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2. Mystical Qabalah - Background

F. Mystical Qabalah and the Mystical Tradition of Islam

Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam is a primary branch stemming from the religion of the children of Abraham. Like Master Abraham, the Prophet Mohammed was faced with the task of leading his people away from the worship of idols and back to the universal mystical spirituality of a divine singularity. If you remove the clouds of dogmatic theocracy that now often overshadow the depth and beauty of that transmission, Islam probably more closely resembles in some ways the original Hebrew religion than does Rabbinical Judaism. The mystical tradition (Ar. tasawwuf) at the core of Islam is called Sufism by Westerners, and those who walk its path are called Sufis, dervishes, and faqirs. The appellation "Sufi" is thought by some to have been derived from the word suf (Heb. and Ar. pure wool), reflecting the rough patchwork wool robes worn by the early Sufi ascetics to reflect the quality of spiritual poverty (faqira). In their literature, the Sufis have a variety of other names and eloquent titles by which they refer to themselves, such as "Possessors of the Kernel" and "Community of the Bench." The tradition itself is also given a variety of prominent epitaphs, such as Haqiqah ("Way of Truth"), reflecting the goal of union with the singularity of the Divine Essence. As it is written:

"The highest Truth is that I ALONE AM." (Surah 20:9)
"Everywhere you look, there is the Face of Allah." (Surah 2:115)

Several centuries after the birth of Islam, a number of informal private Sufi teaching circles in Iraq and Persia grew in numbers and organized into orders (tariqa). Soon thereafter, dozens of other orders, most of which evolved as sub-branches of the initial ones, arose throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, India, East Africa, and Spain. Sufi influence continued to expand with the spread of Islam throughout the world. The various orders trace their lineages to, and are generally named after, extraordinary Sufi masters who lived at different times and came from different locales. The Naqshbandi take the name of their order from Khaja Bahaudin Naqshband of Central Asia (1318-1389), the Qadiri from Abdul Qadir of Gilan (1077-1166), the Chishtiya from Abu Ishak Chishti of Syria, etc. Shah, Indries. The Way of the Sufi, Octagon Press, London,1968All genuine orders have a record of their chain of spiritual transmission (silsilah) passed down from one spiritual preceptor, called a shaykh in Arabic and a pir in Persian, to another. All of the silsilah trace back to the original silsilah of the Prophet Mohammed through Abu Bakr or the fourth Kalif Ali. Some of the chains of initiation are still anchored in living masters who transmit the genuine b'rakha (blessing of spiritual potency) of mystical gnosis to their aspirants (mureed). Others have become "a name without a reality." Congregations of Sufis convene with their shaykhs in specially designated halls (Persian, khanqah; Arabic, zawiya; Turkish, tekke). Sufis are, with a few notable exceptions, devout Muslims. Yet, Sufism is generally eschewed and viewed with suspicion by the Sunnite and Shiite Islamic orthodox authorities. Like the vast majority of mainstream Muslims, Sufis generally do not participate in or endorse the extreme agenda of radical ultra-orthodox fundamentalists.

In addition to the Qur'an, the Sufis have a rich and prolific mystical literature filled with sublime mystical allusions and brilliant allegories. Like the Chasidim, teaching stories and sayings are important vehicles for the transmission of Sufi teachings. The MathnaviRumi, Jalal Al ‘Din. The Mathnawi, translated by R.A. Nicholson, London, 1926. of Jalal ad Din ar-Rumi (d.1273) is often called the "Qur'an of Persia," which opens with the story of the reed that has become separated from its reed bed. The Sufis are also known for the exquisite spiritual love poetry of Hafiz, Kabir, Ra'bia, and others.Kabir. The Bijak of Kabir, translated by Linda Hess and Shukdev Singh, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1983.

Rumi, Jalal al ’Din. The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, and Reynold Nicholson, Castle Books, New Jersey, 1993.
The Conference of the Birds (Mantiq at-Ta'ir) by Farid ad-Din 'Attar, Yusuf and Zulaika by Jami, and the Rose Garden (Galistan) by Sa'adi are masterful works of mystical allegory.‘Attar, Farid ad-Din. The Conference of the Birds,translated by C.S. Nott, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.

Jami. Yusuf and Zulaikha: An Allegorical Romance (abridged), translated by David Pendlebury, Octagon Press, London, 1990.

Sa’adi. Gulistan or Rose Garden, translated by Edward Rehatsek, Capricorn Books, New York, 1966.
All Sufis use the symbol of the rose Per Indries Shah, the Arabic word for rose (ward) and the word for concentration practices (wird) an allusion to contemplative practice. Sufism has also been enriched by numerous mystical commentaries, such as the Niche for Lights (Mishkat al Anwar) by Al Ghazzali (d.1111), and the recorded teachings of Sufi masters such as Rumi, Ibn 'Arabi, al-Suhrawardi, Ibn 'Ata Allah, Al Bayazid Al Bistami, Al Junaid of Bagdad, Abdul Qadir al Jilani, Al Hallaj and others.Al Ghazzali. Mishkat Al Anwar translated by W.H.T. Gairdner as "Niche for Lamps," Royal Asiatic Society, London. 1924. The Mishkat Al Anwar is primarily a commentary on the "Light Surah." Al Ghazzali. The Alchemy of Happiness, translated by Claud Field, Ashraf, Lahore, 1966.

Ibn ‘Arabi. What the Seeker Needs, translated by Bankey Behari, Sufi Publishing Co., Surrey, England, 1992.

Al Jilani, Abdul Qadir. The Secret of Secrets, interpreted by Shaykh Tosun Bayrak, Islamic Text Society, Cambridge, 1992.

Rumi, Jalal al-Din. Discourses of Rumi, translated by A.J. Arberry, Samuel Weiser, New York, 1972.

Al Suhrawardi, Abu al Najib. A Sufi Rule for Novices (abridged), translated by Menahem Milson, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1975.

Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah. The Book of Wisdom, translated by Victor Danner and Kwaja Abdullah Ansari; and Intimate Conversations, translated by Wheeler M. Thackston, Paulist Press, New York, 1975.
Western alchemy was derived in great measure from the writingsSufis whose writings substantially influenced Western alchemists included Jabir ibn Chayyan (known in the West as "Geber"), Abu al-Qasim al Iraqi, and El Malik al Fatih. of a number of Sufis concerning the mystical analogy of the purification and transformation of metals into the stone of unity, known as the "Philosopher's Stone."

The mystical worldview of Sufism, as delineated in the Qur'an, is basically identical to the qabalistic worldview rooted in the Torah. As with the Qabalah, someone new to the study of Sufism will find a plethora of specialized and abstract terminology used to describe its mystical worldview. The challenge is further exacerbated by the fact that there are equivalent words for Sufi terminology in Persian, Arabic, and Turkish. The Sufis have their own version of the Tree of Life, names for the four worlds, terms for the various bodies or shells, and terms for states (hal) and stations of consciousness (maqam) that correspond closely to those in the Mystical Qabalah. The name for the Divine Presence dwelling among embodied souls in the worlds of matter, for instance, is called Shekhinah in the Qabalah and Sakinat in Sufism. It is also used in the Qur'an (Surah 2:249) in the same context as it is found in Torah Shmoth 24:22, when referring to the Divine Presence residing between the Kerubim over the Ark of the Covenant. The doctrines identified earlier as dualism, qualified non-dualism, and pure non-dualism are differentiated in Sufism as three phases on the Path, known as makhafah (way of fear), machabah (way of love), and ma'rifah (way of knowledge). The activity in these three phases can be correlated respectively with the yogic practices associated with karma yoga (way of purification through selfless service), bhakti yoga (way of devotion), and jnana yoga (way of direct knowledge of the Divine Source). The mystical teachings, literature, and history of the Sufi orders are subjects of extraordinary breadth far beyond the range of this book, and have been documented in critical detail by other authors.Ernst, Carl. Sufism, Shambhala, Boston, 1997; Fadiman, James and Frager, Robert. Essential Sufism, Harper, San Francisco, 1997.

Like Mystical Qabalists, Sufis have a wide range of spiritual practices. They are known to vary their teachings and the practices they prescribe according to circumstances. They maintain the view that it is the alchemy between the teacher and those being taught that produces a teaching that is appropriate for the particular time, place, and people involved. Sufis have their own lists of Divine Names or Attributes, which they recite as a regular component of their spiritual practices. One list is composed of ninety-nine Names, and another one of a thousand and one. Many of the Names in the Sefer HaShmoth (Book of the Names) are also found in the Qur'an. In the same way that the Name YHVH is a central element in the meditation and ancillary practices of many Qabalists, most Sufi meditation practices center upon the Name Allah , the principal Divine Name in the Qur'an. The Name Allah is found in the Sefer HaShmoth (Book of the Names) as Aleh (lit. these), with one Lamed instead of two. The addition of the second Lamed extends the Name into Asiyah (qabalistic World of Activity).

The silent and oral recitation (dikhr) of the "Affirmation of Unity" (La Illaha Il Allah), which is the root mantra at the foundation of Islam, is a core practice of all Sufis. The various orders can often be distinguished by the way that they do this. Moses Maimomades, the oft-cited author of The Guide for the Perplexed, regarded the Affirmation of Unity of the Qur'an as essentially equal to the Affirmation of Unity of the Torah, "Shem Ayin Yisrael YHVH Elohenu YHVH EchaD." Maimomedes made this declaration actually believing this to be the case, and not just because the alternative was death. Sufis are also known for movement practices, called dervishes,The most well known dervish is the so-called "whirling" dervish of the Turkish Mevlevi Order of Sufis, descendants of the great Sufi master Rumi, disciple of the inscrutable saint Shems a-Din Tabriz. Dervishes of widely varying formats are practiced by numerous Sufi orders. The most common dervishes are simple patterns of rhythmic movements coordinated with repetition of Divine Names, and frequently, with a corresponding breathing practice. which vary from order to order. These dervishes usually involve some combination of movement, breath, and repetition of Divine Names. The Jewish Kabbalist Abraham AbulafiaIdel, Moshe. The Mystical Experience in Abraham Abulafia, SUNY, 1988. may very well have adopted some of the head movements he employed with letter visualization practices from the Sufis who were his contemporaries in Spain.

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