Gulshani Raz - Interpretation


01. Introduction

It is a well-known fact that many persecuted sects in Persia not rarely tried to veil their tenets by adopting the terminology of Sufism. The vagueness of the doctrine of the latter, and the difficulty of its proper formulation usually gave great opportunity to write for those initiated into the real meaning of the doctrine, while preserving the outer semblance of the highly mystic Sufic piety. There were probably also cases of a genuine " coalescence" of the Sufic idea with ideas of the sect which used them for disguise. Especially complete, probably, it always, was in the case of Ismailism, which is based exactly on the same Plotinian philosophy as the Sufic theories. Thought the Persian Ismaili literature is very little known, we may see from those works which are available often it is very difficult to decide whether one has to deal with, so- to-say, "Ismailised Sufism " or with Suficised Ismailism ." The great extent of the practice of the taqiyyah, or lawful precautionary concealement of one's religion, often was carried to such a degree that in the case of some poets it is impossible to decide whether the ideas dealt with by them were really Sufic or Ismailitic. Some of those poets and philosophers whose belonging to Sufism seems indisputable to every student of Persian or Arabic literature, are regarded by Ismailis as their own co-religionists who wrote with great degree of concealment. For instance Sana'i, Attar, and Rumi, who are the principal Sufic poets of Persia, are claimed to be Ismailis. We need not take up the most difficult, and probably quite hopeless task of ascertaining who is right, and may be content with the observation that in their higher and more philosophic forms the Sufic and the Ismaili ideas are exactly the same.(1) Both these systems had to adapt the Neo-Platonic theory to the dogma of Islam by finding compromise, and there is nothing extraordinary if both were compelled to introduce the same formulas.

1 Already Ibn Khaldun, the famous Islamic historian (d. 808/11406), paid attention to this coincidence in the ideas,see Prolegomenes, vol. II, P. 190, and vol. III, pp. 103-106.

02. Sufic System Interpretation

Under circumstances like these it is not surprising to find that a similar claim is raised against the famous exposition of the Sufic system, the well-known versified treatise Gulshani raz. It was composed in the month of Shawwal 710 A.H. (beg. 1311 A.D.)(1) by Sa'du'd-din Mahmud Shabistari (or Chabustari), a Sufic philosopher of Adharbayjan, who died circa 720/1320.(2) The work is probably one of the most popular books on Sufism; its manuscript copies are very common; it was often lithographed and printed in the East. A great number of commentaries on it were composed, and a great number of imitations written by different poets of Persia. Its full english translation with the original text was published in 1980, by E. Whinfield, in Trubner's Oriental Series (unfortunately, I could not find any copy of it in the Bombay libraries to give reference to it in the present paper). On the whole, the work is very incomplete and superficial, the author was badly upset by the requirements of the metre and rhyme ; but the most valuable feature of the work which made it so popular and so well-known in the Muhammadan world is its conciseness, which is particularly welcome in view of the usual profusion of the Sufic writers.

Amongst some Persian Ismaili manuscripts, which I could examine, I found a short work (3) with
the title of Ba'di az ta'wilati Gulshani raz(4), which gives some Ismaili explanations of selected passages of the treaties, thus implying its being recognised as an Ismaili work. This, however, is not explicitly stated in the text itself. The work is not a real commentary, and it is not concerned with the whole of its text. It is better to regard it as an original and independent work based on the Gulshani raz.

1. In some Manuscripts the date of composition is 717/1317, cf. H. Ethe, Gr. d. Iran. Phil., vol. II, p. 299.
2 For an account of the author's biography, his works, and details of the Gulshani raz, see E. G. Browne's Literary History of Persia, vol. III, pp. 146
3. The copy is dated 1312/1895, 28 pages of 14 lines each, 4,5 inches by 2,5 in fairly good Persian nasta'liq. It is not free from bad orthographical errors.
4. Here the term ta'wil is used in a peculiar sense which it probably acquired in Persian-speaking countries in fairly modern times. According to the earlier ideas of Ismailism, ta'wil can be given only by the Imami, and can refer only to the Coran and fundamental ideas of the religion, not to any ordinary book.

03. Authentic Work

The name of the author and the date of composition are not mentioned in the work, and there is not the slightest key to this. We may place thus the date of the composition of the work anywhere between 710/1311 and 1312/1895, which latter is the date of the present copy.. The language is good Persian, without any trace of the Badakhshani or Central Asian peculiarities. The author seems to be a highly intellectual man, of good learning. All this seems to indicate that the work was not produced somewhere in the Oxus region. And yet there is a great puzzle in it, if we analyze the Ismaili terminology which we find in the author's references to the doctrinal matters. In his speculations the author continually refers to the terms like Natiq, Asas and hujjats (in Plural ). This terminology does not belong to the Eastern, or Nizari branch of Ismailism as it developed in Persia, ,and as it is found in different authentic works of the community in question.(1)

These terms are used only in those Persian Ismaili works which continue the tradition of Nasiri Khusraw, and which are produced in the Oxus area, where the earlier form of Ismailism, as it was under the Fatimides, was mixed together ,with the more advanced forms of the Alamuti period. It continues there up till now only because of the absence of education amongst the followers of the religion which does not permit them to see the inconsistency of this mixture of the un-reformed , and of the reformed systems.

1. In the Eastern Ismaili works instead of the term Natiq is used Payghambar, Rasul, etc. The term Asas, which is originally applied to Ali ibn Abu Talib, to distinguish him from his descendants, the Imams (it is in reality the Asasu'l -imamat, i.e. " the foundation of Imamat") is entirely forgotten, because the doctrine recognises the equality of all Imams, amongst whom there are no greater and ones,and no lesser ones. The term hujjat in the earlier Ismailism correspond to something like a " bishop" of the Ismaili church ; there were officially 24 or 12 of them. In the Eastern Ismailism the Hujjat is mostly one, and is endowed with as supernatural qualities as the Imam himself, to whom he is a subordinate.

04. Traces of the Work

As we have seen, there are no traces of the Central Asian origin of the work ; does it belong to the pen of a follower of the Western Ismaili school in Persia ? We know almost nothing about the fate of Ismailism in Persia after the fall of Alamut in 654/1256, and it is impossible to ascertain whether the followers of the Musta'lian branch were found there in the eighth c. A.H., or later, when the Gulshani raz was in existence. The Western Ismaili authors, being Arabs themselves, were not in the least concerned with the matters of Ismailism in "Khorasan " (as they vaguely called Persia), even under the fatimides, when the Da'wat was still united and when most vigorous propaganda was carried in the East. (1) After the fall of the Fatimides, when the centre of the ismaili western da'wat was transferred to the Yemen and the connections with Persia completely severed, the Western Ismaili works of historical interest were completely absorbed in the petty quarrels and intrigues of local Arabs, and the stagnant life of this remote corner of the Islamic world. In the seventh volume of his great Ismaili history, the Uyunu'l-akhbar, Sayyid-na 'Imadu'd-din Idris (d. the 19th Dhi Qa'da 872 /the 10th, June 1468) mentions with a feeling of surprise and great disapproval a Nizari whom he met in Syria in 839/1435. The man was from Samarqand.
In full accordance with the spirit of the Eastern Ismaili tradition the author chiefly deals with the question of the moral perfection and the salvation in the spiritual sense, from the tortures of doubt and internal struggle. He entirely omits the philosophical and gnoceological portions of the Gulshani raz, and the chapters dealing with Sufic poetical terminology. We cannot be quite sure that the work is complete in the present Manuscript ; but there are no clear indications as to its incompleteness. The author picks up isolated verses from the poem, and recombines them, often even in very short quotations. In addition to this,he sometimes quotes verses by different authors, mostly from Rumi's Mathnawi, never, however, mentioning their religion. On the whole, the work is written smoothly and indicates a considerable literary skill and theological learning of the author.
1. It is remarkable that such an important phenomenon as Nasiri Khusraw, who left much traces even in general Persian literature,remained quite unknown to the Western Ismaili literature, in spite of his being an orthodox follower of the Fatimide doctrine.

05. Explanation of Content Subjects

We may give here briefly the contents of the work, with page or two in a full translation as a specimen of its style. The original verses from the Gulshani raz are here initialed with GR.

The work begins with a short doxology, and then it immediately comes to the subject.(1) It firstly mentions the " primaeval convenant " (ahdi awali) between God and Man, by which the latter had to seek for spiritual wisdom and for knowledge of the Deity. Such knowledge with the accordance with the ismaili doctrine, is possible to find only in the Perfect Man(insani kamil)(p.3). "Whoever has not seen the Perfect Man of his period of history will for ever remain an alien; it is said (in the hadith) : Whoever has seen me has seen me, has seen the truth." (2) The existence of such Perfect Man is,absolutely necessary to the existence of the world, and the faithful person has to take the oath of allegiance to him.

"Verily, those who swear allegiance to thee do but swear allegiance to God " (Coran, XLVIII, 10). This means that those who take oath to the hujjats, swear, in fact, their allegiance to the Imam.(p. 4). This point about the oath of allegiance still carefully observed amongst the Western Ismailis. This is the Ismaili understanding of the first half of the 4th question of the GR. The second half is about the spiritual " traveller," salik. (p. 4). Who is the salik ? One who turns towards the da'i ; kamil, or a complete disciple, is one who turns towards the hujjat, and the gnostic, arif, is one who turns towards the Imam. The author then tells about the usual Ismaili idea about the periods of element prophets (dawr), explains the theory of the " letters " (huruf of which the Universe is composed. then he comes to the question of the Nabi and the Wali(p.7), or the Prophet and the Saint, explaining that one is connected with the other: - GR. Prophetship is hidden in the Wali, And the Wali is manifest in the Nabi.
1. We may give here the initial lines of the work

06. Mysteries of Creation

He, the Wali, knows all mysteries of the creation. The salik, or talib, has to obey his orders. By complying with his orders, and acquiring the wisdom, the salik completes the ascension (what the Sufis call uruj).(1) "This is not the doctrine of the transmigration of souls; this is only the manifestation of the (Divine) emanation," as the author of the GR states.

What is (the spiritual) origin of man (hidayat) ? (2) (p. 8.). It is from the Truth; and the ultimate purpose, nihayat,(3) is the return (ruju). The author explains that Prophetic mission is temporary and finite, fani, while the wilayat is continuous, buqi (p. 9). The purpose is to convey the light of knowledge. Da'i receives it from the hujjat, the latter- from the Imam, and the initiate-from the da'i. Whichever the da'i reveals to him the mysteries, kept hidden from the hostile people, the morning of the real knowledge (ma'ani) dawns upon him, filling him with its light, in all its gradually increasing degrees (p. 9). The author, gives the outlines of the spiritual progress from the darkness (zulmat) to the Light (nur). Further on (pp. 11, 12) he gives Ismaili interpretation of different Sufic symbols. The existence of spirit, ruh, i.e. conscious and active soul, is due to its capacity of knowing the Imam (p.13).

The author proceeds (p. 13) with the discussion of predestination, as mentioned in the GR, question 9 :

Thou didst not exist when thy actions were created.
Thou hast been chosen for some special purposes
This is explained by reference to the whole system of the creation. One was destined to become Muhammad, and the other - Abu Jahl. Pp. 13-15 contain explanation of the struggle of the soul with the forces of chaos and confusion, the Gog and Magog threatening to overcome the order and peace, in the form of brutal passions. It is only the reason and light of religion which helps to subdue them. The meaning of the words about God's having created man after His own semblance, is exactly the presence of that Divine Light in the human nature.

1. The corresponding old Ismaili term is ma'ad
2. Original Ismaili term is mabda or iblida.
3. Ismaili term is intiha.

07. What is the Sea the Shores of Which are Knowledge

The author then takes up the interpretation of the Xth question : What is the sea the shores of which are knowledge, and what is the precious matter it contains ? (1) (p. 15). The sea is the nature of man, turbulent and dangerous, and the salvation-bringing shore is the religion of the Imam, bringing the Divine help, inayat, and the aim, nihayat, to its existence. Light and darkness are the spirit and the matter (p. 16). In some individuals one of these elements is prevailing, in the other the opposite, but both are inseparable (p. 17).
We may give here a complete translation of an extract which maybe regarded as typical, and contains more of the author's own ideas than those of the GR (2) (p. 17).
GR. Read the hadith " I was a hidden treasure,"
If thou wantst to know the mystery.
1. This particular chapter is quoted in E. Browne's Lit. Hist. of
Persia, loc. cit., from Whinfield's translation.
2. Pp. 17-19:

08. Rocks of Sinai

This means that the man has two Rocks of Sinai to ascend. One is the Rock of Reason and the other is that of Love. Thus it is said in the Coran(XCV, 1-3):
"By the fig tree ! and by the olive tree ! and by this safe land !" i.e., love was laid in the substance of the earth, and from that hill a tree grew up; because as it is said , the olive tree is growing on top of the Rock of Sinai. In this way Love grows over the Reason. The safety of the city depends on man, just like the safety of things existent depend on Love (p. 18).

If there would be no Love and no pity of Love,
Who should hear all these nice words which thou hast said ?
If there would be no breeze, -who should blow up the beloved's locks ?
Who should thus reveal to the lover the countenance of the beloved ?

This is why it is said that nothing can be done without the guidance of the hujjat, because, as some say, the Imam is the Tree and the hujjat is the Rock.

GR. Just like fire is hidden in stone and iron,
Thus has God Hidden (reason) in the soul and body.
i.e. just like from stone and iron the light may come out, by which the world and the man is lit, in the same way knowledge is conveyed by the Imam and the hujjat, which enlightens the world and the man.

09. Translations

GR. Whenever iron and stone strike each other,
Both worlds become lit by their light.
i.e. the nature of the initiate, mustajib, by receiving the education from a complete teacher (piri kamil), becomes so filled with light and clearness that every thing in both worlds becomes clear and visible to him. The shaykhu't-tasriah (i.e., the author of the GR.) says therefore : -

GR. The mystery appears in the combination of both these,
So, act thyself as thou hast heard it.
i.e., from the soul and body, which is the entire Coran, the mystery of Love is apparent, enlightening the world and the man, in other words, the Asas,the natiq, the Hujjat, and the Imam, as is said in support of this in the coran(XVII, 87): "They ask thee about the spirit. Say: the spirit is from the order of my Lord." (p. 19). Soul is called amr, and inside the soul there is a mysterious substance which is called the soul of the soul.
Do not talk much about the difference between the soul and the body, because I saw it through the body. (With the help of it) I travelled to the abode of souls, and saw there the soul of souls.
i.e., the Love is the soul, and the Beloved is the soul of the soul.

GR. Thus thou art a copy of the Divine design, Seek in thyself everything that thou wantst.
This mystery, however, is beyond the comprehension of anyone.
The sense of the expression "I am the Truth " ana'l haqq, comes
out from this.

GR. I am the Truth " is the revelation of the absolute mystery,-
Who except God is one who should say: " I am the Truth ? etc. "

10. This and the Future Life, the Mystical Bird Simurgh, the Paradise and the Hell, Satan,...etc.

The next subjects of discussion are: this and the future life, the mystical bird Simurgh, the Paradise and the Hell, Satan, etc. Adam is explained as reason, Eve as the heart, and Satan as the nafs, or, as it is meant here, obviously, the lower instincts. The struggle of reason with these instincts is the jihad (p. 20). All the religious life is thus transferred into the world of moral values. The awakening from the illusions means realization that everything is but dream or deception (p. 21). When the mustajib, or Ismaili initiate, meets with one who really possesses the knowledge, only then his eyes become opened, and he begins to understand. The only way is to cultivate one's intellectual powers (nafsi natiqa), and then the Light shall shine upon the faithful soul, as the rays of the sun shine even upon a " rough surface of a stone " (p. 22).

GR. Before one whose soul is full of light,
The whole world is like the Book of God.
Its first ayat is the 'aqli kull', etc. (p.23). Similar analogies and symbols traced through
the whole system of the Universe.

The statement of the belief that man is created after the image (sural) of God. leads to the question: " Who am I ? " thus returning to the 3rd question of the 'GR. The argumentation begins with the discussion of the division between " I " and " thou ", which in reality is illusory. There is quite a lot of the usual speculations about the letters, dots, etc. (pp. 25-26). Ultimately it is urged to believe into the unity of all things in existence (p. 27). Again it is asked: Who is the wanderer (musafir, not salik) ? and who is a real man (mardi tamam) ? The reply is: He who attaches himself to the real hujjat, avoiding the futile hujjat, acting in accordance with the Coranic verse (XVIII, 107): " verily, those who believe and act aright, for them are gardens of Paradise to alight in," etc. The real " pilgrim's progress " in this sense consists of continual self-training and trying to attain the high ideals revealed in the religion.

We may add that the present text is a good example of those Ismailitic works on ethics which very closely approach the spirit of Sufism.

BOMBAY, March 1932.