Plotinus declared that insight, reason and experience must concur for anyone to claim to know truly. In Islam, as in all formal religions based upon revelation, experience is supplanted by the afflatus of the revelation – the Qu'ran and the hadith or traditional sayings attributed to Muhammad. This aspect of putative spiritual knowledge is guarded and protected by the mutakallimum, or theologians, and the 'ulama, those who understand Qu'ranic law. The Mu'tazalite movement introduced reasoned deliberation into Islamic studies by appealing to the power of the intellect and to everyday experience. The Sufis respected both traditions but supplemented the prerequisites for spiritual knowledge by shuhud, contemplation, and dhawq, the intuitive perception that comes from direct experience. Whilst the theologians speak reverently of Allah (God), the philosophers refer everything to wajib al-wujud, necessary being; and the Sufis, freely using a galaxy of terms, are drawn towards al-haqq, the Real, and wahdat al-wujud, the radical unity of being. Although the inner freedom of the Sufi mystic leaves the theologian and the philosopher wary, a religion without priestcraft cannot deny the intrinsic possibility of theophany. Nor does it prevent the mystic from professing a profound faith and philosophical understanding. As the Muslim theologian learnt to plead for faith, the philosopher gave voice to hope, and the Sufi became the spokesman par excellence for divine love. The upsurge of creative thought in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries produced a minor golden age for Sufi Teachings, and Fakhruddin 'Iraqi emerged as a bright star in that select constellation of luminaries which lights the way for others.
A month before Fakhruddin Ibrahim was born, his father dreamed of 'Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad and patron of Sufis. Someone placed a child on the ground before 'Ali, who picked it up and, handing it to the father, said: "Take our 'Iraqi and raise him carefully, for he is to be a world-conqueror." Thus the birth of Fakhruddin Ibrahim in A.D. 1213 was greeted with great joy. He was born in the village of Kamajan near Hamadan in the region of Persia known as 'Iraq-i 'ajam, and he came to be known as Fakhruddin 'Iraqi. The child entered school at the age of five and in nine months had committed the Qu'ran to heart. By the time he was eight, he was famous throughout the region for his melodious and soul-touching recitations of the sacred text. He turned with equal ability to other studies, and by his seventeenth year he had learnt both the al-'ulum an-naqliyyah – the transmitted sciences – and the al-'ulum al-'aqliyyah – the sciences arising from human reason and investigation. One day a motley group of Qalandars came to 'Iraqi's town, and his life was permanently altered.
The Qalandars were mystics who wandered as homeless devotees of the Divine. Renouncing wealth, status and personal esteem, they viewed social conventions as traps and masks of hypocrisy and shunned the approval of laymen. Since rogues and outcasts found it convenient to imitate Qalandar ways, the true homeless wanderers were even more disguised and despised – an irony they did not mind. As others grudgingly gave hospitality to this little transient band, 'Iraqi found a great quickening of love well up within him, and when the Qalandars left he was grief-stricken. Never indecisive, 'Iraqi put away his books and cast aside the robe that distinguished him as a student of theology. Taking nothing, he hastened to join the group, and when he found it, he broke into spontaneous verse:
The Qalandars at once understood that his reference to the tavern door signified the threshold to the chamber of the heart wherein one may find the wine of wisdom, and they welcomed him into their company.
Together they wandered across eastern Persia and into India, eventually coming to Multan (now Pakistan). There they met Shaykh Baha'uddin Zakariyya' Multani, the third great teacher in the Suhrawardi tradition. Within his own lifetime he was known as quth, kabir and munir, the Pole of the Age, the Great, and the Enlightener. While he was giving refreshments to the Qalandars, Baha'uddin's eyes fell upon 'Iraqi. "That youth is fully prepared," he said to a disciple, "he should remain with us." 'Iraqi in turn felt such a compelling attraction to the shaykh that he feared for his state of mind and insisted that he and his companions should leave at once. Upon his urging, the friends pressed on to Delhi, where they tarried for a while. When they departed for Somnath, a storm separated them, and 'Iraqi was forced to return to Delhi. Taking this odd event as a sign, 'Iraqi made his way alone to Multan and placed himself at the feet of Baha'uddin.
The shaykh accepted him and directed him to enter into a wholly isolated retreat. Within a few days, however, 'Iraqi burst forth into ecstatic verse. Shocked disciples reported this boisterous singing to the shaykh, who came to listen. "His business is finished", the shaykh pronounced, and calling 'Iraqi out of his cell, personally clothed him in the mantle of mature discipleship and married him to his own daughter. Since the Suhrawardi tradition was conservative in its outward conduct, many of the shaykh's disciples resented the liberties allowed this spontaneous mystic. Nonetheless, 'Iraqi remained with Baha'uddin, had a son named Kabiruddin and faithfully served his teacher for twenty-five years. When the shaykh felt death approaching, he appointed 'Iraqi his successor. After seeing that Baha'uddin was given a worthy tomb – which exists even today in Multan – 'Iraqi, knowing that many of the shaykh's former disciples were scheming to undermine his rule, renounced the successorship and set out with a few friends for Mecca.
'Iraqi sailed to Oman, where he had already attained a reputation for inspiring verses. The sultan welcomed him, lodged the group in his own palace and made 'Iraqi the chief shaykh of the region. When 'Iraqi was rested, he asked permission to travel to Mecca, but the sultan showed such reluctance to let him go that 'Iraqi felt compelled to slip away in secret. He found himself honoured everywhere he went, and his sojourn in Mecca and Medina was one of fervent joy and deep meditation. Eventually he decided to go to Damascus, and two of his friends from Multan journeyed with him. From there they travelled to Rum (modern Turkey) and found their way to Konya. There he met two remarkable Sufis, Jalaluddin Rumi and Sadruddin Qunawi, the successor to Ibn al-'Arabi and chief shaykh of Konya. 'Iraqi's friendship with Qunawi, who had received initiation into the Suhrawardi order, was to last until the latter's death. 'Iraqi's intellect was refined by this relationship just as his spirit had been invigorated by his friendship with Baha'uddin. When 'Iraqi arrived in Konya, he joined students who were listening to Qunawi's lectures on Ibn al-'Arabi's Fusus al-hikam (The Seals of Wisdom). After listening to each lecture, 'Iraqi would compose a meditation on what he had heard, and thus was born his great work, the Lama'at (Flashes) (of light). When he presented the Lama 'at to Qunawi, he read it, kissed it as a Muslim kisses a sacred teaching, and said: "'Iraqi, you have published the secret of men's words."
'Iraqi remained close to Qunawi. Even when he journeyed to Medina and Damascus in response to a dream in which the deceased Ibn al-'Arabi ordered him to visit his tomb, 'Iraqi wrote long, loving letters to Qunawi, begging his 'second teacher' to appear in a dream and order him back. 'Iraqi gathered disciples around him with ease, including the administrator of Rum, Amir Mu'inuddin Parwanah. Despite 'Iraqi's utter lack of concern for his own well-being, Parwanah insisted on building a hospice for him in Tokat and visited 'Iraqi daily. At this time the Mongol emperor Abaka ruled Rum, and the Mameluke emperor Baybars attacked him from Cairo. In A.D. 1277 Baybars routed the forces of Abaka and had himself crowned emperor of Rum. Parwanah, who had served under Abaka, fled, but his son was captured and taken to Cairo. When the Mamelukes withdrew to Egypt, Abaka accused Parwanah of treachery. Knowing that he would be executed, Parwanah visited 'Iraqi and gave him a purse of precious stones. He asked 'Iraqi to use them to ransom his son and to make the boy into a Sufi indifferent to political power.
Rum and Anatolia had fallen into rebellion and disorder owing to the wars, and Abaka sent his brother, Kangirtay, to re-establish Mongol rule. Suspecting that 'Iraqi had possession of the unfortunate Parwanah's wealth, Kangirtay sent his scholarly vizier to spy on 'Iraqi. The vizier was so charmed and inspired by 'Iraqi's demeanour and discourse that he quite forgot about his secret mission. When he returned to Kangirtay, however, he discovered that troops had been despatched to arrest 'Iraqi. Quickly he warned 'Iraqi and urged him to flee, sending a sack of a thousand dinars to help him escape. 'Iraqi left the troubled Tokat and journeyed first to Sinope, ruled by Parwanah's son, and then to Cairo. There he sought and obtained an audience with the sultan and handed over, unopened, the purse of jewels. When the sultan heard that the act was a promise to Parwanah and that 'Iraqi had kept nothing for himself, he had Parwanah's son released and accorded the privileges of a prince, and he sat at 'Iraqi's feet for instruction. Marvelling at 'Iraqi's words, he appointed him the chief shaykh of Cairo and ordered a general procession to mark the appointment.
The next day the sultan's vizier dressed 'Iraqi in fine robes and a beautiful turban, and, placing him on a horse, arrayed all the scholars, nobles and generals of the court around him on foot. Looking about, 'Iraqi suddenly tore the turban off his head and sat quietly for a few minutes. Then, just as unexpectedly, he replaced the turban and signalled the procession to begin. News of this strange behaviour reached the sultan, who asked 'Iraqi for an explanation. 'Iraqi noted that no other man of the age had been shown such respect, and that he had removed the turban until he could be certain that no pride or egotism would spring up within his breast. The sultan, moved by such spiritual simplicity in a world of ambition, decadence and splendour, doubled his pension. But 'Iraqi wanted to return to Damascus, and in time he won the sultan over. Messenger pigeons were sent out so that each way station would be informed and could welcome the illustrious pilgrim. Even before 'Iraqi left Cairo, the king of Damascus made him the chief shaykh of his city, and he was greeted enthusiastically by the local population. Six months after 'Iraqi arrived in Damascus, his son, Kabiruddin, came from Multan to join him. After 'Iraqi had left Baha'uddin's chair, the shaykh's son had assumed it, to be followed in turn by Kabiruddin, who, like his father, renounced it. A dream had instructed him to leave for Damascus, and another dream told his disciples to let him go.
Kabiruddin lived with his father for a few months, when a sudden illness struck 'Iraqi. He fell into a fevered sleep for five days. On the sixth, he awoke and called for his son and companions. Bidding them farewell, he gave voice to a quatrain:
'Iraqi "drank the cup of fate" on November 23, 1289, and the whole city mourned. He was buried in the Salihiyyah cemetery beside the tomb of Ibn al-'Arabi. Kabiruddin was appointed his successor, and when he too let go of the mortal coil, he was buried next to his father. These tombs were lost in the process of restoring Ibn al-'Arabi's tomb by Sultan Selim in the sixth century. Nonetheless, even today, when pilgrims visit Ibn al-'Arabi's memorial, they say, "This was the ocean of the Arabs", and turning to one side, say of 'Iraqi, "This was the ocean of the Persians."
Unlike Ibn al-'Arabi, who deeply inspired him, 'Iraqi did not write elaborate treatises on gnostic subjects. He had begun to write poetry, mostly lyrics and quatrains, in Multan. Near the end of his life he penned 'Ushshaq-nama (Song of the Lovers), which he dedicated to the vizier who had helped him to escape Kangirtay's soldiers, and some poems for Parwanah's relatives at Sinope. The Lama 'at, however, stands as his masterpiece and as one of the chief Sufi works in which the doctrines of gnosis, al-ma 'rifah, are expressed in the language of love, al-mahabbah. The first of these had been the Spark of Love by Ahmad Ghazzali, the brother of al-Ghazzali, and the second was Shihabuddin Suhrawardi's On the Reality of Love. 'Iraqi's Lama'at, the most beautiful work of this kind in Persian literature, inspired an entire tradition of poetic treatises in Persia and India. Looking towards the East, it blends tashbih and tanzih, immanence and transcendence, so that the Divine, Ever-unknowable in Itself, is mirrored everywhere and at all times. Looking towards the West and especially to the Platonic tradition, it posits a chain of love from the love of forms – 'ishq-i majazi, apparent love – to love of the Divine – 'ishq-i haqiqi, real love – where formal beauty has been transmuted into al-jamil, the Beautiful Itself, a Divine Name.
Theologians had gradually and grudgingly allowed the word mahabba, love, to enter the vocabulary of sacred discourse because it carried the connotation of 'obedience'. By the tenth century, philosophers felt free to speak of hubb 'udhri, Platonic love, the chaste contemplative love of the ideal. 'Iraqi shocked the orthodox and even some Sufis by insisting on 'ishq, passionate love, to emphasize the ardent yearning of the soul for the Divine, for he believed that the soul must experience awareness of separation from the Beloved as well as union with the Divine. Only when the sweetness of separation could be spiritually savoured would the devotee be willing to return from all-encompassing theophany to the suffering world for the sake of helping others.
In Islam the root profession of faith has always been the Shahada, which begins "La ilaha illa Allah ". "There is no god but Allah", whose name means 'the (One) God'. The Lama'at is 'Iraqi's elaboration of his reformulation of the Shahada: "La ilaha illa'l-'ishq", "There is no god but Love", an aphorism frequently used by Turkish Sufis today.
'Iraqi did not pretend that his own intuition was sufficient for understanding. His Lama 'at was a response to Ibn al-'Arabi's teachings; he followed two teachers in his life, and he began his work with an invocation of Muhammad as the archetypal Teacher. As primordial guru of Sufis, Muhammad was made to say:
If Love, al-'ishq, is attributeless Deity, then both lover and Beloved are derived from It, "but Love upon Its mighty Throne is purified of all entification, in the sanctuary of Its Reality too holy to be touched by inwardness or outwardness". Both the lover, whose soul is turned to the Divine, and the Beloved, who is the highest vision of Deity, are mirrors for one another. The existence of the visible and invisible worlds is nothing but the manifestation of Love as light. This primordial theophany is at once the hidden laws of nature and their self-conscious realization in Man.
The Unity of the Source, beyond even One as contrasted with Two, compels the lover's search for what, in fact, he is. The spiritual quest consists of infusing ever more subtle images – first in the world, and eventually in consciousness – with life, only to strip them away as inadequate representations of the goal, until even the ideas of 'search' and 'goal' are utterly transcended. The question "Where is the Beloved?" and the question "Who am I?" are the same.
For 'Iraqi the Divine is manifest through the movement of beings, for they are the acts of the Divine. This is the meaning of Muhammad's maxim: "He who knows himself knows his Lord. "It is the Divine in Man who loves, who sees, who invokes and consummates. Thus, the conviction of the seeker is the Divine in him, and all love, whatever the object or image, "is but a whiff of Thy perfume: none else can be loved". The Sufi sees that loving anything other than the Divine is not a matter of right or wrong, but of impossibility. Realization that love not only courses through all things but is all things is the root of the spiritual resolve to seek the Beloved through every obstacle, test and trial, the source of moral conduct and the basis of meaning. Nonetheless, the Beloved is always greater than the mirror which is the lover. "How can Meaning be squeezed into the box of Form?" Even the luminous and shadowy veils, said by some to be seventy thousand, between the Absolute and the human being, blind and mislead only him who clings to form rather than meaning.
The veils of differentiation which seem to hide the transcendent unity of the Divine are only the Divine Names and Attributes through which It acts, i.e., gives rise to beings. They are the intelligent creative potencies of manifestation.
For 'Iraqi arithmetic provides analogies which indicate what must be done to move towards the Beloved. Since the Divine is one and the individual must become a perfect mirror of the Divine, the individual must become one as well. Geometrically, one must become a sphere congruent with the sphere of the Divine. "Reality is a sphere: wherever you place your finger, there is its dead centre." This is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. "Our paints and tints are but opinion and fantasy. He is colourless and we must adopt His hue." If there were no Spiritual Sun of Manifestation, there would be no shadowy forms, for shadows cannot exist in the Divine Darkness. Yet when the Sun shines fully everywhere, there are no shadows. This is the paradox of one's origins and one's goal. The stages of the way to the goal, the dissolution of the paradox, are marked by the fact that the more one loves, the more one thirsts for love – like drinking sea water. Poverty of soul is required, for the same wind that blows out the rich man's candle will kindle the beggar's smouldering faggot. And if the lover achieves union, the erasure of the line of separateness will leave a trace, a reminder of the sweetness of love's yearning, and the lover will be willing to return to the world, now clothed in divine hues devoid of earthly coloration, to perfect those who remain in the half-light of ignorance. Finally, the lover will have hope, for "hopelessness is by no means obligatory", and this hope can expand into a profound and unshakeable hope for all humanity.
The ultimate union of lover and Beloved dissolves both, and Deity alone remains. This is the Sufi understanding of "There is no god hut God" – there is nothing real but the Divine. 'Iraqi sought throughout his life to realize this one idea, and whatever his final realization, each day strengthened his conviction and spiritual resolve to continue along the path which is the ladder of Love placed between earth and the incomprehensible Divine.