Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sufic Commentary on the Night Journey and Ascension | From Tafsir al-Tustari



In the Qur'an there are three chapters where the references of Holy Prophet's Night Journey and Ascension to the Divine Presence is made. Most prominent is the 17th Chapter, the Night Journey (al-'Isra'), where only the opening verse speaks to it, even though very briefly. The others are found, according to Islamic scholars in Chapter 81, the Overthrowing and Chapter 53, the Star. Among these three chapters, Surah an-Najm (the Star) has the most intense and most mystical of the narratives about which a Commentary by Sahl B. Abd Allah al-Tustari is noteworthy because it is he who utilized the mystical meanings appropriate for these mystical Signs.

English translation of the original Quranic verses are shared here in bold, followed by the commentary by Tustari. Quoted from Tafsīr al-Tustarī translated by Annabel Keeler and Ali Keeler. Tustari's commentary doesn't cover all the verses, so the rest of verses without commentary are added here as well for continuity sake.

al-Najm (the Star)


[53:1] By the star when it sets

That is, [by] Muhammad, Divine benediction and peace upon him, when he returned from the heavens.

[53:2] your companion has neither gone astray nor has he erred,

That is, he never ever strayed from the reality of the divine oneness (haqīqat al-tawhīd), nor ever followed Satan under any circumstances.

[53:3] nor does he speak out of [his own] desire,

That is, he never ever utters falsehoods (bātil).

His utterances were among the proofs (hujaj) of God, Exalted is He, so how could desire or Satan have any means of thwarting him?

[53:4] It is not but a revelation revealed

[53:5] The Lord of Mighty Power has taught him,

[53:6] The Lord of Strength; so he attained completion,

[53:8] Then he drew near and drew closer still,

That is, he approached, drawing closer and closer.

[53:9] And was at a distance of two bow lengths or nearer.

[53:10] And He revealed to His servant what He revealed.

[53:11] The heart did not deny what he saw.

That is to say, what he saw at the witnessing (mushāhada) of his Lord, through the vision (basar) of his heart as a face-to-face encounter (kifāh).

[53:12] Will you then dispute with him concerning what he saw?

What he saw from Us and through Us; and what he sees from Us and through Us is more excellent than what he sees from Us through himself.

[53:13] And verily he saw Him another time,

That is, in the beginning when God, Glorified and Exalted is He, created him as a light within a column of light (nūran fī 'amūd al-nūr), a million years before creation, with the essential characteristics of faith (tabā'i' al-īmān), in a witnessing of the unseen within the unseen (mushāhadat al-ghayb bi’l-ghayb). He stood before Him in servanthood ('ubūdiyya), by the lote tree of the Ultimate Boundary [53:14], this being a tree at which the knowledge of every person reaches its limit.

[53:14] At the farthest point (Sidrat-ul-Muntaha) beyond which is the domain of ineffability.

[53:15] Near it is the Paradise of Abode.

[53:16] When there shrouded the lote tree that which shrouded [it].

This means: 'that which shrouded' the lote tree (ay mā yaghshā al-shajara) was from the light of Muhammad as he worshipped. It could be likened to golden moths, which God sets in motion towards Him from the wonders of His secrets. All this is in order to increase him [Muhammad] in firmness (thabāt) for the influx [of graces] (mawārid) which he received [from above].

[53:17] The eye did not swerve, nor did it go beyond [the bounds].

He did not incline to the evidences of his self (shawāhid nafsihi), nor to witnessing them (mushāhadatihā), but was totally absorbed in the witnessing (mushāhada) of his Lord, Exalted is He, seeing (shāhid) the attributes [of God] that were being manifested [to him], which required firmness from him in that place (mahall).

[53:18] Verily he saw some of the greatest signs of his Lord.

That is, those of His attributes that became manifest through His signs. Though he saw them, he did not let slip [his gaze] from his witnessed Object (mashhūd) [of worship], and did not withdraw from the vicinity of his worshipped Object (mahbūd), but rather [what he saw] only increased him in love (mahabba), longing (shawq) and strength (quwwa).

God gave him the strength by which he could bear the theophany (tajallī) and supreme lights (anwār 'azīma). This was out of his being favoured above the other prophets. Do you not see how Moses fell down in a swoon at the theophany. Yet twice as much did the Prophet (s) penetrate it (jābahu) in his contemplation, through a face-to-face encounter with the sight of his heart (kifāhan bi-basar qalbihi), and yet remained firm due to the strength of his state, and his elevated station (maqām) and rank (daraja).



Useful references on al-Isra wa al-Mir'aj:
* The Subtleties of the Ascension: Early Mystical Sayings on Muhammad's Heavenly Journey by Frederick Stephen Colby
* Narrating Muhammad's Night Journey: Tracing the Development of the Ibn Abbas Ascension Discourse by Frederick Stephen Colby (Preview via Google Book)
* Orientalists' View on the Night Journey: An Analysis (PDF) by Mohd Rosland Mohd Nor
* Isra’ and Mi’raj in the view of Fazlur Rahman (PDF)
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