What is Sayr wa Sulūk?

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This is the excellent book entitled Tuḥfat al-Mulūk fī ’s-Sayr wa ’s-Sulūk by the erudite scholar Sayyid Baḥr al-‘Ulūm (may Allah be pleased with him).

بسم اللّه الرحمن الرحيم

ألحمدُ والثناءُ لِعين الوُجود، والصَلوةُ على واقفِ الشُهود، وعلى آله اُمَناء المعبود.

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful

All praise and eulogies belong to the Mainspring of Existence. And may salutations be upon him who stands in the station of epiphany (shuhūd) and upon his Progeny, the Trustees of the Worshipped Being.○

[In these two lines – provided that they are really part of the text of the treatise – some points require explanation: (1) Tuḥfat al-Mulūk: since the subject of the book consists of discourses on spirituality and mysticism, it is but natural that this treatise is a gift (tuḥfah) for the spiritually distinguished personages and wayfarers in the path of God, and they are the ones who have attained the station of ownership and authority over the physical world and become dominant and controllers of the bodily powers.

2. Sayr wa Sulūk: it refers to the branch of knowledge or program that deals with the manner and salient features of the stations of wayfaring toward the Divine Proximity, and this knowledge is beyond ethics.

3. ‘Ayn wujūd: it means the Truth of being, the Real Existent, the Spirit of existence, and the Essential and Original Being, for He is the only Real Being and other beings are His shadows, appearances and manifestations that do not have independence (istiqlāl), essentiality (dhātiyyah), realness (ḥaqīqah) as the Real Being has:

ألا كلُّ شىءٍ ما خَلا اللّه باطلٌ؟

“Is not everything void but Allah?”

4. Wāfiq al-shuhūd: it means standing in the station of epiphany. In the physical world of perceptions, every physical or natural subject can be perceived, identified and determined by the power of sight and vision of the physical eyes. In the same manner, one can distinguish, examine and witness every spiritual truth and reality through the heart’s intuition and insight. And the utmost epiphany pertains to witnessing the Attributes of the Glory and Beauty of God, the Exalted.

5. Umanā’ ma‘būd: it means the Trustees in the Court of God, the Exalted, who are the repositories of the Divine assets and knowledge, the stations of angels, and places of descent of revelation and inspirations. And the secrets of the Divine knowledge and truths are kept in their hearts:

ومُختَلف الملائكة ومَهبِط الوحى وخُزّان العلم.

“And various angels, helm of revelation, and repositories of knowledge.”]

○ O fellow travelers of the realm of felicity and purity! O companions along the path of sincerity and devotion!

 اُمكُثوا اِنّى آنستُ نارآ لَعلّى آتيكم مِنها بخَبر أوْ جَذوة مِن النار لَعلّكم تَصطَلون.

“Wait! I perceive a fire on the mountain side. Perchance I will bring you a brand or a faggot from it, that haply you may warm yourselves.”[1]

 [O fellow travelers of the realm: this phrase at the beginning of the book affirms the suitability of the book’s name Tufat al-Mulūk, indicating the spiritual dimension of the realm (mulk).

2. I perceive a fire (ānastu nāran): Uns signifies perception, connection and rupture, and familiarity (mu’ānisah) denotes permanence and perpetuity, and it usually necessitates both parties. Fire is the light coupled with heat and motion. And the internal and external evidence of the noble Qur’anic verse (Sūrat al-Qaṣaṣ 28:29) indicates that it refers to the spiritual fire which is a kind of light, and the heat in fire indicates its rapture that produces heat as a result of motion (taḥarruk), undulation (tamawwuj) and attraction (tajadhdhub).]

○ It has been narrated with several channels (uruq) from the Chief of the Apostles and the Guides of the stated paths [that he said]:

مَن أخلَصَ للّه أربعين صَباحآ ظَهَرت يَنابيعُ الحِكمة مِن قلبه على لِسانه.

 “Whoever dedicates himself to Allah for forty days will find springs of wisdom gush forth from his heart and flow onto his tongue.”

The wordings of the narrations differ[2] but their meaning is the same.

We have seen clearly [through direct experience] and known through the statements [of the sages] that this noble stage from among the stages pertaining to numbers has a particular significance and a special effect in the appearance of inner potentialities and the perfection of habits in covering the stages (manāzil) and traversing the phases (marāḥil) [of mystical wayfaring]. The stages on the way are diverse, but every stage has a goal (maqṣūd). And although the phases (marāḥil) are innumerable, you pass across a world with every phase that you enter. ○

[As in the courses of physical matters such as medical treatments, chemical changes, planting and cultivation of different berries, reproduction and perpetuation of the diverse animals in which the limit of the special numbers must be observed, it must also be such in spiritual matters.

Every state and attribute, as demanded by the degree of its stability, constancy and penetration, necessitates a specific span of time in eliminating or stabilizing it. Keeping in view of the special effects, in every act of worship (‘ibādah), exertion of effort (mujāhidah) and remembrance (dhikr), the extent of limit must be stipulated.

And the desirable effect of each of the Divine Names and words of remembrance (adhkār) is like that of medicines. That is, by taking into account the moral and inner traits of the rememberer (dhākir), the extent and limit of dhikr must also be observed so as to yield desirable result and intended effect in that case.

Of course, there is no way to determine this limit, effects and prescription of spiritual medicine for a specific case except by someone who is an expert in this field (ethics and mysticism). To consult a non-expert is like medication with a proficient and confident non-doctor:

مَن كانَ صائناً لِنفسِه  مُخالفاً لهَواه.

“Whoever fasts [does it] for his soul (nafs) [and whoever] opposes [it does it] for his desire (hawā).”

In this part, some of the wayfarers along the divine path encounter the danger of deviation and misguidance, or at least experience pause in their journey.

“You pass across a world with every phase that you enter”: this point is also clear only for the people who have passed by the stations and perceived their effects, signs and distinctive features.

All the programs, behaviors, sayings, deeds, and ideas of the one who undertakes the life journey in the station of repentance (tawbah), fear (khawf), hope (rajā), reliance (tawakkul), satisfaction (riḍā), or love (muabbah) are consistent with the dictates of the said station, as if it is a world beyond other stations.] 

[1] Adapted from Sūrat al-Qaṣaṣ 28:29: “So when Moses completed the term and set out with his family, he descried a fire on the side of the mountain. He said to his family, ‘Wait! Indeed, I descry a fire! Maybe I will bring you some news from it, or a brand of fire so that you may warm yourselves.’” [Trans.]

[2] See Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 15, section (bāb) on ikhlāṣ (sincerity); Uṣūl al-Kāfī, section on ikhlāṣ.

(An excerpt from ‘Allamah Hasan Mustafawi, “Risalah Sayr wa Suluk: An Exposition of Sayyid Bahr al-‘Ulum’s Treatise on Mystical Wayfaring,” trans. Mansoor Limba (ElziStyle.com, 2020), pp. 17-21.)

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