By Anna Suvrova
Compositionally al-Hujwiri’s work is divided into two large sections: the first, introductory section, consists of 14 chapters, in which concurrent with the problems of knowledge, voluntary destitution, purity and Malamat (blame) in Sufism, an account is given of the brief biographies of the descendants of Hazrat ‘Ali (up to and including the sixth Imam of the Shi‘as, Jafar as-Sadiq), Ahl as-șuffa9 (the people of the veranda) and eminent Sufi Shaikhs of the past and the present. Of particular interest to scholars has been chapter 14, ‘Concerning the Doctrines held by the different sects of Sufis’, where two main trends, one of Baghdad and the other of Khurasan, besides the twelve existing schools, have been marked out, of which ten are approved of and two are condemned - hululı, the advocates of incarnation of the deity in man, and farisı.
Al-Hujwiri was the first to propose such a systematization, and it is not to be found in the Arabic treatises of his predecessors,10 which gave R. Nicholson ground to wonder: did these schools actually exist or were they invented by al-Hujwiri himself seeking to systematize the teachings of Sufism? In any case these schools are not of equal worth and are not synonymous with the later Sufi fraternities, and their names are known today only to the specialists.
The object of Kashf al- Mahjub is to explain the path to the Truth and to lift the veils separating the mystic from it. That is why the second section of al-Hujwiri’s work consists of chapters written in the form of Kashf al-hijab (‘uncovering of veils’). Behind the first veil we find ma‘rifat (Gnosis of God); behind the second, tauhid (Unification); behind the third, ıman (Faith); behind the fourth, ţaharat (Purification from Foulness); behind the fifth, Salat (Prayer) and so on right up to the last, eleventh veil, which hides Sama‘ (Audition), i.e. collective zeal with the singing of mystic verses to music.
The practice of Sama ‘became a virtual stumbling block, the most contradictory subject of Sufi literature, around which controversies raged continually. Theologians have discussed endlessly whether the inclusion of Sama ‘in the mystic ritual is lawful, or whether it is only bid‘a, a reprehensible innovation.
The most lively, spectacular and entertaining part of the Sufi ritual, Sama ‘in the first instance afforded the possibility of a quick attainment of the state of Wajd (ecstasy). Even amongst those fraternities which practised Sama ‘, like Chishtiyya, Suhrawardiyya, Qadriyya and Kubrawiyya, there was no unity of opinion on this question.
Al-Hujwiri also could not steer clear of these contradictions, or to be more exact, his attitude towards Sama ‘reflected his evolution with the passage of time. He recollects that once on a hot day ‘in the clothes of a wanderer and with untidy hair’ he came to the well-known Shaikh Khwaja Muzaffar.
In reply to the hospitable host’s question as to what his wish was, al-Hujwiri told him that he would like to hear sam ‘. Khwaja Muzaffar there and then sent for a Quawwal (singer) and musicians. Being young and full of a neophyte’s enthusiasm, al-Hujwiri was profoundly thrilled by the song and was driven into ecstasy. The Shaikh, observing the young man’s reaction, warned him:
A time will come when this music will be no more to you than the roaring of a raven. The influence of music only lasts so long as there is no contemplation, and as soon as contemplation is attained music has no power. Take care not to accustom yourself to this, lest it grow part of your nature and keep you back from higher things. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 171)
Khwaja Muzaffar proved to be a good foreteller - in the concluding chapter of Kashf al-mahj ¯b al-Hujwiri speaks about Sama ‘much more critically than in his youth. Apparently, remembering his own experience, he quotes Junaid’s saying to his disciples: ‘If you wish to keep your religion safe and to maintain your penitence, do not indulge, while you are young, in the audition which the Sufis practise; and when you grow old, do not let yourself be the cause of guilt in others’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 412).
But the following episode most accurately characterizes al-Hujwiri’s attitude towards sam ‘: Once, when I was in Merv, one of the leaders of the Ahl-i hadth11 and the most celebrated of them all said to me: ‘I have composed a work on the permissibility of audition.’
I replied: ‘It is a great calamity to religion that the Imam should have made lawful an amusement which is the root of all immorality’. ‘If you do not hold it to be lawful’, he said, ‘why do you practice it?’ I answered: ‘Its lawfulness depends on circumstances and cannot be asserted absolutely: if audition produces a lawful effect on the mind, then it is lawful; it is unlawful if the effect is unlawful, and permissible if the effect is permissible’. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 401-2)
It is obvious that the interlocutor, having caught al-Hujwiri in hypocrisy, had put him in an awkward situation, and he simply tried to get out of it with the help of scholastic casuistry. The episode is, however, highly significant: many Sufis of later times, who had publicly condemned Sama‘, even the puritanically disposed Naqshbandiyya, used to secretly arrange devotional music sessions in their Khanqahs or private houses.
In general, in the world of the mystics and the Auliya the conservatism of verbal and written public declarations did not rule out ecstatic behaviour, nor, for that matter, even the opposite: a mystic, depicting himself in his verses and discourses as intoxicated and almost feigning to be a ajdhub, could at the same time lead quite a respectable life full of strict piety.
Al-Hujwiri’s attitude towards Husain Ibn Mansur al-Hallaj was also no less contradictory than his position regarding the issue of Sama‘. As you will recall, the object of his innermost wishes was to secure for himself the manuscripts of Hallaj’s munjat. In the chapter devoted to this personified symbol of ecstatic Sufism, the author of Kashf al-Mahjub endeavours to vindicate him from the common accusations of magic, zandaqa (heresy) and Kufr (infidelity):
Husayn, as long as he lived, wore the garb of piety, consisting of prayer and praise of God and continual fasts and fine sayings on the subject of Unification. If his actions were magic, all this could not possibly have proceeded from him. Consequently, they must have been miracles, and miracles are vouchsafed only to a true saint. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 152)
And there and then, as if scared of his own liberalism, al-Hujwiri takes up the point of view about Hallaj common to the moderate mystics of the Junaidiyya school: ‘Although he is dear to my heart, yet his ‘path’ is not soundly established on any principle, and his state is ot fixed in any position, and his experiences are largely mingled with error’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 152).
In his book al-Hujwiri divides dervishes into muqıman (settled) and musafiran (wandering). The first had an advantage over the second because they had already completed their search and had settled down at one place in order to serve God in Khilwat (solitude) or to pass on knowledge to their Murıds.
At the same time the wanderers had superiority over the settled as they did not burden themselves with family and property and, consequently, were less attached to the world. Besides that, the life of the musafir actualized the metaphor of ţarqat: commensurate with the physically traversed path a mystic advanced further and further along the spiritual Path. For years al-Hujwiri himself belonged to this second category.
Musafiran to a large extent depended on the hospitality and generosity of Muqıman, who in accordance with the existing code of relations between Sufis, provided shelter, food, clothes and many other services to the wandering dervishes. At the same time the settled dervishes in their turn endeavoured to make the visits of well-known mystics suit their own ends, in particular for the sake of consolidating their relations with the authorities but also simply in respect of the members of the community.
Since the status of a mystic, who had settled down and taken root in a given locality and a particular social environment, presupposed the responsibilities of spiritual sustenance of the faithful and performance of their religious rites, Muqıman not infrequently tried to shift this task onto their guests.
With the passage of time the mode of life of a Musa fir and dependence on a settled fraternity become irksome to al-Hujwiri. Let us recollect how sensitively he endured the rudeness and arrogance of the Khurasan-based dervishes, who threw melon rinds at him. He considered the need to pay for hospitality by participation in purely temporal affairs of etiquette as a humiliation and akin to penal labour.
Certainly, it is not right that a resident dervish should take a traveller to salute worldly men or to attend their entertainments, sick-beds, and funerals; and if a resident hopes to make travellers an instrument of mendicancy (lat-i-gad’i) and conduct them from house to house, it would be better for him to refrain from serving them instead of subjecting them to humiliation.
Among all the troubles and inconveniences that I have suffered when travelling none was worse than to be carried off time after time by ignorant servants and impudent dervishes of this sort and conducted from the house of such and such a Khwaja to the house of such and such a Dihqan, while though apparently complaisant, I felt a great dislike to go with them. I then vowed that, if ever I became resident, I would not behave towards travellers with this impropriety. (al-Hujwiri 1992: 342-3)
This transient intonation of irritation and weariness tells more about the emotional state of the author than tens of pages of his work. Over the years al-Hujwiri obviously became tired, and began losing his enthusiastic interest in everything, almost without exception.
This enthusiasm had been very characteristic of him in his youth, as had his constantly optimistic appraisals of the people and social environment in which he lived. In marked contrast these now became all the more critical and ‘sober’. In the foreword to Kashf al-Mahjub he was the first in the long line of mystics who followed him to express his pessimism about the state of contemporary Sufism:
Know that in this our time the science of Sufism is obsolete, especially in this country. The whole people is occupied with following its lusts and has turned its back on the path of quietism, while ‘Ulema and those who pretend to learning have formed a conception of Sufism which is quite contrary to its fundamental principles ... Everyone makes pretensions, none attain to reality. The disciples, neglecting their ascetic practices, indulge in idle thoughts, which they call ‘contemplation’. (Al-Hujwiri 1992: 7)
Each generation of mystics has regarded the state of Sufism contemporary to it as decadent. Complaints about profanation or emasculation of esoteric knowledge are the ‘commonplace’ of the entire didactic and hagiographic literature.12
This decadence is always contrasted with a certain ‘golden age’ of Sufism, which is gradually expanded to encompass further centuries and generations, depending on which age the writer himself belongs to. Thus, for the spiritual descendants of al-Hujwiri, in particular, for the Great Chishtiyya Shaikhs, living in the Delhi Sultanate in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, he himself as well as his contemporaries belonged to such a ‘golden age’.
In turn, for the Sufis inhabiting the empire of the Great Mughals, the ‘golden age’ was much more prolonged, because it even included the epoch of al-Hujwiri and several centuries of the Delhi Sultanate. This fluctuating image of the ‘golden age’, the image of the bygone glory, reaches its apogee in the second half of the last century, when the entire preceding history of Islam in India is painted in idealized nostalgic colours and gives a powerful impulse to the development of Muslim revivalism.
Al-Hujwiri’s autobiography convinces the reader that his impression of the impoverishment of Sufism was characterized more by conventionality rather than by objectivity. And indeed where does the question of impoverishment arise, if in Khurasan alone he met three hundred Shaikhs ‘who had such mystical endowments that a single man of them would have been enough for the whole world. This is due to the fact that the sun of love and the fortune of the Sufi Path is in the ascendant in Khurasan’ (al-Hujwiri 1992: 174).
The author of Kashf al-Mahjub indefatigably moves from place to place throughout the Muslim world, in which the Shaikhs and dervishes have already assimilated each nook and corner.
In the bustling towns of Iraq and Syria, in the almost inaccessible mountain villages of Jabal al-Buttam and Bait al-Jinn, in the steppes of Turkistan and on the shores of the Caspian, everywhere he meets other members of his fraternity, at times celebrated, now and then nameless, but equal masters of the much trumpeted ars moriendi, which, for sure, did not seem to be as ‘melancholic’ to them as it did to Hermann Hesse.
The reasons which brought al-Hujwiri to Lahore (which he calls Lahawur13) are not known to us. We only know the main circum- stances which compelled him to settle down there. In his book the author drops a hint that he found himself in Lahore not on his own accord: ‘I could not possibly set down more than this, my books having been left at Ghazna14 - may God guard it! - while I myself had become a captive among uncongenial folk (darmiy n-i n -jins n girift r mande) in the district of Lahawur, which is a dependency of Multan’ (al-Hujwiri 1926: 21).
On the other hand why should a native of Ghazna not try his luck in such a town, which in 1031 became the capital of the empire of the Ghaznavides? Sultan Mahmud Ghaznavi (died 1030), who had annexed Lahore to his own empire, never lived in it and was not at all interested in this godforsaken small town in Punjab. He entrusted its government to his favourite Malik Ayaz, who, as the local tradition says, erected the rampart around the city in just one night.
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: