must know that the principle and foundation of Sufism and knowledge
of God rest on saintship" (H 210),2 says
Hujwiri, and three centuries after him Jami opened his discussions
about the history of Sufism with a paragraph on saintship. In
fact, the theories of saintship, wilaya, have formed one
theme that has been discussed by the Sufis since the late ninth
century, when Kharraz, Sahl at-Tustari, and al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi
wrote their essays on this subject.
word usually translated as "saint," wali, means
"someone who is under special protection, friend;" it
is the attribute given by the Shiites to 'Ali, the wali Allah
par excellence. The word is, as Qushayri points out, both active
and passive: a wali is one whose affairs are led (tuwalla)
by God and who performs (tawalla) worship and obedience
(cf. N 6). The auliya' Allah, the "friend of God,"
are mentioned in the Koran several times, the most famous occasion
being Sura 10:63: "Verily, the friends of God, no fear is
upon them nor are they sad."
The concept of wilaya developed
during the early centuries of Sufism. An authority of the early
tenth century, Abu 'Abdallah as-Salimi, defined the saints as
"those who are recognizable by the loveliness of their speech,
and fine manners, and submission, and generosity, showing little
opposition, and accepting the excuse of everyone who excuses himself
before them, and perfect mildness towards all creatures, the good
as well as the bad" (N 121). Thus, the ideal Sufi is here
called a wali.
wilayat 'amma, the "general saintship"
common to all the sincere faithful (and it is to that wilaya that
Salimi's statement points), is usually distinguished from the
wilaya khassa, that of the advanced mystics, "who
have become annihilated in God and remain through Him, and the
wali is he who has been annihilated in HIm and lives in
Him" (N 5). From among those perfect mystics, a whole hierarchy
of saints has evolved since at least the time of Tirmidhi. he
highest spiritual authority is the qutb, "axis, pole,"
or ghauth, "help." He is surrounded by three
nuqaba', "substitutes," four autad, "pillars,"
seven abrar, "pious," forty abdal, "substitutes,"
three hundred akhyar, "good," and four thousand
hidden saints. Some authorities, e.g., Ibn 'Arabi, claim that
there are seven abdal, one for each of the seven climates;3
Ruzbihan Baqli expressed similar ideas. The qutb is the
virtual center of spiritual energy upon whom the well-being of
this world depends (CL 80). Henri Corbin has shown, in a penetrating
study, the importance of the orientation toward the Pole, the
place where the celestial revelation, "the sun at midnight,"
will appear to the pilgrim on the mystical Path. The qutb
rests in perfect tranquility, grounded in God--that is why all
the "minor stars" revolve around him.
may assume a close structural relatinoship between the concept
of the qutb as the highest spiritual guide of the faithful
and that of the hidden imam of Shia Islam. Not a few mystics
claimed to be the qutb of their time, and quite a number
of them assumed the role of the Mahdi, the manifestation of the
hidden imam and the qutb, as manifested in the mystical
preceptor, is common to Sufism and Shiism. The Shiateaches: "Who
dies without knowing the imam of his time, dies an infidel."
And Jalaluddin Rume, though a relatively moderate Sufi, said:
"He who does not know the true sheikh--i.e., the Perfect
Man and qutb of his time--is a kafir, an infidel"
(M2: 3325). The world cannot exist without a pole or an axis--it
turns around him just as a mill turns around its axis and is otherwise
of no use (U 63).
later Iranian theosophy, the qutbis considered the locus
of Sarosh, the old Zoroastrian angel of obedience, hearing, and
inspiration who corresponds, in Sufi mythology, either to Gabriel
or to Israfil, the angel of resurrection. IN light of this, the
claim of a modern thinker like Iqbal that he would "call
a people to spiritual resurrection" gains special significance;
he assumes, in a sense, the role of the qutb. In fact,
the three angelic figures Sarosh, Israfil, and Gabriel occur very
frequently in his poetry.
very peculiar thoery--or rather an elaboration of the above-mentioned
ideas--was invented by Ruzbihan Baqli, who speaks of a hierarchic
structure of three hundred persons whose hearts are like Adam's
heart, forty whose hearts are like Moses's heart, seven whose
hearts are fashioned after Abraham's heart, five whose hearts
correspond to Gabriel's heart, three whose hearts correspond to
that of Michael, and one, the qutb, whose heart is equal
to Israfil's. He adds to this group of saintly persons the four
prophets who have been lifted up to Heaven alive--Idris, Khidr,
Ilyas, and Jesus--and thus reaches the cosmic number of 360, the
pleroma of saints (CL 83).
the groups in the hierarchy the Forty have gained special prominence
in Islam. Numerous stories are told about them, and there are
local names in the Near East connected with their presence, such
as Kirklareli, "the county of the Forty," in
the European province of Tukey. The word abdal, usually
connected with the Forty, seems to have assumed this high spiritual
meaning only gradually. In a number of early Sufi texts--in Sana'i's
poetry, for example--the abdal are usually mentioned together
with the ascetics. Later, the word was used to designate a saint
who after his death would be "substituted" for (badal
) by another person. In Turkey, mainly in the Bektashi tradition,
it has become a sort of sobriquet for a certain group of mystics,
like Kaygusuz Abdal, Pir Sultan Abdal.
Seven are mentioned in some towns as the spiritual guardians of
a sacred place--Marrakesh, for instance, claims to be protected
by the Seven. Often, seven saintly persons or virgins are treated
as a single unit in veneration (that can be the case with the
Forty as well). A connection between the veneration of the Seven
and that of the Seven Sleepers--mentioned in the Koran (Sura 18)--is
saints are supposed to know each other. Though they are veiled
from the eyes of the common people, they recongize fellow saints
without ever having met them, and many stories are told about
secret meetings of saints on certain mountains in which, sometimes,
an adept is allowed to partake. But on the whole it is held that
God veils His friends from the world. "Out of jealousy, God
puts a veil upon them and keeps them concealed from the public"
(N 442), says Simnani, following Bayezid's idea that "the
saints are God's brides whom only the close relatives can behold"
(MC 1:43). The hadith qudsi, "verily my saints are
under my domes, and only I know them," is often cited to
support this idea.
factor that led people to believe in the spiritual capacity of
a Sufi leader was his ability to work miracles. Numerous stories
of saints say that "he was heard when he prayed" or
"such as he said would definitely come true," or "when
he became angry God Almighty would quickly take revenge for his
sake" (N 506). There is no doubt that many Sufis indeed had
extraordinary powers to perform acts that seemed to supersede
of the main traits of Sufi hagiographical works is that they tell
about the firasa, "cardiognosia" (soul-reading),
of a master. "Beware of the firasa [discernment] of
the faithful," it was said, "for he sees by God's light"
(B 588). Innumerable stories are sold about a sheikh's insight
into his disciple's heart; he was able to tell his secret wishes,
hopes, and dislikes to understand signs of spiritual pride or
hypocricy the very moment the dept entered his presence. There
were even some who claimed to be able to discern whether a person
was destined for Heaven or Hell (N 439).
saint was able to disappear from sight, to become completely invisible,
and to practice buruz, exteriorization, i.e., he could
be present at different places at the same time. Accoridng to
legend, Rume attended seventeen parties at one time and wrote
a poem at each one!5 The saint was
capable of coming to the aid of his disciples wherever they were
through the faculty of tayy al-makan, of being beyond spatial
restriction, which is often attested to in hagiography. In cases
of danger the sheikh might suddenly appear in the midst of a band
of robbers to drive them away or assume the shape of the ruler
in order to protect a disciple who called for help, or--as I was
told several times in Turkey--the master might appear, in spiritualized
form, at a sick person's bed in order to cure him or at least
relieve him temporarily from his pain. "To enter under the
burden of the sick" (N 397) was a miracle often performed
by Sufis. . .
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SUFISM gratefully acknowledges permission from the University
of North Carolina Press to reprint this article which comprises
a portion of Chapter 4 from Annemarie Schimmel's Mystical Dimensions
of Islam. This article is an excerpt from Professor Schimmel's
longer chapter, which due to space limitations could not be printed
here in full.
The following frequently cited works are abbreviated in the text:
B) Ruzbihan Baqli. "Sharh-i shathiyat," Les paradoxes
des soufis. Edited by Henri Corbin. Tehran and Paris, 1966.
Paragraphs cited. CL) Henri Corbin. L'Homme de lumiere dans
le soufism iranien. Paris, 1971. H) 'Ali ibn 'Uthman al-Hujwiri.
The "Kashf al-Mahjub," the Oldest Persian Treatise
on Sufism by al-Hujwiri. Translated by Reynold A. Nicholson.
Gibb Memorial Series, no. 17. 1911. Reprint. London, 1959. K)
Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Kalabadhi. The Doctrine of the Sufis.
Translated by A.J. Arberry. Cambridge, 1935. M) Jalaluddin
Rumi. Mathnawi-i ma'nawi. Edited and translated by Reynold
A. Nicholson. 6 vols. London, 1925-40. N) Maulana 'Abdurrahman
Jami. Nafahat al-uns. Edited by M. Tauhidipur. Tehran,
1336 sh./1957. NS) Reynold A. Nicholson. Studies in Islamic
Mysticism. 1921. Reprint. Cambridge, 1967. U) Fairduddin "Attar.
Musibatname. Edited by N. Fisal. Tehran, 1338 sh./1959.
X) "Ali ibn Ahmad ad-Daylami. Sirat-i Ibn al-Hafif ash-Shirazi.
Translated by Junayd-i Shirazi Edited by Anne-marie Schimmel.
Muhyiuddin Ibn 'Arabi, Al-futuhat al-Makkiyya, 4 vols.
(Cairo, 1329 h./1911), chap. 198, fasl 31.
Emile Dermenghem, Le culte des saints dans l'Islam Maghrebin
(Paris, 1954), is the best study in this field, written with a
deep understanding of mystical Islam.
Johann Karl Teufel, Eine Lebensbeschreibung des Scheichs 'Ali-i
Hamadani (Leiden, 1962), p. 108.
Tajuddin as-Subki, Tabaqat ash-shafi 'iyya al-kubra, 12
vols. (Cairo, 1324 h./1906), 2:59ff. The comprehensive study is
Yusuf an-Nabahani, Jami' karamat al-auliya' (Bulaq, 1329
h./1911). See also Hans Joachim Kissling, "Die Wunder der
Derwische," Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen
Gesellschaft 107 (1957).
Dermenghem, Culte des saints, p.314; see Rene Brunel,
Essai sur la confrerie religieuse des Aissdouwa au Maroc (Paris,
H.T. Sorley, Shah Abdul Latif of Bhit: HIs Poetry, Life and
Times (1940; reprint ed., Oxford, 1966), p. 248.