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The Prayer of Ibn Mashīsh
(As Salāt al-Mashīshīyah)

by

Titus Burckhardt

Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 12, No. 1 & 2. (Winter-Spring, 1978). © World Wisdom, Inc.
www.studiesincomparativereligion.com


THE Moroccan SufiAbd as-Salam ibn Mashīsh[1] , the master of Abu ’l-Hasan ash-Shādhilī—founder of the Shādhilī order—was the spiritual pole (qutb) of his age. He died in the year 1228 of the Christian era, in his hermitage on Mount al-‘Alam, in the Rif mountains; his tomb on the summit of this mountain is one of the most venerated places of pilgrimage in the whole of the Maghrib.

Only one text by him remains, the famous prayer on the Prophet, which is recited in all the brotherhoods of Shādhilī filiation, and which is as it were a summary of the Sufi doctrine of Universal Man (al- insān al-kāmil).We give here a translation of this prayer, followed by a commentary on all the difficult passages.

It should be recalled that every prayer on the Prophet refers implicitly to the Quranic injunction: “God and His angels bless the Prophet; O ye who believe, bless him and wish him peace” (33:56).

The Arabic verb salla, which we translate here as “to bless,” also means “to pray”; the word salāt, from the same root, means prayer,—more particularly the ritual prayer—, if the action comes from man, and at the same time it means blessing or effusion of grace, if the action comes from God.[2]

*          *          *

O my God (Allāhumma), bless him from whom derive the secrets and from whom gush forth the lights, and in whom rise up the realities, and into whom descended the sciences of Adam, so that he hath made powerless all creatures, and so that understandings are diminished in his regard, and no one amongst us, neither predecessor nor successor, can grasp him.

The gardens of the spiritual world (al-malakūt) are adorned with the flower of his beauty, and the pools of the world of omnipotence (al-jabarūt) overflow with the outpouring of his lights.

There existeth nothing that is not linked to him, even as it was said: “Were there no mediator, everything that dependeth on him would disappear!” (Bless him, O my God), by a blessing such as returneth to him through Thee from Thee, according to his due.

O my God, he is Thine integral secret, that demonstrateth Thee, and Thy supreme veil, raised up before Thee.

O my God, join me to his posterity[3] and justify me by Thy reckoning of him. Let me know him with a knowledge that saveth me from the wells of ignorance and quencheth my thirst at the wells of virtue. Carry me on his way, surrounded by Thine aid, towards Thy presence. Strike through me at vanity, so that I may destroy it. Plunge me in the oceans of Oneness (al-ahadīyah), pull me back from the sloughs of tawhīd, and drown me in the pure source of the ocean of Unity (al-wahdah), so that I neither see nor hear nor am conscious nor feel except through it. And make of the Supreme Veil the life of my spirit, and of his spirit the secret of my reality, and of his reality all my worlds, by the realization of the First Truth.

O First, O Last, O Outward, O Inward, hear my petition, even as Thou heardest the petition of Thy servant Zachariah; succour me through Thee unto Thee, support me through Thee unto Thee, unite me with Thee, and come in between me and other-than Thee: Allah, Allah, Allah! Verily He who hath imposed on thee the Qu’an for a law, will bring thee back to the promised end (Qur’ān, 28:85).

Our Lord, grant us mercy from Thy presence, and shape for us right conduct in our plight (Qur’ān, 18:10).

Verily God and His angels bless the Prophet; O ye who believe, bless him and wish him peace (Qur’ān, 33:56).

May the graces (salawāt) of God, His peace, His salutations, His mercy and His blessings (barakāt) be on our Lord Muhammad, Thy servant, Thy prophet and Thy messenger, the un-lettered prophet, and on his family and on his companions, (graces) as numerous as the even and the odd and as the perfect and blessed words of our Lord.

Glorified be thy Lord, the Lord of Glory, beyond what they attribute unto Him, and peace be on the Messengers. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds (Qur’ān, 37:180–182).”

*          *          *

“O my God (Allāhumma), bless him from whom derive the secrets and from whom gush forth the lights.”

There is a complementarity between the “secrets” (asrār) and the “lights” (anwār), for the first are latent predispositions, of man or of the cosmos, while the second are “emanations” or “flashes” of Being which echo the “secrets” by actualizing their potentialities without ever yielding up their ultimate depth.

The name “secret” (sirr) is given to the innermost part of the soul, the “locus” or organ of the contemplation of the “lights”: “The Divine Lights,” writes the Sufi Ibn ‘Atā’i ’Llāh in his Hikam, “abound according to the purity of the secret.” This is similar to a mirror that reflects the divine realities and polarizes them in a certain fashion according to its own predisposition (isti‘dād).[4]

In so far as the “secret” is situated on the side of the potentialities, it plays a passive role with regard to the “lights,” which are like prolongations of the fiat lux; but in its unfathomable depth, it is identified with the “immutable essence” (al-‘ayn ath-thābitah) of the being, i.e. with the archetype which “undergoes” no act exterior to itself, since it contains eminently and indistinctly everything that the individual consciousness realizes in existential and successive mode.

This enables us to consider the relationship between “secrets” and “lights” in all its universal breadth, the first corresponding to the archetypes, and the second to the Divine Qualities, which are the very sources of Existence. According to one aspect of things, the “lights” confer existence on the “secrets,” the latter as such being non-manifested; by manifesting the “secrets,” the “lights” also veil them. And according to another aspect, complementary to the preceding one, the “secrets” polarize the “lights” by differentiating the single light of Being.

The archetypes, indistinctly contained in the Divine Essence, are distinguished first of all, in a principial manner, in the first Intellect (al-‘aql al- awwal), and it is through it that they shine as it were into the cosmos; thus, they “derive” from it and, from this starting-point, they are “split-up”.[5]  Likewise the Divine Light is broken by the prism of the Intellect into multiple “lights”.

The first intellect is like the “isthmus” (barzakh) between the two “seas” of the uncreated and the created, of pure Being and Existence, the latter being relative. According to a saying of the Prophet, the Intellect is the first thing that God created; nevertheless it does not differ from the Spirit (ar-rūh), which comprises both a created, or angelic, aspect, and an uncreated, or divine, aspect.[6] In a certain sense, the Intellect is like the consciousness of the Spirit and the Spirit is like the life of the Intellect. If, in Islam, one does not speak of the “Divine Intellect,” whereas one speaks of the “Divine Spirit,” this is because it is only the latter that “emanates” from God rather like a breath that passes through all the degrees of Being; the Intellect, for its part, is so to speak static, and cannot be defined otherwise than by its object: if this be the created universe, the Intellect is itself created, whereas it is neither created nor “intellect” when it has for its immediate object the Absolute, for in this relationship no quality of its own distinguishes it from the Divine Essence; it is that which it knows.[7]

The two “faces” of the Intellect, one turned towards God and the other towards the world, are indicated in the saying of the Prophet: “The first thing that God created was the Intellect (al- ‘aql). He said to it: receive (or: turn towards Me, iqbal), and it received; then He said to it: transmit (or: turn away, idbar), and it transmitted.” The following saying of the Prophet also refers to the Intellect, symbolized by the supreme Calamus (al-qalam al-a‘lā): “The first thing that God created was the Calamus. He said to it: Write! It replied: what shall I write? Write, said God, My knowledge of My creation until the day of resurrection.” From this it results that the Intellect is created in so far as it is a cosmic instrument, while the science that it transcribes—or the knowledge that it refracts—is divine in essence.

Thus, the First Intellect is the universal Mediator, and it is with this that the Prophet is identified by the very secret of his function: “In whom rise up the realities, and into whom descended the sciences of Adam.”

The First Intellect is to the whole cosmos what the reflected intellect is to man. Thus, the man whose intimate consciousness is the First Intellect itself, is both a man and total cosmic being; his heart is the heart of the universe, and all the elements of the cosmos are like modalities, not of his individual nature, but of his intellectual and universal nature; he is “Universal Man” (al-insān al-kāmil). It is in him that the realities (haqā’iq) “rise up” by the reintegration of all things in Unity, a reintegration perpetually operated by the Intellect, and it is in him too that the realities “descend” by the reflection .of universal truths in the human mind: according to the Qur’ān, God taught Adam the “names” of all things (2:31).

“So that he hath made powerless all creatures, and understandings are diminished in his regard, and so that no one amongst us, neither predecessor nor successor, can grasp him.”

The Whole causes its part to be powerless, in the sense that the part can never embrace the whole. The same is true of “Universal Man” who, according to this perspective, is none other than Muhammad: Muhammad, as the last of the prophets in time and the “seal” of the prophetic function, represents—by virtue of the inverse analogy between Heaven and Earth—the most complete earthly manifestation of the Universal Mediator, the First Intellect; in the other religions the pre-excellence of the respective founder has as its basis some other metaphysical relationship, such as “Incarnation” or “Illumination”.[8]

“The gardens of the spiritual world (al-malakūt) are adorned with the flower of his beauty, and the pools of the world of omnipotence (al-jabarūt) overflow with the outpouring of his lights.”

The Universal Mediator, the First Intellect, is like a mirror that disseminates the Divine Beauty. According to Plotinus—whose doctrine was confirmed and completed by the Sufis,—the First Intellect (nous) unceasingly contemplates the One, while projecting, without being able to exhaust them, the contents of its contemplation into the Universal Soul, which for its part, contemplates the First Intellect. It is in the Universal Soul that the gardens of al-malakūt are situated. As for the “pools” of the world of omnipotence (al-jabarūt), they are the “reservoirs” of non-manifestation, contained in Pure Being, from which Existence gushes forth, which in its original purity is none other than the “Light of Muhammad” (an-nūr al-muhammadī). According to a saying of the Prophet, “God took a handful of His light, and said to it: be Muhammad!”

“There existeth nothing that is not linked to him, even as it was said: Were there no mediator, everything that dependeth on him would disappear! (Bless him, O my God), by a blessing such as returneth to him through Thee from Thee, according to his due.”

According to the Sufis, the blessing or effusion of graces (salāt) that God heaps upon the Prophet is nothing other than the irradiation (tajallī) of the Divine Essence, which eternally pours into the cosmos, of which Muhammad is the synthesis. To ask for the blessing of God on the Prophet is thus to conform with the divine act and intentionally to participate in it; also, tradition provides the assurance that whoever blesses the Prophet attracts upon him-self the blessing of the entire universe.[9]

“O my God, he is Thine integral secret, that demonstrateth Thee, and Thy supreme veil, raised up before Thee.”

The “essential reality” (Haqīqah) of the Mediator, his root in God, if it may be so expressed, is nothing other than the first divine self-determination (ta‘ayyum), Being (al-wujūd), in so far as it is in a certain fashion detached from Non-Being (adam). This first determination, which includes all others, is in itself a secret or a mystery, for how can the undetermined determine itself? On the one hand, the first determination “demonstrates” God, for the undetermined is incomprehensible; on the other hand, it veils Him by limiting Him in a certain manner; it reveals Him and veils Him at one and the same time.[10]

“O my God, join me to his posterity[11] and justify me by Thy reckoning of him. Let me know him with a knowledge that saveth me from the wells of ignorance and quench my thirst at the wells of virtue. Carry me on his way, surrounded by Thine aid, towards Thy presence. Strike through me at vanity, so that I may destroy it.”

These last words are a paraphrase of the Quranic verse: “But We shall hurl the truth (al-haqq) against vanity (al-bātil),so that it will shatter it, and behold it vanisheth.” (21:18).[12]

“Plunge me in the oceans of Oneness (al-ahadīyah), pull me back from the sloughs of tawhīd.”

Since at-tawhīd normally signifies the attestation of Unity or, by extension, union with God, Ibn Mashīsh’s petition is paradoxical; what he has in view in this petition, is the confusion of the created and the uncreated; it is as if he said: preserve me from the pitfalls that the doctrine of Unity, improperly understood, extends towards the “drunken,” who no longer know how to distinguish between Lord and servant.

“And drown me in the essence (or the source) (‘ayn) of the ocean of Unity (al-wahdah), so that I neither see nor hear nor am conscious nor feel except through it.”

This is an allusion to a holy saying (hadīth qudsī): “Myservant ceaseth not to draw nigh unto Me until I love him; and when I love him, I am the hearing whereby he heareth and the sight whereby he seeth and the hand wherewith he smiteth and the foot whereon he walketh; and if he asketh something of me, I will certainly give it unto him.” According to this image of union, the servant does not cease to be servant, but his human nature is as if penetrated and enveloped by Divine Reality.

In Oneness in the sense of al-ahadīyah, all traces of the creature or the servant are effaced, whereas in Unity in the sense of al-wahdah, the creature appears in God, multiplicity in unity and unity in multiplicity. The first state thus corresponds to extinction (fanā’) and the second to subsistence (baqā’) in God.

“And make of the Supreme Veil the life of my spirit, and of his spirit the secret of my reality, and of his reality all my worlds.”

This means: grant that the first of all determinations, Being, be the very essence of my spirit, that the Universal Mediator be the secret of my spiritual reality (haqīqah), and that his own spiritual reality may assimilate into itself all the modalities of my existence.

“by the realization of the First Truth.”

Concerning which the Qur’ān says: “We created not the Heavens and the earth and all that is between them save with Truth” (15:85). God Himself is called “the Truth” (al-Haqq).

“O First, O Last, O Outward, O Inward.”

These divine names are mentioned in the Qur’ān in this same order.

“Hear my petition, even as Thou heardest the petition of Thy servant Zachariah;”

who implored God not to leave him without heir; God fulfilled his desire, despite the age and barrenness of his wife (Qur’ān, 3:37 ff. ).

“Succour me through Thee unto Thee, support me through Thee unto Thee, unite me with Thee and come in between me and other than Thee:[13] Allāh, Allāh, Allāh! Verily He Who hath imposed on thee the Qur’ān for a law, will bring thee back to the promised end” (Qur’ān, 28:85).

The last phrase is a verse from the Qur’ān, addressed to the Prophet on the occasion of the emigration (hijrah) to Medina. Here it refers to the exile of the spirit in the world: God promises to whoever invokes Him that He will bring him back to his true homeland, eternity or God Himself.

“Our Lord, grant us mercy from Thy presence, and shape for us right conduct in our plight” (Qur’ān, XVIII, 10).

According to the Qur’ān, this is the prayer uttered by the seven sleepers of Ephesus, at the moment of their taking refuge in the cave. The cave is the image par excellence of the isolation (khalwah) of the contemplative within himself.

“Verily, God and His angels bless the Prophet; O ye who believe, bless him and wish him peace” (Qur’ān, 33:56).

“May the graces (salawāt) of God, His peace, His salutations, His mercy and His blessings (barakāt) be on our Lord Muhammad, Thy servant, Thy prophet and Thy messenger, the un-lettered prophet, and on his family and on his companions,(graces) as numerous as the even and the odd and as the perfect and blessed words of our Lord.”

The graces that God heaps upon His first and inclusive creature are as numberless and without end as are His creative words.

“Glorified be Thy Lord, the Lord of Glory, from what they attribute unto Him, and peace be on the Messengers. Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds (Qur’ān, 37:180–182).




NOTES

[1] There also exists the form Ibn Bashīsh (“son of a man with a serene countenance”), which indeed seems to be the original Arabic form of this patronymic, the mīm of ibn Mashīsh (or ben Mashīsh) being explained by the assimilation—typically Maghribī—of the to the preceding nūn, or simply by the easy change from one labial to another. Mecca, originally Becca, is a well-known example.

[2] On the general meaning of the prayer on the Prophet, see: Frithjof Schuon, Understanding Islam (Allen and Unwin Mandala Books, London, 1976; Penguin Books Inc., Baltimore, U.S.A., 1972).

[3] See note 11.

[4] See on this subject: Muhyi’d-dīn ibn ‘Arabī, La Sagesse des Prophètes (Fusūs al-Hikam), translated by Titus Burckhardt (Albin Michel, Paris, 1955), chapter on Seth. For an English version of this French translation see The Wisdom of the Prophets (Beshara Publication, 1975).

[5] The Arabic verb inshaqqat, used in our text, possesses both of these meanings.

[6] On the angelic aspect of the Spirit, ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī writes: “This is the Angel that the Sufis call: the Truth whereby (things) are created. It is also the Reality of Muhammad, (al-haqīqat al-muhammadiyah). God looked upon this Angel while looking upon Himself; He created it from His Light and created from it the world…” (Al-insān al-kāmil, chapter on ar-rūh). On the divine aspect of the Spirit, he writes: “The Holy Spirit (rūh al-quds) is the Spirit of spirits; it transcends Existence, so that it is not permitted to call it created, for it is a particular aspect of God, by virtue of which the world subsists. It is spirit, but not like the other spirits, for it is the Spirit of God, and it was this Spirit that was breathed into Adam…” (ibid., chapter on rūh al-quds).

[7] “Know that God manifested this intellect like a unique essence subsisting by itself, limited (mutahayyiz) according to a certain school and non-limited according to another, this latter opinion being the more just...” (Muhyi’d-dīn ibn ‘Arabī, ad-Durrat al-Baidā (“The White Pearl”).

[8] In a certain sense, the name of each of the great divine messengers is the name of the Universal Mediator, but none is such in the same respect as the others. “Universal Man is the pole around whom revolve the spheres of existence from the first to the last. He has been one alone since the beginning of the universe and he is manifested in the various religions, on each occasion being named in respect of a particular manifestation and to the exclusion of the others. His original name is Muhammad. In each age he bears that name that corresponds to his manifestation on that occasion; thus, I met him in the form of my spiritual master Sharaf ad-Dīn Ismā‘īl al-Jabartī…” (‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī, op. cit., chapter on al-insān al-kāmil).

[9]   The following are a few sayings of the Prophet in this connection, transmitted by various chains:
•  “(The archangel) Gabriel—peace be upon him—came to me and said: O Muhammad, no one shall bless thee without seventy thousand angels blessing him; and he whom the angels bless will be of the people of Paradise.” • “If anyone bless me out of veneration, God—may He be exalted—will create from his words an angel whose two wings will stretch from east to west, whose two feet will be placed on the seventh nether-earth and the nape of whose neck will be bent beneath the divine throne, and God will say to the angel: bless my servant, as he blessed My Prophet! and he will bless him until the day of resurrection.”
• “If anyone bless me once, God will bless him ten times; if anyone bless me ten times, God will bless him a hundred times…” • “No servant of God shall bless me but his blessing shall haste from his mouth, traverse every land and every sea, every east and every west, and shall say: ‘I am the benediction of such and such, son of such and such, who blessed Muhammad, the elect, the best of the creatures of God’. Then shall there remain nothing that will not bless him, this servant. And God will create from this blessing a bird with seventy thousand wings, on each wing there will be seventy thousand faces, in each face there will be seventy thousand mouths, and each mouth will have seventy thousand tongues; each one of them will praise God in seventy thousand languages; and God will inscribe for him the rewards for all of that.” All these allegories express the incalculable reciprocity between the singular man and Universal Man.

[10] This can also be said of māyā, according to the Vedantic doctrine. The origin of māyā is an unfathomable secret, since it is neither real like the Absolute, nor unreal like nothingness. It is thus that the Sufis envisage the “Reality of Muhammad” (al-haqīqat al-muhammadiyah), inasmuch as it is first existential determination.

[11] It is obviously a question of spiritual posterity. It may be mentioned that ‘Abd as-Salām Ibn Mashīsh was himself a descendent of the Prophet, through Idrīs, the holy founder of Fez. The existence of countless saints issued from the physical posterity of the Prophet proves that this posterity is like the materia prima of a spiritual kinship, when vocation and personal effort actualize its potentialities.

[12] Al-bātil, which we translate as “vanity”, signifies everything that is false, ephemeral and illusory.

[13] This echoes the Quranic verse (8:24) “God cometh in (yahwul) between man and his own heart”. This root is the origin of the Sufi term hāl.


Original editorial inclusion that followed the essay in Studies:
We must not attribute our losses, misfortunes, sufferings and humiliations to the evil spirit or to man; but to their true author, God.
Alphonsus Liguori.

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