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Rational Mysticism: The Pristine Mysticism of Islam as Exemplified in the Life and Ethos of the Prophet (Continuation)

Aug 10, 2012, 11:27 AM

But as far as mysticism is concerned, the “unitive, mystical experience” is characterized by number of qualities: a unitive tendency, ineffability, and mysteriousness. The possibility of his experience-which can variously be described an introversive (batini), intuitive (shuhudi), illuminative (ishraqi), or spontaneous (dhawqi)-is presupposed in the context of mystical spirituality. Such experience is the culminating manifestation of the mystic’s advancement through the stages of the spiritual path, and therefore the wayfarer-who is the possessor of knowledge, suffused with divine love and motivated by obedience to God-undergoes mystical experience in accordance with his peculiar spiritual stage.

The mystics, however, identify two types of spiritual experience correct, real, and true experience or incorrect, false and impaired experience. And since Islamic mysticism is possessed of a definite methodology, it sets certain epistemological factors for distinguishing false from true experience. These are (1) the Quran, (2) the disclosure of an infallible or perfect human being; (3) sound rational reasoning. ‘Allamah Jwdi Amuli explains,

The experience of those who are neither prophet nor infallible whether this experience be an intuition (kashf or shuhud), a dream (ru’ya), or the sensation of an entity attached to or detached from the soul or body-needs to be verified with recourse to a criterion so as to determine its truth or falsity and its value. (Jawadi Amuli, Tafsir mawdu’i qur’an majid, vol.3, p. 95).

If as result of obedience to God, the mystic undergoes a mystical and intuitive experience, he must preserve a state of constant vigilance so as to protect his spiritual experiences. For, first, in order to be qualified to have a mystical experience, spiritual purification, servility before God the Glorified, and love of Him is necessary. Second, to maintain and ensure the continuance of these experiences and to merit better and stronger experiences, spiritual purity and existential elevation are necessary.

The Noble Prophet (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his household) expresses the means for the initiation and continuation of mystical experience in straightforward terms: “Maintain purity and God shall purity mentioned in this report may be read to encompass the “lesser purification” (taharat-I sughra), which consists in bodily or external purification, the “middle purification” (taharat-I wusta), which is to purge one’s soul of vice and evil dispositions, and the “greater purification” (taharat- I kubra), which is to purify the soul from is comprehension of multiplicity and all other than God.

The great prophet of Islam (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him and his household) identified obedience and servility before God as the substance of religious and mystical experience. As such, in the account relating to the spiritual vision experienced by a certain ascetic Muslim (variously identified as Harithah ibn Malik and Zayd ibn Malik), whereby he saw heaven and hell and their occupants-the spiritual stage designed by the mystics as the station of certainty (maqam-I yaqin) or that of virtue (maqam-I ihsan)-(see Hasanzadih Amuli, Hizar-u yik nuktib, p. 247 and Jawadi Amuli, op. cit., p. 105), the Prophet is reported as having described him in these words, “This is a slave whose heart God has illuminated by the light of faith” (Kulayni, 1401. vol. 1, p. 54). Furthermore, it is reported that the Prophet (may God’s peace and blessing be upon him and his household) would address every morning those of his companions to whom he administered spiritual guidance, asking them what they had gained on the previous night: “Verily the Prophet of God would in the morning ask his companions, ‘Any good news? By which the intended dreams” (Majlisi, op cit., vol. 61, p. 177).

The Noble Prophet (may God’s peace and blessing be upon him and his household) offered an epistemological and ontological criterion for assessing the dreams that one sees when asleep. He accounted for the veracity of dreams in the context of the difference between the “detached imagination” (khial-I munfasil) and the “attached imagination” (khial-I muttasil). As explained by the Prophet, all dreams, true and false alike, derive from the Luminous Repository of Divine Knowledge. But as they descend through the successive existential levels, they are contaminated and turned into “confused dreams” (adghath ahlam). The Prophet said,

O ‘Ali, there is on slave but that when he sleeps his soul is lifted up to the Lord of the Worlds. What he sees while in the presence of the Lord of the Worlds is true. But when God-the Mighty, the Domineering-commands that his soul should return to his body, the soul descends from the heaven to the earth, and it is therein that he sees confused dreams. (Majlisi, op cit., p. 153)

Elaborating on this subject, Qaysari states,

All visions are initially from the Lord, the Truth. But they are besieged by the alterations and manipulations of the soul that divest that of their veracity, whereby they are transformed into forgeries of the soul or insinuation of the demons. (Qaysari, op.cit., p. 537)

It is thus demonstrated that there needs to be a criterion for the verification of the spiritual experiences of the mystics.

We may summarize what has been said in the above in the following points:

1.         Mystical, spiritual, and immediate experience is an indubitable reality;

2.         The way to effecting such experience is obedience to God and purification of the heart and mind;

3.         The introversive experience of the mystic-whether it be in the dream-state or while awake-is corruptible and susceptive of error;

4.         The only definitive authorities that can serve as the criterion for verifying mystical experience are the Quran and the infallible human being, whose own mystical experience is the touchstone of the spiritual experience of all others.

The late ‘Allamah Tabataba;’I (may God be peace with him) posits self knowledge, self-inspection (muhasabah-yi nafs), and self-vigilance (muraqabah-yi nafs) as the principal factors in attaining mystical experience (Tabatab’I, 1412, vol. 5, p. 256 and vol. 6, p. 170), adding that the observance of the religious injunctions-such as prayer, supplication, remembrance of God, avoidance of sin-provides the necessary means for this purpose (Jawadi Amuli, Dinshinasi, pp. 244-253). ‘Allamah Jawadi Amuli has the following to say as regards this subject:

Of cause, should the mystics adhere to Islamic Law (shari’at) and the authority of the Prophet’s house (ahl-ul-bayt) in traversing the genuine spiritual path, they shall then be eligible to receive a fraction of the immediate knowledge of the prophets and the divine viceroys-just as their grasp of mediate knowledge is only a fraction of the truth. (ibid., p. 248)

7. Intuition as Exemplified in Hearing and Seeing

The Greatest of Prophet (may God’s peace and blessing be upon him and his household) assured the people of nobility and virtue, of rationality and philanthropy, of religiousness and resolve that they can attain immediate knowledge of God. He has said, “Were it not for your loquaciousness in speech and confluence [of worldly concerns and evil desires] unto your hearts, you would see what I see and would hear what I hear” (Tabata- ba’I, op. cit., vol. 5, p. 276). That is, should the believer, God’s slave, guard his mouth and heart-or in the words of a certain mystic, “regulate the import and export of his heart”-he shall reach the station of immediate knowledge (maqam-I shuhud), whereat his ears and eyes would serve as the conduit for receiving direct and immediate knowledge. In order to apprehend the “esoteric truths” of the world, one must abstain from unnecessary and idle speech and rein in the vacillations of the heart. Put differently, one must exercise self-vigilance and take control of the reins of one’s tongue, preventing it from running wild.

To be continued