THE QUESTION PROPOSED
The questioner, Abu Sa'id al-Hujwiri, said: "Explain to me the true meaning of the Path of Sufi'ism and the nature of the 'stations' (maqamat) of the Sufis, and explain their doctrines and sayings, and make clear to me their mystical allegories, and the nature of Divine Love and how it is manifested in human hearts, and why the intellect is unable to reach the essence thereof, and why the soul recoils from the reality thereof, and why the spirit is lulled in the purity thereof; and explain the practical aspects of Sufx'ism which are connected with these theories."
The person questioned, 'Ali b. 'Uthman al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri - may God have mercy on him! — says:-
Know that in this our time the science of Sufi'ism is obsolete, especially in
this country. The whole people is occupied with following its lusts and has
turned its back on the path of quietism (rida), while the Tulama and those who
pretend to learning have formed a conception of Sufi'ism which is quite
contrary' to its fundamental principles.
High and low alike are content with empty professions: blind conformity has taken the place of spiritual enthusiasm. The vulgar say, "We know God," and the elect, satisfied if they feel in their hearts a longing for the next world, say, "This desire is vision and ardent love." Everyone makes pretensions, none attains to reality. The disciples, neglecting their ascetic practices, indulge in idle thoughts, which they call "contemplation".
I myself (the author proceeds) have already written several books on Sufi'ism, but all to no purpose. Some false pretenders picked out passages here and there in order to deceive the public, while they erased and destroyed the rest; others did not mutilate the books, but left them unread: others read them, bit did not comprehend their meaning, so they copied the text and committed it to memory and said: "We can discourse on mystical science." "Nowadays true spiritualism is as rare as the Philosopher's Stone (kibrit-i ahmar); for it is natural to seek the medicine that fits the disease, and nobody wants to mix pearls and coral with common remedies like shalitha2 and dawa al-misk? In time past the works of eminent Sufis, falling into the hands of those who could not appreciate them, have been used to make lining for caps or binding for the poems of Abu Nuwas and the pleasantries of Jahiz. The royal falcon is sure to get its wings clipped when it perehes on the wall of an old woman's cottage. Our contemporaries give the name of "law" to their lusts, pride and ambition they call "honour and learning", hypocrisy towards men "fear of God", concealment of anger "clemency", disputation "discussion", wrangling and foolishness "dignity", insincerity "renunciation", cupidity "devotion to God", their own senseless fancies "Divine knowledge", the motions of the heart and affections of the animal soul "Divine love", heresy "poverty", scepticism "purity", disbelief in positive religion (zandaqa) "self-annihilation", neglect of the Law of the Prophet (May peace be upon him) "the mystic Path", evil communication with time servers "exercise of piety". As Abu Bakr al-Wasiti said: "We are afflicted with a time in which there are neither the religious duties of Islam nor the morals of Paganism nor the virtues of Chivalry" (ahlam-i dhawi 'l-muruwwa). And Mutanabbi says to the same cffect:-4
"God curse this world! What a vile place for any camel-rider to alight in!
For here the man of lofty spirit is always tormented".
Know that I have found this universe an abode of Divine mysteries, which are deposited in created things. Substances accidents, elements, bodies, forms, and properties - all these are veils of Divine mysteries. From the standpoint of Unification (tawhid) it is polytheism to assert that any such veils exist, but in this world everything is veiled, by its being, from Unification, and the spirit is held captive by admixture and association with phenomenal being. Hence the intellect can hardly comprehend those Divine mysteries, and the spirit can but dimly perceive the marvels of nearness to God. Man, enamoured of his gross environment, remains sunk in ignorancc and apathy, making no attempt to cast off the veil that has fallen upon him. Blind to the beauty of Oneness, he turns away from God to seek the vanities of this world and allows his appetites to domineer over his reason, notwithstanding that the animal soul, which the Quran (xii, 53) describes as "commanding to evil" (ammarat bi 7-su), is the greatest of all veils between God and Man.
Now I will begin and explain to you, fully and lucidly, what you wish to know concerning the "stations" and the "veils", and 1 will interpret the expressions of the technicologists (ahl-i sana'i1), and add thereto some sayings of the Shaykhs and anecdotes about them, in order that your object may be accomplished and that any learned doctors of law or others who look into this work may recognize that the Path of Sufi'ism has a firm root and a fruitful branch, since all the Sufi Shaykhs have been possessed of knowledge and have encouraged their disciples to acquire knowledge and to persevere in doing so. They have never been addicted to frivolity and levity. Many of them have composed treatises on the method of Sufi'ism which clearly prove that their minds were filled with divine thoughts.
1 The author's meaning appears to be that one consideration has a special
reference to connoisseurs and competent persons, while the other has a general
reference to the public at large.
2 An electuary used as a remedy for paralysis of the tongue or mouth.
3 See Dozy, supplement, under dawa.
4 Mutanabbi, ed. By Dieterici, p.662, 1. 4 from foot.