World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


Mysticism and Sufi Spirituality (157) - Panel

· Date: TUE, 20 / 5-7 pm

· Language: English

· Description:
Chair: Alessandro Cancian (Institute of Ismaili Studies)

Paper Presenter: Janne Mattila (PhD Student-University of Helsinki) “Practices of Purification in 10th-Century Arabic Philosophy”
Most Medieval Arabic philosophers agree in their perception of philosophy that philosophy consists of two parts: theoretical and practical. Whereas the aim of the theoretical part is to attain true knowledge about the world, the aim of the practical part is to become good. Hence, living a good life is seen to form as much part of philosophy as gaining theoretical wisdom. Both the theoretical and practical parts of philosophy are in the end seen as conducive towards man's final aim of ultimate happiness. The aim of my paper is to explore the question of philosophical practice in the texts of some Arabic philosophers during the formative period of Arabic philosophy in 10th and early 11th centuries. The sources consist of the works of the Peripatetic philosophers Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina on the one hand, and two philosophers related to the Ismaili movement, Brethren of Purity and al-Kirmani, on the other. Despite representing distinct philosophical movements, all of these philosophers in the end interpret the philosophical practice in Neoplatonic terms as purification of soul from matter. Hence, moral virtue is subservient to the final contemplative goal of theoretical philosophy. Philosophical practices of purification are then often seen as a necessary prerequisite for learning of theoretical philosophy which aid in raising the attention of the philosopher from the sensible to intelligible reality. On the other hand, practical virtue is often also seen to follow from learning of theoretical knowledge as the culmination of philosophy. How are these two ideas consistent with each other? Moreover, it is the aim of the paper to investigate what kind of concrete practices are involved in the philosophical purification of the soul. For Arabic philosophers writing in the context of Islamic society these involve both religious and philosophical practices. On the one hand, Islamic religious rituals are often interpreted philosophically to fit the idea of purification from matter. On the other hand, Arabic philosophers also delineate purificatory methods going beyond those determined in religious law, involving mildly ascetic measures that aid the soul in its quest to ascend from material to spiritual reality.

Paper Presenter: Alessandro Cancian (Researcher-Institute of Ismaili Studies) “Contemporary Shi'i Sufi Taw'l: Majz'b'al'sh'h on Pilgrimage and Sacrifice and the Development of Shii' Mystical Exegesis”
Sufism aims at playing a crucial role in shaping today’s Islamic spirituality. This ambition is even more true in the case of Sufism in Iran, where a deeply rooted and influential mystical tradition is at the core of a struggle over legitimacy which involves segments of the ruling establishment and the Sufi orders. Crucial to the understanding of this struggle, are the notions of tafseer and ta’weel, in the broad sense of legitimate interpretation of the primary religious data, not limited to the technical process of scholarly interpretation whose foremost outcome is the voluminous tafseer literature. Hence the importance of interpretive practices currently animating the debate on religious authority within the Islamic Republic of Iran.Safar-e hajj wa ayd al-qurb?n is the title of a brief and concise essay of the present Qutb of the Gonâbâdî Sufi order, H?jj Dr. N?r?al? T?bandah (Majz?b?al?sh?h), recently published in Tehran, representing the transcript of two separate lectures given by the Qutb in his residence on occasion ofthe approach of the month of dhl-hijja. In the lectures Dr. T?bandah, providing a spiritual interpretation of two important canonic rituals, makes extensive use of the technique of ta’weel, basing his remarks on Muslim exegetic tradition and explicitly recocnising Hak'm Niser-e Khosrow as one of the torch-bearer of this method. The lecture on Hajj, in particular, is by and large a commentary on the well-known qas'da of the master of Qobadiy’n (p. 423 of Tofangd'rs edition, Tehran, 1374), but the whole essay could be considered as a particular application of the general rules of ta’wîl expressed by the poetic of Niser. In this paper I will attempt to analyse the essay from two different perspectives: first, I will consider it as included in the exegetic tradition of Sh??i ta’weel, its development and perspectives. Secondly, I will try to approach the discourse of the Qutb in the framework of the ongoing debate on legitimate interpretation of Islam in the IRI, highlighting other significant pieces of interpretive practices produced and disseminated by the masters of the Order.

Paper Presenter: Heidi Chirugwagomi (Assistant Professor/Senior Researcher) “The Metaphors of Color, Fragrance and Sound in Sufi Spheres”
Storytelling and metaphor take up a fundamental status in human mind and in all human activity, and perform as instruments by which human beings make sense of experience. They play a significant role in our lives, in the way we think, in the way we act and in all orbits of our bustle. Storytelling or narrative and metaphor are at the same time the prime tools and assets for the interpretation of the visible world we live in and its interaction with the invisible one or the metaphysics we nurture in our minds and our imaginations. In the spheres of Sufism metaphor and storytelling have figured prominently on the levels of conceptual issues and theories as well as of practical and communicating perspectives. They are the principal faculty by which the mysteries are unfolded and the passage to the Sufis? poetics and the metaphysics opened. Narrative and metaphor in Sufism interact significantly and are intimately interrelated as the whole story telling is a metaphor and metaphoric in Sufi spheres. They enjoy great many varieties of manifestations and applications. In the poetics of the Sufis, metaphor and narration or story telling run as connective devices, the first connects concepts by analogy and the latter interrelate them in terms of events in time. The present paper is navigation in the poetics of Sheikh Attar, his story telling and employment of the metaphors of color, fragrance and sound to fold and unfold his spiritual experiences. Being a perfumer by profession, Sheikh Attar has close and intimate bonds and interactions with nature and her phenomena which stand out in his story telling, poetics and metaphors. His storytelling and poetics are therefore rich stores of metaphors taken from nature to describe the sensation he senses on his passage from the visible to the invisible world or to his metaphysics.In this presentation the narrative or the story telling of Sheikh Attar and his drawing on the metaphors of color, fragrance and sound and their dimensions are trailed and so are the intricate relations which operate at the nexus between his narrative and the metaphors of color, fragrance and sound, and his passage to the metaphysics that these metaphors are deployed to unfold or fold.

Paper presenter: Arin Salamah Qudsi (Post Doctorate researcher -Bar-Ilan University), "The Men of Suhraward: Ab' al-Naj'b al-Suhraward and Institutionalized Sufism in Twelfth Century Baghdad".
The work of the twelfth century Sufi theoretician, Abū Hafs Umar al-Suhrawardī (d. 632/1234) and his most influential manual Awārif al-ma’ārif brought a long Sufi tradition of writing to its culmination. In the course of this period, Classical Sufism entered a new epoch which can be described as "The Age of Transition", as Erik Ohlander calls it in his recent work (2008). After a long period of scholastic oblivion, the teachings of Abū Hafs al-Suhrawardī are once again being studied seriously. In recent years, further efforts have been made to penetrate more profoundly into his work besides his Awārif, and his seminal role in the later development of the Sufi movement after the 13th century. In his early youth, Abū Hafs left his birthplace Suhraward for Baghdad. There he met his paternal uncle, the Sufi master Abū al-Najīb al-Suhrawardī (d. 564/1168) and became his disciple. There is evidence that Suhrawardī's family included many members who were engaged in the devotional life of Suhraward prior to the fifth/eleventh century. Abū al-Najīb's most famous work is Ādāb al-murīdīn, which was edited by Menahem Milson in 1977. While the position of Abū Ḥafṣ is that of a renowned theoretician, whose work re-crystallized Sufi praxis and thought into one homogenous unity, Abū al-Najīb's work did not gain equivalent recognition, and his influence upon his nephew has not attracted any evaluation. Early sources indicate that Abū al-Najīb left Baghdad for Isfahān where he became a disciple of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the younger brother of the famous Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, whose theories of divine love and accusation of a suspected relationship with beardless young men (amrad, pl. murd) are documented. Two different portrayals of Abū al-Najīb are found in the sources. The first is the image of a religious man who gained Sunnī consensus, while the other is that of the mystic whose miracles (karāmāt) and deep spiritual charisma are well evidenced.
One of the innovative aspects of Abū Hafs’ manual, Awārif al-ma’ārif lies in his treatment of master status (mashyakha) as a crucial facet of practical life within the Sufi centers. To what extent, then, was this treatment influenced by Abū al-Najīb al-
Suhrawardī? Besides the practical realm, what can be said about the mark the latter left on the mystic teachings of his nephew? Dealing with such questions may cast light on a hidden arena wherein the epoch of institutionalized popular Sufism was