Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 


In the absence of "the book" into which Ghazzâlî put these secret opinions, or inconceivable mysteries, including, we may suppose, the secret of this mysterious Vicegerent, we are not likely to reach any authoritative settlement of the question: nor, even if we be put on the right track, clear up the whole of the mystery. For want of direct help from our author, therefore, the only thing to be done is to examine minutely al-Mishkât itself, to see if it yields any indirect help. It would seem that from this examination two possible solutions emerge. In this section the first of these will be discussed.

This solution, which was first suggested to the writer by the distinguished French Orientalist, M. Louis Massignon, identifies the mysterious figure of this Vicegerent, al-Mutâ`, with the Qutb ("Axis") or some other Supreme Adept. According to the developed doctrine, this Qutb was an earthly Mystic of supremest attainment, who during his lifetime administered

{p. 25}

the affairs of the heavens and the earth. There was nothing about him, during his lifetime, to suggest to any observer that he was, engaged in so stupendous a task, and it was not known till after his death that he had been "the Axis of his time" (qutbu zamânihi).

The beginnings of this doctrine go back far beyond al-Ghazzâlî--a rudimentary form of it was held by even the ultra-orthodox Hanbalites,[1] and a developed form of the conception is expressed quite definitely in al-Hujwîrî's Kashf al-Mahjûb,[2] and must have been widely held, in orthodox circles too, in the fifth century, at the close of which our treatise was written.

Moreover, at least from the time of al-Hallâj, to whom, as we shall see, our author in. this treatise refers in terms by no means of repudiation, the very word under discussion, al-Mutâ` or some other form of the same verb, occurs in significant connexion with supreme sainthood. One of the accusations levelled against al-Hallâj was that he taught that "having

[1. Massignon, Passion d' al-Hallâj, p. 754.

2. p. 214 of trans.]

{p. 26}

attained to sainthood the Adept becomes al-Mutâ` he who says to a thing 'Be!' and it becomes".[1] It sounds startling enough, but it was a true accusation, though it has to be taken in connexion with the whole of Hallâj's philosophy of mystical union with the Divine. For he did definitely adopt from a predecessor, Ibn `Iyâd, the aphorism "Man atâ`a Allaha atâ`ahu kullu shay'",[3] an aphorism which received a later redaction (quite in the spirit of Hallâj, as has been shown), "man hudhdhiba ... fa yasîru mutâ`an, yaqûlu lish shay'i `Kun' fa yakûn," "He who has passed through the mystic askesis becomes Obeyed; he says to this or that, 'Be!' and it is."[4]

Since then al-Hallâj did so teach, and did use this very word, and since al-Ghazzâlî in this treatise betrays a very considerable admiration of al-Hallâj, and a sort of tremulous half-assent to his wildest utterances, including the notorious

[1. Massignon, op. cit., p. 791; ib., p. 472.

2. The sense in which he did use the expression, and the proof that it did not in his thought mean self-deification, is given very clearly in Massignon, op. cit., 519-521.

3. Op. cit., p. 472.

4. Al-Avnî on al-Istakhrî., quoted in a letter by M. Massignon to the writer.]

{p. 27}

"Ana-l Haqq" itself, it would seem that a strong prima-facie case has been made out for identifying the Mutâ` of our treatise, in spite of the cosmic nature of his functions, with some supreme Adept. But only a prima-facie case. To make out the thesis itself, the treatise itself must be interrogated; for it by no means follows that because a Hallâj held an opinion a Ghazzâlî adopted it.

There are, certainly, some passages that do suggest that the solution is along this line.

(1) The description of the adventures of a soul in highest state of Union (Mish., p. [24]) tends to bear out the Identification, or the general idea underlying it. The person there described is a supreme Adept, and in particular al-Hallâj himself. Having reached Union with the One divine Real, he ascends in and with Him "to the throne of the Divine Unity and from thenceforth administers the Command throughout His (or 'his,' for in this extraordinary passage the pronouns remain the same throughout) storied Heavens." The words translated "administers the Command", yudabbîru-l amr, are remarkable, for they contain an Arabic

{p. 28}

word (amr) which, as we shall see presently, is to the last degree significant, being the very word used in the Mutâ` passage (p. [55]), where Ghazzâlî confesses it is an obscure mystery. The Mutâ` (Commander) is said to move the outermost Heaven by precisely the amr (command). The words yudabbîru-l amr could no doubt be translated in a less significant way, owing to the troublesome double meaning of amr, ("affair," "command"), namely, "he disposes things." But in view of the fact that this amr was a notable Sûfî term, and a mysterious problem alluded to by Ghazzâlî in this very treatise, it seems inevitable to take it as "command" here. And a "Command" necessitates an "Obeyed".

(2) On p. [23], where the reference throughout is purely general, and presumably applies to anyone who has the necessary qualifications and attains this supreme mystical "state", Ghazzâlî says that when the mystic Ascent is complete, "if there be indeed any change, it is by way of 'the Descent into the Lowest Heaven', the radiation from above downwards." This also suggests supreme divine activity in the Universe

{p. 29}

below, especially if the word ishrâq refers, as it probably does, to causative activity.

(3) On pp. [ 13, 14] occurs another passage which strongly supports the general identification, though it leaves its particular and personal reference still obscure. In this the adepts, who in their mystical Ascent (mi`râj) "attained to that supreme attainment", are said to be "the Prophets", who "from thence looked down upon the entire World Invisible [precisely the world of the Heavens]; for he who is in the world of the Realm Supernal is which Allah, and hath the keys of the Unseen. I mean that from where he is descend the causes of existing things; for the world of sense is one of the effects of yonder-world of causes", etc. This looks almost like a reasoned, philosophic doctrine behind the mystical one, that to attain to the world of Reality is ipso facto to attain to the fount of causation; which involves the ability to direct the Causes which control all the Effects in the Heavens below and the Earth beneath. The Vicegerent does no more than this.

A close scrutiny of these passages leaves, one, nevertheless, with thc impression that the

{p. 30}

Adepts whose celestial adventures are there described are too generalized, or perhaps one should say too pluralized, to be identifiable with this single, solitary figure of al-Mutâ` as he is presented in our passage. As far as these three passages go, this assumption of the reins of the Universe is only granted to Adepts in their mystic "States", to Prophets in their highly exceptional "Ascent". There is nothing to show that two or more such Attainers might not exist at one time, or that even one must always be existing; in other words, there is no trace of the complete and fully developed Qutb doctrine in this treatise. But these considerations make it impossible to identify any one of these Adepts, or all of them together, with the cosmic al-Mutâ`, whose function, related as it is to the very mechanism of the Heavens, is ceaseless, and coextensive with Time itself. And these last four words suggest a further consideration which in itself seems fatal to the proposed identification; namely, that al-Mutâ` was Vicegerent from the very foundation of the world; he is the one "who commanded the Heavens to be moved" (p. [55, 1. 12]). No

{p. 31}

Hallâj, no Adept, no Qutb, no Prophet even, ever claimed, or had claimed for him, such priority as this,[1] or even priority at all. But if not, none of them--and, if so, no terrestrial being at all--can claim to fill the role of this Vicegerent. The three passages were probably intended only to assert and account for the karâmât of the Saints in their wonder-working which was parallel to that of the Koranic Jesus.

The a-priori question of our author's attitude to the Qutb doctrine--whether, consistently with his published writings, he could have sustained such a doctrine in this work--is one which can only be indicated here. Professors R. Nicholson and D.S. Macdonald have both communicated to the writer, in reference to the passage under discussion, their opinion that there is an a-priori impossibility. To al-Ghazzâlî the doctrine was tainted with Imâmism, his special bete noire (see his attack on the Ta`lîmites in his Munqidh;[2] that since an omnipotent.

[1. The question of the priority claimed by a certain school for Mohammed, and of the nûr Muhammadi, will be considered, later.

2. See Nicholson, The Idea of Personality in Sûfism, p. 46]

{p. 32}

Administrator must also be an infallible Guide (whom Ghazzâlî would not have at any price), there is no room for the former in Ghazzâlî's thought (thus Professor Macdonald). If the Mutâ` is not Mohammed, he is certainly no Saint (thus Professor Nicholson).

Be this as it may, the above considerations, drawn from the study of the text itself, and from the passages which prima facie seemed to point to the Qutb-Mutâ` identification, seem finally, when more closely examined, to rule that identification out.

Next: VII. Another Solution