The bakriyya salimiyya and karramiyya

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Basri's main legacy to Sufism must be sought in a different quarter from the Sufi Mu'tazila. The important eighth-century proto-Sufi order known as the Bakriyya derived directly from his influence. This group, who were strongly aligned with the ahl al-had!th, had their origins in a figure who was reputedly a student of Basri, 'Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd (d. 793), although the name Bakriyya derives from the latter's nephew and disciple Bakr ibn Ukht 'Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd. The sect was strongly focused on the inner life of its adherents. An ascetic community of Ibn Zayd's followers established themselves at 'Abbadan, at that time an island between the estuaries of the Qaaruan and Tigris rivers, where they used distinctive conical cells16 for contemplative exercises. One of Ibn Zayd's main disciples was Abu Sulayman al-Darani (d. 830), who is a significant link in the development of Islamic mystical thought insofar as he first tried to systematise the key Sufi concept of the state [hal] and station [maqam] on the path to God.17 Some of the great early Sufis were to be found at the 'Abbadan complex, such as the aforementioned Bishr al-Hafi, Sari al-Saqati [d. 865] and Sahl al-Tustari [d. 896].

Tustari, a thinker of great importance in the history of Sufi thought, had been attracted to the community by its then head, a little-known figure by the name of Abu Habib Hamza ibn 'Abd Allah al-'Abbadani. He alone, Tustari found, could answer the spiritual problem which had convulsed his life from his early teens. This, if Ibn 'Arabi is to be believed,18 was the problem of the ''prostration of the heart''. Tustari had become aware that his heart, his inner consciousness, was also in prostration to God, like his physical body in the formal prayer [salat]. Unlike his body in the salat, however, Tustari's heart refused to return to the stipulated standing position [qiyam]. Only 'Abbadani could confirm for him that it was perfectly correct for the heart of the mystic to be rendered prostrate, and never to recover. It was also in seclusion at 'Abbadan that Tustari had the mysterious formative experience of his spiritual novitiate - his visions of God's ''Supreme Name'' [ism Allah al-a'zam] filling the nocturnal sky.19

The noteworthy point about the Bakriyya is that it was as much a theological school as a spiritual movement. Moreover, the group's theology was moulded in opposition to the rationalist Mu'tazila and their influence in Basra. In other words, it was a self-consciously Sunni theology which in certain respects foreshadowed Ash'arism.20 The movement called the Salimiyya, presently engendered by Tustari through his disciple Muhammad ibn Salim and the latter's son Abu'l-Hasan Ahmad ibn Salim, was very similar. The Salimiyya was one of the major Sufi movements of the late ninth century, but it is sometimes referred to in Muslim doxographical works as a theological [kalam] school. For instance, Baghdadi's Distinction between the Sects [al-Farq bayn al-firaq] refers to the Salimiyya as a band of kalam scholars in Basra.21 Theologically, the Salimiyya's doctrines, like those of the Bakriyya, were opposed to Mu'tazilism. The movement was indeed broadly linked with the radical anti-Mu'tazilite perspective known to its enemies as the hashwiyya [approximately: the ''stuffing-ists'', i.e. the outspoken liter-alists]. The hashwi perspective was formalised, above all, within Hanbalism and it is significant that the Sailimiyya sought refuge in the metropolis of Baghdad inside the Hanbalite quarter. The major contemporary Hanbalite scholar Abu Muhammad al-Barbahari [d. 941] had in fact been a disciple of Tustari.22 An important proposition of the Sialimiyya suggestive of an ethos analogous to that of Hanbalism is that when one recites the Qur'an, God Himself recites it by one's tongue, and when one listens to another reciting the Qur'an, one actually hears it from God.23 Again, Tustari vehemently upholds the reality of the attributes of God, or rather, in his curiously nuanced way of putting it, he upholds the reality of the attributes of the attributes. These ''attributes of the attributes'' are strongly affirmed by Tustarai and yet are declared by him to transcend human comprehension: ''behind the names and attributes [are] attributes which the minds [afham] do not pierce because God is a fire ablaze. There is no way to Him and no escape from plunging into Him.''24 The amodal affirmation of the divine names/attributes is a basic Hanbali and Ash'ari response to Mu'tazilism. The latter sought to preserve divine transcendence by the negation (and metaphorical interpretation) of the attributes of God cited in the Qur'an. On the other hand, the ''orthodox'' correctives to Mu'tazilism (be they Hanbalai or Ash'arite) attempted to preserve both divine transcendence and the letter of scripture, by affirming the panoply of scriptural attributes in all their richness while simultaneously approaching them strictly amodally, or apophatically, thus raising them far beyond the reach of human understanding. The difference, such as it is, between the response to the issue of God's attributes in these orthodox Sunni theologies and in Tustarai's mystical theology, is the palpably ''experiential'' element in the latter: ''God is a fire ablaze'' and ''there is no escape from plunging into Him''. This movement from the two-dimensionality of conception to the three-dimensionality of empirical experience marks a typical difference of emphasis between kalaam and Sufism.

The ''orthodox'' party in theology did not refrain from criticism of the Saalimiyya for the school's less conformable teachings. This is evident in the (unextant) work condemning Ahmad ibn Salim by Ibn Khafif al-Shirazi (d. 981). Ibn Khafif was the direct disciple of the founder and eponym of the school of Sunni ''orthodox'' theology par excellence, Abu'l-Hasan al-Ash'arai. Nevertheless, his attack on the Saalimiyya cannot be used as evidence of a general hostility of Ash'arism towards Sufism. For Ibn Khafaif was in fact one of the best-known Sufis of his generation in Baghdad. He thus shows, at the very historical inception of Ash'arism, just how closely this major kalaam school and Sufism could be intertwined.

What general conclusions, then, might be drawn from the cases of the Bakriyya and Salimiyya? First, these are glaringly the ancestors of the post-thirteenth-century Sufi orders. Moreover, they bear out that, true to the precedent of the Prophet and primitive Islam, spirituality and theology coalesce in the mystical movements of this formative period, since in the Bakriyya and Saalimiyya theological dogmata and spiritual agenda wholly combine. Louis Massignon long ago vouched for the idea that the theologies of these groups were actually explored and vindicated through their spiritual ''experimentation''.25 Lastly, the theologies in question, while sui generis and sometimes subject to criticism by partisans of the ahl al-hadlth, are more in keeping with the latter's point of view and stand against the Mu'tazilite tendency to rationalise and figurate.

There is one other major school which, from the later ninth century, like the earlier Bakriyya and contemporary Saalimiyya, in Massignon's words ''made a defense of orthodoxy based upon the experimental method of the mystics'' and even ''revised contemporary scholastic vocabulary in the light of the constants observed through mystical introspection''.26 This school was the Karramiyya. Again, counter-Mu'tazilite doctrine combined in the Karraamiyya with a semi-cenobitic lifestyle and spiritual programme. The sect's eponym, Muhammad ibn Karram (d. 870), spent time studying at Balkh and other places at the then eastern extremity of the Muslim world where the remnants of Manichean or Buddhist religious institutions may have contributed to his idea of the khaanqaah or convent. While the term became the normal word in the Persianate world for a Sufi convent, in the ninth century the institution was still so closely identified with Ibn Karram's followers that they were sometimes called ''Khanqahis''.27 Within his movement, the khanqah was a place for spiritual retreat (i'tikaf) and ascetic exercises but also a centre from which Ibn Karram's distinctive theological teachings could be propagated. The theology in question was presently anathematised, largely because Ibn Karraam veered towards gross cor-porealism (tajsim), in reaction to the rationalistic abstraction of God (ta'til) by the Mu'tazilites. Nevertheless, the Karramite movement was in its time widely influential in eastern Islam, and many contemporary authorities within the Hanafite rite who rejected Mu'tazilism in kalaam had defined themselves in terms of membership of Ibn Karram's school.28

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