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Exploring Abaqat and Hikmat Al-Ishraq on the Controversy between Religion and Philosophy, Theology and Esotericism

By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah

14 Dec 2017

Exploring Abaqat and Hikmat al-Ishraq on the controversy between Religion and Philosophy, Theology and Esotericism

Better known as a writer of immensely influential and, for some, controversial classic Taqweat-ul-Iman, Shah Ismail Shaheed should have been better/first approached – and needs to be now read – as a writer of greater classic Abaqat; book that builds on and explicates Shah Waliullah’s metaphysical and spiritual teachings to make us understand an aspect of the legacy of the sage of Delhi and comprehensive Marifa and Hikmah oriented Islamic tradition.

Abu Yazid was asked about lawful and unlawful and he replied that one should better be in a state where the question doesn’t arise. Polemical issues or theological disputes (say between Shias and Sunnis) are best approached by taking one’s vision to a point where we can see origin of them in God and thus transcend them and this is what esotericism/Irfan does.  The dispute concerning authority of Sufis and “philosophers” (one better uses the term sages/Hukama) that apparently parallel/rival authority of religion/prophets is also best resolved by taking note of the best minds who were best qualified to understand all of them. Let us read Shah Waliullah and his illustrious grandson Ismail Shaheed by reading a chapter on Hikmah in Abaqat (Abaqa 11) and briefly follow the discussion in Suhrawardi’s indispensable classic.

Ismail Shaheed notes and argues that contrasted with Marifa, Hikmah is zoaqi which is detailed as against the former which is Ijmali. Hikmah is  the discovery of angelic spirit (roohi Malkooti). All the conclusions of Hikmah are correct. Sometimes Hukama do use symbols or metaphors for common people’s help but they know reality.. Hakeem is “chosen. “ Due to perfection of Khateer-Al Quds it has expansion. Such a person is beautiful, sinless. He is called Sahib-I Zoaq and Hakeem. Useful sciences are revealed to him through Wahiy-I Batin. Classical Sufis (Qudama) called them Sadeqeen. That is why it was said that between prophecy and sainthood was a Barzakh (barrier) that only Sideeq could traverse. Imam Rabbani calls it Willayati Ulliya and Shah Waliullah Qurbi Wujood and also Hikmat.

Our author further elaborates that the glory of Hikmah is like that of Mullai Aala because it receives unmediated sciences. Between the Sahib-i- Shariat’s sciences (Uloom) and those of Hakeem there can be no contradiction. To Hakeem it is told from the unseen that he should second the former. Thus we might be justified in saying that Hakeem is be follower of sahib-i Shariat (though methodologically and in principle he operates independently). Hakeem resembles Jibril and Israfeel. Those who are enemies of Hakeem have curse from Khateerul Quds.

These Hukama are called by God in Quran as those bestowed with grace and expansion (Oolil Fazl and Oolil Wusaa) (This verse was revealed for Abu Bakr). About them it has been said that no corruption occurs in the world as long as they live. Religion is strengthened through them. About them it has been rightly said that if the Prophet left in the world after the Book of God and Sunnah anything which is necessarily to be followed that is this Hakeem understands which is granted to him of the scripture. Ismail Shaheed quotes the authority of Hazrat Ali to state that the sage can give his verdict according to Torah amongst the people of Torah and according to Injil amongst the people of Injil and Quran amongst the people of the Quran.

For reviving religion, God uses Muhaddatheen and Hukama. They adopt the religion of Hunafa (din-i-Haneef) whose point is to awaken primordial nature or Fitrah. Ismail Shaheed, like Allama Anwar Shah Kashmiri, seeks for Hikmah proper and in principle independent domain against those who identify it with Sunnah (though it is beyond dispute that the teacher of Hikmah, the Prophet lives and embodies wisdom defined as putting things in their proper places and prays for wisdom understood as seeing things as they are).  He accepts traditionally widely understood and properly delimited meaning of wisdom and sage for Hikmah and Hakeem and thus requires us to take seriously illumined philosophies across cultures. He notes that the method of knowledge from the Unseen (Ghayib) include Wahi, Tehdees, Tafheem, Zoaq, Marifat, Ilmi Ludni, Kashf etc.  He reminds us of a Prophetic tradition stating that “Anyone who spares 40 days only for God springs of Hikmah will be on his tongue.”

He answers often raised objection against intellection or authority of saints/sages and states that although it is more difficult to clear any doubts regarding Kashf, in principle it is completely verifiable by experts like that from revelation whose transmission etc. experts clarify.

The author notes that Religion hasn’t taken the responsibility to narrate every real thing. Religion’s silence regarding certain things doesn’t mean their absence. This dismisses those simpletons who ask for formal precedents for philosophy and theoretical gnosis in the age of Companions.

The explication of Hikmah and Hakeem here is further clarified if we turn to Suhrawardi’s explication of these terms in Hikmat al-Ishraq, a text about which it has been remarked that its glory is such that “in Zahir it should be written with the pen of light on the cheeks of Houri. And in Batin its meanings should be imprinted with the pen of intellect on the tablet of soul. There is no book like this under the sun.” Suhrawardi writes that the real philosopher is one who has as far as possible for man attained theosis or assimilating Akhlaq-i Ilahi.  All sages are united on Tawhid and there is no difference in basic foundational issues – “Tawheed, Nubuwwat, Sa’adat Wa Shaqawat.” And furthermore they are also united in positing hierarchy of existence and placing the world of intellects at the top and in  “Masayil-I Ilahi Wa Sifat-I Salbiya Wa Subootiya.” One could add that the best of modern philosophers who have positively engaged with the religious and the mystical would not be outsiders to this camp of sages and it is through them that we best access the wisdom of the ages as they take into consideration our times. Changing spirit of times is so important (“The believer is one who knows his times,” so runs a tradition) that God had to update his own books and arrange for periodical revival or reinterpretation of his last book through Ijtihad of Mujaddids.

P. S  Isn’t it sad to note that the proper meaning and identification of a key Quranic term Hikmah and one of the chief mandates of the Prophet (SAW) – teaching Hikmah – is still disputed by Muslim scholars thus jeopardizing our relationship with Tradition? The world of scholarship and popular discourse has employed the term for millennia, distinguished it from mere ratiocination or rational-scientific knowledge and information, considered it divine or Khayr-I Kaseer and made it one of the objectives of education and part of the quest for good life and made it absolutely clear that it is not a property of one community or age or religion. All of us do have some idea when we say let wisdom prevail. Let wisdom prevail over disputation over the term itself. None can claim to be wise and all that philosophers from traditional cultures claimed is love of wisdom and that is time honoured meaning of philosophy that has been forgotten in modern times as science and reason substituted metaphysics and intellect and exoteric ulema and exoteric theologians replaced urafa or sages as authorities on religion for ill informed people.