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2. The Ecstatics

In so far as they believe in the via purgativa, the purgation of the soul by asceticism, all the Ṡūfīs have been ascetics. But it was early discovered that the mystic underwent emotional transports in which he attained to a heightened awareness of God. These states were in effect a condition of private, personal revelation--the illuminative life. The Ṡūfīs had begun among the Ahl al-Ḥadīth, the early pietists to whom the legalists and religious scholars also trace their origins. But with the third and fourth Islamic centuries, there began a fateful separation. Ṡūfīs of heightened sensitivity fell into ecstatic trances, or were so preoccupied

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with the contemplation of the Divine Perfection that they felt they had even lost awareness of their own selfhood, and were conscious only of the existence of God. Here their experience, to judge by their accounts, was the "unitive state" attested to by mystics of many religions--the stage of religious experience where atman becomes brahman, where the soul feels that it is merged with ultimate reality.

For some Ṡūfīs, the intoxication of the illuminative stage itself became the object of ardent seeking. It was found that the coming of this religious state could be assisted with chanting of the Qur’ān, or music, or the recitation of poetry in which God is addressed as the Eternal Beloved. Al-Muḥāsibī's disciple, Junayd of Baghdad (died A.H. 298/A.D. 910), while he insisted that the goal of the mystic must be God Himself, and not the titillation of the emotions in self-induced ecstacy, nevertheless attests to ecstatic experiences of a high order, as in these verses where he describes his sense of union and separation with God.

Now I have known, O Lord,
What lies within my heart;
In secret, from the world apart
My tongue hath talked with my Adored.

So in a manner we
United are, and one;
Yet otherwise disunion
Is our estate eternally.

Though from my gaze profound
Deep awe hath hid Thy Face,
In wondrous and ecstatic Grace
I feel Thee touch my inmost ground. 17

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Junayd was also one of the first Ṡūfīs to develop a mystical system, a theosophy. Original, sincere and penetrating, he is one of the great "sober" Ṡūfīs of the conservative type, whose doctrines have proved least offensive to the ‘ulamā’.


The journey from this world to the next [i.e. to give up worldly things for spiritual things] is easy for the believer: the journey from the creatures [i.e. separation from them and from dependence on them] to the Creator is hard: the journey from the self to God is very hard: and to be able to abide in God is still harder.

Ṡūfism means that God makes you to die to yourself and makes you alive in Him. It is to purify the heart from the recurrence of creaturely temptations, to say farewell to all the natural inclinations, to subdue the qualities which belong to human nature, to keep far from the claims of the senses, to adhere to spiritual qualities, to ascend by means of Divine knowledge, to be occupied with that which is eternally the best, to give wise counsel to all people, faithfully to observe the truth, and to follow the Prophet in respect of the religious law. 18

Love means that the attributes of the lover are changed into those of the Beloved. Now he lives in accordance with the saying of God: "When I love him, I will be his eye by which he sees and his hearing by which he hears and his hand by which he reaches out." 19


The characteristic play between the imagery of divine and earthly love, divine and earthly intoxication, begins early in Ṡūfism.


It is told that Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Nūrī came once to Junayd and said, "It has reached me that you talk about everything, so talk about anything you like, and I shall discuss it with you."

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Junayd said, "What shall I talk about?" And he said, "About love." Then Junayd said, "I shall tell you an allegory. Once a group of my companions and I were in a walled orchard, and the one who was to come bringing with him some things we needed was detained, so we began to climb the wall, when we became aware of a blind man who had with him a beautiful youth, and the blind man was saying to him, 'You have ordered me to do thus and so, and I have done it. And you have forbidden me such and such, and I have abandoned it, nor do I oppose you in anything you desire; so what more do you wish of me?'

"The youth said, 'I want you to die.' Then the blind man said, 'Why, then, here I die,' and he lay down and covered his face and closed his eyes. I said to my companions, 'This blind man has tried everything--he even makes it appear that he is dead! But death in reality will hardly be possible for him.' Then we climbed down and went out to where he lay and moved him, and lo! He was dead."

Then Nūrī rose and went his way. 20


Abū Muḥammad al-Jarīrī said: "We once met at Abū Ja‘far al-Ḥaffār's, near the Damascus Gate in Baghdad--Junayd and Abū Ṡāliḥ al-Malāmatī and Abū al-‘Abbās ibn Masrūq were with us. There was a cantor (qawwāl) present, and when the chant began, Abū Ṡāliḥ rose and went into an ecstacy until his knees buckled, whereupon he fell down. Then Ibn Masrūq rose and went into an ecstacy, and then walked off barefoot [compare Exodus 3:5] so Junayd and I remained. I said to him, "Sir, do you feel nothing similar to what happened to them?" He replied, "Thou shalt see the mountains, that thou supposest fixed, passing by like clouds" (Sūra 27:88). Then he said to me, "And you--do you feel nothing at the samā‘?" I replied, "Oh yes--sometimes I am present with someone I respect and honor, so I control myself, but when I am alone, I release the ecstacy upon my in-most heart, and become ecstatic." 21


The crisis threatening between the Ṡūfīs and the legalists came with the death of the popular ecstatic Ḥusayn

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ibn Manṡūr al-Ḥallāj, in A.H. 309/A.D. 922. A younger contemporary of Junayd, and probably his student, Ḥallāj was charged with blasphemy. He chose Jesus as his model among the prophets and (perhaps on the basis of his acquaintance with the Christian scriptures) claimed, "I am the Truth (Ana al-Ḥaqq)" (cf. John 14:6). Since al-Ḥaqq, the Truth, is one of the names of God, he was accused of claiming divinity. This accusation was apparently supported by his doctrine of the "unitive life," according to which God manifests Himself on earth in His saints, and in the supreme mystical experience permits them a temporary union with Him. 22 These teachings scandalized the conventional, but he refused to recant. He was publicly scourged and crucified, and a wave of persecution of the Ṡūfīs of Baghdad ensued. His image among the later Ṡūfīs is that of a holy martyr, whose only fault was that he could not conceal the secret of existence. In so far as the historical figure is perceptible through the cloud of polemic and legend, he appears as a tragic and misunderstood lover of God, in whom private insight conflicted with the Law. His poems and sayings appear to exonerate him of the charge of self-divinization or pantheism.


Betwixt me and Thee there lingers an "it is I" that torments me.
Ah, of Thy grace, take this "I" from between us!

I am He whom I love, and He whom I love is I,
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
If thou seest me, thou seest Him,
And if thou seest Him, thou seest us both. 23

Ibrāhīm ibn Fātik, his servant, said: "When al-Ḥallāj was brought to be crucified and saw the cross and the nails . . .

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he prayed a prayer of two inclinations, and I was standing near him. He recited in the first the Opening of the Qur’ān and the verse 'And we shall try you with something of fear and of hunger.' (Sūra 21:35). In the second he recited the Opening and the verse beginning 'Every soul shall taste of death' (Sūra 29:57). When he was finished he said some words I do not remember, but of what I remember was: '. . . Oh my God, who art revealed in every place and who art not in any place, I beseech Thee by the truth of Thy Divine word which declares that I am, and by the truth of my weak human word which declares that Thou art, sustain me in gratitude for this Thy grace, that Thou didst hide from others what Thou didst reveal to me of the glory of Thy countenance, and didst forbid to them what thou didst permit to me: the sight of things hidden by Thy mystery.

"'And these Thy servants, who are gathered together to slay me in zeal for Thy religion, seeking Thy favor, forgive them. For if Thou hadst revealed to them that which Thou hast revealed to me, they would not have done that which they have done; hadst Thou withheld from me what Thou hast withheld from them, I should never have been tried with this tribulation. To Thee be praise in all Thou doest; to Thee be praise in whatsoever Thou willest.'

"Then he was silent. The Headsman stepped up and dealt him a smashing blow which broke his nose, and the blood ran onto his white robe. The mystic al-Shiblī, who was in the crowd, cried aloud and rent his garment, and Abū Ḥusayn al-Wasiṭī fell fainting, and so did other famous Ṡūfīs who were there, so that a riot nearly broke out. Then the executioners did their work." 24


149:17 Arberry, op. cit., p. 50.

149:18 Quoted by al-Ghazālī in Margaret Smith, trans., Readings from the Mystics of Islam, p. 35.

149:19 Ibid., p. 36. This is not a quote from the Qur’ān, but a so-called Ḥadīth Qudsī, attributed to one of the prophets.

149:20 Ibn Yazdānyār, op. cit.

149:21 Ibid.

149:22 Al-Hallāj has been carefully studied in a series of works by Professor Louis Massignon.

149:23 R. A. Nicholson, trans., The Legacy of Islam (London, 1939), p. 218.

149:24 Massignon and Kraus, eds., Akhbār al-Hallāj (Paris, 1936), pp. 7, 8, Arabic.

Next: 3. The Antinomians