Sadr al-dīn Qunawī: a Talk by Jane Clark

Sadr al-dīn Qunawī: His importance to us, and his relationship to Rūmī
by Jane Clark

It is a great pleasure to be asked to talk about Sadr al-dīn Qunawī, especially here at Chisholme. It is especially appropriate as this is – probably – the 800th year of his birth in 1208, probably in Malatya. Probably because we don’t really know the exact details of his birth. But whatever the real situation, his life and work will be celebrated this May by the first ever conference devoted specifically to him, to be held in Konya where many of you will have visited his modest tomb in the outskirts of the city.

Sadr al-dīn Qunawī lived in an interesting place at an interesting time, and he was surrounded all his life by spiritual giants, with whom he had various types of relationship. Firstly of course, he was a child and a student. His father, Majd al-dīn was a man of standing in both spiritual and worldly matters, an aristocrat who had important roles at the court of the Seljuk Empire in Konya, and in the service of the Caliph of Islam – one of the last to be in residence in Baghdad – as well as being a man of learning and a spiritual teacher. He befriended Ibn ‘Arabī whilst he was staying in Mecca, and invited him to a position in Anatolia, where he came under the patronage of the Sultan and so was able to settle and bring up a family. Majd al-dīn and Ibn ‘Arabī became best friends, and when Majd al-dīn died, Ibn ‘Arabī took on the guardianship of the young Sadr al-dīn, when he was probably about eight years old, and raised him alongside his own son Sa’īd al-dīn. Ibn ‘Arabī also became his teacher, and he showed such aptitude for learning and spiritual intuitions that he eventually made him his spiritual heir, in preference to his sons, and later on we will look in detail at what this entailed. It seems that Sadr al-dīn went to Damascus with the Shaykh when he left Anatolia, in about 1222, at which point he would have been about 14, and so received his general education – in Qur’an, hadith, etc. – in one of the great intellectual centres of the Islamic world. In his teens he also came under the tutelage of Awhad al-Kirmānī, another important spiritual figure, also an aristocrat – a prince, in fact – and a man of great influence. He was an eminent teacher and poet, an exponent of the path of chivalry (futuwwa), and a close friend of both Ibn ‘Arabī and Jalāl al-dīn Rūmī.

Then, as a mature man, when he became a Shaykh in his own right, Sadr al-dīn attracted an extraordinary group of people to study under him, many of whom became, over the centuries, as famous – or perhaps more famous – than he was; the Persian poet Fakr al-dīn ‘Irāqī, the philosopher and encyclopaedist, Qutb al-dīn al Shirāzī, the metaphysician al-Farghānī, and his close friend and major pupil, Mu’ayyad al-dīn al-Jandī who wrote the first full commentary on the Fusūs al-Hikam, and in turn educated a line of great Ottoman thinkers and commentators such as al-Kashanī and Daud al-Qayserī.

As far as contemporaries were concerned, this was an age when the Islamic world was bristling with great thinkers and mystics, and Sadr al-dīn, who did not live his whole life in Konya, but spent substantial amounts of time in Damascus, Egypt and Persia, is known to have come into contact with many of them, either by personal contact or by relationships with their immediate followers; many of his own students, for instance, were disciples of al-Suhradwardī (both al-maqtūl and the founder of the Suhrawardiyya order) or Najm al-Kubra, or Ibn Sa’bīn and Ibn al-Fārid in Egypt. During the last ten years of his life, when he was teaching and writing with the greatest intensity, Sadr al-dīn lived in Konya where Jalāludīn Rūmī, also, was at the height of his powers; the two men were almost exact contemporaries, being born and dying within a year of each other, and they dominated the intellectual scene of the city between about 1250 and their deaths in 1273/1274. In the last part of this talk, we will take a look at this relationship in particular.

Sadr al-dīn was a man of stature and influence in both the worldly and spiritual realms. He inherited his father’s position at the Seljuk court, and when he finally returned to Konya around 1250, when he was about 42/3, he was granted a large house by the Protector of the city where he kept a substantial household and taught his students. He was extremely learned in all branches of knowledge; he had studied hadith in Damascus with the very eminent scholar al-Hadhabānī and became as well known as a master of Islamic law as for his knowledge of the mystical sciences; in Konya, he was given the position of Shaykh al-Islam, meaning, the leading teacher of his time. He also studied philosophy and medicine and was well known for his pleasure and ability in debate. This interest in the sciences, and in fact in every kind of knowledge, is something he had in common with this master, Ibn ‘Arabī, who shows evidence in his work of a great awareness of the leading edge of science, such as in optics.

But despite his obvious individual stature, Sadr al-dīn’s main function was to be a transmitter of a certain kind of knowledge at a time when Islam was undergoing a major ‘sea-change’. Sadr al-dīn was the great establisher of the Akbarian tradition. He preserved it – literally preserving Ibn ‘Arabī’s written works in Konya, as we shall see – and in his own works and teachings he re-expressed the Shaykh’s ideas in a form which was suitable for the times in which he lived, and which, as we have already said, attracted some of the finest minds of the times to their study. His writings and teachings laid the foundations for the great dissemination of this knowledge which took place in the following centuries.
When I say that Islam was undergoing a sea-change at this time, I mean that during the 13th century the old Islamic order died in a very real sense. It was a century in which the Franks retook most of Andalusia, which was of course Ibn ‘Arabī’s homeland, whilst in the Levant, the Franks were firmly established once again in Jerusalem, Acre, etc. Most importantly, in the East the Mongols were sweeping through Khurasan and Persia – including Konya – pillaging and burning. They initiated a terror for which we have no equivalent in the present day; there was a massive movement of population going on, and the cities of the middle areas were full of refugees. This was one of the main reasons for the intellectual vitality of the time, as people and cultures intermingled; the presence of Ibn ‘Arabī and Rūmī in Anatolia, swept into the city from the far West and the far East by the political and social upheaval, exemplified a situation which was going on everywhere.

In 1258, the Mongols reached Baghdad, the very heart of the Islamic Empire – where they destroyed the caliphate and burnt the books in the great library. Sadr al-dīn himself, in Konya, had a dream on the night of this event in which he saw the Prophet lying prostrate on the ground, whilst all around pronounced him dead. He came close to him, and saw that there was still in him just the faintest trace of breath, which Sadr al-dīn announced to all those around him.

He was right, and Islam did revive, but the old order had gone; the Baghdad caliphate was never revived. The new shoots that the Dar al-Islam threw up, initiating four hundred years of continuous expansion and virtual global domination, came from the ‘new territories’ such as Anatolia, with the rise of the Ottomans in Turkey and the Balkans, the Safavid Empire in Persia and eventually the Mughal Empire in Northern India. These were Persian-speaking cultures, not Arabic-speaking, and they brought many innovations as they rose to power, including their adoption of Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas, as formulated by Sadr al-dīn, as the basis of their spirituality or, in fact, their whole intellectual perspective. By the 16th and 17th centuries, the Islamic Empire stretched from Vienna to China, and culturally and spiritually formed a remarkably homogeneous region. Professor Francis Robinson in a recent study of the texts studied in the madrassas – the Islamic universities – in this period[1], notes that the similarities in these three great empires far outweigh the differences, and that both in the official knowledge on the madras curriculum, and in the Sufi orders which taught outside their walls, they drew significantly from the Anatolian/Persian thinkers of the 13th and 14th centuries. This was not only mystical ideas, but in philosophy, law and natural sciences, and also the poetry, hence the work of Rūmī, ‘Attar and ‘Irāqī were equally disseminated throughout this huge region. This is because this cultural milieu within which Konya was seated – it was not only Konya itself, of course – was the ‘seed’ from which the regeneration after the Mongol invasions sprouted.

The importance of Sadr al-dīn’s work is that he placed Ibn ‘Arabī’s vision and exposition into the very heart of this seed, in such a way and in such a form that it became the dominant ethos for the Ottomans, the Persians and the Mughals from the 14th to the 18th or even 19th century. This was not only in an intellectually abstract way; Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas were the explicit foundation upon which the Ottomans successfully managed a vast empire consisting of many different cultures, races and religions; and in the Mughal emperors’ attempt to form an India in which Hindu and Muslim were equal. One of the interesting things about Robinson’s study is that it also documents the moment when things changed; ie when this very expansive, tolerant ethos was seriously challenged and eventually defeated by other forces within society, as it was in all three realms, although at different times. But this is for another time.

I mention this only to give some taste of Sadr al-dīn’s achievement and to flesh out this statement that he was above all a transmitter and a successor. Al-Jandī refers to him as “The Perfect Man of his age, the Pole of the poles of his time, and the khalifa of the Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood” [2] We are used to thinking of khalifa as ‘vice-regent’ but it is also ‘successor’, the designated heir, and al-Jandī’s use of the phrase khalifa of the Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood so soon after his death, shows that both Sadr al-dīn and his immediate circle were quite aware of the elevated nature of the knowledge they were dealing with. The eventual great influence of the Shaykh’s work came not so much through original works by either Sadr al-dīn or Ibn ‘Arabī, but through the works of successors, such as al-Farghānī, al-Fanarī, Daud al-Qaysarī and the great 15th century poet and metaphysician al-Jāmī, who settled at the Timurid court in Herat in present day Afghanistan. But all these people based their work on the formats which Sadr al-dīn established. The ‘White Fusūs’ which we study here, for instance, written in 17th century Ottoman lands, is based upon the format begun by al-Jandī under Sadr al-dīn’s supervision, based upon his notes taken during Sadr al-dīn’s teaching sessions in Konya. The whole manner and tone of the commentary is imbued with Sadr al-dīn’s terminology and his approach, which systematised Ibn ‘Arabī’s ideas in a way that the Shaykh himself did not do.
Sadr al-dīn as Successor

But to say that he systematised, does not mean that he bookishly studied and collated his master’s works. It is clear that Sadr al-dīn wrote from his own divine inspiration, and followed Ibn ‘Arabī’s exposition because he had come to see the truth of the matter for himself. In fact, he describes how Ibn ‘Arabī himself encouraged him to write down and expose his own insights and intuitions. He wrote a number of very important books – probably around 20 altogether, with around 8-9 really major works which in their day were ranked with Ibn ‘Arabī and Rūmī in importance. But none of these has yet come into English, and many are not even available in Arabic editions. The work that Bill Chittick did in the 1980s is still the most important published source for the ideas and metaphysics that we have. There is a very good recent PhD thesis by a man called Richard Todd, done at Oxford, which has just become available for reading, and this contains a lot of new information and insight, of which just a little will appear in this talk. Todd disagrees with some of the emphasis that Chittick gives; particularly, he feels that Sadr al-dīn does not focus especially on philosophical issues, except insofar as these had become an integral part of the discourse of the intellectual elite of the times. Like Ibn ‘Arabī, he was deeply committed to the traditions of the Qur’an and hadith, but Todd feels that he has a more neutral and impersonal tone which was well suited to the function of widespread dissemination. He says:
By both distilling and elaborating upon his master’s metaphysical and cosmological doctrines, al-Qunawī succeeded in providing a mature and complex world view, which was ideally placed to challenge the words of the mutakallimūna (the theologians) and the falāsifa (philosophers) alike.[3] These later were the main intellectual opponents to the ideas of the mystical writers.

For autobiographical information, we have a little information from Sadr al-dīn’s own works, particularly Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya (The Breaths of the Divine) in which he records some of the mystical insights and visions which were given to him, and we have some information from the works of his followers, such as al-Jandī’s Nafahāt al-Rūh and the introduction to al-Farghānī’s commentary upon Ibn al-Fārid’s Poem of the Way. Jāmī’s Nafahāt al-Uns (The Breaths of Intimacy) which is a description of all the great Sufi saints up until his day, includes an account of his life and those of his followers, and this has been the main source in the Turkish tradition to date. Today I am also going to use Aflākī’s Manāqib al-‘ārifīn (The Wonders of the Knowers of God) which is the first major account of Rūmī’s life, which has recently been translated into lovely clear prose by John O’Kane. This gives quite a vivid picture of 13th century Konya and the relationship between Rūmī and Sadr al-dīn, although it is rather one-sided, in that, as O’Kane says, its main purpose is to show Rūmī as the most important spiritual figure after Muhammed in the whole of Islamic history.

The only text of Sadr al-dīn’s we have in complete translation is his will, the wasiya which Bill Chittick translated in the early 1980s. This is a good place to start to look at the particular features of the process of Akbarian transmission for which Sadr al-dīn, as in all other things, set the pattern.
These are extracts from Chittick’s translation of the wasiya.

I enjoin my friends and companions [that] they bury me among the graves of ordinary Muslims. They should wrap me in the clothing of the Shaykh – may God be pleased with him – (meaning Ibn ‘Arabī) and also in a white covering; and they should spread in my grave the prayer rug of Shaykh Awhad al-dīn – may God’s mercy be upon him (meaning al-Kirmānī). Let none of those who recite the Qur’an over graves accompany my funeral procession. No building should be built over my grave, nor should any roof be erected. Rather, let only the grave itself be built of strong stone, nothing else, lest it fall into oblivion, and so its trace may remain. Let them give alms of 1000 dirhems on the day I am buried to the weak and poor and beggars, both men and women, especially those who are disabled and blind…
My books on philosophy should be sold and the proceeds given as alms. The rest of the books – the medical works, works on jurisprudence, Qur’anic commentaries, collections of prophetic traditions, etc. – should be made into an endowment. My own writings should be taken to Afīf al-dīn [al-Tilimsānī] so that they can be a remembrance from me to him, and he should be enjoined not to be niggardly in giving them to those in whom he sees the qualifications to profit from them…”[4]

Just a couple of points here.
1) That although Ibn ‘Arabī had died about 30 years before and Sadr al-dīn had become such a great figure; the will makes clear his continuing reverence and affection for his two early teachers. This is the will of a truly modest man.

2) The degree of wealth, which we will mention later; 1000 dirhems is a great deal of money, and it reminds us that Sadr al-dīn in his day was famous for his generosity to the poor.

3) The wealth is coupled to the modesty of the grave. In fact the whole area where the grave still stands was a public grave-yard and the mosque next door was on the site of this house. A mosque – not the one that is there now – was built after his death to house the endowment of his books which he mentions. These included a collection of Ibn ‘Arabī’s original writings, including the autograph Futūhāt which was dedicated to him, and Sadr al-dīn’s own copy of the Fusūs al-Hikam. These two major works of the Shaykh, in authenticated copies, along with many other wonderful things, were preserved in this building until the 1920s, and the mosque became a centre for the study and propagation of the Shaykh’s works for the next 500 and more years. It is a unique situation, within Islam and without, to have the works of a great thinker preserved in this way; we have from this, and other sources associated with Sadr al-dīn, about 30 major works surviving from the lifetime of Ibn ‘Arabī.
One thing which I have not quoted is the middle part of the will where he talks of the Akbarian heritage, and this is because it is not really clear what it means in detail. But what is clear, is that he does not pass on the role of khalifa of the Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood. On the contrary, he says here and in other places, that this ends with him. This is why, as far as I understand it – and please, if anyone has any further insights, let’s hear them – there has never been a formal tarīqa associated with the followers of Ibn ‘Arabī, in the way that there is for say, the Mevlevi order. Here there is a line of transmission which has passed from shaykh to shaykh all the way back to Sultan Veled, and therefore to Rūmī himself; the shaykh of the present community is a blood relative of Jalāl al-dīn and Sultan Veled. The same goes for the Qadiri order, or the Shadhili or the Naqshbandi, where a particular order will have a silsila going back to the founder in order to validate the standing of the present teacher; I remember Carl Ernst in Oxford showing us one of these for the Qadiri order on a kind of scroll, which when unfurled went right across the room and way out into the corridor. This has never happened for the Akbarian tradition. My own feeling about this – and again, this is just what I have come to by considering the matter a great deal – is that the matter of the Muhammedian Sainthood is too general, too universal, to be appropriately contained within a specific order. It was and is for the whole of the Islamic tradition, and ultimately, I believe, for the whole of humanity; not just ‘initiates’. And I think that this is what one sees by looking at the extent of the influence over the centuries.
But this lack of external form does not mean that there is not transmission of the understanding and the degree of knowledge which Ibn ‘Arabī opened up for humanity. On the contrary. But it comes in a different way. I am going to present this by giving you two descriptions by Sadr al-dīn himself about his own experiences. The first comes from Nafahāt al-ilāhiyya and happens about 13 years after the death of the Shaykh:

I saw the Shaykh (May God by pleased with him) in the night of the Sabbath on 17th Shawwāl 653 in a long event. There passed between me and him many words and I told him in the course of the conversation that the effects of the Names derive from the predications (ahkām), and the predications from the states (al-ahwāl), and the states are particularised from the Essence (dhāt) in accordance with the predisposition (isti’dād), and the predisposition is an order which is not caused by anything else. He (RA) was extremely delighted by this explanation, and his face beamed with joy and he nodded his head. He repeated some of my words and said: “Excellent, excellent.” I said to him: “Master, you are the excellent one as you have the ability to make the human being arrive at the point where he can perceive such things. By my life! If you are a human being, the rest of us are nothing (kalā shay’in).”
Then I came close to him and kissed his hand, and said to him: “There remains to me one thing I need.” He said: “Ask.” I said: “I desire realisation (tahaqquq) in the manner of your witnessing (shuhūdika) of the self-revelation of the Essence (dhāt) continually and eternally.” I meant by that the attainment (husūl) of that which came upon (hāsilan) him from the essential self-disclosure, beyond which there is no veil (hijāb) and without which there is no establishment (mustaqarr) for perfection (al-kamāl). He said: “Yes,” then answered by saying: “This is given to you, as long as you know that I have had children and companions, particularly my son Sa’ad al-dīn, and despite that, that which you ask has not been easy for any of them. Many I have killed and brought to life. Of my children and companions, those that died died, and those that were killed were killed. They did not attain that.” I said: “Oh my master, praise be to God.” I meant, because of my being singled out for this excellence. “I know that you bring to life and that you kill.” After that we talked some more, but it is not possible to make what we said public. Then I woke up. The gift belongs to God.[5]

Just a couple of comments on this.

1) There is a phrase in the first part where he says: “Master you are the excellent one, as you have the ability to make the human being – al-insān – arrive at the point where he can perceive such things.” This has been translated by several people as a very general ‘someone’ or ‘a person’ but Stephen Hirtenstein and I have discussed this, and we think it does mean ‘the man’ – meaning, that Ibn ‘Arabī has the ability to bring the interior reality of each person, the real person, which is perfect human reality in each of us – to the point of realisation. Pointing to Ibn ‘Arabī’s universal function in educating to this degree, and what it is he educates.

2) In the second part, this is very clearly a reference to the degree of Seal of Muhammedian Sainthood, as Sadr al-dīn puts the attainment of the final degree of sainthood, in which the heart of the knower becomes the locus of the Divine self-manifestation at every moment, into Ibn ‘Arabī’s hands. One would assume that this ‘death’ and ‘killing’ is a reference to ‘Die before you die’, and the bringing to life to the revivification in knowledge, as referred to in the chapter of Jesus in the Fusūs al-Hikam. But here again, this is just how I interpret it; I am sure there are many other ways.
Also, what Sadr al-dīn describes here is his heirship to Ibn ‘Arabī; in that being an heir, as is noted in other places, involves not just knowing about or seeing the states of the one from whom one inherits; it means tasting and encompassing them in oneself. Thus this matter of the direct connection to the essence – the private face, al-wajh al-khāss – and the possibility of receiving the Divine revelation directly in the heart, without intermediary was, as Todd points out, a cornerstone of Sadr al-dīn’s own exposition on the nature of reality, and one of the points on which he argues against the vision of the Islamic philosophers, who saw the Divine revelation descending by way of degrees from the essential Unity through the cosmological degrees of the celestial spheres.

In this vein, the other quote I want to bring is one I have brought several times before. It is from the introduction to the Fukūk, which is Sadr al-dīn’s own commentary upon the Fusūs al-Hikam. Here he describes how he came to agree to write the book because people were asking him to elucidate the meaning in the Fusūs:

I [did this] despite the fact that I only asked for an explanation of the preface (khutba) – nothing else – of this book from its author (may God be pleased with him). But it was [directly] from God to me, through His grace, that He granted me the [privilege] of sharing with him (Ibn ‘Arabī) in realising that which was revealed to him, and of raising my glance to that which had been made clear to him, and of taking from God without causal intermediary but rather from the purity of Divine providence and essential binding which protects me from that which appears from the properties (ahkām) of the intermediaries and the characteristics (khawās) of the [secondary] causes, the conditions and the ties. He (God) brings that about in a pure way because of His purpose, drawing [us] close to Him, and bringing benefit to me and to them [both] now and on the day [we] arrive at Him. Amen, [praise be to God] the Lord of the universes. [6]

This is repeated by al-Jandī, who writes in the preface to his much more complete commentary upon the Fusūs, the first line by line analysis:
While my master and guide Muhammed b. Ishāq b. Yūsuf al-Qūnawī was giving me a commentary on the prologue of the book (the Fusūs), the inspiration of the world of the mystery manifested its signs upon him and the Breath of the Merciful (al-nafas al-rahmān) began to breathe in rhythm with his breathing. The air from his exhalations and the emanations of his precious breaths submerged my inner and outer being. His secret governed my “secret” (bātinī) in a strange and immediate manner and produced a perfect effect upon my body and my heart. In this way, God gave me to understand in the commentary of the prologue the contents of the entire book, and in this proximity inspired in me the preserved contents of its secrets. When the Shaykh realised what had happened to me… he related to me that he too had asked our master, the author of the Fusūs, to provide him with a commentary on the prologue which had produced in him a strange effect by virtue of which he had understood the contents of the entire work. [7] The obvious thing to mention here, is that this direct mode of transmission carries on to the next generation, and in fact the Akbarian tradition is adorned with similar stories which show that it is to do with taking knowledge directly from God, not from an intermediary. There was a quote which Stephen Hirtenstein once used in a presentation and which we have never been able to find again in order to reference it; but he found it somewhere. It was a saying of Ibn ‘Arabī concerning his teaching of Sadr al-dīn: “Even though he sits and hears it from me, he is taught by God.” This wonderfully sums up this matter of the Akbarian tradition, which establishes the knowledge of the heart, and does not pose intermediaries between the student and God.

Relations with Rūmī

So much for the relationship of Sadr al-dīn to the generation which came before and after him in the Akbarian tradition. His relationship with his contemporary, Jalal al-dīn Rūmī, brings up a completely different set of considerations. The two men lived and taught in Konya at the same time; as I have said, they were almost exact contemporaries, and both were highly influential throughout the Islamic lands in the centuries that followed. In fact, Ibn ‘Arabī and Jalāludīn Rūmī could be said to form the twin pillars of spiritual life in the lands of the Ottomans, the Safavids and the Mughals in India, and onward to all areas which have come under the sway of Islam since 1300. It can be no coincidence that they lived in the same town, prayed together in the mosque, taught, in some cases, the same people in the same madrassas, and wrote their many works within half a mile of each other. Even a cursory reading of Aflākī reveals that they had a strong personal relationship and met together often both in public and in private.

But the connection – which we know must be there – is not a direct , or a manifest, one; Sadr al-dīn was not a student of Rūmī’s and Rūmī was not a student of Sadr al-dīn (at least not in the sense that Sadr al-dīn was a pupil of Ibn ‘Arabī’s or Rūmī of Shamsi Tabrīz; they leave no records acknowledging this kind of relationship). In fact, when one looks at the situation, the most striking thing is how different they were, to the degree that one can say that in many ways they were the exact opposite of each other – at least in the way that tradition, which mostly means Aflākī, portrays them. Sadr al-dīn is rich and has social standing and duties; whilst Rūmī is poor and appears almost like a wandering dervish, subject to bursts of ecstasy which manifests as trance-like states and turning. Sadr al-dīn writes metaphysics whilst Rūmī writes ecstatic poetry. Sadr al-dīn writes in Arabic and in the Arabic tradition, being the khalifa of Ibn ‘Arabī, who is from the far West. Rūmī writes in Persian, in the very different Persian poetical tradition, and was born in the far East. Sadr al-dīn is portrayed, at least in Aflākī, as a Sufi who teaches in his house which is referred to as a khanaqah, or zawiyya, a Sufi lodge. Rūmī lives in the madrassa – because he was of course a university teacher when Shams found him – and is not a Sufi (interesting one that!). In the way that their respective ways develop there is also a great contrast; Rūmī, through his son Sultan Veled, became the founder of one of the great Sufi tarīqas which was established in Konya. They have a famous practice, the samā’, based upon Rūmī’s own practice during his lifetime. The Akbarian tradition through Sadr al-dīn did not found a tarīqa, and in fact in his will, Sadr al-dīn orders his family and followers to leave Konya; his family and al-Jandī moved to Damascus within a short time, whilst al-Farghānī went East into Iran. There is no fixed practice, except that the way is characterised by investigation of metaphysical questions; and what we might call Akbarians are to be found in every tarīqa.

The difference in the development of the traditions creates the great problem in saying anything more about their relationship, because all the material that we have comes from Aflākī, meaning from the Mevlevi tradition a couple of generations along, taken from accounts of Rūmī’s early followers. Aflākī’s purpose is to elevate Rūmī, so many of the stories are designed, I’m afraid, to show his superiority in knowledge and wisdom; there is really no intention to portray Sadr al-dīn in a balanced way. There is nothing that I know from the other side; ie. anything about Rūmī from developing Akbarian tradition. So what follows comes from reading between the lines of the very many stories – about 30 – where Aflākī relates an interaction between the two men.

So first of all; I do not believe that Sadr al-dīn and Rūmī participated in the rather crude competitiveness which one feels in the pages of Aflākī. These were two completely realised men, and surely they knew the reality of the situation. One nice story, which to me has the ring of truth, seems to describe the beginning of the relationship:

In the beginning, Shaykh Sadr al-dīn was greatly opposed to Mowlānā. One night in a dream he saw that he was massaging Mowlānā’s blessed foot. He woke and sought forgiveness from God. A second time he saw the same thing. Three times he woke up and sought forgiveness from God. The last time he woke he ordered the lamp to be set and told an attendant: “Go and fetch me such and such a book from the library.” When the attendant was about to descend from upstairs, he saw Mowlānā sitting in the middle of the staircase. He turned to the Shaykh and told him this. The Shaykh came and saw Mowlānā sitting there. When Mowlānā saw the Shaykh, he stood up and they embraced one another. Mowlānā said: “Don’t be vexed and don’t ask God for forgiveness. Let it be that sometimes you massage our foot, and sometimes we massage yours. Sometimes you render service to us, and sometimes we render service to you. There is concord between us, not foreignness.” [8]

In addition, here is an extract from Sadr al-dīn’s Ijāza al-bayān, as translated by Richard Todd:
It is inconceivable that the friends of God should diverge regarding fundamental divine principles. Any divergence that arises is either to do with secondary applications. Or it is that which arises between middle ranking initiators and followers who are subject to transient spiritual states, or who receive manifest unveilings whereby real essences, spiritual presences and other such realities appear to them clothed in subtle semblances. For the true significance of this kind of intuition, and what the Truth (al-haqq) intends by it, can only be known through knowledge which comes with the non-manifest, purely intellectual kind of unveiling which transcends all the subtle archetypes and material supports of whatever degree, or through that mode of divine communication which occurs through the suppression of all intermediaries and hence transcends all conditioned states and dictates of the conditioned being. [9]

Here is another tale from Aflākī, which I personally love very much:
It is transmitted that one day Mowlānā went to see the Shaykh of the Shaykhs, the prodigy of the age, the King of the Traditionalists, Shaykh Sadr al-dīn (may God have mercy on him). The shaykh came forth to meet him with complete respect, sat down on his prayer rug and positioned himself politely on his two knees opposite Mowlānā. They then entered contemplation and for some time swam and travelled within the ocean of light-filled contemplation (hodūr).[10]

There follows a very interesting story about silence and poverty, which is maybe for another time.
Given that Rūmī and Sadr al-dīn were in such a state of essential knowledge, and that they did indeed meet at the level of essential presence and silence, then my own feeling is that the differences between the way they manifested has a meaning. The most basic one is simply that perfection is an interior matter that appears in different ways in different people. But more than this, I believe: these two people have universal functions in the spiritual unfolding of this human emergence, therefore there is something here about our own nature. There is a seminal story which has been quoted recently by Stephen Hirtenstein in a paper he gave recently in Istanbul. This is recounted by Ismail Hakki Bursevi, the great 17th century Ottoman saint whose tomb you will have visited in Bursa. He reports that one day Rūmī and Qunawī were sitting together. Qunawī turned to Rūmī and said: “For us it is to live like a king during the day and to sleep at night like a poor man (faqir).” Immediately Rūmī retorted: “And for us it is to live like a poor man during the day and to sleep at night like a king.”[11] Ismail Hakki Bursevi then comments that if one wants to understand something of what they were talking about, one should look at their tombs.

And indeed, we all have and can see that Sadr al-dīn’s, as he specified, is modest and open to the air, whilst Rūmī’s is a grand mausoleum visited by thousands every year. More than this, and probably what Ismail Hakki was referring to, over the door of Rūmī’s tomb it says: “This is the ka’ba of lovers; whoever enters lacking will find completion”; so this is to do with the mysteries of the night, when lovers meet. Over Sadr al-dīn’s, it says: “Your morning is coupled to glory and country; your door ever open to the people of need”, pointing to the mystery which Ismail Hakki posed. My suggestion is – and again, this is only what I have come to – that these two together point to the fact that human beings are both rich and poor in relation to God and the world; as vice-regents and the place where all the Divine Names manifest, we are wealthy and have rulership. But from the aspect of being, we are poor, because we have no being; we are utterly dependent both on God and on the world. The Ismail Hakki story is wonderful because it is so Akbarian in its subtlety – showing us that even in our wealthy mode, we are poor interiorly, and when we manifest with poverty, we are rich.

Sadr al-dīn’s aspect in this is to show us how to be wealthy in the service of God; not using wealth for our personal ends, but how in our wealth we can manifest with service and humility. Thus, as we have seen, he was famed for his generosity towards the poor and it is clear that his big house in Konya was full of people receiving food and care, and students studying. It was his wealth which also allowed him to preserve Ibn ‘Arabī’s heritage; to have the works copied on good paper and to found the waqf in which they were preserved. It is also clear that he used his position to support Rūmī, not financially because Rūmī was committed to a life of renunciation and ascetcism, but in terms of supporting his position in the town. After the foot massage incident, Aflākī has him saying to one of his companions:
This man is strengthened by God and is one of those concealed under the domes of the Almighty. Intelligent men’s reason is confounded before the nature of his deeds, words and spiritual states. After today, we must look upon him with a different gaze and show him respect and reverence in a different manner. [12]

So in story after story in Aflākī, at least in the early part of their relationship, we find Sadr al-dīn supporting Rūmī in public gatherings, inviting him to speak or to take the lesson; or we find that when Rūmī disappears from a gathering and is found turning or meditating, Sadr al-dīn says something which validates his activity. Many stories begin by saying things like:
One day Shaykh Sadr al-dīn was engaged in giving a lesson about hadith and all the great men of the world were there Mowlānā came in and…
The next day, Rūmī went to the Shaykh’s khanaqah…[13] You never find Sadr al-dīn described as visiting Rūmī in his madrassa. However, as I have mentioned, they are often described as meeting in public gatherings. Here is one which shows Sadr al-dīn clearly giving Rūmī what we might nowadays call a ‘feeder’ line:
It is transmitted that one time the late Sultan Rokn-al-dīn – God show him forgiveness – held a splendid entertainment in his palace, and all the shaykhs and prominent men came. Qādī Serāj al-dīn sat in the chair of honour, and Shaykh Sadr al-dīn in another seat of honour. Sayyed Sharaf al-dīn was seated alongside the sultan’s throne. And all the prominent men sat occupying the high and low places. Suddenly Mowlānā came in with his disciples, and they seated themselves in the middle of the palace around the water basin. As much as the sultan and the Parvāna exerted themselves, Mowlānā would not sit on a higher seat. Shaykh Sadr al-dīn said: “All living things come from water.” (Q 21:30). Mowlānā said: “Nay! All living things come from God.” All the prominent men left their seats for the lower level. Right there a great samā’ took place.[14] Towards the end of his life, it is clear that Rūmī had gained such support that he was in many ways an equal; but there is one interesting story at the end which shows that Sadr al-dīn’s function extended beyond Rūmī’s own lifetime. Rūmī specified by the way that Sadr al-dīn should lead the prayers at his funeral – which indicates something of how he saw his colleague – which Sadr al-dīn managed to do, although he fell ill immediately afterwards and died within nine months. But not before he was able to support Rūmī when a group of people went to the ruler and complained about the samā’ saying:
The samā’ is absolutely forbidden. We accept that Rūmī practised the samā’ during his time, and it was allowed for him. But despite that, his disciples should not insist on practising this reprehensible innovation and display it openly. Prohibiting such unwarranted innovation is one of your duties, and making an effort in this noble regard is required of you.
The Parvāna rose and went before Sadr al-dīn. He reported the situation to him and that day all the prominent men of Konya were present in that place. The Shaykh said: “If you accept my words and trust in what the dervishes say and your belief in Mowlānā’s person is firm, by God, by God, do not interfere in this matter in any way, do not enter into what men of ill-will say, and do not argue, for in a sense that would be to turn away from the Friends of God and that is inauspicious. Indeed the innovations of the Friends of God are like the sunna of the noble prophets.” [15]

And so, interestingly given the larger picture, it seems that the practice of the samā’ was saved through Sadr al-dīn’s intervention.

Jane Clark, Chisholme, 2008.


[1] See F. Robinson, “Ottomans Safavids Mughals: Shared knowledge and connective systems” in Journal of the Asiatic Society, 8.2, pp.115-184.[2] See Nafahāt al-Rūh, translated by William Chittick in “The Last Will and Testament”, p.32.[3] Richard Todd: Writing in the book of the world: man’s existential journey according to Sadr al-dīn al-Qūnawī, Oxford Univerisity, PhD Thesis 2004, p.75[4] William Chittick, “The Last Will and Testament of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Foremost Disciple, and some notes on its author”, Sophia Perennis, Vol 4. No 1, 1978.[5] Nafahāt al-Ilāhiyya, ed. M. al-Khawaja, Tehran. pp.165-6[6] al-Fukūk, ed. M. Khawaja, (Tehran) p.181[7] Translated by Claude Addas in Quest for the Red Sulphur, p.284. From Sharh al-Fusūs[8] Manāqeb al-‘ārefīn, translated by John O’Kane, Brill, p.212.[9] Ijāza al-bayān, Hyderabad, 1988, pp.43-5. Translated by Todd, p.287.[10] Manāqeb, p.193[11] Ali Namli, Ismail Hakki Bursevi ve Tamamu’l-feyz (M.U. Sosyal Bilimler Enstitusu, Istanbul 1994), vol.2, p.31. My thanks to Stephen Hirtenstein for this quote in his very good paper: “Spiritual Poverty, Heavenly Riches.”[12] Manāqeb, p.212[13] Manāqeb, p.232[14] Manāqeb, p.235[15] Manāqeb, pp.396-7.

Sadr al-dīn Qunawī: His importance to us, and his relationship to Rūmī

by Jane Clark