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Lecture 11: Sufiism

Lecture 11

Religion, System of Relations between Man and God.

I ALLUDED in a former lecture to a definition of religion which we owe to Newman. ‘What is religion,’ he writes (Univ. Serm., p. 19), ‘but the system of relations between me and a Supreme Being.’ Another thoughtful writer has expressed the same idea, even more powerfully. ‘Man requires,’ he said, ‘that there shall be direct relations between the created and the Creator, and that in these relations he shall find a solution of the perplexities of existence1.’

This relationship, however, assumes very different forms in different religions. We have seen how in the Vedânta it was founded on a very simple, but irrefragable syllogism. If there is one being, the Vedântist says, which is all in all, then our soul cannot in its substance be different from that being, and our separation from it can be the result of nescience only, which nescience has to be removed by knowledge, that is, by the Vedânta-philosophy.

We saw in the Eleatic philosophy of Greece, the same premise, though without the conclusion deduced from it, that the soul cannot form an exception, but must, like everything else, if not more than everything else, share the essence of what alone is infinite, and can alone be said truly to exist.

Sufiism, its origin.

We shall next have to consider a religion in which the premiss seems to be wanting, but the conclusion has become even more powerful, I mean the Sufiism among the Mohammedans.

As the principal literature of Sufiism is composed in Persian, it was supposed by Sylvestre de Sacy and others that these ideas of the union of the soul with God had reached Persia from India, and spread from thence to other Mohammedan countries. Much may be said in support of such a theory, which was shared by Goethe also in his West-Östliclier Divan. We know of the close contact between India and Persia at all times, and it cannot be denied that the temperament and the culture of Persia lent itself far more naturally to the fervour of this religious poetry than the stern character of Mohammed and his immediate followers. Still we cannot treat Sufiism as genealogically descended from Vedântism, because Vedântism goes far beyond the point reached by Sufiism, and has a far broader metaphysical foundation than the religious poetry of Persia. Sufiism is satisfied with an approach of the soul to God, or with a loving union of the two, but it has not reached the point from which the nature of God and soul is seen to be one and the same. In the language of the Vedânta, at least in its final development, we can hardly speak any longer of a relation between the soul and the Supreme Being, or of an approach of the soul to, or of a union of the soul with God. The two are one as soon as their original and eternal oneness of nature has been recognised. With the Sufis, on the contrary, the subject, the human soul, and the object, the divine spirit, however close their union, remain always distinct, though related beings. There are occasional expressions which come very near to the Vedânta similes, such as that of the drop of water being lost in the ocean. Still, even these expressions admit of explanation; for we are told that the drop of water is not lost or annihilated, it is only received, and the Persian poet when he speaks of the soul being lost in God need not have meant more than our own poet when he speaks of our losing ourselves in the ocean of God's love.

Tholuck seems to have been one of the first to show that there is no historical evidence for the supposition that Sufiism is founded on an ancient Persian sect, prior to the rise of Islam. Sufiism, as he has proved, is decidedly Mohammedan in origin, and its first manifestations appear early in the second century of the Hedjra.

Mohammed said indeed in the Korân1, ‘In Islam there is no monachism’; but as early as 623 A.D., fortyfive men of Mekka joined themselves to as many others of Medîna, took an oath of fidelity to the doctrines of the prophet and formed a fraternity, to establish community of property, and to perform daily certain religious practices by way of penitence. They took the name of Sufî, a word that has been derived from sûf, wool, a hair-cloth used by penitents in the early days of Islam, or from sûfîy, wise, pious, or from safî, pure, or from safâ, purity.

Abstract of Sufi Doctrines.

The principal doctrines of Sufiism have been summed up by Sir W. Jones as follows2: ‘The Sufis believe that the souls of men differ infinitely in degree, but not at all in kind, from the divine spirit of which they are particles, and in which they will ultimately be absorbed; that the spirit of God pervades the universe, always immediately present to His work, and consequently always in substance; that He alone is perfect in benevolence, perfect truth, perfect beauty; that love of Him alone is real and genuine love, while that for other objects is absurd and illusory; that the beauties of nature are faint resemblances, like, images in a mirror, of the divine charms; that, from eternity without beginning to eternity without end, the supreme benevolence is occupied in bestowing happiness, or the means of attaining it; that men can only attain it by performing their part of the personal covenant between them and the Creator; that nothing has a pure absolute existence but mind or spirit; that material substances, as the ignorant call them, are no more than gay pictures presented continually to our minds by the sempiternal artist; that we must beware of attachment to such phantoms and attach ourselves exclusively to God, who truly exists in us, as we exist solely in Him; that we retain even in this forlorn state of separation from our Beloved, the idea of heavenly beauty and the remembrance of our primeval vows; that sweet musick, gentle breezes, fragrant flowers, perpetually renew the primary idea, refresh our fading memory, and melt us with tender affections; that we must cherish these affections, and by abstracting our souls from vanity, that is from all but God, approximate to this essence, in our final union with which will consist our supreme beatitude.3

Rabid, the earliest Sufi.

It is curious that the first person quoted as expressing Sufi opinions is a woman of the name of Rabia, who died 135 after the Hedjra. Ibn Khalikan tells a number of stories of her: ‘She would often in the middle of the night go on the roof of the house and call out in her solitude: “O my God, the noise of the day is hushed, the lover dallies with the beloved in the secret chamber; but I in my solitude rejoice in thee, for I know thee to be my true beloved.”’ Ferid eddîn Attar tells of the same Rabia, that once when she was walking across the rocks, she cried out: ‘Desire of God has seized me; true thou art stone also and earth, but I yearn to see thee.’ Then the High God spoke directly in her heart: ‘O Rabia, hast thou not heard that when Moses once desired to see God, only a mote of the Divine Majesty fell on a mountain, and yet it burst asunder. Be content therefore with my name.’

Again, we are told that when Rabia came to Mekka on a pilgrimage, she exclaimed, ‘I want the Lord of the Kaaba, what use is the Kaaba to me? I have come so near to God, that the word He has spoken applies to me: Whoever approaches me a span, I approach him a yard.’

There are ever so many stories about this Rabia, all intended to show her devotion, nay, her spiritual union with Allah. When she was asked to get married, she said: ‘My inmost being is married, therefore I say, that my being has perished within me, and has been resuscitated in God. Since then, I am entirely in His power, nay, I am all Himself. He who wishes for me as his bride, must ask not me, but Him.’ When Hassan Basri (a famous theologian) asked her by what way and by what means she had risen to that height, she answered: ‘By losing everything that I had found, in Him.’ And when asked once more, by what way and by what means she had come to know Him, she exclaimed: ‘O Hassan, thou knowest by certain ways and by certain means; I know without ways and means.’ When she was ill and laid up, three great theologians visited her. One, Hassan Basri, said: ‘He is not sincere in his prayers, who does not bear patiently the castigation of the Lord.’ The other, Shakik by name, said: ‘He is not sincere in his prayers, who does not rejoice in His castigation.’ But Rabia, still perceiving something of the self in all this, replied: ‘He is not sincere in his prayers, who, when he sees the Lord, does not forget that he is being chastised.’

Another time when she was very ill, and was asked the cause of her illness, she said: ‘I have been thinking of the joys of paradise, therefore my Lord has punished me.’ And again she said: ‘A wound within my heart devours me; it cannot be healed except through my union with my friend. I shall remain ailing, till I have gained my end on the last day.’

This is language with which students of the lives of Christian Saints are familiar. It often becomes even more fervid both in the East and in the West, but it sounds to our ears less offensive in the East than in the West, because in Eastern languages the symbolic representation of human love as an emblem of divine love, has been accepted and tolerated from very early times.

But though it is impossible to trace the first beginnings of Suflism directly to a Persian source, it cannot be denied that in later times Persia and even India, particularly after they had been brought under Mohammedan sway, contributed largely to the development of Sufiism and of Sufi poetry.

Connection of Sufiism with Early Christianity.

The chief impulse, however, which Sufiism received from without, seems to have come from Christianity in that form in which it was best known in the East. By the end of the third century, as Mr. Whinfield writes in the Preface to his translation of the Mesnevi, portions of Plato, of Aristotle, ‘the parent of heresies,’ and of the Alexandrian commentators had been translated into Arabic. The theosophy of the Neo-platonists and Gnostics was widely spread in the East. Sufiism might almost be called a parallel stream of mystical theosophy derived in part from Plato, ‘the Attic Moses,’ as he was called, but mainly from Christianity, as presented in the spiritual gospel of St. John, and as expounded by the Christian Platonists and Gnostics. Traces of the influence of Platonism have been discovered in the reference of the Sufis to the One and the Many, the figment of Not-being, the generation of opposites from opposites, the Alexandrian gnosis of the Logos, of ecstasy and intuition, and the doctrine propounded in the Phaedrus, that human beauty is the bridge of communication between the world of sense and the world of ideas, leading man by the stimulus of love to the Great Ocean of the Beautiful.

Traces of Christianity have been pointed out by Mr. Whinfield, not only in the distinct, mention of the chief events of the Gospel history, but in actual renderings of sentences and phrases taken from the Gospels. The cardinal Sufi terms, ‘The Truth,’ ‘The Way,’ ‘Universal Reason’ (Logos), ‘Universal Soul’ (Pneuma), ‘Grace’ (Fais), and ‘Love,’ are all treated by him as of Christian extraction.

Mr. Whinfield might in support of his theory have mentioned a poem in the Gulshen Ras, the secret of the bed of roses, a very popular but anonymous poem on the principles of Sufiism written about the beginning of the fourteenth century, in which the mystic union of the soul with God is described as the essential feature of Christianity.

There we read:—

‘Dost thou know what Christianity is? I shall tell it thee. It digs up thy own Ego, and carries thee to God.

Thy soul is a monastery, wherein dwells oneness,

Thou art Jerusalem, where the Eternal is enthroned;

The Holy Spirit works this miracle, for know that God's being Rests in the Holy Spirit as in His own spirit.

The Spirit of God gives to thy spirit the fire of the spirit,

He moves in thy spirit beneath a thin veil;

If thou art delivered by the Spirit from manhood,

Thou hast found eternal rest in the sanctuary of God;

He who has directed himself so that all passions are silent,

Will surely, like Jesus, ascend to heaven.’

Abu Said Abul Cheir, Founder of Sufiism.

Rabia may be called a Sufi before even the rise of Sufiism. Her Sufiism seems quite her own, without any traces of foreign influence. The real founder, however, of the Sufis as a religious sect was Abu Said Abul Cheir, about 820 A.D.

Abu Yasîd and Junaid.

Towards the end of the same century a schism took place, one party following Abu Yasîd al-Bushâni, whose pantheistic views were in open conflict with the Korân, the other following Junaid, who tried to reconcile Suflism with orthodoxy. There were then, as at present, Sufis and Sufis. Some wrote in Persian, such as Senâî, Ferid eddîn Attâr, Jellâl eddîn Rûnî (d. 1162), Jâmî (d. 1172); others in Arabic, such as Omar ibn el Farîdh, and Izz eddîn Mutaddesî, others even in Turkish.

Some of their poetry is magnificent in imagery, and highly valued even by those who are afraid of the consequences of their doctrines. Sufiism was said to breed an alarming familiarity with the deity, and a disregard of human and divine ordinances, at least among those who have not reached the highest spiritual purity, and might be tempted to use their outward sanctity as a cloak for human frailty.

Sufi, Fakîr, Darwîsh.

The etymology of Sufi, as derived from sûf wool, because they walked about dressed in white woollen garments is now generally accepted4. Formerly it was supposed that Sufi came from the Greek σοϕός, which is impossible. At present the Sufis are generally known as Fakîrs, in Persian as Darwîsh, i.e. poor. Formerly they were also called Ârîf, theosophist, and Ahl alyakyn, the people of surety. Thus one of them, Abd al Razzâk, says: ‘All praise to Allah, who by His grace and favour has saved us from the researches of conventional sciences, who by the spirit of immediate intuition has lifted us above the tediousness of tradition and demonstration, who has removed us from the hollow threshing of straw, and kept us pure from disputation, opposition and contradiction; for all this is the arena of uncertainty and the field of doubt, of error, and heresy; glory to Him who has taken away from our eyes the veil of externals, of form, and confusion.’


The Sufis trust to the inward eye that is opened in raptures; and which, if it is weak or blind, can be helped on by ascetic discipline. This ascetic discipline was originally no more than abstaining from food and drink, and other pleasures of life. But it soon degenerated into wild fanaticism. Some of the Fakîrs indulged in violent exercises intended to produce convulsions, cataleptic fits, and all the rest. The Darwîshes, who may be seen now turning round and round till they break out in delirious shouts, are the degraded descendants of the Sufis. Attâr and Jellâl eddîn Rûmî, like true lovers of God, required no stimulants for their enthusiasm, and their poetical genius found utterance, not in inarticulate ravings, but in enraptured hymns of praise. The true Sufis were always honoured, not only for their genius, but for their saint-like lives, and they could well bear comparison with their contemporaries in the, West, even such as St. Bernard.

When speaking of the true and saint-like Sufis, Jellâl eddân says:—

‘Faithful they are, but not for Paradise,

God's Will the only crowning of their faith:

And not for seething Hell flee they from sin,

But that their will must serve the Will divine.

It is no struggle, ‘tis not discipline

Wins them a will so restful and so blest;

It is that God from His heart-fountain core

Fills up their jubilant soul.’

It is true there is little of what we call theosophic philosophy in their utterances. That belongs almost exclusively to the Vedântist, and to a certain extent to the Yogins also of India. The Sufi trusts to his feelings, nay, almost to his senses, not, as the Vedântist, to his philosophical insight. He has intuitions or beatific visions of God, or he claims at least to have them. He feels the presence of God, and his highest blessedness on earth is the mystic union with God, of which he speaks under ever-varying, and sometimes, to us at least, startling imagery. Yet for his highest raptures he too confesses that human language has no adequate expression. As Sâdy says, the flowers, which a lover of God had gathered in his rose-garden, and which he wished to give to his friends, so over-powered his mind by their fragrance, that they fell out of his lap and withered; that is to say, the glory of ecstatic visions pales and fades away when it has to be put into human language.

The Mesnevi.

Jellâl eddîn in the Preface to his Mesnevi, says: ‘This book contains strange and rare narratives, beautiful sayings, and recondite indications, a path for the devout, and a garden for the pious, short in expressions, numerous in its applications. It contains the roots of the roots of the roots of the Faith, and treats of the mysteries of union and sure knowledge.’ This book is looked upon by Mohammedans as second only to the Korân, and yet it would be difficult to imagine two books more different one from the other.

Mohammmea's Opinion.

Mohammed's idea of God is after all the same as that of the Old Testament. Allah is chiefly the God of Power; a transcendent, but a strongly personal God. He is to be feared rather than to be approached, and true religion is submission to His will (Islâm). Even some of the Sufis seem to shrink from asserting the perfect oneness of the human and the divine natures. They call the soul divine, God-like, but not yet God; as if in this case the adjective could really be distinguished from the substantive, as if anything could be divine but God alone, and as if there could be even a likeness of God, or anything God-like, that was not in its essence God. Philosophical speculations on God were distasteful to Mohammed. ‘Think on the mercies of God,’ he says in one place, not on the essence of God.’ He knew that theological speculation would inevitably lead to schism. ‘My people shall be divided,’ he says, ‘into three and seventy sects, of which all save one shall have their portion in the fire.’ That one with Mohammed would certainly not have been that of the Sufis.

There is an interesting poem in which Said, the servant, first recounts one morning an ecstasy he had, enjoyed, and is then warned by Mohammed against excessive fervour:

Said speaks:

‘My tongue clave fever-dry, my blood ran fire,

My nights were sleepless with consuming love,

Till night and day sped past, as flies a lance,

Grazing a buckler's rim; a hundred thousand years

No longer than a moment. In that hour

All past eternity and all to come

Was gathered up in one stupendous Now,—

Let understanding marvel as it may,

Where men see clouds, on the ninth heaven I gaze,

And see the throne of God. All heaven and hell

Are bare to me and all men's destinies.

The heavens and earth, they vanish at my glance,

The dead rise at my look. I tear the veil

From all the worlds, and in the hall of heaven

I set me central, radiant as the sun.

Then spake the Prophet (Mohammed), Friend, thy steed is warm;

Spur him no more. The mirror in thy heart

Did slip its fleshly case, now put it up—

Hide it once more, or thou wilt come to harm.’

There are long systematic treatises on Sufiism, but they refer chiefly to outward things, not to the great problems of the true nature of the soul and of God, and of the intimate relation between the two. We read of four stages through which the Sufi has to pass.

The Four Stages.

First comes the stage of humility, or simple obedience to the law and its representative, the Shaikh (nâsut or shariat); then follows the way (tarîkat), that is, spiritual adoration and resignation to the Divine Will; then'Arûf, or Marifat, Knowledge, that is, inspired knowledge; and lastly Kakîkat, that is, Truth, or complete effacement in God.

The Poetical Language of Sufiism.

When we read some of the Sufi enraptured poetry, we must remember that the Sufi poets use a number of expressions which have a recognised meaning in their language. Thus sleep signifies meditation; perfume, hope of divine favour; gales are illapses of grace; kisses and embraces, the raptures of piety. Idolators are not infidels, but really men of the pure faith, but who look upon Allah as a transcendent being, as a mere creator and ruler of the world. Wine is forbidden by Mohammed, but with the Sufi wine means spiritual knowledge, the wine-seller is the spiritual guide, the tavern the cell where the searcher after truth becomes intoxicated with the wine of divine love. Mirth, intoxication, and wantonness stand for religious ecstasy and perfect abstraction from all mundane thoughts. Beauty is the perfection of Deity; tresses are the expansion of His glory; the lips of the beloved mean the inscrutable mysteries of His essence; the down on the cheeks stands for the world of spirits; a black mole for the point of indivisible unity.

When we read some of this enraptured Sufi poetry we are at first somewhat doubtful whether it should not be taken simply in its natural sense, as jovial and erotic; and there are some students of literature who will not admit a deeper meaning. It is well known that Emerson rebelled against the idea of seeing more in the songs of Hafiz than what there is on the surface,—delight in women, in song and love. ‘We do not wish,’ he writes5, ‘to make mystical divinity out of the Songs of Solomon, much less out of the erotic and bacchanalian songs of Hafiz. Hafiz himself is determined to defy all such hypocritical interpretation, and tears off his turban and throws it at the head of the meddling dervis, and throws his glass after the turban. Nothing is too high, nothing too low, for his occasion. Love is a leveller, and Allah becomes a groom, and heaven a closet, in his daring hymns to his mistress or to his cupbearer. This boundless charter is the right of genius.’ So it is, and there are no doubt many poems in which Hafiz means no more than what he says. No one would search for any but the most obvious meaning in such Anacreontic verses as the following:

‘Wine two years old and a damsel of fourteen are sufficient society for me, above all companions, great and small.’

‘How delightful is dancing to lively notes and the cheerful melody of the flutes, especially when we touch the hand of a beautiful girl!’

‘Call for wine, and scatter flowers around: what more canst thou ask from fate? Thus spake the nightingale this morning: what sayest thou, sweet rose, to his precepts?’

‘Bring thou a couch to the garden of roses, that thou mayest kiss the cheeks and lips of lovely damsels, quaff rich wine, and smell odoriferous blossoms.’

But no one acquainted with the East, would doubt that some kind of half-erotic, half-mystic poetry, was a recognised style of poetry among Mohammedans, was tolerated and admired alike by laity and clergy. Nor was the mystic meaning a mere afterthought, forced into the poetry of the Sufis, but it was meant to be there from the first.

At first the perfume of such poetry has something sickening to us, even when we know its true meaning. But the Sufi holds that there is nothing in human language that can express the love between the soul and God so well as the love between man and woman, and that if he is to speak of the union between the two at all, he can only do so in the symbolic language of earthly love.

We must not forget that if earthly love has in the vulgar mind been often degraded into mere animal passion, it still remains in its purest sense the highest mystery of our existence, the most perfect blessing and delight on earth, and at the same time the truest pledge of our more than human nature. To be able to feel the same unselfish; devotion for the Deity which the human heart is capable of, if filled with love for another human soul, is something that may well be called the best religion. It is after all the Christian command, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might’ If once we understand this, then no one can claim to come nearer to the highest Christian ideal than the true Sufi, whose religion is a burning love of God, whose life is passed in the constant presence of God, and whose every act is dictated by love of God.

Barrow, no mean theologian, and in no way tainted by religious sentimentalism, speaks in language which might have been used by the most fervent Sufi poets. ‘Love,’ he writes, ‘is the sweetest and most delectable, of all passions; and when by the conduct of wisdom it is directed in a rational way toward a worthy, congruous, and attainable object, it cannot otherwise than fill the heart with ravishing delight: such, in all respects superlatively such, is God; who infinitely beyond all other things deserveth our affection, as most perfectly amiable and desirable. He is the most proper object of our love; for we chiefly were framed, and it is the prime law of our nature, to love Him; our soul, from its original instinct, vergeth towards Him as its centre, and can have no rest till it be fixed on Him. He alone can satisfy the vast capacity of our minds, and fill our boundless desires. He, of all lovely things, most certainly and easily may be attained; for, whereas commonly men are crossed in their affection, and their love is embittered from things imaginary, which they cannot reach, or coy things, which disdain and reject them, it is with God quite otherwise: He is most ready to impart Himself; He most earnestly desireth and wooeth our love; He is not only most willing to correspond in affection, but even doth prevent us therein: He doth cherish and encourage our love by sweetest influences and most consoling embraces; by kindest expressions of favour, by most beneficial returns; and whereas all other objects do in the enjoyment much fail our expectation, He doth ever far exceed it. Wherefore in all affectionate motions of our hearts toward God; in desiring Him, or seeking His favour and friendship; in embracing Him, or setting our esteem, our good will, our confidence on Him; in enjoying Him by devotional meditations and addresses to Him; in a reflective sense of our interest and propriety in Him; in that mysterious union of spirit, whereby we do closely adhere to, and are, as it were, invested in Him; in, a hearty complacence in His benignity, a grateful sense of His kindness, and a zealous desire of yielding some requital for it, we cannot but feel very pleasant transports: indeed, that celestial flame, kindled in our hearts by the spirit of love, cannot be void of warmth; we cannot fix our eyes upon infinite beauty, we cannot taste infinite sweetness, we cannot cleave to infinite felicity, without also perpetually rejoicing in the first daughter of Love to God, Charity toward men; which in complection and careful disposition, doth much resemble her mother; for she doth rid us from all those gloomy, keen, turbulent imaginations and passions, which cloud our mind, which fret our heart, which discompose the frame of the soul; from burning anger, from storming contention, from gnawing envy, from rankling spite, from racking suspicion, from distracting ambition and avarice; and consequently doth settle our mind in an even temper, in a sedate humour, in an harmonious order, in that pleasant state of tranquillity, which naturally doth result from the voidance of irregular passions.’

I have given the whole of this long passage, because, as Sir William Jones has pointed out, it differs from the mystical theology of the Sufis and Yogis no more than the flowers and fruits of Europe differ in scent and flavour from those of Asia, or as European differs from Asiatic eloquence. ‘The same strain,’ he writes, ‘in poetical measure, would rise to the odes of Spenser on Divine Love and Beauty, and, in a higher key with richer embellishments, to the song of Hafiz and Jayadeva, the raptures of the Mesnevî, and the mysteries of the Bhâgavata.’

Morality of Sufism.

The Sufi's belief that he who is led by love is no longer subject to the outward law is by no means so outrageous as it has been represented. It does not mean that the true Sufi claims any licence for himself, it only means that he whose heart is filled with love of God and who never loses sight of God, can think no longer of the outward law, but is led in all his acts by the love of God only, claiming no merit for his good works, and feeling quite incapable of committing any act displeasing to God.

Extracts from Sufi Poets.

I shall now read you a few extracts from Sufi poets, translated by Sir William Jones:—

‘In eternity without beginning, a ray of thy beauty began to gleam; when Love sprang into being, and cast flames over all nature.

‘On that day thy cheek sparkled even under thy veil, and all this beautiful imagery appeared on the mirror of our fancies.

‘Rise, my soul, that I may pour thee forth on the pencil of that supreme Artist, who comprised in a turn of His compass all this wonderful scenery.

‘From the moment when I heard the divine sentence, “I have breathed into man a portion of my Spirit,” I was assured that we were His, and He ours.

‘Where are the glad tidings of union with thee, that i may abandon all desire of life? I am a bird of holiness, and would fain escape from the net of this world.

‘Shed, O Lord, from the cloud of heavenly guidance, one cheering shower,, before the moment when I must rise up like a particle of dry dust.

‘The sum of our transactions on this universe is nothing: bring us the wine of devotion; for the possessions of this world vanish.

‘The true object of heart and soul is the glory of union with our beloved: that object really exists, but without it both heart and soul would have no existence.

‘O the bliss of the day, when I shall depart from this desolate mansion; shall seek rest for my soul; and shall follow the traces of my beloved;

‘Dancing, with love of His beauty, like a mote in a sunbeam, till I reach the spring and fountain of light, whence yon sun derives all his lustre.’

The next extract is from Jellâl eddîn Rûmi's Mesnevû, as translated by Mr. E. H. Whinfield. Jellâd eddîn thus describes the perfect union with God:—

A loved one said to her lover to try him,

Early one morning; ‘O such a one, son of such a one,

I marvel whether you hold me more dear,

Or yourself; tell me truly, O ardent lover!’

He answered: ‘I am so entirely absorbed in you,

That I am full of you from head to foot.

Of my own existence nothing but the name remains,

In my being is nothing besides you, O object of my desire.

Therefore am I thus lost in you,

Just as vinegar is absorbed in honey;

Or as a stone, which has been changed into a pure ruby,

Is filled with the bright light of the sun.

In that stone its own properties abide not,

It is filled with the sun's properties altogether;

So that, if afterwards it holds itself dear,

'Tis the same as holding the sun dear, O beloved!

And if it hold the sun dear in its heart,

'Tis clearly the same as holding itself dear.

Whether that pure ruby hold itself dear,

Or hold the sun dear,

There is no difference between the two preferences;

On either hand is naught but the light of dawn.

But till that stone becomes a ruby it hates itself,

For till it becomes one “I,” it is two separate “I's,”

For'tis then darkened and purblind,

And darkness is the essential enemy of light.

If it then hold itself dear, it is an infidel;

Because that self is an opponent of the mighty sun.

Wherefore'tis unlawful for the stone then to say “I,”

Because it is entirely in darkness and nothingness:’

Pharaoh said, ‘I am the Truth,’ and was laid low.

Mansur Hallaj said, ‘I am the Truth,’ and escaped free. Pharaoh's ‘I’ was followed by the curse of God; Mansur's ‘I’ was followed by the mercy of God, O beloved!

Because Pharaoh was a stone, Mansur a ruby;

Pharaoh an enemy of light, Mansur a friend.

O prattler, Mansur's ‘I am He’ was a deep mystic saying,

Expressing oneness with the light, not mere incarnation.

This poetical image of the Sun is often applied to the Deity by Sufi poets. Thus Jellâl eddîn says:—

None but the sun can display the sun,

If you would see it displayed, turn not away from it.

Shadows, indeed, may indicate the sun's presence,

But only the sun displays the light of life.

Shadows induce slumber, like evening talks,

But when the sun arises the ‘moon is split asunder.’

In the world there is naught so wondrous as the sun,

But the Sun of the soul sets not and, has no yesterday.

Though the material sun is unique and single,

We can conceive similar suns like to it.

But the Sun of the soul, beyond this firmament,—

No like thereof is seen in concrete or abstract.

Where is there room in conception for His essence,

So that similitudes of Him should be conceivable?

Sometimes the soul is called the mirror of God. Thus Jellâl eddîn says:—

If a mirror reflects not, of what use is it?

Knowest thou why thy mirror reflects not?

Because the rust has not been scoured from its face.

If it were purified from all rust and defilement,

It would reflect the shining of the Sun of God.

Often the Sufi poet warns against self-deceit:—

Whoso is restricted to religious raptures is but a man; Sometimes his rapture is excessive, sometimes deficient.

The Sufi is, as it were, the ‘son of the season,’

But the pure (Sûfi) is exalted above season and state. Religious raptures depend on feelings and will,

But the pure one is regenerated by the breath of Jesus.

You are a lover of your own raptures, not of me;

You turn to me only in hope of experiencing raptures.

Whoso is now defective, now perfect,

Is not adored by Abraham; he is ‘one that sets.’

Because the stars set, and are now up, now down,

He loved them not; ‘I love not them that set.’

Whoso is now pleasing and now unpleasing

Is at one time water, at another fire.

He may be the house of the moon, but not the true moon;

Or as the picture of a mistress, but not the living one.

The mere Sufi is the ‘child of the season;’

He clings to seasons as to a father,

But the pure one is drowned in overwhelming love.

A child of any one is never free from season and state.

The pure one is drowned in the light ‘that is not begotten,’

What begets not and is not begotten’ is God.

Go! seek such love as this, if you are alive;

If not, you are enslaved by varying seasons.

Gaze not on your own pictures, fair or ugly,

Gaze on your love and the object of your desire.

Gaze not at the sight of your own weakness or vileness,

Gaze at the object of your desire, O exalted one.

The next extract is from Jâmi's Salâmân and Absâb as translated by Fitzgerald, the same Fitzgerald to whom Browning was so cruel. Jâmi ascribes all earthly beauty and all earthly love to the Divine presence in it. Without that Divine light man would see no real beauty, would know no real love.


O Thou, whose Spirit through this universe

In which Thou dost involve Thyself diffused,

Shall so perchance irradiate human clay

That men, suddenly dazzled, lose themselves

In ecstasy before a mortal shrine

Whose light is but a shade of the Divine;

Not till Thy secret beauty through the cheek

Of Laila smite, doth she inflame Majnún;

And not till Thou have kindled Shírín's eyes,

The hearts of those two rivals swell with blood.

For lov'd and lover are not but by Thee,

Nor beauty;—mortal beauty but the veil

Thy Heavenly hides behind, and from itself

Feeds, and our hearts yearn after as a bride

That glances past us veil'd—but ever so

That none the veil from what it hides may know.

How long wilt Thou continue thus the world

To cozen with the fantom of a veil

From which Thou only peepest? I would be

Thy Lover, and Thine only—I, mine eyes

Seal'd in the light of Thee to all but Thee,

Yea, in the revelation of Thyself

Lost to myself, and all that self is not

Within the double world that is but one.

Thou lurkest under all the forms of thought,

Under the form of all created things;

Look where I may, still nothing I discern

But Thee throughout this universe, wherein

Thyself Thou dost reflect, and through those eyes

Of him whom Man Thou madest, scrutinise.

To thy Harím, Dividuality

No entrance finds—no word of This and That;

Do Thou my separate and derived self

Make one with Thy Essential! Leave me room

On that Diván which leaves no room for twain;

Lest, like the simple Arab in the tale,

I grow perplext, oh God!'twixt ‘Me’ and ‘Thee’;

If I—this Spirit that inspires me whence?

If Thou—then what this sensual impotence?

We see here the same temper of mind for which the Christian poet prays when he says, ‘Let all do all as in Thy sight.’ Sufiism, short of its extravagances, may almost be called Christian; nor do I doubt that it owed its deepest impulses to Christianity, more particularly to that spiritual Christianity which was founded on Platonist and Neo-Platonist philosophy. We saw that the Sufis themselves do not deny this: on the contrary, they appeal to Jesus or Isa as their highest authority, they constantly use the language of the New Testament, and refer to the legends of the Old. If Christianity and Mohammedanism are ever to join hands in carrying out the high objects at which they are both aiming, Sufism would be the common ground on which they could best meet each other, understand each other, and help each other.