Sep 182014

This is the first letter from “Fifteen Letters (Khamsata ‘Ashara Maktuban)


O dear one!

When the lightnings of direct witnessing1 flash from the clouds of the emanation of:

Allah guides to His Light whom He wills, (24.35)

—and the winds of the union of love blow from the windward of the care of:

He chooses for His mercy whom He wills,2 (2.105)

—the fragrant plants of close rapport will flower in the gardens of the hearts,3

—and the nightingales of longing will chant in the orchards of the spirits with the tones of:

Alas, my grief for Joseph! (12.84)

—and the fires of yearning will burn in the stoves of the innermost beings.4

The wings of the flying thoughts will become too tired in the space of greatness in its pursuit of the destination of the flight,

—the greatest minds will go astray in the deserts of spiritual knowledge,

—and the foundations of the cornerstones of understanding will shake from the shock of the majesty.5

The ships of determination will sail in the depths of the seas of:

They did not value Allah as He should be valued6 (39.67)

—by the winds of:

As it floated on with them amid waves like mountains,7 (11.42)

—and when the waves of the sea of the all-engrossing love of:

He loves them and they love Him, (5.54)

—collide, everyone will call in the tongue of the spiritual state

O my Lord! Disembark me with a blessed disembarking, and you are the best to disembark.8 (23.29)

So the predestined care of:

They for whom We have preordained good things (21.101)

—will reach them, and it will disembark them on the shore of the Jūdī9 of:

A seat of truth. (54.55)

It will take them to the assembly of the intoxicated of:

Am I not your Lord? (7.172)

—it will spread for them the tablecloth of the feast of the bliss of:

For those who do good there will be good and more, (10.26)

—and it will pass around to them the cups of attainment from the casks of nearness by the hands of the cupbearers of:

And their Lord shall provide them with pure drink,10 (76.21)

—so they will be honored with an everlasting kingdom and the sovereignty of:

And if you look far you shall see bliss and a great kingdom.11 (76.20) 



1Shuhūd (direct witnessing)” is a spiritual state in which the person has direct revelatory experiences.
2 This and the previous verse emphasize that Allah chooses whom to grant this spiritual favor to.
3 The flashes of direct witnessing and the whiffs of the union with the Lover are not permanent, but they leave the heart with the unique experience of intimate friendship.
4 Having tasted intermittently that unparalleled experience, the heart now cannot stand the separation and wants that experience permanently. The pain of separation is reminiscent of prophet Jacob’s pain when he lost his beloved son prophet Joseph. The term “sirr (innermost being)” denotes the deepest and most secret part of man.
5Maʿrifa (spiritual knowledge)” is an experientially acquired spiritual form of knowledge that is beyond the comprehension of even the greatest brains. It is not something that can be attained or understood by reason but it can become accessible only to the sound heart. Spiritual knowledge is a fruit of piety: “And be pious toward Allah and Allah shall teach you” (2.282).
6 But the seeker is determined to continue his pursuit of that intimate closeness to Allah, knowing that He is worthy of every effort, and being aware of and avoiding the failure of those who underestimated Allah.
7 This journey of salvation is similar to that of prophet Noah, which Allah commanded him to make and subtly directed.
8 As he negotiates the difficulties of sailing in the sea of divine love, he prays to Allah to guide him to the shore of His acceptance.
9 Exegetes think that “the Jūdī” is the name of the mountain on which Noah’s arch settled.
10 Allah will then land the seekers safely as He guided Noah’s arch to the Jūdī.
Allah then admits them into the company of those who are intoxicated with His love. They will be served unique food and drink that are available only to those who attain nearness to Him.
11 This turn of fortune and honor from Allah will be everlasting.

Copyright © 2014 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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