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Sataʿat (c. 1750)

Shāh Walī Allāh
Document type:
Book Chapter

    Sataʿat (c. 1750)


    The Sataʿat (Illuminations) of Shāh Walī Allāh (1703–1762) is often read in tandem with his other major work on the subject of “Unity of Being,” Lamahat (Flashes or Glimpses of Philosophy). The Sufi-trained Walī Allāh emphasized that all Muslims shared a central idea that the only true existence in the universe is that of God. His challenge in this work was to reconcile this concept with the competing belief that God and creation were separate, and that any perceived unity between them took place only in the mind of the believer. While dense with metaphor, the Sataʿat employs Walī Allāh’s systematic approach to complex esoteric concepts; he used this same style in his writings on topics as widespread as science, Islamic law, and social justice. As a result, Walī Allāh is revered by every major Muslim group in South Asia.

    All praise be to God, the giver of bounties and the inspirer of wisdom. Blessings and benedictions be on His messenger, the noblest, who was given the Qur’an (in which many meanings are comprised in a few words) and on his family and Companions, the best of his community, which again is the best of all communities. I bear witness that there is no god but God alone Who has no partner, and that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger. May God send His blessings and benedictions upon him, his family and his Companions.

    Now after this the needy (Faqir) Waliyullah says that these are a few words entitled “Sataʿat” (Illuminations), an explanation of the Divine Secret which is a link between the Abstract pure and the Visible world and some of its properties and consequences. I beseech God for help and on Him I rely.

    Satʿ 1

    To begin with: Being in the sense of Reality and not as a concept is of three stages, and they are as follows:

    (1) Pure Essence.

    (2) Stage of Intellect.

    (3) Stage of the Great Body (Shakhs akbar).

    The emanation of the stage of Intellect from Pure Essence is by way of necessity and the requirement of the Essence itself; just as the number four requires the presence of “even” in our intellectual faculty, and is like the spread of light from the disc of the sun in the world outside.

    Shakhs Akbar is also emanated from the Pure Essence just as the Intellect is emanated from it. An example of this emanation is as though we engraved the word “Zaid” on a ring, but had not as yet struck the ring on wax or clay. The existence of the image of “Zaid”, however, though in general it lasts as long as the ring lasts, is acquired in one respect, namely that it is “Zaid” and not “Amr”, and not acquired in another respect, namely that if it is engraved on wax it would be one thing and if engraved on clay it would be another. We then bring wax or clay and strike the ring on it with the result that a particular engraving appears, penetrating the wax or clay at that time. The first is universal and the second is particular; one is intellect and the other is visibility.

    This actual penetrating engraving has two aspects. In one aspect it is contained in the ring itself and in the other in the wax or in the clay. When both these aspects are actually combined together at one place, Shakhs Akbar really comes into existence, and by that one existence, both the aspects actually come into existence. Think over this deeply.

    Satʿ 2

    Shakhs Akbar by its being one of the unities is one thing; but when we split it, two parts become manifest. The Universal Soul and the Rahmani Soul. The Universal Soul is a penetrating one and a determiner while the Rahmani Soul is an object of penetration (Mahal) and a substratum (Muduʾa).

    When we cause water to boil until the whole of it is turned into steam, its watery form disappears and instead the airy form appears. The alternate succession of both is on one and the same vehicle, which is their matter (Hyu1a). This matter, however, has no name, nor is it necessary for it to have any name. This water has a name and that is “water” and this air has also a name and that is “steam”. The effect of water wherever it be is coolness, freshness and pressure, while the effect of air wherever it be is warmth, freshness and absence of pressure. This name and these effects are, in fact, the result of the penetrating one and not of the object of penetration, even though a summary consideration does not make a distinction between the two. On this account we said that the penetrating one is the determiner and the maintainer, while the object of penetration is the substratum and the matter. Afterwards we recognise a common factor between water and air, and that is the material form. The ascendance of both, the penetrating and the penetrated, unavoidably ends in two things. The first (material form) we call the Universal Soul and the second (object of penetration) the Rahmani Soul, (hyula).

    Satʿ 3

    The Universal Soul descended into a genus, a species and an individual, while the Rahmani Soul descended after its (Universal Soul’s) descent. It is so because every form has a matter peculiar to it, while what is common (in the form and the matter) we have named Shakhs Akbar and its two parts have been named the Universal Soul and the matter, so that every detailed account which may be given should be attributed to its own origin.

    When we look at the procession of consequences (Athar) we call Shakhs Akbar a Universal nature and every other soul (Nafs) a Particular nature. From these Particular souls the one which is nearest to abstraction (Tajarrud) is named “the world of spirits” and that which is remotest from abstraction is called “the visible world”, while that which is the intermediate is termed “the world of similitude” (Alam-i-mithal).

    Satʿ 4

    When we place a date-stone in earth, and water and air enter into its (date-stone’s) body, a power appears from it which absorbs the small parts of elements, and then transforms them into a form suitable to its own species. At that time, leaves come out and branches appear till the tree becomes complete.

    Now if we think over it, we come to know two things. One is the tree-soul which by means of the date-stone has overflowed and the other is the materiality (Jismanyya) which flows through shape, colour, lines, taste, odour, heat and cold, etc. Both of these meet together coincidentally in the small parts of the elements. One is the form which has penetrated them and the other are the accidents subsisting through them. Similarly, when seminal fluid settles in the womb of a female its predication is like the predication of the date-stone.

    The existence of materiality by which one species becomes distinguished from other species is, however, quite clear. The tree-soul is established (Mutahaqqiq) from this point, that if this materiality were to change and be transformed a thousand times, this individual (tree) still remains the same as it originally was. Thus, the secret of the relation of this individual is something other than the materiality.

    On the basis of this introduction, it should be remembered that there is a connection between every soul and materiality suitable to it, by which it is recognised as belonging to such-and-such species. But whence comes this connection? One should think over this rather deeply.

    Satʿ 5

    The origin of this connection and this specification is firmly fixed in Primal Providence. There He (God) has bound every substantial form with suitable accidental forms in fraternity, and has made them embrace each other. God in the stage of intellect made this fraternity binding according to the requirement of substances and accidents. Now this cannot be questioned as to “why?” It cannot be said as to why fire is hot and water is cold. Plain investigation requires that non-material pure spirits (Mujarradat-i-mufariqa) have secret relation with some matters and materiality. One can become the nest of the other. And these same relations can become the cause of the particular movement and the attribute of every celestial body. Philosophers are compelled to confirm these relations whether they understand them or not.

    Afterwards when the empyrean heaven (Falak al-Afiak) was created, God placed the power of imagination in it, so that it might be a medium between the universals and the particulars. That power then became the nest of that relation. Its origin, however, was firmly fixed in the Divine Providence.

    We can prove its being the nest by two examples; and they are as follows:

    (1) As man is said to be composed of four elements, his humours have been divided into four kinds. Bile became the nest of the power of fire, Phlegm became the nest of the power of water and so on.

    (2) If we count numbers in our intellect and then place before ourselves a line of pearls according to those numbers in the external world, one number would be opposite to one pearl, two opposite to two, three opposite to three, and so on. This intellectual form which is a secondary concept (M’aqulat-i-thaniyya) has taken some kind of existing thing in the external world in its nest, and has established a relation with it.

    In Sufism and the Islamic Tradition: The Lamahat and Sataʿat of Shah Waliullah of Delhi, translated by G. N. Talbani, 74–78. London: Octagon Press, 1980.

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