Saturday, March 23, 2013

Islamic Mysticism

Key Terms related to Islamic Mysticism
By Tawni Miller

Baraka is the blessing of God. Baraka is said to be communicated through saints and attached to the Prophet’s name.[i]  This blessing is a result of closeness to God. Muhammad after all, is believed to have received the Quran from God. And saints were said to achieve near perfect faith. Muhammad’s name is considered to Baraka, meaning that it is a blessed name. Out of respect for its power, Turkish Muslims often name their child, “Mehmed” instead of Muhammad.

Chilla-yi or inverted chilla is a mystical practice that involves hanging upside down for forty days while reciting prayer. It’s most famous practitioner was the successor of Bakhtiyar Kaki’s, Fariduddin (d.1265).[ii] He suspended himself in a well during this ritual. Chilla-yi, like its counterpart chilla, is used to attain visions of God. It is seldom practiced in modern times because of its extremity.  Chilla is more common in today’s time. One spends 40 days in an isolated and dark space, also known as a Chilla-khana. The fact that this individual is participating in this practice is announced to their community of mystics, so that their family can be looked after by the community and that mystic does not have to be distracted by worry of their family’s well being.[iii] This practice began among Sufis in eastern Iran and then made its way to India.[iv]

Chilla-khana is the location where chilla is performed. It is required to be an isolated [v]place. Caves and dark rooms are its most common forms. It is meant to be understood as a tomb to the practitioner. Most often, it is located close to the dwelling of a mystic fraternity. It is not uncommon for them to be subterranean.[vi] In this space the mystic remains for forty days in a constant state of fasting and prayer.

Dhikr means “recollection” and refers to one of the key elements of Sufi meditation. Dhikr involves the recitation of prayer, names, poems, etc. This practice was established as early as the eleventh century and it was used in Chilla as well as other meditations. The word, used with this meaning, first appeared in the Quran. The Quran stresses the importance of being able to recall God’s commandments.[vii] The earliest phrase repeated was most likely the Arabic form of, “there is no God but God.”[viii]

Ijaza is the right a Sufi disciple gains from his master to teach what he has learned. It is often symbolized with a patched frock called a khirqa. This license, is a result of the mystic being initiated into the group of masters in a Sufi Order. The mystic is then able to take disciples of his own.[ix]

Karamat is the aerobic term for miracle. This refers to the miracles performed by Sufi saints. The saints were widely known for their healing powers. This miracle is performed specifically by the saint, because the prophet’s miracles are called mu’jizat. Mystics claim that miracles not only differ by who performs them, but also that there are different types of miracles that can be performed by these select individuals. [x]

Kashf imani
Kashf imani is one of the four revelations as developed by Sufism. Kashf is the Islamic term for revelation. Its meaning has been compared to the ripping away of a veil.[xi] It is a revelation resulting from faith. These revelations are manifested as conversations with angels and the spirits of the prophets. These are the result of a strong faith which is considered “perfect” and nearly equal to that of the Prophets.[xii]

Khamyaza translates to English as “yawn,” which is a representation human of longing. This yawn is more of a spiritual yawn where the soul is desperate for God, like an individual’s brain desperate for oxygen. This relationship between God, breath, and people is biblical. It can be traced all the way back to Genesis, which describes God breathing life into his clay creation, Adam. Khamyaza expresses the natural tendency of mankind to long for God and heaven. After all, yawning is a natural occurrence which does not require a conscious effort by a person. Khamyaza is thought to be a mirror of the longing God also feels to be with his creation. This view of God is called the “pathetic” God.[xiii]

A khirqa is a patched cloak or robe which was highly symbolic in early Sufism.  It was presented to a Sufi by his master as proof of their ijaza, or license to teach.[xiv] These cloaks have been described as rough and made of wool.  They were most often blue which was practical for travel because it does not easily show dirt.[xv] These robes were recognized by other Muslims as an indication that the wearer was in a mystical path.[xvi]

Lata’if, which translates as, “touches of grace,” was developed by Ja’far al-Sadiq (d.765) as one of the four aspects of the Koran. Latia’if was processed by Saints and was the result of their high degree of interior knowledge. This term, both contributed to, and originated in, the idea of a hierarchy of faith in Sufism.[xvii] This word is also used as a title for one of the five “subtle points.” It necessary for mystics to focus on these points when performing dhikr, “a repetition of prayer of holy names.” This practice allows for transformation of these subtle substances.[xviii]

A maqam is a step or station on the spiritual path of a Sufi. These stations were thought to represent the acquiring of specific qualities in relation to ethics and spiritual maturity. The number of stations that exist on this path is undecided. The sixth Imam, Ja’far al-Sadiq originally divided three groups: springs of gnosis, constellations of the heart, and lights of God. He claims there are twelve springs, twelve constellations and 40 lights. His ideas are what the notion of a maqam, for Sufis, is based on. Later, in Qushayri’s handbook on Sufism, a total of fifty stations are mentioned. Still later, Ansari (d.1088), the notable Persian Sufi, claimed that there were one hundred maqamet.[xix]

Majdhum or “enraptured one” refers to a mystic that has become consumed by the power and allure of God. These people are known for abandoning rational behavior after seeing a vision of God.[xx]  They have also been referred to as “fools of God.”[xxi] Basically, they are people who have lost their minds, whether those identified as a majdhum had gone crazy because of a mystical experience or simply had preexisting phonological issues is debatable by historians. Contrary to a modern western view of the mentally unstable, these people are often seen as having been freed from slavery to God and now exist in perfect harmony with him. Most Sufis view this as slightly sinister, because the majdhum had no regard for social graces and often roamed the streets naked.[xxii] This has been viewed by mystical Muslims as both inspirational and disturbing.[xxiii]

Maulid is the celebration of the birth of either Muhammad or one of the Saints.[xxiv] The celebration of the birth of Muhammad emerges around the seventeenth century in Islam. This takes place during the third month of the lunar year. The celebration usually consists of singing of songs, prayers and recitation of poems. A popular poem for the celebration of the Prophet’s birth is Mevlud-i serif, which was written by Celeb of Bursa (d.1419). It is a Turkish poem about Muhamid’s birth. Shari’a-sufis often practiced Maulid by visiting the tomb of a saint on the saint’s birthday, in order to be closer to God.[xxv]

Miraj is the Arabic term for a heavenly journey, like the one made by the Prophet Muhammad. It is also known as Muhammad’s “night journey” and “ascension through the spheres.”[xxvi] These spheres are a direct reference to the planets of our solar system and beyond. It is believed that his spirit left his body and ascended into space because of his connection to God. This experience, however, is not limited to the Prophet. This is said to be attainable by any “sincere” Muslim.[xxvii] A great number of mystics have reported similar experiences, the most notable of which were Ghazzali, the Islamic philosopher and Muhammad Iqhal. Such tales became so popular that such stories became their own literary genre titled Libro della Scala or “Book of Miraj” which was popular in the medieval Mediterranean world.[xxviii] These naratives are thought to have influenced Dante’s work The Devine Comedy. Like many Muslim mystics whom claim to have ascended, Dante has a guide to lead him through the spiritual realms. For example, Muhammad Iqhal, a twentieth century Sufi, claimed the famous mystic poet, Rumi, as his spiritual guide on his miraj.[xxix] This word was also used to as the title for one level of heaven.  

Murshid is another title for the Sufi master. They are also referred to as the disciple’s “spiritual guide.”[xxx]  Sufi masters are highly respected in Sufi Orders by their disciples. There are certain rules a disciple should follow regarding how to address his master and how to behave in his presence. The disciple was often referred to as the murid, which means “one who desires, while the master was referred to as the murad or “one who is desired.”[xxxi]The disciple did literally desire the master because his master possessed superior spiritual knowledge and mystical power.

Mutasawif is a title given to an imitation Sufi.[xxxii] These individuals often take part in Sufi practices but their faith is not sincere. Many modern day Sufis are accused of being a mutasawif. It is believed that people of today are more likely to blindly conform to society and to make insincere confessions to God.[xxxiii] So, it is assumed that fewer true Sufis, or mutasawwif, still exist.

Mutasawwif is a term used to refer to a true Sufi, as opposed to false one. This word was developed during the same time as the term mutasawif, which refers to a pretender of Sufism. Like any religion Islamic mysticism developed a vocabulary that would allow mystics to express the superiority of their spirituality in comparison to that of other Sufis. It was widely believed that you were born with the purpose of becoming a Sufi or you were not.[xxxiv]

Nafs is understood to be the “lower soul.” It is better understood by westerners as human instinct. Nafs is responsible for man’s temptation to behave in a selfish manner. In fact, nafs has been described as Pharaoh, the biblical selfish figure. Also, in relation to the Old Testament nafs has been explained with the use of a simile where it is like the snake Moses transforms into a staff in Exodus.  This demonstrates the idea that nafs can be transformed into something useful like a staff or walking stick. It is believed by those of the mystical traditions of Islam that one can train their nafs be a valuable tool. This term, is also used for one of the six subtle substances of a person: the soul. This substance is associated with the Infidel, Noah, and the color blue. [xxxv]

Qabd is the compression of the soul. This is an action that is carried out by God. It often results in loneliness for the mystic. The idea is that by compressing one’s soul they become less aware of their individuality and closer to unity with God. Although, emotionally painful, this is viewed as desirable to Islamic Sufis. It is considered “the dark night of the soul”[xxxvi] In this state the mystic is absent from himself but present with God.

Sabzpush literally means “he who wears green.” This term is used to refer to someone who has attained the highest of the spiritual levels. Those who fall into this category are angels, the Prophet and the Khidr or guides to mystics.  The color green began being worn by high Sufis once certain groups of mystics abandon the traditional color blue for a color that corresponded to that Sufis station. Some of the most high

[i] Ira M Lapidus,. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 210.
[ii] Annemarie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1975, 346.
[iii] Sadanand Naimpalli, Theory and Practice of Tabla. n.d, 51,52.
[iv] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 358.
[v] Carl W. Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997, 61.
[vi] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 105.
[vii]  Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 92.
[viii] Ibid, 93.
[ix] Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, 138.
[x] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 206.
[xi] "The Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam." Blackboard. n.d. 315.
[xii] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 193.
[xiii] Ibid, 268.
[xiv] Lapidus,  A History of Islamic Societies, 138.
[xv] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 210.
[xvi] "The Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam," 337.
[xvii] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 41.
[xviii] Ibid, 174.
[xix] Ernst, The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 103.
[xx] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 19.
[xxi] Ernst,  The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 29.
[xxii] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 19.
[xxiii] Ibid, 105.
[xxiv] Ibid, 216.
[xxv] Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies, 631.
[xxvi] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 218.
[xxvii] Ibid, 219.
[xxviii] Ibid.
[xxix] Ibid.
[xxx] Ibid, 500.
[xxxi] Ernst, Carl W. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 124.
[xxxii] Ibid, 27.
[xxxiii] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 20.
[xxxiv] Ibid, 20.
[xxxv]  Ernst, Carl W. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 107.
[xxxvi] Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, 129.

Ernst, Carl W. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1997.
Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
Naimpalli, Sadanand. Theory and practice of Tabla. n.d. (accessed October 28,2012).
Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1975.
"The Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam." Blackboard. n.d. (accessed October 28, 2012).

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