The subject of early Sufism in the Islamic world is complex and relates to a wide geographical area extending from the Near East to Central Asia. A focus is here attempted upon the extensive Iranian territories formerly known as Khurasan, though today divided by international boundaries. Many of the early Sufis are here mentioned. The malamati phenomenon of Nishapur is included, along with the Karrami movement and also certain Mutazili associations. The hagiology attaching to Abu Yazid al-Bistami is investigated in relation to the contested theory of Vedantic influence and other factors.
Khurasan as divided between modern countries
1. Proto-Sufism in Khurasan
2. Malamatis of Nishapur
3. Abu Hafs al-Haddad
4. Sufi Gnosis (Marifa)
5. The Karrami Rivals
6. Hujwiri on Sufism
7. From Ibn Karram to Abu Said ibn Abi'l Khair
8. Sufiyyat al-Mutazila
9. Different Types of Sufi
10. Drawbacks to Malamatism
11. Abu Yazid al-Bistami
12. Theory of Vedantic Influence on Bistami
13. Ibrahim Ibn Adham, Balkh, and the Buddhist Factor
14. The Zaehner Versus Arberry Controversy
15. Sayings Attributed to Bistami
1. Proto-Sufism in Khurasan
The subject of Iranian Sufism is still emerging into contextual focus. The origins of that phenomenon involve some controversial issues, and a great deal remains obscure about the history of the earliest developments. The extensive province of Khurasan (Khorasan), in north-east Iran, gains some distinction in this respect. In early Islamic times, this province was very extensive, though the borders changed over the centuries. The earlier territory is sometimes called "Greater Khurasan" to distinguish it from the later contraction.
Much of Khurasan is now divided into other different Central Asian countries. Only a portion remains in Iran, including the cities of Nishapur and Tus. A substantial part of this old Iranian province is now in Afghanistan, including Herat, Balkh, Ghazni (Ghazna), and Kabul. The city of Merv is now in Turkmenistan. The cities of Bukhara and Samarkand are now in Uzbekistan. Yet other old Khurasanian urban centres are in Tajikistan.
The word Transoxania occurs in many scholarly references to the geography, and referring to the region between the rivers Amu Darya (Oxus) and Syr Darya. The Islamic conquerors applied the term Ma wara' al-Nahar ("what lies beyond the river," i.e., Oxus) to this zone, which basically comprised modern Uzbekistan.
A scholarly theme has been "the dominance of Khurasan as the centre of intellectual ferment in classical Islamic culture and Sufism." (1) One interpretation emphasises that the brainpower involved in the flowering of Abbasid culture "came from Khurasan, and not from western Iran, Arabia, Syria or elsewhere." (2) Though the Iraqi tradition associated with the Baghdad school (of Junayd) is sometimes regarded as a point of departure for Sufism, I will here attempt to focus upon the eastern extensions.
Abbasid culture began in the mid-eighth century A.D. In Khurasan commenced the rebellion which overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate and established the Abbasid rule. Ghulat ("extremist") sects (of neoMazdakite associations) appeared in the same province. A quite different phenomenon was the Sufi presence in Islam. A strong nucleus of proto-Sufi activity is evident in Khurasan during the ninth century, though with many gaps in the factual record.
A strong factor to reckon with is that subsequent accounts of the early Islamic mystics of Khurasan were moulded by the outlook of the "Baghdad tradition" of Sufism as this developed in the tenth century A.D. and later. Ascetics and other categories frequently travelled far and wide, and this entailed a strong degree of exposure to the mystical piety of the Iraqi exegesis, which became favoured by religious scholars in different territories. The mutating mystical tradition of malamatism, existing at the city of Nishapur in Khurasan, appears to have changed axis by the eleventh century.
Khurasanian proto-Sufism includes such diverse figures as Shaqiq al-Balkhi, Hakim al-Tirmidhi, Abu Hafs al-Haddad, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, and the later Abu'l Hasan Kharaqani. All these are mentioned below. Details concerning such entities are frequently fragmentary and anecdotal, and the elucidation of context has been a lengthy labour of specialist scholarship.
A figure who illustrates the contrasting regional influences is Abu Hamza al-Khurasani (d. 903), born and active in the prominent city of Nishapur. He trained and travelled with Abu Turab al-Nakhshabi (d. 859), the Khurasanian ascetic (active in Iraq) who later became famous as a Sufi, and who was a reputed disciple of Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 810). Abu Hamza also learned from Sufi teachers in Baghdad, notably Abu Said Ahmad al-Kharraz (d. 890 or 899), a cobbler by trade who was sufficiently literate to author influential books which incurred some criticisms from orthodox theologians. Abu Hamza does not appear to have settled in Baghdad, preferring his native Khurasan. He did not write books, and only a few sayings and anecdotes survive. A scholarly deduction has been that he "was primarily shaped by Khorasani Sufism." See B. Reinert, "Abu Hamza Korasani," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
The concepts of futuwwa (chivalry) and tawakkul (total trust in God) favoured by Abu Hamza were "undoubtedly Khorasani traits" (ibid.). Nishapur was strongly associated with the cultivation of futuwwa, a fairly complex theme. "Traces of Iraqi Sufism in Abu Hamza are much weaker than Khorasani influence" (ibid.). Indeed, "his mysticism was quite removed from that of the Baghdadis on major points" (ibid.). A difference from the teaching of the Baghdadi mystic Abu'l Husayn al-Nuri (d. 907-8) has been emphasised, and in relation to the issue of "proximity to God," a subject which became both intricate and controversial in these sectors.
Another obscured entity in well known presentations is Abu Bakr al-Warraq (d. 893), who was born at Tirmidh (Termez) and who lived in Balkh, one of the major Islamic cities in Central Asia. All except one of his books has been lost, though it has been deduced that his interests converged with those of his more well known contemporary Hakim al-Tirmidhi (see section 10 below), a prolific writer and "theosophical" mystic of an independent stance. Warraq gained a reputation for learning and benevolence, and was later canonised as a Sufi in the influential compendia of the tenth and eleventh centuries. "While in company he would not drive away a fly, lest it annoy someone else." See B. Reinert, "Abu Bakr al-Warraq," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. The quotation is derived from the Tabaqat al-Sufiya (Generations of the Sufis) of Abdullah Ansari (1006-1089), a work in a Khurasani dialect of Persian associated with the city of Herat, the environment of Ansari. The same compendium states that the first person to be called Sufi was Abu Hashim al-Sufi (d. c. 767) of Syria, of whom little is known save that he originated at Kufa in Iraq.
The compendium of Ansari comprises notes taken by a disciple, and is sometimes regarded as a distinctive commentary on the slightly earlier Arabic work Tabaqat as-Sufiyya composed by Sulami, the traditionist of Nishapur. Ansari was another traditionist (muhaddith), and a mystic who met diverse Sufis, notably Abu'l Hasan Kharaqani, an elderly and illiterate mystic of rural Khurasan who "taught him that God was just as likely to be in Khorasan as in Hejaz," a theme contradicting superiority of the Arabian homeland of Islam. See S. de Laugier de Beaureceuil, "Abdallah al-Ansari," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
Ansari's Herati version of Sufism refers to Abu Said Ahmad al-Kharraz (d. 899) as the most important figure of the Baghdad school, preferring him to the generally dominant Junayd. Ansari described Kharraz as unique, and as the first Sufi to speak about "the knowledge of subsisting (baqa) and annihilation (fana)." The twin terms fana and baqa became important in Sufi mysticism, and are attended by different interpretations and shades of meaning. Ansari was guarded about the more controversial figure of Hallaj (d. 922), an Iranian of Fars whom the Islamicist scholar Louis Massignon subsequently researched in a multi-volume work. Hallaj was executed at Baghdad by the Abbasid Caliphate on a charge of heresy. Ansari commented "I do not approve him but I do not reject him." See also end of section 11 below. These are just a few of the complexities visible in the history of Sufism.
A distinctive member of the Baghdad school was Abu Bakr al-Wasiti (d. after 932), who was born in Central Asia prior to settling in Baghdad for a time. He associated with Junayd and Nuri, but later returned to Khurasan, where he resided at Abivard and Merv. His extant sayings have been interpreted in terms of an independent tendency, though too little is reliably known about his life. Ansari praised him as a master of esoteric allusion.
A figure appearing prominently in the standard Sufi annals was Bishr ibn al-Harith al-Hafi (d. 841/2). He was part of an overlap between the Khurasanian ascetic tradition and the Baghdad tradition, though he became acclimatised to the latter at a rather early stage that requires to be distinguished from later phases (see section 8 below). He is reported to have said: "Conceal your virtuous actions, as you conceal your evil deeds." (3) This aspect of his teaching anticipated subsequent developments more closely associated with Nishapur, where the grouping known in Arabic as malamatiyya ("those who incur blame") were active. Bishr al-Hafi came from a village near Merv, and advocated living in solitude. The impression conveyed in the sources is that he renounced formal learning, having studied traditions (hadith) of Islam in Baghdad. He became a barefoot mendicant living in poverty. It is not clear how his proto-malamatism worked in practice. The well known traditionist Ahmad ibn Hanbal is said to have visited him respectfully at Baghdad, where he died.
The term Sufi does not appear to have been employed in Khurasan at that time. However, Bishr al-Hafi is depicted, via the Baghdad tradition, as becoming a Sufi; the traditional accounts of his conversion to a saintly life are hagiologically embellished. Such accounts derive from a later period of retrospect, when the formal apparatus of Sufism was underway. Bishr al-Hafi turned his back on traditionist studies, probably at Baghdad, located in Iraq. A major occupation of Muslim scholars was to study and memorise the many traditions (hadith) relating to the prophet Muhammad, a body of material that supplemented the Quran. Elaborate methods of authentication were devised, and emphasis was accordingly placed upon the legitimacy of transmission. While some later Sufi exponents like Al-Qushayri (d. 1072) were adapting traditionists, other mystics appear to have felt that the traditionist (muhaddith) role could become dogmatic, and screen out states of mind which they valued but which were not generally recognised or understood.
Bishr al-Hafi requested his former colleagues to impose a "poor-rate" on the hadith, meaning that they should truly follow 2.5% of the hallowed verses they had piously learnt, and which they aired with a self-complacency to which he was averse. The implication is that their learning was superficial. Bishr is reported to have desisted from teaching hadith because he recognised that his own basic desire was to teach. Thus he was avoiding the pride of career role. Instead he quoted hadith only in conversation, where that habit would fit the context of training for a true way of life. (4) However, the true way of life remains obscure in his case.
An objective of subsequent malamatis at Nishapur was to conceal saintly accomplishments, even if they were in this manner misconstrued as being ordinary men. Their code of self-criticism was inverted and abused in later centuries by nominal malamatis who merely liked to draw attention to themselves by bizarre actions or unconventional behaviour. The original ideal was discernibly very different, and evidently required a high degree of self-control and a determination to resist the limelight and attendant distractions. The aim was to reduce egotism and pride in imagined spiritual advancement.
A primary document for the malamati trend is the Risalat al-Malamatiyya (5) by the traditionist Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 1021), who was the author of several works relating to mysticism. The "movement" under discussion was first called "malamati" by Sulami, who apparently wanted to show in the Risalat that this phenomenon of Khurasan was superior to Iraqi Sufism (though elsewhere Sulami tends to equate the two regional traditions). The malamatis became identified by posterity as Sufis; they are closely identified with Nishapur. However, Sulami may have conceived of this category in a wider geographical sense, as he included the names of Abu Yazid al-Bistami and Sahl al-Tustari. These were ninth century figures, subsequently known as Sufis; they were not active in Nishapur, though Bistami was a Khurasanian.
Bistami is a major figure in early proto-Sufi annals, though his case history is fragmentary (see section 11). He has been considered the paradigmatic representative of Khurasanian Sufism, which is often contrasted with the Iraqi Sufism of Baghdad, strongly associated with the "sober" tradition of Abu'l Qasim al-Junayd (d. 910), the most celebrated figure of the Baghdad school, and an Iranian born at Nihawand. A cluster of other famous Baghdad Sufis are also frequently mentioned, of divergent temperaments, including the outspoken Nuri (d. 908), the "paradoxical" Shibli (d. 945), the earlier Sari as-Saqati (d. 867), and Ruwaym (d. 915).
Saqati (the uncle of Junayd and teacher of the artisan and mystic Kharraz) started his career as a shopkeeper, being a dealer in secondhand goods. Shibli was later tagged as a "madman" in Sufi hagiology because of his supposedly eccentric behaviour. There seems to have developed a sense of divided allegiance between Junayd and Ruwaym, the latter being celebrated by later hagiographers for his restrained asceticism and a tendency to disguise himself as a wealthy man (though Junayd appears to have acted in a similar manner in his career as a silk merchant).The annalist Ansari of Herat (see above) even said that he greatly preferred Ruwaym to Junayd. The developments at Baghdad are frequently anecdotal in the sources.
2. Malamatis of Nishapur
The major source for the malamati phenomenon is the traditionist of Nishapur named Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (937-1021). His nisba (surname) derives (via his maternal grandfather) from an Arab tribe called Sulaym. His father has been traced to the Arab tribe of Azd which had settled in Khurasan. His parents are reported to have been Sufis. His maternal grandfather, Ibn Nujayd, is described as one of the prominent malamati shaikhs (teachers) of his time. He was reared by his grandfather after his father died. The Sulami family was wealthy, and the young man benefited from the assets and scholarship of his senior.
Sulami travelled widely to Iraq, Arabia, and many places in Iran, meeting traditionists and Sufis. He gained a khirqa or "cloak of initiation" from the Sufi traditionist Abu'l Qasim Nasrabadi, who lived in Nishapur. Among other preceptors, he is also reported to have encountered Abu Nasr as-Sarraj (d.988), the annalist of Tus in Khurasan whose Kitab al-Luma became a major work on tasawwuf (Sufism).
Sulami was a prolific writer, but most of his works are lost. His Tabaqat as-Sufiyya (Classes of the Sufis) has been described as a "compilation of Sufi hagiography," and influenced later writers. His Risalat al-malamatiyya describes teachings of the local malamatis, whom he here rated above the Sufi gnostics generally associated with the Baghdad school. His Kitab adab al-suhba emphasises the moral code befitting a Sufi, and advocating the prophet Muhammad as the role model. Sulami also penned a controversial commentary (tafsir) on Sufi exegesis of the Quran. This contribution received criticism from some jurists because of the resort to symbolic interpretation (tawil). Sulami was also accused of fabricating traditions of Muhammad, though modern scholars have considered the attack to be exaggerated, "because all he did was to narrate the traditions already mentioned in earlier literature." The quotations are from S. Sh. Kh. Hussaini, "Abu Abd-al-Rahman Solami," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
The malamatis are not an easy subject to interpret, especially in view of some later deviations from the precedent. Misunderstandings can easily arise about the objectives of the original malamatis. They were certainly not trying to be antinomian renegades from Islamic religious law (sharia). One specialist assessment has concluded that the early malamati teachers "seem to have proposed a system in which sincere self-scrutiny and self-criticism were interwoven into a highly acclaimed social code based on chivalry and altruism... and in which the call for abandoning any outward marks of distinction or any inward claim to spiritual superiority meant in practice a strict adherence to the Islamic sharia." (6)
There were, however, psychological extensions to the element of conformism. "Contrary to what is generally supposed, the malamati performs duties that are fara'id (religious obligations), like ritual salat (prayer), even though he rejects them, to avoid attracting attention to himself." (7) The subtleties in the malamati disposition require due attention.
The malamati mystics of Khurasan emphasised the necessity for "disciplined guidance under a sufi leader to whom recourse should be had in all matters pertaining to mystical knowledge and experiences." (8) The term sufi is here out of context for the early malamati exemplars, who did not actually employ it. They disdained the nafs (personality self), subjecting this false entity to blame (malama) or censure rather than indulge in exhibitionism or holiness. In its most rigorous form, the malamati ideal would mean that in practice no outsider would be able to tell a malamati from an ordinary person with no such orientation. This was one of the features that appears to have distinguished malamatis from regular Sufis, who were in evidence according to various insignia of role.
The malamati did not wear the distinguishing robe (khirqa) of the Sufi ascetic, a trapping which became standardised over the generations. The typical Sufi ascetic was a recognised man of spirituality; in contrast, the malamati sought to conceal his spiritual progress. In the ninth century malamati tradition, there was no system of initiations, which increasingly characterised the formal relationship between Sufi shaikh and murid (pupil). The initiatory rituals conferred a sense of importance because of the significance attached to them in popular Sufism, as this developed in later centuries.
Numerous malamati teachers and disciples had names denoting artisan roles (e.g., al-Qassar, "the bleacher"). This may mean that a number of malamatis did not rely upon alms or other aid to maintain livelihood, but instead worked for a living. The ideal was apparently to be inwardly absorbed in God while outwardly engaged in a mundane occupation. The malamati thus tended to a "Be in the world but not of the world" role, sometimes found in tasawwuf (Sufism), (9) to use a blanket designation over the centuries for a varied phenomenon.
The term malamati seems to have been rarely used in the ninth and tenth centuries amongst the grouping or "school" in Nishapur who were regarded as exemplars. Similarly, the term Sufi is also in scarce evidence prior to the tenth century A.D., when it became applied to the shaikhs (teachers) of Nishapur in addition to those of Baghdad. "Sufism" does not appear to have been anything of a homogenous movement during the early centuries of Islam. (10) Many names were used for different groupings of mystics. It is thought probable that the Baghdad tradition adopted the name Sufiyya during the ninth century as a collective term for Muslim mystics, the word sufi having previously designated a solitary ascetic wearing wool. The term might perhaps have been used in this latter sense amongst the Arabs in pre-Islamic times. (11)
The subject of "ascetics" in Sufism can be misleading, in that the phenomenon did not resemble Christian monasticism. The prophet Muhammad is strongly associated with the injunction of "no monachism in Islam." Many ascetic types were actually married men. For instance, the moderate "ascetic" and traditionist (muhaddith) Al-Qushayri of Nishapur gained two wives and six sons in the eleventh century. One of those wives (Kadbanu Fatima) has been described as a scholarly traditionist. However, a fair number of early Sufis appear to have been celibates, though they were not organised in any monastic context.
The subject of malamatism becomes complicated when it is understood that early exemplars at Nishapur gave different twists of meaning to the "path of blame." There were both "extreme" and "moderate" malamatis, and at least among the latter, there were differences of emphasis between exponents. Hamdun al-Qassar (d.884) represented the "extreme" approach, his circle rigorously emphasising the programme of malamat al-nafs ("incurring blame on oneself"). The "moderate" party were inspired by Abu Hafs al-Haddad (d.c. 874-9) and his disciple Abu Uthman al-Hiri (d. 910).
Qassar was not only averse to the patched robe of the ascetic, but also to the subject of spiritual practices, which he is said to have criticised and denounced, his reason being that such exercises could create deceit. Whereas Haddad encouraged his pupils to undertake such exercises, although in a malamati context that apparently differed from the standard ascetic routines. His successor Abu Uthman al-Hiri taught a "middle path" between the two apparently contradictory forms of malamati teaching. "Both ways are correct; each, however, in its right time." (12)
According to Hiri, the disciple was initially to be trained in "the path of practices," as a result of which an attachment ensues, making the disciple dependent upon the favoured practices. The trainee had then to be shown the shortcomings of his pursuit, until he becomes aware that his spiritual practices have left him far from completion. (13)
3. Abu Hafs al-Haddad
We do not possess detailed biographies of these men. The notices in the sources are fragmentary. We can only get a very partial picture of Abu Hafs al-Haddad, and there are some contradictions inherent in the data. The tenth century author of the lost Tarikh Naysabur (Chronicle of Nishapur), which exists in an abridged form, says that the generation of Haddad was one in which nobody was called sufi. (This applied to Khurasan, though the term was used in Iraq and the Near East.) Haddad is not referred to as a malamati in that source, but instead bracketed with the category of zuhhad or ascetics. However, he is not described as a preacher (waiz), which was then a common term for holy men (who were often traditionists, it would seem). Yet even the less evocative term of zahid (ascetic) may be misleading in this instance.
Abu Hafs al-Haddad was not a typical ascetic. He apparently undertook ascetic exercises without adopting any of the external trappings of conventional Islamic asceticism. He did not dress as a zahid, did not give the popular sermons that attracted credulous crowds, and nor did he undertake the constant pilgrimages which filled the agenda of many professional ascetics. Yet the details are so sparse that different interpretations are possible. Many, or even most, of the men described as malamatis in ninth century Nishapur evidently lived in the artisan and mercantile milieu of the Nishapur bazaar. It is possible to view Haddad as a blacksmith who became a malamati, but there is no certainty that he severed his link with the bazaar, especially if his own disciples were artisans and merchants in many instances. His name al-Haddad means "ironsmith."
There was an extension to this factor. Early malamatis seem to have identified with the attitude of altruistic self-sacrifice that marked the tradition of futuwwa - the name given to the system of crafts and professions in Khurasan, a system which promoted strict ethical standards and awarded precedence to fellow members of the fraternity rather than to oneself. There is here the complexity that the social futuwwa was given a mystical complexion by malamatis, a feature which persisted in later Sufism. The malamatis are thought to have adopted the term futuwwa (chivalry, literally "youth") as a code-name for a mystical stage, possibly meaning a novitiate prior to reaching the stage of "manhood" (rujuliyya). (14) Sulami (d.1021) wrote a separate treatise on futuwwa, a subject which is difficult to reclaim in sufficient detail. (15)
The indications are that Haddad and related entities were an alternative to the professional piety maintained by the Arab traditionists and legalists.The annalists Abu Nuaym and Hujwiri report that Haddad was a blacksmith for a time; the bedrock of Iranian crafts activity here emerges. His two mystical teachers specified in the sources are very obscure entities known only by name. One of these was Ubaidullah, a blacksmith of the nearby town of Abivard. Upon returning to Nishapur after becoming Ubaidullah's disciple, Haddad is said to have resumed work in his own blacksmith's shop.
The eleventh century writer Hujwiri, in his Kashf al-Mahjub, has a story of how the blacksmith listened to a blind man in the bazaar reciting from the Quran; Haddad became so absorbed that he neglected to use the pincers and put his hand into the furnace and drew out a piece of red-hot iron. This account may be treated as the substitute for a state of mind which escaped record. The hagiographies do not convey the most intrinsic aspect of Sufism, but rather a popularised version. We may believe the report of Hujwiri that when "Abu Hafs came to himself he left his shop and no longer earned his livelihood," (16) but the vital details are missing.
The implications are that Haddad temporarily withdrew from external affairs. This type of withdrawal contrasts with the permanent recourse of professional ascetics. In later years he apparently resumed some kind of occupation. Abu Nasr al-Sarraj (d. 988), an early annalist of Sufism, records that Haddad was a rich man with a finely furnished home, and one who wore expensive silk garb. This would indicate a mercantile role in relation to the crafts sector.
Malamatis like Haddad were very different to zealous preachers like Ghulam Khalil (d. 888), a traditionist of Basra who militated against the apparent hululi "extremism" of Abu'l Husayn al-Nuri (d. 908) and other mystics. Khalil's reputation for sanctity did not prevent him from persecuting Sufis in Baghdad, urging the legalists to execute his rivals as heretics. (17) Nuri was banished as a consequence. According to some sources, Ghulam Khalil was an ascetic.
"Hang the hululis - hang them by their necks !" (18) This was the vengeful exhortation of Ghulam Khalil, whose preaching railed against the radical tendencies of Nuri and others at Baghdad. Junayd narrowly escaped direct implication in the heresy of hulul; his recourse was to assume the garb of a Shafi'ite jurist as a protection against accusation. In later centuries, dogmatic preachers could too easily fill the role of "Sufis."
The ascetic formalism was offset by the contrasting Sufi action expressed in the Persian formula: "Dar dunya bash, az dunya mabash" (Be in the world, but not of the world). Malamatis like Haddad could be considered early exemplars of this theme, declining to exhibit spirituality, even though ascetic exercises were favoured by them. Concealed fasting and discreet solitary contemplation were apparently some features of this malamati vocation.
It would seem likely that Haddad lived in one of the areas at Nishapur inhabited by merchants and affluent craftsmen, contributing to a new middle class in which religious scholars also figured. He may have originated in the village of Kuradabadh, situated on the north-eastern outskirts of the city. Whereas the richest families mainly lived in the centre of the city. Until 873 A.D., Nishapur was the capital of the local Tahirid dynasty, and it remained one of the four main cities of Khurasan, along with Merv, Herat, and Balkh.The city could boast a sophisticated irrigation system which facilitated agriculture. (19)
4. Sufi Gnosis (Marifa)
Abu Hafs al-Haddad (d. c. 874-9) is reported to have said: "Since I have known God, neither truth nor falsehood has entered my heart." (20) Such statements are difficult to interpret in modern English, needing a lexicon of medieval Sufi terminology. The main point to grasp is that the subject was considered a gnostic by Hujwiri of Ghazna (Ghazni), who is the source here. Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Uthman al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri (d. c. 1075) was an eleventh century Khurasanian Sufi commentator who wrote the oldest Persian treatise on Sufism (tasawwuf), known as Kashf al-Mahjub (Unveiling of the Hidden). A strict Sunni Muslim and trained in the Hanafite school of law, Hujwiri's mysticism was basically of the "orthodox" variety, a common feature of later Sufism associated with the Baghdad tradition. His book is nevertheless informative about Sufi conceptualism in his time.
Born c. 990 near Ghazni (in Afghanistan), Hujwiri travelled widely, meeting many Sufis of his time in Iran, Central Asia, and elsewhere. He ended his life in India, arriving at the Punjabi city of Lahore in 1039, and settling there until his death over thirty years later. Like Qushayri, who adopted the theology of al-Ashari (d. 935), Hujwiri's exposition was compatible with kalam (theology), in the sense of the "intermediate" position that had emerged between Mutazili rationalism and the Quranic literalism associated with the Hanbali law school.
Hujwiri includes in the Kashf a chapter on gnosis, or rather the gnosis of God (marifat Allah, or marifa billah), in which the ideal is clearly that of knowing God through mystical states of feeling (hal) as distinct from the cognitive and dogmatic knowledge (ilm) of traditionists, theologians, and legalists. The gnostic was known in Arabic as arif. Hujwiri struggled to give an account of this phenomenon of marifa in the language of Islamic religion, and also by using sayings of former Sufis who were celebrated in the annals composed by Arabic writers of preceding generations. He argues that gnosis outstrips reason, and supplies a criterion for distinguishing truth from falsehood.
A problem for some analysts has been the obvious complexion of the exposition in terms of Sunni Islam (more specifically the Hanafi outlook), exclusive to other traditions, and even some Islamic ones. This is made more explicit in the preceding section on the hululis, whom Hujwiri defines in terms of two reprobate sects (the Hulmaniyya and Farisiyya/Hallajiyya) falsely claiming to be participants in Sufism. (21) The doctrine of hulul or "incarnation" was strongly associated with transmigration (tanasukh), which Hujwiri repudiates in an orthodox manner calculated to clear Sufism of the accusation of heresy. He says disapprovingly that the attendant doctrine of the "eternal spirit" was held by Christians in ambiguous terms, and "by all the Indians, Tibetans, and Chinese, and is supported by the concensus of opinion among the Shi'ites, Carmathians [Qarmatis], and Ismailis." (22)
The evocative term hulul is said to literally express the sense of "infusion," and technically signifies the indwelling of God in a creature. It was often used as a synonym for ittihad, meaning an identification of the divine and human (although ittihad has various sub-classifications, including one reserved for Hindus). The Islamic theologian Al-Taftazani conflated the Christians, the Nusayris, and also some Sufis whose teaching is said to lie between ittihad and hulul (according to some modern scholars). Muslim writers were in the habit of describing the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation as hulul, but this is inaccurate and misleading. Both orthodox Shi'is and orthodox Sunnis condemned the hululi sects, which have been listed to include the ghulat, batiniyya, Druses, Hulmaniyya, Farisiyya, and some Sufis. (23)
The extent of heretical concepts in the earliest Iranian Sufism is really an open question. The later wave of apologists who claimed to follow the authentic Sufism were eager to avoid heresy in the records that were compiled from the tenth century onwards, including the Tabaqat as-Sufiyya of the Nishapuri writer Sulami, whose grandfather was a pupil of the malamati figure Abu Uthman al-Hiri. The treatise of Hujwiri mediated this abridged heritage in New Persian instead of Arabic, and was more informal than some earlier compendia, being credited with "a truly Persian flavour of philosophical speculation." (24) Nevertheless, the biographical and experiential details remain elusive for the most part. The biographical section of the Kashf al-Mahjub is not sufficiently detailed for modern historians, and tends to comprise anecdotes, sayings, fragmentary episodes, and the author's commentary.
A pivotal figure in respect of Sufi gnosis is the obscure Dhu'l Nun al-Misri (d. 861), who "is generally credited with having introduced the idea of gnosis (marifa) into Sufism, but this would appear to be incorrect since the conception certainly occurs in the fragments of earlier ascetics." (25) Dhu'l Nun was an Egyptian who gained the repute of being able to read the ancient hieroglyphs (see The Egyptian Sufi Dhu'l Nun al-Misri on this website). Hujwiri described him as a practitioner of the path of blame (malamat), (26) perhaps indication that one should not interpret the word malamat in too narrow a geographical sense.
Modern scholars have distinguished between the ninth century "mystics" and the earlier "ascetics." Yet an overlap may have occurred in some instances. The ascetic movement had spread from Arabia and Syria to Khurasan during the eighth century A.D. Because "asceticism" or self-denial (zuhd) was a recognised virtue amongst orthodox Muslims of that time, it was very easy for this trait to be widely copied without any mysticism necessarily being involved. Even Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855) wrote a work entitled Kitab al-Zuhd (Book of Renunciation), and he was the founder of a strict school of Sunni legalism named after him.
There was much more difficulty in accepting gnosis into the orthodox worldview. In the process of that acceptance, a level of popular dilution appears to have occurred. One of the early Khurasanian proto-Sufis, Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 810), has been described in terms of "the first to discuss the 'mystical states,' " (27) although it is relevant to bear in mind that "some of the definitions attributed to mystics of the ninth century can probably be dated much earlier." (28) Shaqiq referred to marifa (gnosis), though distinguishing the knowledge of God from the knowledge of the self, which involved the discipline "to know thyself" and "to oppose the self." (29)
Shaqiq al-Balkhi (Abu Ali Shaqiq ibn Ibrahim al-Azdi) appears to have originated from the Azd tribe of Bedouins who had settled in Khurasan. A merchant in his earlier life, he is said to have become a landowner whose territory included many villages. He was reputedly a learned and ascetic traditionist (muhaddith) who acquired many books. Shaqiq has been described as a follower of Ibrahim ibn Adham (d. c. 780), an Arab proto-Sufi exemplar born in Balkh, and who travelled westwards to Syria and Iraq, where he died. The disciples of Ibrahim ibn Adham were active in Khurasan in the late eighth century. The relevant events are obscure. See also section 13 below. The "Balkh school" may have exerted a degree of influence on related proto-Sufi events at Nishapur.
Shaqiq al-Balkhi became closely associated with the new Hanafite school of Islamic law. He studied in Iraq with Abu Hanifa (699-767), though he did not become a jurist. Balkh was early a centre of support for the complex influences represented by the "rationalist" Hanafite trend, which has been implicated as favouring the "Murji'ite" struggle for equality in Khurasan on the part of new local converts to Islam. In 759-60, a close colleague of Abu Hanifa became the qazi (chief judge) of Balkh for over twenty years; the Hanafite position was much stronger in this city after the death of Shaqiq, when all the qazis of Balkh were Hanafites after 812-13. However, in many Iranian towns and cities, the law schools became popular factions struggling against each for social and political influence. At Nishapur, by the eleventh century, the Hanafites were represented by powerful merchant and ulama families who controlled the judicial system, the madrasas (religious colleges), and the mosques.
Meanwhile, in minority circles, by the time of Hamdun al-Qassar (d. 884), it is apparent that the title of al-arif (the gnostic) could be applied to the diverse ranks of ascetics and proto-Sufis. This fashion of nomenclature was not welcomed by all the mystics concerned. According to Sulami, Qassar advised that one of his disciples named Abdulla was better off being known as al-Hajjam (the cupper, or bath-attendant) than as al-Arif or al-Zahid (the ascetic). (30) This disposition was in accord with the malamati practice of employing names denoting secular vocations. The designation of al-Qassar is a humble one meaning "the bleacher." A tradesman status is thereby implied.
Yet Qassar seems to have been of a more patrician background than Haddad, and is described by Hujwiri as having gained a high rank in jurisprudence, in which he was a follower of Sufyan Thauri. (31) There are grounds for thinking that Qassar turned his back upon jurism, refusing to lecture from the mosque pulpit. He maintained that speech was only permissible to those whose silence was an actual hindrance to the truth. In other words, the desire to appear holy or authoritative requires correcting.
A saying ascribed by Sulami to Abu Yazid al-Bistami seems to encapsulate basic malamati attitudes of that era. "Three types of men are the most obscured from God: the scholar (al-alim) by his erudition, the pious worshipper (al-abid) by his piety, and the ascetic (al-zahid) by his asceticism." (32) The alim was the conventional scholar of religion, a traditionist or a jurist by profession. The malamati reaction to extreme asceticism has been deemed a continuation of the anti-zuhdi (anti-ascetic) tendency of some circles within Islam from the very beginning of that religion.
5. The Karrami Rivals
The sect known as Karramiyya (not to be confused with the Khurramiyya) has been implicated as one of the contemporary groupings to whom the malamatis of Nishapur were averse. Karramis had a reputation for extrovert asceticism, and gained a strong foothold in the depressed area of Nishapur known as Manishak. This sect exerted a strong influence upon the lower classes in Khurasan, and spread amongst the weavers and water-carriers of Nishapur.
Ibn Karram (c. 806-869) has been variously described as an "outstanding Sufi," (33) and as a hellfire preacher who was a violent social force. The Karramiyya sect which crystallised after his death was certainly known for a zealous fervour. Another discrepancy is that we know more about his life than either Abu Hafs al-Haddad or Hamdun al-Qassar, despite the fact that Ibn Karram was ignored by the compilers of Sufi manuals, whose biographical data is so often inadequate and anecdotal. The omission does not necessarily prove that Ibn Karram had no merits. The sources that do mention his sect are very orthodox Sunni heresiographies, Shafi'ite in their bias, which objected to Karrami theology. The difficulty here is one of ascertaining how much Karrami teaching actually dates back to Ibn Karram himself.
One modern historian has described the Karrami movement in terms of one "which combined theological tenets and Sufi practices, appealing mainly to the lower classes, and was influential in Khurasan, Transoxania, and Afghanistan." (34)
Abu Abdulla Muhammad ibn Karram al-Nishapuri was reputedly of Arab blood, and born in the East Iranian province of Sijistan (Sistan). He became a student of hadith, the Islamic traditions. He travelled in Khurasan, studying under several teachers, including Ahmad ibn Harb (792-849) of Nishapur. The latter was an ascetic and traditionist, and reportedly an active fighter in the "holy wars" against the Turks of Central Asia. Hujwiri was the first annalist of Sufism to include a reference to Ahmad ibn Harb, which has been treated as indication of the Sufi aversion to Karrami figureheads prior to that date. The Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar later glorified the local celebrity of this entity in the Tazkirat al-Awliya (Memorial of the Saints). However, the inference is possible that it was this type of local ascetic whom Haddad and Qassar were seeking to avoid or negotiate in their malamati tangents.
A strong friction has been deduced between the Karramis and malamatis in the late ninth century at Nishapur. Both of these trends eventually lost out to the Baghdad tradition of Sufism, which exercised a blanketing effect in or by the eleventh century. Sufism (tasawwuf) emerges as an outside infiltration, not as something indigenous to Khurasan. A surviving abridgment of the Tarikh Naysabur (History of Nishapur) , authored by al-Hakim al-Naysaburi (d. 1014), does not favour the description of Sufi, and does not apply this term to any figure prior to the tenth century, and even then very sparingly. One deduction has been that the most common type of ascetic active in Khurasan in the tenth century were not Sufis but Karramis, sometimes known as khanaqa'iyyun, due to their strong association with the "monastic" institution known as khanaqah. (35)
Ahmad ibn Harb was apparently the inspirer of the Karramiyya. Very little is reliably known of him, and so one might allow for hidden dimensions in the accusation of "Murjism" made by his critics in relation to religious doctrine. (36) The Murjia thinkers believed in freewill, and emphasised the value of faith for the true Muslim as distinct from the mere profession of Islam. This trend was rather diverse, and in Khurasan was strongly associated with the struggle for equality of the new local converts to Islam.
6. Hujwiri on Sufism
The conglomerate imposition of the term Sufi has been attended by arguments as to precise meanings. A basic problem with Sufi annals is exactly how one defines the word sufi. If the term is taken to mean the wearing of distinctive woollen or patched apparel, then the significance is diffuse, and can apply to some very different temperaments. According to the eleventh century Hujwiri of Ghazna (see section 4 above), the assessment in terms of garb was inadequate. In his Kashf al-Mahjub, he traces the adoption of woollen robes back to the prophet Muhammad, and expresses estimation of the patched woollen robe (muraqqa'a) subsequently worn by Sufis. Yet he expresses a critical attitude, stating that "the majority are imposters" in his own time (Nicholson trans., p. 47).
In that respect, the patched woollen robe "is a garb of happiness for the vulgar, but a mail-coat (jawshan) of affliction for the elect" (ibid., p. 48). Hujwiri stresses purity (safa) as the determining factor. "How should he [who has safa] care whether people call him a Sufi or some other name?" (Ibid.). He comments that some mystics wore an ordinary coat (qaba) instead of the patched robe, and indicates that he himself had participated in this practice on his journeys (ibid., p. 52).
The etymological derivation of the word sufi from suf (wool, or woollen robe) has been supported by modern scholars. Yet Hujwiri's version is concerned to give a more experiential insight into Sufi customs and imitations. The increasingly popular usage of the word sufi to designate a broad spectrum of holy men was heavily dependent upon assessment of mere appearances. The ascetic role could be superficial. Hujwiri (like Qushayri of Nishapur) favoured an association with safa or purity, and observed that some people instead imagined that Sufism (tasawwuf) "consists merely in the practice of outward piety without inward contemplation." His mystical interpretation states that when a man has transcended the "stations" (maqamat) and the "states" (ahwal), "he becomes annihilated (fani) in this world and in the next, and is made divine (rabbani)." (37) The term Sufi here emerges as being applied "to the perfect saints and spiritual adepts," and thus the term "has no derivation answering to etymological requirements," (38) the sense here being that purity (safa) outweighs all deceptions of formal apparel and insignia.
Hujwiri affirms that there are three types of people involved in Sufism: the sufi, the mutasawwif, and the mustaswif. A definition of the first category is given in terms of: "The Sufi is he that is dead to self and living by the Truth; he has escaped from the grip of human faculties and has really attained (to God)." (39) That must be a rare accomplishment, and sufficient reason to constantly question the application of the word Sufi to any individual, if the Hujwirian version is taken seriously.
The second category of mutasawwif is defined as "he that seeks to reach this rank (of Sufihood) by means of self-mortification (mujahadat)." (40) Yet how would any non-Sufi be able to assess the difference here? When one looks at the vestigial reports, who can tell which men belonged to the grades of sufi or mutasawwif ? Hujwiri's third categoryof mustaswif is more cautionary, decoding to that of emulating Sufis because of greed for wealth and power, and lacking any knowledge of safa (purity) and tasawwuf, being familiar only with formality. (41)
Hujwiri also says that the second category "becomes firm in the 'states' of the mystic path." (42) These "states" (ahwal) are a complex subject, being differently formulated and doubtless simplified in the passage from the experiential to the literary. A large number of ascetic and related figures were all described as Sufis in the popular canon, but the Hujwirian exegesis would tend to cast doubts upon the generalisations. A major criterion in the presentation of the newly popular Sufism was conformity with the codes of Sunni Islam. Too many subtleties were unwelcome in that respect.
"It was considered important to prove to the world the perfect orthodoxy of Sufi tenets, and therefore a number of books were composed almost simultaneously in the last quarter of the tenth century." (43) One of those endorsing compendia was "the somewhat dry exposition of a Hanafi jurist" (44) who was trying to find compatibility between Sufism and religious orthodoxy. Kalabadhi's Kitab al-ta'arruf (45) was successful in the theme promoted, though there were conceivably some losses. Even Sulami's slightly later work Tabaqat as-Sufiyya was basically concerned with sayings of the mystics rather than historical details; the industrious author was an atypical traditionist attempting to close the formidable gap between Sufism and Islamic legalism.
7. From Ibn Karram to Abu Said ibn Abi'l Khair
After moving to Mecca for some five years, Ibn Karram later returned to Nishapur and then to Sijistan, where he is reported to have sold all his possessions and to have adopted an ascetic garb of rough skins. He seems to have been very much a preacher, and the local governor of Sijistan expelled him from the province for stirring up the common people. Moving to Khurasan, he preached in rural areas, apparently denouncing both Sunni and Shia Islam, though there is little reliable information as to what he taught. He eventually arrived at Nishapur with a following drawn from the lower classes, notably including weavers. The Tahirid governor was alarmed at their presence, and seems to have associated the Karramis with the politico-religious sects and agitators who had been sporadically active in Khurasan ever since the Arab conquests. Ibn Karram was jailed for eight years, being released in 865. He discreetly moved to Jerusalem, where he spent his last few years of life. At his death, a sect quickly crystallised in his name in distant Khurasan. His books survive only in quotation, and his teaching is not easy to reconstruct.
It has been thought that Ibn Karram established the first "monasteries" in Khurasan, which his followers multiplied into a well organised network. Those retreats they named khanaqah (plural: khawaniq), and these places are said to have been intended as centres of missionary activity. Although Karramis did not feature in the Sufi annals, "it seems that it was from them [Karramis] that Sufis adopted the khanaqah system." (46) The Karramiyyah were apparently able to function more effectively as an organised movement through their "monasteries," and by the late tenth century, they had khawaniq as far afield as Egypt, though they were based in countries to the east.
The rather obscure Sufi figure Yahya ibn Muadh al-Razi (d. 871) is said to have been a disciple of Ibn Karram, though he was apparently not a Karrami at the end of his life. He was described by Sulami as a malamati. He came from the city of Rayy, in Central Iran; he is reported to have lived for a period at Balkh (then part of Khurasan), later moving to Nishapur, where he stayed permanently. "Although a number of Sufis are related to have preached in public, he (Yahya ibn Muadh) is the only one to be distinguished by the title al-waiz, 'the preacher.' " (47) That detail would fit an affinity with the Karramiyya. Professor Louis Massignon linked Yahya ibn Muadh and others with Ibn Karram. Yahya ibn Muadh is said to have participated in the "public conferences" at the Karrami "monasteries" in the Nishapur region, where matters of doctrine were debated. Massignon compared these "monasteries" to earlier Sufi counterparts in Iraq and Syria. (48) It was the Karramis who first organised a quasi-monastic system in Khurasan.
Yahya ibn Muadh is associated with teachings on gnosis (marifa), (49) and was reputedly in contact with Abu Yazid al-Bistami, whose modus operandi was very different to that of Ibn Karram. Hujwiri's account of Yahya in the Kashf al-Mahjub is markedly fragmentary, and entirely lacking in the Karrami link. He reports a saying of Yahya: "Avoid the society of three classes of men - heedless savants, hypocritical Koran-readers, and ignorant pretenders to Sufism." (50) We know more about how Hujwiri defined the categories stipulated. The savants were those "who have set their hearts on worldly gain and paid court to governors and tyrants." (51) The pretenders to tasawwuf (Sufism) are those "who have never associated with a spiritual director (pir), nor learned discipline from a shaykh, but without any experience have thrown themselves among the people," (52) wearing a holy robe.
A preacher did not necessarily assume spiritual honours, but the vocation does not strictly tally with the malamati ideal of the Nishapur school (though al-Hiri is associated with the preaching tag). Very little is reliably known about Yahya ibn Muadh. There may have been Karramis who became malamatis, or fringe Karramis who favoured malamati concepts. Yet that is entirely speculative. Certainly, some anecdotes in early annals of Sufism assert that the malamati exemplar Hamdun al-Qassar (d. 884) dispensed with the patched robe and also declined to preach, even when local dignitaries urged him to do so.
The association of the Karramiyya with Iranian ghulat sects has aroused some speculation; they have even been compared to Manichaeans because of their asceticism, although their propaganda was probably very much in the Islamic idiom from the outset. Karramis have been described as missionaries amongst the Zoroastrian population of rural Khurasan, still a substantial contingent in the villages during the lifetime of Ibn Karram. This leader was evidently opposed to the higher classes in Islamic society, but he was probably following the example of Ahmad ibn Harb rather than any neoMazdakite trend. Ahmad ibn Harb had taught takashshuf and tawakkul, two Arabic words which mean respectively self-mortification and "utter dependence on God for all aspects of life."
Tawakkul often signified a voluntary poverty, though the term gained variant twists in Sufi lore and doctrine. There were some extreme interpretations in vogue, leading to pious men refusing medical treatment, and ascetics regarding practical work as a negation of their trust in God. Some ascetics reputedly wandered in the desert without provisions at the risk of being devoured by lions. Many others considered this attitude of "God willing" to be exaggerated, and instead preferred the injunction of a hadith in which Muhammad advised a Bedouin to: "First tie your camel's knee, and then trust in God." (53) Nevertheless, the renunciatory ideals of many early Sufis are not by any means far removed from the Karrami outlook. The Karrami organisational trappings, together with the political associations, made a big difference.
A surviving Karrami book has been described as an anonymous collection of ethical and mystical traditions; this was tentatively attributed by Massignon to one of the later Karrami leaders at Nishapur, namely Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Mahmashadh (d. 1030). That figure is depicted in Sufi literature as a dogmatic theologian and major opponent of Abu Said ibn Abi'l-Khair (967-1049), a very unorthodox Sufi saint (wali) who presided over a rival khanaqah at Nishapur. The twelfth century Persian hagiography Asrar al-Tauhid describes Ibn Mahmashadh as becoming convinced of the Sufi's superior abilities. Many Karramis were evangelistic ascetics who delighted in converting Zoroastrians to the Karrami version of Islam. The Karramiyya lasted for about two centuries, and were eclipsed by the Sufi version of the khanaqah system.
The Khurasanian Sufi Abu Said of Mayhana, who settled at Nishapur, was biographised by his descendant Muhammad ibn al-Munawwar in the late twelfth century. This hagiography, Asrar al-Tauhid, incorporates many anecdotes and sayings, and emphasises miraculous abilities of the subject. Abu Said tends to emerge as an opponent of the orthodox Islamic ulama, and one who used such extravagant media as banquets in his social interactions revolving around his khanaqah (Sufi centre or hostel). An ascetic in his earlier life, in his later career he is portrayed as being in friction with ascetic rigidities and pretensions. (54) The banquets are more reminiscent of Zoroastrian feasts than Islamic ascetic practice.
A different kind of khanaqah activity occurred in distant Fars. The followers of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Shahriyar al-Kazaruni (963-1033) reputedly built over sixty khawaniq in south-west Iran, their centre being at Kazarun. Abu Ishaq al-Kazaruni gained the repute of a Sufi, and appears to have adopted a missionary tactic at his native Kazarun, near Shiraz in Fars. He is said to have converted many local Zoroastrians and Jews to Islam. Some details are relevant to probe here.
Kazarun was "still only thinly Islamized as late as the mid-4th/10th century." Though the parents of Abu Ishaq al-Kazaruni were converts to Islam, his paternal grandfather remained a Zoroastrian and was opposed to the junior's Quranic studies. The young man persisted and afterwards adopted the nascent dervish lifestyle of Sufi asceticism. He established a khanaqah at Kazarun, though the subsequent total of those retreats may have been exaggerated. Hagiological anecdotes dwell upon his conversion feats amongst local Zoroastrians and Jews.
The two principal sources are hagiographies described as "inflated 8th/14th century Persian translations of a no longer extant 5th/11th century Arabic original by Abu Bakr Katib." Embellishments to these accounts appeared in other sources. The subject is presented in diverse sources as "a fully orthodox, charismatically aggressive Muslim." Yet another hagiologist, the poet Attar of Nishapur, reported Abu Ishaq to be a strict vegetarian. Certainly, his khanaqah at Kazarun remained "a major exemplar of institutional Sufism" until the destruction occurring in the Safavid era. The quotations come from B. Lawrence, "Abu Eshaq Kazaruni," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
Some analysts are sceptical that Kazaruni's "direct connection to his Zoroastrian ancestry points to the continuing evidence of a thematic link between the mystical dimensions of Zoroastrianism and Persian Sufism." (55) If that is true, it is surely the more discrepant that Kazaruni "engaged in a kind of 'crusade' against the Zoroastrians of Fars." (56) However, he also appears to have been a celibate who disdained wealth, who disliked upper class oppressors, and who advocated charity to the destitute.
Whatever the real facts of his career, Abu Ishaq died at Kazarun, where his tomb was the focus for the later development of the dervish order known as Kazaruniyya or Ishaqiyya. "This order is an example of the exploitation of Abu Ishaq's baraka for which he is in no way responsible." (57) This refers to the insurance system devised by the order, in which the baraka (spiritual power) of Abu Ishaq al-Kazaruni was believed to safeguard travellers on voyages to India and China. The supposed baraka was actually sold, the proceeds being used to further charitable activities. This enterprise was in existence by the fourteenth century, and is one instance of the peculiarities created by religious sects using the name of a venerated figure.
8. Sufiyyat al-Mutazila
The Karramis of the early Islamic era are associated with a literal interpretation of the Quran, emphasising an anthropomorphic view of Allah which accompanied their sense of submission to the divine will. Some analysts have viewed the pietistic teaching of Ibn Karram as a rival to the Mutazila, a school of theology which reconciled Quranic verses with the Muslim version of Aristotelian philosophy. This adaptation increasingly became a preoccupation during the Abbasid era, though with variations amongst exponents. The Mutazila were influenced by the dialectics of Greek philosophy, yet they remained Islamic theologians. They argued for freewill, and maintained that the Quran was a created phenomenon, not an uncreated part of God as other Muslims believed. The Mutazila argued that the Quran was a message inspired by Allah, and was not divine in itself. Such matters became hotly contested during the Abbasid era.
The Mutazilite theologians thus introduced a rational element into the discussion of revelation and the unity (and justice) of God, though with conservative accents such as eternal punishment for sinners. The Sunni traditionists (transmitters of hadith) reacted strongly to the innovations, and categorically denied the validity of employing Greek methods of analysis. According to them, the statements of hadith were beyond question as the expression of God's will, the Quran was uncreated, and the actions of men were predetermined by God. Eventually, the theology of Al-Ashari (d. 935) achieved a compromise between Mutazili rationalism and hadith literalism.
A distinctive variant of the Mutazila appears to have received the attention of Abu Hafs al-Haddad, the ninth century malamati of Nishapur (see section 3). The conventional Sufi sources do not mention his Mutazili connections, but these have been traced in certain other works. If accurate, this would tend very much to indicate how much was left out in standard Sufi compendia and popular hagiology. Haddad apparently composed several books (now lost) on scholastic theology (kalam). Though this seems unlikely at first sight, the identification has been urged by certain scholars of repute. However, Haddad was not a conventional Mutazili, and at least one of his lost books was repudiated by Mutazili savants.
The right wing Mutazili rationalists generally opposed Sufis, an attitude which became marked in the tenth century, though in the earlier period, the divisions were less accentuated. Sufis were in general averse to reliance upon reason, and were associated with the traditionists who relied upon hadith. Yet a number of Sufis (and proto-Sufis) did not think like the typical traditionist.
The Mutazilite Sufis, or Sufiyyat al-Mutazila, have been much discussed. The basic denominator is sometimes represented in terms of asceticism, and one interpretation has even urged that both the Khurasanian mystics Abu Yazid al-Bistami and Haddad were "members of the Mutazila." However, this phase was short-lived, mainly because of the Caliphal inquisition (mihna) commenced circa 827 and maintained until the 840s. The Abbasid court imposed (on pain of death) a doctrine about the created status of the Quran, aligned with Mutazili teaching, though affording a convenience for Caliphal authority. Some daring contemporary Sufis appear to have resisted this monarchical development, though in varying degrees.
The Khurasanian mystic Bishr al-Hafi (d. 841/2), described in a recent source as "a major Baghdadi leader of the Sufi movement," adopted a stance defined in terms of passive resistance to the Abbasid mandate, expressing approval of the traditionist Ahmad ibn Hanbal for resisting official pressure, though without courting danger to himself. However, other mystics such as Dhu'l Nun al-Misri (d. 860) are thought to have resisted like Ibn Hanbal, and were imprisoned. Dhu'l Nun is a celebrated but basically obscure Egyptian figure in Sufi annals, the subject of anecdotes and legends which lost context in the historical sequence of events. (See The Egyptian Sufi Dhu'l Nun al-Misri, on this website). The orthodox Sunni traditionists were eventually victorious in the struggle against the Caliphate, and new ideological situations then emerged.
The Mutazili sympathiser Al-Khayyat, in his Kitab al-Intisar, scathingly referred to Abu Hafs al-Haddad as a "Rafidi," a word of Shi'ite associations, but which was frequently used rather loosely in stigmatisations of heresy. Some Mutazilis gained the title of al-Sufi, and were accused by other Mutazilis of having corrupted the Mutazili tradition. (58) Haddad thus appears to rank with a left wing minority group who cannot be readily categorised as either Mutazili or Sufi in the way that these terms are customarily employed. This sub-group appears to have reacted against the increasingly dogmatic theology of establishment Mutazilis, who were often wealthy men gaining much courtly influence, and some of whom even became inquisitors.
Another atypical Mutazili was Abu Musa Isa ibn al-Haytham al-Sufi (d. 865) of Baghdad, who was considered by his opponents to have disseminated confused ideas at the end of his life. According to the Mutazili annalist Al-Khayyat, he (Abu Musa) was a teacher of one of the most famous (or notorious) heretics in early Islamic history, namely Ibn al-Rawandi, a radical Mutazilite who was at loggerheads with prestigious right wing Mutazili theologians. Rawandi thus emerges as being closely related to the Sufiyyat al-Mutazila, the "Mutazilite Sufis" who appear to have been rather versatile. Rawandi was a distinctive Shi'i who wrote a book asserting the uselessness of theological speculation. He was subsequently castigated by Mutazili sympathisers amongst the literati of Baghdad. This Iranian had been educated in Khurasan prior to his appearance at Baghdad; his departure from that city circa 865 is shrouded in an obscurity that was conducive to the legend of the arch-heretic fabricated by his enemies. The Sufiyyat al-Mutazila seem to have gone into oblivion with him. (59)
Rawandi was also the pupil of Abu Isa al-Warraq, a ninth century heretical thinker who was originally a Mutazilite. Yet al-Warraq transited to Imami Shi'ism. Later still, he arrived at a doctrinal position often described as Manichaeism, "though he was probably not formally a Manichaean but rather (as Louis Massignon said) an independent thinker" (W. M. Watt, "Abu Isa Warraq," Encyclopaedia Iranica online). According to a late source, Warraq was executed for heresy, and Rawandi went into hiding. The Maqalat of al-Warraq presented views of different sects, including early Mutazilites and the Manichaeans, and references survive in writers such as the Muslim historian Masudi, who says that Warraq died in 861/2.
9. Different Types of Sufi
The posited Mutazili profile of Abu Hafs al-Haddad is not found in the annals of "orthodox Sufism." One of the prominent annalists was Abu'l Qasim Abdul Karim ibn Hawazin al-Qushayri (986-1072) of Nishapur, an exponent of hadith and Asharite theology with a Sufi reputation. Qushayri's influential Risala (Treatise) was concerned to show that the history of Sufism was inseparable from the strict observance of Islamic religious law (sharia), and was in no way at variance with orthodox thought. The influence of the Junaydi tradition of Baghdad Sufism has been discerned as the dominant factor in this interpretation, though immediate political circumstances in Nishapur were also evidently involved.
Qushayri's Arabic treatise presents over forty Sufi themes relating to the stations (maqamat) and the states (ahwal). Opposition to the self (mukhalafat an-nafs), sainthood (wilaya), and gnosis (marifa billah) are a few of the themes included. Qushayri's resort here is to statements made by Sufis, as traced through the procedure known as isnad, meaning a chain of transmitters authenticating a tradition. This was the standard method of traditionists who reported hadith of the prophet Muhammad. Each theme is prefaced by quotations from the Quran and the sunna (custom) of the prophet. In the Risala themes, the two most frequently cited Sufis are Junayd and Qushayri's own teacher Abu Ali al-Daqqaq, though Sari as-Saqati, Shibli, Dhu'l Nun al-Misri (the Egyptian), Sahl al-Tustari, and Yahya ibn Muadh are also well represented. Abu Said Ahmad al-Kharraz, Nuri, Ruwaym, Hallaj, Abu Bakr al-Wasiti, Bishr al-Hafi, Abu Hafs al-Haddad, Abu Uthman al-Hiri, Abu Yazid al-Bistami, and Ibrahim ibn Adham all gain a number of citations. There are many Sufis quoted here. Some names gain only one or a few references. The Qushayri canon is generally considered reliable, though probably very selective.
Over eighty anecdotal biographical entries on early Sufis are also found in the Risala, from which Hujwiri borrowed. Haddad and Hamdun Qassar are both included in the biographical section of Qushayri's manual, though one may conclude that these entries were carefully pruned of any elements not in conformity with Asharite beliefs and Shafi'i legalism. Qushayri has been interpreted as the polar opposite to Abu Said ibn Abi'l Khair, his Nishapuri contemporary, though the hagiology of their encounters in the Asrar al-Tauhid is viewed sceptically by scholars.
By that time, Nishapur was the largest city in Khurasan, a sprawling metropolis and major centre for manufacturing and trade, and famous for pottery and textiles. There was a strong conflict between the Hanafi and Shafi'i law schools of Islam, to the point of bloodshed and segregation. The Ashari tradition of theology (kalam) converged with the Shafi'i school in this locale, and in 1044 Qushayri openly endorsed the Asharite doctrines. Al-Ashari (d.935) had integrated some rationalist techniques in a mid-way position between the Mutazilis and the hadith literalists, though basically defending the orthodox traditionism.
Despite his orthodox role as a traditionist (muhaddith), Qushayri was continually harassed in this environment afflicted by doctrinal tensions. For about fifteen years, he had to endure persecution from Hanafi believers and other parties, not to mention Seljuq officials. Thus, even his modifying version of Sufi mysticism was in danger. He was even dragged from his house by a mob and imprisoned, though he was freed not long after by the Shafi'i contingent.
Both of Qushayri's parents were of Arab descent, and he early gained proficiency in Arabic. He was born at the town of Ustuwa, apparently near Quchan (to the north of Nishapur). His maternal uncle owned a number of villages and was a well known traditionist. Qushayri himself inherited a village from his father, but was concerned when he discovered that this community was being excessively taxed. To remedy that problem, he moved to Nishapur to study accounting, though his life changed after meeting the Sufi ascetic Abu Ali al-Daqqaq (d. 1015), who resided at Nishapur. The name al-Daqqaq means "the miller," indicating a tradesman background, as distinct from the elevated patricians of Nishapur. Qushayri became his disciple and also his son-in-law. (60)
Daqqaq had learned Arabic, a language in which he was a competent grammarian, making him unusual amongst Khurasanian ascetics. He is also said to have preached in Persian. Daqqaq adhered to the Iraqi form of Sufism which had been transplanted to Khurasan. Qushayri later transmitted the silsila (lineage) of Daqqaq, which traces his "spiritual descent" from Junayd of Baghdad. This was an early instance of such "lineages," which became increasingly fashionable in Sufism, though receiving criticism from traditionists because of the frequent attempts to link Sufi successions with the prophet Muhammad.
Several generations earlier, Abu Hafs al-Haddad was a rather different type of Sufi. It has been thought that he did not know Arabic, the prestige tongue of the traditionists and legalists. Haddad was apparently considered to be so deficient in this language that he needed an interpreter to converse with those who did speak the master tongue of Islam. This indicates a native Iranian ancestry, in contrast to those Sufi exponents with Arab blood like Qushayri.
Some analysts insinuate that Sulami (in his Tabaqat as-Sufiyya) attempted to show the superiority of the malamatis over Iraqi Sufism by describing a confrontation with the school of Junayd that may have been fictitious. Other scholars have credited a factual basis for the episode. Junayd and Haddad are said to have met in Baghdad and to have expressed different definitions of futuwwa. (61) According to Hujwiri, Haddad did not know Arabic, but when he met the Sufis of Baghdad at the Shuniz hospice, "he conversed with them in elegant Arabic, so that they despaired of rivalling his eloquence." (62) Non-Sufi sources report Junayd's high regard for Haddad, who is said to have spent a year or so as a guest in Junayd's home. (63) Haddad's knowledge of Arabic was treated as a miracle in the Sufi hagiological tradition.
The visit to Baghdad perhaps occurred in the last years of Haddad, (64) by which time he may have gained a fluency in Arabic. The Mutazili books attributed to his name were evidently in Arabic, and may or may not have required an assistant in their composition. In view of his malamati disposition, it would not be surprising if he habitually professed an incompetence in the prestige tongue, to which so much pride attached amongst traditionists and jurists.
Whatever Haddad's talents in Arabic may have been, many Khurasanians of his time were comparatively unlettered in that language, and did not possess Arab pedigrees. A strong revival of Persian occurred in Khurasan and Transoxania under auspices of the regional Samanid dynasty (900-999), and meanwhile Persian dialects and colloquial Arabic were also vehicles of Sufi expression, it would seem. According to one assessment, the New Persian language was born in the ninth century in those regions, and "was based on Middle Persian and Dari but enriched by an Arabic vocabulary of a strong religious orientation." (65)
A scholarly deduction is that the term sufiyya relates to the Baghdad school, while the term malamatiyya represents the Nishapur tradition. One should be prepared for complexities in the latter, which is relatively little known. The malamati psychology evidenced is quite sophisticated, despite later misunderstandings about the "path of blame." The original malamatis evidently did not seek to be socially reprehensible, but socially ordinary in appearance. Politically quietist, their viewpoint maintained that the lower self (nafs) should be constantly regarded as blameworthy, because of the wrong inclinations fostered by the ego. The nafs had to be chastened and restrained. A socially visible humiliation was apparently welcomed under certain circumstances.
The genuine malamati analysed possible hypocrisy in his conduct, and was to wear no distinguishing "spiritual" apparel that could tickle his vanity. Praise was an indulgence to be avoided. Ascetic practices were not enough to achieve mastery over the nafs, and could instead swell the ego if openly exhibited. Spiritual states were to be kept concealed, and thus the ideal was to be socially conformist and inconspicuous. This meant that the malamati was to "adopt the external behaviour of the people in whose company he is, while at the same time be isolated from them by way of contemplation." (66) Sulami emphasised that malamatis masked their inner development with formal appearances, thus participating "in all activities performed by their fellows, keeping company with them in the marketplaces and in earning a means of livelihood." (67) The display of piety and saintliness was blameworthy in their eyes, a tendency providing fuel for the unruly nafs.
Malamatis are said to have relied upon a Quranic reference (68) in their vocation. One might wonder if their anti-ascetic attitude also had some relation to "this-worldly" Zoroastrian dispositions that must have permeated the early village milieux of Nishapur. However, it is unnecessary to invoke any particular tradition as the inspiration for malamati orientation. A similar tendency to conceal spirituality existed amongst the Syrian Christians of an earlier time, stories concerning whom reveal a preference for secular activities rather than the exhibition of pious or saintly traits. (69) One can view the matter in terms of a recurring psychological disposition in some mystical temperaments.
10. Drawbacks to Malamatism
An early criticism of the malamati attitude came from Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d.c. 907-12), a mystic or "theosophist" who had been educated as a theologian, and who incurred charges of heresy in the Balkh region of Khurasan. Tirmidh is the Arabic version of Termez, a city on the banks of the Oxus, now in the southern corner of Uzbekistan. Like other learned Muslims, Al-Tirmidhi wrote in the prestige tongue of Arabic. He did not employ the term sufi. His many books include an autobiography, which incorporated an account of dreams, and which evidences his high estimation of his wife, a mystic who spoke Persian and not scholarly Arabic. Specialists have deduced that Tirmidhi spoke Persian in everyday life.
The independent stance of Tirmidhi has aroused discussion. His opposition to the Karramiyya is evident. Further, one of the letters of Hakim al-Tirmidhi has been described as revealing an "uncompromisingly passionate sarcasm" (70) aimed at those malamatis who spent their lives incurring blame on the nafs. He insinuated that delusion crept in, the nafs being so deceitful as to evade attempts to eliminate it, instead finding pleasure in such attempts, especially if these were publicly visible. Instead of focusing upon the nafs, Tirmidhi advocated "the science of God" (al-ilm billah). (71) The contrasting "science of the self" (al-ilm bi'l-nafs) was here considered inferior.
There are discernible influences on Tirmidhi from the earlier Sunni Sufi mystic Harith al-Muhasibi (an Iraqi), though "he adopts certain Shi'ite ideas, without, however, necessarily becoming a Shi'ite himself." See Bernd Radtke, "Hakim Termedi," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. In his Sirat al-awliya, Tirmidhi "works out for the first time a theory of a hierarchy of saints," later to be assimilated by Ibn al-Arabi and many other Sufis (ibid.). See further Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi, on this website. Malamatis might have countered with the reservation that Tirmidhi claimed a high position in the hierarchy, themselves being averse to all claims of spiritual achievement.
The details of publicly visible malamat (blame) are obscure in relation to the Nishapur school. It is not difficult to credit the existence of undiscerning tactics of incurring blame, a factor which complicates the theme of blending in amicably with the surrounding environment. The emerging discrepancy afflicted the long-term survival of malamati concepts. In the absence of prudent teachers, would-be malamatis could doubtless commit serious blunders even in the earlier period. That may be one reason why Qushayri's Risala was "composed with the express purpose of rescuing Sufism from the ill-fame to which it had been exposed by the extravagant antinomianism of the Malamatiyya." (72) This was long after the doctrinal argument expressed by Tirmidhi.
The malamatiyya are mentioned in an accusing account of Sufi groups by the Arab historian Abu Nasr al-Muqaddasi. Writing circa 966, he stated that some of those groups believed in hulul ("indwelling") and promiscuity, and that "they do not heed those who blame them." (73) It was arguably no sin to believe in hulul, which was a heresy commonly misunderstood. However, promiscuity is another matter when accurately reported. Not all such reports found in Islamic heresiography are credited as accurate by modern scholars. The reference to blame may represent the hostile views of critics, or it may pinpoint a flaw in the psychology of copyists. Mere indifference to criticism was evidently a distortion of authentic malamati principles, which were intended to abase and not to exalt the practitioner. Most mystical teachings can be put to bad use by perverse practitioners.
In the vintage malamat of the Nishapur "school," the tactic of blaming the self (nafs) was evidently designed to further abnegation. These pietist mystics were averse to gaining attention. Copyists might easily have altered this orientation to one of gaining the limelight by audacious actions. The genuine malamatis did conform with the religious law (sharia), preferring not to pose as transcendent saints. An annalist of such impeccable credentials as Sulami was clearly trying to vindicate the mystics of Nishapur from accusations of nonconformism, placing them on a par with the Baghdad Sufis of Iraq.
Hujwiri (of Ghazna) devoted a chapter of his Kashf al-Mahjub to the theme of malamat, and was so sympathetic to the subject that he found malamati traits in the prophet Muhammad. Hujwiri defines malamat as being of three kinds, resulting from (a) following the right way (b) from an intentional act (c) from abandoning the religious law. He clearly disapproved of (c) as an erroneous recourse amounting to self-indulgence. Hujwiri significantly says that there were many in his time who sought popularity by this means, "forgetting that one must already have gained popularity before deliberately acting in such a way as to make the people reject him." (74) Thus, the impression is conveyed that many imposters were seeking to gain limelight by committing irreligious actions.
How does Hujwiri classify (a) and (b) in his survey ? The man who follows the correct malamati way performs his religious duties while refusing to act hypocritically; he refrains from ostentation. The description is brief, and is not entirely clear in specifying a method. "A man is blamed who minds his own business" (75) is a theme that could be differently interpreted, bearing in mind translation difficulties. Does this mean that type (a) did not attract attention to himself other than by refraining from any religious or mystical ostentation ? Hujwiri does not supply any historical context. The ideal was evidently to achieve an inner purification while eliminating vanity.
The second category is described by Hujwiri in terms of one who achieves social distinction and who becomes attached to his honours and to those who confer the honours. Wishing to make himself independent of these distractions, and to "devote himself wholly to God," (76) the practitioner deliberately incurs the blame of his sponsors by doing something which they find offputting, but which is no violation of the religious law. The objective is to withdraw from fame and authority. An extension of this recourse is mentioned in terms of malamatis who practise from a motive of abnegation. "They wish to be despised by the people in order that they may mortify themselves, and it is their greatest delight to find themselves wretched and abased." (77) Hujwiri seems to be in marked sympathy with this disposition, as he follows up with a personal reminiscence that closes his evocative chapter on malamat.
He relates that he visited the tomb of Abu Yazid al-Bistami, where he stayed for three months performing "purifications" in the hope that a certain "difficulty" might be removed. His efforts were unsuccessful, and so he moved on. Arriving at a village in Khurasan, he found a khanaqah (retreat) inhabited by presumed Sufis. His appearance was ordinary; he did not carry the paraphernalia associated with Sufis, except for a staff and a water-bottle. The so-called Sufis regarded him with contempt as an outsider. They gave him lodgings and mouldy bread, keeping the best food for themselves. They made derisive remarks from a distance, their quarters being above his. When they had finished eating, they pelted him with melon-skins, confirming their low opinion of him.
Hujwiri adds that this contemptuous treatment (i.e., of "blame") had the effect of removing from him the "difficulty" which he does not describe. (78) One might conjecture that the obscure difficulty related to self-esteem.
This episode is instructive for more than one reason. It gives indication of the mentality existing amongst nominal Sufi inhabitants of a khanaqah. Whatever the reputation of such hospices for charity, the psychology was far from perfect in such directions. The episode may also indicate that Hujwiri had understood something of what the essential malamati method comprised. He had not sought blame at all; the very contrast between his sober apparel and the "Sufi" trappings of his complacent hosts had caused the derogatory treatment. He had been deemed ordinary and inferior by those who believed themselves to be spiritual. One strongly suspects that when Sufism became a profession, the losses were heavy. Similarly, when malamatism became a routine public gesture of courting disapproval, the dynamic was obscured by undiscerning imitators.
Some malamati principles were adapted by the Central Asian Sufi tradition known as al-khwajagan ("the masters"), which crystallised into the Naqshbandi order by the fifteenth century. In other directions, malamatism has often been confused with the qalandar tradition. "The distinction between the malamati and the qalandar is that the former hides his devotion and the latter externalises and even exploits it, going out of his way to incur blame." (79) Qalandars were wandering dervishes with an extremist reputation, although the term qalandar was very loosely applied. They generally wore a distinctive robe and shaved their head, removing all facial hair except for the moustache (in India some qalandar figures went naked like Hindu holy men).
The "orthodox Sufi" writer Jami (d. 1521), in his Nafahat al-Uns, expressed disapproval of antinomian tendencies amongst the qalandar faction, and drew a distinction between the sincere malamati and the wayward qalandar. However, Jami did not neglect to point out that the degenerate qalandar was in a different category to the genuine qalandar. (80) Confusions were perhaps inevitable when vagrant dervishes (mendicants) became known as malamatis, a trend quite remote from malamati origins, and facilitated by the extensive popularisation of Sufism that occurred from the twelfth century onwards. The phase of "dervish orders" has to be distinguished from the earlier period.
A modern researcher described some deviant malamati trends in latter day India. These included libertines who drank intoxicants and claimed to be followers of Jalal al-Din Rumi (d. 1273). The claim was in strong contradiction to their lifestyle. Another trend involved faqirs who resorted to opium, hemp, and other drugs in the hope of achieving tranquillity; sometimes the drugs were taken in excessive doses, making them "wild and terrible." These drug-taking malamatis claimed to belong to the Qadiri and Suhrawardi dervish orders. (81) By that time, the term malamati had long been a popular indulgence.
Whatever the burgeoning errors committed by shallow malamati nonconformists, it was not that contingent which undermined the existence of Nishapur. Those responsible for civic disintegration were the orthodox believers who were over-zealous. From the ninth century onwards, violent sectarian conflicts occurred in Nishapur and other towns in Khurasan. There were several different conflicts, including one between the Karramiyya and Shi'ite groups. However, the main struggle occurred between rival law schools (madhahib), namely the Hanafites and Shafi'ites; this conflict became very critical during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
The Hanafi school at Nishapur revolved around the families of ulama (religious scholars) and leading merchants who controlled mosques, madrasas (colleges), and judicial positions. Whereas the Shafi'i opponents controlled many of the teaching posts in the colleges. The Shafi'i orthodoxy was compatible with Asharite theology. The competition for governmental support led to "pitched battles in which large segments of the town and the surrounding rural populace were mobilised to fight for their group." (82) The decline of Nishapur has been traced to this severe problem, the city being "physically and socially destroyed by the middle of the twelfth century." (83)
11. Abu Yazid al-Bistami
Abu Yazid Taifur al-Bistami was a ninth century figure rather difficult to define. He became a figurehead of Khurasanian mysticism, as contrasted with the Iraqi or Junaydi tradition of mysticism associated with Baghdad. A strongly accented division was imposed by orthodox Sufism. Bistami was seen to represent "intoxication" (sukr) and ecstasy (ghalaba). Whereas Junayd represented "sobriety" (sahw) and conformism. Junayd was approved by orthodox thinkers, while Bistami was regarded with caution. Modern scholars have tagged these two entities as theist (Junayd) and monist (Bistami), which is a complex issue. (84)
The apologists for Sufism continually toned down the indications that heretics or dissidents existed within the ranks of mystics. Yet it is evident that there were radical differences between some Sufis and religious orthodoxy. The "conversion" of Islamic orthodoxy to a qualified acceptance of Sufism did not occur until the time of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 1111), producing a Sunni-oriented Sufism that was popular and largely conformist. However, marked tensions persisted between mystics and the ulama (doctors of law).
Bistami became an emblem of strong opposition to dogmatic religious authority. He is reported to have characterised the transmitters of hadith as "dead people narrating from the dead." (85) The same mystic claimed to have visited the court of Allah and "to have found it empty of all members of the clergy (ulama) and devoid of any jurisprudents (fuqaha)." (86) Such radical views were the cause of his being exiled no less than seven times from his native town of Bistam to Gurgan. (87) This occurrence testifies to the friction between mystics and ulama that is an underlying feature of Sufism in different periods of time.
The biography of Bistami is sparse, and was prone to legendary flourishes. His full name was Abu Yazid Taifur ibn Isa ibn Surushan al-Bistami. He was born at the town of Bistam in Khurasan. On the eve of the Mongol invasion a few centuries later, the geographer Yaqut described Bistam as a fair-sized township on the highway to Nishapur, in the shadow of high mountains. On a hill overlooking the town were ruins of a large palace said to have been built by the Sassanian monarch Shapur. (88) Sassanian associations are relevant for Abu Yazid, his grandfather Surushan being a Zoroastrian. The family had become converts to Islam, and his father Isa was thus enabled to become a respectable citizen of Bistam.
Many Zoroastrians found relief from oppression by becoming mawali (singular: mawla), a term designating the non-Arab Muslims. The mawla was originally a "client" attached to an Arab tribe bestowing protection. During the ninth century, the mawali lost entity as a distinct social class, because of their increasing integration within Islamic society under the Abbasid dynasty. Non-Muslims were known as dhimma, the so-called people of protection. This benefit was erratically received by Zoroastrians in return for the payment of jizya tax. Zoroastrians were officially tolerated as "people of a Book," though petty harassments could occur.
By 700 A.D., the Arab Muslims were outnumbered by converted Muslims of subject races like the Iranians. Although in theory all believers in Islam were equal, in practice the mawali were treated as inferiors. Intermarriage was frowned upon, and strongly discouraged in some regions. In Khurasan, the new religion gained many converts amongst the hereditary small landowners, who acted as tax-collectors under both the Sassanians and the Caliphs. The conversion of a dihqan (landowner) was often followed by Islamisation of the villages he owned.
The mawali seem to have fared badly when they were exposed to the scorn of Bedouin tribesmen from Kufa and Basra who garrisoned towns and forts along the eastern frontiers of Islam. However, some Arabs married Persian wives and adopted Persian customs like wearing trousers and observing the traditional Iranian New Year festival. "The children of these unions tended to be Persian rather than Arab in spirit and education." (89) Nevertheless, it has been said that "by the mid-eighth century no Persian alive could recall the days of Sassanid rule." (90) Yet Sassanian religious and cultural concepts definitely did live on.
"The superficially Islamised mawali brought many ideas into Shi'i Islam from their old Babylonian, Judaeo-Christian, and Irano-Zoroastrian backgrounds, including those derived from the Iranian religious heresies such as Manichaeism and Mazdakism, ideas foreign to early Islam." (91) Abu Yazid al-Bistami was a Sunni Muslim, not a Shi'i, but there may have been overlapping elements in such a radical case as he attests.
Bistam was a minor town by comparison with cities like Nishapur and Merv. That township was much closer to the bedrock of rural Khurasan, which, like other regions of rural Iran, appears to have been substantially Zoroastrian until about the mid-ninth century. The Zoroastrians had always vastly outnumbered the Buddhists in eastern Iran, and the Arabs were likewise a minority. In many villages, despite the modifications imposed by Arab rule, the subject race still followed a basic Zoroastrian pattern of thought inherited from the Sassanian era.
The life of Bistami coincided with the period of major transition to the convert lifestyle. He was born in the locality of Bistam known as Mobedan, a name strongly associated with the Zoroastrian priesthood. However, he moved to an Arab quarter known as Wafedan. Residual Zoroastrian influences are speculative, but not impossible.
Interpretations of this figure have varied. Abu Yazid al-Bistami is said to have studied Hanafite law. Yet he has also been bracketed with the later Sufi Abu'l Hasan Ali al-Kharaqani (d. 1034) in a rather different context. "Apart from the fact that they came from the same district, they were both illiterates who, on their own, without the supervision of any murshid [Sufi teacher], sought to follow the way to God by direct divine guidance." (92) Caution must greet that verdict. If Bistami really studied the Hanafite legal system, he must have been literate, and there is an important early tradition that he did have a teacher in mysticism.
The subject's date of expiry is markedly uncertain. Two divergent dates are cited. The later one, equivalent to 875 A.D., was recorded by Sulami, and has commonly been accepted as accurate. However, Al-Sahlaji (998/9-1084) mentions the date equivalent to 848 A.D., as also does Sulami. A whole generation is therefore at issue in the chronology. It has been thought that the earlier date is strengthened by circumstantial evidence. (93) This means that Bistami could have started his mystical career at circa 800, against a fairly strong background of Zoroastrian influences, perhaps even of a radical kind converging with neoMazdakite conceptions of hulul.
The bare outline of Bistami's life leaves much that is obscure. The hagiology leaves elements of doubt about some matters. He appears to have spent most of his life in Bistam, except for short periods when he was driven into exile by the hostility of the ulama. He made at least one pilgrimage to Mecca. He does not appear to have sought the limelight; he apparently spent much of his life as a recluse in his home and an isolated cell. The sources make much of his austerity. He is said to have cautioned against believing in miracle workers. He wrote nothing (or at least, nothing survives), though about five hundred sayings attributed to him were collected and preserved through two major lines of transmission. A question exists as to how many of these sayings were later additions. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, his followers apparently perpetuated a small Sufi group at his tomb in Bistam.
A modern scholar has described Bistami as "a solitary ascetic whose one desire... was to attain to a direct experience of God." (94) In that connection, a saying of Abu Yazid is quoted from an early Sufi source: "The gnostic is not the one who commits to memory from the Quran and if he forgets what he has learnt, relapses into ignorance. He only is the gnostic who takes his knowledge from his Lord... and this knowledge lasts for a lifetime." (95)
One suspects that we have here the crux of the situation which aroused hostility from conventional religionists. A different kind of knowledge, and one declaredly superior to their own form of study, was being affirmed. Bistami specialised in gnosis (marifa), a knowledge that was frequently misunderstood and simplified by enthusiasts of tasawwuf (Sufism).
A well known book sympathetic to Sufi gnosis opted for the theme of Christian influence upon the Sufis. The author stated that while deference could be given to the possibility of a "direct Hellenic influence" and the "introduction of Buddhist ideas" in early Sufi mysticism, that mysticism "would appear to have been influenced in the main by the teaching of Christian mysticism, an influence which was exerted indirectly through orthodox Islam itself, and directly through the teaching of the Christian mystics." (96) The assertion of Christian influence is perhaps only valid historically for the lands of western Islam, e.g., Syria and Egypt, and even then, in a more qualified sense than some have suggested.
It is true enough that "the conception of the final state of the mystic who has passed away from self and entered into union with God, and henceforth lives in Him, is expressed in much the same terms by Sufi and Christian mystics alike." (97) Yet as with the suggestion for pre-Islamic Syrian "malamatism," no historical influences are necessarily implied, even if the Book of the Holy Hierotheos has been bracketed with Bistami's "identification of God with the soul of the mystic." (98)
If non-Muslim influences have to be invoked for Bistami, then Zoroastrianism is surely the closest candidate for the honours, however indirectly any conceptual links were maintained. "It may be suggested that some of the mystical fervour of Islam was derived from Zoroastrianism, although it is not easy to show this in any detail." (99) The argument here is that mystics in the western lands of Islam used a rather mild language in the early period, while more radical expressions appeared in the Iranian sector. The proposal of Professor Shaked is that those radical expressions were rooted in elements of Zoroastrianism that were "adapted to the teachings and language of Islam." (100) A relevant question is: which tradition within Zoroastrianism was being adapted ? The general assessment of the native Iranian religion has been that of a conservative ideology, though certain offshoots were far more radical.
Zoroastrian history has fared badly by comparison with Christianity or Islam. Apart from the Iranians who were enslaved by Islamic conquerors, there were apparently mixed reasons for conversion to Islam amongst Zoroastrians. Some conversions are said to have occurred as a result of coercion, but many were motivated by the consideration that severe economic and social restraints applied to non-Muslims. Even the converts could be harassed, let alone the non-Muslims. The Muslim historian Tabari records, in relation to the eighth century, that Zoroastrians were mistreated by Arab tax-collectors, who would tear off the sacred girdle (kusti) of the taxpayers and hang this around their necks as a gesture of contempt. The Arab invaders had adopted the Sassanian system of collecting a land-tax and poll-tax (which they called jizya). The jizya became the special tax on unbelievers, and a recourse for humiliating them in public. The kusti was the major symbol of adherence to Zoroastrianism.
Many Zoroastrians are said to have nominally professed Islam in order to escape the poll-tax. Yet to recant afterwards was a hazard, as the Muslim jurists decreed that death was the penalty for apostasy from Islam. (101) To retie the kusti was thus considered a very reckless act of bravery amongst Zoroastrians.
There are hagiological references to Abu Yazid al-Bistami acquiring a girdle. The problem is that a source like Attar's Tazkirat al-Awliya (Memorial of the Saints) is so obviously written in a poetic vein of embellishment that it is difficult to be certain of factual content in many anecdotes. Farid al-Din Attar (c.1145/6-1221) was an inhabitant of Nishapur, a renowned composer of Sufi poetry in Persian. He says that Bistami went searching for a girdle so that his reputation "would vanish from among men." (102) This was clearly intended to savour in malamati fashion of the apostasy associated with the Zoroastrian kusti. The bard of Nishapur prudently described his subject as being unable to purchase the girdle he wanted, though in another anecdote, Bistami is reported to have many times "bound a girdle about him and then broke it" (103) after returning from proximity to God.
The same anecdote affirms that the saint donned a girdle at the end of his life. Attar puts into his mouth a speech which has elements of a malamati complexion in professing that all his austerities, prayers, and Quranic recitals had not been sufficient to make him a true Muslim until now. (104) Attar's illustrative principle here was evidently that of not vaunting the discipline of a lifetime. Behind the poetry, one might realistically envisage variations of "malamati" tactic amongst the mawali in different towns and villages of Khurasan, long before they were profiled as Sufis in conventional annals.
A typical problem in the fragmentary biographies of early Sufis is that these are the work of apologists seeking to present the past in terms acceptable to the proscribing Sunni theology and legalism of their time. Hujwiri's version of Bistami is a case in point. The author of the Kashf al-Mahjub is sympathetic to Bistami and states that "no one before him penetrated so deeply into the arcana of this science (i.e., Sufism)." (105) The very next sentence urges that "in all circumstances he was a lover of theology and a venerator of the sacred law," meaning the sharia of Islam. Hujwiri also warns against the "spurious doctrine which has been foisted on him" by heretics. (106) It is difficult to ascertain exactly what doctrine was meant here.
Hujwiri was clearly concerned to dilute the notorious unorthodoxy of the gnostic of Bistam. Without doubting that the latter adhered to the sharia, it is difficult to believe that Bistami was a lover of theology like the local ulama who chastised him. Though Hujwiri further devotes several pages to the teaching attributed to the "sect" of Tayfuris (the followers of Bistami), this is not a detailed discussion but a critique maintaining the superiority of the Junaydi tradition over the Tayfuri. (107) We learn very little in this early Persian classic of either Bistami or his teachings.
The main source on Abu Yazid al-Bistami was contemporary with Hujwiri, but subject to other disadvantages. The Kitab al-Nur min kalimat Abi Taifur was written in Arabic by Abu'l Fadl Muhammad al-Sahlaji (d. 1084), an admirer of the saint who supplied a prodigious quantity of sayings and "dialogues with God" attributed to him, (108) in addition to biographical lore which Attar evidently drew upon. Sahlaji's contribution amounts to a cult book, and was probably the product of much reworking and embellishment of a basic oral stock surviving after the death of the subject some two centuries before.
Sahlaji may have been understating in giving indication of the friction between Bistami and the orthodox Muslims. Seven times Bistami was in exile from Bistam because of his radical views. Sahlaji also reports that the saint feigned madness when he was accused of neglecting his religious duties as a Muslim. A similar recourse is reported of Shibli (d. 945), a Sufi of Baghdad. The theme of the "madman" was subsequently taken up in the more poetic Sufi literature (e.g., in Attar's Musibat-Nama). Persons considered to be mad were regarded tolerantly by Muslim lawyers. Sufi idioms increasingly rendered the "madman" associations in terms of an ecstatic, God-intoxicated mysticism.
One of the recent commentaries expresses the belief that "those most perfectly in union (with God), like Hallaj or Bayazid (Abu Yazid) or Abu Said, often evince eccentric qalandariyya behaviour, inwardly in accord with God, even if it be outwardly in discord with a person or a community's subjective conceptions of convention." (109) This tendency was evidently prone to extensive abuse. The subtle differences between malamati and qalandari behaviour seem to require close factual reporting, and this is missing in the case of Bistami. However, the latter seems to have possessed a retiring disposition and not the psychology of an exhibitionist.
Other queries apply to the figure of Abu'l Mughith al-Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (c.858-922). This Iranian was born in Fars, the grandson of a Zoroastrian, and became a widely travelled and distinctive preacher who gained a following as far afield as Khurasan and India. Though fluent in Arabic, Hallaj was only partially convergent with the Baghdad school of Sufism associated with Junayd, and was far more radical in his approach. He preached without adopting Sufi garb, and employed vocabulary familiar to the Shi'ite population, despite being a Sunni mystic. Hallaj was apparently confused by some opponents with the role of a Qarmati dai (missionary), an accusation convenient to political interests. Nevertheless, he was not a conventional Sufi; he was cruelly executed at Baghdad on charges of heresy, after a lengthy period of detention.
Qushayri did not include Hallaj in the biographical entries in his Risala, a fact which strongly implies aversion to the heretical career that was terminated by the Abbasid regime. In contrast, Sulami did award Hallaj a modest profile, observing that most Sufi teachers had rejected him. In later generations, the Persian writers Hujwiri and Attar celebrated the heretic, though in different ways, successfully integrating him into the hagiological annals of Persian-speaking Sufism.
The hagiological version asserted that Hallaj was executed at Baghdad for declaring "I am the Truth (Ana'l-Haqq)." This has been deemed erroneous by modern scholars. "There is no evidence that Hallaj ever uttered the statement 'I am the Truth' which is attributed to him in later sources." (110) His case history was rather more complex, and elusive of Sufi hagiography. (See my article Al-Hallaj on this website). There are some analysts who think that the elaborate sayings (shatahat or shathiyat) attributed to Abu Yazid al-Bistami represent a similar genre that is out of context.
12. Theory of Vedantic Influence on Bistami
The theory of Vedantic influence on Bistami is a controversial matter, and has been dismissed by some specialist scholars. The related "ascension" of Abu Yazid is a theme preserved in variants amongst Sufi authors; it has been described as an imitation of the miraj (ascension) of the prophet Muhammad. Bistami is reported to have described himself as becoming a bird with wings of everlastingness, flying to an eternal tree, the fruit of which he consumed; however, he also realised that the imagery was "a trick of his own imagination," (111) the visions being illusions by comparison with the divine truth.
Professor R. C. Zaehner urged a theory of Upanishadic origins for the symbolism involved here. A critic of Zaehner observes that "the imagery of wings, birds, and trees is abundantly present in the ascension literature of the Near East from ancient times onwards, and it hardly seems necessary or meaningful to suppose that Bistami could only have learned of such imagery from Indian sources, which in any case have altogether different structures." (112)
The penchant for finding foreign cultural influences in mystical expressions has to be treated with caution. One could just as well see something Zoroastrian in Abu Yazid's Islam-oriented transport. Part of the Hujwiri version reads in translation: "It (the spirit of Abu Yazid) looked at nothing and gave no heed, though Paradise and Hell were displayed to it, for it was freed from phenomena and veils." (113) One could easily regard that theme as a mystical variation of the "spirit journey" celebrated by Zoroastrian priests in some extant sources. The general context of Bistami's ascension is Islamic, but there is nothing to specifically rule out the possibility of Zoroastrian ingredients or affinities. However, the grounds are tenuous and extend only to the vision of paradise and hell.
The Oxford scholar R. C. Zaehner tried to find Vedantic influences in Bistami's sayings (known as shathiyat or shatahat). The theological analyst deemed the Khurasanian mystic to be a monist, and was concerned to stigmatise his influence as a pernicious aberration. Zaehner's antipathy to Advaita Vedanta achieved marked profile in his supposedly objective analysis. Advaita and Bistami meant something very misleading, reasoned the Christian scholar, who was considered to be an expert on both Indian and Iranian religion.
What should instead be stressed is the similarity between Bistami's teaching of fana (annihilation of the self in God) and some Upanishadic themes. No influence is necessarily implied. "The 'world' (dunya), 'flight from the world' (zuhd), worship of God (ibadat), miracles (karamat), zikr, even the mystic stages (maqamat) are for him no more than so many barriers holding him from God." (114)
The Sufi and malamati gnostics wished to transcend the world, but could not achieve this through saintly posing or zikr technique (e.g., breathing and chanting). The objective was to finally shed the ego in fana, a feat compared to snakes shedding their skin, a goal devalued by the disapproving Zaehner. He objected to the apparent inflation involved in such a saying (shath) of Bistami as: "Glory be to Me ! How great is My Majesty" (Subhani ! Ma a'zama sha'ni).
The Subhani shath is probably the best known of Bistami's heretical utterances (though one may strongly question as to whether he did actually utter many of those recorded). Some scholars have regarded the statement as audacious, while others say that Bistami was not glorifying his own ego but rather the divine presence apprehended through gnosis. "I saw the Ka'ba walking around me" is another instance of radical mysticism. "In meditation he made flights into the supersensible world; these earned him the censure that he claimed to have experienced a miraj [ascension] in the same way as the Prophet." Islamicists have given different interpretations of what Bistami's "ascension" involved. Again according to Professor Ritter, he "saw the tree of 'One-ness' (ahadiyya), to realise that 'all that was illusion' or that it 'was himself'' who was all that." (115)
Reactions to the theory of Vedantic influence have been strong amongst both non-Muslim and Muslim assessors. "What we do observe in the case of Bayazid is not a borrowing from the Vedanta but an expression of purely Islamic gnosis (irfan), which because of its very nature closely resembles pure gnosis in any other tradition." (116) Zoroastrian gnosis is not generally credited as existing, though if it did, that prospect was obviously much closer to the saint of Bistam than was Indian Vedanta.
Professor Louis Massignon (1883-1962) influentially asserted that the primary sources of Sufism were Islamic. In his diligent Essai sur les origines (first edn, Paris 1922; third edn, 1969), he defined this theory in terms of a primary influence exerted by the Quran, though also taking into account the Arab sciences of grammar, law, and hadith, and more tenuously, the scientific studies relating to the exhumed Greek tradition in the early Islamic era. Later, Massignon seems to have relented in the rigour of his "Islamic" theory, admitting the possibility of much more Greek and Christian influence than he had set down on paper. (A.J. Arberry, An Introduction to the History of Sufism, London 1942, pp. 48ff.). This issue was not fully resolved.
Formerly, a substantial number of scholars had argued that the basic ideas of Islamic Sufism had originated from non-Islamic traditions. However, many of these arguments were based on the assumption of a mere passage of ideas from one culture or religious tradition to another. Theories of Neoplatonist, Buddhist, Christian, and other influences were rather inflexibly linear in conceptualisation. Recent views have differed, more sophistication being seen as a requirement. The Iranian mawali (Zoroastrian converts to Islam and "clients" of Arab tribes) are a relevant consideration, and varying in locale from the Kufa region of Iraq to Khurasan.
The legend of Salman al-Farsi ("the Persian") relates to the earliest known Muslim of Iran. A discontented Zoroastrian, he is depicted as travelling to Syria, contacting Christians, though a party of Bedouin merchants sold him into slavery en route to Arabia. The prophet Muhammad bought him out of slavery; Salman converted to the very early Islam existing at Yathrib (Medina), to which the early Muslims took flight from Mecca. Massignon concluded that the Salman legend contains elements of historical truth. After the death of Muhammad in 632, Salman emigrated to Iraq, where he became associated with Kufa, one of the new centres of Islamic culture. He is said to have adhered to the simple lifestyle that characterised the early Muslims, prior to the assimilation of luxury habits deriving from the Byzantine and Sassanian ruling classes.
The mawali (non-Arab converts to Islam) of Kufa appear to have quickly adopted Salman al-Farsi (d. c. 655-6) as a figurehead in their oral tradition, a process which eventually made him the prototype of the converted Iranians. In this manner, he became strongly associated with the initiatory lore of the crafts and trades that were continued amongst the mawali from the Near East to Central Asia. The Salman legend is found in variants in a number of Sunni and Shia sources. Salman appears as one of the first Sufis in the Kitab al-Luma of Sarraj, the tenth century Sufi annalist of Khurasan. (117)
In a different direction, the question arises as to possible Zoroastrian affinities in the proto-Sufi mysticism of Abu Yazid al-Bistami. The Zoroastrian priesthood seems an unlikely source for any direct point of reference.Yet some concepts known to the priests may have been in a more intercultural circulation via the influential dissident sects of rural Khurasan. These groupings arose in reaction to the Arab invasion. Firm Islamic control of the Balkh region only dated back to the campaigns of Qutaiba in the early eighth century. Arabic was not introduced as the official written language in Khurasan until the end of the Umayyad era, long after spreading throughout other Islamic sectors.
At that period (eighth century A.D.), many revolts arose against the government, the leaders seeking the allegiance of the lower classes who toiled as ever. Obscure sects flashed briefly into prominence; the reports are piecemeal and are found in the works of Muslim historians and heresiographers who had no concern for subtleties in such matters. Those sects had strong Zoroastrian components. Bihafrid was a Zoroastrian priest who gained a following in Nishapur; he appears to have opposed the orthodox priesthood, who regarded him as a heretic and who successfully pressed for his execution, which occurred in 749. Some years later, another Zoroastrian priest, Sunpad, raised a revolt against the Abbasid Caliph in which Islamic and Zoroastrian beliefs converged, coloured by messianic expectations.
A follower of Bihafrid known as Ustad Sis, apparently a Zoroastrian, gained a large following that continued after his execution in 768. Then came the Muslim leader Yusuf ibn Ibrahim (alias al-Barm), who moved from Sistan to Bukhara where he promoted the Khurramdin or "happy" religion, now described as a synthesis of Muslim and Zoroastrian beliefs. He was executed in 778, though his followers continued to exist. The factor of both Zoroastrians and Muslims tending to syncretistic beliefs is perhaps very relevant here, making it easier for Zoroastrian ideas to persist long into the ninth century amongst Iranian Muslims.
Some of these rebellious sects were described by detractors as Mazdakite revivals, though modern scholars say that any connection is difficult to establish. (118) Bistami's grandfather Surushan may have been very aware of these dissenting events; Bistami himself was probably far less interested in the political dimensions of such trends, increasingly a distant memory, though he may have felt some sympathy for religious and mystical elements in non-Islamic Iran. He may even have felt that extensions of hululi beliefs were unknown to many "neoMazdakites," as they are now called. Beliefs such as hulul, tanasukh (metempsychosis), and batin (inner knowledge or meaning) are likely to have been understood and formulated with significantly different degrees of comprehension. Some members of syncretist sects may have believed that God could "incarnate" in humans in the sense implied by the Subhani shath. The suggestion might tally with an aspect of Mazdak's mysticism as reported by Shahrastani.
Abu Yazid al-Bistami was not a political reactionary, but a recluse with an ascetic role who became reputed for continual vigils and fasts. Variations of ascetic role were quite pronounced in early Islam, and some analysts allow for the possibility that certain elements could ultimately have derived from the prophet Muhammad (d. 632). "We do not know how many of the later tales of Muhammad's ascetic piety are true and how many simply reflect the ideals of later mystical devotion." (119)
The annual retreats of Muhammad to the desert hill of Hira prior to his revelation (which occurred at Hira) do indicate a contemplative disposition amenable to mystical experiences; the first lines of the Quranic surah 17 refer to his "ascension through the heavens into the divine presence." (120) This celebrated night journey involved a "vision" in which Muhammad "was carried by night upon a heavenly steed to the temple of Jerusalem, whence he was caught up through the seven heavens to the very presence of God." (121) Thus, Bistami may well have believed that his own "ascension" was linked to the example of the prophet, who emphasised the value of nocturnal vigils in some of the hadith (traditions) which are apparently authentic.
13. Ibrahim Ibn Adham, Balkh, and the Buddhist Factor
A matter for controversy has been whether Sufism could have derived some impetus from Buddhism. The main focus for this disputed suggestion is the figure of Ibrahim ibn Adham of Balkh (d. c. 780). A claim has been made that "the school he established had features reminiscent of the asceticism of Buddhist monks." (122) There was indeed a Buddhist monastery at Balkh during the time of the Arab invasion, and one being taken by the victorious army in 663-4. The Arabs knew that monastery as Naubahar, thought to be a rendition of the Sanskrit designation Nava Vihara ("new monastery"). Special pleading is perhaps necessary to argue that any inspiration could have passed from that establishment to eighth century proto-Sufis. The monastery fell into ruins, along with much of the old city. Leadership of that monastery had been hereditary, and the family concerned (who became known as Barmakis) adopted Arabic and Persian culture very successfully. They gained high office under the Abbasid Caliphate, though not at Balkh.
The invading Arabs did not at first settle in Balkh, but at nearby Baruqan. There were frequent revolts against Arab rule, and Balkh was apparently in ruins before being rebuilt in 725-6. The Arab garrison at Baruqan then took up residence in the restored city. Prosperity returned when the capital was transferred from Merv to Balkh in 736. The Abbasid agent Abu Muslim subsequently had to capture and recapture Balkh from the Syrian troops of the garrison loyal to the Umayyad rulers.
Ibrahim ibn Adham was "born in Balkh of pure Arab descent." (123) The legend developed that he was a king who renounced his riches to become an ascetic, moving to Syria. Particularly in view of his Arab blood, it would seem difficult to ascribe his inspiration to Buddhism, though he may well have admired Buddhist contemplative discipline. The legend of the ruler of Balkh, who abdicated his throne, has been strongly questioned. Some European scholars saw in this an adaptation of the Buddha legend, a suggestion which is not decisive about any Buddhist influence on Ibn Adham himself.
One reconstruction deduces that Ibrahim ibn Adham was born c. 730 (or earlier) into the Arab community who settled in Balkh, his family originating from the Kufa area of Iraq. He was still a young man when he migrated to Syria, in flight from the fierce rebellion of Abu Muslim according to the historian Ibn Asakir (d. 1176). Ibn Adham thereafter lived an itinerant existence mostly in Syria. He disapproved of begging and worked with his hands for a livelihood, e.g., sweeping, grinding corn, tending orchards. He may also have engaged as a conscript in military operations against Byzantium. Ansari reported that the itinerant died at Basra, in Iraq.
The resort of Ibrahim ibn Adham to manual labour in Syria was not a feature of Indian Buddhist monasticism. After working as a gardener, he is reported (by Abu Nuaym) to have learned gnosis (marifa) from a Christian anchorite named Simeon. This contact reputedly occurred in the Syrian desert; Simeon lived in a cell he had inhabited for many years. Muslim "monasteries" were in existence in Palestine and Syria during the eighth century, at Ramlah and Lukkam, the former apparently established by a benevolent and wealthy Christian, reputedly as a consequence of watching Muslim ascetics living without shelter. Ibn Adham is said to have visited Lukkam, and even if he did not, the Christian influences were perhaps stronger than anything Buddhist.
The legend of Ibn Adham's renunciation is found in the hagiographies commencing with Sulami and Abu Nuaym, and given more elaborate treatment by Attar. In contrast, the very basic data found in Kalabadhi's Taarruf merely supplies the context that Ibn Adham was out hunting when a change of mind overtook him. The fullest biography of the subject in Arabic is that of the historian Ibn Asakir, and this is preferred to Sufi sources by some analysts. It is credited that Ibn Adham may have been the son of an official or military commander.
The Balkh tradition continued via Shaqiq al-Balkhi (d. 810), another proto-Sufi (see section 4 above). Different interpretations have been applied to Abu Nuaym's credible report that Shaqiq al-Balkhi, when a young man, went as a merchant to the "lands of the Turks," meaning northwards and eastwards into Central Asia. He moved amongst a people known to the Arabs as the Khususiyya, who are difficult to identify, though it is evident that Buddhist monks were resident amongst them. Shaqiq encountered one of these Buddhists, who had "shaved his head and beard and wore scarlet robes," but set about accusing him of idolatry. The "Turk" then observed that the visitor's words did not accord with his deeds, in that Shaqiq spoke of an all-providing God but had come all this way in search of commodities. Shaqiq later reflected that the meeting with this "Turk" was the cause of his own adoption of the ascetic life; he returned to Balkh, gave away all his belongings to the poor, and then "sought after knowledge" in the manner of ascetics.
The location of the interchange with the "Turk" may have been Chinese Turkestan, an extensive zone to which Islam had not yet penetrated. Buddhist history in Central Asia is vague by comparison with that of India and China. Before the Arabs arrived in the mid-seventh century, Balkh was a prominent Buddhist centre in a network of monasteries and shrines stretching at least as far west as Herat and Merv. The older Hinayana sects of Buddhism appear to have been dominant. Some Buddhists traditionally fled eastwards to Kashmir and Tibet, while others became Muslims. Buddhism died out in Khurasan by the mid-eighth century, and there were always much greater numbers of Zoroastrians, who were the original inhabitants prior to the Buddhists.
North of Balkh, the regional Samanid dynasty gained power in the tenth century. The Samanids had been a local Zoroastrian ruling family since Sassanian times, later converting to Islam. During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mamun (813-33), the Samanids became hereditary governors of Samarkand, Farghana, and Herat, gaining an unusual degree of autonomy. They emerged as patrons of a richly creative Islamic culture by the tenth century, when Bukhara developed a new Persian literature and art. Arabic religious and literary themes were translated into New Persian (meaning a form of Persian strongly influenced by Arabic vocabulary and syntax). Buddhist literary influences have been charted as an ingredient of this new sociocultural trend. (124) The Tahirid dynasty (of Nishapur and Merv), together with the Ghaznavid court further east, also contributed to the new literary civilisation devolving from Pahlavi and colloquial Dari.
The prophet Muhammad is said to have advocated "no monachism in Islam." The Quran says that "many of the rabbis and monks (of Christianity) indeed consume the goods of the people in vanity and bar from God's way" (surah 9:34). (125) Yet an Islamic version of the celibate life appears to have occurred during the prophet's lifetime. Shortly after Muhammad's flight (hijrah) to Medina in the year 622 A.D., some of his followers seem to have formed themselves into a distinctive circle at the simple mosque adjoining the dwelling of their teacher. They became known to posterity as the ahl as-suffa, the people of the bench, the name being a reference to the vestibule where they were accommodated. This grouping gained a reputation for asceticism, and are reported to have lived in communal poverty. They were not physically idle, but would gather sticks for a simple livelihood; Muhammad would supplement their frugal diet of dates. Most of these men would appear to have been celibate.
The early writers on tasawwuf (Sufism) made much of the ahl as-suffa, connecting their name with the word sufi. (126) However, some modern scholars have cast doubts upon the accuracy of those reports, deeming the subject to be legendary. (127) Allowing for exaggerations, there may be a kernel of truth in the traditions about this grouping.
The nearest thing to a monastic organisation in early Islam was probably the Karramiyya, active in their many khawaniq (retreats) located in Khurasan and adjoining areas of Central Asia. They may or may not have been influenced by the Manichaean asceticism that survived in places like Samarkand, though in doctrine they were very different. Abu Yazid al-Bistami was a contemporary of Ibn Karram, and a very contrasting type of ascetic, being nothing of a preacher or organiser, though he does appear to have been a celibate.
14. The Zaehner versus Arberry Controversy
The theory of Indian influence on early Sufism (128) was urged by Professor Zaehner (129) in relation to Bistami, and with a hostile edge seeking to depict the latter as as unwholesome intrusion in Islam. Zaehner's negative interpretation was notably contested by the Cambridge scholar A.J. Arberry. It may be useful to further probe that controversy here:
The tenth century scholar of Sufism, Abu Nasr as-Sarraj (d. 988), in his Kitab al-Luma, (130) reports that the teacher of Abu Yazid al-Bistami was one Abu Ali al-Sindi. The latter entity is a particular issue in Bistamiana, as it is evident that he was not skilled in Islamic protocol. His precise background is potentially a very important factor. Bistami asserted that he gained instruction in the ultimate truths (haqa'iq) from this man, and in return, taught Al-Sindi how to perform the obligatory duties of Islam, e.g., how to say the orthodox prayers in Arabic. The assumption was made by European scholars that the name Al-Sindi referred to the province of Sind in north-west India, and that Bistami must therefore have travelled to India, where he was taught by Al-Sindi. While that is not impossible, the theory is offset by other scholarly considerations which stress that the the twelfth century geographer Yaqut mentions a village in Khurasan known as Sind. (131) There is therefore no need to seek for the whereabouts of Abu Ali al-Sindi in any distant clime if he was virtually on Bistami's doorstep.
Historical research has also confirmed in more general respects that the name Al-Sindi does not necessarily connote any inhabitant of the Indian province, though it may indicate an Indian extraction; a person with the name of Al-Sindi could be born at and live in Kufa (in Iraq), playing no part whatsoever in the cultural life of distant Sind province. (132)
Questions remain as to the nature of the haqa'iq (an Arabic word) disclosed to Bistami. A new interpretation was given by Professor Arberry: Bistami coached a Khurasanian village Muslim, possessing little or no formal education, in the legalistic meaning of the ritual of Islam, but discovered "in his pupil to his surprise a mastery of the real apprehension of God."The suggestion of Arberry was bulwarked by the consideration that even if Abu Ali's nisba (surname) did actually refer to the Indian province of Sind, this does not by any means imply that he was originally a Hindu. Many descendants of the original Arab conquerors of Sind province in 713 would have called themselves Al-Sindi. (133)
More daringly, one could suggest the possibility that Abu Ali al-Sindi was an Iranian "syncretist" Muslim, or perhaps even a Zoroastrian who did not become a Muslim until his contact with Bistami. A Zoroastrian entity from the rural population of Khurasan may not have been at all conversant with Arabic, instead speaking a rural Persian dialect of the kind stubbornly preserved by Zoroastrians long after the official Pahlavi language of Sassanian Iran had been abolished by the Arabs. However, a "neo-Mazdakite" syncretist would have been a more likely candidate for hululi tendencies and experiences analagous to, or compatible with, the radical proto-Sufi gnosticism of Bistami.
Another factor that early incited scholastic formulations of the "Indian theory" was the quotation of a Bistami shath by Al-Biruni, a redoubtable Iranian polymath of the eleventh century whose erudition has gained him respect among modern analysts. In his famous Tahqiq ma li'l Hind, often known as "the India," Biruni cites Bistami as saying: "I cast off my own self as a serpent casts off its skin; then I considered my own self, and found that I was He." (134) The India was completed by 1031, and most scholars would probably be prepared to regard this quotation as reliable, however approximately so.
Some European scholars assumed that this shath (saying) reflects the influence of Hindu teachings on Bistami, a view found at its most extreme in the version of Zaehner, who asserted that Bistami was quoting his teacher Abu Ali al-Sindi, and that the latter was a Hindu convert to Islam who knew the Upanishads at first-hand. Erudite objections to this interpretation were lodged, (135) and in face of the Christian bias that was suspected. Zaehner found support for his theory in the apparent resemblance of the above quotation to conflated parts of two shlokas in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.7,12). However, usage of the word for "self" in the Upanishads is very different to the Bistami shath, a matter sufficient to prompt a conclusion here that conflated expressions in Sanskrit were not the source for the shath. The atman (self) does not get cast off in Vedantic doctrine, but instead the physical body. (136)
The subject has to be ascertained in a different manner to Zaehner's Christianising view of Advaita Vedanta as a monistic hazard. Scholarly theories about cultural and religious influences have often been arbitrary. One scholar who reviewed the "Vedantic Bistami" presentation concluded that Zaehner was expressing a monotheistic bias of rather extreme proportions. Stressing the caution necessary in cases where similar, if not identical, experiences are concerned, the reviewer succinctly remarked: "There is no need to suspect borrowing when similar metaphors occur in love poems belonging to unrelated cultures." (137)
A liberal Muslim commentator also contributed a sophisticated assessment. According to Dr. S. A. A. Rizvi, the Zaehner versus Arberry controversy "is insignificant because ancient Indian thought and ideas on mysticism had continually aroused interest in the Khurasanian region, and these naturally fused with Bayazid's expression of his own mystical experiences." (138) This is not the same contention as that of Zaehner, and is more amenable to the viewpoint that the same experiences underlie different linguistic formulations.
Mircea Eliade seemed to favour an Indian influence on Bistami, but without being in any way dogmatic on the point. Eliade did not think that Advaita Vedanta was the most likely candidate for the honours. "Considering the importance accorded to ascesis and meditation techniques, one would rather think of yoga." (139) The same scholar defined Bistami's effort in terms of "a particularly severe ascesis and a concentrated meditation on God's essence." (140) Yet surely both the Iranian and Arab mystics of early Islam had their own form of "yoga," their own intent ascesis fanned by aspiration. The aspiration factor does not amount to routine meditation of the type associated with Patanjali Yoga. One does not actually find "meditation techniques" in the sources on Bistami, and certainly not in the form to which modern Westerners are accustomed in the gamut varying from TM to vipassana.
One scholarly attitude has been that the Sufi experience of fana (literally meaning annihilation) represented for Bistami "a complete extinction of the traces of self, not... an extension of anything created." (141) The argument here is that the negative way precludes any extension of the atman (a Vedantic term) in the celebrated unity with Brahman. While it should be obvious that the atman is not equivalent to what was known in Arabic as the nafs (self), a literal emphasis upon the negative way seems to undermine Bistami's recognition of a transformed self in God. His teaching was neither Buddhistic nor Vedantic, and cues should come from the relatively obscure terminology of early Khurasanian proto-Sufism.
Islamicist scholars have seen in the reported sayings of Bistami a "doctrine of fana." Yet that "doctrine" is not systematically expressed, indeed nowhere near so. Though the word fana means annihilation, the total context of meaning has been rendered in terms of "passing away into God" (fana-fillah). The psychology of fana is often a mystery to those who confront the later theological terminology developed in the Junaydi tradition. Much confusion has occurred about the route chosen by systematisers of Sufi teachings during the later era of the dervish orders (commencing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries). Sufi mysticism was adapted to orthodox Islamic protocol in varying ways. Above all, exponents of Sufism "had to disavow beliefs which might be labelled pantheistic, for any such profession would give the ulama the opportunity to condemn." (142)
Institutional Sufism was beset by official pressures and conformist tendencies. Sunni authorities insisted that the only way to God was through the Quran and the sharia, and to them this orthodox mode meant censuring "anyone who inclines toward belief in ittihad or hulul," (143) to cite a fourteenth century prohibition imposed in Egypt. Such attitudes led to reticence on the part of Sufis and pro-Sufis. The terms ittihad and hulul have been differently interpreted, though both savour of dire heresy. Hulul was confused by orthodox Muslims with the Christian doctrine of Incarnation; however, other formulations were also in question.
"The distinction between hulul and ittihad is that between the Hallajian doctrine of al-ittihad al-muin, the union of God with the individual, and al-ittihad al-amm al-mutlaq, the absolute union of divinity and the universe, professed by Hindu pantheists." (144)
The ulama conflated different mystical teachings, and their condemnation of heresy was shared by some of the "orthodox Sufis." One is at liberty nowadays to speak of the "Hallajian doctrine" without risk of censure. The very unusual Abu'l Mughith al-Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was executed for heresy at Baghdad in 922 (see section 11). Hallaj could easily be considered a radical Sufi having an affinity with ghulat concepts and/or "neoMazdakite" themes.The underlying hulul or "union with God" seems basically to have been the commitment of Bistami, though probably much exaggerated by hagiologists.
In a variant definition, Professor Zaehner asserted that ittihad means the identity of the soul with God, while hulul signifies God indwelling the soul. He further described these concepts as two heretical doctrines held by Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d.1111), the Iranian Sufi and theologian (born at Tus in Khurasan) who lived two centuries after Bistami. The modern theologian accused Ghazzali of having effectively supported the gnostic saint of Bistam. Zaehner even described Ghazzali as "a non-dualist of whom Shankara himself might have been proud." The hapless Ghazzali is further accused of having "smoothed the path for all the pathological excesses that were later to bring Sufism into disrepute." (145)
Other scholars have deemed Ghazzali to be an orthodox Sufi, and pedestrian by comparison with Hallaj. It is difficult not to object to Zaehner's version of events when it is understood how conventional and guarded Ghazzali was in propounding his "moderate" form of Sufism. Zaehner even managed to include Neoplatonism as one of the errors in Ghazzali's "fully monist position" at the end of his life. (146) One is obliged to reflect that Ghazzali is noted elsewhere for being in theological opposition to the Greek philosophy of the Islamic falasifa, attempting to depict the standpoint of Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina as an incoherence.
The problems attached to theological interpretation of Sufism are pronounced. The alternatives are an "objective scholarly" approach or a philosophical interpretation. I do not claim objectivity, and would incline to the philosophical orientation, which attempts to be objective. The recognition of realistic elements in early Sufism includes the attempt to transcend the ritual aspect of religious law, and also the widespread practice of celibacy amongst early Sufis (in contradiction to formal Islamic codes which favoured marriage, though many Sufis were married, including Hallaj). The urge for a direct communion with the divine meant for Abu Yazid al-Bistami the theme of "extinction in unity" (al-fana fi'l tauhid), an experiential concept related to al-haqiqah (the Reality), an ultimate at the root of Sufi gnosis (marifa).
Those European scholars of the "old school" who came nearest to a recognition of Bistami's Iranian roots (147) did not probe pre-Islamic Zoroastrian possibilities. Insofar as Indian influences are concerned, it is relevant to acknowledge the possibility that certain Yogic practices may have influenced aspects of popular dervishism during the later medieval era, and more particularly in India. (148) That was centuries after Bistami. He seems to have spent most of his life at Bistam, and may never have visited India, despite the legend that he wandered for many years from land to land.
15. Sayings Attributed to Bistami
There are hundreds of sayings (shathiyat) quoted by Sahlaji and other sources on Bistami. The authenticity of those sayings is a vexed subject. (149) Modern scholars have frequently expressed reserve on that account, though there is no need to doubt that the core of the sayings are genuine, especially as Sarraj (tenth century) early supplied some of Bistami's shathiyat after personally investigating their authenticity. The term shathiyat has been translated as "ecstatic utterances," and the genre is also described in terms of theopathic utterances. (150) Two of the best known sayings of Bistami are "There is no truth but I am it," and "There is nothing beneath this garment of mine but Allah."
Probably the most famous saying of Bistami is the Subhani shath: "Glory be to Me ! How great is My Majesty !" The mood is an acquired taste, and can easily arouse aversion. Professor Arberry suggested that Bistami only uttered the first part: Subhani !" (Glory be to Me). Sarraj only records this single word, whereas Sahlaji, writing a century later, reports no less than three different versions of the second part of the saying. "It is therefore probable that the second phrase is in each case a gloss," concluded Arberry. In addition to "How great is My Majesty," Sahlaji also gives "How great is My Sovereignty (Sultani)" and "I am my Lord Most High." An equation was urged by Zaehner between Subhani and the Upanishadic phrase "Homage unto me," but Arberry's analysis asserted that the attempt to find a Hindu source for this shath "seems so unlikely as not to call for further discussion." (151)
Once the vogue for shathiyat had become familiar amongst the growing number of Khurasanian Sufis, it would have been easy to improvise statements in a similar vein that were attributed to Bistami by his supporters. It is therefore possible that dicta like the Subhani shath were embellished by later generations. Another relevant consideration came from Arberry, who pointed out that these shathiyat abound in technical terms, e.g., malakut, jabarut, lahut; this factor suggests that Bistami was employing an established mystical vocabulary which he did not create. "This raises problems of provenance which are probably insoluble," wrote this Cambridge scholar, "for we know all too little about his theosophical background." (152)
The origin of those technical terms might be ascribed to the Khurasanian ascetic tradition of the eighth century, which is still very obscure. Those terms are Arabic, and were much used by later Iranian and Arab Sufis. A partial alternative for origins is the similarly obscure "neoMazdakite" milieu(x) at the point of convergence between Persian dialects and the Arabic language.
Some writers have perhaps tended to give the impression that Bistami uttered his formative shathiyat on street corners in full public hearing. The truth of the matter seems to be that he was "a wholly introvert Sufi" who did not exercise a social activity, (153) e.g., preaching, unlike some other ascetics and Sufi types. Any revelations from him were probably expressed only to small groups of like-minded individuals.
Philosophically, objections can be raised against the use of "ecstatic" slogans that can too easily be copied. The basic idiom was popularised over the centuries in Iran, and represented in such debased forms as that favoured in a monarchical variant by Shah Ismail. This sixteenth century founder of the Safavid dynasty gained the repute of being a Sufi. He poetically affirmed his spiritual identity with the prophets even while engaged in ruthless battles of empire that entailed forged documents proving his religious orthodoxy and pedigreed descent from the family of Muhammad.
Mere claims prove nothing. The sociological context may be revealing. For instance, a well known Bistami shath asserts: "I saw the Ka'ba circumambulating around me." This reference to a famous feature of the Meccan pilgrimage (hajj) is daring for asserting a gnostic centrality. The purpose of the shath was evidently that of declaring the priority of mystical experience above outward religious observance. Bistami did actually accomplish the hajj, and so could not be accused of spurning sacred places. It is also relevant to learn that the less wealthy mawali lacked the means to make the lengthy pilgrimage to Mecca, which was both a dangerous and costly undertaking, though in theory incumbent upon every Muslim.
An early version of the Subhani shath came from the pen of Sarraj, who gave the impression that Bistami was talking as if he were reciting the Quranic phrase (surah 20:14) "I am God, there is no God besides Me." (154) There are also exegetical complexities in some other sayings, such as: "I was the smith of my own self," which Professor Ritter interpreted in terms of an aspiration which "aimed at absolutely freeing himself through systematic work upon himself." (155) This work of an inner development seems to have been incomprehensible (or irritating) to the externalists in both Zoroastrian and Muslim ranks.
Orthodox Muslims are said to have accused Bistami of claiming to have experienced a miraj (ascension) in the same way that was reported of Muhammad. What exactly does this "ascension" of Bistami comprise ? It is a mystical narrative found in different versions, purportedly in the saint's own words, though probably in large part an invention of his following, who may have copied his idiom. Fragments are found in Sarraj and Abu Nuaym, expanded in Sahlaji, though also existing in an earlier version by Pseudo-Junayd. (156) The narrative was further elaborated by Attar (who was a great admirer of Bistami, or Bayazid as the poet calls him).
The evocative word miraj was applied to the saint of Bistam in canonical Sufism by Hujwiri, who was writing in the eleventh century. According to Hujwiri, the Sufis called the relevant narrative the miraj, and with the signification that "the term 'ascension' denotes proximity to God." (157) Overtones of gnosis are stronger in Attar's Memorial, though poetically elaborated. The bard of Nishapur prudently ended his version by inserting into the mouth of Bistami the qualifying statement: "Though I had attained to God, I had not the boldness to attain to Muhammad." (158)
A theme of the saint's miraj was that he had been awarded the "I-ness"(ananiyya) of God, though he shrank from revealing himself to men in this elevated condition. One of the most significant details pertaining to this miraj tradition is not always mentioned by modern commentators. Sahlaji's Kitab al-Nur includes a description of the miraj as experienced by a female disciple of Bistami. The apotheosis of a woman would have been even more heretical to the ulama than that of a male Sufi, and is accordingly in low profile. Impartial readers must be left wondering at how much was never reported, and could never have been accepted at large even if accurately remembered. The mystical exaltation of a female is perhaps reminsicent of what seems to have been an improved profile accorded to women in the ranks of pre-Islamic Mazdakites of Iran, in defiance of priestly norms, though there may have been marked differences in the interpretation of ideals amongst varying Mazdakite contingents.
Medieval ulama frequently detested the memory of Abu Yazid al-Bistami. The Hanbali lawyer Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200) declared a virtual jihad on all ecstatic utterances in his work ominously entitled Devil's Delusion (Talbis Iblis). An even stronger repudiation came from another Hanbali legist, Ibn Taymiya (d. 1328), a heresiographer who lived in Damascus. This theologian hated Sufi "pantheism" (as some moderns have called it), and went so far as to state that this was "the chief cause for the emergence of the Tartars and the obliteration of the law of Islam," and furthermore, that "they (Sufis like Bistami and Hallaj) are the advance guard of Anti-christ" (Arberry translation). (159)
This vengeful antipathy did not cease with medieval theologians. The Christian scholar R. C. Zaehner devoted an erudite book to a refutation of monism (which some scholars call "pantheism"), though Shankara and Bistami bore the brunt of disapproval, and more specifically the latter. Zaehner's version of the Indian theory disparaged Bistami as a monistic heretic in the ranks of the early Islamic mystical theists. His insistence upon a proposed Upanishadic influence in Bistami's shathiyat reveals some inconsistencies. The admission was forthcoming that there are "also some [sayings] which bear a strange likeness to Buddhist texts." (160) In this direction, significantly enough, Zaehner made a case for the general presence of the relevant imagery in various mystical traditions, thus disavowing the need to focus upon Buddhist influences too closely. The reader might well wonder why the same considerations of generality were not extended to the Vedantic correspondences that were so strongly urged.
The attacker wanted to show that Sufi monism was unnatural to good theology. Zaehner's sense of theistic mysticism preferred the "love of God" as being all sufficient for the desired objective of being "oned" with God without becoming identical with God. In respect of Buddhism (which he also disliked), Zaehner contented himself with the (accurate) observation that Buddhist material passed into Islamic milieux in a literary form, e.g., the graphic story of the blind men and the elephant found in the Udana reappeared in the Kitab al-Muqabasat of Abu Hayyan al-Tauhidi, the tenth century polymath of Baghdad. A version of this story subsequently appeared in Ghazzali's Alchemy of Happiness (Kimiya-i-Saadat), which was prior to reworkings in the output of Hakim Sanai and Jalal al-Din Rumi. The medium for such literary passage was often Manichaean, and not direct Buddhist influence.
It is not within my scope to pronounce upon the issue as to whether advanced mystics are theistically "oned" with God or become monistically identical with God. I suspect that either of these alternatives could transpire to be more complex than is argued on paper. One also suspects that Professor Zaehner was overstepping the boundaries of scholarship by pressing the case for theistic mysticism in the way that he did. However, he was surprisingly influential, and because of his academic credentials, many Christian readers tended to assume that he must be correct in his arguments. They were led to believe that Shankara was doctrinally obtuse in his presentation, that Bistami was a theopathic monster, and that Zoroastrianism was bankrupt in any effective heritage (this having supposedly passed to Christianity).
The rather dogmatic Zaehner even tended to associate Plotinus with the monistic debacle that he charted in Islam, though his general treatment of the Neoplatonist was considered vague and unsatisfying by some of his supporters. (161) If Plotinus was actually a "theistic mystic" in the Zaehnerian sense, then why did Zaehner berate Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali for his presentation of Neoplatonism derived from the Theology of Aristotle (a version of Plotinus) to justify his "monism" ? The issue was confused, similar perhaps to Ghazzali's theological attack upon the falasifa like Al-Farabi.
Zaehner was accurate in pointing out how the later Sufi writers like Attar attempted to tone down sayings that were in no way reconcilable with religious orthodoxy. Yet the Oxford scholar clearly thought that the apologists would have done better to disown the heretic they supported. He zealously urged that Bistami's whole mode of life was "exactly paralleled in the Vedanta of Shankara, for it is that philosophy alone which considers all worship and all religious law to be of value only to the man who has not reached liberation." (162) This statement is misleading, like others made by the same scholar; philosophies which recognised the limitations of religious formalism were not immoral in such a perception. There is no evidence that either Bistami or Shankara were antinomian. Bistami is closely related in the biographical lore with a mosque, and may have made more than one pilgrimage to Mecca.
The stance of the accusing theologian is evident in Zaehner's complaint that "if only a fraction of the sayings attributed to him by Sahlaji is authentic, it is quite plain that he [Bistami] claimed to be God in all respects." (163) That judgment may be regarded as an exaggeration. Zaehner could only deem surprising the apparent fact that the gnostic of Bistam was not disowned by any of the Sufis in his own day or after his death. The Oxford scholar attempted to champion the apparently orthodox Junayd of Baghdad, though observing with disapproval that the latter did not repudiate Bistami, instead writing a commentary on Bistami's shathiyat with the apparent objective of clearing him of the charge of heresy.
The modern heresiographer deemed the Sufi validation of Bistami to be so unsatisfactory that he (Zaehner) chose to construe the report about Bistami observing thirteen years of silence as proof of a "depressive phase." (164) Zaehner did his best to caricature the maligned Iranian subject as a "Vedantic" megalomaniac. He actually proved nothing, except perhaps that some commentators are exceptionally unsympathetic to their subject.
Abu Yazid al-Bistami was probably not nearly so forthcoming with "ecstatic utterances" as some later imitators and detractors were inclined to think. His disciple Isa (Jesus) Bistami is reported in the Kitab al-Nur to have stated: "I was with him [Abu Yazid] for thirteen years, and I never heard him utter a single word."
One could interpret this detail as evidence of a lengthy silence discipline. Perhaps Bistami was so" intoxicated" with joy that he did not want to waste this in unproductive speech. It is perhaps only shallow mystics who construe silence as evidence of depression, themselves feeling compelled to talk rather than to contemplate. The fact is that mystical priorities are not always identical with those of the everyday world. Bistami appears to have been a retiring man intent upon seclusion for much of the time. Sahlaji relates that the saint was in seclusion when he uttered the Subhani shath. Retiring mystics are difficult fare for biographers, and the hagiology of shathiyat could too easily have become favoured rather than facts.
Sahlaji, followed by the poetic Attar, appears to have provided a ready reckoner rationale for differing components of the sparse hagiography. The impression is given that on some days Bistami was silent and in a state of "contraction"; yet there were other days when he was in a state of "expansion," giving discourses to his disciples. The Subhani shath is said to have been uttered when he was in a state of "expansion." The saint is reported to have afterwards frowned upon this shath "when he was himself again." (165) The hagiological tendency emerges here, necessitating a cautious attitude. Bistami is even depicted as telling his disciples to kill him if he uttered such words again. He did speak the words again, but the attacking knives had no effect. At first he filled the whole of the room, and then he became as small as a sparrow. A more reliable report would seem to be that concerning the thirteen years of silence, which the annalists perhaps found less exciting and less amenable to dramatic portrayal.
An alternative influence has been posited for the extravagant idiom of shathiyat. "Ecstatic utterances partook of the ancient Arabic rhetoric of the boasting contest (mufakhara), a point which is explicitly recognised in early Sufi manuals of conduct." (166) This factor cannot be discounted in the history of early Sufism, though much depends upon the element of adaptation. Such a posited influence perhaps had a more direct bearing upon the steretyped presentations of the hagiologists rather than the saints whom they tried to bring back to life from near oblivion.
Some critical analysts think that most of the shathiyat added by the industrious Sahlaji are suspect, whereas those cited earlier by Sarraj are probably more reliable. (167) There seems reason to believe that unfledged enthusiasts incapable of silence soon displayed the tendency to copy the core shathiyat of Bistami, whether or not they were influenced by any Arabic convention of boasting.
The sayings of Abu Yazid al-Bistami gained a reputation as being symptomatic of the "intoxication" (sukr) aspect of Sufi experience. This qualification was bestowed by the Junaydi tradition, originally centred in Iraq, far to the west of Khurasan. In the Kitab al-Luma, Sarraj preserved parts of a commentary written by Junayd (d. 910) on Bistami's shathiyat. Sarraj added that the comments of Junayd were difficult to understand "except to those familiar with them." Junayd's version markedly tones down the extremism of Bistami, and is said to be disparaging. One modern scholar has concluded that Junayd viewed the sayings of Bistami as "jejune catchwords of little merit." (168) Junayd himself is a prominent subject, a moderate ascetic and silk merchant who negotiated a persecution of Sufi thinking in his Baghdad locale.
Sarraj relates that the Subhani shath (in the abbreviated format) was a particular source of concern to Junayd, who discussed the meaning with Ibn Salim (d. 910) at Basra; the latter condemned the outspoken shath. Ibn Salim was a disciple of the Sufi Sahl al-Tustari (d. 896), and his sect gained a reputation for heresy, savouring of hululi affinities. (169) Sarraj was at pains to stress the "orthodoxy" of these men, who may have been more adroit in their expression of belief than meets the eye.
Junayd explained away extremist sayings in a very guarded and critical manner. Bistami was described as employing a primitive method of approach suited only to beginners, and his sayings were stigmatised as being "only half complete" in their content. However, Junayd did concede the status of Bistami as a Sufi, to use a term strongly associated with the Iraqi tradition. Hujwiri, a staunch Junaydi, even credits Junayd with the deferential statement: "Abu Yazid holds a rank among us comparable to that of Gabriel amongst the angels." Despite the cautions of Junayd, it is evident that Sufi psychology, by the eleventh century, did not regard the shathiyat of Bistami as a mere rhetoric of boasting.
The missing "half" in Bistami's extant teaching (if such it can be called) was supplied by Junayd in terms of sahw ("sobriety"), which he and his followers maintained was impeccably superior to "intoxication." The impression conveyed was that Bistami had not reached the final goal. Bistami is commonly identified with fana, whereas Junayd stressed baqa (stabilisation). The two polarities have sometimes been viewed as mutually conflicting, but careful investigation reveals this to be a misapprehension. Without the complement of baqa, fana is limited in range. Fana is not lost in baqa, because the Sufi "keeps this experience like a secret treasure concealed within himself, inside his new state." (170) A problem is that so many mystics have assumed a familiarity with the ultimate baqa, whereas a more realistic view conceives of this polarity in terms of an experiential series.
Some say that Bistami was the first to speak openly of baqa bi'Allah ("subsistence through God"), in addition to the more commonly associated state of fana fi'Allah ("annihilation in God"). These complementary terms are sometimes rendered as fana-fillah and baqa-billah.
The moderating ideal of Junayd was very assimilable to orthodox religious concepts, the element of "sobriety" being rather more acceptable to the horizons of theologians. Junayd's own attitudes were doubtless more complex than some of those exhibited by his followers, though he is said to have been averse to the themes of hulul and ittihad. There were obvious drawbacks to affirmations of divine identity, in whatever context these are viewed.
Other arguments can intervene. The popular Junaydi notion that Bistami only experienced fana (annihilation) is based solely upon "ecstatic utterances," which were of a conveniently mnemonic character, not amounting to any systematic teaching. While the phenomenon of shathiyat seems too extreme for the malamati temperament demonstrated by the Nishapur "school," too little is known of Bistami's intentions to rule out a malamati streak. The fact that Sulami, a "sober" religious scholar with a close knowledge of the Khurasanian tradition, could bracket the saint of Bistam with a malamati disposition, is perhaps encouragement enough to seek for a rationale beyond the conventional sahw / sukr division, beyond any rhetoric of boasting, and beyond foreign religious influences from India or elsewhere.
Junayd sceptically referred to those who had heard of great Sufis and became enthusiastic over their reputed attainments without knowing anything of the preparation involved. There appear to have been, over the centuries, circles organising themselves as "Sufis," and dabbling in exercises distracting from the reality of the situation. The standard psychology of the "orthodox Sufi" crystallised in the tenth and eleventh centuries, incorporating a strong conservative element associated with the privileged class of religious scholars. Earlier associations, such as the low class Karramiyya, were obscured. The early Sufis and other categories became hagiographical accompaniments to popular assimilation.
An anecdote of Bistami, reworked by Attar (in his Tazkirat) from an earlier version, conveys a later Nishapuri insight into how a malamati teacher could respond to pretentious spirituality:
A pious man of Bistam was revered as a saint by many admirers in the local area. This ascetic attended the assemblies of Bistami, and admitted that he had never experienced anything of the gnosis that was being taught, despite his thirty years of austere fasting, nocturnal vigils, and rapt prayer. Bistami explained that even if the visitor fasted and prayed for three hundred years, still he would not experience the truth, because of the nafs or hindering self which veiled him from the desired spiritual gnosis. The saintly visitor asked what would be the best method for him to pursue. Bistami replied that he would never accept the answer. When the question was repeated, the remedy was stated in terms of:
"Get rid of your saintly trappings; go and shave off your venerable beard, and exchange your respected clothes for a loincloth. Suspend a bag of nuts around your neck, and like a madman, go to the bazaar and tell all the children you meet, 'I will give a nut to each one who slaps me.' Move around the entire town in this manner, particularly in the areas where you are well known and respected.' "
The visitor protested and asked for other instructions instead. The prescription was evidently calculated to be anathema to the prized deportment of religious divines.
It was perhaps this type of interaction, and not "ecstatic utterances," that were the real dynamic of early malamati and proto-Sufi situations. Such details would not have been conventionally acceptable prior to the era of "popular Sufism" inaugurated by Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, and reflected by writers like Attar. Formal "saints" could easily have uttered shathiyat without a grain of accompanying wisdom.
The historical record is not very detailed for subsequent events in the Bistam vicinity. So little is known of Sahlaji that some scholars have even questioned the attribution to his name of the Kitab al-Nur. Hujwiri evidently met him, but only briefly records that he was the disciple of Abu Abdullah Muhammad al-Dastani (d. 1026), who lived at Bistam and was known for his mystical allusions (isharat). (171)
One interpretation is that "Abu Yazid's role as the first Sufi to articulate an ascension and the first to specialise in outrageous ecstatic sayings ensured that later Sufis would use him as the standard to exceed in outrageousness." (172) This conclusion attaches to the twelfth century Sufi exponent Ruzbihan Baqli (1128-1209), active in Shiraz, who claimed to have gone beyond the states of Bistami and Hallaj (though he was an admirer of the latter). Baqli claimed extravagant visions in which Sufi saints of the past acknowledged him as the greatest saint of the time, nothing less than the qutub (axis). It has duly been observed that contemporary readers are suspicious of such claims, and that "the modern climate of opinion still draws on Hume's skepticism about fictive theologies and clerical power, and on Kant's derision for the excesses of 'theosophy.' " (173)
Earlier, the Baghdad school affiliates Abu Bakr al-Wasiti (d. after 932) and Shibli (d. 945) had "felt compelled to belittle Abu Yazid in their own ecstatic sayings." (174) In a more complex manner, the celebrated Arab Sufi Ibn al-Arabi (d. 1240) has been construed as sharing in this trend in his interpretation of Bistami. Yet despite his description of his own miraj (ascension) experience, Ibn al-Arabi was sober in his rejection of the dervish practice of sama (communal recital), which he clearly associated with homosexual tendencies, commenting that "this practice was never appropriate for Sufis and has only been introduced recently by libertines." (175)
The later Naqshbandi shaikh of India, Ahmad Sirhindi (d. 1624) is controversial for having asserted his superiority to both Arabi and Bistami. (176) The outlook of Sirhindi was certainly far more orthodox in many respects.
The differences in orientation and output amongst "Sufi saints" were rather pronounced, and one may choose to believe that some were exaggerating, while others had a more sound reason for their claims and/or tactics. Junayd strongly insinuated that Bistami had not reached the final goal. However, in Junayd's non-boastful critique, the tension is between sahw and sukr, and he does not appear to have denied that Bistami had gained fana. The crux is that Bistami came to represent a stage of experience which other Sufis had to better in their supposedly more complete mystical programme.
An unusual figure who seems to have been in much greater affinity with Bistami was Abu'l Hasan Kharaqani (963-1033). This saint lived at the Khurasanian village of Kharaqan, not far north of Bistam. Kharaqani possessed little or no formal learning, and he was of lowly social origin. His use of Arabic is reported to have been poor, and his sayings are often quoted in the local Persian dialect that he used. Though an ascetic, Kharaqani was also a married man with sons. His sayings are reminiscent of the more well known shathiyat of Bistami, with whom he evidently felt in some affinity. Kharaqani is thought to have tended towards the malamati tradition chiefly associated with Nishapur, and the deduction has been made that "his habit of calling himself jovanmard rather than sufi would seem to indicate that he had no great respect for institutionalised Sufism." See Hermann Landolt, "Abu'l Hasan Karaqani," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. The same commentary quotes the Kharaqani shath: "I am neither worshipper, nor scholar, nor Sufi; my God, you are One, so by that Oneness of yours, I am One" (ibid.).
The Persian word jovanmard means approximately "chivalrous man," and relates to the complex Khurasanian tradition of futuwwa (chivalry) relevant to the artisan stratum of Islamic society in that part of the world (see section 3 above).
One of the strongest testimonies honouring the memory of Abu Yazid al-Bistami came from the Iranian ishraqi philosopher Shihab al-Din Yahya Suhrawardi (d. 1191). In one of his Arabic works, Suhrawardi refers to a transmission of wisdom connecting the Islamic era with more ancient sages. Bistami here appears as the earliest key figure in the Sufi transition from the older Iranian tradition of illumination seen to derive from the pre-Islamic phase. Suhrawardi mentions in this "Khusrawani" context three famous Sufis, namely Bistami, Hallaj, and Kharaqani. This theme is markedly different to the supercession of Bistami claimed by other Sufi saints. Suhrawardi also honoured Greek dimensions of wisdom, and his Neoplatonist orientation makes him a complex figure in the Iranian legacy. (177)
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
March - April, 2010 (modified Dec. 2010)
(1) L. Lewisohn, "Overview: Iranian Islam and Persianate Sufism" (11-43) in Lewisohn, ed., The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (London: Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1992), p. 17, and citing A. H. Zarrinkub, Justiju-yi dar tasawwuf-i Iran (Tehran 1978), who argues that Khurasan was the "cradle of Islamic Sufism."
(2) Lewisohn, art. cit., p. 17, and citing R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1975), p. 165.
(3) A. J. Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1950), p. 40. For Ansari on Kharraz and Hallaj, see A. G. Ravan Farhadi, Abdullah Ansari of Herat: An Early Sufi Master (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1996), pp. 49ff., 55. See also S. de Laugier de Beaurecueil, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, Mystique Hanbalite (Beirut: Rocherches d'Institut de Lettres Orientales de Beyrouth, 1965). The career of Ansari as a "Hanbali Sufi" was afflicted by tensions and controversies. He was in conflict with Asharite and Mutazili theologians. A very different figure was Hallaj, commemorated in L. Massignon, Le Passion de Husayn Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj (4 vols, Paris: Gallimard, 1975).
(4) F. Meier, "Bishr al-Hafi," The Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 1 (new edn, 1960), p. 1244, who adds that we do not know whether the subject's earlier traditionism might have been practised with the same idea in mind, and therefore we perhaps ought not to speak of an actual breach with his past. Cf. A. J. Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1966), p. 80, who construes from the sources that Bishr "abandoned formal learning for the life of a mendicant, destitute, starving and barefoot."
(5) See R. Deladriere, Sulami: La Lucidite Implacable - Epitre des Hommes du Blame (Paris: Arlea, 1991). See also J. Pedersen, ed., Kitab Tabaqat as-Sufiyya (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1960) for an introduction in French to the Arabic text of the more well known Tabaqat, which includes many sayings of Sufis which have been considered reliable by virtue of the traditionist industry in preserving the sequences of oral transmission. A less prominent compilation is the Jawami Adab al-Sufiyya, which was apparently intended by Sulami for novices. See J. G. J. ter Haar, review of E. Kohlberg, ed., Jawami Adab al-Sufiyya and Uyub al-Nafs wa-Mudawatuha of Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (Jerusalem Academic Press, 1976) in Persica (1980) 9:203-4. Sulami is also notable for a survey of female mystics, a subject that moves somewhat beyond the famous Rabia of Basra (d. 801). See R. E. Cornell, ed. and trans., Abu Abd al-Rahman Muhammad ibn al-Husayn Sulami: Early Sufi Women (Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae, 2001). This is a bilingual edition of Sulami's Dhikr an-Niswa al-Muta' abbidat as-Sufiyyat, a work which gives an account of over eighty Sufi women who lived between the eighth and eleventh centuries A.D. Formerly thought to be lost, the manuscript was discovered in 1991 at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The number of women featured is almost as high as the hundred male Sufis portrayed by Sulami in his Tabaqat as-Sufiyya. Some scholars believe that the former manuscript is one of the most significant in relation to Sufi annals. See also Margaret Smith, Rabi'a the Mystic and her fellow-saints in Islam (Cambridge 1928; repr. Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1974). See also Shepherd, A Sufi Matriarch: Hazrat Babajan (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1986).
(6) S. Sviri, "Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati movement in early Sufism" (583-613) in L. Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi (London:Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, 1993), p. 584. On Sulami, see also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 62ff., stating that "there can be no doubt whatsoever about Sulami's standing as a major Sufi figure" (ibid., p. 63). Professor Karamustafa also cites Abu S'ad al-Khargushi (d. 1015/16), a Nishapuri commentator on Sufism who observed that malamatis insisted on earning a livelihood and rejected any distinctive garb (e.g., patched robes), in contrast to the Sufi disposition (ibid., p. 65). Malamatis also rejected certain extroverted Sufi practices such as sama, in which music and dancing could lead to feigned ecstasy.
(7) J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 266. There have been uncertainties and disagreements about malamati trends and teachings. It has even been argued that two of the three major exemplars mentioned by Sulami were not malamatis. See Karamustafa, op. cit., p. 54 note 44, who cites F. Meier, "Khurasan and the end of Classical Sufism" (189-219) in Essays on Islamic Piety and Mysticism, trans. J. O' Kane (Leiden 1999). That article originally appeared as Khurasan und das Ende der klassischen Sufik (1971). The contention of Professor Meier that Sulami erred in depicting Abu Hafs al-Haddad and his disciple Abu Uthman al-Hiri as malamatis is not generally agreed upon. Professor Karamustafa mentions the likelihood that al-Hiri was a transitional figure.
(8) Trimingham, op. cit., p. 265. The word sufi was not used by the early malamatis of Nishapur, being found in the archives relating to Iraq and other countries of Western Islam. There appear to have been some rather varied usages of that versatile term in the ninth century and earlier. For instance, the early figure of Abdak al-Sufi, living at Kufa in Iraq, was described by Louis Massignon as a Shi'i, though very little is concretely known about him (The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1, trans. 1983, p. 68). See also B. Reinert, "Abdak al-Sufi," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 1 fasc. 2 (1982), pp. 172-3. An ascetic of the late eighth/early ninth century A.D., he was not typical of the later doctrines of "Sunni Sufism." Abdak al-Sufi may have been a believer in hulul (presence of God in a creature) and tanasukh (reincarnation). He may also have been a vegetarian. In Egypt, a distinctive contingent adopted the word sufiyya. They established a republic at Alexandria in 816, though later puritanical developments included the sack of Asna and the massacre of the inhabitants in 869. This setback is associated with the zealous ascetic known as Ibn al-Sufi. See M. Brett, "The Arab Conquest and the rise of Islam in North Africa" (490-555) in The Cambridge History of Africa Vol. 2 (Cambridge University Press, 1978), p. 549. Contrasting again, the very early figure of Abu Hashim al-Sufi (d. 776) fits an early model of contemplative Sunni mysticism. Living at Kufa, he wore the robe of wool or suf (either black or white in colour) associated with the name al-Sufi. According to the traditionist Sufyan Thauri, Abu Hashim knew the dangers of ascetic exhibitionism more than any of his contemporaries. Abu Hashim is reported to have said that it was far easier to pull down a mountain with the aid of a needle than to remove vanity and arrogance from one's heart. See B. A. Dar, "Sufis Before Al-Hallaj" (335-45) in M. M. Sharif, ed., A History of Muslim Philosophy Vol. 1 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1963), p. 336, and citing Jami's Nafahat al-Uns. Extensive data on the teachings of some early Sufis can be found in R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums (2 vols, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1995-6), employing many translations from Arabic.
(9) See R. Hartmann, "As-Sulami's Risalat al-Malamatija," Der Islam (1918) 8: 157-203. On the malamatis, see also R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums Vol. 2: Scheiche des Ostens (1996), pp. 113ff, who covers Haddad and al-Hiri.
(10) Sviri, art. cit., and contending that Sulami was the author responsible for creating the deceptive impression that tasawwuf (Sufism) comprised a homogenous movement in the early phase. This observation applies mainly to Sulami's Tabaqat as-Sufiyya.
(11) Ibid., p. 595 note 33, and citing the report of Sarraj in the Kitab al-Luma which affirms that the term sufi was known in the time of Hasan al-Basri (642-728). The evocation of Hasan al-Basri by later generations of Sufis has been critically viewed, and as part of the increasing tendency to create (or contrive) what is known in Arabic as silsila, a lineage of succession purportedly deriving from the prophet Muhammad. The career of Hasan al-Basri was glorified by diverse Islamic writers, though there is a considerable difficulty in determining which reports are authentic. See further S. A. Mourad, Early Islam between Myth and History: Al-Hasan al-Basri (D.110 H/728 CE) and the Formation of his Legacy in Classical Islamic Scholarship (Leiden: Brill, 2006).
(12) Sviri, art. cit., p. 598, quoting from the Risalat al-Malamatiyya. On the malamatis, see also A.T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 48ff., who comments that "the malamatis thought that unless it was controlled, the lower self [nafs] would inevitably waylay the pious believer through self-conceit (ujb), pretence (iddi'a), and hypocrisy (riya)" (ibid., p. 48).
(13) Sviri, art.cit. p. 598. Professor Sviri observes that after the death of Hiri, "the Nishapuri centre seemed to lose its attraction and many of the disciples found their way to other centres, especially the one in Baghdad" (ibid., p. 599). Sviri also emphasises that Sulami's version was never intended as an historical document, but composed for the triple purpose of "a) placing the Malamatiyya in the arena of the mystical tradition within Islam (quite possibly with a view to counterbalancing the Baghdadi centre), of b) promoting the Nishapuri teachers and evaluating their distinctive teaching as the purest in the mystical tradition, and c) vindicating them of the accusation of nonconformity and antinomianism" (ibid., p. 588). Sviri stresses that Hujwiri and other Sufi writers were not interested in the historical context of the malamatis, but "solely, in the typological and psychological aspects of the Path of Blame" (ibid.).
(14) J. Chabbi, "Abu Hafs Haddad," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 1 fasc. 3 (1983), pp. 293-4; Sviri, art. cit., pp. 602-4.
(15) E.g., R. W. Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur: A Study in Medieval Islamic Social History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 43ff., who says that although Sulami wrote the Kitab al-Futuwwa, not enough is known of the futuwwa to show exactly what it was or did at Nishapur. However, there is general agreement on certain points - the membership consisted of young men, usually celibate; a special ritual was involved, and there was some connection with Sufism. As an ideal, futuwwa was discussed and refined by Sufi thinkers in particular, some of whom lived in Nishapur. There was also a quite different, and probably prior, tradition of futuwwa representing "the self-image of the militarily inclined landowning dihqans," whose conception of the ideal young man as a squire equally adept in poetry and archery was at variance with the master-disciple context of Sufism. These different conceptions coexisted. According to Bulliet, those two components of the institutionalised futuwwa of the eleventh century may have been accompanied by an artisan stratum, though that possibility cannot definitely be traced at this early date. The extant sources derive from what Bulliet calls the patriciate, e.g., Sulami and Qushayri. The last-named Sufi writer has a chapter on futuwwa in his Risala. See B. R. Von Schlegell, trans., Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1992), pp. 214ff., where futuwwa tends to emerge as a code of ethics and refined manners. Qushayri reports a Sufi definition of chivalry (futuwwa): "It means that you do not care whether the guest at your table is a saint or an unbeliever" (ibid., p. 215). See also note 60 below.
(16) R. A. Nicholson, trans., The Kashf al-Mahjub of Al Hujwiri (London: Luzac, E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series Vol. XVII, new edn 1936), p. 124. Another major source for early Sufism is the Hilyat al-awliya (Ornament of the Saints) of Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani (948-1038), a lengthy Arabic text which lists over six hundred diverse ascetic and Sufi entities. Like other works in this genre, it is subject to accusations of hagiography and pietism. Abu Nuaym was a traditionist from Isfahan. The Hilyat was completed in 1031, and appears to have created the precedent for the later biographical trend of full acclimatisation to Sunni Islam. Abu Nuaym was an Iranian descendant of the eighth century Zoroastrian convert Mehran; he had discernible sympathies for the Asharite theology which gained ascendancy during the tenth and eleventh centuries. It has been commented that only the last part of Abu Nuaym's magnum opus is fully devoted to figures who would generally pass muster as Sufis, including many of those mentioned in Sulami's slightly earlier Tabaqat as-Sufiyya. The opening sections of the Hilyat have been viewed as a tribute to traditionists. Abu Nuaym avoided a biography of the controversial Hallaj, and preferred the founders of some Islamic legal schools (though not the Hanafite, to which he was strongly opposed). See further J. Pedersen, "Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 1 (1960), pp. 142-3; W. Madelung, "Abu No'aym Al-Esfahani," Ency. Iranica Vol. 1 fasc.4 (1983), pp. 354-5, and now at Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
(17) L. Massignon, Recueil de Textes Inedits concernant l'histoire de la mystique en pays d'Islam (Paris: Paul Guenther, 1929), pp. 212ff. Abu'l Husayn al-Nuri was a friend of Junayd, and though born in Baghdad, came from a Khurasanian family. The nature of his heresy has been differently explained. Traditional stories say that Junayd criticised him for using outspoken words. See also Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), pp. 137, 190. See also A. J. Arberry, Pages from the Kitab al-Luma (London: Luzac, 1947), p. 27. See also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (2007), pp. 11ff.
(18) Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj Vol. 1, trans. H. Mason (Princeton University Press, 1983), p. 80.
(19) See Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur.
(20) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), pp. 276-7.
(21) Ibid., pp. 260ff. The dates of Hujwiri are difficult to ascertain. For instance, A. J. Arberry stated the date of decease in terms of fl. 1057, R. A. Nicholson favoured c. 1075, and S. A. A. Rizvi affirmed "died after 1088." See Rizvi, "Islam in Medieval India" (281-93) in A. L. Basham, ed., A Cultural History of India (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), p. 284. I have merely compromised in the provisional dateline of c. 1075.
(22) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 263. Despite his veneer of orthodoxy, some of the statements and remarks of Hujwiri are in a relatively "esoteric" idiom. In his preface, Nicholson drew attention to the difference between the illustrations drawn from Hujwiri's personal experience and the format of Qushayri's Risala, "which follows a somewhat formal and academic method on the orthodox lines" (ibid., p. xii). However, in other respects, Hujwiri strongly converged with the "academic" perspective. See Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (2007), p. 105, observing that "in forging a rapprochement between Sufism and legal-theological discourse, the Hanafi Hujwiri went even further than Qushayri." Hujwiri resorted to biographical entries on the legalists Abu Hanifa, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi'i, classifying them as eminent Sufis.
(23) L. Massignon-G.C. Anawati, "Hulul," The Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 3 (new edn), pp. 570-1.
(24) Nicholson, preface to Kashf al-Mahjub, p. xii. On the extensive biographical and hagiographical compendia relating to Persian Sufism, see further J. A. Mojaddedi, The Biographical Tradition in Sufism: The Tabaqat Genre from al-Sulami to Jami (Richmond: Curzon Press, 2001).
(25) Arberry, Sufism, p. 52. Arberry and R. A. Nicholson were two of the early scholars who investigated Dhu'l Nun. By virtue of my 1980s study milieu, I should acknowledge the relevance of what has been called the "Cambridge school" of scholars in studies of Sufism. That tradition is noted for Professors E. G. Browne, Nicholson, Arberry, and the "learned amateur" (or "serious amateur") Guy le Strange. There were forerunners in E. H. Palmer and others. Arberry included a memoir on Nicholson in his Pages from the Kitab al-Luma of Abu Nasr al-Sarraj (London: Luzac, Gibb Memorial Trust, 1947), a work which also supplied the lacuna to Nicholson's milestone edition of Sarraj, and from a manuscript in the Bankipore collection that is considerably older than the two mss used earlier by Nicholson, and being dated 483 A.H. (1090 A.D.). See also note 130 below.
(26) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 100.
(27) A. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1975), p. 38. On Shaqiq al-Balkhi, see R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums Vol. 2: Scheiche des Ostens (1996), pp. 13ff. Like some other early Sufi figures, Shaqiq al-Balkhi presents difficulties for historical context.
(28) Schimmel, op. cit., p. 42, and implying Jafar as-Sadiq (699-765) as an early gnostic. This complex figure, a member of the house of Ali and based at Medina, was variously claimed in later times by Imami Shi'is, Ismailis, and Sunni Sufis. Numerous books were attributed to him, though he has been strongly indicated as the real author of an esoteric commentary on the Quran preserved in a later redaction. See P. Nwyia, Exegese Coranique at Language Mystique (Beirut: Dar el-Machreq, 1970), pp. 156ff. The concepts have been viewed as strongly anticipating later mystics. Jafar as-Sadiq appears to have been unusually tolerant towards Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. He was faced with serious difficulties when "esoteric" teachings became publicised and associated with the political activism of his time. In 755-6 the Abbasid Caliph Mansur executed one of Sadiq's followers as a dangerous heretic. This was Abu'l Khattab, who in general coverages is said to have taught that the Quran was to be understood in a batini (inward) sense and not the literal one, that the principle of taqiyya (concealment of the esoteric teaching) was permissible in dire circumstances (even to the point of denying such teaching), and that the "light" of divinity had manifested in a sequence of special incarnations (e.g., J. J. Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam, London 1965, p. 128). Such teachings were held in abhorrence by the government and legalism. Sadiq is said to have denounced Khattab and his followers, who are sometimes described as ghulat (extremist Shi'is). See, e.g., J. B. Taylor, "Jafar Al-Sadiq, Spiritual Forbear of the Sufis," Islamic Culture (1966) 40:97-113, affirming that Khattab had misused Sadiq's esoteric teaching, but that Sadiq's rejection of these ghulat was probably more painful to him than his repeated rebuttal of would-be partisans and all direct political involvement (ibid., p. 99). A significant factor appears to be that many ghulat followers of Ali were predominantly of mawali (client or convert) background, and more specifically Iranian. On the political and ideological climate of those times, see further W. Madelung, The Succession to Muhammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate (Cambridge University Press, 1997).
(29) Arberry, Sufism, p. 39. It is evident that many mystical concepts had been fluently imitated by the time of Abu Nasr as-Sarraj (d. 988) of Tus, who warned of Sufi imposters in his tenth century Kitab al-Luma. "There are to be found many who just parade as Sufis," complained Sarraj. Furthermore, "every one of these imposters claims to have written a book or two on Sufism which in reality he has filled with nothing but utter trash." These quotes come from M. Hamiduddin, "Early Sufis" (310-334) in M. M. Sharif, ed., A History of Muslim Philosophy Vol. 1 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1963), pp. 311 ff. See also note 130 below.
(30) On Balkh and the Hanafites, see W. Madelung, "The Early Murji'a in Khurasan and Transoxania and the Spread of Hanafism," Der Islam (1982) 59:32-39, pp. 37-8, who says that Shaqiq al-Balkhi also studied under Abu Hanifa's companion Abu Yusuf, and later remained personally attached to the latter. On Hamdun Qassar of Nishapur, see Sviri,"Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati movement in early Sufism," p. 604.
(31) Nicholson, Kashf al-Mahjub, trans., p. 125 note 1, who says Qassar may have been a follower of the Shafi'i school of law or the school of Sufyan al-Thawri. His two teachers in Sufism are listed by Hujwiri as Abu Turab al-Nakhshabi and the obscure Ali Nasrabadhi. Nakhshabi (d. 859) was apparently born in Nakhshab near Bukhara; this Khurasanian is depicted as one of the great Sufi shaikhs of his time. He travelled extensively and is said to have heard the famous traditionist Ibn Hanbal preach in Baghdad. Nakhshabi lived in Iraq and West Iran for many years, and died at an uncertain location in the desert, either in Arabia or near Basra. He was remembered in the annals for exemplifying such virtues as tawakkul (trust in God), zuhd (asceticism), and futuwwa or "liberality." As in the case of other Sufis (or proto-Sufis) of that early era, extant scattered sayings of Nakhshabi "do not permit reconstruction of a distinct personal doctrine." See B. Radtke, "Abu Torab Naksabi," Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 1 fasc. 4 (1983), pp. 391-2. Hujwiri's account of Nakhshabi is vestigial, perhaps to the point of unintentional caricature. "He performed many miracles, and experienced marvellous adventures without number in the desert and elsewhere" (Kashf al-Mahjub, Nicholson trans., p. 121). Elsewhere, Salim ibn al-Hasan al-Barusi is also mentioned as a teacher of Qassar. Barusi is said to have been critical of the Karrami display of prayer and asceticism (Sviri, art. cit., p. 602), which would indicate a proto-malamati attitude. On Nakhshabi, see further R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums Vol. 1: Scheiche des Westens (Wiesbaden, 1995), pp. 325ff.
(32) Sviri,"Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati movement in early Sufism," p. 600 note 47, citing the Risalat al-malamatiyya, and also quoting Harith al-Muhasibi and Hakim al-Tirmidhi for criticisms of the ostentation involved in some forms of asceticism. The Tirmidhi quote includes the phrase "thinking that abstention (zahada) means vilifying the world, eating from refuse, wearing wool, disparaging the rich and celebrating the poor." Tirmidhi may have been referring to the Karramiyya in this instance.
(33) S. H. Nasr, "Sufism," The Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 4 (Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 456-7.
(34) I. M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 165.
(35) C. Melchert, "Sufis and Competing Movements in Nishapur," Iran (2001): 39:237-247, and drawing strongly in some respects on the work of Dr. Jacqueline Chabbi, research "suspecting that Sufi historiography is tendentious and misleading" (ibid., p. 237). See also Chabbi, "Remarques sur le developpement historique des mouvements ascetiques et mystiques au Khurasan," Studia Islamica (1977) 46: 5-72.
(36) Cf. L. Massignon, Essai sur les origines du lexique technique de la mystique musulmane (second edn, Paris: J. Vrin, 1954), pp. 259-60, who cites Dhahabi's traditionist work Mizan al-Itidal (fourteenth century A.D.), in addition to Attar.
(37) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), pp. 31, 33.
(38) Ibid., p. 34. Cf. Arberry, Sufism (1950), p. 35, stating that the word Sufi "is undoubtedly derived from the Arabic word for wool," due to associations with the woollen robe of ascetics. Elsewhere, Arberry commented upon the first book exclusively devoted to Sufism in the tradition of European scholarship. Friedrich August G. Tholuck was a German Professor of Divinity who innovated the label of "Sufism," evident in the title of his monograph Ssufismus sive Theosophia Persarum pantheistica (Berlin 1821). Over a century later, Professor Arberry observed that this monograph was of great antiquarian interest to the historian of Sufi studies, and was extremely scarce. Despite his hundreds of pages of scholastic Latin, Tholuck "must be convicted of having definitely failed in his main purpose." (Arberry, An Introduction to the Hist. of Sufism, 1942, p. 16). The reason given is because Tholuck's material was totally inadequate. Cf. the more progressive presentation in A. D. Knysh, Islamic Mysticism: A Short History (Leiden, 2000).
(39) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 35.
(40) Ibid. An apparent anomaly has been observed in the formation of terminology. From the word sufi, the verbal noun tasawwuf was derived, which conveys the sense of "strive to become a sufi." This new Arabic word came to designate the Sufi teaching, and was considered to be quite distinct from the earlier asceticism (zuhd), which was now regarded only as one of the stages along the Sufi path. Some have remarked that the word tasawwuf derives from ascetic practice, as mentioned by numerous authors of Sufi literature. See M. Milson, trans., A Sufi Rule for Novices: Kitab Adab al-Muridin of Abu al-Najib al-Suhrawardi (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 4.
(41) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 35.
(43) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 84.
(44) Ibid., p. 85. On the scope of a more general range of compositions, see M. A. Sells, Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (New York: Paulist Press, 1996).
(45) See A. J. Arberry, trans., The Doctrine of the Sufis -- Kitab al-Ta'arruf li-madhhab ahl al-tasawwuf (Cambridge University Press, 1935). See also W. Madelung, "Abu Bakr Kalabadi," Encyclopaedia Iranica online. Abu Bakr Kalabadhi Bukhari (d. c. 990-95) was born in Bukhara, and has been described as a Hanafite theologian. His basic role was that of a traditionist, though one who evidently became partial to Sufism (tasawwuf). One of his mentors was a disciple of Junayd of Baghdad.The basic purpose of his compendium was evidently to demonstrate the orthodoxy of Sufism, commencing with an investigation of the origin and meaning of the word sufi. There is a list of famous Sufis, together with an account of their teachings expressed in the terminology of Hanafite and Asharite theology. Sufi teaching is here viewed as being compatible with these emerging canons, and as being in opposition to Mutazili themes formerly in favour. Kalabadhi quotes Sufi statements, and claims to penetrate the terminology and allusions, including the lore of ahwal (experiential mystical states).
(46) J. Spencer Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, p. 6, and citing the account of the geographer Al-Maqdisi.
(47) Schimmel, op. cit., p. 51. See also Massignon, Essai (first edn, Paris 1922; pp. 238ff.; second edn, pp. 270ff.). Yahya ibn Muadh is reported to have sojourned temporarily in Baghdad; the Tarikh Baghdad of Al-Khatib says that Yahya snubbed Junayd, then a young man, on an occasion when the latter rose to speak at a meeting associated with the Shuniz milieu, described by Louis Massignon in terms of a "monastery." See also A.H. Abdel-Kader,The Life, Personality, and Writings of Al-Junayd (1976), p. 31. See note 49 below.
(48) See Massignon, Essai (first edn, pp. 238ff.; second edn, pp. 270ff.), who made much of Ibn Karram's contribution and who bracketed Ibn Adham, Shaqiq al-Balkhi, Abu Hafs Haddad, and other Khurasanian shaikhs under the rubric of "Khurasanian school of Ibn Karram." Professor Arberry described Yahya ibn Muadh as "a disciple of Ibn Karram" (Muslim Saints and Mystics, London 1966, p. 179). Professor Trimingham stated that "Sulami includes among malamatis: Sahl at-Tustari, Yahya ibn Ma'adh ar-Razi, and above all Abu Yazid al-Bistami" (The Sufi Orders in Islam, Oxford University Press, 1971, p. 265, and mentioning in note 2 that al-Hiri was known as al-waiz, meaning the preacher). Professor Meier viewed Yahya ibn Muadh as a significant forerunner of Abu Said ibn Abu'l Khair (d. 1049) in relation to such factors as the "hope and divine forgiveness" themes. See F. Meier, Abu Said b. Abi'l-Hayr: Wirklichgeit und Legende (Leiden, 1976), pp. 149ff.
(49) A. H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality, and Writings of Al-Junayd (London: Luzac, E.J. W. Gibb Memorial Series N.S. XXII, 1976), p. 31, and referring to extant fragments of a correspondence between Yahya ibn Muadh and Junayd, apparently authentic.
(50) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 17.
(53) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 120. A survey of Sufi asceticism or renunciation (zuhd), from the mid-eighth to tenth centuries CE, can be found in R. Gramlich, Weltverzicht: Grundlagen und Weisen Islamischer Askese (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1997). "Through this method of comprehensive quotation and documentation, the author demonstrates the richness and variety of views that the early Sufis held regarding asceticism" (quotation from the review by G. Bowering in Jnl of the American Oriental Society, April 2000).
(54) On the Karramis, see Massignon, Essai (first edn, pp. 230ff.; second edn, pp. 260ff.); W. Montgomery Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 1973), pp. 289ff.; C.E. Bosworth, "Karramiyya," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 4 (new edn, 1978), pp. 667-9; idem, The Medieval History of Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia (London: Variorum, 1977), article one, pp. 5-14; J. Van Ess, Ungenutzte Texte zur Karramiya, Eine Materialsammlung (Heidelberg 1980); W. Madelung, Religious Trends in Early Islamic Iran (New York 1988), pp. 39ff. On the Sufi Abu Said of Mayhana, see F. Meier, Abu Said b.Abi'l-Hayr: Wirklichgeit und Legende (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976). For an English translation of Asrar al-Tauhid fi maqamat al-Shaykh Abi Said, see J. O' Kane, trans., The Secrets of God's Mystical Oneness (Costa Mesa, California: Mazda Publishers, 1992). An earlier version appeared as chapter one of R. A. Nicholson, Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge University Press, 1921), pp. 1-76, and commenting that "the passages [of Asrar al-Tauhid] in which Abu Said describes his earlier life, conversion, and novitiate are perhaps less open to suspicion than the numerous anecdotes concerning his miracles; here pious invention plays a large part.... In the historical development he [Abu Said] stands out as a leading exponent of the pantheistic, poetical, anti-scholastic, and antinomian ideas which had been already broached by his predecessor, Bayazid of Bistam, and Abu'l Hasan Kharaqani" (ibid., pp. 75-6).
(55) H. Dabashi, "Historical Conditions of Persian Sufism during the Seljuk Period" (137-174) in L. Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi, p. 174.
(56) Ibid., and citing Zarrinkub, Justiju dar tassawuf-i Iran, p. 186. Cf. H. Algar, "Kazaruni," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 4 (new edn), p. 851. There are said to have been no less than 24,000 Zoroastrians and Jews converted to Islam by Kazaruni. However, that number is very suspect, and the main source is the supplement to Attar's Tazkirat al-Auliya (a supplement of uncertain authorship). Attar was a writer who tended to add many poetic flourishes to his biographies, and he is not considered a reliable historian. The conversion is mentioned more briefly in the biography composed by Mahmud ibn Uthman. It has been said that Kazaruni's evangelism established Muslims as the majority in Fars; he apparently vanquished hostility (or objection) from the Zoroastrian governor of Kazarun. He left his home town only once, in 998, to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. Yet he is reported to have organised an annual contingent of ghazis (holy warriors) to fight on the Byzantine frontier. Kazaruni is said to have been initiated into Sufism by Ibn Khafif (d. 981) of Shiraz or by one of the latter's disciples, namely Husayn Akkar. He showed a charitable concern for the poor, and his khanaqah at Kazarun provided regularly for the needy. Sixty-five retreats or hospices (khawaniq) are said to have been established in Fars by his disciples during his lifetime. See also F. Meier, ed., Die Vita des Scheich Abu Ishaq al-Kazaruni (Leipzig:Brockhaus, 1948) for the Persian text Firdaws al-murshidiyya by Mahmud ibn Uthman with an introduction in German. On that Persian text, see also A. J. Arberry, "The Biography of Shaikh Abu Ishaq al-Kazaruni," Oriens (1950) 3:163-182, who describes the Firdaws al-murshidiyya fi asrar al-samadiyya as an "inflated Persian translation" of an Arabic original by Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Khatib (d. 1109), which has not survived. Mahmud ibn Uthman completed his version in 1327, comprising one of the earliest full length biographies of a Sufi. Arberry discovered a manuscript of a similar biography written by Muhammad Kazaruni circa 1349, entitled Marsad al-ahrar, and likewise based on Khatib; despite the postscript on alleged posthumous miracles of the saint, this may be the more faithful rendition of the original. Both manuscripts employ numerous quotes of Kazaruni's sayings in the authentic dialect of Kazarun, which must have seemed incomprehensible to readers of the Arabic original, possibly a reason why scribes of Arabic did not favour Khatib's text. Professor Arberry describes Kazaruni as a "very practical mystic." See also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 115, who says that Kazaruni "spearheaded the construction of a mosque in which he preached, but his singular mission in life was unconditional charity to the destitute and travellers."
(57) Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, p. 236.
(58) T. Mayer, "Theology and Sufism" (258-287) in T. Winter, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 260-1, referring to Bistami, Haddad, Bishr al-Hafi, and Dhu'l Nun; A. H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality, and Writings of Al-Junayd, pp. 28-9, who says of the stigmatised Sufis that "their fellow mutazilites are stated to have said of them that originally they were mutazilites but were later corrupted" (ibid., p. 29). Abdel-Kader also informs that "there were, in fact, numerous mutazilites, such as Abu Said al-Hosari as-Sufi and Abu Musa Isa ibn al-Haytham as-Sufi, whose full names tell us that they were sufis" (ibid.).
(59) J. Van Ess, "Ibn ar-Rewandi, or the Making of an Image," Al-Abhath (1978-9) 27: 5-26, pp. 21-2.
(60) For translations of the Risala, see R. Gramlich, Das Sendschreiben al-Qusayris uber das Sufitum (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1989); A. D. Knysh, Al-Qushayri's Epistle on Sufism: Al-risala Al-qushayriyya Fi 'ilm Al-tasawwuf (Reading: Garnet Publishing, 2007). See also the introduction by H. Algar to B.R. Von Schlegell, Principles of Sufism by Al-Qushayri (Berkeley: Mizan Press, 1992), and informing that "Abu'l Qasim was descended from the Bani Qushayr, one of the Arab tribes that had settled in Khurasan in the course of the Muslim conquest; his mother too was of Arab descent, from the Bani Sulam" (ibid., p. ii). See also J. Chabbi, "Abu Ali Daqqaq," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
(61) Sviri, "Hakim Tirmidhi and the Malamati movement in early Sufism," pp. 605-6.
(62) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 123.
(63) A.H. Abdel-Kader, op.cit., p. 29.
(64) According to Arberry, "returning to Nishapur, he resumed his trade" (Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 191).
(65) S. H. Nasr, "The Rise and Development of Persian Sufism" (1-18) in Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi, p. 10.
(66) Sviri, art. cit., pp. 608-9, translating from Sulami's Risalat al-malamatiyya.
(67) Ibid., p. 608.
(68) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 86, and quoting Surah 5.59, and adding that malamatis probably also thought of the nafs lawamma, here described in terms of " 'the blaming soul,' the conscience that warned them at every step in the religious life (Sura 75:2)."
(69) See M. Molé, Les Mystiques Musulmans (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1965), pp. 72ff.
(70) Sviri, art. cit., p. 612.
(71) Ibid., pp. 609ff., and interpreting: "If this is done publicly, the self [nafs] will gain strength from the admiration and respect this will draw from the public" (ibid., p. 613). See also B. Radtke and J. O' Kane, The Concept of Sainthood in Early Islamic Mysticism: Two works by Al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1996), p. 42, translating the phrase al-ilm billah in terms of "knowledge of God."
(72) Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam, p. 74.
(73) Sviri, art. cit., p. 591, citing Kitab al-Bad wa'l tarikh.
(74) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 65.
(75) Ibid., p. 63.
(76) Ibid., p. 64.
(77) Ibid., p. 68.
(78) Ibid., pp. 68-9
(79) Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, p. 267.
(80) Ibid., p. 268; Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, pp. 87-8.
(81) J. A. Subhan, Sufism: Its Saints and Shrines (repr. New York: Weiser, 1970), p. 318, who lists these peculiarities under the designation of "Malamati Order."
(82) Lapidus, A Hist. of Islamic Societies, p. 167.
(83) Ibid. See also R. N. Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia (Princeton: Wiener, 1996), p. 223, who states: "In Nishapur the fighting between the Hanafis and Shafi'is over power in the city government ruined the city." See also Bulliet, The Patricians of Nishapur, pp. 30ff., 42ff., who says that the Hanafis and Shafi'is were political parties from the late tenth century, their conflict "contributing to the destruction of Nishapur as a great city." Both of those law schools were patrician in outlook, and both were "adamantly opposed to the true lower class movement of the Karramiyya" (ibid.). No Karramis are identified as Sufis, and only one Hanafi, but twenty-three Shafi'is are dignified with that label in the sources. According to Bulliet, the Sufi strain became common at Nishapur about the mid-tenth century, a conclusion based upon the Shafi'i preponderance. Sulami and Qushayri were both Shafi'i and Ashari in their allegiances, and were considered to be Sufis. Close investigators have considered this analysis to be food for thought.
(84) Cf. Trimingham. op. cit., p. 4.
(85) Lewisohn,"Iranian Islam and Persianate Sufism" (1992), p. 19. An alternative rendition can be found in W. C. Chittick, The Sufi Path of Knowledge (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), p. 249 col. 1. "You take your knowledge dead from the dead, but we take our knowledge from the Alive who does not die!" In the relevant passage, Ibn al-Arabi was criticising the "exoteric scholars."
(86) Lewisohn, art. cit., p. 20, and citing Zarrinkub, Justiju, p. 44.
(87) Ibid., p. 20, and stating that similar views led to Sahl Tustari being exiled from Ahwaz to Basra and to Hakim Tirmidhi being driven out of Tirmidh. By the eleventh century, annalists like Sulami began to formulate lists of mihan al-sufiyya, meaning inquisitions conducted by legalists against Sufis (ibid.).
(88) See Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1957), pp. 89ff.
(89) J. J. Saunders, A History of Medieval Islam (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 100.
(91) F. Daftary, The Ismailis: Their History and Doctrines (Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 57.
(92) Trimingham, op. cit., p. 52 note 2.
(93) G. Bowering, "Bestami, Bayazid" (183-6) in Encyclopaedia Iranica Vol. 4 fasc. 2 (1989).
(94) M. Smith, Studies in Early Mysticism in the Near and Middle East (London, 1931), p. 237. Reprinted as The Way of the Mystics: The Early Christian Mystics and the Rise of the Sufis (London: Sheldon Press, 1976).
(95) Ibid., p. 240, and citing a passage in the Qut al-Qulub of Abu Talib al-Makki, a tenth century writer at Baghdad affiliated to the Salimiyya school. On this early manual of Sufism, see further R. Gramlich, Die Nahrung Der Herzen: Abu Talib Al-Makkis Qut al-Qulub (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1995).
(96) Smith, op. cit., p. 244.
(97) Ibid., p. 253.
(99) S. Shaked, Dualism in Transformation: Varieties of Religion in Sasanian Iran (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1994), p. 79.
(101) M. Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge, 1979), pp. 145ff., especially p. 148.
(102) Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics (1966), p. 118. On Attar, see H. Ritter, Das Meer der Seele, Mensch, Welt und Gott in den Geschichten des Fariduddin Attar (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1955); J. A. Boyle, trans., The Ilahi-Nama of Farid al-Din 'Attar (Manchester University Press, 1976). For a comment, see Shepherd, Psychology in Science (Cambridge: Anthropographia, 1983), p. 180 note 95. See further L. Lewisohn and C. Shackle, eds., Attar and the Persian Sufi Tradition (London: I. B. Tauris, 2006) for assessments of this versatile poet who appears to have dedicated his entire output to Sufism. Very little is reliably known about the life of Attar, who was a pharmacist in Nishapur. See also B. Reinert, "Attar, Farid-al-Din," Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
(103) Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 123.
(105) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 106.
(107) Ibid., pp. 184ff.
(108) See A. Meddeb, trans., Les Dits de Bistami: Shatahat (Paris: Fayard, 1989).
(109) T. Graham, "Abu Said Abi'l Khayr and the School of Khurasan" (83-135) in Lewisohn, ed., Classical Persian Sufism: from its Origins to Rumi, pp. 129-30.
(110) A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 26. See also J. Mojaddedi, "Hallaj" (2003), Encyclopaedia Iranica online. See also L. Massignon, The Passion of Al-Hallaj, ed. and trans. H. Mason (Princeton University Press, 1994). According to the abridgment of Professor Mason, "Hallaj was probably of Iranian, not Arab, stock, despite what people said to the contrary later" (ibid., p. 24). There is the deduction that "his mother must have been an Arab" (ibid., p. 26), though there is no proof of this. His grandfather Mahamma was a Zoroastrian, though his father (Mansur) was a convert to Islam (ibid.). In contrast to Abu Yazid al-Bistami, "who knew only Persian," Hallaj was so strongly reared in the Arabic language that he apparently did not understand Persian. This detail is explicable in terms of his education at the Arab colony of Wasit, where he is said to have become a hafiz, meaning one who learns the Quran by heart (ibid., pp. 25ff.).
(111) C. W. Ernst, "The Symbolism of Birds and Flight in the Writings of Ruzbihan Baqli" (353-366) in Lewisohn, ed., The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (1992), p. 365. See also Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1996), pp. 98ff.
(112) Ernst, art. cit., p. 365 note 4, who describes Zaehner's theory as fanciful.
(113) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 238.
(114) H. Ritter, "Abu Yazid al-Bistami," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 1 (new edn, 1960), p. 162.
(115) Ibid., p. 163 (both quotes).
(116) S.H. Nasr, "Sufism," The Cambridge History of Iran Vol. 4, pp. 457-8, and defending the version of Arberry against that of Zaehner.
(117) See L. Massignon, Salman Pak et les premices spirituelles de I'Islam Iranien (Tours: Societe des Etudes Iraniennes, 1934). See also A. Guillaume, trans., The Life of Muhammad (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), p. 96. The sources are not in agreement about the date of Salman's death, and I have followed the version found in S.H. Nasr, "Sufism," The Cambridge History of Iran vol. 4 (1975), pp. 446-7.
(118) R. N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia (1975), pp. 128-9; idem, The Heritage of Central Asia (1996), pp. 224-5, and commenting: "Some of the movements are said to have had their roots in pre-Islamic times, which is possible, but information about them is unavailable."
(119) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 27.
(120) Ibid. Cf. M. Rodinson, Mohammed, trans. A. Carter (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), p. 69, stating that the inspiration for the prophet's practice of retreat to a cave on the hill of Hira (a few miles north-east of Mecca) derived from Jewish and Christian ascetics. "A few hanifs probably followed their example and devoted themselves to nocturnal meditation" (ibid.). A definition of the Arab category of hanif (plural hunafa) is here given as "a man of monotheist tendency, who sought the One God, but who was not willing to be enrolled in the ranks of Christianity or Judaism" (ibid., p. 42). Cf. P.K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (tenth edn, London: Macmillan, 1970), p. 108, referring to "a dissatisfied group who developed vague monotheistic ideas and went by the name of Hanifs." Cf. W. Montgomery Watt, "Hanif," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 3 (1971), pp. 165-6, stressing that difficulties arise in speaking of the hunafa as a distinct tradition, as they were individual thinkers of a mystical type. The early biography of Muhammad known as Sirat Rasul Allah, known in a ninth century recension by Ibn Hisham, refers to four contemporaries of Muhammad who were in search of the hanifiyya, the "religion of Abraham." See A. Guillaume, trans., The Life of Muhammad (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), pp. 98ff. One of these hanif entities was Zayd ibn Amr ibn Nufayl, who became unpopular for repudiating ritual practices of the Meccan religion. Zayd was persecuted by a relative, and made his abode on Mount Hira, later the favoured retreat of Muhammad. Subsequently he departed for Mesopotamia and Syria, "seeking the hanifiyya," to use a literary cliche in vogue by the time of Ibn Hisham. He questioned Christian monks and Jewish rabbis, but was dissatisfied with the answers given. He finally encountered a learned monk who informed that knowledge of the earliest Christianity had passed into oblivion. See further Guillaume, "New Light on the Life of Muhammad," Journal of Semitic Studies, Monograph No. 1 (Manchester, 1960), pp. 26ff. Muhammad himself has been described as a hanif. See also W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad at Mecca (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953).
(121) M. Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1930), p. 204.
(122) Frye, The Heritage of Central Asia, p. 228. Professor Frye also suggested that Iranian Sufism received an initial impulse from Buddhist monks, perhaps from the Naubahar monastery in Balkh. See R.N. Frye, The Golden Age of Persia (London, 1975), pp. 158-9. This is a subject that is not universally agreed upon. A reference in the Awarif al-Maarif of Shihab al-Din Abu Hafs al-Suhrawardi (1145-1234/5) refers to a contingent of Khurasan Sufis known as shikaftiyyah, an Arabic word meaning cave-dwellers. One scholar suggested that Suhrawardi's "description implies that that particular mode of life was based on the life-pattern of a section of Buddhist monks" (S.A.A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 1, New Delhi: Manoharlal, 1978, p. 88). The suggestion is by no means definite. Suhrawardi of Baghdad was one of the "orthodox Sufis," and not well disposed to non-Islamic formulations. He condemned unorthodox Sufis who believed in hulul (ibid., p. 89).
(123) Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 62. See also R.N. Frye, "Balkh," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 1 (new edn); R. Jones, "Ibrahim b. Adham," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 3 (new edn), who urges that there is no historical basis for the legend of the ruler of Balkh, and who instead favours the report of Ibn al-Asakir in his Al-Tarikh al-Kabir. Jones says that the first source to confer royal status upon Ibrahim ibn Adham was Sulami (d. 1021), though in a legendary context (ibid., pp. 985-6). Cf. R. A. Nicholson and C. Van Arendonk, "Ibrahim b. Adham," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 2 (first edn), stating the Buddhist modelling of the Ibn Adham legend and citing the influential interpretation of Ignaz Goldziher appearing in a journal of 1904. Louis Massignon, in his Essai, questioned Goldziher's theory that the conversion of Ibn Adham was modelled on the story of Buddha. Of related interest is S.M. Stern and S. Walzer, Three Unknown Buddhist Stories in an Arabic Version, (Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1971), pp. 1-3, commenting on the Arabic translation of the Buddha legend at circa 800 A.D., and possibly originating with Manichaeans who spoke Middle Persian. See also S.H. Nasr, "Sufism," in The Cambridge History of Iran vol. 4 (1975), pp. 450-1, who favours the theory that Ibn Adham came from a royal family, and that the renunciation legend is "an echo of an archetypal reality which found its supreme manifestation in the life of the Buddha." Cf. E. Esin, A History of Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Turkish Culture (Istanbul 1980, Supplement to the Handbook of Turkish Culture Series 2, Vol. 1/b), p. 166, who says that Ibn Adham may have been a descendant of either the Turkish Yabgus of Tokharistan, or of Tarkhan Tirek, the governor of Balkh, or else a descendant of the Muslim army commander of Balkh mentioned by the historian Tabari relevant to the events of 708 A.D. Esin also deduces that the figure of the holy king, a leading theme of Central Asian Mahayana Buddhism, seems to have repeated in Islamic hagiography. Esin suggests that a mural at the Buddhist site of Bamiyan (now in Afghanistan) "raises the possibility of a Buddhist predecessor of the figure of Ibrahim b. Adham." This mural shows a "repentant hunter-king (perhaps Nandiyamiga)," which Esin links with the Sufi anecdote of Ibn Adham's hunting activity. The episode concerning the Christian hunter-saint Hubertus is likewise thought to have been linked to the same Central Asian cycle of legend. For a detailed coverage of Ibn Adham, see R. Gramlich, Alte Vorbilder des Sufitums Vol. 1: Scheiche des Westens (Wiesbaden, 1995), pp. 135ff.
(124) On Ibn Adham and Simeon, see Arberry, Sufism: An Account of the Mystics of Islam, pp. 36-7, and citing Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani, an eleventh century annalist who produced the lengthy work Hilyat al-awliya (Ornament of the Saints). See note 16 above. Arberry also provides a translation of Abu Nuaym's report of Shaqiq al-Balkhi and the Buddhist "Turk" (ibid., pp. 38-9). Cf. Esin, A Hist. of Pre-Islamic and Early Islamic Turkish Culture, pp. 166-7, whose version of this encounter is based upon Sulami and the Fazail-i-Balkh of the historian Abdullah ibn Mhd al-Balkhi. Esin identifies the "Turk" as a Buddhist toyin (priest) in the land of the Karluk Turks, and interprets according to the assumption that Shaqiq was an ascetic at that time and not a merchant. There is a discrepancy here with the account of Abu Nuaym al-Isfahani. In the version of Esin, the Muslim ascetic was at loggerheads with the toyin, and afterwards sought to make converts to Islam amongst the Turkish Buddhists. The Islamic historian Al-Balkhi referred to Shaqiq as a murabit or religious scholar, a category who were closely associated with the fortified enclosure known as ribat, many of which were erected along the frontiers of the Islamic empire. The ribat is thought to have been innovated on the basis of the Buddhist monastery, though housing soldiers (ghazis) and murabit preachers. Shaqiq is reported to have died on the battlefield against the Turks, discharging what was regarded as a social duty in the Islamic community. On the Samanid dynasty of Transoxiana, see Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (1988), pp. 137ff., 154ff. See also A.S. Melikian-Chirvani, Islamic Metalwork from the Iranian World: 8th - 18th Centuries (London: HMSO, 1982), p. 26, stating that the Samanid revival "borrowed a whole array of literary cliches from the Buddhist past." The first (New) Persian poets in territories extending from Sistan to Bukhara and Samarkand employed such imagery as "the moon-faced Buddha," and "corresponding archetypal images were painted on frescoes and engraved on metal, never to disappear altogether" (ibid.).
(125) A. J. Arberry, The Koran Interpreted (Oxford University Press, 1964; repr. 1983), p. 183.
(126) In the first chapter of his Kitab al-Taarruf, Kalabadhi relates that it had been said of the Sufis that they were called such because of their affinity with the ahl as-suffa. Hujwiri, in his Kashf al-Mahjub, refers back to a history of the ahl as-suffa by Sulami, and says that he himself had written a separate book on this community, though neither of these works appear to be extant.
(127) E.g., W. Montgomery Watt, "Ahl al-Suffa," Encyclopaedia of Islam Vol. 1 (new edn, 1960), pp. 266-7, who thinks that the factual grounds for the legend are slight, and that the data must have gained legendary proportions prior to circa 800 A.D. The grouping first appear in the report of a ninth century orthodox annalist. The Iraqi mystic Harith al-Muhasibi (d. 857) appears to have been the first exponent of tasawwuf to acknowledge the authenticity of the "legend," which swelled to inflated proportions at a later date, some versions stating as many as four hundred members of the ahl as-suffa. Hujwiri lists only thirty-four, though Watts points out the apparent anomaly in the inclusion of Abu Lubaba, who was one of the most influential men in Mecca and by no means poor. Yet this is no proof of inaccurate reporting, and nor is it certain that the mere similarity in sound of the words suffa and sufi encouraged adoption of the "legend" by writers on tasawwuf.
(128) See the early version in R. Hartmann, "Zur Frage nach der Herkunft und den Anfangen des Sufitums," Der Islam (1916) 6:31-70, who grasped the salience of non-Arabs in early Sufism, and the importance of Khurasan. Hartmann affirmed that Central Asia was the matrix for the origins of Sufism, and opted for Indian influences. He restricted the factor of Persian influences to Mithras and Mani. A more extreme version of the Indian theory came from Max Horten in his Indische Stromungen in der Islamischen Mystik (Heidelberg, 1927-8).
(129) See R. C. Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism (London: Athlone Press, 1960), pp. 93-134, 198-218, whose conclusions have failed to convince a fair number of specialists. One may agree, however, that Hujwiri and Attar modified their versions of Bistami's ascension, introducing pious references to Muhammad that are not found in the earliest transmission associated with Sarraj. Zaehner usefully provided a translation of the miraj of Bistami, with the texts of Sahlaji and Attar presented in parallel columns to show how the latter interpreted the former.
(130) See A. J. Arberry, Pages from the Kitab al-Luma of Abu Nasr al-Sarraj (London: Luzac, 1947), which is a supplement to Nicholson's edition of the text. Arberry's contribution derives from another manuscript found in the Bankipore collection, a document considerably older than the two manuscripts used by Nicholson, and being dated 483 A. H. (equivalent to 1090 A. D.) The volume includes a memoir on R. A. Nicholson. Cf. Nicholson, ed., The Kitab al-Luma (London: Gibb Memorial Series no. XXII, 1914), which informs that about two hundred names of Sufis are mentioned in this text, a large number of which could not be found elsewhere. Nicholson gives a list of these obscure entities, numbering 120 (ibid., pp. XXIII-XXXIII). Nicholson also provided an abstract of the contents in English. See also R. Gramlich, Schlaglichter uber Das Sufitum: Abu Nasr As-Sarrags Kitab al-Luma (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1990). Professor Gramlich has been one of the major scholars in recent research on early Sufism. See also A. T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007), pp. 67-9, who describes Sarraj as "a scholar of Sufism rather than a Sufi master."
(131) Arguments for the Indian origins of Abu Ali al-Sindi were pressed by R. A. Nicholson, R. Hartmann, and Max Horten, but queried by Massignon in his Essai, who observed that there were two Sinds. This qualification was furthered by A. J. Arberry, though contested by R. C. Zaehner, op. cit., esp. p. 93, conceding that Abu Ali al-Sindi may have been an inhabitant of the village of Sind in Khurasan, though affirming that "it is rather difficult to believe that the Sind referred to is any other than the province of that name." Cf. Arberry, "Bistamiana," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1962) 25: 28-37, for a criticism of Zaehner's thesis.
(132) Y. Friedmann, "The Beginnings of Islamic Learning in Sind - A Reconsideration," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1974) 37: 659-664.
(133) Arberry, "Bistamiana," pp. 36-7.
(134) E. C. Sachau, trans., Alberuni's India Vol. 1 (London: Kegan, Trench, Trubner, 1910), p. 88. This shath appears in a variant in Sahlaji's Kitab al-Nur.
(135) E.g., B. B. Lawrence, "Al-Biruni and Islamic Mysticism" (362-79) in H. M. Said, ed., Al-Biruni Commemorative Volume (Karachi: Hamdard Academy, 1979), p. 372, regarding such statements of Zaehner as unqualified assertions, and affirming that Zaehner and other scholars who wished to prove Vedantic influence upon Sufism were in error to overlook the absence of Sufi references to the Hindu (and Buddhist) stress on samsara, while simultaneously exaggerating the significance of parallel textual assertions relating to mystical unification. Cf. Zaehner, op. cit., pp. 98-9.
(136) E.g., Swami Madhavananda, trans., The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad with the Commentary of Sankaracarya (fourth edn, Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1965), p. 728. Verse 4.4.7 here reads: "Just as the lifeless slough of a snake is cast off and lies in the ant-hill, so does this body lie." Cf. P. Olivelle, trans., Upanisads (Oxford University Press, 1996), pp. 65-6.
(137) T. Gelblum, review of Zaehner's Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1962) 25: 173-6.
(138) S. A. A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 1 (New Delhi: Manoharlal, 1978), p. 45.
(139) M. Eliade, A History of Religious Ideas Vol. 3, trans. A. Hiltebeitel (University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 126.
(141) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, p. 48.
(142) Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam, p. 162.
(145) Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, pp. 162ff.
(146) Ibid., affirming that it was Ghazzali who first introduced Neoplatonist ideas into Islam. Other scholars disagree with that interpretation, as there are earlier instances on record. Some prefer to describe Ghazzali in terms of "the systematic refutation of Neoplatonism." See M. Fakhry, A History of Islamic Philosophy (second edn, New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), pp. 217ff.
(147) E.g., Arberry, "Bistamiana," p. 35 note 3, mentions that R. A. Nicholson at first subscribed to the theory of Vedantic influence on Sufism, but later appears to have regarded the crucial influence as being Persian, and more specifically Shi'ite, thought. Nicholson's reference is only fleeting, however. See Nicholson, The Idea of Personality in Sufism (Cambridge 1923), pp. 26-7. Professor Nicholson had initially credited the "extreme pantheism" of Bistami as being "Persian or Indian" in inspiration, though the doctrine of fana was envisaged as being probably derived from the Buddhistic nirvana. See Nicholson, "A Historical Enquiry Concerning the Original Development of Sufism," Jnl of the Royal Asiatic Society (1906) 303-48. In his A Literary History of the Arabs (second edn, Cambridge University Press, 1930), p. 391, Nicholson credits the theory of the Indian Sind in relation to Bistami, and makes no mention of any indigenous Iranian influence. This does not advance upon his earlier formulation which opted for an Indian origin of Bistami's fana, and which can be found in an influential book incorporating much simplistic definition by the standards of more recent scholarship. See Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (London: G. Bell, 1914), p. 17. Arberry did not extend the Iranian factor, being influenced by the "Islamic" paradigm supplied by Louis Massignon, which relied heavily upon Quranic influences. There are some who view the Massignon version as a substantial improvement, though not necessarily comprehensive.
(148) Trimingham, The Sufi Orders in Islam (1971) , pp. 197-8. Earlier, Massignon expressed the consideration that Islamic mysticism might have been influenced by the classical Yoga system of Patanjali (Essai, second edn, pp. 81-98), as Al-Biruni translated the relevant text into Arabic. Perhaps with justification, Zaehner subsequently criticised the endeavour of Massignon to draw up a list of technical terms used in Muslim and Hindu sources which were alleged to correspond. In actual fact, asserts Zaehner, there is "rarely any correspondence between the Arabic and Sanskrit members," though himself opting for Vedantic affinities in quotations. See Zaehner, "Abu Yazid of Bistam: A Turning Point in Islamic Mysticism," Indo-Iranian Jnl (1957) 1: 286-301, p. 287. Massignon negotiated the issue of Buddhist influences, strongly pressed by Max Horten, who believed Bistami to have been influenced by Buddhism. The German scholar also allowed for Hindu and Neoplatonist influences on Bistami, overlooking indigenous ethnic factors. Cf. Horten, Festgabe Jacobi (Bonn 1926), pp. 397ff.; idem, Indische Stromungen in der Islamischen Mystik (Heidelberg 1927), pp. 17ff. According to Professor Rizvi, the Yogic system of breath control became an integral part of Sufism in Iran as early as the tenth century. See S. A. A. Rizvi, "India and the Medieval Islamic World" (461-9) in A. L. Basham, ed., A Cultural History of India (Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 468. Rizvi appropriately states that it is not known whether Bistami had any contact with Indians; his encounter with Abu Ali al-Sindi is here described as a myth (ibid.). The same scholar affirmed that "his [Bistami's] advocacy of understanding of the controlled use of breath was also Indian" (A History of Sufism in India Vol. 1, 1978, p. 44). This matter is conjectural.
(149) Cf. Massignon, Essai (first edn, pp. 243ff.; second edn, pp. 273-86), a treatment which basically fits the "Islamic theory" contradicting ideas of foreign influences. For Arabic texts of Bistami's shathiyat, see Massignon, Recueil de textes inedits concernant l'histoire de la mystique en pays d'Islam (Paris: Guethner, 1929), pp. 27-33. See also A. Badawi, ed., Shatahat as-Sufiyya: Abu Yazid al-Bistami (Cairo 1949), which includes the Arabic text of the Kitab al-Nur, though Ritter described this edition as "not quite satisfactory" (art. cit., p. 162).
(150) For a coverage of the shath genre, see C. W. Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985).
(151) Arberry, "Bistamiana," pp. 31-2.
(152) Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, p. 97.
(153) H. Ritter,"Abu Yazid al-Bistami," pp. 162-3.
(154) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions in Islam, p. 49, describing this as "a mild explanation," and citing the Kitab al-Luma.
(155) Ritter, art. cit.
(156) For a useful English translation of Sahlaji's version, see Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, pp. 198-218, which is presented in parallel columns to Attar's version in order to show the differences. For another text, see R. A. Nicholson, "An early Arabic Version of the Miraj of Abu Yazid al-Bistami," Islamica (1926) 2:402-15, which gives the text and translation of part of the Al-Qasd ila Allah of the Pseudo-Junayd, a version which refers to the "journey to heaven" as occurring in a dream. The title means The Search for God. Dated 395 A.H. (1005 A.D.), and attributed to Abu'l Qasim al-Arif, this document resembles much more closely the miraj of the prophet Muhammad. In his dream, Bistami passes through the seven heavens, each of which amounts to a temptation or distraction. Eventually he is transformed into a bird and ascends to the throne of God, a reward for his single-minded longing.
(157) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 238.
(158) This is the translation in Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 110.
(159) Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, p. 113.
(160) Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, p. 101.
(161) See J. M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 214, who complained: "It is unfortunate that Zaehner himself has not attempted to place Plotinus within this framework." That is a reference to Zaehner's theistic mysticism of being "oned" with a transcendent God. Professor Rist refers to Zaehner's earlier book Mysticism, Sacred and Profane (Oxford University Press, 1957).
(162) Zaehner, Hindu and Muslim Mysticism, p. 109.
(163) Ibid., p. 113. For a relevant selection of papers on diverse controversial issues, see F. De Jong and B. Radtke, eds., Islamic Mysticism Contested: Thirteen Centuries of Controversies and Polemics (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
(164) Zaehner, op. cit., pp. 116-17.
(165) Arberry, Muslim Saints and Mystics, p. 115.
(166) Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli (1996), p. 146, who urges that the recorded "conversations of many early Baghdadian and Khurasanian Sufis is typical of this rhetoric of boasting" (ibid.).
(167) See Zaehner, op. cit., who says that the sayings attributed to Bistami by Sarraj may perhaps be accepted with some confidence, whereas those attributed by Sahlaji must be treated with some reserve, as he was writing two hundred years after his subject.
(168) A. H. Abdel-Kader, The Life, Personality, and Writings of Al-Junayd, p. 31. An updated version of the Baghdad tradition can be found in A.T. Karamustafa, Sufism: The Formative Period (Edinburgh University Press, 2007). This includes the statement that "he [Junayd] continued to cultivate legal science into his adult years, since he could escape the round-up of Sufis during the inquisition of Ghulam Khalil by declaring himself to be a jurist" (ibid., pp. 15-16).
(169) Cf. Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, p. 97. See also Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 131, for Hujwiri's reference to the Salimi sect of Basra as being connected with the hululi "sect." On Sahl al-Tustari, see G. Bowering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: The Quranic Hermeneutics of the Sufi Sahl at-Tustari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1980).
(170) Abdel-Kader, op. cit., p. 90.
(171) Kashf al-Mahjub (Nicholson trans.), p. 64.
(172) Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism (Curzon Sufi Series, 1996), p. 146.
(173) Ibid., p. 145. Baqli has the reputation of a "Hallajian," and was the subject of investigation by both Louis Massignon and Henry Corbin, the latter editing Baqli's Sharh i-Shathiyat, which he dubbed "les paradoxes des Soufis." Another scholarly enthusiast writes: "Baqli's main concern is the writings and sayings of Hallaj, which makes the Sharh indispensable for an understanding of Hallaj's work. In this area Ruzbihan's interpretations are unquestionably correct, for the Shirazi Sufis had generally been favourable to the martyr-mystic of Baghdad; Ibn Khafif of Shiraz (d. 982) had been one of the few admirers of Hallaj who remained faithful to him until his death, and Ruzbihan saw himself in this tradition" (Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam, University of North Carolina Press, 1975, p. 297).
(174) Ernst, Ruzbihan Baqli, p. 146.
(175) For the reference to Ibn Arabi and Bistami, see ibid. For Ibn Arabi on the miraj and sama, see C. Addas, Quest for the Red Sulphur: The Life of Ibn Arabi, trans. P. Kingsley (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1993), pp. 153ff., 163-4. The information is here given that Ibn Arabi attacked sama in several of his works, including the accusation that "they practise sama, as if it was an exercise in devotion and piety, but in fact they are just people who take religion as a joke and a game, taking advantage of beardless youths to further their perverse intentions and villainy" (ibid., p. 163). Further, he did not permit the practise of al-nazar ila l-murd (in Persian: shahid bazi), which means the contemplation of attractive young men as an aid to inducing esctasy (ibid. pp. 163-4). Ibn Arabi evidently preferred the practice of muhasaba, meaning the examination of one's conscience (ibid., p 164).
(176) See M. Mujeeb, The Indian Muslims (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1967), p. 245, who reports Sirhindi as having said that Junayd and Bistami were "poor fellows who could not reach the heart of the matter, the source, and therefore got entangled in shadows," and that Ibn al-Arabi was a kafir (infidel). Cf. S. A. A. Rizvi, A History of Sufism in India Vol. 2 (New Delhi: Manoharlal, 1983), p. 209, who says that Sirhindi "claimed to be the only person to have adopted a moderate view about Ibn Arabi," though the former consistently rejected teachings of the latter that conflicted with orthodox Sunni beliefs (ibid., p. 210). Moderation was not typical of Sirhindi. He believed that the honour of Islam demanded the humiliation of Hindus, whom he said should be treated like dogs. It has been observed that Sirhindi's deep-seated hatred of non-Muslims can best be illustrated by his rejoicing at the execution of the Sikh Guru Arjun in 1606. He is on record as stating: "With whatever intention and purpose they are killed, the humiliation of infidels is for the Muslims life itself." See Y. Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1971), pp. 69ff. Sirhindi also asserted that there was no Quranic commandment for Greek philosophers and Hindu yogis, who had engaged futilely in self-denial. Dr. Friedmann says that denunciations of Hinduism play a peripheral role in Sirhindi's thought, and insists that the subject "was primarily a Sufi and must be assessed as such" (ibid, p. 111). In one of his letters, Sirhindi says: "Whenever a Jew is killed, it is for the benefit of Islam." A Naqshbandi sectarian, Sirhindi claimed that Naqshbandis began their spiritual journey where other Sufis ended theirs (ibid., p. 68). It is difficult not to conclude that some of Sirhindi's views represent the worst intolerance in "orthodox Sufism," a category spread throughout many of the dervish orders. A hagiological literature developed about him, replete with miracle stories. Dr. Friedmann deduces that Sirhindi did recommend some of the insular measures against non-Muslims later implemented by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb (ibid., pp. 7ff., 87ff.). See also Y. Friedmann, "Ahmad Serhendi" (1984), Encyclopaedia Iranica online.
(177) The Suhrawardi corpus has been the subject of differing interpretations. See, for instance, H. Ziai, Knowledge and Illumination: A Study of Suhrawardi's Hikmat al-Ishraq (Atlanta: Scholars Press, Brown Judaic Studies 97, 1990). Cf. H. Corbin, En Islam iranien Vol. 2: Sohravardi et les Platoniciens de Perse (Paris: Gallimard, 1972). For some comments, see my web article On Islamic Philosophy (2008) [and Suhrawardi and Ishraqi Philosophy].
Copyright © 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved. Page uploaded March 2010, last modified December 2010.