burden. But since
not enough brightness of spirit was left for them in the process, they were
simply unable to recognize the ‘dignity of the burden of the pledge’. Thus
they - or, as it is said, ‘the earth and the mountains’ - refused to carry this
burden too. As a result, another being was necessary, one which
encompassed both worlds, a creature that united the lowest and the highest
within itself (Razi 1973A, pp. 4If. Cf. 1973B, paras 55-56).
By directly creating Adam, by ‘molding the clay’ and ‘infusing the spirit’
into it, God, being himself ‘in love’ as it were with Earth, bypassed the
regular order of the process of emanation. The spirit as God’s ‘vicegerent’
(khalifa) was to receive a throne and a house, a treasure-vault wherein all the
treasures of the world were kept. Now, there was amongst these treasures an
especially precious gem, truly a pearl, hidden in the oyster-shell known as
the ‘pledge of cognition’. This precious gem, the ‘jewel of love’, had
previously been reserved by the King for himself, kept secret from even his
treasure guards, the angels. But once he had kneaded Adam’s body over the
course of ‘forty mornings’ - or ‘forty thousand years’ - and after the clay of
the ‘heart’, fashioned from the earth of paradise blended with the water of
life, had been ‘nurtured’ 360 times by glances from the ‘sun’ of his eyes,
whereupon treasury and treasure-chest were ready, He placed the pearl in the
24. Concerning the ‘wheat’, cf. ThaiabI (1308) pp. 20ff.
Stages' o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly. 321
oyster-shell in the ‘chest’ and appointed Adam’s spirit (jan-i Adam) guardian
of the treasure.
Now that was a situation totally unintelligible to the angels. For them,
Adam’s body was nothing but a piece of clay. Sly old Iblis, on the other
hand, did have a notion. Seeking to pursue the matter further, he circled
around Adam from all sides, so as to examine him with his ‘one-eyed eye­
sight’. When he saw his open mouth, he said to the angels: “J ust wait, I am
going to solve this problem! I am going to enter through this hole and see
what is going on”. Having said this, he entered Adam and as he examined
him from inside, he discovered a small world, a microcosm: a sample of
everything he had seen in the outer world was present within Adam.
However, when he sought to push ahead to the heart, he had to turn about.
The King’s chamber was locked up tight! Thus say the Sufi masters:
“Whoever has been rejected by one heart is rejected by all, and one who has
been accepted by one heart is accepted by all” (Razi 1973A, pp. 66-86).25
Thus the angels learned only half the truth. When they found out that
Adam’s body was made out of all four elements, they cried: “Blatant
contradictions! Nothing good can come out of this!” Full of doubt, they
turned to God with the question: “What, wilt Thou set therein one who will
do corruption there, and shed blood, while we proclaim Thy praise and call
Thee Holy?” (Koran 2:28/30). With this question, they of course, implied a
blame. Thus Adam - indeed God himself in reality - was the first being to
incur the blame (malamat) of the devout: he was the first of the ‘wild
dervishes’ (;malamatl, ‘incurrers of blame’), preferring ‘love’ ( ‘ishq ba
malamat) to the piety of the ‘never-wrongdoers’ (zuhd ba saldmat) (ibid.
pp. 81 and 71).
Here Razi’s imagery turns right back to the main theme. The angels stand
not only for the rationalist philosophers and theologians, but also for the self-
righteous pious, the ‘dry ascetics’, while Adam in his earthen ‘folly’
represents the love-crazed dervish (malamatl, qalandar, rind) - a contrast
which has been the subject of countless variations in Persian lyrics. Hafiz
has the chaste angels knocking one night on the door of the wine-house to
mold Adam’s clay into a cup and to drink with the poet, the humble earth-
dweller, for “The heavens could not bear the burden of the pledge;/The lot
that had been cast they dealt to crazy me!” (Hafiz, n.d., pp. 124f).
25. The ‘pearl’ placed into Adam’s heart is traditionally understood to mean Muhammad (cf.
Tha‘labi (1308) pp. 17ff., where it is however assumed that the angels ‘knew’ this
Muhammad-pearl, too).
322 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
Razi’s obvious disdain for the ‘dry ascetics’ and his sympathy for the
‘wild dervishes’ are more than literary pose. They are, rather, the direct
expression of his mystical thought, a cast of mind that, with its open
acceptance of the world, stands in a marked contrast to the radical
abnegation of it in early Sufism. It is true that Sufis long before Razi had, as
‘knowers’ and ‘lovers’, distanced themselves from unmitigated ‘asceticism’
(.zuhd); but the main principle of this asceticism, ‘fighting the compulsive
soul’ (mukhalafat al-nafs), was hardly ever put into question. By contrast,
our author seems to draw the consequences of a real change of attitude vis a
vis the ‘world’ and the Tower soul’ in Sufism. We shall now look in more
detail at his teachings on the soul (nafs).
“Know that the ‘soul’ in the terminology of the masters of the Path is a
fine steam exuding from the physical heart. The physicians call it the ‘animal
spirit’. It is the source of all the blameworthy qualities, [the one referred to
in the Koran as] ‘inciting to evil’ (cf. Koran 12:53). As for its site within
man, know that it encompasses all the limbs and parts of the body, the way
oil is inherent in all the parts of the sesame seed. The soul of the other living
creatures bears the same relationship to their bodies in terms of physical
reality. However, the human soul has additional qualities that are not found
in the souls of animals.
“One of these additional qualities is subsistence (baqa *). Indeed, the
human soul was given a taste of the ‘realm of subsistence’, so that after it
has parted from the body, it subsists either in heaven or in hell...unlike the
souls of animals, which have no such taste, becoming obliterated once
separated from the body.
“As for how the human soul acquired that taste of the realm of
subsistence, know that subsistence is of two kinds: one is that which has
always been and ever shall be, being the subsistence of God; and the second
is that which, not having been, has come into existence and then subsists due
to God’s letting it subsist (<bi-ibqa’-i haqq). The latter is the subsistence of
the spirits, of the Malakut, and the realm of the hereafter...
“Now the human soul has had a taste of both kinds of subsistence. As for
the taste of subsistence derived from God, [i.e. the first, beginningless kind],
it acquired it at the time of the molding of Adam’s clay. One of the precious
gems that God himself buried, by virtue of His divine power (bi khudavandl-
i khwlsh), in the common earth [i.e. Adam’s clay] was indeed eternal
subsistence. As for the taste of subsistence of the spirits [i.e. the second, the
created kind], it was installed in it [only] at the time when the spirit became
coupled with the body” (Razi 1973A, pp. 174F).
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly..
Let us interrupt Najm-i Razi for a moment at this point. We can see that
he has established a striking paradox. On the one hand, the mere animal soul
enjoys no subsistence whatsoever, whereas the human soul got a ‘taste’ of
two kinds of subsistence. On the other hand, it is not, as one might expect,
due to its relationship to the celestial spirit that the human soul owes its taste
of the highest kind of subsistence, of absolute eternity, but due to the
mystery of the ‘molding’ of the body with ‘God’s two hands’. In other
words, its sublime nobility derives from its lowly origin forged out of the
The precious gem which confers this nobility on the soul can well be
identified with that ‘pearl of love’ which had been consigned to the ‘oyster-
shell of cognition’ in the ‘treasure-chest of the heart’ - or with the ‘wick of
the arcane’ in the Tamp of the inner consciousness’ within the ‘glass vessel
of the heart’ - in any case, with the aliquid in anima which quite obviously,
according to Razi, antecedes the infusion of the spirit, because it goes back
to the molding of the body. Indeed the common clay itself received a special
quality through this ‘molding’:
“Whereas in the molding of Adam’s clay all the qualities - the satanic,
those of the predatory and domestic animals, the plants and the minerals -
where effectively there; still, given the special status of this molding as being
directly performed by God’s ‘both hands’ (Koran 38:75/74), every one of
these blameworthy qualities received a mother-of-pearl coating of divine
qualities, just as by the effect of the sun’s transmutatory glance raw stone
turns into ‘mother-of-pearl’ for ruby, hyacinth, emerald, turquoise, and
agate” {ibid., p. 67).
Since five ‘gems’ are named, we can probably equate them with the five
‘senses of the heart,’ the subtle organs of mystical cognition which as we
have seen earlier are understood to grow towards their proper function under
quasi-divine influence.
Our conclusion that the earthen provenance of the human soul is of
decisive importance for its mystical potential according to Razi is also borne
out by other aspects of what we might call his myth of the soul. Let us take
up the story where we interrupted it and look more precisely at what
happened after the infusion of the spirit.
Through the coupling of the spirit with the body, the siblings ‘heart’ and
‘soul’ were bom, that is to say, what are traditionally in Sufism the sites of
‘praiseworthy’ and ‘blameworthy’ attributes, respectively. Now the soul, as
daughter of her mother, the body, became the site of all the seven
blameworthy and baser qualities, while as daughter of her father, the spirit,
324 Recherches en spiritualite iranienne
she nevertheless possessed some praiseworthy qualities as well. Her two
principal vices are the two main irrational faculties of the soul in the
Platonic-Aristotelian tradition, the ‘covetous’ and the ‘wrathful’, which are
usually rendered shahwa and ghadab in Arabic. Instead of shahwa, however,
our author prefers to call the ‘covetous’ hawa, the ‘downward puli’. This
terminology is perfectly consistent with his general outlook. For the
‘downward pull’ stems from the elements water and earth, while the
‘wrathful’, striving upwards, represents the elements air and fire. Hawa and
ghadab, then, are the bestial and the satanic in man, the very ‘material of
hell’, although at the same time they are, as one will already have guessed,
also that ‘folly’ (jahuli) and that ‘arrogance’ (zalumi) which make humans
the sole bearers of the ‘pledge’.
Hence the fatal error, says Razi, of those ascetics who are only ascetics
and not lovers, believing that they must kill the bad traits of the soul and
substitute their opposites. This method might be quite ‘reasonable’; but
being so, it is fundamentally dualistic and does not really lead to the goal.
Indeed, the soul as a whole is there to live; and besides, the dog of the soul
gets only greedier when chained!
The philosophers believing that by substituting ‘angelic’ (meaning
rational) qualities for animal ones they can attain perfection fall into the
same error. Since they deem reason the highest good, the noble ‘senses of
the heart’, indeed the intellect in the true sense, remain hidden to them.
This leaves as the only effective method the application of the elixir of
‘religious practice’ {sharVat). As long as the two principal vices of the soul
are not offset by this elixir, man is indeed prone to become either a beast of
pray or a beast of lust.
Not surprisingly, then, the mystical pedagogy is founded on the
application of this elixir. It is a mysterious process in which the great stages
of creation - the descent of the spirit to the bodily world and the return, on
‘Resurrection Day’, of a ‘subtle body’ (qalab-i latif) consisting
‘predominantly of fire and air’ - are, so to speak, projected upon the
individual human being. The winged steed of Muhammad, the Buraq, known
from his famous ‘celestial journey’, is employed for both the spirit’s descent
ad its retum-trip. It flies downward on the wing of the ‘downward pull’
-that is, of ‘folly’ (Jahuli). On the wing of the ‘wrathful’ -that is, of
‘arrogance’ {zalumi)- it flies upward. However through the mystical
transformation process, both wings soar upwards: the ‘downward pull’ turns
to ‘love’ { ‘ishq, mahabbat), and the ‘wrathful’ to ‘mystical energy’ (ghayrat,
himmat). The Sufis transform the beast of pray into a royal falcon which
Stages o f God-cognition and the Praise o f Folly.
returns to the wrist of the king, and the steed of the soul into the Buraq of the
spirit. Sensing the call to return, this soul-animal hurls itself like the ‘crazy’
moth with both wings, ‘folly’ and ‘arrogance’, at the candle of Unity. Thus,
Razi concludes, he who knows himself in this sense as a moth, knows God
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