The Niche of Lights – Book Sample
Book Contents – The Niche of Lights
Date, Object, And General Contents
Mysteries Left Veiled In This Treatise
A Ghazzalian Philosophy Of Religion
Ghazzali Problems Raised By The Foregoing
The Problem Of The Vicegerent In Ibn Rushd And Ibn Tufail
One Solution Of The Problem Of The Vicegerent
Al-Ghazzali And The Seven Spheres
Anthropomorphism And Theomorphism In Al-Mishkat
Pantheism And Al-Ghazzali, In Al-Mishkat Translation
PART I.–Light, And Lights: Preliminary Studies
PART II.–The Science Of Symbolism.
PART III.–The Application To The Light-Verse And The Veils Tradition
THE MISHKÂT AL-ANWAR is a work of extreme interest from the viewpoint of al-Ghazzâlî’s inner life and esoteric thought. The glimpses it gives of that life and thought are remarkably, perhaps uniquely, intimate. It begins where his autobiographical Al-Munqidh min al-Dalâl leaves off. Its esotericism excited the curiosity and even the suspicion of Muslim thinkers from the first, and we have deeply interesting allusions to it in Ibn Tufaill and Ibn Rushd, the celebrated philosophers of Western Islam, who flourished within the century after al-Ghazzâlî’s death in 1111 (A.H. 505)–a fact which, again, increases its importance and interest for us.
[1. The Mishkât al-Anwâr is numbered No. 34 in Brockelmann’s Geschichte der Arabischen Literatur (vol. i, p. 423). It was printed in Cairo (matba`at as Sidq, A. H. 1322), to which edition the references in the present work are made. There is another edition in a collection of five opuscules of Ghazzâlî under the title of the first of the five, Faisal al-Tafriqa.
PART III.–THE APPLICATION TO THE LIGHT-VERSE AND THE VEILS TRADITION
(i) THE EXPOSITION OF THE SYMBOLISM OF THE LIGHT-VERSE – The Niche of Lights
We now come to what the symbolism of this Verse actually signifies. The full exposition of the parallelism between these five classes of Spirit, and the fivefold Niche; Glass, Lamp, Tree, and Oil, [p. 43] could be indefinitely prolonged. But we must be content with shortly indicating the method of the symbolism.
1. Consider the sensory spirit. Its lights, you observe, come through several apertures, the eyes, ears, nostrils, etc. Now the aptest symbol for this, in our world of experience, is the Niche for a lamp in a wall.
2. Take next the imaginative spirit. It has three peculiarities: first, that it is of the stuff that this gross lower world is made of, for its objects have definite and limited size, and shape, and dimension, and are definitely related to the subject in respect of distance. Further,
one of the properties of a gross substance whereof corporal attributes are predicated is to be opaque to the light of pure intelligence, which transcends these categories of direction, quantity, and distance. But, secondly, if that substance is clarified, refined, disciplined, and controlled, it attains to a correspondence with and a similarity to the ideas of the intelligence, and becomes transparent to light from them. Thirdly, the imagination is at first very much needed, in order that intelligential knowledge may be controlled by it, so that that knowledge be not disturbed, unsettled, and dissipated, and so get out of hand. The images supplied by the imagination hold together the knowledge supplied by the intellect. Now, in the world of everyday experience the sole object in which you will find these three peculiarities, in relation to physical lights, is Glass. For glass also is originally an opaque substance, but is clarified and refined until it becomes transparent to the light of a lamp, which indeed it transmits unaltered. Again, glass keeps the lamp from being put out by a draught or violent jerking. [p. 44]
By what, then, could possibly the imagination be more aptly symbolized?
3. The intelligential spirit, which gives cognizance of the divine ideas. The point of the symbolism must be obvious to you. You know it already from our preceding explanation of the doctrine that the prophets are a “Light-giving lamp.”
4. The ratiocinative spirit. Its peculiarity is to begin from one proposition, then to branch out into two, which two become four and so on, until by this process of logical division they become very numerous. It leads, finally, to conclusions which in their turn become germs producing like conclusions, these latter being also susceptible of continuation, each with each. The symbol which our world yields for this is a Tree. And when further we consider that the fruit of the discursive reason is material for this multiplying, establishing, and fixing of all knowledge, it will naturally not be typified by trees like quince, apple, pomegranate, nor, in brief, by any other tree whatever, except the Olive. For the quintessence of the fruit of the olive is its oil, which is the material which feeds
the lamps, and has this peculiarity, as against all other oils, that it increases radiance. Again, if people give the adjective “blessed” to specially fruitful trees, surely the tree the fruitfulness whereof is absolutely infinite should be named Blessed! Finally, if the ramifications of those pure, intellectual propositions do not admit of relation to direction and to distance, then may the antitypical tree will be said to be “Neither from the East nor from the West.”
5. The transcendental prophetic spirit, which is possessed by saints as well as prophets if it is absolutely luminous and clear. For the thought-spirit is divided [p. 45] into that which needs be instructed, advised, and supplied from without, if the acquisition of knowledge is to be continuous; while a portion of it is absolutely, clear, as though it were self-luminous, and had. no external source of supply. Applying these, considerations, we see how justly this clear, strong natural faculty is described by the words, “Whose Oil were well-nigh luminant, though Fire touched it not;” for there be Saints whose light shines so bright that it is “well-nigh”‘ independent of that which Prophets
supply, while there be Prophets whose light is “well-nigh” independent of that which Angels ‘supply. Such is the symbolism, and aptly does zit typify this class.
And inasmuch as the lights of the human spirit are graded rank on rank, then that of Sense comes first, the foundation and preparation for the Imagination (for the latter can only be conceived as superimposed after Sense); those of the Intelligence and Discursive Reason come thereafter. All which explains why the Glass is, as it were, the place for the Lamp’s immanence; and the Niche, for the Glass: that is to say, the Lamp is within the Glass, and the Glass within the Niche. Finally, the existence, as we have seen, of a graded succession of Lights explains the words of the text “Light upon Light.”
Epilogue: the Darkness Verse – The Niche of Lights
But this symbolism holds only for the ‘hearts of true believers, or of prophets and saints, but not for the hearts of misbelievers; ‘for the term “light” is expressive of right-guidance alone. But as for the man who is turned from the path of guidance, he is false, he is darkness; nay, he is darker than darkness.
For darkness is natural; it leads one neither one way nor the other; but the minds of misbelievers, and the whole of their perceptions, are perverse, and support each other mutually in the actual deluding of their owners. They are like a man “in some fathomless sea, overwhelmed [p. 46] by billow topped by billow topped by cloud; darkness on darkness piled!” Now that fathomless sea is the World, this world of mortal dangers, of evil chances, of blinding trouble.
The first “billow” is the wave of lust, whereby souls acquire the bestial attributes, and are occupied with sensual pleasures, and the satisfaction of worldly ambitions, so that “they eat and luxuriate like cattle. Hell shall be their place of entertainment!” Well does this wave represent darkness, therefore; since love for the creature makes the soul both blind and deaf. The second “billow” is the wave of the ferocious attributes, which impel. the soul to wrath, enmity, hatred, prejudice,
[1. S. 24, 40.
2. The following tripartite division of the soul, with its analogues, is Platonic (see Republic, bk. iv).
3. S. 12, 47.]
envy, boastfulness, ostentation, pride. Well is this, too, the symbol of darkness, for wrath is the demon of man’s intelligence; and well also is it the uppermost billow, for anger is mostly stronger even than Just; swelling wrath diverts the soul from lust and makes it oblivious of enjoyment; lust cannot for a moment stands up against anger at its height, Finally, “the cloud” is rank beliefs, and lying heresies, and corrupt imaginings, which become so many veils veiling the misbeliever from the true faith, from knowledge of the Real, and from illumination by the sunlight of the Koran and human intelligence. For it is the property of a cloud to veil the shining of the sunlight. Now these things, being all of them darkness, are well called “darkness on darkness piled”, shutting the soul out from the knowledge of things near, [p. 47] let alone things far away; veiling the misbeliever, therefore, from the apprehension of the miraculousness of the Prophet, though he is so near to grasp, so manifest upon the least reflection. Truly it might be said of such an, one that “when a man putteth forth his hand, he can well-nigh see it not.” Finally, if all
[1. S. 24, 40.]
these Lights have, as we, saw, their source and origin in the great Primary, the One Real, then every Confessor of the Unity may well believe that “the man for whom Allâh doth not cause light, no light at all hath he.”
And now you must be content with thus much of the mysteries of this Verse.
(ii) THE EXPOSITION OF THE SYMBOLISM OF THE SEVENTY THOUSAND VEILS
What is the signification of the tradition, “Allâh hath Seventy Thousand Veils of Light and Darkness: were He to withdraw their curtain, then would the splendours of His Aspect surely consume everyone who apprehended Him with his sight.” (Some read “seven hundred veils;” others, “seventy thousand.”)
I explain it thus. Allâh is in, by, and for himself glorious. A veil is necessarily related to those from whom the glorious object is veiled. Now these among men are of three kinds, according as their veils are pure darkness; mixed darkness and light; or pure light.
The subdivisions of these three are very numerous. That much only is certain. I could
[1. S. 24, 40.]
no doubt make some far-fetched enumeration of these subdivisions; but I have no confidence in the results of such defining and enumerating, for none knows whether they were really intended or not. As for the fixing of the number at seven hundred, or at seventy thousand, this is a matter that only the prophetic power can compass. My own clear impression, however, is that these numbers are not mentioned in the way of definite enumeration at all, for [p. 48] numbers are not infrequently mentioned without any intention of limitation, but rather to denote some indefinitely great quantity:–God knows best! That point, then, is beyond our competence, and all I can do now is to unfold to you these three main divisions and a few of the subdivisions.
1. Those veiled by Pure Darkness – The Niche of Lights
The first division consists of those who are veiled by pure darkness. These are the atheists “who believe not in Allâh, nor the Last Day.” These are they “who love this present life more than that which is to come,” for they do not believe in that which is to come at all. They fall into subdivisions.
First, there are those who desire to discover a cause to account for the world, and make Nature that cause. But nature is an, attribute which inheres in material substances, and is immanent in them, and is moreover a, dark one, for it has no knowledge, nor perception, nor self-consciousness, nor consciousness, nor light perceived through the medium of physical sight.
Secondly, their are those whose preoccupation is self, and who in no wise busy themselves. about the quest for causality. Rather, they live the life of the beasts of the field. This veil is, as it were, their self-centred ego, and, their lusts of darkness; for there is no darkness, so intense as slavery to self-impulse and self-love. “Hast thou seen,” saith Allâh, “the man who makes self-impulse his god?” and the Prophet, “Self-impulse is the hatefullest of the gods, worshipped instead of Allâh.”
This last division may farther be subdivided. There is one class which has thought that this world’s Chief End is the satisfaction, of one’s wants, lusts, and animal pleasures, whether connected with sex, or food, or drink, or raiment. These, therefore, are the creatures of pleasure; pleasure is their god, the goal of their ambition, and in winning her they believe that they have won felicity. Deliberately and willingly do they place themselves at the level of the beasts of the field; nay, at a viler level than the beasts. Can darkness be conceived more intense than this? Such men are, indeed, veiled by darkness unadulterated. Another class has thought that man’s Chief End is conquest and domination–the taking of prisoners, and captives, and life.  Such is the idea of the Arabs, certain of the Kurds, and withal very numerous fools. Their veil is the dark veil of the ferocious attributes, because these dominate them, so that they deem the running down of their quarry the height of bliss.
These, then, are content to occupy the level of beasts of prey, nay, one more degraded still. A third class has supposed that the Chief End is riches and prosperity, because wealth is the instrument for the satisfaction of every lust.
Their concern is therefore the heaping up and multiplication of riches–the multiplication of property, real estate, personal estate, thoroughbreds, flocks, herds, fields and the rest. Such men hoard their pelf underground–you may see them toiling their lives long, embarking on perils by land, perils by sea, up-date, down-lea, piling up wealth, and yet grudging it to themselves–and how much more others! These are they whom the Prophet had in view when he said, “Poor wretch, the slave of money! Poor wretch, the slave of gold!” And,
indeed, what darkness is in tenser than that which blinds mankind to the fact that gold and silver are just two metals, unwanted for their own sakes, no better than gravel unless they are made a means to various ends, and spent upon things worth spending on? A fourth class had advanced a step higher than the total folly of these last, and has supposed that the supreme felicity is found in the extension of a man’s personal reputation, the spread of his own renown, the increase of his own following and his influence over others.
You may see these admiring themselves in their own looking-glasses! One of them, who may be suffering hunger and penury at home, will be spending his substance on clothes, and trying to look his smartest therein, [p. 50] just in order to avoid contemptuous glances when he walks abroad!
Innumerable are the varieties of this species, and one and all are veiled from Allâh by pure darkness, and they themselves are darkness. So there is no need to mention all the individual varieties, when once attention has been called to the species. One of these varieties which we should,
however, mention is the sort that confesses with their tongues the Creed “There is no god but Allâh,” but are probably urged thereto by fear alone, or the desire to beg from Mohammadans, or to curry favour with them, or to get financial assistance out of them, or by a merely fanatical zeal, to support the opinions of their fathers. For if the Creed fails to impel these to good works, by no means shall it secure their elevation from the dark sphere to light. Rather are their patron-saints devils, who lead them from the light into the darkness. But he whom the Creed so touches that his evil deeds displease him and his good deeds give him pleasure, has passed from pure darkness even though he be a great sinner still.
2. Those veiled by mixed Light and Darkness
The second division consists of those who are veiled by mixed light and darkness. It consists of three main kinds: first, those whose darkness has its origin in the Senses; secondly, in the Imagination; thirdly, in false syllogisms of the Intelligence.
First, then, those veiled by the darkness of the Senses. These are persons who one and all have got beyond that self-absorption which was the characteristic of all the first division, as they deify something outside the self, and have some yearning for the knowledge of the Deity. The first grade of these consists of the idol-worshippers, the last grade consists of the dualists; between which extremes come other grades.
The first, the idolaters, are aware, in general, that they have a deity whom they must prefer to their dark selves, and believe [p. 51] that their deity is mightier than everything else, and more to be prized that every prize.
But the darkness of sense veils from them the knowledge that they must transcend the world of sense in this quest; so that they make for themselves from the more precious minerals, gold, silver, gems, etc., figures splendidly fashioned, and then take those images unto themselves as gods. Such men are veiled by the light of Majesty and Beauty from the attributes of Allah and his light: they have affixed these attributes to sense-perceived bodies; which sense has blocked out the light of Allah; for the senses are darkness in relation to the World Spiritual, as we have already shown.
The second class, composed of the remotest Turkish tribes, who have no organized religious community and no definite religious code, believe that they have a deity, and that that deity is some particularly beautiful object; so that when they see a human being of exceptional beauty, or similarly a tree, or a horse, etc., they worship it and call it their god. These are veiled by the light of Beauty mixed with the darkness of Sense.
They have penetrated further than the idolaters into the Realm of Light in the discovery of Light, for they are worshippers of Beauty in the absolute, not in the individual; and they do not limit it specially to one individual to the exclusion of others; and then, again, the Beauty they worship is of Nature’s hand, and not of their own.
The third class say, our deity must be in His essence Light, glorious in His express image, majestic in Himself, terrible in His presence, intolerant of approach; and yet He must be likewise perceptible. For the imperceptible is meaningless in the opinion of these. Then because they find Fire thus characterized, they worship it and take it unto themselves as lord. Such are veiled by the light of Dominion and of Glory, [p. 52] which are, indeed, two of the Lights of Allah.
The fourth class think that, since we have control over fire, kindling or quenching it at will, it cannot serve as divinity. Only that which possessing the attribute of Dominion and Glory and has us under its absolute sway, and is withal very higher and lifted up-only this avails for divinity.
Astrology is the science that is celebrated among this folk, the attribution to each star of its special influence: so that some worship Cynosura and others Jupiter, and others some other heavenly body, according to the many influences with which they believe the several stars are endued. These, then, are veiled by Light, the Light of the Sublime, the Luminous, the Potent; which are also three of the Lights of Allâh.
The fifth class support the fourth in their fundamental idea, but they say that it does not befit their Lord to be describable as small or great among light-giving substances, but He must be the greatest of them; and so they worship the Sun, which, they say, is the Greatest of All. Such are veiled by the Light of Greatness, in addition to the former lights; but are still blent with the darkness of the Senses.
The sixth class advance higher still and say, The sun has no monopoly of light; bodies other than the sun have each one its light. So, as the deity must have no partner in lightfulness, they worship Absolute Light, which embraces all lights, and think that It is the Lord of the Universe, and that all good things are attributable to it.
Then, since they perceive the existence of evils in the world, and will by no means allow them to be attributed to their deity, He being wholly void of evil, they conceive of a struggle between Him and the Darkness,  and these two are called by them, as I suppose, Yazdân and Ahriman; which is the sect of the Dualists.
This must suffice for the exemplification of this division, the classes whereof are more numerous than those we have mentioned.
Second, those veiled by some light, mixed with the darkness of the Imagination. These have got beyond the senses, for they assert the existence of something behind the objects of sense, but are unable to get beyond the imagination, and so have worshipped a Being who actually sits on a throne.
The meanest grade of these is called the Corporealists; then all the various Karrâmites, into whose writings and opinions we cannot go here, for to multiply words thereon were bootless. But the highest in degree are those who denied to Allah corporality and all its accidentia, except one–direction, and that direction upwards; for (say they) that which is not referable to any direction, and cannot be characterized as either within or without the world, does not exist at. all, since it cannot be imagined by the imagination. They failed to perceive that the very first degree of the intelligibilia takes us clean beyond all reference whatsoever to direction and dimension.
those who are veiled by Light divine, mixed with the darkness of false syllogisms of the Intelligence, and who worship a deity, that “Heareth, Seeth, and hath Knowledge, Power, Will, Life”, and transcends all directions, including direction upwards; but whose conception of these attributes is relative to their own;
so that some of them may even have declared outright that His “speech” is with sounds and letters like ours; while others advanced a step higher, it may be, and said, “Nay, but it is like our thought-speech, both soundless and letterless.” Thus, when they were challenged to show that “hearing, sight, life”, etc., are real in Allâh they fell back on what was essentially anthropomorphism, though 1. See Averroes, opusc. cit., p. 61, Cairo ed., p. 51.
they repudiated it formally; for they utterly failed to apprehend what [p. 54] the attribution of these ideas to Allah really signifies. Thus they, say, in regard to His will, that it is contingent, like ours; that it is a demanding and a purposing, like ours. All of which opinions are well-known, and we need not go into further details with regard to them: These, then, are veiled by several of the divine Lights, mixed with the. darkness of false syllogisms of the intelligence., All such are various classes of the second division, which consists of those veiled by mixed. light and darkness.
3. Those veiled by Pure Light – The Niche of Lights
The third division are those veiled with, pure Light, and they also fall into several classes. I cannot enumerate all, but only refer to three.
The first of these have searched out and understood the true meaning of the divine. attributes, and have grasped that when the divine attributes are named Speech, Will, Power, Knowledge, and the rest, it is not according to our human mode of nomenclature. And this has led them to avoid denoting Him, by these attributes altogether, and to denote Him simply by a reference to His creation, as ‘Moses did in his answer to Pharaoh, when the latter asked, “And what, pray, is the Lord of .the Universe?” and he replied, “‘The Lord, Whose Holiness transcends even the ideas of these attributes,’ He, the Mover and Orderer of the Heavens.”
The second mount higher than these, inasmuch as they perceived that the Heavens are a plurality, and that the mover of every several Heaven is another being, called an Angel, and that these angels form a plurality, and that their relation to the other Lights Divine is as the relation of the stars to all other visible lights. Then they perceived that these Heavens are enveloped by another Sphere, by whose motion all the rest revolve once in twenty-four hours, and that finally The LORD is He Who communicates motion to this outermost Sphere,
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which encloses all the rest, on the ground (say they) that plurality must be denied of Him.
The third mount higher than these also, [p. 55], and say that this direct communication of motion to the celestial bodies must be an act of service to the Lord of the Universe, an act of worship and obedience to His command, and rendered by one of His creatures, an Angel, who stands to the pure Light Divine in the relation of the Moon to the other visible lights; and they asserted that the LORD is the Obeyed-One of this Angelic Movent, and that the Almighty must be considered the universal Movent indirectly and by way of command only (amr), but not directly by way of act. The explication of which “command” and what it really is contains much that is obscure, and too difficult for most minds, besides being beyond the scope of this book.
These, then, are grades all of which are veiled by Lights without admixture of Darkness.
4. The Goal Of the Quest – The Niche of Lights
But those who ATTAIN make a fourth grade, to Whom, in turn, it has been made clear that this Obeyed-One, if identified with, Allâh, would have been given attributes negative of His pure Unity and perfection, on account of a mystery which it is not in the scope of this book to reveal; and that the relation of’ this Obeyed-One to THE REAL
EXISTENCE is as the relaxation of the Sun to Essential Light, or of the live coal to the Elemental Fire, and so “turned their faces” from him who moves the heavens and him who issued the command (amara) for their moving, and Attained unto an Existent who transcends ALL that is comprehensible by human Sight or human Insight; for they found IT transcendent of and separate from every characterization that in the foregoing we have made.
And these last are also divided. For one class the whole content of the perceptible is. consumed away–consumed, obliterated, and annihilated; yet the soul itself remains contemplating the absolute Beauty and Holiness and contemplating herself in her beauty, which is conferred on her by this Attainment unto the Presence Divine [p. 56] In them, then, the seen things, but not the seeing, soul, are obliterated.
And they are passed by others, among whom are the Few of the Few; whom “the splendours of the Countenance sublime consume”, and the majesty of the Divine Glory obliterate; so that they are themselves blotted out, annihilated. For self-contemplation there is no more found a place, because with the self they have no longer anything to do. Nothing remaineth any more save the One, the Real; and the import of His word, “All perisheth save His Countenance,” becomes the experience of the soul. To this we have made reference in the first chapter, where we set forth in what sense they named this state “Identity,” and how they conceived the same.
Such is the ultimate degree of those who Attain. Some of these souls had not, in their upward Progress and Ascent, to climb step by step the stages we have described; neither did their ascension cost them any length of time; but with their first flight they attained to the knowledge of the Holiness and the confession that His sovereignty transcends everything that it must be confessed to transcend. They were overcome at the very first by the knowledge which overcame the rest at the very last. The onset of God’s epiphany came upon them with one rush, so that all that is apprehensible by the sight of Sense or by the insight of Intelligence was by “the splendours of His Countenance utterly consumed”. It may be that that first was the way of Abraham, the Friend of Allâh, while the latter was the way of Mohammed, the Beloved of Allâh. Allâh alone knoweth the mysteries of their Progress and of their Stations on the Way of Light.
Such is our account of the classes of the veiled by the Veils; and it were not strange, if, after all these Stations were fully classified and the veils of the Pilgrims Mystical were fully studied, the number of classes were found to amount to Seventy Thousand. Yet, if you look carefully, you shall find that of them all not one falls outside the divisions which we have set forth. For, as we have shown, they must be veiled by their own human attributes or by the senses, imagination, discursive intelligence; or by pure light.
This is what has occurred to me by way of answer  to your interrogations, though, these came to me at a time when my thought was divided, and my mind preoccupied, and my attention given to other matters than this. May not my suggestion be, then, that you ask forgiveness for me for anything wherein my pen. has erred, or my foot has slipped? For ’tis a, hazardous thing to plunge into the fathomless. sea of the divine mysteries; and hard, hard it is to essay the discovery of the Lights Supernal that are beyond the Veil.
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References / Footnotes
|⇧01||1. See Averroes, opusc. cit., p. 61, Cairo ed., p. 51.|