Speculative Sufism

In speaking of a synthesis of Ash'arism and Sufism, it is not implied that Ash'arism was uniform. The terminology and basic intuitions of Ash'arism are stable, to be sure. But Ash'arism was undergoing a deep change during the Seljuk period. Ever since the magisterial corpus of Avicenna had been disseminated among the learned class, Islamic thought had been registering its impact. The Seljuk period has even been called a period of ''Avicennan pandemic''.57 The first symptoms of change in kalam were to be seen in Mu'tazilism. The founder of the last great school of Mu'tazilism, Abu'l-Husayn al-Basrl (d. 1044), already showed Avicenna's influence. The same trend entered Ash'arism through Juwaynl, Ghazall's teacher. Ghazall himself stood at the head of a wave of refuters of Avicenna in his Incoherence. But in weeding out key aspects of Avicennism which Ghazall held to be incompatible with revelatory authority, he ironically assured its domestication within dogmatic theology. The whole style of the later Ash'arism of the ''moderns'' (muta'akhkhirun) who came in Ghazall's wake is strongly Avicennan in comparison with that of the ''ancients'' (mutaqaddimun). The same markedly Avicennan influence is clear in Islamic mysticism, as will emerge. The result is generally called ''speculative Sufism'', and is above all bound up with the dramatic success of Ibn 'Arabl's teachings.

Clear evidence of the great scope of Ibn 'Arabi's success is to be found, paradoxically, among his opponents. His doctrine of ''the unity of existence'' (wahdat al-wujud, i.e. objective theomonism) was not without vehement opposition within Sufism. In particular, major figures like the great theoretician of the Kubrawi order, 'Ala' al-Dawla Simnam (d. 1336) and the eminent Indian Naqshbanda thinker Ahmad al-Sirhinda (d. 1624), believed that the theory of wahdat al-wujud bore responsibility for the undermining of the religious law. They claimed that the theory promoted antinomian forms of spirituality by demolishing the creator-creature distinction on which worship and moral accountability were predicated. Their response, after Sirhinda, was to become famous as the theory of wahdat al-shuhud, subjective theomonism, which retrieved the crucial distinguo by relativising the unitive experiences of the ecstatics. But this actually underlines the triumph of Ibn 'Araba's speculative Sufism. For reformers like these combated Ibn 'Araba by developing intricate speculative responses of their own, not by reverting to the pre-speculative Sufism of the classical period, as represented, say, by Ghazala's Revival.

Despite the distinctively philosophical flavour of Ibn 'Arabl's Sufism, its precise relation with formal philosophy is awkward. The ''Greatest Shaykh'' had no truck with systematically syllogistic approaches, and tended to elevate the revealed canon and immediate mystical perception over reason. He never quotes philosophers, and sometimes displays a contemptuous ignorance of them, as in the account he gives of his reaction to Farabl's Virtuous City, which he angrily flung in the face of the volume's owner.58 Be that as it may, many features in Ibn 'Araba's thought demonstrably borrow, albeit perhaps unconsciously, from philosophical sources, expecially from Avicenna. On the most superficial level, he clearly makes full use of philosophical termini technici. It is significant that Ibn 'Arabi is sometimes nicknamed ''Ibn Aflatun'' - the ''Platonist''. His Platonism appears to boil down to his concept of the ''fixed archetypes'' (a'yin thibita) which are central to his thought. On scrutiny, these are not really Plato's universal eide at all. They are rather Avicenna's quiddities (mihiyyit), that aspect of individuals which receives existence, and which in itself is isolable from external existence. Again, Ibn 'Arabi's cosmogony is related to Avicenna's in its basically emanationist thrust, though there are important differences. Ibn 'Arabi's broad focus on existence and its emanation can be argued to mirror the focus of Avicenna's metaphysics.

Ibn 'Arabi's speculative approach is of course prefigured in some earlier Sufis. 'Ayn al-Qudit al-Hamadhani has already been mentioned. There is a clear difference between Hamadhini's Ghazalian work, the Essence of Realities (Zubdat al-haqi'iq), and his later Prolegomena (Tamhidat). The Avicennism of the latter work is pronounced. It has been pointed out that it even embraces ideas from Avicenna's thought which Ghazali (Hamadhani's earlier authority) rejected as strictly incompatible with religious orthodoxy. These are specifically those ideas presented in Avicenna's Risala Adhawiyya which stress the pure spirituality of the afterlife, and interpret the corporeal imagery of revelation metaphorically.59 An older speculative tendency, obviously owing nothing to the influence of Avicenna, can be seen long before this in the history of Sufism, for instance in a figure like Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Hakim (= ''the philosopher'') al-Tirmidhi (d. c. 910), who was the representative of a pre-Avicennan, pre-''Hellenistic'' Islamic theosophy, as well as bearing responsibility for laying the foundations for the Sufi theory of the hierarchy of saints.

There had been an earlier tradition of speculative Sufism in Ibn 'Arabi's Spain, going back to Ibn Masarra (d. 931). In the absence of Ibn Masarra's works such as the Book of Letters (Kitab al-HurUf) and the Book of Apperception (Kitab al-Tabsira), his thought was reconstructed by Asin y Palacios from the references of later writers.60 On this reconstruction, Ibn Masarra's philosophy was primarily characterised by Asin as pseudo-Empedoclean. But the rediscovery of Ibn Masarra's works by Kamil Ibrihim Ja'far has allowed this thesis to be discredited.61 Nevertheless, it is clear that a strong Neoplatonic thread runs through this mystic's thought, and via the so-called ''School of Ibn Masarra'' he gave an essentially speculative stamp to the Sufism of the Iberian peninsula. The atmosphere of Ibn Masarra's school is directly felt in the followers of ShuzI of Seville, who were to be found up to Ibn 'ArabI's own day. Another major speculative Sufi thinker, Ibn Sab'In (d. 1270), emerged from ShuzI's order during Ibn 'Arabi's lifetime. Ibn Sab'In's school was still operating in Egypt in the fourteenth century. The actual term ''unity of existence'' in fact appears to originate with Ibn Sab'm, not with Ibn 'ArabI.62

In this we have clear elements in speculative Sufism which fall beyond Avicenna's influence. Moreover, as has been said, Avicenna's impact on Ibn 'ArabI himself is elusive. Nevertheless, the broadly Avicennan character of speculative Sufism was to be strongly confirmed after Ibn 'ArabI's death, due to the special strengths of his foremost disciple Sadr al-DIn al-QunawI (d. 1274). In an important correspondence63 with one of Avicenna's greatest spokesmen, Nasir al-Dm al-TusI, QunawI reveals a detailed grasp of Avicenna's work the Allusions and Remarks (al-Isharat wa'l-tanbIhat), as well as of TusI's commentary on it. In the light of his knowledge of these texts, QunawI puts a series of difficult questions to TusI, and argues for the weakness of the rational faculty. When TusI sends his replies, QunawI writes a new treatise in response. But it is a typical feature of dialogical engagement that the tools and theses of the opposite party are partly accepted, and this is the case with QunawI too. Indeed, synthesis is to an extent QunawI's explict aim, for in detailing his objective in the correspondence, he explains that he wants to unite the knowledge yielded by philosophical demonstration (burhan) with the fruit of mystical perception.

What begins with QunawI, then, is the systematic formulation of wahdat al-wujud as a virtually philosophical perspective. QunawI's approach is transmitted through a series of direct master-disciple relations, becoming the prevalent reading of Ibn 'ArabI. Thus Mu'ayyad al-DIn al-JandI and Sa'Id al-Din al-FarghanI were QunawI's direct disciples,'Abd al-Razzaq al-KashanI was JandI's disciple, and finally Daud al-QaysarI was in turn KIshani's disciple. This list contains the names of some of Ibn 'ArabI's greatest commentators. The ultimate results of QunawI's philosophical transformation of the Unity of Existence are clear in the important fifteenth-century Sufi thinker and poet, 'Abd al-Rahman jImI (d. 1492). jamI's work The Precious Pearl (al-Durra al-Fakhira) is an attempt to present Sufism (for which read Ibn 'ArabI) as a superior perspective to kalam and Avicennism, and presents Sufism's distinctive answers to a whole series of difficult issues in the philosophy of religion: the proof of God, God's unity, God's knowledge (or ignorance) of particulars, the nature of God's will, power and speech, the capacity of contingent beings, and the relation of multiplicity to unity. Jama's work, which was commissioned by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II, is meticulously built up by its author from syllogisms, with separate arguments detailed for each premise. It is more obviously a work of hikma philosophy than a Sufi work, and virtually presents the Unity of Existence as a school of philosophy. The pedigree from Qunawi is clear. Extensive passages from Qunawi's works, including his correspondence with TusI, are quoted.

The deep impact of Avicenna on the speculative Sufism of Jama's day emerges from an early passage of the Pearl in which the author rehearses an argument for God's existence. It begins thus:

Know that there is in existence a necessary existent, for otherwise that which exists would be restricted to contingent being, and consequently nothing would exist at all. This is because contingent being, even though multiple, is not self-sufficient with respect to its existence.64

This argument is clearly rooted in Avicenna's type of proof for God, generally called the Burhan al-Siddiqm (the ''proof of the strictly truthful''). Avicenna's argument contains both ontological and cosmo-logical aspects, and Jaamai's argument here is traceable to its cosmological aspect. Avicenna's argument may be briefly summarised as follows.65 Existence can be hypothesised in the mind in two ways. The mind can entertain either the idea of necessary existence or the idea of contingent existence. Contingent existence, for its part, is incapable of explaining itself. By their very definition, contingents always somehow depend on something outside of themselves in existing. An individual contingent might have other contingents preceding it, and the chain of them might conceivably regress without beginning. But as a ''set'' (jumla) they will retain the same dependence on something external which characterises an individual contingent. Moreover, to say ''external'', when we have mentally gathered any contingent whatsoever into a set, is to say non-contingent or necessary. Thus, even though the world may be temporally infinite, it cannot be without dependence on something which transcends it and stands apart from the contingency which characterises it. Thus far, we have the cosmological aspect of Avicenna's argument, which is fairly obviously the ancestor of Jaamai's proof. Especially noteworthy is the audacious Avicennan claim that the world might be beginningless. This is hinted at by Jama's statement that the contingent might be multiple (muta'addid), from which understand indefinitely multiple. Later in the Pearl, Jama surprisingly confirms that in his view the Sufis uphold the world's beginninglessness in time.66

Avicenna's argument, however, also has an ontological aspect. This follows from the first modality in which existence may be entertained in the mind, as necessary rather than contingent. Avicenna's claim about this is that it is contradictory to set up ''necessary existence'' in the mind, but then to deny it outside the mind. For then it would not be necessary existence. To paraphrase Psalm 14, only a fool would say ''God'' in his heart, and go on to deny such a being in the real world. For God's existence in re follows from God's nature in intellectu. Avicenna was especially proud of this aspect of his reasoning, insofar as it avoided basing the conclusion (God's existence) on any lesser being. He cites the Qur'an in evidence of the superiority of this ''ontological'' method in proving God: ''We shall show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves until it becomes clear to them that He is the Truth.''67 This verse is taken to refer to the inferior cosmological method in which God's existence is brought out via God's traces in the cosmos. But Avicenna sees the words immediately after these in the Qur'an as referring to the ontological aspect of his reasoning: ''Does it not suffice that your Lord bears witness to everything?'' That is, for an elite, God Himself is in principle a sufficient basis to reach any conclusion -including that of God's own existence. This elite consists of the ''strictly truthful ones'' referred to in the title of Avicenna's proof.

While Jama's Sufi proof has an Avicennan pedigree, it is in turn quite demonstrable that Avicenna's earlier proof was partly inspired by contemporary Sufism. The distinction of a superior ''ontological'' approach to God from an inferior ''cosmological'' one is firmly rooted in Sufi theory pre-dating Avicenna. The distinguo is indeed implicit in the very title of Kalabadha's aforementioned Sufi compendium, the Disclosure (Ta'arruf). In Kalabadha, the term ta'nf (''making known'') refers to what the world does to God - pointing to His existence ''from the outside''. Contrariwise, the reflexive form ta'arruf is what God does to Himself, making Himself known through self-disclosure. Clearly this is precisely the distinction at work in Avicenna's classification of proofs of God.

It is noteworthy that Kalabadha's and Avicenna's lives overlapped and that Avicenna was raised in Bukhara, a city in which Kalabadha must have been one of the major living representatives of Sufism. It has been suggested that Avicenna may even have heard the distinction in question from the great Sufi theorist, in person.68 The provenance of Avicenna's distinguo from Kalabadha is probably confirmed by the fact that the latter refers to the very same verse from the Qur'an as used by

Avicenna in explanation: ''The meaning of ta'rif is that [God] shows them the effects of His power in the heavens and in the souls.''69 Moreover, in the Sufism of Kalaabaadhai's day, the distinguo already had the authority of tradition behind it. For Kalaabaadhai himself attributes the ta 'raf/ta 'arruf dichotomy further back to Junayd. Even Junayd may have been passing on an idea which was already abroad in Sufi circles. This is clear in a story detailed by Hujwm in the course of his Sufi lexicon in the Unveiling. In explaining the antonymous technical terms muhadara and mukashafa (''presenting'' and ''unveiling''), roughly corresponding with ta'rif and ta'arruf respectively, he quotes a story from Junayd's friend and contemporary, Kharraz. Kharraz and his companion Ibraham ibn Sa'd al-'Alawai are wandering, it is said, by the seashore, when they stumble on one of God's friends. They pose for him a question: ''What is the way to God?'', and he replies that there are in fact two ways to reach Him, one being for the vulgar and the other for the elite. When they press him to explain himself he reproves them as follows: ''The way of the vulgar is that on which you are going: you accept for some cause and you decline for some cause; but the way of the elect is to see only the Causer [God, who makes all causes what they are], and not to see the cause [outside of God].''70

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