- Beyond Death: The Mystical Teachings of ‘Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhani
This monograph presents a thought-provoking analysis of the thought of the Sufi mystic Abu al-Ma‘ali ‘Abd Allah ibn Abi Bakr Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Ali al-Miyanji, known as ‘Ayn al-Qudat al-Hamadhani (d. 23 Jumada II 525/23 May 1131), who was executed for heresy by the Sultan Mahmud ibn Muhammad ibn Malikshah (rg. 1118–1131). Before his execution, ‘Ayn al-Qudat was imprisoned in Baghdad during which he wrote a defence of his views, Shakwat al-Gharib ‘an al-Awtan ila ‘Ulama al-Buldan (The Complaint of a Stranger Exiled from Home to the Scholars of the Lands). Papan-Matin’s monograph is based on the ideas contained in this work, along with one of his letters (Letter 98) in which he responds to criticisms made of Shakwat al-Gharib. Papan-Matin also includes a full translation of Letter 98 in the Appendix. Although the author focuses on the ideas that these two works raise, there is extensive reference to other key works written by ‘Ayn al-Qudat, especially his Tamhidat. The main themes of ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s thought that the author discusses are: (i) the notion of mystical death (mawt-i ma‘nawi), (ii) the dark light of Satan, and (iii) the concept of exile.
After a brief introduction (1–7) which outlines the structure and focus of the monograph, Chapter 1 (“Ayn al-Qudat’s Life, Heritage, and Legacy’, 9–45) provides a detailed biography of the mystic. Papan-Matin includes a brief overview of the literature written on ‘Ayn al-Qudat, which is currently very limited (particularly in English); a discussion of his father and early life; summaries of his main works (the Shakwat al-Gharib, Maktubat, the Tamihdat, and other works attributed to him); and the history of his trial, incarceration, and execution. The historical sources suggest that the charge of heresy was primarily raised for political, rather than theological reasons, and that ‘Ayn al-Qudat (and those with whom he had connections) had aroused jealously amongst [End Page 98] some at the royal court.
The second chapter (‘Longing for the Homeland’, 46–74) looks at the genre of medieval prison literature, comparing ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s Shakwat al-Gharib to other philosophical works written in gaol, namely Plato’s Apology and the visionary treatises of Ibn Sina. Papan-Matin also compares the genre to the theme of spiritual isolation and separation seen in works such as Shihab al-Din al-Suhrawardi’s Qissat al-Ghurba al-Gharbiyya (The Tale of the Occidental Exile), Sana’i Ghazanwi’s Sayr al-‘Ibad ila al-Ma‘ad (The Journey of the Servants to the Place of Return) and Rumi’s Nay-Namih (‘Tale of the Reed’). Papan-Matin examines the mystical idea that the soul is separated from God and seeks to be reunited with the divine. ‘Ayn al-Qudat uses his imprisonment as a metaphor for this separation and isolation from God. The focus of this chapter is on Letter 98 in which ‘Ayn al-Qudat makes the mystical interpretation of imprisonment clear. For ‘Ayn al-Qudat mystical death is the means by which the mystic can return to God, parallels of which can be seen in Plato and Ibn Sina. However, other influences are not considered in any great detail. The Christian idea of death and rebirth through baptism resonate strongly with ‘Ayn al-Qudat’s views on death. Likewise, there appear to be some dualist tendencies that are reminiscent of Manichean philosophy that are not explored. This chapter, does, however, provide a fascinating examination of the way in which philosophers have utilized the experience of imprisonment as a metaphor for the spiritual quest.
The following chapter (‘Death and Visions of the Unseen’, 75–132) studies the central theme of the monograph, mystical death. It is here that...