Sufism and the Ineffable Light: Oceans of Unending Brightness



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Chapter Three

Sufism and the Ineffable Light:
Oceans of Unending Brightness

In as much as God sprinkled His Light upon them (mankind), they are essentially one: His light never becomes separated in reality.

—Jalalu’ddin Rumi

If this light rises, and in the utterly pure inner man, attains the brightness of the sun or of many suns, the mystic is no longer aware of this world nor of the other.

—Najm al-Dīn Rāzī

I
t is said that, according to Sufi traditions, a famous rare statue had great mystical powers, but no one had as yet been able to decipher them. A certain dervish heard of this and began to make a careful study of the statue. One day after many hours of deep contemplation, he noticed that the finger of the statue during a certain time of day cast a shadow pointing directly to a large flagstone in the immediate vicinity. After inspecting the flagstone for some time, he noticed that underneath it was a large flat stone covering a secret underground cavern. In the cavern was a vault filled with precious stones and a large tablet containing certain mystical instructions for devices unknown to humankind.

According to Sufi tradition, this story reveals the vast inner potential of the human being.1 The statue is the outer form of the human being. The finger that casts a shadow to the flagstone is the mystical point of inner opening called the eye of soul. Those who contemplate upon this spot will realize that within them is a divine vault with unlimited wealth. The precious stones contained in the vault are the realization of our divine nature. The special instructions recorded on the secret tablet are the knowledge of the divine light and how to attain to truth. For the sufis, saints, and mystics, knowledge of this “Divine Light” (al-nūr), “Inner Perception of Light” (bass’ir al-nūr), “Creative Light” or First Light (al-nūr al-‘ibādī) is true knowledge. God indwells in the form of this light. Indeed, the human body is the true temple of God and contains all mysteries including that of God.

This “ Nur Allah“ [Light of God] also came to be known as Nūr al-anwār or the “Light of Lights.” It was also referred to as the great al-Kalimah al-Qadīmah2 or unfathomable “ancient Word,” and the source from which all rivers of mystical knowledge flow. This ancient Word is a living Light that speaks directly to the heart of the saints. From it flow endless rivers of light. Shams i-Tabriz tells us, “Love is the light of the veils of Holy light (nūr) indicated by ‘God has seventy veils of light.’”3 The experiences of Light and Holy Sound4 have been inextricably woven into the fabric of Sufism.

Inner revelations of luminous inner light and inner music became the norm for some within the first generations of Sufi mystics such as Al-Bastami and Ruzbihan. By the close of the 13th century (CE), Rumi had written his classic Masnavi, and Suhrawardī and ibn ‘Arabī had developed entire mystical cosmologies based on the Nūrillāhī, or Divine Light of God. This aspect of God is sometimes referred to as al-Ism al-A‘ẓam or the “Great Name.”

Given the very substantial amounts of material available, we will focus in this chapter on the depth of expression that various forms of Sufi spirituality have taken—specifically related to inner Light and Sound— drawing primarily upon authoritative written sources from the eras generally known as Formative through the post –Classical periods of Sufism.

Sufi Mysticism of Light

Light is seen as an affirmation of God’s eternal Being as Light, and the means through which redemption occurs. It is God who is the pre-eternal source from which all light, whether of the “heavens or of the earth,” emanates. From this inexhaustible source of Light, God manifests the creation of the entire world both physical and subtle and then casts this very Light into all souls he has created. The sacred oil that is the source of Light is “neither eastern nor western” but kindled from the mystical “lote tree of the furthermost boundary.” This is a reference to the “source of all life and light” located in the “house of life” (al-bayt al-ma’mūr) described in the mystical “Heavenly Ascent” or Mi‘rāj.5 This Light is seen to be the source of all life and love itself. It has been sprinkled into every living thing and is the soul of all humanity. Further when God wants to bring someone closer to Him, he opens his heart to this interior Light in degrees. Al-Ghazālī, in quoting a hadith concurs: ‘It is a light, which God casts into the heart.’ Then someone said; ‘And what is the sign of it?’ He replied, ‘Withdrawal from the mansions of delusion and turning to the mansion of immortality….God Most High created men in darkness, then sprinkled on them some of God’s own light’”6

God in perfect wisdom fashioned from this same Light all sentient life including all souls. Those souls which completely embody this Light came to be known in Sufism as perfect saints and were the living symbols of God’s power and glory in this world. This is to say saints, prophets and mystics are living guides in whom the Power of God works. For the Sufi saints, God can only be approached, understood, and ultimately realized through the agency of these souls. In coming into contact with their light, which is God’s Light, souls can reach perfection as well.

Sufi teachings attested that humans in their ignorance have neither faith nor knowledge of God. It is only through the agency or mediation of a saint or knower of God that the message can be revealed. It was held that by replicating the inner visionary journey, the Mi‘rāj’, through the “seven heavens” to the “Throne of God”, that saints and seekers could attain knowledge of God Most High.

Later Sufi saints often spoke of their own revelations in the language of light and mystical illumination. By reaffirming “Light” as the central mode of ascent, it laid the foundations for the mystical journey itself for later mystics and seekers. The importance of this journey cannot be overestimated., Not only did it become the model for further ascension journeys, but also the key features of the journey have come to embody specific states and stages in the degree of ascension into the lights.

Abū Yazīd al-Bisṭāmī and the Landscape of Light

Abū Yazīd al-Bisṭāmī, one of the first of the great early Sufis, known for his ecstatic speech (al-shaṭaḥāt) and revelations, described his inner journey with frequent references to this Divine Light or Nurillahi. His use of illuminist language and light cosmology is striking for both the scholar and mystic. Bisṭāmī’s Mir’āj account and biography were later popularized in Farīd ud-Dīn ʽAṭṭār’s Memorial of the Friends of God. An even earlier account is found in a text entitled the Quest for God, which is attributed to Abū al-Qāsim al-Junayd, an early Sufi of the Medieval period:

Then I saw myself as if I had risen to the fifth heaven. There I was in the presence of angels who stood in the fifth heaven with their heads in the sixth, which dropped down light that would make the heavens flash…. I did not turn to them out of respect for my Lord. At that point, there surged up in the secret of my heart, springs of longing, and the light of the angels became, in the light that radiated from me, like a lamp placed on the sun.7

From these earliest commentators, three overarching themes emerge from the encounters with this mystical Light: first, a deepening of self-knowledge; second, the passionate embrace of divine love; and third, the affirmation of God’s inscrutable unity and everlastingness (life; ḥayāh). As Abū Yazīd’s longing increases, so does the light of his inward presence dwarfing in comparison even the light of the angels. His experience was a tacit affirmation of the superiority of human beings over the angels. This theme we see developed at much greater length throughout the history of Sufi mysticism.

A second excerpt from the same account spells out in detail the inner landscape of light as Bisṭāmī travels toward divine unity:

I continued to fly and roam kingdom after kingdom, veil after veil, domain after domain, sea after sea, curtain after curtain, until I ended up at a throne. I was received by angels with eyes as numerous as the stars of the heavens. From each eye there was flashing a light that would illuminate the viewer. Those lights became lamps. From the interior of the lamps, I heard chants of divine unity.

I continued to fly like that until I ended up at a sea of light with crashing waves. Alongside it, the light of the sun was darkened. There on the sea was a ship of light. Alongside its light, the lights of those seas were darkened.8

After reaching the throne (‘arsh) of the compassionate, Bisṭāmī is ushered into the presence of God where he hears God calling out to him, saying:

“Oh my chosen one (safi), come near to me and look upon the plains of my splendor and the domain of my brightness. Sit upon the carpet of my holiness until you see the subtleties of my artisanship I-ness. You are my chosen one, my beloved, and the best of my creatures.” Upon hearing that, it was as if I were melting like melting lead. Then he gave me a drink from the spring of graciousness (lutf) with the cup of intimacy. Then he brought me to a state I am unable to describe. Then he brought me closer to him until I was nearer to him than the spirit is to the body.9

The same journey completed through the seven heavens is now described by Bistami in vivid detail and described within the context of light. Here the central element of Bisṭāmī’s journey is Light itself, which outshines the outer sun by many degrees. The last phase of his journey, considered in Sufi terminology to be his merger with God, is metaphorically described as melting lead. Not only is this Light coequal with God (not Absolute God), but it is the preeminent primal expression as well as in “the domain of my brightness.” Light is the super substance of divine truth and its creative power in expression.

While many of the first generation of Sufis (Rābiʽah al-Ḥallāj, al-Qusahryī, Dhū al-Nūn, and al-Muḥāsibī) did not recount their inner mystical journeys, references to inner Light abound in their writings.

Al-Muḥāsibī here describes what distinguishes God’s lovers, and those who know God from those who do not as precisely the attainment of this mystical divine Light:

To him has been granted that supernatural wisdom by which his understanding is enlightened, “A certain Divine light given to the soul whereby it both sees and tastes God and the Divine things.” That is esoteric wisdom (batin-al-hikma), which is the characteristic of God’s elect by which He has distinguished them.10

Continuing, al-Muḥāsibī explains specifically the significance of this inner Light (baṣā’ir al-nūr). This is “insight without sight,” for the Gnostic has within him that inner Light whereby he sees and apprehends the spiritual meaning of things, and is conscious within himself that he has attained the Truth. Dhū al-Nūn al-Miṣrī, al-Muḥāsibī’s contemporary, defines supernatural knowledge in similar terms, saying, “Gnosis is in reality God’s providential communication of the spiritual light to our inward hearts.”11 Here we see light is both the means by which God communicates knowledge of God’s own Self, and also the gift of God’s Being or essence. As the Early Sufi period came to a close, many of the foremost teachers were already employing in their letters, manuals, and poetry, references to their own or others’ inner experiences using the mystical revelations of Light and inner Music. The descriptive use of the inner Light or baṣā’ir al-nūr would not only increase, but also develop in its own right some of the most powerful and insightful cosmologies.



Rūzbihān Baqlī and the Praiseworthy Station

Most scholars agree that the era known as the Formative period (1074-1273) saw both the full systemization of the Sufi doctrine and the appearance of some of the most influential Sufi shaykhs of all time. Included in this period were al-Ghazālī, Ibn ʽArabi, Mawlānā Rūmī, Farīd ud-Dīn ʽAṭṭār, and in Persia a little-known but highly important figure, Rūzbihān Baqlī. Rūzbihān’s mysticism touches universal themes recorded by many mystics. Born in Shiraz (1126–1209), in his own day he was well known throughout the Middle East and India as one of the most profound authors in the Sufi tradition and a prominent commentator on the scriptures. Many centuries later the poet Ḥāfiẓ was apparently a member of the Sufi order founded by Rūzbihān.

At the age of 15, he was overwhelmed by an experience that caused him to abandon his vocation as a grocer (from which his surname Baqlī, “the grocer,” is derived). Rūzbihān’s experience so overpowered him that he went into a state of profound reverie and ecstasy:

Then ecstasy overwhelmed me, and I threw into the road the money box and whatever was in the shop for the time of scarcity. I tore my clothes and headed to the desert. I remained in that state a year and a half, ravished and astonished, weeping and ecstatic. Great ecstasies and hidden visitations happened every day. In those ecstasies, I saw the heavens, the earth, mountains, deserts, and trees as though they were all light. Then I settled down from that distress.12

After wandering in the desert for over a year, he joined the Sufis, where he began an intensive study of meditative discipline. He finally settled in Shiraz where his followers built a hospice or lodge for him in 1165. The fundamental metaphor employed in his diary is “veiling” and “unveiling,” a theme built upon in detail by the next generation of Sufis. The terms “veiling” and “unveiling” refer to the hidden secret of God’s primordial essence, which is none other than absolute unity. That essence is an embrace of the most all-consuming love and light.

Rūzbihān Baqlī’s Unveiling of Secrets written in 1186 broke new ground. It became one of the most powerful documents in the history of Sufi mysticism. Unlike most Sufi writing up to that time, his diary is written in the first person, as he records his visionary experiences with God, the angels, the prophets, and the Sufi saints. Rūzbihān was well known far beyond his homeland; Sufis from North Africa, Central Asia, and India knew him as shaykh al-shaṭaḥāt, or “The Master of Ecstatic Speech.”13

The nuanced imagery of ascension, already developed by an earlier generation of mystics, was refined by Rūzbihān into an eloquent art form. Because of the detail and scope of his revelations, rare in any religious or spiritual tradition, we see articulated an exquisite refinement of the stages (ḥāls) and states (maqāms) of his mystical ascension. He speaks of passing by the angels, as did Bisṭāmī, where he reaches the throne (‘arsh):

I saw that God’s creation, the angels, were greater than his creatures on earth; they were performing prayer, witnessing the nearness of the Truth, with voices thundering his praise. Then I rose up to the world of shining light to ask about it, and was told that this world is called the throne….Often I saw the throne and the footstool, and I saw God most high clothed with divinity, as if God were a master wearing a cloak; I melted from God’s majesty and grandeur.…14

As we study Rūzbihān’s visions, we see a remarkable inner coherence and unity of expression. Rūzbihān, who traveled the inner path hundreds of times, gives only the highlights of his visions, which will confer upon his student a deeper understanding, and strengthening of his faith. There are few works in any tradition that can compare with both the depth and subtlety of his expression and analysis. In this next excerpt, Rūzbihān refers to an important “station” (maqām) in his inner journey. While in a state of unveiling one day, he asks, “What is the meaning of this station?” The inner answer he then received to his question came in the form of a vision, confirming both the reality of the Praiseworthy Station and the nature of the Light of Prophecy.

Then I wanted to learn what was beyond the veil, so I went to the edge of the veil. When I reached it, I saw coming from beyond the veil a great light, and I saw a person like the moon from head to foot. His face was like the face of the moon, and he was greater than the heavens in their entirety. That person had seized the whole divine presence; there was not a point as big as the head of a pin that was not filled with it. There was upon his face a continuous light from the divine presence without interruption. 15

Rūzbihān, in his personal journey, had been brought to the “praiseworthy station” and witnessed the “light of manifestation.”

Some of the contemporary accounts by those who have had a near-death experience seem to come close to this sense of ineffability described by Ruzbihan. (See Mellon-Thomas Benedict’s NDE account in chapter 7.) Beyond this presence, he would have “seen [the transcendent] without a veil.”16

Rūzbihān, like all true mystics, falls silent in wonder at the door of eternity:

He manifested himself within me, and from the vision of his face came the sweetness of longing, the melting of the spirit, the agitation of the inner consciousness, the shattering of the heart, and the annihilation of the intellect. If an atom of this befell the mountains of the earth, they would melt from sweetness. I was sighing, weeping, turning and sobbing. God took me into the angelic realm, and placed me at the door of eternity. Then God manifested to me as greatness and magnificence. I saw light upon light, glory upon glory, power upon power, and I cannot describe it. I was unable to proceed a step closer because of his majesty and power. If I looked at it forever, I would be unable to understand an atom in the likeness of any of pre-eternal qualities. But God is beyond any description.17

In this numinous vision, Rūzbihān speaks of God as “light upon light,”. Mystically, as Rūzbihān approaches the divine presence, illumination is continuous and overpowering, and the self is shattered (fanā’) in the light of the divine presence. Rūmī later explained this state as like holding a candle up to the light of the sun. Although the candle exists in relation to the sun, its existence is ultimately nonexistent. So to the spirit, which is light, becomes nonexistent in the overpowering Light of the Face of God.

Ibn ʽArabī and the Methodology of Ascension

Not long after Rūzbihān, there appeared one of the greatest Sufi saints of all time, Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʽArabī (1165–1240). So significant was his influence, he was referred to as Shaykh al-Akbar or the greatest shaykh. Ibn ʽArabī transforms not only the theological basis for much of later mystical writings, but also becomes himself a model for the highest inner attainment. Shaykh Muzaffer Ozak al-Jerrahi summarized his importance succinctly, saying, “His teaching of the wonder of Creation and his miraculous knowledge is displayed in such books as al-Futūḥāt al Makkīyah, Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam Bezels of Wisdom and many others bear witness to his importance.”18 At the young age of 15, Ibn ʽArabī went on a retreat. For the next nine months, he remained in a state of inner absorption. What he accomplished in this retreat became the basis for much of what he later wrote about in his book Journey to the Lord of Power.19

His treatise, Journey to the Lord of Power, known most widely under the title Risālat al-anwār fī mā yumnā ṣāḥib al-khalwah man al-asrār (Treatise on the Lights in the Secrets Granted One Who Undertakes Retreat) was originally edited in 1204–1205 in Konya, a major Sufi center then as well as today. The text was written to answer the questions of an unnamed friend who was himself a saint and Sufi master on the proper method of inner ascension and the states and stations of retreat. In this letter, he deals with the conditions, experiences, and results of union (fanā’) in God. While his prose is visionary, his description of the inner journey is purely didactic to explain to his friend the conditions necessary to enter retreat and the experiences he will encounter as he travels inwardly toward union. His work, as he makes clear, is the result of his own “unveilings” (kashf) while in retreat, and he speaks of nothing that he himself has not experienced. This, he asserts, is the precondition of real knowledge. All else from the point of view of the shaykh is illusory knowledge because it fails to “unveil” any aspect of the real knowledge of God’s being.

In his book, al-Futūḥāt al-Makkīyah, Ibn ʽArabī articulates in his own manner a vivid understanding of inner ascension and revelation. Every aspect of the “unveiling” (kashf) of God’s Lights or Self-disclosure to God’s creation is put forward in detail. We give here only a meager taste of what later became a pillar of Sufi mystical theosophy, epistemology, and ontology.

The experience of “unveiling” (kashf) takes place when God illuminates the heart, enabling it see into the unseen worlds. This “opening” or faṭḥ is an act of God, which opens the inner eye to the unseen world. Here God “opens up” the heart to the knowledge of Him. This is both the beginning of retreat and the beginning of the stage of ascent where a person enters into the realm of tasting or dwawq.

Ibn ʽArabī explains the signs of the first unveilings:

If the seeker desires the divine loci of witnessing and lordly sciences, he should multiply his nightly vigils and continually multiply within them his concentration (jāmʽīya). If scattered lights should appear to him such that between each light, darkness is interspersed, and if those lights have no subsistence but disappear quickly, this is one of the first marks of acceptance and opening. Those noble lights will never cease becoming manifest to him through his act of spiritual struggle and his striving until a greater light is unveiled for him.20

The perception of this Light is achieved only through the opening of what Ibn ʽArabī calls the eye of insight (al-bāṭin), as opposed to the eye of sight (al-ẓāhir), which is the eye which sees the outside visible world. These two worlds, the visible and invisible, are viewed with two different eyes. We find numerous references to these two distinct modes of perception in almost all of the religious and spiritual traditions.

Here mystical gnosis achieves a stability, which allows it to “see” beyond what is purely physical. It now sees into the nature of the “seen” with the “eye insight” from the “lights of existence.” This is a gnosis of a qualitatively higher, more secure level.

As the seeker continues to advance in the “World of Dominion,” higher and higher lights are unveiled. First God reveals the secrets of the mineral world. Here the seeker will become acquainted with the secret of every stone and its particular harmful and beneficial qualities. God then will reveal to the seeker the secrets of the vegetable and the animal worlds. This, he tells us, is “the ascent of dissolution of the order of nature, and the state of contraction will accompany you in these world.”21 Next God will reveal to you the “infusion of the world of life-force into lives and what influences this has in every being according to its predisposition and how the expressions [of faith] are included in this infu-sion.”22 In this state, the soul comes to know how life is infused into every manner of being and how it withdraws at the time of death. The seeker learns how each being evolves and ascends upward according to its own predispositions and how matter is transformed into spirit.

You will see clearly the apparatus of transformations; how the dense becomes subtle and the subtle dense. And if you do not stop, the light of the scattering of sparks will become visible to you, and there will be a need to veil yourself from it. Do not be afraid. Persevere in the dhikr (remembrance of God). For if you persevere in the dhikr, disaster will not overcome you.23 [Dhikr has also been referred to as a repetition of certain “spiritually charged words”, which it is said, protect the soul on its inner journey from anything that is not of the Divine Power.]

If the seeker continues and does not stop, he enters a stage called the light of ascendant stars, which is a technical term used by Ibn Arabi to refer to the lights of the Declaration of Divine Unity. “If you do not stop with this, God reveals to you the ‘light of the ascendant stars’ and the form of the universal order. And you will see directly the adab, the proper conduct, for entering the Divine Presence and the adab for standing before the real and the adab for leaving God’s presence for creation…” These lights according to Ibn ʽArabī extinguish the rest of the “lights,” meaning the light of speculative proofs, not those of prophetic or revelatory proofs. In simpler terms, as the illumination of the gnostic increases, the lesser means of comprehension known as speculative proofs are discarded. Here the gnostic comprehends directly without the aid of intellect, reasoning, or perception…. He draws his knowledge and inspiration directly from the Lights of the Revelation. This, in itself, is a further declaration of the Unity of the Divine presence.

Ibn ʽArabī discusses the ontological reality of God’s self-disclosure. The ultimate purpose of all existent things is to receive the Light of the Real and, in receiving, to bear witness to God’s perfection.

When the possible thing came into existence, it became colored (inṣibāgh) by light, and nonexistence disappeared. The thing opened its eyes and saw that Being [God] was Sheer Good (al-khayr al-maḥḍ), but it did not know what It was, nor did it know that it had been commanded by It to come into engendered existence.24

In summary, everything we can ever know about God is the result of God’s self-disclosure of himself through the agency of His “Lights of Manifestation.” We come to know and experience God solely through the agency of God’s Light, which is real existence, knowledge, and truth. Strange as it may appear, our individual existence is itself a veil between God and us. It is only by emptying us of ourselves that we can be filled with God. The Sufis talk about two kinds of knowledge: one based upon our ego and acquired through the agency of the five senses, and the other received directly from God. The more we encounter the “Lights of God’s Manifestation” the more we also acquire the attributes of the Real: love, mercy, truth, and compassion.

Suhrawardī and the Illuminist Traditions

At almost the same time as Rūzbihān Baqlī was becoming widely known, another distinguished mystic, Shahāb al-Dīn Suhrawardī, was born (1155–1191) in the town of Suhraward in the province of Jabal, in Azerbaijan. As a young man, he displayed extraordinary intelligence as well as a vast storehouse of esoteric wisdom that he received from his teachers, and became revered as a theologian, and doctor of law. He became known as Suhrawardī al-(Maqtūl) to distinguish him from several other famous Suhrawardīs.

The little we know of his life was taken from his follower Shahrzurī’s account of him:

He traveled to many parts and was much in the company of Sufis, from whom he benefited. Having acquired the traits of independence of thought and solitude… through ascetic practice, solitary retreat and meditation, he reached the final stages of the sages and revelations of the prophets….

He paid no attention the world, with which he was unconcerned; he gave little thought to food or dress and was not impressed by exalted position. Sometimes he wore a cloak and long red skull cap; sometimes he wore a patched frock with a cloth over his head; sometimes he dressed like the Sufis. He was accustomed to fasting, nocturnal vigil and meditation on the theosophical realms. 25

Today his profound influence is attributed to his Theosophy of Illumination or Ḥikmat al-ishrāq, considered his masterpiece and the basis of the school of Illuminist theosophy known as ishrāqīya. Suhrawardī believed all creation emanated (ṣadara) from God as Light waves from the sun. God is the First, the Light of Lights, the wājib, or preexistent absolute necessity, the principle first cause upon which all follows, and upon which all possibilities of creation depend for their existence. All the possibilities of creation proceed from this “First Light,” and simultaneously depend upon it for its existence. From this Primal Absolute Light emanated the first created being, which was also a light, a conscious light that knows itself and knows the cause of its creation. This he termed the “Creative Light” or al-nūr al-‘ibdā’ī or “Essential intelligence” that was an intercessor between the source of Light, the Creator, and the created universe.26 Just as the first created being was different from the source of Light, in degree of its strength, so too, every subsequent light has a weaker light than the one from which it proceeded. For example, the light of the moon is weaker than the light of the sun from which it receives its light. Similarly, as light pours continuously from the sun, so too creation pours continuously from the Light of Lights, the source: God. Since the Creator is eternal, that which comes from it is also eternal.

This first Created Light or first being he also referred to as the al-nūr al-‘ibdā’ī or Nearest Light because it was nearest to its Source, al-nūr al-aqrab. It is believed that this was none other than the great “Column of light” that God created as both his interior and exterior. In it is the very being, essence, source of everything.

The entire journey is an ascent in the gradual realization of the Divine Light in oneself. There are, according to Suhrawardī, various ways this light manifests:

1. Quick, lightning flashes, which appear and disappear, obtained by novices.

2. More continuous periods of enlightenment, which may become permanent, for those who are continuous and persistent in their efforts, contemplation, and prayers.

3. Revealing lights for those who are advanced in the true path, “for whom the struggle with the ego, contemplation and consciousness of the Creator and devotions have become natural.”27

For Suhrawardī, inner ascension proceeds through a path of lesser lights that are all derived from the highest Source the “First Light.” These lights in order of ascension are the nafs or lower self and the world of al-nafs al-nāṭiqah. This light is of two kinds: the one that inhabits bodies and those that inhabit matter.

Those that inhabit matter are also of two kinds, the ethereal and the elemental. The higher or stronger light is al-ruh al-kuddus, the Holy Spirit that the philosophers call al-’aqlal-fa’al the Active Mind, which like a compassionate father guides the human mystery, sustains the human spirit and leads us to perfect wisdom.28

Here Suhrawardī reveals a powerful insight that, although the soul proceeds through these lesser lights to the Universal Mind, and then onto the First Light, this Light of Lights is actually closer to us than all the other lights. But he argues:

Because we apply the rules of causality, this light revealed to us reflecting from heart to heart seems very close to us. In reality, because of its overwhelming intensity, what is farthest seems nearest to us. The nearest is the Light of Light…. The First Light is the highest of the high and the nearest of the near.29

Shaykh’s Suhrawardī ideas lived on and grew in popularity through the work of Najm al Din Kubrā.



Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā and the Visionary Lights of Ascent

The mysticism of light developed by Suhrawardī had a profound impact both on Iranian Sufism as well as the Central Asian School of the Kubrāwīyah founded by Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā (1145–1221). Although born ten years earlier, Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā developed similar language and interest in visionary phenomena and their role in the inner journey. He was the first of the Sufi masters to focus his attention on the symbolism of colors, which a mystic perceives in his upward ascent. He took great pains to describe these lights and explain their significance in the life of the traveler. Some of the leading masters of the Central Asian school including Najm al-Dīn Dāyā Rāzī, Najm al-Dīn Kubrā’s direct disciple, and ʽAlāʼ al-Dawlā Simnānī, who showed an appreciation for both his ṭarīqah’s symbolism and the significance of his interpretation. Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā shared with Suhrawardī a number of seminal ideas, including the belief that these visions of light were indications of the degree of inner ascension or states achieved by the seeker in his upward journey.

Kubrā summarizes his entire theosophy in the first paragraph of his great book, “Learn O my friend, that the object of the search (morād) is God, and that the subject who seeks (the subject who makes effort, morīd) is a light that comes from him (or a particle of his light).”30 Kubrā postulated the notion that the seeker is himself a particle of the divine, and the method of return is a conjoining of the light of the seeker with the light of his Creator. What lies between these two lights, the light of the seeker and the greater Light of the Creator, is the darkness of the seeker’s animal nature. Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā refers to the soul as an ascending light and the descending light as coming from the Throne.

There are lights which ascend and lights which descend. The ascending lights are the lights of the heart; the descending lights are those of the Throne. Creatural being is the veil between the Throne and the heart. When this veil is rent and a door to the Throne opens in the heart, like springs toward like. Light rises toward light and light comes down upon light, “and it is light upon light”.31

Here Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā reveals the deeper mystical symbolism of the enigmatic lines in the Sūrah on Light, “Light upon light” intimating this is a most wondrous meeting between the seeker and God Most High, whom God has guided toward Absolute Light. As the soul cries out in yearning, each cry of the heart is met by a descent of light toward the seeker. Each sigh of the seeker is joined with a sigh from the Throne until their energies are equal and they meet halfway. “But when the substance of light has grown in you, then this becomes a Whole in relation to what is of the same nature in Heaven; then it is the substance of light in Heaven which yearns for you and is attracted by your light and it descends toward you. This is the secret of the mystical approach (sirr al-sayr).”32

Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā and the Manifestation of Light

Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā’s special contribution to the theosophy of light mysticism was his articulation of an earlier concept that of the al-insān al-kāmil, “perfected being”, or “great being” al-insān al-kabīr. The perfected man exists within each individual in latent form. It represents the inherent possibility of perfection dormant in every soul. The “man [person] of light,” or the “suprasensory guide,” as he called it, appears within to guide the seeker on his upward journey, and his appearance is in accordance with his level of attainment. The ethereal or light form of a spiritual master known is empowered to take on the mystical form of one’s own outer self, appearing and disappearing in various forms in relation to the needs of the disciple.

The following passage affirms the reality of guidance in the form of the “person of light,” the perfection of the soul through this interior guidance. This is no different from the radiant or light form of the shaykh, which is a central if not cardinal element in the upward ascent of the traveler. This suprasensory guide and the radiant form of the shaykh are both manifestations of the spirit of guidance.

Kubrā develops an intricate mystical theology around the particular manifestations and visionary appearances of the light form of the guide. Each appearance communicates the necessary guidance required for further ascent. Here we draw a significant distinction between the visionary appearance of the radiant or light form of the shaykh and the appearance of the disciple’s own light form, here referred to as the “suprasensory personal guide” and “heavenly witness.” The appearance of this radiant form of the shaykh eventually becomes more and more stable until it begins to talk to the disciple just as one speaks to someone on the physical plane. With continued purification, the disciple (murīd) merges himself completely in the being of his master (murshid), so much so that there is no distinction between the two. Sufis refer to this as fanāʼ fī al-shakyh or merger in your own spiritual master, and fanā’ fī Allāh the final merging in God. This form of light or suprasensory witness now gradually guides the murīd step by step through the inner regions and facilitates the murīd’s merger in God. All of this is achieved through the ever-increasing yearning for the divine beloved.

Kubrā goes on to describe a culminating moment when the traveler enters into the threshold of ecstatic contemplation, and one sees the mystical face of his Beloved. “When the circle of the face has become pure,” writes the shaykh:

It effuses lights as a spring pours forth its water, so that the mystic has a sensory perception, (i.e. through the suprasensory senses) that these lights are gushing forth to irradiate his face. This outpouring takes place between the two eyes and between the eyebrows. Finally, it spreads to cover the whole face. At that moment, before you, before your face, there is another Face also of light, irradiating lights; while behind its diaphanous veil a sun becomes visible, seemingly animated by a movement to and fro...33

All of this is an inner movement toward the radiance of one’s own inner being. Each step the seeker makes toward the light is a step toward towards one’s own higher light, and toward the universal spirit from which we all have emanated.

Najm al-Dīn Rāzī and the Lights of Ascension

Using slightly different language, Najm al-Dīn Rāzī, a direct disciple of Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā, gives us a similar version of the threshold of ecstatic contemplation. Najm al-Dīn Rāzī speaks of the merging of the descending light of the Throne (‘arsh) with the ascending light of the seeker’s heart. In this meeting, contemplator becomes contemplated, lesser light becomes greater light, lover becomes Beloved.

If the light rises in the sky of the heart taking the form of one or of several light-giving moons, the two eyes are closed to this world and to the other. If this light rises, and in the utterly pure inner man, attains the brightness of the sun or of many suns, the mystic is no longer aware of this world nor of the other. He sees only his own Lord under the veil of the Spirit. Then his heart is nothing but light, his subtle body is light, his material covering is light, his hearing, his sight, his hand, his exterior, his interior are nothing but light, his mouth and his tongue also.34

The contribution of the illuminist traditions of Ibn ʽArabī, Suhrawardī, and Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā and his disciples have continued to influence mystical schools of Sufism. Subsequent generations of Sufi shaykhs continued incorporating the imagery of light and the theosophy of Light into their methodologies. Appearing at almost the same time, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī emerges as a great mystic poet and spiritual masters based on his seminal poetic masterpiece, the Mathnāwī. Yet unlike Suhrawardī and Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā, Rūmī’s contribution was not in the area of an illuminist theory but in a praxis and teaching methodology. Scholars agree, given Rūmī’s extensive and far-reaching knowledge of Islamic culture, theosophy, and jurisprudence, there seems little doubt he must have been familiar if not conversant with Suhrawardī’s and Ibn ʽArabī’s writings. And while not drawing directly from these sources in his Mathnāwī, it can be said to be a poetic rendering, if not reaffirmation, of the essential mystical foundations articulated in the scriptures, and interpreted by both Ibn ʽArabī and the Illuminist traditions of Suhrawardī.35



Rūmī and the Praxis of Light

The 13th-century Persian Sufi mystic, Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, is considered to be one of the greatest spiritual masters of all time. And his two major works, a collection of poetry known as the Divan- i Tabriz and his epic Mathnāwī, are among the most widely read books of poetry throughout the Middle East and increasingly around the world.36

Even before attaining such status—indeed, before he ever wrote a single line of verse—Rūmī had already achieved considerable fame as a brilliant theologian, academic scholar, and full-fledged exemplar of the Islamic community of Konya. All this changed, however, one day as he stumbled upon a man who appeared to be a wandering dervish. As the story goes, Rūmī was riding a donkey, and the man grabbed hold of the reins. The astounded Rūmī wondered, who is this man? In this fateful meeting Rumi encountered a being of such great light and love that his entire life would later be transformed by him. It was for this fated meeting with Rumi that Shams had inwardly prayed years earlier. He had offered his life to be with one of God’s elect and it was for this meeting his entire existence had been ordained.

In the 25,000 verses of the Mathnawi, references to the divine Light abound. For Rūmī, the mystical light referred to in the Qur’ān as the Nūr Ilāhi, the First Light of Suhrawardī, and the nūr al-anwār of al-Ghazālī were all names for the same pre-eternal Light that was both the means and the end to spiritual gnosis. In Book II of the Mathnawi, Rūmī introduces in a less theosophical language the essential mystical dimensions of the experience of Light as well as the methodology for its attainment. We begin here with Rūmī’s explanation of the origin of this spiritual light (Nur) and humanity’s essential oneness:

Inasmuch as God sprinkled His Light upon them (mankind) [Qur’ān], they are essentially one: His light never becomes separated in reality.37

Quoting the Qur’ānic verse, Rūmī reveals for us a central pillar of visionary gnosis, that the Light of God though separated into different forms remains one in essence. The mystic traveler understands this by direct revelation. But we can comprehend it through an analogy to the outer sun. If we gaze at the sun directly without obstruction, we see its essential oneness. If, however, we see it screened by various outer bodies, our view comes into some doubt. In a similar way, the Light of Allah is essentially one, though we perceive it separately in various physical forms. This same light is not only responsible for every manifestation of outer Light, but also for our very existence:

There is no vision of color without the external light; even so it is with the colour of inward phantasy.

This outward light is derived from the sun and from the Suha (small star) while the inward light is a reflection of the beams of divine Glory.

The light which gives light to the eye, is in truth the light of the heart: the light of the eye is produced by the light of the hearts.

Again, the light which gives light to the heart, is the light of God, which is pure and separate from the light of intellect and sense.38

Here Rūmī explains that the source of exterior light is the sun, but the source of the interior subtle light is God. Further, the light that gives us the ability to see is borrowed from the light of the “heart.” Here we distinguish between a person’s physical heart and the spiritual heart, which is the inner eye that perceives and sees the divine presence. This in turn is derived from the Light of God, which is distinct from the light of the intellect and the outer senses. Without this interior light, we could neither see nor comprehend the exterior world. The opening verses of the Sūrah of Light, “God is the light of the heavens and the earth” (24:35), is revealed in all its subtlety.

The true seer for Rūmī is one who sees with this interior Light. His concern was the work of molding the inner life of the dervishes who came to him. His work was in revealing the interior light in the “heart” of his students (murīds). It is this light that makes all secrets plain and visible. With the opening of this eye of spirit, whatever lies hidden becomes visible. The thoughts of others, the future, and the past become like an open book for the mystic. 39

The experience of seeing with the interior eye has no comparison to how we intellectually perceive things in this world. For example, intellectual comprehension requires a preliminary premise, absence of contradictions, and a formal logic to arrive at a conclusion. All this Rūmī tells us is transcended in the vision of the gnostic, “because the seer on whom God’s light is dawning is quite independent of the (logical) proof which resembles a blind man’s staff.”40 In reality, not only is intellectual comprehension by itself a poor substitute for spiritual vision, but also no more help than a blind man’s staff.

The entire inner struggle of the seeker is to seek passionately to awaken this inner vision and free oneself from the tyranny of sense perception. It is this slavery to the sense perception that imprisons the seer in the net of cause and effect. We see only the immediate sensory reality but not the reality behind the deed. “When the light of God comes into the sensorium (and becomes the medium of perception), you will not be a slave to effect and cause.”41 Here Rūmī reminds seekers that this Light of God should be our interior guide. In the same manner that every horse needs a rider, the interior guide is the Light of the Unseen without which all efforts will be fruitless:

Go towards a sense on which the Light is riding: that Light is a good companion for the sense. The Light of God is an ornament to the light of sense: this is the meaning of the light upon light. The light of sense draws (a person] towards earth; the Light of God bears him aloft. Because sensible things are a lower world; the light of God is (as) the sea, and the sense as a dew drop. But that which rides on it (on the sense) is not manifested save by good effects and words.42

This same light is as an ocean compared to the dewdrop of sensual perception. For Rūmī, without this guiding light we remain in spiritual darkness. As the seeker progresses, the outer senses become secondary and less and less important to daily existence. The gnostic (possessor of hidden knowledge) now perceives all things through the Light of God. When the inner vision awakens, every other sense also becomes animated and surcharged. The invisible world now becomes visible, the divine secrets become manifest, and the unmanifested God becomes an intimate friend.

Rūmī tells us the shaykh is “brimming with the Light of God. He has shattered the bodily cup, he is the Absolute Light. If the sunlight fall upon filth, it is the same light still. It suffers no defilement.”43 The Light of God, which is manifest in a true shaykh, not only purifies everything it touches, but it cannot be defiled either. It is the source of every blessing and sanctifies whatever it touches. Such is the power of the saint that he uplifts all who come to him, even those who would seek to criticize or abuse him.

Rūmī’s poetic descriptions of the mystical states of ascension were not only couched in the imagery of light, but also build upon Suhrawardī and Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā’s earlier works. The concept of the perfected being (al-insān al-kāmil) ,spoken of so eloquently by Ibn ʽArabī, also becomes a repeated theme in Rūmī’s verses. For Rūmī, Shams-i Tabrīzī was none other than the full embodiment of the “Prophetic Nur,” a spiritual sun who rose over the horizon of the faithful bringing light and illumination.



Muʽīn al-Dīn Chishtī and the True Knower

During the time-frame of 1273 -1550 known as the Post-Classical period there was a continuation of the development along the lines set by earlier Sufi mystics. Some of the most prominent of Sufi saints and saints included Muʽīn al-Dīn Chishtī, Bābā Farīd, Aḥmad Sirhindī, and Khwāja Ḥāfiẓ.

An early biography quoted by the Indian scholar W. Begg gives a delightful glimpse of Muʽīn al-Dīn’s(1142-1236) first acquaintance with Sufism:

One day he came across a holy person constantly engrossed in communion with God (majzoob), in the person of dervish Shaikh Ibrahim Qandozi, who happened to come to his orchard....Immediately he saw the dervish whom He welcomed him enthusiastically and, after kissing his hands reverently, bade him sit down under a shady tree. He then brought a bunch of fresh grapes and requested the holy man to eat. While eating, the saint seemed to admire the manners and the gesture of the young Khwāja’s hospitality, and at once perceived, by his intuitive powers, that [the young man] had a spark of divine love in his heart and was an ardent seeker after truth. Overwhelmed by the pleasure of his understanding, the dervish brought out a bit of khul (substance left after the oil was extracted from the sesame seed or Til]; from his wallet and after chewing it, put it in the mouth of Khwāja Muʽīn al-Dīn. No sooner had he eaten it, than the veil of all worldly imagination was lifted from his mind and he found himself in quite a ‘strange’ world radiating with Divine manifestation. When Khwāja Muʽīn al-Dīn recovered, he found that Shaikh Ibrahim Qandozi had gone.44

As with many Sufi biographical accounts, encounters with the divine were often expressed in accepted Sufi lexicon. Words like “unveiling,” “witnessing,” “radiating,” “divine manifestation” or “illumination” all pointed to the literal experience of interior Light. These terms were employed as both metaphors and real-life descriptions of the experience of the mystic. Khwāja Muʽīn al-Dīn’s initiation is important to recollect here, as it fits into mold of the Mir’aj ascent model and later further developed by Abū Yazīd Bisṭāmī, Rūzbihān, and Ibn ʽArabī. What is added here in this description is the use of dhikr as the initiatic tool to transport the traveler into the interior journey.

He asked me to repeat Ikhlāṣ again one thousand times. I did so. “Look towards the heaven,” he then asked me. When I raised my eyes towards the heaven he inquired once more, “How far do you see?” I said, “Up to the zenith (arsh-e-Moalla).” He then said, “Look below.” I did so. He enquired gain, “How far do you see?” I said, “Up to the abyss (tahtus-Sara).” He then asked me to sit down and repeat Sūrah Ikhlāṣ one thousand times and I did it. He then told me, “Look towards the heaven.” When I did so, he enquired, again, “How far do you see now?” I said, “Up to the dazzlement of God’s glory (azmat).” He then told me, “Close your eyes.” I did so, and after a moment he said, “Open your eyes.” Then he showed me his two fingers and enquired, “What do you see through them?” I said, “I see 18,000 worlds (alam).” When he heard this, he said, “Now your work is over.”45

Here the mention of the “zenith” or ʽarsh- e Moalla, and the “dazzlement of God’s Glory” or ʽazmat are specific references to earlier mystics of the pre-classical and classical period. However, Muʽīn al-Dīn’s own writings are even clearer in describing the mystical ascent in the language of Light mysticism. Describing the essence of a true Sufi or ʽārif, he tells us, “those having insights into the ‘essence of things’ are endowed with light like the sun and they impart illumination to the whole world.”46 This illumination is the knowledge of God’s essence and it is its most expressive quality.

Mystics who are “brimming over with the light of God,” as Rūmī says, are the spiritual pillars, qutbs, of each age. They are the very reason for God’s creation and its sustaining power as well. The inner qualification of a knower of God (ʽārif) is his constant contact with this “continuous out-pouring of light” or (tajallīyāt). This is not a passing state or singular experience in time but an ongoing realization of the ocean of existence and the reality in which every mystic swims. Muʽīn al-Dīn poetically suggests the same here, “He is an ʽārif or seer who is visited every day by a hundred thousand flashes of light from heaven.”47

This mystical insight into the “essence of things” is the ground upon which gnosis of the unseen world is predicated. The mystic who lives and has his being in this ocean of light apprehends and comprehends the physical world beyond the use of his physical senses. He sees all things in the light of his inner revelation. Muʽīn al-Dīn again explains:

He is an arif whom the unseen world enlightens to enable him to reveal mysteries to solve all thorny problems and to meet all arguments successfully. He is always swimming in the ocean of interpretation and is capable of extracting the pearl of secrets and of “light” and to present it to those who are competent enough to test its genuineness.48

The root of all illumination is the experience of this Nūr or divine Light. For Sufis, this is the inner test, which separates the advanced from the perfected soul. Only one who has reached perfection is able to offer this “dazzlement” and revelation, but those of a lesser realization cannot do so. “The stage of perfection in knowledge of realization of God (irfan) is reached when the seer enlightens the hearts of other people with the Divine Light.”49 This perfection naturally is the attainment of very select few, but its significance cannot be overstated in the development of Sufi mysticism.

Continuity and Renewal

Over subsequent centuries until the present the essential Sufi message continues to reflect the early formative and classical periods which we have highlighted in this chapter. Considering the many societal challenges of modernity, core spiritual concepts appear to have remained remarkably resilient.

The spiritual essence in Sufi mysticism harks back to the pre-eternal Light /or al-Kalimah al-Qadīmah, the ancient original Word of God, which links the practitioner to the transcendent experience of inner Light/Nūr and divine Music/Bang-i-Asmani. At its deepest levels, this essence includes the supportive disciplines of dhikr, (remembrance of God), murāqabah (meditation), and ṣuḥbah (association with a saint/shaykh/ spiritual mentor).

There is a teaching story told of the mystic Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī that beautifully illustrates the living essence of experiencing this divine light in the being of a master. Rumi, like all great masters, sought the transformation of the heart in the crucible of divine love.

As it is told, a rich merchant of Tabriz came to Konia, looking for the wisest man there, for he was in trouble. After trying to get advice from the religious leaders, lawyers, and others, he heard of a great dervish whose name was Rūmī. Without further delay, he hastened to meet the Sufi sage.

When he saw Maulana in the audition hall, he was overcome with emotion by the sheer majesty of his spiritual power. Rūmī said to him, God has punished you and is showing you something. Now all will be well with you.”

The merchant was amazed at what he knew.

Rumi continued: “You have had many troubles because one day you saw a Christian dervish lying in the street. You spat on him. Go to him and ask forgiveness, and give him our salutations.”

As the merchant stood terrified by the reading of his mind and life, Rūmī said; “Shall we show him to you now?” Thereupon Rumi touched the wall of the room, and miraculously the wall depicted the scene of the same dervish sitting in a marketplace in Europe. The merchant stood shocked. He reeled away from the Master’s radiant presence, completely beside himself. Inwardly, he realized he was in the presence of a power that cared for him without reservation and sought only his redemption.

Traveling as fast as he could to the dervish/sage, he found him lying prostrate on the ground. As he approached him, the dervish knew of his coming and before he could say anything said, “Our Master Jalāl has communicated with me.” He then directed the merchant to look in the direction he was pointing, and there he saw, as in a living picture Jalāl al-Dīn bathed in glorious light chanting these words, “Whether a ruby or a pebble, whether a king or a beggar, there is a place on His hill, there is a place on His hill for all.”

The merchant carried back the greetings of the dervish saint he had encountered to Jalāl al-Dīn, and he later settled in the community of dervishes in Konia. 50

Guidelines at the Heart of the Teachings

1. “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth” and has made humans from this divine light. At the deepest level we are all beings of light.

2. “Light is the super substance of divine truth and its creative power in expression.” All things came into existence from this first primal pre-eternal Light (al-Kalimah al-Qadīmah’).

3. Realize through the gift of a competent saint that the light of God comes into the vision of the seeker and leads one onto the inner path. Seek Light from one who is an ocean of Light.

4. Through the practice of constant inner invocation (dhikr), the seeker ascends into the light and is guided by the “supersensory guides” or “being of light.” Only the light can guide the Light.

5. The darker side of the seeker’s nature becomes illumined in proportion to one’s own struggle, aspiration, and determination. Therefore never cease in one’s effort to increase the light. Patience is the key to joy.

6. The perfected Saint has the power to change the hearts, minds, and will of the seeker. “He can even change their destiny from bad to good and from good to best.” The true saint is the instrument of God’s will in this world.

7. From the “continuous vision” of God’s light comes a sweetness of longing, the melting of the spirit, and the utilization of the intellect in the essence of divine love. “If a single atom of this love should touch the mountains of the earth, they would all melt from sweetness.”

8. By merging in the Saut-e Sarmad, or sound of the abstract, the seeker frees one’s consciousness from all limitations of time, space, or causation. The Divine Current is a Living Current of endless bliss and ecstasy.

9. Realize that surrender to this Divine Light with perfect faith and certitude is the highest form of worship. The seeker comes to know “There is nothing other than God. Only God exists.”

10. The highest attainment is to become an instrument of God’s mercy and compassion for all humanity. Heal the world one broken heart at a time.

A Contemplative Practice

Hurt Not the God in All. Hurt not the heart of any of God’s creation.

We are all guilty at one level or another of finding fault and criticizing others. The seemingly innocuous little criticisms we all indulge in from time to time may appear harmless, but are they? It is these “little criticisms” which circulate and first poison our own hearts and then the atmosphere around us. Practicing nonviolence and refraining from criticizing others is a sine quo non for our spiritual equanimity. Here are a few helpful aids in working with this practice: First recognize that by criticizing and thinking ill of others we hurt them, whereas by protecting the dignity, safety and well-being of others we uplift them and ennoble ourselves.

• Begin by refraining from all forms of criticizing or judging others in word or deed.

• Slowly increase this to all subtle forms of putting others down in word.

• Extend this to gradually refraining from all judging or criticizing others in thought.

• Finally, continually seek to ensure and protect the dignity, well-being and respect of all beings.


Chapter 3: Sufism and the Ineffable Light:
Oceans of Unending Brightness


1 This interesting story is related by Indris Shah in his now famous book Tales of the Sufis.

2 It is held that from this unfathomable source, the al-Kalimah al-Qadīmah, is the ultimate source of the “living” Light to which the mystics Sufis become attuned.

3 Shams of Tabriz, Rumi’s Sun: The Teachings of Shams of Tabriz, Trans. Refik Algan & Camille Adams (Sandpoint, ID: Helminski Morning Light Press, 2009).

4 The “Holy Sound” refers to another aspect of the Light of God. Later Sufis spoke of this in different ways. Some called it the “abstract Sound,” others as the “Sound from Heaven.”

5 A recommended translation of this celebrated “Light on Light” verse is provided by M. H. Shakir.

6 Al Ghazali, The Deliverance from Error, translated and annotated by R. J. McCarthy (Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae Press, 1980), p. 58.

6 R. A. Nicholson, 1926, 403–408.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Margaret Smith, An Early Mystic of Baghdad: A Study of the Life and Teaching of Harith B. Asad Al-Muhasibi (London, UK: Sheldon Press, 1977), pp. 224–225.

11 Ibid., p. 225. Originally taken from Kashf al-Mahjub, p. 275.

12 Carl Ernst, 1997), p. 11.

13 Ibid., p. xv.

14 Ibid., pp. 17, 18.

15 Ibid., pp. 20–21.

16 Ibid., p. 21.

17 Ibid., p. 77.

18 Ibn Arabi, Journey to the Lord of Power, Trans. Rabia Terri Harris (New York, NY: Inner Traditions, 1981), p. 7.

19 Addas, 1996, p. 38.

20 Chittick, 1989, p. 223.

21 Ibn Arabi, 1981, p. 39.

22 Ibid., p. 40.

23 Ibid., p. 41.

24 Chittick, 1989, p. 94.

25 W. M. Thackson Jr., The Visionary Treatises of Suhrawardi (Cambridge, MA: Octagon Press, 1982), pp. 1–2.

26 Al-Suhrawardi, 1998, p. 33.

27 Ibid., p. 35.

28 Ibid., p. 74.

29 Ibid., p. 74.

30 Corbin, 1994, p. 63.

31 Ibid., p. 73–74.

32 Ibid., p. 73.

33 Ibid., p. 85.

34 Ibid., p. 107.

35 Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: East and West, Past and Present (One World Publications, 2000). Pp.285- 289.

36 For a more complete discussion of Rumi’s ubiquitous presence in America and around the world, see the introduction to Franklin D. Lewis, Rumi: East and West, Past and Present (One World Publications, 2000).

37 Rumi Jalalu’ddin, The Mathnawi, Translated and edited by R. A. Nicholson (UK: E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Series, New Series 6, 2001), Book 11, verse 189.

38 Mathnawi, Book 1, verse 1124.

39 Mathnawi, Book 1, verse 1331.

40 Mathnawi, Book 1, verse 1508.

41 Mathnawi, Book 1, verse 2636.

42 Mathnawi, Book 2, verse 1293.

43 Mathnawi, Book 2, verse 3410.

44 Begg, 1977, p. 65.

45 Begg 1977, p.67.

46 Ibid., p. 142.

47 Ibid., p. 145.

48 Ibid., p. 145.

49 Ibid., p. 148.

50 Shah Indris, A Hundred Tales of Wisdom, Octagon Press,. 1978 p.29-31. A fuller version of this story appears in Aflaki’s Munaqib traditionally known as The Hundred Tales of Wisdom.






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