al-Qushayri and his Treatise. The Moment (waqt)

The following is an excerpt from the book "Early Islamic Mysticism", by Michael A. Sells, when the author introduces us to al-Qushayri in a chapter entitled "Interpreting Mystical Expressions from the Treatise".

Who was Qushayri and what is the importance of his metaphysical study "the Treatise"? Here is the introduction written by Sells and a short excerpt belonging to chapter III of "the Treatise":

Interpreting Mystical Expressions from the Treatise

In refinement of style, ability to combine a searching discussion of the most difficult concepts with a lucid and readable exposition and combination of precise analysis with theatrical anecdote, few works rival the famous Treatise of Qushayri.

'Abd al-Karim ibn Hawazin al-Qushayri (d. 465H/1074CE) was born near Nishapur in the Khurasan area of what is present day Iran. He received the full Islamic education of the time, memorizing the Qur'an, studying Islamic law (fiqh) and Ash'arite theology, and becoming a disciple to the Sufi master Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq (d. 378/988) and Sulami (d.412/1021). Qushayri's Treatise became so popular that it is known simplyas the Qushayriyyan Treatise or the Treatise. It is perhaps the most popular classic work on Sufism, admired for its subtlety, acuity, and clarity.

Presented here is section three of the Treatise, the section on key Sufi terms and concepts. The intricate discursive texture of the section is immediately apparent. The analysis of each major concept is woven around the sayings of earlier Sufis. Qushayri is particularly fond of unattributed proverbs, introduced by phrases such as "they say", "some say", or "someone said."


Realized masters emply the term "moment" (waqt) to refer to the relation between the anticipation of an event and the event's actual occurrence.
Conversely, the actual occurrence can be considered the moment of the anticipated occurrence. You say, for example: "I'll meet you at the beginning of the month." The meeting is an anticipation. The beginning of the month is actual occurrence. Thus, the beginning of the month is the moment of the meetings.

I heard the teacher Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqq, God's mercy upon him, say: "The moment is what you are in. If you are in the world, your moment is the world. If you are in the afterworld, your moment is the afterworld. If you are in happiness, your moment is happiness. If you are in sorrow, your moment is sorrow." By that he means that the moment is that which dominates a person.
Some people mean by the moment the time in which a person happens to be. Some of the folk say that the moment is between two times, between the past and the present.
They call the Sufi "a son of his moment" (ibn waqtihi), meaning that he is completely occupied with the religious obligation of his present state, carrying out what is demanded of him at the time. It is said that one who embraces poverty has concern neither for the moment past nor for the moment to come. He is concerned only with the present moment in which he finds himself. They also say: "to be preocuppied with a past moment is to lose a second moment."
By moment they can also mean that which happens to them through the dispositions of the real that come upon them without any choice on their part. They say: "So and so is in the power os his moment," that is, he surrenders to whatever comes over him, without his own will, from the unknown. This meaning applies only for those things that are not under God's prophetically given command or injunction. To neglect or to consign to providence what has been commanded or to neglect the complete carrying out of the command is to be outside the faith.
They say: "The moment is a sword", that is, just as the sword is cutting,so the moment prevails in what the real brings to pass and completes. It is said: "The sword is gentle to the touch, but its edge cuts. Whoever handles it gently is unharmed. Whoever treats it roughly is cut." Similarly for the moment, whoever submits to iis decreee is saved, and whoever opposes it is thrown over and destroyed. In this regard they composed the following verse:

Like a sword - if you handle it gently
its touch is gentle,
but its edges, if you treat it roughly
are rough.

When the moment favors someone, the moment for him is just a moment. When the moment opposes someone, the moment for him is loathing.
I heard my teacher Abu 'Ali ad-Daqqaq say: "The moment is a file. It files you down without effacing you." He means that were it to efface you and make you pass away, you would be -in your passing away- liberated.
However, the moment takes from you without entirely annihilating you.
He recited in this regard:

Every day that passes
takes part of me,
leaves my heart a portion of loss,
and passes away.

He also recited:

Just as the people of fire
when their skin is well roasted
have prepared for their wretchedness
new skin.

And with similar meaning:

No one truly dies
who finds rest in dying.
To truly die
is to live your death.

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