The Constitution of Madina: The Beginning of Muslim-Jewish Relations

The City of Madinah - Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)'s final resting place and where the 'Constitution of Madinah' was written.

The City of Madinah – Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s final resting place and where the ‘Constitution of Madinah’ was written.

By Hamid Mahmood

The Constitution of Madina:  The Beginning of Muslim-Jewish Relations

ھذا کتاب من محمد النبی [رسول اللٰہ] ۔ انھم امۃ واحدۃ من دون الناس ۔[1]

This is a prescript (kitāb) of Muḥammad [2]…. Verily they constitute an ‘ummah’ (political unit) as distinct from all the people (of the world).[3]

و ان یھود بنی عوف امۃ مع المومنین ۔ للیھود دینھم و للمسلمین دینھم۔۔۔[4]

And verily the Jews of Banū ’Auf shall be considered as an ummah (community) along with the Believers, for the Jews being their religion and for the Muslims their religion…[5]

 

Introduction

 

In contemporary society one is bewildered and bemused at the arguments and sources presented by Islamists and puritans in order to justify their hate for the ‘other’.  I always believe it significant to understand the historical context for ascertaining the meaning of the Qur’an and Ḥadīth, however for puritans it is the ‘atomistic’ approach to the text that is more appealing.  Hence, I intend on analysing the text and historical background of a forgotten and not so appreciated document – ‘The Constitution of Madina’.  I will initiate the analysis by exploring the authenticity of the text and thereafter examining the historical background to the document.  I will then analyse the word umma and the Jews in the text of the document: and conclude by examining some aḥādīth (pl. of ḥadīth – traditions of the Prophet) from ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī regarding the Prophet’s relations with the Jews of Madina.

 

Authenticity of the Document, and its source – ibn Ishaq

 

It is immensely significant to analyse the authority of any text within Islam before any importance is given to it.  Hence, I will begin by looking at the isnād (chain of narrators) from the text of the Constitution:

و قد ذکرہ ابن ابی خیثمۃ فاسندہ: حدثنا احمد بن جناب ابو الولید ثنا عیسی بن یونس ثنا کثیر ابن عبد اللٰہ بن عمرو المزنی عن جدہ ان رسول اللہ صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم کتب کتابا بین المھاجرین و الانصار فذکر بنحوہ[6]

And indeed Ibn Abī Khaithamah mentioned (the text of the constitution) and hence illustrated the isnād: Ibn Abī Khaithamah > ‘Aḥmad ibn Janāb Abū al-Walīd > ’Isā ibn Yūnus > Kathīr > ’Abdullāh > ’Amr al-Muzaniyy >The Messenger of Allah.  The purpose of illustrating the text is of great importance here as there are many texts, which remain short of providing an isnād.  As in mainstream Islam isnād plays a significant role in ḥadīth authority, as Ibn Mubarak said, لو لا الاسناد لقال من شاء ما شاء, that if there was no isnād then one would merely say what they desired.

 

However, Denny contends that, ‘There is little doubt among scholars that it is authentic, and that it, like the Qur’an, is intimately connected with Muḥammad’s thought and activity.  W. Montgomery Watt has summarized the strong reasons which J. Wellhausen had earlier adduced in favour of its authenticity:

“No later falsifier writing under the Umayyads or ‘Abbasids would have included non-Muslims in the ummah, would have retained the articles against Quraysh, and would have given Muhammad so insignificant a place.  Moreover the style is archaic, and certain points, such as the use of “believers” instead of “Muslims” in most articles, belong to the earlier Medinan period”.[7]

I see Watt’s evidence for the authority of the document to be quite cogent.  Because, as it is known within ḥadīth isnād, there were many mauḍū’ ḥadīth (fabricated traditions of the Prophet) being created after the demise of the Prophet. And the men that fabricated ḥadith did so for political reasons, hence why would there be a need to interpolate into the texts just so that Jews could be a part of the ummah.

 

However, Sergeant has also located verses in the Qur’ān which maybe referring to the Madina document:

“…And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss, He saved you from it.   … that there might grow out of you a (umma) community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!  (Qur’an 3:101-104).

The struggle and strife between them referred to in these verses are the tensions and wars between the Aus and Khazraj, and those who allied with them, which could include the Jews.  The bringing together before falling into the ‘brink of fiery abyss’ here could ultimately refer to the constitution.

 

Background to the kitāb (Constitution)

 

It is of significance to note the geo-politics that were taking place in Madīna at the time. The tribes in Madina (specifically Aus and Khazraj) were surrounded by sustained conflict and desired an end to the wars their forefathers had instigated.  However, once the Prophet, alongside his ṣaḥāba (companions / disciples), had migrated to Madīna,[8] and including Yathribī converts, the Muslims were no more than a few hundred.  Similarly Ḥamīdullāh believes the total population of Yathrib at the time is estimated to be approximately ten thousand (10,000), of which the Jewish community contributed nearly a half (50%) and according to Yildrim, Christians formed from 1% to 4% of the total population of Yathrib.[9] [10]

Hence,     superficial statistics of the population  of Madīna was approximately 4500 – 5000 Jews; 4000 – 4500 polytheists (Arabs); 400 – 500 Muslims (Muhājirīn and Anṣār); and 100 – 400 Christians.

The most significant question as to why the Prophet was chosen to unite and lead the citizens of Madīna as opposed to the leaders of majority tribes.  For instance a sizeable portion of the Yathribis had made preparations to enthrone ’Abdullāh ibn ’Ubaiyy ibn Salūl, and according to the narrations of ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī ‘a crown had already been produced for the occasion’.[11]  But why, at this stage, did they give precedence to an ‘outsider’ despite him being from a minority group.

 

To understand why the Prophet was chosen to lead this diverse community, it is significant to explore the notion of ‘mediation’.   Yetkin Yildirim, in his article ‘The Medina Charter: A Historical Case of Conflict Resolution’, focuses on this aspect within the Madina Charter.  I believe some aspect of mediation or another plays a role in most societies and cultures of the world.  Yildirim contrasts the Western and Islamic approaches to mediation, he believes, ‘the Western approach to mediation frequently emphasizes the role of the individual through its dependence on legal procedures and settlements that defend individual rights and compensate individuals for their losses.  On the other hand, the Islamic approach, like other non-Western approaches, [I believe here specifically the Jewish community, as they emphasise the society over the individual] tends to emphasize the need to repair and maintain social relationships, framing conflict as a communal matter rather than an individual event’.[12] Here it is evident that Yildirim points to the difference in Western and Islamic approaches to ‘mediation’, the former focuses on the ‘individual’ whereas on the contrary the latter on ‘community’ – which could be felt throughout the Charter text, specifically through  the word ‘umma’.

 

However, also in the historical context of the constitution, ‘mediation’ was a widespread phenomenon among the people and tribes of Arabia.  Yildirim also points towards the very notion from the Talmudic law, ‘Mediation was a common practice among the Semitic peoples at the time of the Hijra.  The Jews followed the practises of p’sharah (arbitration) and bitzuah (mediation) in the Talmudic law and it was also a common practice of Arabs to defer their conflicts to foreigners’.[13]  It is for now evident the methodology used in ascertaining the leader of Yathrib, but again why Muhammad ibn ’Abdullah (the Prophet) was to be the arbitrator.  I believe, alongside Ḥamīdullāh and Yildirim, that it was the akhlāq (mannerism) of the Prophet that made him the most likely candidate for the leadership of Madīna.  I also believe two aspects of the Prophet’s life were most likely the reasons: that even before and after Prophethood, the Prophet was known as al-Amīn (the Trustworthy) and  al-Ṣādiq (the Truthful).  Secondly, he was famous for playing crucial roles in conflict resolving and mediation: one such incident is also recorded in ibn Ishaq, when the rebuilding of the Ka’ba took place, and in its final stage – the placing of al-ḥajr al-aswad (the Black Stone) – all the tribes within Makkah began to quarrel till swords were drawn and it was at this stage that the Prophet being the first to enter through the doors of the ḥaram (sanctuary) that he was called upon to resolve the conflict.  He did so by placing al-ḥajr al-aswad (the Black Stone) on a sheet of cloth and the leaders of all tribes held the cloth and then it was put in its place on the corner of the ka’ba by the Prophet himself.[14]  So I believe it was incidents like this which spread throughout Arabia, and it was also due to his truthfulness and trustworthiness in business that influenced Khadīja to propose to the Prophet.  And finally when he migrated to Yathrib – and later changed its name to al-Madīna – he gained initial trust by consulting the leaders of all the tribes when setting out the constitution of Madīna, in doing so he won over the hearts of the people by showing his capacity to listen.  Hence, came what we know today as the ‘constitution of Madina’ and how the Prophet related to the Jews.

 

Understanding Umma and Jews in the text of the constitution

 

The most significant of articles concerning the Jews are 25, 26-31 and 45/a:

  1. 25: And verily the Jews of the Banū ’Auf shall be considered as a community (ummah) along with the believers, for the Jews being their religion and for the Muslims their religion ….[15]
  2. 26-31: And verily the Jews of the Banu’nNajjār; Banu’lḤārith; Banū Sā’idah; Banū Jusham; Banu’l – Aws and the Banū Tha’labah shall [all] have the same rights as the Jews of the Banū ’Auf [mentioned in article 25]….[16]

Article, 45/a: If they [the Muslims] ask the Jews to make peace with any ally of theirs, they shall make peace with them; and if they ask us for a similar thing, the same shall be incumbent upon the Believers, except one who fights for the cause of religion.[17]

It is clear from article 45/a that the Jews were not just merely another tribe in Madina, but rather a political force: however, what stands most significant in the text is the attribution of the term ummah to the Jews.  This is a notion which majority of the Muslims have not heard of.  However, Denny argues that, ‘Serjeant believes that they [Jews] constituted a separate ummah alongside the Muslim ummah, and  [article] no.  25  may  be  interpreted in  that  way.  However on the contrary Watt  contends,  ‘that  the  Jews  are  included in  the  ummah,  although  he  admits  the  other [referring to alongside the ummah notion] possibility  too.  The  dating  of  this  article  is  an important concern:  if  the  Jews  are  allowed to  practice their  own religion  within  the  one  ummah,  then  this  ummah  is  no longer  a religious  community in  the  exclusive  Muslim  sense’.[18] Ahmad takes the position of Peters, ‘ Peters outlines the role of ummah in text is more to do with the purpose of salvation, ‘… the concept of the ummah as a political confederation of tribes and clans, including non-Muslims, Jewish ones, had inevitable to yield to Muhammad’s original understanding of a body whose foundation may be ethnic but whose reason for being is shaped by the divine purpose of salvation.  The Jews were such an ummah, and in Medina they were more than just a historical and literary illustration of a theological point:  they were a political reality’.[19]  However, I believe that this argument leads to a vast subject of literacy and the historic context behind the meaning of ummah, regardless of the three interpretations of ummah, all are positive and a way forward in contemporary Jewish – Muslim relations.

 

The Prophet’s relations with the Jews of Madīna ‘subsequent’ or ‘prior’ to  the Constitution

 

There is much debate regarding the dating of the document, but from an analysis of academic writing I believe the document was not all written in one place and time.   Rather articles were added as the need arose through community relations and consultation.  I am of firm conviction that the articles regarding the Jews came later, subsequent to the decisive Battle of Badr and Aḥzāb (Battle of the Trenches) and the reason for my conviction is logical, and I believe it to be of utmost importance to date the articles regarding the Jews.  My conviction comes from the fact that Banū Nazīr and Banū Qurayza, the two Jewish tribes who had allied with the polytheists of Makkah in the war, are not mentioned within the document, hence assuming that they had already migrated to Khaibar.  Barakat is also of this opinion.

 

Now, keeping in mind the dating and context of the document it would be interesting to explore different books of ḥadīth and how the Prophet related to the Jews and vice versa.  I therefore believe it significant to illustrate some examples from ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, a ḥadīth text, the authority of which is unshakeable within mainstream Islam, and including the puritan theory.

Narrated Jabir bin ‘Abdullah : A funeral procession passed in front of us and the Prophet stood up and we too stood up. We said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! This is the funeral procession of a Jew.” He said, “Whenever you see a funeral procession, you should stand up”.[20]  In the following reminiscent ḥadīth of al-Bukhārī, the Prophet adds, “Is it not a living being (soul)?”.[21]

The Prophet clearly teaches his ṣaḥāba to view others as humans, and not merely to oppose them on the basis of their faith and religious views.  Due to this notion I believe the Jews of Madina found the Prophet an approachable man.  This is also evident from the fact that Jews would frequent his gatherings and he in return would visit them, which is also clear from the following tradition:

Narrated Anas: A young Jewish boy used to serve the Prophet and he became sick. So the Prophet went to visit him. He sat near his head and asked him to embrace Islam. The boy looked at his father, who was sitting there; the latter told him to obey Abu-l-Qasim [the Prophet] and the boy embraced Islam. The Prophet came out saying: “Praises be to Allah Who saved the boy from the Hell-fire”.[22]

The Prophet had financial dealings with the Jews of Madina:

Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet purchased food grains from a Jew on credit and mortgaged his iron armour to him.[23]

Despite there being no contemporary interfaith dialogue,  there was something similar – a neutral exchange of scriptural understanding:

Narrated Abu Huraira: The people of the Scripture (Jews) used to recite the Torah in Hebrew and they used to explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. On that Allah’s Apostle said, “Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say:– “We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us”.[24]

From this ḥadīth  it is unambiguous that there was a respectful and tolerant inter-faith scriptural dialogue taking place 1400 years ago in Madina between the Jews and Muslims.  Also the Prophet’s statement, “Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them, but say:– “We believe in Allah and what is revealed to us” is a well suited model for a plural society co-exiting peacefully.  This ḥadīth of the Prophet also brings to mind Muhammad Iqbal’s thought, and strengthens his idea regarding the Prophet and his prophethood.  For Iqbal believed,

‘The Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the modern world’.[25]

Again, I believe as far as relations between the Jews and Muslims are concerned have always been peaceful, but always fragmented through political strife.  As again the world witnesses and begs for change.

 

The utmost reason for my examination of this document was to bring to the forefront; that an atomistic approach to verses and ḥadīth in isolation is one which invites difference.  Hence, the purpose was to feel the historical context in which the document was composed and treat it as an axis to see other verses related to ‘People of the Scripture’.   I therefore initiated by illustrating the authenticity of the document, a method which at the forefront in Islamic traditional methodology and then examined the political historical context to the document.  I then portrayed some of the academic debate around the word ‘ummah’ in the document and also the place of Jews in the polity of Madina.  I concluded by bringing some aḥādīth forward, that have usually been disclosed by puritans despite being part of the most authentic collection of ḥadīth to date.  I lastly looked at a ḥadīṭh which illustrated some form of pluralism in inter-faith dialogue and scriptural reasoning 1400 years ago.

 

 

Bibliography

 

The Qur’an: A New Translation by M. A. S. Abdel Haleem

 

Ahmad, B. (1979).  Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination.  Vikas Publishing House PVT LTD: New Dehli

 

Ahmad, K. (2000).  A Short note on the Medina Charter.

Accessed online [05.04.2011]:

http://kassimahmad.blogspot.com/2007/03/short-note-on-medina-charter-by-kassim.html

 

Al-Ahmar, F.  (2010).  The Prophet Muhammad and Constitution of Medina in comparison with the British Magna Carta.

Accessed online [05.04.2011]:

http://www.masjidma.com/2010/12/04/between-constitution-of-medina-british-magna-carta/

 

Denny, F. M. (1977).  ‘Ummah in the Constitution of Medina’.  Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1977), pp. 39-47.

 

Faizer, R. S. (1996).  ‘Muhammad and the Medinan Jews: A Comparison of the Texts of Ibn Ishaq’s Kitab Sirat Rasul Allah with al-Waqidi’s Kitab al-Maghazi’.  International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Nov., 1996) pp. 463-489.

 

Hamīdullāh, M. (1994).  The First Written Constitution in the World: An Important Document of the Time of the Holy Prophet.  3rd Revised ed. 1975.  Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Pulishers: Lahore, Pakistan

 

Ibn Ishāq (no date). Sirat Rasoul Allah: The Earliest Biography of Muhammad (An Abridged Online Version).

Accessed online [12.04.2011]:

http://ia600404.us.archive.org/32/items/Sirat-lifeOfMuhammadBy-ibnIshaq/SiratIbnIahaqInEnglish.pdf

 

Iqbal, M. (2008).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. 10th ed.  Kitab Bhavan: New Delhi, India.

 

Lecker, M. (1995).  Wāqidī’s Account on the Status of the Jews of Medina:  A Study of a Combined Report.  Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 54, No. 1 (Jan., 1995), pp.15-32

 

Qadrī, M. T. (No date).  Selected Articles from the Constitution of Islamic State of Madina: The First Written Constitution of Human History.

Accessed online [05.04.2011] in PDF:

http://www.theiceproject.sdsa.net/uploaded/files/Constitution.pdf

 

Sayyid al-Nās, M (1977): Uyūn al-athar fī funūn al-maghāzī wa-al-shamā’il wa-al-siyar  (عـيـون الأثـر في فـنـون الـمـغـازي و الـشـمـائـل و الـسـيـر)Dār al-Āfāq al-‘Arabīyah: Beirut, Lebanon

Accessed [11.04.2011] and downloaded as e-book [pdf] from:

http://www.al-mostafa.com/

 

Serjeant, R. B. (1978).  ‘The “Sunnah Jāmi’ah, “Pacts with the Yathrib Jews, and the “Taḥrīm” of Yathrib: Analysis and Translation of the Documents Comprised in the So-Called ‘Constitution of Medina’.  Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 41, No. 1 (1978), pp. 1-42.

 

White, S. W. (2009-2010).  ‘Medina Charter and Pluralism’.  Fountain Magazine, issue 76, July – August 2010

Accessed online [05.04.2011]:

http://www.fountainmagazine.com/article.php?ARTICLEID=1151

 

Yildirim, Y. (2009).  ‘The Madina Charter: A Historical Case of Conflict Resolution’.  Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, Vol. 20, No.4, pp. 439-450, October 2009.

 

Full Text of the Madina Charter.  Khilafa al-‘Alam al-Islami

Accessed online [05.04.2011]:

http://www.constitution.org/cons/medina/macharter.htm

 

 

 

[1] Hamīdullāh, M. (1994).  The First Written Constitution in the World: An Important Document of the Time of the Holy Prophet.  (p. 55)

[2] In all instances of a Muslim’s speech and traditional writings the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)’ (صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم) is followed by the name of the Prophet,  but in this article I intend the phrase, hence on the understanding  that it is intended and assumed no disrespect is intended.

[3] ibid., (p. 41)

[4] ibid., (p. 60)

[5] ibid., (p. 48)

[6] Sayyid al-Nās, M (1977): Uyūn al-athar fī funūn al-maghāzī wa-al-shamā’il wa-al-siyar  (p. 141 – 142) under chapter الموادعۃ بین المسلمین و الیھود))

[7] Denny, F. M. (1977).  ‘Ummah in the Constitution of Medina’. (p. 39) quoted from: Watt, Muhammad at Medina, p. 225

[8] Whilst the Muslims anxiously waited the Prophet’s arrival in Madīna it was a Jewish man who noticed him first and shouted as the Muslims were returning home, “O you ‘Arabs! Here is your great man whom you have been waiting for!” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: book No. 58, ḥadīth No. 245) Accessed online [14.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=58&translator=1&start=0&number=245

[9] ibid., (p. 12 – 13)

[10] Yildrim, Y. (2009).  ‘The Madina Charter: A Historical Case of Conflict Resolution’.  (p. 447, Note No. 4)

[11] Hamīdullāh, M. (1994).  The First Written Constitution in the World: An Important Document of the Time of the Holy Prophet.  (p. 14)

[12] Yildrim, Y. (2009).  ‘The Madina Charter: A Historical Case of Conflict Resolution’.  (p. 442)

[13] ibid.

[14] For complete incident refer to: Ibn Ishāq. Sirat Rasoul Allah: The Earliest Biography of Muhammad (An Abridged Version). (p.17). Accessed online [12.04.2011]:

http://ia600404.us.archive.org/32/items/Sirat-lifeOfMuhammadBy-ibnIshaq/SiratIbnIahaqInEnglish.pdf

[15] Hamīdullāh, M. (1994).  The First Written Constitution in the World: An Important Document of the Time of the Holy Prophet.  (p. 48)

[16] ibid. (pp. 48-50)

[17] ibid. (p. 53)

[18] Denny, F. M. (1977).  ‘Ummah in the Constitution of Medina’. (p. 44)

[19] Ahmad, B. (1979).  Muhammad and the Jews: A Re-Examination. (p. 37)

[20] Choosing āḥādīth from only the ṣaḥīḥ of al-Bukhārī is significant to be mentioned here, as in traditional and majority, which includes the puritan and wahhābī ideology, this Canonical work of ḥadīth is accepted as ‘the most accepted authoritative book under the skies after the Qur’an.

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, (Book 23, Hadith 398) .  Accessed online [13.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=23&translator=1&start=64&number=392

[21] Ibid., (Book 23, Hadith 399).  Accessed online [13.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=23&translator=1&start=64&number=392

[22] Ibid., (Book 23, Hadith 438).  Accessed online [13.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=23&translator=1&start=109&number=437

[23] Ibid., (Book 34, Hadith 282).  Accessed online [14.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=34&translator=1&start=19&number=281

[24] Ibid., (Book 60, Hadith 12).  Accessed online [14.04.2011]: http://www.searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=60&translator=1&start=10&number=10

[25] Iqbal, M. (2008).  The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. (p. 126)

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Hasidism and Sufism: Spirituality in Judaism and Islam

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Hasidism and Sufism: Spirituality in Judaism and Islam

(Hamid Mahmood)

Introduction

In an era when media and politics over-shadow relations between Muslims and Jews, maybe there is a solution – spirituality. I will initiate by defining Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism, alongside the definition process I will analyse and contrast between the two. Thereafter, I will focus my attention on the Pīr (sheikh) / Tsaddik and murīd / ḥasidim, and examine their centrality in both spiritualities using Arabic, Persian and Urdu poetry. I will examine the notion of the Tsaddik through four channels as approached by Rachel Elior. I will conclude by briefly analysing individuals, Abraham Maimonides and Baṣīr, who in the medieval period were inclined towards Islamic mysticism – taṣawwuf. And alongside the medieval, I will also look at similar examples in the contemporary modern period – Pīr Ināyat Khan and Rabbi Zalman Shalomi.

Defining Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism

Jonathan Brown and Martin Lings simply explain Sūfism as: the ‘the art of knocking’ on the door of the divine.[1] Brown further quotes a famous Sūfi saint Abū Bakr al-Shiblī as describing Sufism as, ‘comforting the heart with the fan of purity, clothing the mind with the cloak of faithfulness, acquiring generosity and rejoicing in meeting God’.[2] Pīr Dhul-Fiqār of the Naqshbandī ṭarīqat (order) illustrates how one is to acquire taṣawwuf, he quotes Hasan al-Basrī, ‘hum ne taṣawwuf qīl wa qāl se nahī balke tark-e-lazzāt se sīkhā’ – we acquired taṣawwuf not through argumentation and debate, but by casting aside materialistic and worldly desires.[3] Junaid al-Baghdādī once said in a poem:

الصوفی من لبس الصوف علی الصفیٰ ۔ و لزم طریق المصطفیٰ

و جعل الدنیا علی العفا ۔ و الا کلب الکوفی احسن من الصوفی[4]

A Sūfī is he: who dons al-ṣuf (woollen clothing) with the purity of heart

who holds firmly to the ṭarīq (path) of the ‘chosen one’ (Muḥammad) [5]

who leaves behind and transcends the world

if not, then a kūfī [6] dog is superior to the ṣufī.

I believe Ṣūfism is very similar to Ḥasidism in the way that it initiated and transformed into diverse number of ṭuruq (pl. of ṭarīqh – paths). For instance the chishti ṭarīqa, despite claiming silsila to the Prophet, is named after the place in contemporary Afghanistan called Chisht, and similar reasons for other ṭarīqas. However, when defining and analysing Ḥasidism, Rachel Elior presents four factors that umbrella all the ḥasidic groups: (1) A relationship to the Ba’al Shem Tov; (2) Tsadik and community; (3) Being and nothingness; and (4) The ḥasidic congregation.[7]

I will focus my attention on the second and fourth points. It is evident that if the tsadik is viewed so highly, then the master and founder of this spiritual path is bound to be central. The second notion, Tsadik and community, will be dealt with in depth and throughout the essay. But, in simple words Elior assesses, ‘The tsadik links the terrestrial world of his followers with the supernal worlds… the link between the tsadik and his followers is intimate, based on charismatic leadership of the community in a spirit of holiness. All members are of the community are equal in their relationship to the tsadik, which fosters a strong sense of brotherhood’.[8] The third, being (Yesh) and nothingness (Ayin)’ is a ḥasidic idea of the unity and meeting of opposites. Elior elaborates as, ‘this two-way process takes place continuously from the ayin to the yesh and from the yesh to the ayin: every limited element strives to expand, to divest itself of corporeality, and to return to its abstract source, and every abstract element strives to contract, to clothe itself, and to be revealed in its limited expression’.[9] This notion is similar to Muhammad Iqbal’s idea of the Prophet Muhammad and his ascent to the source, he believes, ‘Muhammad of Arabia ascended the highest Heaven and returned. I swear by God that if I had reached that point, I should never have returned’.[10] Finally, the ‘ḥasidic congregation’ is similar to the second notion, but I view it as a result of the powerful bond between the tsadik and the follower. As Elior stresses that there was a relation from both channels, tsadik was the sole channel of divine mercy and sustenance for his followers…[on the other hand] the tsadik also depended on the recognition and support of his followers’.[11] In the ṣūfism of the sub-continent, the masters at times stress the importance of murāqaba (meditation) of the master despite it being repudiated by the ulema’. Similar to this is the incident of Junaid al-Baghdādī and his murīds who claimed to have walked on water by calling the name of their master, Oh Junaid instead of Oh Allah: and once they said, ‘Oh Allah’ they began to sink. Interestingly, Junaid explained, “You are trying to reach Allah and yet you haven’t even reached Junaid!”.[12] However it is ‘tales’ of these kind that the wahhābī and orthodox Islamic mind is forced to reject ṣūfism, and at times in its entirety.

The Pīr (master) and the murīd (follower) | The Tsaddik and the Hasidim

I believe, in both spiritual paths within Judaism and Islam, the relationship between the master and follower is central. The utmost significance in this relation is the deeper and real experience of the holy letters: in ṣufism the sheikh is seen as someone who has attained a higher status; he has survived temptation and reached the maqām (station) where he now stands. However, now he must pass his experience of reaching that maqām to his murīds and the silsila of the previous sheikhs must continue till the Last Day. I will later look at the difference between the ‘master’ in ṣūfism and ḥasidism – the silsila. The sheikh in ṣufism provides the murīd with esoteric knowledge, which is believed by the ṣufī to be such ‘ilm ladunnī that cannot be acquired through extensive study. The story of Rūmī’s conversion to ṣufism is an interesting one, in which a contrast between ‘ilm al-kasabī (acquired knowledge) and ‘ilm-e-ladunnī / kashf (spiritual esoteric knowledge) is given:

‘One day Mawlana Rumi was sitting with his students and disciples near a pond which was in the middle of his garden giving them a lesson in one of the Islamic ‘intellectual sciences’. The Mawlana was surrounded by a large pile of handwritten books and scrolls and was teaching from them when suddenly a strange fellow approached him and, smiling, pointed to the pile of books and asked, “What is this?”

Taking the man to be a wandering dervish and illiterate, Rumi smiled and said, “This is something which you do not know!” [exoteric knowledge].

Still smiling, the dervish picked up the pile of books and threw them into the pond. Rumi was horrified and cried out, “You ignorant fellow! What have you done? You have ruined all my precious books!”

The dervish continued to smile and, nonchalantly approaching the pond and putting his hand into the water, retrieved all the books. Amazingly, all the books instantly became dry and as good as new!

Astonished at this charismatic miracle Rumi cried out, “What is this?”

“This is something which you do not know!” [referring here to esoteric knowledge]. answered Shams of Tabriz.[13]

Subsequent to Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī’s struggles through the maqāmāt (stations) he said what is now quoted by ṣūfī’s throughout the ṭarīqa in Persian:

مولوی ھر گز نشد “مولاے روم”

تا غلامِ شمس تبریز نشد [14]

Mevlawī could never have become the Maula (Master) of Rūm,

till he became the slave [15] of Shams Tabrez

However, even for the famous jurist of Islam, al-Shāfi’ī, the acquiring of exoteric knowledge depended upon a spiritual state of taqwā and tark al-ma’āṣī. Imām al-Shāfi’ī once complained to his teacher regarding his weakness in memory and expressed this incident in a poem:

شکوتُ الیٰ وکیع سوءَ حفظی ۔ فاوصانی الیٰ ترک المعاصی

فان العلمَ نور من الاھی ۔ و نور اللہ لا یُعطیٰ لِعاصی[16]

“I complained to [my teacher / my sheikh] Waqī’ regarding the weakness of my memory. He prescribed for me the abstinence from sins. For indeed al-‘ilm [sacred knowledge] is a nūr (light) from my Lord. And the light of Allah is not given to a sinner”.

Interestingly, when Thānwī was asked the definition of a ṣūfī, he replied with determination, ‘عالم با عمل’ ‘ālim bā amal’ – ‘A scholar, who implements his knowledge’.[17] Hence, it is bringing to life the letters of the sacred texts and becoming the embodiment of the sacred knowledge that is the spiritual aim of Islamic spirituality. Iqbal expresses this notion in his poem, of how a mu’min (believer) is not the one who merely recites the sacred text, but is in reality the sacred text.

ہمسایۂ جبریلِ امیں بندہ خاکی

! ہے اس کا نشیمن‘ نہ بخارا نہ بدخشان

یہ راز کسی کو نہیں معلوم کہ مومن

[18]! قاری نظر آتا ہے‘ حقیقت میں ہے قرآن

With Gabriel trusted and steadfast
this clay-born man has kinship close
a dwelling in some land or clime
for himself Muslim never chose.
This secret yet none has grasped
that a mu’min by appearance is a reciter [of the Qur’an],

But in reality he is the Qur’an.[19]

There is a similar approach to the Pīr of Ḥasidism, and his relation to his ḥasidim.

As the rabbi of Rizhyn once said,

“Just as the holy letters of the alphabet are voiceless without the vowel signs, and the vowel signs cannot stand without the letters, so zaddikim and ḥasidim are bound up with one another. The zaddikim are the letters and the ḥasidim who journey to them are the vowel signs. The ḥasidim need the zaddik, but he has just as much need of them. Through them he can be uplifted. Because of them he can sink – God forbid! They carry his voice, they sow his work in the world…’[20]

But, the reason for the ḥasidim’s need to go to the tsaddik I believe is similar to the ṣūfī idea, of reaching the ultimate source, the reality of God and the tsaddik is the intermediary for that. Rabbi Mordecai elaborated the need for the ḥasidim to come to the tsaddikim, which is homogeneous to the ṣūfī idea of transferring ‘ishq (Love) from ‘fānī’ (the mortal) to ‘bāqī’ (the immortal). He once said, “people go to the tsaddikim for many different reasons. One goes to the tsaddik to learn how to pray with fear and love; another to acquire strength to study the Torah for its own sake. Still another goes because he wants to mount to a higher rung of spiritual life, and so on. But none of these things should be the true purpose of going, for each of them can be attained, and then it is no longer necessary to toil for it. The only, the true purpose, should be to seek the reality of God. No bounds are set to this, and it has no end’.[21]

Rābi’ah Baṣriyyah, a famous female ṣūfī of her era, emotionally expressed the very notion:

“O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell.

If I worship you in hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.

But if I worship you for yourself alone,

grant me then the beauty of your Face”.[22]

However, I believe, the most significant contrasting difference between the tsaddik and the pīr is the silsila (the chain of narrators), which the Ṣūfis believe leads back to the Prophet himself. An idea which, I believe is influenced by principles of ḥadīth tradition likewise shi’ite belief of connecting the imams to the genealogy of the Prophet. But at times these silsilas seem to be problematic when one finds unauthentic sources in the chain of transmission. For instance, when figures like Khidr [23] are mentioned in the chain they become dubious. I present an example of a silsila of my own ṣūfī lineage, where one could see how the methodology used in ṣufism are assumed to be taught down the ages from the Messenger himself, but alongside that I will point towards a problem within the silsila:

Hazrat Mufti Moosa Badat Khalifah of > Hazrat Mufti Mahmood Hasan Gangohi (died 1417 AH) > Shaikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria Kandhelvi (died 1402 AH) > Hazrat Maulana Khalil Ahmed Saharanpuri (died 1346 AH) > Qutbul Alam Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (died 1323 AH) > Hajee Imdaadullah Makki (died 1317 AH) > Hazrat Miajee Noor Muhammad (died 1259 AH) >Shaikh Abdur Raheem (died 1246 AH) >Shah Abdul Bari Siddiqi (died 1226 AH) >Shaikh Abdul Haadi (died 1190 AH) >Shah Adhduddin (died 1170 AH) >Shah Muhammad Makki Ja’fari (diedAH) >Shaikh Sayyed Muhammadi (died 1107 AH) >Khwaajah Muhibullah Ilahabadi (died 1058 AH) >Shah Abu Saeed Nu’mani (died 1040 AH) >Shaikh Nizaamuddin Thaneseri (died 1024 AH) >Shaikh Jalaaluddin Thaneseri (died989 AH) >Shah Abdul Quddus Gangohi (died944 AH) >Khwaajah Muhammad bin Shaikh Aarif (died898 AH) >Khwaajah Aarif (died882 AH) >Khwaajah Ahmad Abdul Haq Radolvi (died837 AH) >Khwaajah Jalaaluddin Kabirul Auliya (died765 AH) >Shaikh Shamsuddin Turk Panipatti (died718 AH) >Khwaajah Alaauddin Sabir Kalyeri (died690 AH) >Shaikh Fareeduddin Shakar Ganj (died668 AH) >Hazrat Shaikh Qutbuddin Bukhtiyaar Kaki (died633 AH) >Khwaajah Muinuddin Chishti (died632 AH) >Khwaajah Uthmaan Harooni (died597 AH) >Khwaajah Shareef Zandani (died584 AH) >Khwaajah Maudood Chisti (died527 AH) >Khwaajah Sayyed Abu Yusuf (died459 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Muhammad (died411 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Ahmad Abdaal Chishti (died355 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Ishaaq (died329 AH) >Khwaajah Alawi Mumshaad Dinywari (died298 AH) >Khwaajah Abu Habeerah Basri (died287 AH) >Khwaajah Huzaifah Mur-ashi (died202 AH) >Hazrat Sultan Ibraahim bin Adham (died 162 AH) > Khwaajah Fuzail bin Ayaaz (died187 AH) > Khwaajah Abdul Waahid bin Zaid (died176 AH) > Hazrat Hasan al-Basri (died110 AH) > AMMERUL MU’MINEEN SAYYIDINA HAZRAT ALI radiyallahu anhu (died 40 AH) > SAYYIDINA MUHAMMAD RASULULLAH [The Messenger of Allah] Sallallahu alaihi wasallam (died 11 AH). [24]

Here the silsila ends at the Prophet through his cousin Ali: the ṣūfīs from the chishtī ṭarīqa claim that their teachings and methods have been acquired through the time which lead back to the Prophet. So henceforth there is a spiritual connection between the pīr and the murīd, which is acquired directly from the Prophet through this chain. However, towards the end of the silsila we have the famous Hasan al-Basrī acquiring his ṣūfī teachings from the Prophet’s cousin Ali, but it is still debated whether Hasan al-Basri had actually met Ali and heard from him let alone acquired the complete ṣūfī ṭarīqat.

Within ṣufism there still lies the question of learning from the ‘other’ master, whom one has not pledged an allegiance (bai’at) to. Thanwi, interestingly explains this in his ṣūfī exegesis of the Qur’an:

قولہ تعالی وَٱلَّذِينَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ بِمَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكَ وَمَآ أُنزِلَ مِن قَبۡلِكَ وَبِٱلۡأَخِرَةِ هُمۡ يُوقِنُونَ اسی پر یہ قیاس کیا جاوے گا کہ اعتقاد تو تمام مشاءخ اہلِ حق کے ساتھ ایسا ہی رکھنا چاہے جیسے اپنے شیخ کے ساتھ البتہ اتباع صرف اپنے شیخ کا ہوتا ہے۔ جیسا بعینہ یہی حکم ہے انبیاء علیھم السلام میں ۔ [25]

‘those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the hereafter’ (Qur’an 1:4). It will be deduced [from this verse] that belief will be on all mashā’ikh ahl al-ḥaq (the masters of the true path) just as i’tiqād (belief) with one’s own master, however ittibā’ (following the ṣūfī path) is only of one’s own sheikh. Just as the identical command regarding the following of Prophets. It is evident from this exegesis that the ṣūfī’s, despite their silsilas, have resorted to deducing uṣūl (principles) of taṣawwuf from interpretations of the Qur’an.

The Tsaddik

Rachel Elior has systematically explained the role of the Tsaddik in Hasidism through four notions; (1) Charisma; (2) Mutual devotion and responsibility; (3) Embodiment of the divine dialectic; and (4) linking the divine and the material. Elior explains the notion of Charisma, ‘The Tsadik derives his authority from the charisma of divine election, a sense of divinely inspired mission and a consciousness of revelation through immediate contact with higher worlds. [26]

The ṣūfī sheikh, in this notion, is one with the Tsaddik, but as elaborated earlier the difference between both in this context would be the silsila, which is believed to reach back to the Prophet himself. However, there is a distinction between the function of the ulemā’ and the ṣufī masters, similar to that of the tzaddikim and the normative rabbis. However, it is clear that both do merge, so there will certainly be ‘ulemā who are also ṣūfī masters, and this I believe to be the normative practice now in the Muslim world. For instance the madrasa (Islamic Seminary) of Bury is famously known for its ṣufī influence on traditional subjects and methodology. Sūfī mystic-jurists of the sub-continent, such as Mufti Taqī ‘Uthmānī, call for a merging of the sciences of taṣawwuf and fiqh. However, at times it is felt that ṣufism begins to influence jurisprudence and vice versa. But this is then rebuked by jurists by differentiating the status of taqwā (تقویٰ) and fatwā (فتویٰ).

Elior further explains the notion of ‘Mutual devotion and responsibility’, The relationship between the tsaddik and his Hasidim is based on an all-embracing nexus of spiritual brotherhood and social responsibility’. [27] This relationship is termed hitkasherut vehitkalelut (affiliation and absorption), it could be seen as the two wheels of the same cycle, as they both need each other for this spiritual movement on a difficult path. ‘Embodiment of the divine dialectic’, Elior elaborates as, the tsaddik embodies the dialectical tension between transcendence and sublimation, the process of emanation from nothingness so as to bring abundance into the world. He moves between different states of consciousness so as to confront both divine nothingness and physical being.[28] This notion I believe is quite unique to Hasidism.

Lastly the idea of ‘Linking the divine and the material’, Elior understands as, the tsaddik devotes himself simultaneously to God and to the world. In an attempt to reunite the divine element in the material world with its source in the heavenly world, he strives to elevate the mundane; at the same time he attempts to draw down the divine abundance from on high for the benefit of the world’.[29] This idea is similar to Rūmī’s dervish, when he circles in the ṣūfī dance, with one hand up towards the divine and the other lowered towards the world: it is where he takes from the divine and distributes to the world. Further to this point at the death of Umar ibn Abd al-Azīz (Umar II), the Byzantine emperor exclaimed, ‘If a man subsequent to Jesus Christ had the miracle to bring people back from the dead, it would have been Umar ibn Abd al-Azīz. I dislike the monk, who escapes from the world and resides in his abode of worship. That monk amazes me, who kept the material world beneath his feet and even then lived a life of an ascetic’ [referring here to Umar II].[30]

It is interesting to note all the similarities in the tales; poetry; purposes and above all the belief in One God; and a belief system that leads back to Prophet Abraham: surely there must be some inclination of both towards the other. Recently, when the ‘kosher’ phone came into the market designed for the needs of the Hasidim, the Muslim was the first to say, ‘right, I am certainly buying that for my child’.[31] And delightful is what Dr Jonathan Gorsky believes, that despite differences in theology, the Abrahamic faiths come together in spirituality.[32] In the medieval period there are many examples of Jews, who were inclined towards ṣufism such as Abraham Maimonides who once said,

“Thou art aware of the ways of the ancient saints of Israel, which are not or but little practiced among our contemporaries, that have now become the practice of the Sufis of Islam, on account of the iniquities of Israel.” [33]

Goiten has written an article ‘A Jewish Addict to Sufism’ focusing on a Jewish Sūfī Baṣīr, and a letter from his wife to the Rabbi urging the Jewish community to bring him back from the mountain.[34] Similarly Pīr Ināyat Khān has also confirmed the idea of Abraham Maimonides by giving form to an innovative ṭarīqa called the ‘Ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’, and also once stated,

“The Sufi is an Israelite, especially in his study and mastery of the different names of God. The miraculous powers of Moses can also be found in the lives of the Sufis both past and present. In fact the Sufi is the master of the Hebrew mysticism; the divine voice heard by Moses on Mount Sinai in the past is audible to many a Sufi today”.[35]

Also in contemporary times Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi too has spent time in the Zāwiya with Sūfī masters in the ‘Holy Land’. From an article by Rabbi Zalman he explains how the Sufī master began discussing whether it was kosher for a non-Muslim to do dhikr. Rabbi Zalman recalls the incident when asked by the Sūfiīs:

“Why don’t you go with your own people?”

I said, “I davened this morning with my own people.”… and I’d like to be able to say dhikr with you.”

“Are you a Muslim?”

I say, “La. Ana Mu’min.” I’m a believer. I’m not a Muslim, I’m a believer.

“What do you believe in?”

And I say, “Ash-hadu.” I bear witness. “La illaha ill Allah al-ahad.” There is no G-d but G-d, and that G-d is one.

… [subsequent to being asked what sharī’ah he follows]

“Then why not follow the Shariya of Islam?”

I say, “Because it is not fitting, it isn’t ‘Adab [respectful],’ it’s not fitting for a son to go in paths different than his father. So I come from the banī Yitzhak and banī Yakub and not from the banī Ismail, and so I have to follow the Shariya of my parents.”

“What about Ṭarīqat?”

So we were talking about the higher levels of the Sufi. I said, “With that, I’m with you at one.”

Then somebody gives a kick on the side and says, “Ask him! Ask him! What about rasuliyat [prophethood]?” What has he got to say about Muhammed? Ah, they got me, ah!

So I say, “Ash-hadu.” I bear witness. “La illaha il Allah, wa Muhammed rasul Allah.” There is no G-d but Allah. And Muhammed is His messenger.

So they say to me, “Then you’re a Muslim!”

And I say, “La. Ana Yahudi.” No, I’m a Jew.

“Then how could you say, how could you say such a thing?”

So I said, “Allow me to go back with you in your history. There was Ismail [Ishmael], the son of Ibrahim ha-lililai, Abraham the friend of G-d. Ismail – his children – Ismail still had the Tawḥīd – the knowledge of the oneness of G-d, but his children fell into the dark ages, into the jāhiliyya, into the unknowing. And so, they had lost their way to the oneness of G-d. So, Ya rahim, Ya rahman, the merciful, the compassionate, sent out a messenger to the children of Ismail to bring them back to Tawḥīd – to the oneness . I believe that he was a true messenger.”

The Imam said, “I don’t want to talk anymore. I want to say dhikr with this man!”

And they brought in the drums, and we start to say dhikr.[36]

It seems that at the end of this essay one possibly could conclude that there is light at the end of the tunnel when relations between Judaism and Islam are approached through spirituality and mysticism. I initiated by defining the two spiritualities and in the process compared and contrasted the two through diverse tales and poems. I then analysed, what I believed to be the most significant aspect of Ṣūfism and Ḥasidism, the role of the Sheikh and Tsaddik. I found that the outlook of both notions very similar, but the only real difference was the silsila in Sūfism. I thereafter analysed medieval and the continuation up to the modern period of a merge between both spiritualities within Judaism and Islam.

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[1] Brown, J. A. C. (2009). Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. (p. 184).

[2] ibid.

[3] Ahmad, Z. F. (2003). Majālis-e-Faqīr (مجالسِ فقیر), Vol. 1. (p. 196)

[4] ibid.

[5] In all instances of a Muslim’s speech and traditional writings the phrase ‘Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)’ (صلی اللہ علیہ و سلم) is followed by the name of the Prophet, but in this article I intend the phrase, hence on the understanding that it is intended and assumed no disrespect is intended.

[6] Kūfī refers to the resident of Kūfa

[7] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (pp. 2-4)

[8] ibid., (p. 2)

[9] Elior, R. (No date). Chapter: ‘The Infinity of Meaning embedded in the Sacred Text’, p. 39. Accessed online [08.05.2011]: http://members.ngfp.org/Courses/Elior/EliorNave_Mil-Ch2.pdf

[10] Iqbal, M. (2008). The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. (p. 124) – Iqbal, here has quoted a mystic from Gangoh, pointing towards the difference between the experience between the Prophet and a mystic.

[11] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (p. 3)

[12] Naqshbandi, A. Three Tales of Sufi Wisdom.

Accessed online [09.05.2011]: http://www.chowk.com/Views/Three-Tales-Of-Sufi-Wisdom

[13] Accessed online [07.05.2011]: http://www.chowk.com/Views/Three-Tales-Of-Sufi-Wisdom also in Urdu: Rūmī, J. (2009). Ḥikāyāt-e-Rūmī (حکایات رومی). Trans. by Sufi Asif Mahmood.

[14] Rūmī, J. (2009). Ḥikāyāt-e-Rūmī (حکایات رومی). Trans. by Sufi Asif Mahmood. (p. 21)

[15] Slave here refers to murīd (follower).

[16] Thānwī, A. A. (1425H) . Tuḥfa al-‘Ulemā’ حضرت حکیم الامت تھانوی رحمہ اللہ کی سینکڑوں تصانیف کا نچوڑ: تحفۃ العلماء – (p. 41)

[17] ibid., (p. 159)

[18] Iqbal, M. ḍarb-e-kalīm (ضرب کلیم): The Rod of Moses. Accessed online [08.05.2011]: http://www.allamaiqbal.com/

(search under prose works, ḍarb-e-kalīm.)

[19] ibid., (search under prose works, translation of ḍarb-e-kalīm)

[20] Buber, M. (1991). Tales of the Hasidim. (p. 54)

[21] ibid., (p. 164)

[22] Rābi’ah Baṣri’s (717-801) Ṣūfism. [Accessed online 27.04.2011]:

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/R/RabiaBasriAl/OmyLordifIwo.htm

[23] There are a multitude of interpretations as to who Khiḍr. Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an (vol. 3) states that Al-Zamakhsharī asserts that Khiḍr lived from the time of Dhū l-Qarnayn to that of Moses; Sayyid Qub sets that tradition aside, calling him only “the righteous servant.” However, some ṣūfī tradtions believe that Khiḍr is still alive and witnessed by some mashā’ikh.

[24] Silsila taken from: Badāt, M (2003). Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ). Also available online from the English Translation:

Badāt, M (2006). An Introduction to the Science of Tasawwuf: A Translation of Nisbat wa Iḥsān aur A’māl – e – Qalbiyyah (نسبت و احسان اور اعمالِ قلبییہ) by Khalil Ahmed Kazi.

Accessed online [29.04.2011]:

http://www.islamrocks.com/Islamic-Books/shajarah-spiritualtree.shtml

[25] Thānwī, A. A. (1424H). Bayān al-Qur’ān (بیان القراٰن: رفع الشکوک اردو ترجمہ مساءل السلوک من کلام ملک الملوک وجوہ المثانی مع توجیہ الکلمات والمعانی). (p. 4)

[26] Elior, R. (2008). The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. (p. 130)

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid.

[29] ibid.

[30] Sajjad, Z. A. and Shahabi, I. A (1991). Tārīkh-e-Millet (تاریخِ ملت). Vol. 1. (p. 668)

[31] Article ‘Is that cell phone Kosher’ on BBC. Accessed online [10.05.2011]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/7636021.stm

[32] Lecture at Heythrop College.

[34] Goitein, S. D. (1953). ‘A Jewish Addict to Sufism: In the Time of the Nagid David II Maimonides’. The Jewish Quarterly Review, (pp. 37-49)

[35] Cited from article, ‘Inayati-Maimuni Tariqat of Sufi Hasidim | The Desert Fellowship of the Message’

Accessed online [10.05.2011]: http://www.zimbio.com/Judaism/articles/144/Inayati+Maimuni+Tariqat+Sufi+Hasidim+Desert

[36] For full article refer to:

‘Reb Zalman Among the Sufis’. Transcribed by Reuven Goldfarb with the assistance of Eliyahu (Khaled) McLean.

Excerpt from an audio tape of the Farbrengen with Rabbis Zalman Schachter-Shalomi at the Hillel Foundation, Berkeley, California, March 19, 1994. Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi is speaking.

Accessed online [18.04.2011]: http://www.sufi-tariqah.de/tarchiv/rebzalman.html

An Understanding of Abrahamic Spirituality and Mysticism: Through the Tales of the Hasidim and Sufis.

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An Understanding of Abrahamic Spirituality and Mysticism: Through the Tales of the Hasidim and Sufis.

                                                                                                                                ~  (Hamid Mahmood)

Toward the One,

The Perfection of Love, Harmony, and Beauty,

The Only Being,

United with All the Illuminated Souls,

Who Form the Embodiment of the Master,

The Spirit of Guidance .[1]

One way of understanding spirituality and mysticism in the Abrahamic faiths is by comparing and contrasting stories in the faith traditions. Hence I intend on exploring stories and experiences from both Jewish and Islamic spiritual sources. I will however focus my attention on Hasidic and Sufi sources, for the former I will evaluate ‘The Penitent’ from Martin Buber’s ‘Tales of the Hasidim’, and latter ‘Learning Humility from Bāyazīd al-Bistāmī’ taken from “Memorial of the Saints” of Farīduddīn Aṭṭār. I will creatively explore the Hasidic and Sufi story side by side comparing and contrasting the two alongside highlighting the differences between normative and Hasidic / Sufi notions of Judaism and Islam. I will thereafter conclude by exploring the fusion between Hasidism and Sufism by briefly looking at an order that combines both spiritual paths, ‘the Ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’.

The Penitent

For six years and then for another six years, Rabbi David of Lelov had done great penance: he had fasted from one Sabbath to the next, and subjected himself to all manner of rigid discipline. But even when the second six years were up, he felt that he had not reached perfection and did not know how to attain what he still lacked. Since had heard of Rabbi Elimelekh, the healer of souls, he journeyed to him to ask his help. On the evening of the Sabbath, he came before the zaddik with many others. The master shook hands with everyone except Rabbi David, but from him he turned and did not give him a glance. The rabbi of Lelov was appalled and left. But then he thought it over and decided that the master must have taken him for someone else. So he approached him in the evening, after prayer, and held out his hand. But he was treated just as before. He wept all night and in the morning resolved not to enter the zaddik’s House of Prayer again, but to leave for home at the end of the Sabbath. And yet – when the hour of the holy third meal had come, the meal at which Rabbi Elimelekh spoke words of teaching, he could not restrain himself and crept up to the window. There he heard the rabbi say:

Sometimes people come to me who fast and torment themselves, and many a one does penance for six years and then for another six years- twelve whole years! And after that, they consider themselves worthy of the holy spirit, and come and ask me to draw it down to them: I am to supply the little they still lack. But the truth of the matter is that all their discipline and all their pains are less than a drop in the sea, and what’s more: all that service of theirs does not rise to God, but to the idol of their pride. Such people must turn to God by turning utterly from all they have been doing, and begin to serve from the bottom up and with a truthful heart.”

When Rabbi David heard these words, the spirit moved him with such force, that he almost lost consciousness. Trembling and sobbing, he stood at the window. When the Havdalah was concluded, he went to the door with faltering breath, opened it in great fear, and waited on the threshold. Rabbi Elimelekh rose from his chair, ran up to to his motionless visitor, embraced him and said: “Blessed be he that comes!” Then he drew him toward the table and seated him at his side. But now Eleazar, the zaddik’s son, could no longer restrain his amazement. “Father,” he said, “Why, that is the man you turned away twice because you could not endure the mere sight of him!”

“No, indeed!” Rabbi Elimelekh answered. That was an entirely different person! Don’t you see that this is our dear Rabbi David!”[2]

Learning Humility from Bayazid al-Bistami

There was ‘a certain ascetic’ who was one of the great saints of Bestam. He had his own followers and admirers, and at the same time he was never absent from the circle of Bayazid al-Bistami (or Abu Yazid al-Bistami). He listened to all his discourses, and sat with his companions.

One day he remarked to Abu Yazid, “Master, for thirty years I have been keeping a constant fast. By night too I pray, so that I never sleep at all. Yet I discover no trace of this knowledge of which you speak. For all that I believe in this knowledge, and I love this preaching.”

If for three hundred years,” said Abu Yazid, “you fast by day and pray by night, you will never realize one atom of this discourse.”

Why?” asked the disciple.

Because you are veiled by your own self,” Abu Yazid replied.

“What is the remedy for this?” the man asked.

“You will never accept it,” answered Abu Yazid.

“I will so,” said the man. “Tell me, so that I may do as you prescribe.”

“Very well,” said Abu Yazid. “This very hour go and shave your beard and hair. Take off these clothes you are wearing, and tie a loincloth of goat’s wool about your waist. Hang a bag of nuts around your neck, then go to the marketplace. Collect all the children you can, and tell them, `I will give a nut to everyone who slaps me.’ Go round all the city in the same way; especially go everywhere people know you. That is your cure.”

“Glory be to God! There is no god but God,” cried the disciple on hearing these words.

If a non-believer uttered that formula, he would become a believer,” remarked Abu Yazid. “By uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist.”

“How so?” demanded the disciple.

Because you count yourself too grand to be able to do as I have said,” replied Abu Yazid. “So you have become a polytheist. You used this formula to express your own importance, not to glorify God.”

“This I cannot do,” the man protested. “Give me other directions.”

“The remedy is what I have said,” Abu Yazid declared.

“I cannot do it,” the man repeated.

“Did I not say you would not do it, that you would never obey me?” said Abu Yazid.[3]

There are many significant and diverse points one could deduce from both stories, but I will focus my attention on two notions; where both spiritual traditions differ from their normative religious understandings. Alongside that, I will compare and contrast Hasidism and Sufism from the two tales mentioned.

Rabbi David and ‘a certain ascetic’, in both stories, are equally religious figures yet they feel there is ‘something’ missing from their mystical lives; and to attain ‘complete’ fulfilment in their spirituality they feel they must approach ‘a spiritual guide’. In Hasidism this guide is referred to as ‘zaddik’ and in Sufism to ‘sheikh’, ‘sīdī’ or ‘pīr’ (Persian, mostly used in Asia). It is interesting to note that in both Judaism and Islam the position of a zaddik and pīr is contrary to that of the normative understanding of ‘rabbi’ or ‘imam’. In normative religious understanding the leader is to guide the follower through ‘sacred texts’ and the teachings of Prophets, yet this is not the case in both, for fasting lengthy periods is virtuous when considering external worship, one may not judge the internal form of worship.[4] In the Hasidic story Rabbi David is to reach his full spiritual potential through that sudden ‘realisation’ and ‘regret’ after his feelings and thoughts are completely shattered, on the contrary the ‘ascetic’ was told, contrary to normative Islamic teaching, to shave his beard, be covered only in loin-cloth and give nuts to children who slap him in the presence of those who are familiar with his piety. They were fasting so that they may become pious for the sake of becoming pious, an unwittingly self-centred approach to worship and God, and if this was the mere goal then Bulleh Shah, a South Asian ṣūfi mystic, rightly exclaims:

“If the divine is found through ablutions [5]
surely frogs and fish would find him first
if the divine is hidden in jungles
the cattle would have discovered him by now
O Bulleh, the divine is found by those
with pure and true heart.” [6]

On the contrary if attaining virtues or salvation from hell and admittance into paradise was the sole intention, then this too is contrary to being one with God and the fulfilment of the spirit. This notion is well illustrated by an early Islamic female mystic Rābi’ah Baṣriyyah:

“O my Lord,
if I worship you
from fear of hell, bur n me in hell.
If I worship you
from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates.
But if I worship you
for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face”. [7]

With rabbi David he attains his goal following a shattered self through ‘realisation’ and ‘regret’ whereas the ascetic is to gain salvation through a shattered self but by literally annihilating the self of desires through physically defaming the self. This is contrary to normative Judaism whereby the adherent draws nearer to God through the study of the Torah. However, it is significant to note from both stories the critique of both normative Judaism and Islam and a critique of what religion at times can become, whereby fulfilling all acts of worship alongside supererogatory ones would ‘seem’ to one as being on the right track, but on the contrary through self-centeredness could lead someone in the opposite direction completely. This notion is further emphasised in both stories, in the former Rabbi Elimelekh points towards this self-centeredness and explains, ‘twelve whole years (of fasting and penance)… after that… their pains are less than a drop in the sea, and what’s more: all that service of theirs does not rise to God, but to the idol of their pride’.[8] With the ascetic, he is told by Bāyazīd al-Bistāmī that his ‘own self’ stands between him and ‘ilm-e-ladunnī (supernatural knowledge in contrast to ‘ilm-e-kasabī, earned knowledge) and after being exposed to the cure the ascetic ‘praises God’ in astonishment, upon which al-Bistāmī rectifies him, “If a non-believer uttered that formula, he would become a believer… by uttering the same formula you have become a polytheist.” [9] This was due to reciting and praising God in astonishment of his own humiliation, which is similar to reciting God’s name in vain, however this is similar to ‘the idol of their pride notion’, which is also explained in the Qur’ān, ‘[Prophet], consider the one who has taken his own desire as a god, whom God allows to stray in the face of knowledge, sealing his ears and heart and covering his eyes – who can guide such a person after God [has done this]? Will you people not take heed?’ (Q. 45:23). Another significant point to note is the supernatural power of the Rabbi, as he is able to express things not yet told to him. This I believe again is very similar to the ṣūfī notion of kashf in which the sheikh is able to read right through the heart and mind of his murīd (student). This leads on to the point that the zaddik and sheikh are to know ‘all’ the feelings in particular problems of their followers in order to help them and rightly guide them.

I believe that the ‘ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’ is an order in which Sufi and Hasidic mysticism is fused and merged together. This idea would be highly controversial for normative teachings in both faith traditions. However, this movement claims to bring together the spirituality of pīr Hazrat Inayat Khan, the ṣūfī who first brought Sufism to the West, and Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba’al Shem Tov. However, the origin of the latter part of the name ‘mainūnī’ comes from Rabbi Avraham Maimuni of Fustat, who was the son of Moses Maimonides, who is to have merged Sufi and Hasidic ideas. Although the use of such concepts could already be found in the Jewish writings of Bahya ibn Pakuda (ca. 1040), but Avraham Maimuni openly acknowledges his debt to Sufism, even going so far as to call the Sufis the ‘true lineal descendants of the Hebrew prophets’.[10]

Bibliography

Buber, M. (1966). Tales of the Hasidim: The Later Masters. (3rd ed.). Schocken Books: New York, USA.

Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. Schocken Books: New York, USA.

Naqshbandī, Z. A. (2003). Majālis-e-Faqīr (مجالسِ فقیر). Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Maktabatul Faqeer: Faisalabad, Pakistan [Urdu]

Schachter-Shalomi, Z. & Miles-Yepez, N. et.al (2009). A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters. Jewish Publication Society: Philadelphia, USA

http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufistor/sufi05.html

[Accessed: 18.01.2011]

http://www.hasidicstories.com/

[Accessed: 11.01.2011]

http://www.sevenpillarshouse.org

[Accessed: 31.01.2011]

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com

[Accessed: 01.02.2011]

http://www.mysticsaint.info/2008/08/inayati-maimuni-tariqat-of-sufi-hasidim.html

[Accessed: 18.01.2011]

http://www.mysticsaint.info/2008/08/pir-zalman-sulayman-schachter-shalomi.html

[Accessed: 18.01.2011]


[1] A prayer of the ‘ināyatī-Maimūnī ṭarīqat’ a Sufi Hasidic order, written by pīr Inayat and also adopted by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi:

Schachter-Shalomi, Z. & Miles-Yepez, N. et.al (2009). A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters. (p. 142)

[2] Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. (pp. 255-256)

[3] Story taken from “Memorial of the Saints” of Fariduddin Attar. [Accessed online 26.01.2011]: http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufistor/sufi05.html

[4] Here I have used the terms ‘external’ and ‘internal’ for I believe all worship encompasses these two notions. When one fasts, him avoiding food, drink and other necessities is the external form, and on the contrary the inner fulfilment and growth is considered the internal. It is more likely that the latter notion is easily corrupted.

[5] Ablution here refers to ‘wudhū’, the act of cleansing certain parts of the body with water before each ṣalāh (prayer)

[6] Bulleh Shah’s (1680-1758)poem. [Accessed online 01.02.2011]:

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/B/BullehShah/Ifdivineisfo.htm

[7] Rabi’ah Basri’s (717-801) sufism. [Accessed online 01.02.2011]:

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/R/RabiaBasriAl/OmyLordifIwo.htm

[8] Buber, M. (1994). Tales of the Hasidim. (p. 255)

[9]Memorial of the Saints” of Fariduddin Attar. [Accessed online 26.01.2011]: http://www.haqq.com.au/~salam/sufistor/sufi05.html