transcendent experience of God in the lives of the saints. While Sufism strove, especially from the thirteenth century, to express its theology positively and systematically, it had earlier favoured quite different media: hagiography, spiritual ethics, the theopathic locution (shath),2 allusion (ishara), paradox and poetry. Moreover, in common with other mystical theologies, it strongly inclined to an apophatic rather than a kataphatic approach to the divine mystery, expressing God through denial, not affirmation, through "unsaying" rather than saying. Thus Niffari (d. after 977) reported that God said to him: ''Do not speak, for he that reaches unto Me does not speak!'' and ''Name is a veil over essence.''3 For Hallaj (d. 922), even the attribution of unity to God (tawhid) by man in the end fell short of God's absolutely transcendent reality: ''Unity is an attribute of the created subject who bears witness to it. It is not an attribute of the Object witnessed as one.''4 Apophasis had venerable roots in the Islamic tradition. The first caliph, Abu Bakr (d. 634), reputedly said: ''The incapacity to attain comprehension [of God] is comprehending [God] (al-'ajz 'an dark al-idrak idrak)''.5

But Sufism did not isolate itself from wider Muslim society and discourse. On the contrary, it underwent an extremely productive tension which was arguably the central dynamic of Islamic intellectual history: though Sufism constituted an esoterism of the highest order, with all the exclusiveness which that implies, it also had to reckon with the Islamic genius. The salient quality of that genius is integrality. In this there is a subtle but definite link between the unity of God and that of man, theological tawhid (''making one'' - monotheism) implying societal tawhid. If Sufis found striking proof-texts for a distinction of esoterism from exoterism in the Qur'an and hadith,6 they also had to contend with clear texts which muted the free social expression of such a distinction.7 Moreover, Sufism claimed to lie at the core of Islam, and to have the vivifying role in the civilisation of the heart within a body. On these grounds, it could not divorce itself from Islamic society, despite constituting at times a radically esoteric movement.

A treatment of the relationship between Islamic mysticism and theology must note this tension. It is at work throughout the history of Sufism, but is more apparent in certain phases, and in particular from the ninth to the tenth century. This was the time in which the Islamic tradition was emerging from a brilliant process of formalisation through the development of a series of sciences (hadith, jurisprudence, theology, exegesis), each with its principles (usul), authorities and schools (madhahib). But this ''fixation'' unavoidably threatened to restrict and even alienate the role of spirituality, which had been central to the ferment of early Islamic religious culture. Parallel with this, certain representatives of spirituality in this period tended for the first time to suggest a radical incommensurability of the via mystica with exoteric norms: key figures such as the already mentioned Hallaj, and later Niffarl, Abu Yazid al-Bistami (d. c. 875), Hamdun al-Qassar (d. 884) and Abu Hafs 'Amr al-Haddadi (d. c. 874).


Let us explore the development of this situation. Mysticism, theology, jurisprudence and exegesis clearly formed a seamless unity in the apostolic period of Islam. Notwithstanding vexing questions of historicity, all the disparate sciences and groups of the classical Islamic universe trace their origins back to the ''naked singularity'' of this time. In the post-apostolic era, the era of the Successors (tabi'un), there is still a striking unity of impulse. A clear case in point is mysticism and theology - the subject of this chapter. It is well known that both trace their origins as distinct fields to the figure of al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 728). A phalanx of ''proto-Sufis'' like Ibn Wasi', Farqad, Aban, Yazid al-Raqqashi, Ibn Dinar, Bunani and Habib al-'Ajami emerged from Basri's circle.8 As central a Sufi concept as hal (pl. ahwal, a rapture or transitional spiritual state, as opposed to maqam, a stable station), may have started with Basri. In addition, the key Sufi practice of systematic self-examination (muhasaba) appears to have been recommended first by him.9 On the other hand, the first stirrings of speculative theology in its earliest Mu'tazilite form were also felt in his group. The two men held up as the founder figures of Mu'tazilite theology, Wasil ibn 'Ata' (d. 748) and Abu 'Uthmin 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd ibn Bab (d. 769), were both associated with his circle. It is noteworthy that both men were also well known for askasis.10 True, Wasil removed himself (or was banished by Basri) from the circle. But for Massignon it was Basri's own rationalist exegesis of scripture in particular which marks him down as the prototypical Mu'tazilite. For instance, he viewed the qur'anic figures of Harut and Marat (2:102) as non-Arab princes ('iljan), not as fallen angels; and ''with his critical mind'' he held the salutations to right and left ending the formal prayer to be an islamisation of an earlier custom.11

In due course, this early link between Mu'tazilism and Sufism was so completely eclipsed as to seem improbable. For example (to jump ahead in time), Ibn Munawwar, the hagiographer of the great Central Asian Sufi saint Abu Sa'id ibn Abi'l-Khayr (d. 1049), typified his period in implying that Hanafite-Mu'tazilite rationalism was quite unsuited for

Sufism.12 Nevertheless, in the meantime there had indeed been figures categorised as ''Sufi Mu'tazilites'' (sUfiyyat al-mu'tazila). The founder of the Baghdad school of Mu'tazilite theology, Abu Sahl Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir (d. 825), numbered Sufis among his followers, such as Abu'l-Qasim al-Balkhl,one of the most famous of all Mu'tazilite thinkers, al-Nazzam (d. 845), had students who were Sufis, such as Fadl al-Hadathi and Ibn Khabit, and the already mentioned major figures Bistami and Haddadl were members of the Mu'tazila.13

The foreclosure of a Mu'tazilite Sufism was accelerated by the famous caliphal Inquisition (mihna) between 833 and 851, in which the confession of the created status of the Qur'an was enforced by the Abbasid state in line with Mu'tazilite doctrine. Prominent contemporary Sufis resisted the policy in varying degrees. A major Baghdad! leader of the Sufi movement, Bishr al-Hafl (d. 841 or 842) typically adopted a stance of ''passive resistance'', lauding Ibn Hanbal for not yielding to the pressure of the authorities, yet avoiding putting himself in direct jeopardy. But despite his high standing, Bishr was strongly criticised for his quietistic attitude, even by disciples.14 Other mystics, such as the mysterious Dhu'l-Nun al-Misr! (d. 860), resisted as actively as Ibn Hanbal himself, and underwent imprisonment for their intransigence.15 At any rate, the period of the mihna appears to have confirmed Sufism's already strong links with the ''orthodox'' Sunni party (ahl al-hadith). The latter triumphed under al-Mutawakkil's caliphate, and with the discrediting of Mu'tazilism the Sufi Mu'tazilite became an anomalous figure.

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