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Two Kinds of Contemplation (c. 1072)

By:
Sayyid Ali al- Hujwiri
Document type:
Book Chapter

    Two Kinds of Contemplation (c. 1072)

    Commentary

    ‘Ali bin ‘Uthman al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri (d. 1072) wrote the first Persian treatise on Sufism, the Kashf al-Mahjub, translated as The Revelation of the Veiled or Revealing the Hidden. The idea of lifting a veil is a common theme in Ṣūfī literature; in this work, al-Hujwiri lists eleven veils that must be uncovered on the path to spiritual fulfillment, beginning with gnosis, the mystical knowledge revealed by God. In the excerpt concerning contemplation below, the writer distinguishes between worldly experiences that can be witnessed with the “bodily eye” and the divine presence that can be seen with one's “spiritual eye.” As the translator Reynold A. Nicholson explains in his work, The Mystics of Islam, the latter is only possible with the “inward sight of the heart,” a light placed in the spirit by God to make Himself visible to those who seek Him.

    There are really two kinds of contemplation. The former is the result of perfect faith, the latter of rapturous love, for in the rapture of love a man attains to such a degree that his whole being is absorbed in the thought of his Beloved and he sees nothing else. Muhammad ibn Wasi’ said: “I never saw anything without seeing God therein,” i.e., through perfect faith. Shibli said: “I never saw anything except God,” i.e., in the rapture of love and the fervor of contemplation. One mystic sees the act with his bodily eye, and, as he looks, beholds the Agent with his spiritual eye; another is rapt by love of the Agent from all things else, so that he sees only the Agent. The one method is demonstrative, the other is ecstatic. In the former case, a manifest proof is derived from the evidences of God; in the latter case, the seer is enraptured and transported by desire: evidences are a veil to him, because he who knows a thing does not care for aught besides, and he who loves a thing does not regard aught besides, but renounces contention with God and interference with Him in His decrees and acts. When the lover turns his eye away from created things, he will inevitably see the Creator with his heart. God hath said, “Tell the believers to close their eyes” (Qur’an 24:80), i.e., to close their bodily eyes to lusts and their spiritual eyes to created things. He who is most sincere in self-mortification is most firmly grounded in contemplation. Sahl ibn ‘Abdallah of Tustar said: “If any one shuts his eye to God for a single moment, he will never be rightly guided all his life long,” because to regard other than God is to be handed over to other than God and one left at the mercy of other than God is lost. Therefore the life of contemplatives is the time during which they enjoy contemplation; time spent in ocular vision they do not reckon as life, for that to them is really death. Thus, when Bayazid was asked how old he was, he replied, “Four years.” They said to him, “How can that be?” He answered, “I have been veiled from God by this world for seventy years, but I have seen Him during the last four years: the period in which one is veiled does not belong to one's life.”

    Nicholson, Reynold A. The Mystics of Islam. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2002. (Originally published in 1914).

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