Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ascensions

One of the pivotal episodes in the sacred history of early Islam – and one that according to some sources took place more than once – is the famous ascension (miʿrāj) of the Prophet. The narratives in various sources that discuss it make clear the significance of the event(s) especially for both the theology of prophecy in Islam as well as the legitimation of narratives about the status of his successors. The ascension had an important reception in European literature, not least in various accounts about the ascent into heaven or the descent into hell including Dante among others. It also played a role in polemics – both intra-Muslim ones, and also Christian-Muslim ones. In recent years there has been a rise in interest in the study of the miʿrāj and its theological and artistic implications. For example, Christiane Gruber andFrederick Colby edited a volume on cross-cultural influence in different Muslim literatures published in 2010 by Indiana University Press. Earlier, Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, who has written extensively on ascension narratives in classical Shiʿi texts, edited a volume entitled Le voyage initiatique en terre d’Islam published in Paris in 1996 that included studies of the medieval European reception of the miʿrāj narratives. More recently, Brooke Olson Vucukic published a book with Routlege in 2005 on the significance of miʿrāj narratives in the formative literature of Islam. So there is an overlap between some of these studies and the concerns of Buckley who seems to be aware of these studies as well as a number of recent works in Arabic. One cannot, of course, expect Buckley’s study to be exhaustive given the many works on the narratives published in Persian, Turkish, Urdu and other languages used by Muslims.

Buckley’s work is a contribution to understanding the intellectual history in Islamic literatures and other forms of reception of Islamic narratives through a focus upon one narrative, thereby revealing the vitality of those modes of inquiry and the different ways in which broadly the same narrative can be received, understood, interpreted, and even rejected. Throughout he remains interested in how modern Muslims and other understand and try to make sense of the narrative, demonstrating quite significantly why the miʿrāj is not just an episode of early sacred history. The first chapter introduces the topic starting with the mention of the night journey (isrāʾ) in Qurʾan 17:1, moving onto the simple form in the earliest biography of the Prophet of Ibn Isḥāq (d. 768) – although he clearly means the recension by Ibn Hishām which is from the following century – onto sūrat al-Najm (Qurʾan 53) which is often associated with the miʿrāj, and then moving onto a long narrative given in the exegesis on the Qurʾanic verse by the Imāmī exegete al-Qummī (d. c. 919). The function of the chapter is merely to introduce the narrative and does not discuss what it means since that is precisely the function of the chapters that follow. The second chapter deals with the source texts in Qurʾan and hadith and how they have been debated especially in the modern period within the context of hadith criticism, rejection, and the rationalist justification of the classical texts. Starting from the theological agreement between Sunnis and Shiʿa on the necessity of belief in the ascension, he discusses the attacks on the accretion of many hadith narratives especially the common theme found in criticism of hadith among Muslims about texts that they feel are fabricated which is to identify them as corruption that came from Biblical and extra-Biblical material called isrāʾīlīyat. However, what the chapter shows is that the interpretative strategies adopted by different groups is similar including the solution to the discrepancy in narratives by arguing that the miʿrāj happened numerous times over the lifetime of the Prophet. In fact, the accumulation of narratives seems to have happened rather early in the period of the redaction of hadith narratives as al-Ṭabarī (d. 923) testifies; it also raises the theme that is taken up later in the book that the discrepancy between narratives reveals different attempts at vindicating a particular sectarian reading. While this chapter and subsequent ones show the breadth of Buckley’s reading in the traditional and modern literature, one wonders sometimes if there are criteria for selecting works and authors that he discusses. Clearly he could not have mastered the whole literature and one finds many examples of him not be aware of what he is citing: for example, on page 25 he cites a hadith on the authority of ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm al-Ḥasanī cited by the Imāmī tradent al-Ṣadūq (d. 991) but seems to be unaware of who he was. The link is significant as ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm is both a descendent of the Prophet through his grandson al-Ḥasan as well as a prominent Imāmī narrator from the later Imams and was considered to be an authority; in fact, al-Ṣadūq was later buried in the mausoleum complex of ʿAbd al-ʿAẓīm whose shrine in the southern outskirts of Tehran remains a popular place of pilgrimage. Some contextualisation would also be useful to explain who the critics are – even if ostensibly they are making the same sort of rationalist critique, it may be deployed for different uses.

The next two chapters deal with one of the central debates about the ascension: was it a physical and material movement, or was it a spiritual event? The first of these links a physical ascension with the miraculous power of the Prophet and shows how even modern ‘scientific’ interpretations are used to justify such a reading – it does seem to be the case that most major theologians held that the miʿrāj was both in body and spirit. Once again one wonders about the selection of sources: on page 84, the views of a certain Aroj Ali Matubbar is mentioned denying a physical ascension – it is not clear to me what this adds to the argument or what justifies the inclusion of his opinion. Chapter four that follows considers the spiritual ascension. Proponents of a spiritual journey could also cite early texts in support. But it seems that the real impetus for the position seems to be a broadly philosophical and Neoplatonic context that privileges the spiritual over the physical. In this vein, Buckley cites the famous Persian miʿrājnāma attributed to Avicenna (d. 1037) – without discussing the scholarly debate that tends to reject the attribution. He discusses a number of South Asian and Egyptian modernists who rejected a physical reading of the ascension, and ends the chapter with an interesting discussing from the Imāmī thinker Shaykh Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī (d. 1826) on the nature of the ascension in the archetypal, non-material world of Hūrqalyā. Once again, what the discussion reveals is how thinkers set forth positions are part of a manner in which to distinguish their theological contribution: Shaykhīya in the case of al-Aḥsāʾī and his followers, and the Imāmī philosophical tradition in the case of Ṭabāṭabāʾī (d. 1981) and his. And once again we see a synthesis emerging: the ascension is both spiritual and bodily but with a body unlike any other body. Chapter five that follows and is very short seems rather redundant: it reiterates the point about some interpreters rejecting a rationalist interpretation and affirming the miraculous. It also indicates one of the weaknesses of the book: the absence of a meticulous edit that would tighten the argument and extricate unnecessary and irrelevant discussions.

Chapter six moves onto the miʿrāj narrative in the Shiʿi tradition and how it is used to vindicate Shiʿi theology and sacred history. In practice this requires Buckley to discuss Sunni usages as well for the same effect. For the Shiʿa, the ascension, like other significant episodes in the life of the Prophet, is interpreted to demonstrate the fulfilment of prophecy in the imamate of his family starting with ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and to vindicate Shiʿi rituals and practices. This chapter ends with a brief consideration of the dating and redaction of Shiʿi hadith, a topic on which Buckley has written elsewhere; the important point concerns the idea of a common Islamic heritage of narratives that make their way into different redactions, and to critique much of the practice of Orientalist scholarship that tends to study Sunni material alone and dismisses much Shiʿi material as later fabrication. A careful study of the texts suggests that they originate in the same period. Once again we have a case of Buckley not knowing whom he is quoting: he cites a modern English translation of a Persian text on the miʿrāj by the Safavid thinker Muḥsin Fayḍ Kāshānī (d. 1680) on page 169 and suggests that he is a contemporary cleric and has him citing the contemporary jurist Nāṣir Makārim Shīrāzī – this is a classic case of mistaking the notes of a translator for the work of the original author and signals one of the problems in some contemporary Muslim publishing in which the original author of a translation is not clearly and adequately introduced.

The final chapter on Western perspectives collects a series of what he calls vignettes on the reception of ascension narratives from medieval Christian polemics to recent forays in literature. This happens to be the longest chapter. Along the way he discusses the thesis of Asin Palacios of the influence of miʿrāj narratives upon Dante. There is much new and interesting material here. But one wonders how it is related to the other chapters. The absence of a conclusion means that when one has finished reading what is an interesting set of studies, one wonders what the overall argument is and how this study actually works as a book. There is much to enjoy in this book and details and references to follow up; a number of important themes are raised concerning Muslim theological positions on proof texts, on prophecy, on the miraculous, on the nature of the human and whether a dualism of body and spirit is affirmed or denied. But overall, Buckley’s The Night Journey and Ascension in Islam is difficult to assess because ultimately there is no argument. 


Interview with Gary Gutting for The Stone blog at the New York Times

Here is a link to an interview developed over email with the eminent philosopher Gary Gutting:

It really was a great opportunity which did turn more on religion. I have much more to say about the philosophical traditions but grateful for the chance. The comments below show the range of responses which I have to say surprised me. There is much more to do to make the intellectual and spiritual traditions of Islam better known not only among the wider public but also those who describe themselves as thinking, educated Muslims.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A note on al-Ḥasan al-Ḥillī [fl. 15th century] and his Mukhtaṣar [or Muntakhab] Baṣāʾir al-darajāt

ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Ḥasan b. Sulāymān al-Ḥillī was born in around 742/1341 in al-Ḥilla but probably moved later to Jabal ʿĀmil, which might explain his ijāza from Ibn Makkī al-Jizzīnī (al-Shahīd I) for transmission of ʿIlal al-sharāʾiʿ of al-Ṣadūq on 12 Shaʿbān 757/10 August 1356.[1] He apparently also studied with al-Miqdād al-Siyūrī [d. 826/1422].[2] He studied with a number of other figures and appears in the chain of narrators for al-Ṣaḥīfa al-Sajjādīya in the recension of Shaykh Bahāʾ al-Dīn al-ʿĀmilī through his grandfather Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Jubʿī [d. 886/1481].[3] His other teachers in ḥadīth were Sayyid Bahāʾ al-Dīn ʿAlī b. Ghiyāth al-Dīn Ḥusaynī Nīlī Najafī [d. after 803/1400], and Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Maṭārābādī.[4] He was still alive on 23 Muḥarram 802/25 September 1399, the date of the ijāza that he gave to Shaykh ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Ḥusayn al-Jūyānī for the transmission of al-Khiṣāl of al-Ṣadūq.[5] Another student of his, Zayn al-Dīn ʿAlī b. al-Ḥasan Astarābādī [d. 837/1433], described him as a major scholar of the second half of the eighth century hijri. Perhaps his most famous student seems to have been the major Ḥillī scholar Jamāl al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Ibn Fahd al-Ḥillī.

He does not seem to have written much – and the corpus is mainly ḥadīth compilation, the most famous of which is the so-called Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt usually including his Risālat al-Rajʿa wa-l-radd ʿalā ahl al-bidʿa.[6] It is called Mukhtaṣar because it claims to be based on the non-extant Baṣāʾir al-darajāt of Saʿd b. ʿAbdullāh al-Ashʿarī [d. 301/913].[7] In the Safavid period, it was better known as Muntakhab Baṣāʾir al-darajāt as attested by Majlisī and Afandī; the editor mentions 24 manuscripts many of which date from the later Safavid period especially the 1070s and 1080s.[8] The text clearly draws upon a number of earlier ḥadīth compilations from Baṣāʾir al-darajāt of al-Ṣaffār, Kitāb Sulaym, various Kitāb al-ghayba versions, al-Kāfī and ʿIlal al-sharāʾiʿ as well as a number of prayer manuals such as Kitāb al-ziyārāt of Ibn Qūlawayh and al-Miṣbāḥ of al-Ṭūsī.

The text is broadly divided into two overlapping parts. Part one includes various chapters on the doctrine of walāya and theology of the imamate – however, two important parts stand out as independent treatises incorporate: one is the aforementioned Risālat al-rajʿa wa-l-radd ʿalā ahl al-bidʿa that comprises material not in the work of Saʿd b. ʿAbdullāh but on the authority of Shahīd I based on both a long sermon of ʿAlī as well as excerpts in the famous ziyāra jāmiʿa narrated from Imam ʿAlī al-Hādī,[9] and the other is a series of narrations from Imam al-Ṣādiq rebuking the esotericism of Abū-l-Khaṭṭāb and instructing Mufaḍḍal b. ʿUmar.[10] In this part is also a long series of narrations on the need to guard the esoteric doctrine – kitmān al-ḥadīth.[11]

Contents
1)          Various reports on the knowledge/disciplines of the Imams – contains 54 reports mainly from Baṣāʾir of al-Ṣaffār and al-Kāfī; report 33 is a long letter from Imam al-Riḍā to Aḥmad b. ʿUmar al-Ḥallāl on how to know the next Imam
2)         On the cycles and their states (al-karrāt wa-ḥālātiha) – 46 narrations that include this report from al-Ṣādiq that there are three battles of God (ayyām Allāh): the battle when the Qāʾim (the Avenger) rises, when the return (al-karra) takes place, and day of judgement.[12]
3)         The independent Kitāb al-rajʿa that he says is based on narrations not from Saʿd b. ʿAbdullāh. The chain of narration begins with various Ḥillī figures from Shahīd I, and moves through al-Ṭusī to Ibn Bābawayh through to the sermon of ʿAlī.[13] It starts with him saying three times the famous phrase ‘ask me before you miss me’, after which Ṣaʿṣaʿa b. Ṣawḥān asks him about the rising of the Dajjāl, the dābba and the rising of the Mahdī. This is immediately followed by a long ḥadīth of Imām Ṣādiq from Abū Ḥamza al-Thumālī again citing a sermon of ʿAlī that includes not only the notion that the primordial pact was to help the Prophet and his waṣī, but also a list of identifications of who he is (anā ṣāḥib al-nār wa-l-janna) reminiscent of Mashāriq anwār that includes the phrase ‘I am a cycle after cycles, and have return after return’.[14] In all there are 49 narrations including from kitāb al-ghayba.
4)         Reverts to Saʿd’s text with a chapter on the people on the Aʿrāf that includes 13 narrations
5)         The next chapter is on the excellences of the Imams reported in the Qurʾān and includes 48 narrations.
6)        Two chapters deal with submitting to what the Imams teach and refuting those who reject those teachings. 36 narrations on the former and 24 on the latter.
7)         These chapters are divided by an exchange between Imam Ṣādiq and Mufaḍḍal made up of 5 long reports designed to demonstrate a rejection of the divinity of the Prophet and the Imams.
8)         A short chapter of 4 reports follows on the attributes of the Imams.
9)        The last chapter of this section is on the key notion of the kitmān al-sirr. 34 reports

The second part resumes the selection for Saʿd b. ʿAbdullāh on a variety on issues including the narrations that he transmitted on rajʿa.[15] Contained in this section is also an independent treatise on the origins of the creation of humans – on the pre-eternal world of the atom (ʿālam al-dharr).[16] Overall what seems to be clear is the overlap that much of this material has with the so-called Mufaḍḍalīyāt material associated with the ghulāt, or alternatively one could – with Amir-Moezzi – see these themes as central to the esoteric core of Shiʿi Islam in the classical period with its focus on the supernatural nature of the Imams, their pre-existence (and role in creation in ʿālam al-dharr), their cosmic authority (walāya takwīnīya), and their role in the eschaton (rajʿa).[17]


[1] Āqā Buzurg, al-Ḥaqāʾiq al-rāhina, p. 41; Āqā Buzurg, al-ḍiyāʾ al-lāmiʿ, IV, p. 34; Afandī, Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ, III, 374; al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Amal al-āmil, vol. II, p. 66; Introduction to al-Ḥasan al-Ḥillī, al-Majmūʿa al-ḥadīthīya al-maʿrūf bi-Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, Qum: Maktabat al-ʿAllāma al-Majlisī, 1388 Sh/2009, pp. 11–14; cf. Jaʿfar al-Muhājir, Jabal ʿĀmil bayn al-shahīdayn, Damascus: IFEAD, 2005, pp. 154, 158, 166; cf. al-Shammarī, al-Ḥayāt al-fikrīya, pp. 161–63, 314, 324–25.
[2] Al-Ṣadr, Takmilat Amal al-āmil, p. 336.
[3] Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, CIV, p. 213; cf. Āqā Buzurg, al-Ḍiyāʾ al-lāmiʿ, p. 34.
[4] According to Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn, Maṭārābād is in the vicinity of Basra – see Aʿyān al-shīʿa, V, p. 220, VI, p. 390. My thanks to Mushegh Asatryan for this information.
[5] Muḥammad al-Samāmī al-Ḥāʾirī, ‘Ijāzat al-Ḥasan al-Ḥillī li-l-Jūyānī’, Turāthunā, pp. 107–14.
[6] This particular risāla has been published separately before attributed to Sayyid Muḥammad Muʾmin b. Dūst Muḥammad Ḥusaynī Astarābādī [exe. 1088/1677], son-in-law of the famous Astarābādī and ḥadīth teacher of Majlisī. Cf. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, CX, pp. 127–28; al-Dharīʿa, I, p. 94, 456.
[7] Recently Hasan Ansari has argued that the text that we know as Baṣāʾir al-darajāt of al-Ṣaffār al-Qummī is not his work as he was a juridically inclined tradent not known for transmitting theological doctrine, but rather a later recension of Saʿd b. ʿAbdullāh’s lost work. This would perhaps explain why there is a large element of overlap in the concerns of the Baṣāʾir and this Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt with practically identical chapter headings. However, Amir-Moezzi is not so sure – see Le Coran silencieux et le Coran parlant, Paris: CNRS, 2011, p. 134.
[8] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 19–22.
[9] Al-Ḥillī, Muhktaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 155–204.
[10] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 279–99.
[11] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 327–50.
[12] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, p. 117.
[13] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, p. 155.
[14] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 161–62.
[15] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 511–86.
[16] Al-Ḥillī, Mukhtaṣar Baṣāʾir al-darajāt, pp. 457–510.
[17] Mushegh Asatryan, Heresy and Rationalism in Early Islam: The Origins and Evolution of the Mufaḍḍal-Tradition, unpublished PhD dissertation, Yale University, 2012; Mohammad Ali Amir-Moezzi, Le guide divin dans le shīʿisme original, Paris: Verdier, 1992; on pre-existence, see idem, La religion discrète, Paris: Vrin, 2006, pp. 109–33.

Some notes on Rajab al-Bursī [d. 1411]

Corbin famously identified Rajab Bursī as one of the proponents of an esoteric doctrine of walāya influenced by the integration of the school of Ibn ʿArabī into Shiʿi metaphysics.[1]  Raḍī al-Dīn Rajab b. Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ al-Bursī al-Ḥillī seems to have been born in Burs, a small town between Kufa and al-Ḥilla on the banks of the Euphrates around 743/1342,[2] and after training in al-Ḥilla – and opposition to his ideas that he indicates he faced there – he seems to have moved to Khurasan into the orbit of the quasi-messianic Shiʿi-Sufi Sarbadārid dynasty, where he died perhaps in Ṭūs around 843/1411.[3] On the title Ḥāfiẓ, opinions differ: it either refers to his mastery of ḥadīth or was part of an adopted pen-name as a poet.[4] While being a contemporary of the Ḥurūfī leader Faḍlallāh Astarābādī with whom he shared an interest in lettrism and of al-Ḥasan al-Ḥillī, as well as Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī with whom he shared a taste and influence of Ibn ʿArabī, there is no evidence that he was either aware of them or that he ever cited them.

The first person to have noticed him seems to be the tradent and prayer-manual compiler Taqī al-Dīn Ibrāhīm b. ʿAlī al-Kafʿamī [d. 905/1499-1500] in his al-Miṣbāḥ.[5] Of course that would be no accident since he was a figure who promoted the same conceptualisation of walāya in his compilation that included not only texts like the ziyāra jāmiʿa and similar salutations that stressed the supernatural status of the Imams and their return to this world, but also occult materials on astrology and even clear cased of rafḍ such as the Duʿāʾ ṣanamay Quraysh.[6] Like al-Ḥillī, al-Kaʿfamī was associated with Jabal ʿĀmil and al-Ḥilla.[7] Later in the Safavid period, Muḥsin Fayḍ Kāshānī [d. 1091/1680] cited him in his Kalimāt-i maknūna.[8] Majlisī in his Biḥār al-anwār seems to be the first to condemn his exaggeration, and his student Afandī is the first to provide a biographical notice on him.[9] Afandī describes him as a Sufi and a specialist in many fields, especially lettrism (asrār al-ḥurūf).[10] He mentions that al-Kafʿamī is the first to cite him, and that his works were well known and appreciated in the Safavid period. He does, however, mention that his teacher Majlisī (al-ustād) and al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī (al-Shaykh) accused him of exaggeration (al-ghulūw wa-l-irtifāʿ) which is clear from his writings but that Bursī never deified the Imams. Afandī gives the following list of his works:
1)           Mashāriq al-anwār
2)         Mashāriq al-amān fī lubāb ḥaqāʾiq al-īmān, claiming that he has a manuscript that states it was completed in 811/1408
3)         Risāla fī dhikr al-ṣalawāt ʿalā l-rasūl wa-l-aʾimma
4)         Ziyārat Amīr al-muʾminīn, about which Afandī says he had a manuscript
5)         Risāla lumʿa kāshifa on the meaning of the divine names and on lettrism
6)        Lawāmiʿ anwār al-tamjīd wa jawāmiʿ asrār al-tawḥīd
7)         Faḍāʾil Amīr al-muʾminīn
8)         Kitāb al-mawālīd
9)        Al-Durr al-thamīn on five hundred Qurʾanic verses about Amīr al-muʾminīn
Another student of Majlisī, Sayyid Niʿmatullāh al-Jazāʾirī [d. 1112/1700] was the first to list his works in his anthology al-Anwār al-nuʿmānīya. Another work of Bursī’s is a commentary on sūrat al-ikhlāṣ a rather straightforward theological work that refutes at the end the corporealism of the divine.[11]

Bursī wrote a number of works, the best known of which is Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn fī ḥaqāʾiq asrār Amīr al-muʾminīn. It was – as attested in one possibly autograph manuscript – completed 518 years after the birth of the Mahdī in 768/1367.[12] Afandī also mentions another manuscript that gives the date of 813/410. It seems to have been identified already in the Safavid period as a serious work with a Persian commentary entitled Maṭāliʿ al-asrār written by a Shiʿi scholar in Mashhad al-Ḥasan al-Qāriʾ Sabzavārī for Shah Sulaymān dated 1090/1680.[13] This was part of a significant Safavid process led by the court to translate, vernacularise and appropriate the Arabic Shiʿi corpus for the empire.[14] Just in Iran, according to the survey conducted by Dirāyatī, there are 117 codices of the text, many of which date from the Safavid period, and even two recensions in Persian (attested in four manuscripts further).[15] The work is prefaced – in the standard Beirut edition – with a short praise for God and the Imams that is probably identical to his work Lawāmiʿ anwār al-tamjīḍ wa-jawāmiʿ asrār al-tawḥīd.[16] In the introduction, he states that despite collating the very best narrations from the Imams (zubdat al-akhbār) concerning the arcanum and the esoteric doctrine of the Imams (al-amr al-khafī, al-sirr al-khafī), he faced much opposition from those who were jealous of him – jealous of his understanding, learning and perhaps poetic prowess? – who found the work and opposed him, ostracised him, condemned him.[17] His only fault was to narrate the very cream of narrations and the very manifesto of the righteous (zubd al-akhbār wa-zand al-akhyār). He described his opponents as those who know nothing of religion (laysa lahum ḥaẓẓ fī-l-dīn) and who reflected a corrupt and vulgar Shiʿism because they fail to understand true doctrine. They took the material to some jurists (described as ignorant apes – juhala qawmun min al-qirada) who understood neither the intellectual nor the scriptural disciplines and they further condemned him because, alluding to the famous saying of Amīr al-muʾminīn, ‘people are enemies of what they are ignorant’ and so they were incapable of separating out what was exaggerated doctrine (qawl al-ghulāt) from the arcana of the Imams (asrār al-hudāt).[18] He places himself in the category of those whose heart God has tested for faith by adhering to the difficult and arduous doctrine of walāya (ṣaʿb mustaṣʿab).[19]

The text then comprises a number of narrations on the pre-existence of the Imams, their cosmic role, the arcana of each of the twelve Imams, the importance of a esoteric hermeneutics to reveal the true import of the revelation, the need to preserve and protect the arcana from those unworthy, a number of key sermons of Amīr al-muʾminīn such as the Boast (iftikhār), the Gulf (taṭanjīya), and a number of Bursī’s own verses in praise of the Imams. Underlying all this is a clear lettrist approach to the occult knowledge of the arcana.

1.            Lettrism p. 18ff, ʿAlī as the secret of the ḥurūf muqaṭṭaʿāt of the Qurʾān p. 124, ʿAlī is the greatest divine name p. 155, p. 147 ʿAlī in the Qurʾān
2.           Privileges of the Shīʿa – entering heaven p. 67 without any judgement, seeing Amīr al-muʾminīn at death p. 142.
3.           The disavowal of exaggeration (ghulūw) p. 69
4.           The pre-existence of the Imams p. 122
5.           The cosmic authority of the Imams p. 124
6.          Those famous khuṭbas p. 162ff and containing the doctrine of rajʿa.[20] Lawson suggested that Bursī was not concerned with the eschatology of rajʿa – however, the text suggests otherwise. The khuṭbas themselves indicate this. But also the chapter on the arcana of the Mahdī clarify this as well: he is messianic remnant of God, the face of God, the redeemer, the seal of saints and the succour of the believers of the last days.[21] The absence of the term rajʿa does not denote the absence of the concept.
7.           The presence of special knowledge and rafḍ criticism of ʿUmar – p. 103 foretelling his death cf. Jaʿfarīyān I, p. 268.

Bursī’s doctrine of walāya wherein the agency of the Imam as having control over the cosmos is due to his role as deus revelatus, as part of a negative theology in which God is beyond being.[22] He cites a long ḥadīth from Imam al-Bāqir that includes the following:

We are the first and we are the last. We are the foremost (al-sābiqūn). We are the intercessors. We are the logos of God (kalimat Allāh) and we are the elect of God. We are the beloveds of God. We are the face of God (wajh Allāh). We are the trusted ones (umanāʾ) of God. We are the repositories of the revelation of God (khazanat waḥy Allāh). We are the gatekeepers of the mystery of God (sudanat ghayb Allāh). We are the mines of revelation. We possess the meaning of the taʾwīl [or we are the meaning of the taʾwīl]. Gabriel descends in our signs. The Command of God devolves to us. We are the culmination of the mystery of God (muntahā ghayb Allāh). We are the loci of the sanctity of God (maḥāl quds Allāh). We are the lamps of wisdom (maṣābīḥ al-ḥikma), and the keys to mercy and the springs of bounty and the nobility of the community, and the lords the Imams. We are the wulāt and the guides, those who call and quench, the protectors (ḥumāt). Our love is the path of salvation, the very essence of life – we are that path to water in this life and the hereafter, the strict way, the Straight Path (al-ṣirāṭ al-mustaqīm). Whoever believes in us believes in God. Whoever rejects us rejects God. Whoever doubts us doubts God. Whoever truly knows us knows God (man ʿarafanā ʿaraf Allāh). Whoever turns away from us turns away from God. Whoever follows us obeys God. We are the means to God, the link to the pleasure of God. Ours is the vicegerency, the guidance and the impeccability.[23]




[1] Henry Corbin, Histoire de la philosophie islamique, Paris: Gallimard, 1986, pp. 456–57; other studies on him include: Muṣṭafā Kāmil al-Shaybī, al-Ṣila bayn al-taṣawwuf wa-l-tashayyuʿ, Baghdad: Dār al-Andalus, 1966, II, pp. 224–56; Pierre Lory, ‘Souffrir pour le vérité selon l’ésotérisme chiite de Rajab Borsī’, in Mohammad Ali Amir Moezzi et al (eds), Le Shīʿisme imamate quarante ans après: Hommage à Etan Kohlberg, Turnhout: Brepols, 2009, pp. 315–23; Todd Lawson, ‘The dawning places of the lights of certainty in the divine secrets of the commander of the faithful by Rajab Bursī (d. 1411)’, in L. Lewisohn (ed), The Heritage of Sufism volume II: The Legacy of Medieval Persian Sufism (1150-1500), Oxford: Oneworld, 1999, pp. 261–76.
[2] On this town and his association, see Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī, Muʿjam al-buldān, I, 384; al-Ṭurayḥī, Majmaʿ al-baḥrayn, X, p. 309; al-Burūjirdī, Ṭarāʾif al-maqāl, II, p. 161.
[3] Mīrzā ʿAbdullāh Afandī, Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ wa-ḥiyāḍ al-fuḍalāʾ, ed. Sayyid Aḥmad al-Ḥusaynī, Qum: Maktabat Āyatullāh al-Marʿashī, 1981, II, pp. 304–10; al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Amal al-āmil, II, p. 304; Mudarris Tabrīzī, Rayḥānat al-adab, II, p. 11; Sayyid Muḥsin al-Amīn, Aʿyān al-shīʿa, Beirut, 1983, VI, p. 465. Afandī rules out the nisba relating to the Anatolian town of Bursa, although he does cite Mīrzā Rafīʿ al-Dīn Muḥammad [Nāʾinī?] who claims it was in his refutation of Mīr Dāmād’s Shirʿat tasmīyat al-Mahdī. Al-Shammarī, al-Ḥayāt al-fikrīya, pp. 163–76, 302, 315–16, 350–51.
[4] Al-Shammarī, al-Ḥayāt al-fikrīya, pp. 165–67. He spends much time denying al-Shaybī’s position that Bursī was from Khurāsān and hence a Persian.
[5] Ibrāhīm al-Kafʿamī, al-Miṣbāḥ, Beirut: [Qum 1984] pp. 176, 183, 316, 363–64; Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Aʿlamī, 1994, pp. 243, 315, 416, 425, 523.
[6] On al-Kafʿamī, see al-Muhājir, Jabal ʿĀmil, pp. 166, 21–212, 238.
[7] Al-Shammarī, al-Ḥayāt al-fikrīya, pp. 155–57.
[8] Muḥsin Fayḍ Kāshānī, Kalimāt-i maknūna, ed. ʿAlī-Riżā Aṣgharī, Tehran: Madrasa-yi ʿĀlī-yi Shahīd-i Muṭahharī, 1387 Sh/2008, p. 48 citing Mashāriq, p. 14, p. 155 citing Mashāriq, p. 39, p. 212 citing Mashāriq, p. 264.
[9] Muḥammad Bāqir Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, VIII, p. 202 ???? I, p. 10??? Majlisī cites him copiously including XXVII, p. 136, p. 226, XXV, p. 23, XXXII, p. 32, p. 385, XLVII, p. 382 inter alia.  
[10] The significance of his influence on this point in the Safavid period is indicated by Jaʿfarīyān, Siyāsat va farhang, pp. 204, 208–9.
[11] Muḥammad ʿAlī Dirāyatī, ‘Tafsīr sūrat al-ikhlāṣ-i Rajab Bursī’, Āfāq-i nūr II, pp. 29–34.
[12] Afandī, Riyāḍ al-ʿulamāʾ, II, p. 306; al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī, Amal al-āmil, II, p. 118; Lawson, ‘The dawning places’, p. 264
[13] Corbin, En islam iranien, IV, p. 212. Afandī says that the work was in two volumes but not great as Sabzavārī was a Sufi and not a major scholar. There are around 8 manuscripts of the text just in Iran according to Dirāyatī, Dinā, IX, p. 714.
[14] Jaʿfarīyān, Siyāsat va farhang, II, pp. 1347–88.
[15] Dirāyatī, Dinā, IX, pp. 569–73.
[16] Rajab Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn fī ḥaqāʾiq asrār Amīr al-muʾminīn, Beirut: Muʾassasat al-Aʿlamī, 1992, pp. 5–13.
[17] Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn, p. 14. Cf. Lawson, ‘The dawning places’, pp. 265–66.
[18] Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn, p. 15.
[19] Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn, p. 16.
[20] Khuṭbat al-iftikhār and taṭunjīya – Corbin, En Islam iranien, III, pp. 184-5; Lawson pp. 269-70; Lory p. 320; cf. Amir-Moezzi, ‘Remarques sur la divinité de l’Imam’, Studia Iranica, 25 (1996), pp. 193–216.
[21] Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn, pp. 102–3.
[22] Corbin, En islam iranien, IV, p. 140.
[23] Bursī, Mashāriq anwār al-yaqīn, pp. 39–40; Corbin, En islam iranien, IV, p. 144.