Sep 152014

This article is from “Fifteen Letters (Khamsata ‘Ashara Maktuban)

With the exception of the second letter in “M,” which starts with the expression “O dear servant (ayyuhā al-ʿabd al-ʿazīz),” and the thirteen letter in “B,” which starts with “O brother (ayyuhā al-akh),” both of which look to be copying mistakes, every letter starts with the addressing formula of “O dear one (ayyuhā al-ʿazīz)”. This is reminiscent of the expression “O young man (yā ghulām)” which Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir often used in his lectures. These two forms address the listener or reader in general and do not refer to a specific person.

Articulated in a highly mystical language, the letters describe spiritual experiences that are attained through striving against one’s base desires and committed devotion to Allah. They are written in a peculiar style whereby each sentence or group of sentences is followed by a related Qur’anic text, which is often a part of a verse. For instance, the Shaikh may mention a state of bliss that the believer will receive and then follows his statement by a verse that talks about the bliss in paradise.

The Qur’an is quoted in 267 places in the fifteen letters. At times, more than one verse is quoted in a location, so in total 279 verses are quoted. Some verses occur more than once, making the number of unique verses in the text 225.

The text, in effect, is a Sufi experiential interpretation of the quoted Qur’anic verses. This peculiar style of consistent pairing of mystical words of the Shaikh with a Qur’anic verse has produced an immensely beautiful text with a highly poetic tone. Often several pairings are connected with “and,” which is a common practice in Arabic. This uniquely charming, poetic, and experiential way of interpreting the Qur’an forced me to put aside my other writing projects to edit an Arabic edition of the book and do this translation. It is something that I have immensely enjoyed doing.

The mystical language of Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilānī speaks of spiritual experiences that words could do so much to describe, and the reader who has had no such experiences can at best hope to understand them only partially. This is why I have added a commentary to the text, but I have also kept it succinct and focused on my understanding of the main points of the text without any attempt to delve deeper into it. This should reduce the possibility of any misunderstanding that is likely to happen as a result of any further elaboration. I have not commented on any text that I found to be clear enough. Having been added as footnotes, the comments should not get into the way of reading the text alone without the commentary.

Any translation is an act of interpretation, so translating the Arabic text is in effect interpreting the understanding of the translator of that original Persian text. However, the fact that the words of the Shaikh consist of short sentences that are effectively interpreting clearly quoted Qur’anic verses makes it easier for the translator and limits the extent of any misunderstanding.

Copyright © 2014 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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