By Anna Suvrova
The Kashf al-Mahjub is the last in chronological order and the only extant work of al-Hujwiri, his magnum opus. According to his own statement he was the author of another nine books (including a dawn of verses), none of which are available now. To a certain extent al-Hujwiri became a victim of the absence of the law of copyright. He writes:
A certain individual borrowed my poetical works, of which there was no other copy, and retained the manuscript in his possession, and circulated it, and struck out my name which stood at its head, and caused all my labour to be lost. May God forgive him! I had also composed another book, entitled ‘The Highway of Religion’ (Minhaj ad-din), on method of Sufism - may God make it flourish! A shallow pretender, whose words carry no weight, erased my name from the title page and gave out to the public that he was the author, notwithstanding that connoisseurs laughed at his assertion. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 2)
Having suffered twice from literary piracy, al-Hujwiri became more cautious, and whether called for or not, inserted his own name into almost every chapter. However, heightened anxiety for the protection of his authorship did not at all mean that al-Hujwiri was vainglorious. Rather, on the contrary, the text of Kashf al- Mahjub reveals the author to be an open-hearted person, devoid of unbridled pretensions, which are peculiar to ecstatic mystics, a person full of gentle quietism and having a propensity for Mukashafa (meditative knowledge).
He narrates about himself with restraint and in a self-deprecating tone, in every way possible emphasizing his own imperfection against a background of the spiritual merits of his mentors and interlocutors. But al-Hujwiri’s sincere desire not to attract excessive attention to his own personality and problems is perceptible through the self-disparagement traditional for every Muslim author. The exhortation of Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) Ama nesciri (‘Be fond of abiding in obscurity’), reiterated over and over by Christian mystics, suits him perfectly well.
The episode of the death of his spiritual mentor Abul Fazl al-Khuttali6 can serve as a typical example of the contextual device by which al-Hujwiri tells us about himself as if in parentheses:
While he lay on death-bed, his head resting on my bosom (and at that time I was feeling hurt, as men often do, by the behaviour of a friend of mine), he said to me: ‘O my son, I will tell thee one article of belief which, if thou holdest it firmly, will deliver thee from all troubles. Whatever good or evil God creates, do not in any place or circumstance quarrel with His action or be aggrieved in thy heart.’ He gave no further injunctions, but yielded up his soul. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 167)
Like many Sufis before and after him, al-Hujwiri travelled all over the Muslim world in search of knowledge and for intercourse with the spiritual fraternity. Maveraunnahr, Azerbaijan, Khurasan, Nishapur, Bistam, Tus, Damascus, Baghdad, Khuzistan, Fars, Farghana, Mayhana, Merv, Bukhara, Turkestan and, finally, Lahore are part of the geography of his wanderings. As a matter of fact al-Hujwiri’s autobiography, in which there was room for quite ordinary human foibles, is made up exactly of whatever happened in the course of these wanderings. For example, during the years of his sojourn in Iraq the future saint got up to the neck in debt:
Once, in the territories of ‘Iraq, I was restlessly occupied in seeking wealth and squandering it, and I had run largely into debt. Everyone who wanted anything turned to me, and I was troubled and at a loss to know how I could accomplish their desires. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 345)
Al-Hujwiri makes a still more shocking confession in connection with his views regarding women and matrimony: After God had preserved me for eleven years from the dangers of matrimony, it was my destiny to fall in love with the description of a woman whom I had never seen, and during a whole year my passion so absorbed me that my religion was near being ruined, until at last God in His bounty gave protection to my wretched heart and mercifully delivered me. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 364)
Confessions of such a type did not adorn a mystic who as a youth had taken to the Path, and true humility and courage were required in order to make a public declaration of them. Apart from meetings and conversations with numerous Shaikhs, al-Hujwiri visited tombs of famous saints for the general purpose of Muraqaba as well as on the occasions when Ziyarat was dictated by practical necessity.
Once I, ‘Ali b. ‘Uthman al-Jullabi, found myself in a difficulty. After many devotional exercises undertaken in the hope of clearing it away, I repaired - as I had done with success on a former occasion - to the tomb of Abu Yazid, and stayed beside it for a space of three months, performing every day three ablutions and thirty purifications in the hope that my difficulty might be removed. It was not, however; so I departed and journeyed towards Khurasan. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 68-9)
Here the reference is, of course, not to worldly difficulties, but to one of the endless spiritual obstacles which the mystic came across in his Path. However, it is symptomatic that al-Hujwiri, who was himself a follower of Junaid’s school of ‘sobriety’, sought the way out of the difficult situation in the tomb of the progenitor of the school of ‘intoxication’.
This once again proves that in the eleventh century there still did not exist any rigorism, selectivity and tendentiousness in the practice of the veneration of tombs of the saints: once reckoned to be among the Auliya, a saint remained the same for all, irrespective of personal predilections and affiliation to one or the other trend in Sufism. As emphasized repeatedly by al-Hujwiri in his book, all the Auliya are equal amongst them, and one wilayat is in no way better than the other.
Incidentally, in Khurasan, where al-Hujwiri arrived after the failure in Bistam, something happened to him which expressively depicts the orals and manners of certain Khanqahs. Having stayed for the night in the cloister of the local Sufis, he unexpectedly became the object of their sneers and scoffs. While the fraternity itself was enjoying a rich meal he was offered as food breadcrumbs, turned green with mould.
They lodged me on a roof, while they themselves went up to a roof above mine, and set before me dry bread which had turned green, while I was drawing into my nostrils the savour of the viands with which they regaled themselves. All the time they were addressing derisive remarks to me from the roof. When they finished the food, they began to pelt me with the skins of the melons, which they had eaten, by way of showing how pleased they were with themselves and how lightly they thought of me. I said in my heart: ‘O Lord God, were it not that they are wearing the dress of Thy friends, I would not have borne this from them’. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 69)
But, of course, al-Hujwiri’s autobiography would not have reflected a mystic’s peculiar world perception had wonderful supernatural events not taken place in it from time to time. Thus, in Mayhana, at the grave of his senior contemporary Abu Sa‘id bin Abul Khair (died 1049), al-Hujwiri was witness to a miracle:
While I was sitting alone, as is my custom, beside the tomb of Shaykh Abu Sa‘id at Mihna, I saw a white pigeon fly under the cloth covering the sepulchre. I supposed that the bird had escaped from its owner, but when I looked under the cloth nothing was to be seen. This happened again next day, and also on the third day. I was at a loss to understand it, until one night I dreamed of the saint and asked him about my experience. He answered: ‘This pigeon is my good conduct, which comes every day to my tomb to feast with me’. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 235)
Miraculous or portentous dreams accompany al-Hujwiri in all his travels. In Damascus he stops at the tomb of Bilal b. Rabah and in his dream sees Mecca and the Prophet, who was affectionately pressing some elderly person to his bosom. I ran to him and kissed the back of his foot, and stood marvelling who the old man might be; and the Apostle was miraculously aware of my secret thought and said to me: ‘This is thy Imam and the Imam of thy countrymen’, meaning Abu Hanifa. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 95)7
The gift of divining one’s thoughts, of foretelling the future and of general clairvoyance, forming a part of Karamat (miracles), is ascribed by al-Hujwiri to the most important of those mystics whom he had occasion to meet. During his visit to Farghana he became acquainted with a Shaikh, Bab ‘Umar by name, ranking high in the hierarchy of the saints (al-Hujwiri calls him one of the four awta d, ‘supports’, of this world).
When I entered his presence he said: ‘Why have you come?’I replied: ‘In order that I might see the Shaikh in person and that he might look on me with kindness. He said: ‘I have been seeing you continually since such and such a day, and I wish to see you as long as you are not removed from my sight’. I computed the day and year: it was the very day on which my conversion began. The Shaykh said: ‘To traverse distance is child’s play: henceforth pay visits by means of thought; it is not worthwhile to visit any person, and there is no virtue in bodily presence’. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 234-35)
Another time the author makes for Ramla to call upon the mystic Ibn al-Mu‘alla. He is accompanied by two dervishes, with whom he makes an agreement: ‘On the way we arranged that each of us should think of the matter concerning which we were in doubt, in order that that venerable director might tell us our secret thoughts and solve our difficulties’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 343).
Mystics often subjected their mentors or rivals to such ‘examinations’ of the gift of prevision and thought-reading at a distance; these examinations were as if a part of the routine of spiritual intercourse, and constituted a peculiar para-psychological game, although Murshids and Pırs invariably condemned them as a temptation and manifestation of vanity.
On this particular occasion al-Hujwiri thought of obtaining the manuscript of verses and Mun ajat (hymns and supplications addressed to God) of Mansur al-Hallaj; one of his fellow-travellers wished to be healed of the disease of the spleen from which he was suffering, and the other dervish, apparently for fun, wished for a particular kind of sweetmeat ‘of different colours’.8 And indeed we should not be surprised to learn that on arrival at the old man’s place Hallaj’s manuscripts seemed to be just waiting for al-Hujwiri, and the fellow-traveller afflicted with disease made a recovery. However, the wish of the second dervish was deemed by Ibn al-Mu‘alla to be incompatible with the status of a mystic and he refused to fulfil it with the words: ‘Parti-coloured sweetmeat is eaten by soldiers; you are dressed as a saint, and the dress of a saint does not accord with the appetite of a soldier. Choose one or the other’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 344)
Life spent all the time on the journey springs its own surprises upon al-Hujwiri in the form of amazing and unexpected incidents. A causal intellect would have seen in the various odd occurrences a coincidence, a trick or a deception, but a mystic’s gaze discerns a miracle.
The joyful unsuspecting willingness with which al-Hijwiri meets everything unusual halfway is a remarkable and long-lost virtue of a man of the Middle Ages. Arriving in Tus to visit the celebrated Abul Qasim al-Gurgani, he finds this saint in a mosque, explaining to a column the answer to that very question which he himself was intending to ask the saint.
It turns out that the question has not yet been asked, but the answer has already been obtained. ‘O Shaikh,’ I cried, ‘to whom art thou saying this?’ He replied: ‘O son, God just now caused this pillar to speak and ask me this question’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 234).
Al-Hujwiri sees in it neither a trick nor a coincidence, and interprets this entire episode in favour of the saint’s clairvoyance. In the already mentioned Bab ‘Umar’s house the guest was served ‘a dish of new grapes, although it was not the season for them, and some fresh ripe dates, which cannot possibly be procured in Farghana’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 235).
The commonplace rational explanation that the fruits might have been brought from far away appears not to cross al-Hujwiri’s mind, and he once again pays homage to the Shaikh’s miraculous power. On the way to Damascus al-Hujwiri and his mentor Abul ‘Abbas al-Ashqani are caught in a downpour. The disciple was soaked and was splashed all over with mud, whereas the Murshid’s clothes and footwear were clean and dry. This is of course amazing, although it is possible to find some logical reason for the situation in question.
For al-Hujwiri the sole reason lies in the mentor’s words: ‘God has preserved me from mud ever since I put unquestioning trust in Him and guarded my interior from the desolation of cupidity’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 234). Once again the author gives himself up to self-deprecation, unequivocally implying that it was exactly here that his ‘internal dirt’ came to light.
For al-Hujwiri the natural world is full of unexplained phenomena to an even greater extent than is the world of human relations. In India he saw ‘a worm which appeared in a deadly poison and lived by it, because that poison was its whole being’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 407).
In Turkistan he observes a burning mountain, ‘from the rocks of which salammoniac fumes were boiling forth; and in the midst of that fire was a mouse, which died when it came out of the glowing heat’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 408). Each time, such wonders become an occasion for a lengthy discourse on inscrutable divine providence.
Constantly anticipating wonders in everyday life, al-Hujwiri is extremely careful and conservative when he discusses Karamat in his book. Continually he emphasizes that saints can work wonders only if they do not violate the requirements of religious law. ‘In fact, miracles (Karamat) and saint ship are Divine gifts, not things acquired by Man, so that human actions (kasb) cannot become the cause of Divine guidance’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 225) The author continues:
Accordingly, a miracle (Karamat) will not be manifested to a saint unless he is in a state of absence from himself and bewilderment, and unless his faculties are entirely under the control of God. While saints are with themselves and maintain the state of humanity (bashariyyat), they are veiled; but when the veil is lifted they are bewildered and amazed through realizing the bounties of God. A miracle cannot be manifested except in the state of unveiledness (kashf ), which is the rank of proximity (qurb); and whoever is in that state, to him worthless stones appear even as gold. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 226-7)
This passage in its own way answers the question raised at the beginning of the chapter: who became a Muslim saint and why? Al-Hujwiri’s answer is obvious - well, anybody, but only by God’s grace, the motives of which are kept back from mortals. An analysis of Kashf al-mahjub is not one of the tasks of this book, all the same, however, it is worth mentioning a few words about it.
Like many works of Muslim didactic literature it has been written in response to the request of a certain Abu Sa‘id al-Hujwiri, a relative or fellow-townsman of the author: Explain to me the true meaning of the Path of Sufism and the nature of the ‘stations’ (maq mat) of the Sufis, and explain their doctrines and sayings, and make clear to me their mystical allegories, and the nature of Divine Love and how it manifested in human hearts, and why the intellect is unable to reach the essence thereof ... and explain the practical aspects of Sufism which are connected with these theories. (Al-Hujwiri 1992: 6-7)
Anna Suvorova is the Head of the Department of Asian Literature at the Institute of Oriental Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences), Professor of Indo-Islamic culture at the Institute of Oriental and classical cultures (Russian State University for the Humanities), member of the International faculty in National College of Arts (Pakistan), fellow of Academic Advisory Board, Centre for Study of Gender and Culture (Pakistan), fellow of Royal Asiatic Society (UK).
Other Parts of the Book, Muslim Saints of South Asia: