This translation of the most ancient and celebrated Persian treatise on Sufi’ ism will, I hope, be found useful not only by the small number of students familiar with the subject at first hand, but also by many readers who, without being Orientalists themselves, are interested in the general history of mysticism and may wish to compare or contrast the diverse yet similar manifestations of the mystical spirit in Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam. The origin of Sufi’ism and its relation to these great religions cannot properly be considered here, and I dismiss such questions the more readily because I intend to deal with them on’ another occasion.
It is now my duty to give some account of the author of
the Kashf al-Mahjub, and to indicate the character of his work. Abu ‘l-Hasan
‘Ali, b. “Uthman b. ‘Ali al-Ghaznawi al-Jullabi al-Hujwiri1 was a native of
Ghazna in Afghanistan.2 Of his life very little is known beyond what he relates
incidentally in the Kashf al-Mahjub. He studied Sufism under Abu ‘l-Fadl
Muhammad b. al-Hasan alKhuttali3 (p.166), who was a pupil of Abu ‘l-Hasan
al-Husri (ob.371 A.H.), and under Abu ‘l-‘Abbas Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Ashqani or
al-Shaqani4 (p.l68). He also received instruction from Abu ‘l-Qasim Gurgani5
(p.169) and Khwaja Muzaffar6 (p.17D), and he mentions a great number of Shaykhs
whom he had met and conversed with in the course of his wanderings. He traveled
far and wide through the Muhammadan empire from
In the introduction to the Kash al-Mahjub al-Hujwiri complains that two of his former works had been given to the public by persons who erased his name from the title page, and pretended that they themselves were the authors. In order to guard against the repetition of this fraud, he has inserted his own name in many passages of the present work. His writings, to which he has occasion to refer in the Kashf al-Mahjub, are :-
1. A diwan (p.2)
2. Minhaj ai-din, on the method of Sufi’ism (p.2). It comprised a detailed account of the Ahl-i Suffa (p.80) and a full biography of Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj (p.1S3).
3. Asrar al-khiraq wa ‘l-ma ‘unat, on the patched frocks of the Sufis (p.S6).
4. Kitab-i fana u baqa, composed “in the vanity and rashness of youth” (p.60)
5. A work, of which the title is not mentioned, in explanation of the sayings of Husayn b. Mansur al-Hallaj (p.1S3)
6. Kitab al-bayan li-ahl al-‘iyan, on union with God. (p.280)
7. Bahr al-qulub (p.259).
8. Al-Ri’ayat li-huquq Allah, on the Divine unity (p.280) 9. A work, of which the title is not mentioned, on faith (p.286)
None of these books has been preserved.
The Kashf al-Mahjub,9 which belongs to the later years of the author’s life, and, partly at any rate, to the period of his residence in Lahore, was written in reply to certain questions addressed to him by a fellow-townsman, Abu Sa’id al-Hujwiri. Its object is to set forth a complete system of Sufi’ism, not to put together a great number of saying by different Shaykhs, but to discuss and expound the doctrines and practices of the Sufis. The author’s attitude throughout is that of a teacher instructing a pupil. Even the biographical section of the work (pp.70-175) is largely expository. Before stating his own view the author generally examines the current opinions on the same topic and refutes them if necessary. The discussion of mystical problems and controversies is enlivened by many illustrations drawn from his personal experience. In this respect the Kashf al-Mahjub is more interesting than the Risala of Qushayri, which is so valuable as a collection of sayings, anecdotes, and definitions, but which follows a somewhat formal and academic method on the orthodox lines. No one can read the present work without detecting, behind the scholastic terminology, a truly Persian flavour of philosophical speculation.
Although he was a Sunni and a Hanafite, al-Hujwiri, like many Sufis before and after him, managed to reconcile his theology with an advanced type of mysticism, in which the theory of “annihilation” (fana’) holds a dominant place, but he scarcely goes to such extreme lengths as would justify us in calling him a pantheist. He strenuously resists and pronounces heretical the doctrine that human personality can be merged and extinguished in the being of God. He compares annihilation to burning by fire, which transmutes the quality of all things to its own quality, but leaves their essence unchanged. He agrees with his spiritual director, al-Khuttali, in adopting the theory of lunayd that “sobriety” in the mystical acceptation of the term is preferable to “intoxication”. He warns his readers often and emphatically that no Su’fis, not even those who have attained the highest degree of holiness, are exempt from the obligation of obeying the religious law. In other points, such as the excitation of ecstasy by music and singing, and the use of erotic symbolism in poetry, his judgment is more or less cautious. He defends al-Hallaj from the charge of being a magician, and asserts that his sayings are pantheistic only in appearance, but condemns his doctrines as unsound. It is clear that he is anxious to represent Sufi’ism as the true interpretation of Islam, and it is equally certain that the interpretation is incompatible with the text. JO Notwithstanding the homage which he pays to the Prophet we cannot separate al-Hujwiri, as regards the essential principles of his teaching, from his older and younger cohtemRoraries, Abu Sa’id b. Abu ‘l-Khayr and ‘Abdallah Ansari. 1 These three mystics developed the distinctively Persian theosophy which is revealed in full-blown splendour by Farid aI-din ‘Attar and lalal aI-din Rumi.
The most remarkable chapter in the KashJ al Mahjub is the
fourteenth, “Concerning the Doctrines held by the different sects of Su’fis,”
in which the author enumerates twelve mystical schools and explains the special
doctrine of each.12 So far as I know, he is the first writer to do this. Only
one of the schools mentioned by him, namely, that of the Malamatis, seems to be
noticed in earlier books on Sufi’ism; such brief references to the other schools
as occur in later books, for example in the Tadhkirat al-Awliya, are probably
made on his authority. The question may be asked, “Did these schools really
exist, or were they invented by al-Hujwiri in his desire to systematize the
theory of Sufi’ism?” I see no adequate ground at present for the latter
hypothesis, which involves the assumption that al-Hujwiri made precise
statements that he must have known to be false. It is very likely, however,
that in his account of the special doctrines which he attributes to the founder
of each school he has often expressed his own views upon the subj ect at issue
and has confused them with the original doctrine. The existence of these
schools and doctrines, though lacking further corroboration,13 does not seem to
me incredible; on the contrary, it accords with what happened in the case of
the Mu’tazilites and other Muhammadan schismatics. Certain doctrines were
produced and elaborated by well-known Shaykhs, who published them in the form
of tracts or were content to lecture on them until, by a familiar process the
new doctrine became the pre-eminent feature of a particular school. Other
schools might then accept or reject it. In some instances sharp controversy
arose, and the novel teaching gained so little approval that it was confined to
the school of its author or was embraced only by a small minority of the Sufi
brotherhood. More frequently it would, in the course of time, be drawn into the
common stock and reduced to its proper level. Dr. Goldziher has observed that
Sufi’ism cannot be regarded as a regularly organized sect within Islam, and
that its dogmas cannot be compiled into a regular system.14 That is perfectly
true, but after allowing for all divergences there remains a fairly definite
body of doctrine which is held in common by Su’fis of many different shades and
is the result of gradual agglomeration from many different minds. It is
probable that oral tradition was the main source from which al-Hujwiri derived
the materials for his work. Of extant treatises on Sufi’ism he mentions by name
only the Kitab al-Luma’ by Abu Nasr al-Sarraj, who died in 377 or 378 A.H. This
book is written in Arabic and is the oldest specimen of its class. Through the
kindness of Mr. A.G. Ellis, who has recently acquired the sole copy that is at
present known to Orientalists, I have been able to verify the reading of a
passage quoted by al-Hujwiri (p.34l), and to assure myself that he was well
acquainted with his predecessor’s work. The arrangement of the Kashf al Mahjub
is partially based on that of the Kitab al-Luma, the two books resemble each
other in their general plan, and some details of the former are evidently
borrowed from the latter. Al-Hujwiri refers in his notice of Ma’ruf al-Karkhi
(p.114) to the biographies of Su’fis compiled by Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami
and Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Qushayri. Although he does not give the titles, he is
presumably referring to Sulami’s Tabaqat al-Sufiyya and Qushayri’s Risala.15
The Kashf a I-Mahju b contains a Persian rendering of some passages in the
Risala of Qushayri, with whom alHujwiri seems to have been personally
acquainted. A citation from ‘Abdallah Ansari occurs on p.26. Manuscripts of the
Kashf al-Mahjub are preserved in serveral European libraries.16 It has been
REYNOLD A. NICHOLSON
1 Jullab and Hujwir were two suburbs of Ghazna. Evidently he resided for some time in each of them.
2 Notices occur in the Nafahat al-Uns, No.377; the Safinat
al-Awliya, No.298 (Ethe’s Cat. Of the Persian MSS. In the Library of the India
Office, I, co1.304); the Riyad al-Awliya, Or. 1745, f. 140a (Rieu’s Cat. Of the
Persian MSS. in the
3 Nafahat, No.376. Through al-Khuttali, al-Husri, and Abu Bakr al-Shibli the author of the Kashf al-Mahjub is spiritually connected with Junayd of Baghdad (ob.297 A.H.)
4 Ibid., No.375. The nisba Shaqqani or Shaqani is derived from Shaqqan, a village near Nishapur.
5 Nafahat, No.367.
6 Ibid., No.368.
7 The date 465 A.H. is given by Azad in his biographical work on the famous men of Balgram, entitled Ma’athir al-Kiram.
8 See Ethe’s Cat. Of the Persian MSS. in the
9 Its full title is Kashf al-mahjub li-arbab al-qulub (Hajji Khalifa, v, 215)
10 The author’s view as to the worthlessness of outward forms of religion is expressed with striking boldness in his chapter on the Pilgrimage (pp.326-9)
11 Many passages from the Kashf al-Mahjub are quoted, word for word, in Jami’s Nafahat al-Uns, which is a modernized and enlarged recension of ‘Abdullah Ansari’s Tabaqat al-Sufiyya.
12 A summary of these doctrines will be found in the
abstract of a paper on “The Oldest Persian Manual of Sufi’ism” which I read at
13 Some of al-Hujwiri’s twelve sects reappear at a later epoch as orders of dervishes, but the pedigree of those orders which trace their descent from ancient Sufis is usually fictitious.
14 RAS., 1904, p.130.
15 Cf., however, p.1l4, note.
16 See Ethe’s Cat. Of the Persian MSS. in the India Office Library, I, co1.970, where other MSS. are mentioned, and Blochet, Cat. Des manuscripts persans de la Bibliotheque Nationale, I, 261 (No.401).