John A. Napora, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology
Kutztown University

In the following, I describe the Sufi Path (tariqa) as a dialectical process which transforms the person through love. I examine the belief system of Islamic mystics as a journey involving both creativity and passion. I do so by using a fresh approach, a perspective that has heretofore yet to be applied to the spiritual alchemy of the Sufis. Each step or stage in the Path will be seen as a metaphor, a symbolic inclusion with what came before and an extension to what is yet to come. Such a perspective allows us to have a greater understanding of the logic of the tariqa, and thus a better appreciation of Sufi beliefs and the statements and commentary through which their transformation is described.

The Sufis can be seen as developing and describing a syntagmatic chain of motivation, for each step in the journey can be seen as a part of a greater whole which propels them to seek yet another until the entirety is realized. Each stage is a metaphoric transformation which is linked to the next, and through the various transformations, the person draws ever closer to God, and is cumulatively transformed.This is to be effected through and for love (mahabba) (e.g. Schimmel, 1975 p. 130; Chittick 1983).

Done for love, the entire Path is an expression of it. For the Sufi, one’s yearning for God provides a means to be ultimately consumed with and by love (e.g., Harvey, 1996, p.138). Since the Path as a whole is a transformation of love, it can be seen as a master trope which informs each stage in the journey, effecting each of the minor transformations and enabling its ultimate culmination.

The most dramatic example of a Sufi transformed by love is Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj whose striking, ecstatic pronouncement “I am Reality” (ana’l-haqq in Arabic, Reality being one of the names of God) can be seen as a point to be interpreted and perhaps as the culmination of the Sufi way. His statement was of course considered blasphemous, and was in keeping with his preaching to the masses that God could be discovered within one’s own heart (Massignon, 1971, p.100). Perhaps for such reasons, well as perhaps implied political ones, he was put to death by the authorities in 922 A.D. His death may also be instructive. Attar (d. between 1220-1230), the most famous hagiographer of the Sufis, records his death in the following way:

When Hallaj was in prison he was asked: “What is love?” He answered: “You will see it today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.” And that day they cut off his hands and feet, the next day they put him on the gallows, and the third day they gave his ashes to the wind. . . .(Schimmel, 1975 pp.63-64) From each of his dismembered limbs came the cry ana’l-haqq, from each drop of his blood the word Allah was formed, and even his ashes did not fail to proclaim the Truth (Arberry 1966, pp. 270-271).

It can be asked what enabled and motivated such passion, that it was said to continue even after death? Or to put it another way, what allowed for the person to be seen as so transformed, that every part of Hallaj’s body was seen as imbued with sanctity, if not divinity?

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