Meanings of Sama
The word Sama' in Arabic (Shama in Hebrew and Sema in Turkish) literally means "listening" or "audition".
Bruce Lawrence defines sama' as "hearing chanted verse (with or without accompanying instruments) in the company of others also seeking to participate in the dynamic dialogue between a human lover and Divine Beloved."
One early Sufi described: "Sama' is the comprehension of essences by the ear of the heart, the heart's understanding of realities, becoming aware of God's meditations and the divine speech and will, the opening up of the tongues of conscience to God..."
Sama‘ in the Sufi tradition refers to listening with the “ear of the heart”, an attitude of reverently listening to music and/or the singing of mystical poetry with the intent of increasing awareness and understanding of the divine object described; it is a type of meditation focusing on musical melody, by use of instruments, mystical songs or combining both.
“The most widely known expression of mystical life in Islam,” as Schimmel has called it, Sama‘ is practiced by nearly all the Sufi Orders in Islam with the sole exception of the Naqshbandiyya (especially its Indian branches). Sama' was a standard topic in the Arabic Sufi Manual of the tenth century, and it was widely practiced in Iraq and Iran.
"Sama‘ is the food of lovers"
Types of Sama: Secret between God and the listener
For the lovers of God he cannot look upon a thing
but he sees in it the Almighty,
for no sound strikes his ear
but he hears it from Him and in Him
~ Imam Ghazzali
- One is lawful, in which the listener is totally longing for God and not at all longing for the created.
- The second is permitted, in which the listener is mostly longing for God and only a little for the created.
- The third is disapproved, in which there is much longing for the created and a little for God.
- The fourth is forbidden, in which there is no longing for God and all is for the created…
The listener should know the difference between doing the lawful, the forbidden, the permitted, and the disapproved. And this a secret between God and the listener (for none truly knows the motive of the Heart except God, the Knower of unseen)."
Although cast in a legal form, Burhan al-Din's analysis of the listener's motivation puts the burden of responsibilities on the individual conscience, for the object of one's love is by its nature.
The Highest Goal is Ecstasy
Dhul Nun Misri said, "Sama is God's rapture that agitates (yaz'aju) hearts toward God." Alluding to the difference in perspective between lovers of God and lovers of the world, Dhul Nun also said, "Sama is the messenger of the Real (al-haqq). Whoever listens to God becomes a realiser of truth (muhaqqiq), and whoever listens to the carnal soul becomes a heretic (zindiq)."
Wajd / Ecstasy in the Qur'an
The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it (when they recite it or hear it). Then their skin and their heart soften to the remembrance of Allah. That is the guidance of Allah. ~ Surah az-Zumar 39.23
Therefore, whatever one finds (yujadu) as a consequence of audition (Sama‘) by means of audition within the soul is all ecstasy (wajd). Such “serenity”, “shivering of the flesh”, awe and “softening of the heart” (which was referred to in the above passage of Qur'an) is itself wajd.
This word wajd, derived from the Arabic tri-literal root wa-ja-da, means both 1) “ecstasy and ardour”, as well as 2) “finding” and 3) “being”. Thus, the highest state of ecstasy is referred to as wujud or “existence” itself. Hence, the attainment of wujud, “realised ecstasy” (it is the abstract noun) is the supreme realisation of being as well, for, in the words of Abu’l- Husayn al- Darraj, “Ecstasy (wajd) signifies that which is found (yujadu) through Sama' (cited by Ghazali). The fruit of Sama‘ is both mystical and metaphysical, for it is at once both a psychology of rapture and an ontology of ecstasy.
The basic experience of wajd is that of a heightened egoless consciousness: “selflessness” (bikhudi) in the lexicon of the Persian Sufis.
The subject who experiences wajd is temporarily absent from him or herself; it is indeed an extasis, an exit from self-existence and an entrance into egoless consciousness. Thus, Shibli (d. 945), describing wajd, said: “When I suppose that I have lost it, I find it and whenever I imagine that I have found it, I lose it.” Furthermore, he declared, “Ecstasy or ‘finding’ is the manifestation of the Existent One or ‘the Found’ (mawjud)”
Ecstasy is lifting of the veil, contemplation of the All-Observant (mushahida al-Raqib), presence of understanding (huzur al-fahm), study of the Unseen Realm, converse with the soul’s transconscious (muhaditha al-sirr), and association with what one lacks. It consists in the annihilation and termination of “you” in respect to all you are.... Ecstasy is the first stage of the Elect: the fruit vouchsafed one through verified faith in the Unseen Realm (tasdiq al-ghayb). When directly experienced by the mystic through heart-savour (dhawq), its light illumines his heart and all doubt and uncertainty leave him - said Ghazzali.
He also said: Ecstasy is Truth (wajd al-haqq). It springs from the abundance of the love of God Almighty and from sincere devotion and true longing (sidq iradat wa’l-shawq) to encounter Him.
Sama is the recollection of the speech of the Covenant,
and the burning of the fire of longing
Ever since the time of Junayd of Baghdad (d. 910), it has been common for Sufis to link sama' with the Quranic theme of the primordial covenant (mithaq) between God and the unborn souls of humanity, when God demanded, "Am I not your Lord (a-lastu bi-rabbikum)?" (Quran 7.172). This moment, for the Sufis, was not only the perfect statement of the divine unity but also the forging of the link of love between God and the soul. Moreoever, the music of sama' is nothing but the reverberation of that primal word of God. "Sama is the recollection of the speech of the Covenant, and the burning of the fire of longing."
The Sufis describe God as having placed a secret into the human heart that day, which is concealed like a spark in stone, but which blazes forth when struck. Sometime the ecstasy and rapture during sama works as that act of striking.
Junayd is quoted as saying, "When to essence of the children of Adam on the day of covenant there came the words, 'Am I not your Lord,' all the spirits became absorbed by its delight. Thus those who came into this world, whenever they hear a beautiful voice, their spirits tremble and are disturbed by the memory of that speech, because the influence of that speech is in the beautiful voice." In other terms, the source of sama is said to be the "rapture" or "attraction" (jazb) of God, a kind of energy that irresistibly draws one toward God.
For the Chishti Sufis of Sub-Continent who embraced Sama' as a spiritual practice, focused on purified intention and encouraged spiritual novices to participate in musical sessions, and to seek genuine ecstasy (wajd) even if it meant imitating that ecstasy initially. Many early texts mention the imitation of ecstasy by "empathetic ecstasy" (tawajud). Burhan al-Din Gharib on occasion did say that empathetic ecstasy was a defect in sama', since true ecstasy and spiritual estate were the goal; he repeated the advice of Nizam al-Din that if one does not have ecstasy, one should call on the name of God as al-Wajid.
In general, Burhan al-Din and his followers approve of empathetic ecstasy, and they prescribe it first of all as a mode of behaviour during sama'. In the ritual, emphatic ecstasy seeks real ecstasy by conforming to the behaviour of those who have it. "If someone in sama' has no ecstasy or rapture, the rules (adab) are that he go stand with the people of ecstasy and conform with them." One can observe this custom in the performance of sama among Sufis even today, when someone goes into a hal or spiritual state, and the company rises up to conform to that state.
Rukn al-Din Kashani said, "If a dervish rises from his spiritual state and ecstasy, the companions should conform, and all rise. This an approved custom, and a fine tradition, to go against it is to abandon sanctity." If, on the other hand, one has not yet attained ecstasy, but only the intermediate experiences of "rapture" (jazb) and "taste" (zawq), one still must conform with the rest, and sit if they are seated, through movement is permitted.
Empathetic ecstasy is also a mode of engagement with the recited verses, so that it becomes an intellectual approach to mystical experience. Rukn al-Din Kashani emphasises the need for the novice to interpret the verses in terms of the attributes of God. This is a process of deliberate thought (fikr) in listening (istima'), aided by divine visitations (waridat). Or more formally, one proceeds through three journeys: "The first is in voice and verse, the second in active attributes, the third in essential attributes … The root of the matter is thought in sama'." Examples of this kind of interpretation are the qualities of divine beauty and majesty, or grace and wrath, as polar manifestations of the power of God. As long as one can interpret the poetry in this way, it is a sign of divine guidance, according to Rukn al-Din. This is in general a very systematic and intellectualistic approach to sama', but one that he feels will lead to transrational ecstasy.
The ecstasy of one who is consumed by divine love is in proportion to his understanding, and his understanding is in proportion to his power of imagination (spiritual and creative imagination that leads to spiritual visions).
Opening of Hearts and Other Effects of Sama
Nizam al-Din said, "At the time of sama' and recitation, happiness descends on the heat. From the world of emanation to the world of power, then it effects the heart. There are states which are between the kingdom (mulk) and the angelic realm (malakut). When its agitation becomes visible, it is called 'influences' (asar), which have come from the kingdom to the limbs."
Sama' creates a kind of channel between the heart and the spiritual world, and the surging of this energy overflows into the body and releases itself in dance. An older Sufi sources state, "Every limb has a portion and a pleasure in sama.' The portion of the eyes is weeping, the portion of the tongue is crying out, the portion of the hand is striking the garment, the portion of the foot is dancing."
Qushayri famously said, "Sama is an invitation and ecstasy is an intention." By this Qushayri appears to emphasise the psychological dimension of participation in sama. Curiously enough Rukn al-Din added an extra verse, "sama' is an invitation, ecstasy is an intention, and dance is union."
Other effects of sama' include healing and even raising people from dead. The influence of sama' was certainly considered to extend beyond the grave. Khwaja Jala al-Din told of being with Burhan al-Din Gharib on an ecstatic occasion, and mentioned Khwaja Zuhayr Saqqa' and how tears would fall from his eyes as soon as sama' started. Burhan al-Din Gharib suggested that they visit his tomb and perform pilgrimage (ziyarat). They did, and Burhan al-Din Gharib told Jalal that Khwaja Zuhayr Saqq' still had those tears.
There is a story of a Shaykh who heard a lute that was expressing the divine attributes with its strings. "Then he said, Lute if you only knew what you were saying, every one of your strings would break." No sooner were these words spoken than the strings of the lute broke. The disciples asked what the lute was saying? The master said, "one string said O Merciful, the another said O Compassionate."
The ideas (al-ma‘ani) (of the lyrics of Sama') which dominate the heart weigh more heavily upon the understanding than the bare expressions which are heard. Thus, it is related of one of the [Sufi] Shaykhs, passing through a market, heard someone cry: “The good ones-ten for a grain!” and was stricken with ecstasy (al-wajd). When he was asked about that experience, he explained: “When the good are [only] ten for a grain, then what is the value of evil?” And another of them was passing through a market when he heard a hawker cry, “O wild thyme!” (Ya sa’taru barri) and was smitten with ecstasy. When asked from whence had arisen his ecstasy, he replied, “I heard him as though he were saying, ‘Persevere and you'll see my benevolence!’ ” (isa‘ tarra barri).
One of the Sufis upon hearing the verse: “O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, well pleased and well-pleasing,” besought the reciter to repeat it. He then remarked: “How often I incite my soul to 'Return!' yet it does not.” Then constraining himself to ecstasy (tawajjud) he uttered a loud cry and his spirit departed. (Ghazali)
Burhan al-Din said, "Sama has two colours, one yellow and the other red. Everyone on whom distance, wrath and fear descend turns pale, and everyone who has nearness, union, grace and hope, blushes."
Music causes sharpening of the attention, leading to a greater focus of both mind and body and a concentration of the external and inner senses. In fact, as Tusi explains, the remembrance of God (dhikr) during Sama‘ operates like a sort of mystical “music therapy:” "When [by means of music] the various limbs of the body become properly collected, hatred and aversion is removed and concord (hukm al-tawafuq) appears. Discord and dissension (al-tanafur) belong to darkness whereas concord comes from Light-so when darkness is dispersed and light shines forth, one's worldly affairs and the spiritual realities become uncovered with a clarity which a thousand efforts could not have accomplished."
"All Sama‘ further strengthens his yearning (shawq) and love (ishq) of God. Audition also has a deeply cleansing, purifying and guiding effect on the soul, in turn inducing various types of ineffable visionary experiences (mushahidat, mukashifat), which “are the summation of what is sought by the lovers of God Almighty and the ultimate fruit of all pious works” (Ghazali)
Discussing the fruits of Sama‘ within the context of Sufi contemplative states, the Proof of Islam underlines how the mystic “encounters in himself states which he had not encountered before he listened to the music”.
The cause of those states appearing in the heart through listening to music (Sama‘) is a divine mystery (sirr Allah) found within the harmonious relationship of measured tones [of music] to the [human] spirits and in the spirits becoming overcome by these melodies and stirred by them-whether to longing, joy, grief, expansion or contraction. But the knowledge of the cause as to why spirits are affected through sounds is one of the mystical subtleties of the sciences of visionary experience [known to the Sufis].
The Etiquette of Sama
There is saying among the Shadhili Sufis, about being inwardly ecstatic, but outwardly sober.
Thus the ecstasy of Sama' would be incomplete and one sided without an account of disciplines and balance of sobriety which comes from the adab or proper etiquette of listening to sama'. This was to keep open the avenues of divine influence while attempting to exclude the intrusion of human ego and lower inclinations. These adabs were not only derived from classical manuals of Sufism, but also were ideals that followed the concrete examples of early Chishti masters.
There is a lot of such etiquette that came from the circle of Burhan al-Din Gharib and also from the instances of Khawja Nizamuddin. For example every session began and ended with the recitation of the Qur'an. All the participants were expected to perform ablutions as for ritual prayer, and abstain from chewing betel leaf (a particular habit of the region). It was important not to make sama' a mechanical performance, thus it was not held at a fixed time every week or made into a profession or habit. Neither should one be forward or assertive during sama'. It is forbidden to question others who are present about the meaning of a verse, since that is usually only a pretext for the questioner to show off his own knowledge and talk distracts from real meanings. One should not criticize the singer, for this reduces the performance to an aesthetic occasion, it is better to refer the matter to God. In any case, inspiration is of greater importance in a singer than artistic skill, and is more likely to induce ecstasy.
Although the objective is ecstasy, total control of ego is necessary to achieve this. Therefore it is forbidden to disclose or display the nature of one's spiritual sate (hal). Burhan al-Din Gharib has given a whole series of regulations that apply this principle to the physical behaviour of participants in sama. For example he said, "A dervish should be sober and never allow his hands or feet to touch another, if this happen anyway, he should pull back."
One can not drink anything during a musical session or fan oneself, no matter how hot the weather. Once when someone committed this offense, Nizam al-Din Alwliya rebuked him in the metaphor of lovers' suffering, "Dervishes consume their blood, what have I to do with sherbet?" One should also avoid giving greetings to others during sama' to avoid disturbing one's concentration. One sufi mentioned about the importance of solitude in the gathering by saying "If hundred Sufis are in sama', one walks so that one's skirt does not touch the skirt of another."
But since human nature is what it is, mistake will occur and when that happens, it is a serious breach of discipline to point this out publicly. If someone is behaving affectedly or without manners, the proper response is to "remain outwardly silent and help inwardly so that the state becomes balanced again. Burhan al-Din said that one uses this prayer: 'Lord, prevent him from this, and protect me from this!'"
Burhan al-Din Gharib stood firmly in the tradition of classical sufism while at the same time he embodied the particular genius of the Chishti order. He faced the problem of the ambiguity of sama in Islamic law by putting the burden of ethical responsibilities on the individual participant in sama. This emphasis on the contextually of sama' was thoroughly in consonance with the internal orientation of Sufi ethics.
To avoid the problem of insincerity and affectation in sama', Burhan al-Din insisted on the proper spiritual interpretation of the erotic verses recited in Sama', and he determined that the psychological basis of sama' was to be found in the most profound spiritual experiences of Islamic mysticism. To maintain the purity of this ritual form of meditation, Burhan al-Din urged a discipline that was designed to eliminate expression of egotism as well as the habitual attitudes of secular life. The Chishti attitude towards sama' and its importance in Sufism can be summarised in the saying of Shaykh 'Umar al-Suhrawardi: "The deniers of Sama are either ignorant of the example of the Prophet, deluded by their own knowledge, or perverse nature. Some masters of sama can understand a hundred thousand mysteries filled with treasuries of secrets in the voice of singers and the verse."
I'll not say, brother, what is Sama‘
Unless I know who may the listener be:
If from the Spirit's loft his soul-bird soar
The very Angel lags behind in flight;
But if he be a man of sport and play and jest
The demon grows in force within his chest.
The breeze of dawn tears apart the rose with grace
But wood the axe alone can split.
The world is full of passion, drunkenness and music
But in the mirror what can a blind man see?
~ Sadi in Bustan
* The Theory and Practices ofSama' (Listening to Music) in the Sufi Circle of Burhan al-Din Gharib by Professor Carl W. Ernst of University of North Carolina, USA
* The Sacred Music of Islam: Sama‘ in the Persian Sufi tradition by Dr Leonard Lewisohn
* The Sacred Music of Islam: Sama‘ in the Persian Sufi tradition by Dr Leonard Lewisohn
* Listening to Music and the Interplay of Law and Morality in Medieval Sunni Thought by Omar Farahat* Sama Listening to Music by Shaykh Sharafuddin Maneri
* The Use Made of Music by the Sufis of the Chishti Order
* Moroccan Sufism, Music and Power (particular Tariqah Qadiri-Boutchichi of Sidi Hamza's tariqah) by Dr Tony Langlois
* A Psychology of Early Sufi Samāʻ: Listening and Altered States by Kenneth
* Radio Sama
* Sama’: Music and the Sufi Mystical Experience
* Sama in Sufism by Javad Nubakhsh
* Words of Ecstasy (Book) by Carl W. Ernst