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Sufi tale


Dr. Zahurul Hassan Sharib has briefly paid attention to an important Sufi doctrine in his The Culture of the Sufis (see pp. 100-1). It is the doctrine of haqiqa al-muhammadiyya (the logos of Muhammad). For some reason or other this doctrine has always fascinated me.

For me it is a journey into new worlds, to be slowly explored, but to shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir from Algeria (1808-1883 C.E.) it is familiar ground. Sufis like him have received the blessing of an opening up of this subject. The Algerian shaykh received answers in a vision related to a teaching of the shaykh 'Abd as-Salam ibn Mashish, a descendant of the Prophet who died in 1228 C.E.

The Algerian shaykh comments on this vision in mawqif 57 of his Kitab al-Mawaqif. In # 89 he returns to this subject by presenting a long list of technical Sufi terms all related to the Sufi doctrine under discussion.

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) can be seen in three different ways:

1. He can be seen as the seal of the prophets.

2. He can be seen as a mediator for human beings.

3. He can be seen as an intermediary between God and the world. This is further explored in the discussion of the doctrine of haqiqa al-muhammadiyya in Mawqif 89.

The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) has said: "The first thing God created was my light. The doctrine of the logos (haqiqa al-muhammadiyya) implies in the terminology of light that all the prophets and friends of God (awliya) were born of the light of Muhammad. The reality of the origin of prophecy can also be found in earlier traditions. Jesus has said in John 8:58: "Verily, verily, before Abraham was, I was." Metranon is in the Jewish Kabbala the very principle of prophecy that is the equivalent of the haqiqa al- muhammadiyya.

Fateme Rahmati in her study Der Mensch als Spiegelbild Gottes in der Mystik Ibn 'Arabis (= The Human Being as Mirror of God in the Mysticism of Ibn al-'Arabi) mentions three aspects of this Muhammadan Reality. The first one is that the haqiqa al-muhammadiyya is the link (das Bindeglied) connecting God and the world. The two other aspects are the 'antropological' aspect of the Perfect Human Being (insan al-kamil) and the mystical aspect as the 'word' (logos) of God. I’ll return to these two aspects below.

She states about the ontological aspect that shaykh Ibn al-'Arabi mentions 3 steps in regard to 'being' (wujud):

- Being in itself that is self-existing. It is the absolute, unlimited Being, and anything 'else' doesn't exist for It.

- Being that is there, because of God. This is the complete cosmos with all and everything in it.

- That which is neither being nor non-being, and neither eternal nor temporal. It is outside of time and space. It is an abstract concept about which can be said that it is both God and the universe, but it can also be said that it is neither God nor the universe. It is the primordial human being (Urmensch), the primary matter of the complete universe, the all-embracing principle of the created world, and the truth of truths.

Shaykh Ibn al-'Arabi equates this third kind of being with the haqiqa al-muhammadiyya.

Fateme Rahmati's commentary then deals with 2 sub-aspects:

a. The Muhammadan Reality in its relation to God.

b. The Muhammadan Reality in its relation to the world.

You’ll find the name of her valuable study at the end of this article, but I’ll also return to her findings. Let’s continue with a personal experience of the Algerian Sufi shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir.

Shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri describes a vision in # 57 of his Kitab al-Mawaqif: He is sitting under a white dome, while talking to people who were invisible to him. The subject of this talk was a line of shaykh Ibn Mashish:

Turn the supreme veil into the life of my spirit and turn His Spirit into the secret of my essential reality.

The Algerian shaykh then said to the invisible persons in his company that shaykh Ibn Mashish pointed to the Muhammadiyya Reality, which is known under many names. In a later discourse in his Kitab al-Mawaqif he presents a long list thereof. I'll discuss some aspects of this list in the remainder of this article. Shaykh Ibn Mashish wishes to ask: "Make me perfectly alive, by means of that reality; not simply alive in a general way, because the spirit implies life, and not the opposite. Each spirit is alive, but not everything that is alive is spirit".

Titus Burckhardt has also presented a commentary on the above line of shaykh Ibn Mashish. He explains that the line is part of the prayer of Ibn Mashish. He translates it thus:

O my God, he is Thine integral secret that demonstrateth Thee and Thy supreme veil, raised up before Thee.

But let us first present some lines from a ghazal attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti:

Ta’in ast gar az ‘etebaar maa o man ast

Ze ‘etebaar gozar kon ke maa o man hama ust

If you hold the conviction that there is the duality of ‘you and I’,

Then say goodbye to this conviction about ‘you and I’: All is He!

The term ta’in is a contraction of ta’ayyun (lit. specifying, fixing, determining, assigning, appointing, deputing, establishing; appointment, establishment, etc.) This implies the first act of God of naming Himself. By naming Himself, again and again, eternally all things come to be. This is the passage from the presence of unity (ahadiyyah) to the presence of oneness (wahidiyyah).

This self-identification or auto-determination introduces the relationship between God and the world (see Ibn al-‘Arabi: The Ringstones of Wisdom; p. xxiv-xxv in the translation of Caner K. Dagli).

In order to make this understandable in only two lines, a certain simplification in my above English translation of the lines attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti has been necessary.

Before presenting the commentary of Titus Burckhardt it is also necessary to discuss the role of the Universal Mediator. The Muhammadan Reality implies that each of the divine messengers has been an Universal Mediator. Each of them has however played a somewhat different, specific role of mediator compared to the others. This becomes more clear when taking a look at the earlier lines of the ‘prayer’ of shaykh Ibn Mashish:

Therein existeth nothing that is not linked to him, even as it was said: Were there no mediator, everything that dependeth on him would disappear! (Bless him, O my God), by a blessing such as returneth to him through Thee from Thee, according to his due.

This is the commentary of Titus Burckhardt on these lines:

“According to the Sufis, the blessing or effusion of graces (salaat) that God heaps upon the Prophet is nothing other than the irradiation (tajalli) of the Divine Essence, which eternally pours into the cosmos, of which Mohammed is the synthesis. To ask for the blessing of God on the Prophet is thus to conform with the Divine act and intentionally to participate in it; also, tradition provides the assurance that whoever blesses the Prophet attracts upon himself the blessing of the entire universe”.

Shaykh al-Jili writes about his personal experience in regard to the haqiqat al-muhammadiyya: “You should know - may God protect you – that the perfect man is the pole (qutb) around which evolve the spheres of existence/being from the first to the last. He is unique from the beginning of existence until eternity. He puts on different forms and appears in many places of worship and that is why he is given a name according to his garb of the time and not corresponding to different garbs”.

“The original name that belongs to him is Muhammad, his nickname is Abu’l-Qasim, the name showing his qualities is ‘Abdallah and his honarary title is Shamsuddin. In regard to other garbs he has other names. In every epoch, he has the garb which corresponds to his garb of the time. It is thus that I discovered him in the form of my master shaykh Sharafuddin Isma’il al-Jabarti”.

“I did not know that he was the Prophet, but I knew he was my shaykh. That is one of his forms in which he appeared and in which I saw him in Zabid [in Yemen] in the year 796/1393-4. The secret behind this matter is that Muhammad [Allah’s blessings and peace be with him] can adopt each form he likes”.

“When the initiate sees him in the shape he had during his own life, then he calls his by means of his own name. When he is seen in another outward form and he knows he is Muhammad [Allah’s blessings and peace be with him] he calls him with the name of that outward form”.

Let’s proceed with the commentary of Titus Burckhardt on these lines from the prayer of Ibn Mashish:

O my God, he is Thine integral secret, that demonstrateth Thee and Thy supreme veil, raised up before Thee.

Titus Burckhardt says “that the Sufis envisage the ‘Reality of Mohammed’ (al-haqiqat al-muhammadiyah), as the first existential determination”.

“The ‘essential reality’ (haqiqah) of the Mediator, his root in God, if it may be so expressed, is nothing other than the first divine self-determination (ta’ayyun), Being (al-wujud), in so far as it is in a certain fashion detached from Non-Being (‘adam). This first determination, which includes all others, is in itself a secret or a mystery; for how can the Undertermined determine itself? On the one hand, the first determination ‘demonstrates’ God, for the Undertermined is incomprehensible; on the other hand it veils Him by limiting Him in a certain manner; it reveals Him and veils Him at one and the same time”.

Shaykh 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza'iri presents a list of about 40 different ‘names’ (or ‘attributes’?) of the haqiqa al- muhammadiyya in mawqif 89. He also offers a commentary on them, but does so in a different order than the list. Sometimes he omits to comment on certain names, while commenting on other names not present in the list.

Fernando Pessoa in his The Book of Disquiet writes:

How tragic not to believe in human perfectibility!

And how tragic to believe in it!

Human perfectibility is one of the about 20 different ways shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi uses of pointing to the haqiqa al- muhammadiyya. Both he and the Algerian shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir mention the insan al-kamil - the Perfect Human Being as such.

According to the Spanish Sufi perfection implies to clothe yourself with the Divine qualities. This similarity to God has only to do with His qualities and not His essence, because there is nothing like Him. This perfection becomes greater when a human being is enabled to realize a larger number of these qualities.

According to Fateme Rahmati’s commentary to the antropological aspect of the haqiqa muhammadiyya, this perfection is directly related to the manifestation of God (tajalli). This means that the more perfect a human being is, the more perfect will be the manifestation of the Divine in him or her.

The only being in the universe in which God can manifest Himself perfectly, is the human being. That is why Qur’an 2:30 describes a human being as the vicegerent of God (khalifat Allah). The haqiqa al-muhammadiyya however, is the perfect human form (al sura al-kamila al-insaniyya) containing all essential truths of being. Annemarie Schimmel states that it is the absolute theophany of the Divine Names [...], as seen by the Divine Being.

That is why shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi describes the haqiqa al- muhammadiyya as the ‘real human being’ (adam al-haqiqi) or the ‘human truth’ (al-haqiqa al-insaniyya). He calls Adam the ‘manifest human being’ (al-insan az-zahiri) and the haqiqa al- muhammadiyya the ‘hidden human being (al-insan al-batini).

Hidden? Manifest? The Perfect Human Being is someone who has been enabled to realize God. In the insan al-kamil the form of God (as-sura al-ilahiya) has been realized. The word ‘form’ should not be interpreted in its usual sense. It does not mean the outward form (sura) of something, which is the opposite of inward meaning (ma’na).

Titus Burckhardt explains this concept thus: “The totality of the Divine qualities constitutes what Sufism calls the Divine form (as-sura al-ilahiya) by allusion to the saying of the Prophet: ‘God created Adam in His form’. Thus the word ‘form’ (sura) has here the meaning ‘qualitative synthesis’ and not that of a delimitation. It is analogous to the Peripatetic idea of eidos or forma as opposed to hyle or materia”.

This realization of the divine qualities has its reflection in the soul and manifests itself in the form of spiritual virtues. According to Titus Burckhardt its model is nothing other than the Perfect Human Being.

Now we can understand the commentary of the Algerian shaykh a little better. He presents this in his list of about 40 ‘names’ of the haqiqa al-muhammadiyya under the heading of the ‘degree  of the form of God and the Perfect Human Being without multiplicity’ (martaba al-haqq wa al-insan al-kamil bila ta’did).

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir explains that it is called like this, because the ‘form’ of God is the form that His knowledge has of His Essence. The form of this knowledge implies in its turn all that which unifies all the relations between the different aspects of this knowledge. This knowledge has two faces:

  1. Seen from the point of view of multiplicity, the self-determinations of His Reality constitute the states of being.

  2. Seen from the point of view of unity, it points to His knowledge of His essence.

According to Michel Chodciewicz it would, however, be wrong to view the terms of the Perfect Human Being and the Muhammadan Reality as interchangeable. The terms haqiqa al-muhammadiya and insan al-kamil “are not purely synonymous, but express different views of man, the first seeing him in terms of his primordiality and the second in terms of finality”.

What does this mean? The two concepts of haqiqa al- muhammadiya and insan al-kamil can be considered in the shape of a circle, combining a descending arc and an assending arc.

Shaykh ‘Azizuddin b. Muhammad Nasafi has been asked by dervishes to write a book in Persian about the Perfect Human Being. Very often he starts his explanations by addressing his readers by saying: “O, dervish!”

The sign of a true master is that he is also able to write in simple, quite understandable terms. An example is that he states that the perfection of the insan-e-kamil consists of four things:

1. Good words

2. Good acts

3. Good manners

4. A deep inward knowledge.

This deep inward knowledge implies a verification of the descending arc and the ascending arc. Shaykh Nasafi states that the Perfect Human Being “both in his descent and ascent, will have passed three heavens and three earths (i.e. in the worlds of Mulk, Malakut and Jabarut) and then is firmly established upon the Throne, that is, he will have come from and returned to the universal intellect (‘aql-i-kull). Thus the circle is completed, the universal intellect is firmly established on the Throne and the Perfect Human Being is also firmly established upon the Throne”.

The first that emanated from the Divine essence was the universal intellect (also called first intellect). A hadith informs us that “the first thing created by God was the intellect”. God is One. There is a perpetual emanation from the One. The universal intellect then acts as a link in the descending arc between the One and the emanations resulting from the universal intellect. These emanations return to the One in the ascending arc.

Let us return to the Perfect Human Being. There are different degrees in perfection of the insan al-kamil. Think of the difference between Adam and the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). Each of the prophets can be seen as a 'word' of God. The seal of the Prophets has received the collectivity of these 'words' as manifested in his perfection. Shaykh Ibn Farid has the Prophet say: (Lloyd Ridgeon: 'Aziz Nasafi)

"There is no living thing that doesn't derive its life from me and all desiring souls are subject to my will. Even though I am the son of Adam in form, in him I have an essence of my own, which testifies that I am his father".


There is only one insan-al kamil at one 'time'. Shaykh Nasafi says that the Perfect Human Being is always in the world. This is because God's attributes always exists. It is thus necessary that the insan al-kamil who manifests perfection is always in the world. Shaykh Nasafi writes:

"This Perfect Human Being is always in this world and there is only one Perfect Human Being. This is because all creatures are like one person and the Perfect Human Being is the heart of that person and creatures cannot exist without a heart. There is not more than one heart, so there is not more than one Perfect Human Being in this world. There are many wise beings in this world, but there is only one heart. Other people are in the process of perfection, each one has one's own perfection. When the unique wise human being passes away from this world, another person reaches this level and becomes the successor so that this world is not without a heart".

Shaykh Nasafi adds that God only requires one Perfect Human Being to display the entirety of His attributes.

This person has an immense responsibility. A quality of the Perfect Human Being is to be the centre of the universe. According to some verses of a ghazal attributed to Khwaja Mo’inuddin Chishti, not everyone can become a second Jesus (see: The Drunken Universe):

The Holy Spirit breathes his every breath into Mo'in.

Who knows? Maybe I'm the second Jesus.

Another name given by shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir to the Muhammadan Reality is the First Intellect (‘aql al-awwal). Philosophers refer to it as the universal intellect. The shaykh explains that it is called like this, because it was the first (awwal) to hear and understand (‘aqila) the creative command kun (be!). Thus it was created created first, but it was also the first created entity that was conscious of its own essence. It is the means whereby the Muhammadan Reality manifested itself in detail, i.e. as a differentiation of the synthetic Divine knowledge.

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir presents another philosophical description of the Muhammadan Reality by using al-Qalam al-a’la, which can be translated as the Supreme Pen. This ‘Pen’ symbolizes the Intellect that writes eternal ideas on the ‘Well-guarded Tablet’ (the Qur’anic concept of al-lahw al-mahfuz). It is the writer of the Divine Presence (katib al-hadra al-ilahiyya) and writes because of receiving the Divine command. The Algerian shaykh refers to this hadith: “The first thing that God created was the Pen”. Elsewhere the Prophet has said that the Intellect was the first thing created. The Cosmic Pen can in fact be considered to be the First Intellect, while the Cosmic Tablet is called the Universal Soul.

The Supreme Pen has two functions (i.e. at-tastir wa at-tadwin): Writing and making inscriptions or in more detail

  1. Tastir: Writing; drawing of lines

  2. Tadwin: Taking notes; to inscribe; collecting (using the Well-guarded Tablet).

Qur’an 51:49 informs us: “And of everything We created a pair”. The Pen and the Tablet are both mentioned in the Qur’an. This pair is among the fundamental principles of creation. The Pen is seen as an active principle. It has its face turned towards the universe. When it has its face towards God, it is receptive. It writes upon the Tablet and the universe comes to exist as the written words of God.

The Tablet or Universal Soul is seen as the receptive principle when facing the Pen. When facing the universe, the Tablet is active. The Tablet has two faculties:

  1. Knowing: It knows the details of the existence of all things, because these are differentiated within itself.

  2. Governing: Because of this knowledge it is able to govern the destiny of every thing. It acts, says Sachiko Murata in The Tao of Islam, by bestowing existence upon what it knows.

In case you desire to learn more terms mentioned by shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir as companion names to the Muhammadan Reality, read the commentaries in the literature given below.

Let us end with the short definition of al-Jurjani about the haqiqa muhammadiya. He presents it in two short sentences. In the first he mentions the first self-determination (ta’ayyun awwal) that has been discussed earlier in this article. His second sentence is quite remarkable. It shows the extreme importance of the Muhammadan Reality. He says:

It is the Supreme Name (ism a’zam).

Select bibliography

1. Zahurul Hassan Sharib: The Culture of the Sufis; Sharib Press.

2. Emir Abd El-Kader: Le Livre des Haltes (tr. A. Penot); Editions Dervy.

3. 'Abd Al-Qadir al-Djaza'iri: Le Livre des Haltes (Kitab al-Mawaqif) Tome 1 (tr. Michel Lagarde); Brill.

4. Emir 'Abd al-Qadir Al-Jaza'iri: Le Livre des Haltes (Kitab al-Mawaqif) Tome III; (tr. Max Giraud); Albouraq.

5. 'Abd al-Kader: Le Livre des Haltes (tr. A. Khurshid); Alif editions.

6. Michel Chodkiewicz : Le Sceau des saints. Prophetie et saintete dans la doctrine d’Ibn Arabi; Editions Gallimard.

7. Titus Burckhardt: Mirror of the Intellect (Tr. & ed. By William Stoddart); State University of New York Press.

8. Fateme Rahmati: Der Mensch als Spiegelbild Gottes in der Mystik Ibn ‘Arabis; Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.

9. Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet (ed. and tr. By Richard Zenith); Penquin Books.

10. Titus Burckhardt: An Introduction to Sufi Doctrine (tr. D.M. Matheson); Sh. Muhammad Ashraf.

11. Ibn al’Arabi: Mysteries of the Fast - Book 9 of the Openings in Makkah (al-Futuhat al-Makkiyah) - (tr. Eric Winkel); The Ibn ‘Arabi Translation Project.

12. Sachiko  Murata: The Tao of Islam – A sourcebook on gender relationships in Islamic thought; State University of New York Press.

13. Richard Gramlich: Islamitische Mystik – Sufische Texte aus zehn Jahrhunderten; Kohlhammer.

14. Nasafi: Le Livre de l’homme Parfait (tr. Isabelle de Gastines); Fayard.

15. Lloyd Ridgeon: ‘Aziz Nasafi; Curzon.

16. Al-Jurjani: Le Livre des Definitions; Albouraq.

17. Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nasrollah Pourjavadi: The Drunken Universe – An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry; Phanes Press.