Sunday, August 24, 2014

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 813/1411.[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.

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