Islamic Garden

Islamic Garden
Islamic Garden in Lausanne, Switzerland

Friday, September 25, 2009

On the Meaning of the Straight Path

Nasir Khusraw was a leading Shia Ismaili poet and theologian-philosopher of the eleventh century (1004 to circa 1088 CE). In an English translation of his Gushayish wa Rahayish by Faquir Hunzai, Khusraw explains his understanding of the Siratal Mustaqim:

On the Meaning of the Straight Path

(168) O brother! You asked: 'What is the sirat (lit. path, way, bridge)? It is said that the sirat is stretched over hell, that it is thinner than an hair and sharper than a sword, and all people have to cross it. The fortunate ones cross it and reach paradise, whereas the unfortunate ones fall from it into hell. Explain, so that we may know.'

(169) Know, O brother, that (the word) sirat (in Persian, rah) means a path or a way. The path is of two kinds: one is the external path that the people walk upon the surface of the earth, and the other is the path which people follow with their souls in goodness and badness. Had the path stretched over hell been the only one which people have to cross, God in His book would not have mentioned it in the Surat al-hamd and commanded us to remember Him so that He would show us the path, as He says in the verse: 'Guide us to the straight path (al-sirat al-mustaqim)'. (1:5) Since He has commanded us to seek the straight path, it is a proof that on the path which is not straight but crooked is found that which is other than God. If God had made only one path on which we had to walk and traverse, He would not have commanded us to say this prayer. (The straight path is the way of those upon whom God has bestowed His favours, and they are the prophets,the truthful, the witnesses, and the righteous.) As He says: ('All who obey God and the Messenger are in the company of those) upon whom God has bestowed (His) favours: the prophets (nabiyyin) the truthful (siddiqin), the witnesses (shuhada), and the righteous (salihin). (4:69)

(170) Thus, it is established that the sirat is not (a path for the body) but the path of the soul which it should traverse, because God obliged (this path) first for the prophets, then their legatees (wasis) and the true Imams, and then their (proofs (hujjats)), as mentioned. These are the ones whom God has obliged: the prophets who are the Messengers, and they are so called because they convey the news of that world to the people; 'the truthful' by which He means the legatees who (expounded) the ta'wil of the shari'at and the book to the people, and by so doing disclosed the reality of the parables which they contained and provided to the wise that the Messengers are truthful; by 'the witnesses' are meant the true Imams as they are witnesses of God among the people; and by 'the righteous' are meant their (proofs) because of the betterment of the souls of people is due to them.

(171) When we come to know that the sirat is the path of the soul and not a path for the body, and with regard to what has been said that it stretches over hell, that it is thinner than an hair and sharper than a sword, that people have to traverse it in order to reach paradise, and if they fall from it they reach the eternal fire - all this is correct, but it is necessary to know its esoteric meaning (ta'wil), not (merely) the exoteric description. Thus we say that the sirat has the status of man (who is positioned) between animality and angelicity, and is required to walk on it straight because unless he traverses it he will be unable to reach paradise. Paradise is the higher (spiritual) world and hell is the fire which surrounds this lower (material) world. The ta'wil of this statement is that paradise means our liberation from the world of animality, and hell means to remain in that (animal) nature. If man practices the shari'at without understanding its ta'wil, then he makes himself into an animal, he inclines towards the left hand and falls into hell from the sirat. If he acquires (esoteric) knowledge, but does not practice the shari'at while claiming angelicity, he inclines towards the right hand and falls into hell from the sirat. However, when man walks on the path of humanity, in which he has a share from both animality and angelicity - that is, he does the work which is the share of his body and acquires knowledge which is the share of his soul - he walks on the straight path (sirat-i mustaqim); then when he traverses the sirat he is said to have reached paradise. This is so because having walked on the straight path using both knowledge and practice, when his soul leaves the body which is his sirat, he reaches the higher world, the place of angels and the true paradise." (1998, pp. 104-106).

~ Excerpted from "Knowledge and Liberation - A Treatise on Philosophical Theology" by Nasir Khusraw, edited and translated by Faquir M Hunzai.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Depth Psychology and Imaginal psychology in Islam

Depth psychotherapy was clearly not unfamiliar in the Muslim world. Dr. Ihsan Al-Issa,Ph.D, editor of "Al-Junun: Mental Illness in the Islamic World" describes two depth psychotherapeutic interventions including one by the renowned physician and polymath,Ibn Sina(d. 1037):

"In the same vein, Ibn Sina treated a deluded prince who imagined himself to be a cow. He would low and urge that he should be killed so that his flesh would be cooked in to a stew. He stopped eating and his life was in danger. The patient was told that a butcher was coming to kill him. With a knife in his hand, Ibn Sina entered the patent's room with two attendants saying, "Where is this cow that I may kill?" The patient made a noise like a cow. Ibn Sina ordered that the patient's hands and feet be bound. Putting his hand on the patient's side, he said, "He is very lean and not fit to be killed; he must eat fodder until he is fat." The patient ate in the hope that he might become fat and they might kill him, but within a month he was completely recovered (Browne, 1921). Ibn Abi Usaybia cited by Burgel (1973) reported a similar delusional case treated by Ibn Malka. The patient believed that he carried a precious vase on his head and feared its being knocked off. Ibn Malka arranged so that one of his assistants threw a similar vase down from the roof at the same m oment when another assistant pretended to knock down the imagery vase off the patient's head. This was a shock to the patient who believed that it was his vase that was broken and in this way he lost his delusion. It is important to note that both ancient and medieval physicians tended to reinforce the patient's delusion as an initial point in the process of therapy instead of denying the "reality" of these delusions as it is usually practiced in modern psychiatry." (2000, pp.60-61).

Clearly, Islam was able to adopt this Galenic approach to psychological treatment in the Medieval period to obtain the necessary results for effective treatment. This approach is fully validated by contemporary theory in imaginal psychology.