Tous les articles par Francesco Chiabotti

International Conference “Presence of the Prophet and His Heritage” – Marrakech 4-7 November 2018

Mithāl al-ni’āl al-nabawiyya al-sharīfa (The Prophet’s sandals), Marocco, Royal Library num. 7875. In : al-Shaykh Muḥāmmad al-Mu’ṭā ibn al-Ṣāliḥ, Dhakhīrat al-muḥtāj fī ṣalāt ʿalā ṣāḥib al-liwā’ wa-l-tāj (Preliminary Pages), published by  the Ministry of Endowments and Islamic Affairs of the Kingdom of Marocco, Rabat, 2009. 

حضور الرسول وتراثه

مؤتمر دولي

Presence of the Prophet and his Heritage: Piety, Dissent and Revival in Muslim Culture since the Early Modern Period

The conference, which is hosted by the Ministry of Habous and Islamic Affairs, combines two central themes of the ANR/DFG Project on The Presence of the Prophet. Muhammad in the Mirror of his Community in Early Modern and Modern Islam. Representations of the figure of the Prophet in the sphere of knowledge and literary expression and performance shall be discussed together with his function in political and eschatological movements of revival and reform and in the formation of early modern Muslim polities. Pious and political mobilization centering on the Prophet involves the double relation of the Muslim believers to the human and, at the same time, to the supra-human realities of his person. This found expression in a wide range of emotions in everyday practice and in the spirituality of the Sufi paths, and it provided a strong focus for eschatological expectation as well as for the formation of individual, social and political identities.

The double relation to the Prophet generated far-reaching controversies over his personal status and that of his Sunna for the believers. At the same time, important collections of prayers in praise of the Prophet were created that have retained their importance to this day. [read more]

The full program in English, here.

تحميل البرنامج بالعربية هنا
Le programme, en français, ici.

3rd Workshop Anr-Dfg Prophet, The Prophet and the Modern State

ANR/DFG Workshop,

Ruhr University Bochum, 17-18 May 2018

Venue: Centrum für Religionswissenschaftliche Studien (CERES)


(Read the full program here)

Since the emergence of the early Muslim empires, the image of the Prophet Muḥammad as a successful and divinely guided war leader and statesman became a model inspiring many Muslim communities of different times and regions in their manifold and often rivalling political projects, whether in imamates, caliphates sultanates, or in the different forms of tribal or communal confederation. More recently, the aura of the Prophet was also evoked by them for the establishment of modern nation states with their monopoly of legitimate violence, their political and bureaucratic structure, their legal and economic system, and especially for their ethical and ideological legitimation. Time and again, the Prophetic model has also been instrumental for the self-empowerment of Muslim individuals and communities in their resistance against foreign powers and, later, against their own governments, justifying an opposition that often included militant action and even terrorism. The political dimensions of the claim to Prophetic legitimacy for Muslim statehood in the 20thand 21th century, after the disempowerment of the larger Muslim states and empires and the ensuing experience of European hegemony, still need to be fully worked out within a comparative framework of study.

The third workshop of our ANR/DFG project The Presence of the Prophet: Muhammad in the Mirror of His Community in Early Modern and Modern Islamengages with this task, as it shall analyse representations of the Prophet that have operated in Muslim states and political movements since the end of the 19thcentury. Four periods of intense political change will shape our approach to his political image:

The first period (ca. 1908-1925)includes the Young Turk revolution, the First World War, the Bolshevik revolution 1917 in Russia, the establishment of the Republic of Turkey and the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate. It also covers the transformation of Iran between the Constitutional Revolution and the establishment of the Pahlavi monarchy. Along with the modernist projects in Turkey, Iran and the Soviet Union with their sometimes fiercely secular and even anti-religious policies, the resilience and novel establishment of sharifianmonarchies (in Morocco, Libya, Jordan, Iraq, and Yemen), often instrumentalized by European colonial policies, also belongs to this period.

The second period (ca. 1947-1968)is characterized by the successes of national independence movements and socialist revolutions after the Second World War. Tension between political groups and parties formed by Islamists and secular nationalists, socialists and communists in different configurations and alliances shaped the emergence and development of the new states established in Pakistan (1947) and Indonesia (1949), and also the new independent states of the Arab world. Whereas Islamist mass movements – in this period largely suppressed – pursued their own vision of an Islamic society based on the model of the Prophetic sunna, the regimes established by socialist and nationalist revolutions forced the traditional religious institutions under tight control by the state, at the same time promoting their own ideological images of the Prophet. The defeat of the Arab nationalist and socialist regimes in the Six Day War 1967 and, at the same time, the general crackdown on communist parties in different Muslim countries (beginning in Indonesia 1965) prepared the ground for a novel rise of Islamist political aspirations.

The third period (ca. 1979-1991)was preceded by an unmistakable growth of Islamic religious practice in different Muslim countries and shaped by a continuing weakening of the Soviet Union and her communist and socialist allies. It began with the Iranian Revolution and the attack on the Ḥaram in Mecca, and finally culminated in the breakdown of the Soviet Union. In the course of these events, social Islamization and Islamic political and military movements gained further momentum in many Muslim countries, including several post-Soviet states.

The fourth period (2000 to the present)can be regarded as culmination of Islamist social and political influence and activities. It has been shaped to a large extent by the rise and spectacular successes of new jihadist movements in different parts of the Muslim world and beyond, the outcome and impact of which still remains to be assessed.

The comparative study of the diverse and competing political representations of the Prophet will bring out an ongoing process of both secularization and renewed sacralization of the Prophetic image and model, a process which has gone along with an increasingly globalized struggle over this image and its control. The recourse to Muḥammad’s authority for political legitimation can be found oscillating between the sacralization of existing rule and the political ideologization of the Prophetic image itself. The mentioned sharifianmonarchies base their very legitimacy on the claim to Prophetic descent. The socialist regimes of the 1950s and 1960s, on the other hand, ideologized his figure as the first socialist (Nasserism) or as an ideal revolutionary (Baʿthism). In opposition to secular ideology, Ayatollah Khomeynī even attributed an authority approaching that of Muḥammad himself to the leading Islamic scholar for the administration of society.

A further field of inquiry will focus on the role of the Prophetic model in state and nation building, and in the formation of public institutions and structures. Its central questions will be related to the sacralization of modern constitutions through Prophetic references, the synthesis of modern law with classical Islamic law and hadith, and the significance of the Prophetic biography (sīra) for public education. This also includes Islamic ceremonies which came under state patronage and control in the 20thcentury, such as the still widely used oath of allegiance (bayʿa) to the ruler, the official organization of the pilgrimage (ḥajj), the control and political use of Friday sermons, and of the celebrations of Muḥammad’s birthday (mawlid) and his night journey (miʿrāj).

A final section of the workshop will discuss the Prophet’s significance for individual and collective mobilization and empowerment and will concentrate on Islamic mass organizations and missionary daʿwamovements with their religious activities, their social and educational programs, and their interaction with the state. It further focuses on the transformation of religious living practice into a mobilization tool of political and sectarian struggle, ushering in the rise of militant jihadist organizations such as the Ṭālibān,al-Qāʿida, and lately the so-called Islamic State, where the Prophet has been brought out again as a model warrior fighting against a world of unbelievers.







The Prophet as a ‘Sacred Spring’: Late Ottoman Hilye Bottles

Christiane Gruber (University of Michigan)

* Paper presented at workshop « Between God and Man: Representations of the Prophet in Literature, Arts, and Media » Bochum, 9-10 November 2017.

The Topkapi Palace Library is one of the world’s largest and most important repository of Islamic paintings and manuscripts. It thus came as a surprise to me when, after a decade of research in the collection, the librarian Zeynep Çelik Atbaş pulled me aside last summer to tell me that I should take a look at some glass bottles, which remain unknown and unpublished, and yet surely would interest me. Zeynep could not have been more correct in her assessment: I was left astounded when the staff brought out four large glass bottles into the reading room. These were no manuscripts, and I had never seen objects like these in my fifteen years of working in Turkish collections. Before me were three bottles containing hilyes, or verbal descriptions of the Prophet Muḥammad, while a fourth bottle housed a miniature Qur’an displayed on a wooden stand decorated with colorful beads. Executed by the under-glass painter Mehmed Refat and dated 1308/1891, this bottle has at least four companion pieces held in two other museums in Istanbul.


However, to my knowledge, the three hilye bottles are not attested to in any other publicly accessible institution in Turkey or elsewhere in the world. While one bottle emerged on the art market under the title “lodge hilye” (tekke hilyesi), it is evident from their preservation in Topkapi Palace that these artworks should not be restricted to Sufi practitioners. Rather, as my paper aims to demonstrate, these rare objects appear to have been used for both talismanic and curative purposes. Their therapeutic role in particular is suggested by the hilyes’ use in the production of gold powder, which in all likelihood was combined with water drawn either from local Constantinopolitan sacred springs or else the holy water collected from the Zamzam well in Mecca. As a result, these hilye bottles, I argue, provided a new kind of prophetic pharmacon, whereby Muḥammad was reified—and most likely imbibed—as the ultimate elixir vitae.


A close examination of the three hilye bottles lead us to a number of preliminary conclusions. Depending on use and location, such items could be shut closed, opened on demand, or permanently kept ajar. One functioned as a Muḥammadan talismanic art object destined to protect an individual and his home. In the latter case, no further interactions were necessary. In other cases, however, a chain and rope suggest more ritualistic uses, including carrying or suspension in festive commemorations of the Prophet or other religious holidays, including the celebration of his celestial ascension. In such cases, a removable cap and silkcovered stopper enabled the collection and extraction of gold flecks, rubbed off the gilt papers lining the hilye panels’ back sides. Last but not least, in at least one instance, this gold dust or pigment is equated with the nūr Muḥammad, itself the primordial and generative material used by God to create the entire world.


These newly uncovered hilye bottles raise a number of issues concerned with late Ottoman artistic traditions as these intersect with devotional practices dedicated to the Prophet, especially in a larger Constantinopolitan setting. Perhaps the two most important questions that arise are: first, what were the uses and purposes of creating gold dust, and, second, what are the origins and hence symbolic meanings of these icon bottles? Examining related textual and artistic evidence can help us expand and refine our range of possible interpretations, chief among them the bottles’ likely use in late Ottoman magico-medicinal practices that involved the mixing of sacred dust or soil with holy water in order to produce liquid suspensions and curative potions believed saturated with prophetic baraka.


In addition, these bottles—just like other contemporary devotional icons devoted to the Prophet—provided a material mechanism to make and gather gold pigments. The fact that one of them mentions the nūr Muḥammad leads us, in part, to associate such pigments with the Prophet’s primordial light. That two bottles included hilyes meant to scrape at the inside walls further strengthens this hypothesis. In addition, at this time, the collecting of the water run-off from the ritual washing of the Prophet’s footprint and mantle was a well-known practice in Ottoman palace quarters. This prophetic liquid was then preserved in small flasks, imbibed to break the evening fast during Ramadan, and administered as a curative potion throughout the year. Libations that came into contact with Muḥammad’s relics were understood as the ultimate panacea, and such magico-medicinal liquids quite possibly included other tonics and potions into which were mixed gold prophetic precipitate extracted or poured from hilye bottles. Lastly, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries these hilye bottles formed part of a larger production of vessels produced to contain the consecrated water of the Zamzam well in Mecca. Known as Zamzamiyyas, these flasks were made of both transparent glass and imported Chinese porcelain, their necks often fastened shut with a rope or thread in a manner reminiscent of the hilye bottles. The sacred water contained in these Zamzamiyyas was thought to heal the sick and bring them baraka through the process of imbibing and hence physical absorption.


Still acting as the carriers of Meccan blessings to the present day, Zamzam water bottles are sold to pilgrims to the holy city. They also remain a staple product in stores located around the Eyüp shrine in Istanbul, which sell devotional goods, souvenirs depicting the Prophet’s relics, and, above all, a wide range of hilyes made in both monumental and miniature size.


In sum, it appears that these newly discovered hilye bottles essentially provided a new type of prophetic pharmacon in the Ottoman palace during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in particular. At this time, the Prophet’s verbal icon transformed from an amuletic object of visual meditation to an encased relic whose golden by-product was most likely mixed into medicinal paste or Zamzam water destined to be ingested and therefore alloyed with the body of the faithful. Such pious engagements involved multiple senses, especially sight, touch, and taste. Late Ottoman multisensorial practices that involved the imbibing of prophetic baraka heralded a new turn in Muḥammad-centered devotional products as these intersected with proto-medical practices in elite spheres. Like other healing tonics, these new products essentially provided a new kind of prophetic antidote promising cure for illness and a long life. They also reasserted Muḥammad’s supreme standing as the ultimate healing agent ready to be primed, gathered, absorbed, and, above all, embodied by his pious followers.

Numéro spécial ASSR : Le prophète de l’islam

Nouvelle publication : Le prophète de l’islam, numéro special des Archives de Sciences Sociales des Religions (ASSR), sous la direction de Nelly Amri, Rachida Chih, Denis Gril (n° 178, Juillet-septembre 2017, ISBN 978-2-7132-2693-9, 23€)


Comment les musulmans, depuis les origines, perçoivent-ils leur prophète ? Quelle relation entretiennent- ils avec lui, dans l’intimité de leur foi et collectivement, comme communauté une ou selon leurs appartenances particulières ? Les études réunies ici répondent à une double inscription, dans le temps et dans l’espace, de la dévotion au Prophète. Elles intéressent aussi bien le Proche et le Moyen-Orient que le Maghreb, les mondes turc et persan et le sous-continent indien et couvrent trois périodes qui correspondent aux trois parties du volume : l’islam primitif ou encore la période « fondatrice » ; la période de formation ou de constitution des savoirs et des appartenances (IXe -XIe  siècles) ; et enfin, du ove  au axe  siècle, l’affirmation croissante de la vénération du Prophète et de son rôle dans la réalisation spirituelle et dans les attentes messianiques.

• Télécharger et lire l’introduction de Nelly Amri, Rachida Chih, Denis Gril.




Nelly Amri, Rachida Chih et Denis Gril – La dévotion au Prophète de l’islam : une histoire qui reste à faire , p. 11

 I – Entre humanité ordinaire et sacralité : la construction d’un modèle

Denis Gril – « Comme s’il y avait des oiseaux sur leurs têtes ». L’attitude des Compagnons envers le Prophète, 25

Samuela Pagani – « Roi ou serviteur » ? La tentation du Prophète, ou le choix d’un modèle, p. 43

 II – Le prophète dans les premières vocations mystiques

Jean-Jacques Thibon – Transmission du hadith et modèle prophétique chez les premiers soufis, 71

Pierre Lory – Le modèle prophétique chez Hallâj, 89

 III – Normalisation de la présence et de la vénération du Prophète

Nelly Amri – Figures du Prophète et modalités de sa présence dans les récits visionnaires du Maghreb : la Ru’y. de ‘Abd al-Salâm al-Asmar al-Faytûrî (m. 981/1573), p. 103

Stefan Reichmuth – Aspects of Prophetic Piety in the Early Modern Period, p. 129

Hiba Abid – La vénération du Prophète en Occident musulman à travers l’étude codicologique de livres de piété (xie/xviie-xiiie/xixe siècles), p. 151

Rachida Chih – Anthropologie d’une fête musulmane non canonique. La célébration de la naissance du Prophète (al-Mawlid al-nabawî), p. 177



Conference on the emergence of the Ḥadīṯ, Cairo 2018



IDEO Conference

The emergence of the Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge
ظهور الحديث النبويّ كمرجعيّة علميّة
يوم الخميس ١١ يناير / Thursday, January 11
(بمسرح المعهد الفرنسيّ بالمنيرة / French Institute in Munira)
٩:٣٠—١٠ صبحًا    كلمة الافتتاح
كلمة الأب جون درويل، مدير المعهد الدومينكيّ للدراسات الشرقيّة
١٠—١١ صبحًا    وليد صالح، أستاذ شرف، أستاذ في الأديان، جامعة تورونتو (كندا)
الحديث والتفسير، عودة التبصّراستراحة / pause

١١:٣٠—١٢ ظهرًا    سعيد الطارشيّ، باحث ثقافيّ في وزارة التراث والثقافة (سلطانة عمان)
الحديث النبويّ كمرجعيّة علميّة عند الإباضيّة في عمان: متى ولماذا؟
١٢—١٢:٣٠ ظهرًا    أحمد وجيه، مدرّس بدار العلوم، جامعة القاهرة (مصر)
موقع الحديث النبويّ من البنية الاستدلاليّة لعلم الكلام: كتاب أساس التقديس للرازيّ نموذجًا
١٢:٣٠—١ ظهرًا    جيوم دفو، باحث بالمعهد الدومينكيّ للدراسات الشرقيّة (مصر)
دراسة تأويليّة: حديث العلماء ورثة الأنبياء

غداء / lunch

٢—٢:٣٠ ظهرًا    إلياس أمحرار، مدرّس مساعد بجامعة مرسيليا (فرنسا)
العقلانية والحديث عند الخطيب البغدادي (٤٦٣/١٠٦٣): قراءة مقتطف لـ«الفقيه والمتفقّه»
٢:٣٠—٣ مساءً    عبد الكريم شتويّ، باحث مستقلّ في الدراسات العربيّة والإسلاميّة (فرنسا)
الحديث كمرجعيّة علميّة وشرعيّة، مثال: خلافة عمر بن عبد العزيز (١٠١/٧٢٠)
(مداخلة باللغة الفرنسيّة)
٣—٣:٣٠ مساءً    علاء بدويّ، باحث في تاريخ الطبّ الإسلاميّ (مصر)
الرؤى الحديثيّة في معالجة وباء الطاعون واستخداماتها في العصر المملوكيّ

Friday, January 12 / يوم الجمعة ١٢ يناير
(French Institute in Munira / بمسرح المعهد الفرنسيّ بالمنيرة)2‒2:30 pm    Presentation and summary of the previous day’s talks
2:30‒3:30 pm    Aisha Geissinger, Guest speaker, Carleton University, Ottawa (Canada)
Ḥadīths, exegetical authority, and gender: From al-Bukhārī’s (256/870) Ṣaḥīḥ to al-Baghawī’s (516/1122) Maʿālim al-Tanzīl

Pause / استراحة

4‒4:30 pm    Raashid S. Goyal, PhD Candidate, Cornell University, Ithaca NY (USA)
The Arghal tradition: A primitive ruling concerning male circumcision, evincing a shared Judaic and Islamic context
4:30‒5 pm    Adrien Candiard, OP, PhD Candidate, EPHE (France) / IDEO (Egypt)
Ḍaʿīf al-ḥadīṯ ḫayr min raʾy: Weakness and strength of the ḥadīṯ in Ibn Taymiyya’s (728/1328) theological thinking (728/ 1328)
5‒5:30 pm    Kamaluddin Ahmed, PhD candidate, Oxford University (United Kingdom)
Revisiting the Raʾy and Ḥadīth synthesis in Islamic law

Pause / استراحة

6‒6:30 pm    Usman Ghani, Assistant professor, University of Sharja (Emirates)
Justifying the role of Prophetic narration in Ḥanafī jurisprudence: The case of al-Zaylaʿī’s (762/1360) Naṣb al-rāya as a Ḥadīth companion to al-Marghīnānī’s (593/1197) al-Hidāya
6:30‒7 pm    Ruggero Sanseverino, Junior-Professor, University of Tübingen (Germany)
Transmission and authenticity in the Maghreb of the 12th century: Conditions and significance of the conservation of the Prophet’s legacy according to al-Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ’s (544/1149) ‘Elucidation concerning the knowledge of hadith transmission’

Saturday, January 13 / يوم السبت ١٣ يناير

10‒12 am Workshops / العمل ورش / ateliers
Participation to the workshops is subject to prior registration at the end of the second day.

يشترط المشاركة في ورش العمل التسجيل مسبّقًا في نهاية اليوم الثاني من الندوة


2‒3 pm Plenary session (English)
3‒4 pm Conclusions (English)



Panel 83: Der Prophet Muḥammad in Früher Neuzeit und Moderne: Repräsentation und Vergegenwärtigung

Organisator: Prof. Stefan Reichmuth (Ruhr Universität Bochum)

Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena Campus
 Ernst-Abbe-Platz 8, 07743 Jena

Program and abstracts available here.

Representations of the Prophet during the expeditions, as depicted in the maghāzī literature and the ḥadīt̲h̲-s of al-Bukhārī

Adrien de JARMY (PhD candidate at Paris-Sorbonne University).

Paper presented at the workshop « Between God and Man. The Representations of the Prophet in the Construction of Islamic Knowledge » (Paris, 5-6 July 2017)

Introduction : from Muḥammad to the character of the Prophet

The Prophet is without a doubt the most emblematic figure of Islam. Yet hopes of writing an actual historical biography of Muḥammad took a major hit, as skepticism grew among historians, fuelled by the publications of John Wansbrough[1] in the late seventies, and Yehuda D. Nevo and Judith Koren’s study in 2003[2]. Despite the remarkable work of the late Martin Lings and Fred McGraw Donner, using the isnād methodology developed by Ignaz Goldziher to rewrite the Prophet’s life, it seems extremely difficult to overcome the 200 year long gap between the early 7th century C.E. expeditions and the earliest sources we have access to. However, following the steps of Uri Rubin[3] and Jacqueline Chabbi[4], historians are now encouraged to embrace its “impossible biography” and the wide variety of tales and legends that comes with it.

Sources such as the sīra of Ibn Isḥāq as it appears in Ibn Hishām’s recensions, as well as the maghāzī by al-Wāqidī, and narratives from Ṭabarī, give us a keen insight into how early Muslims conceived and wrote their founding narratives for the ūmma. Such is not the case for the Koran, which provides very few information about Muḥammad, who is referred to as a mere man. His representations are much more elaborated in the maghāzī and ḥadīt̲h̲-s literatures. The simple man turned into a Prophet thanks to his ability to see in the future and to perform miracles. These features are particularly highlighted in the narratives of his expeditions, where he is depicted as a great warrior who could change the course of a battle by himself, and a leader who embodies political authority. It is worth underlining that during the Abbasid era, from which our most ancient sources are drawn, the new caliphate was seeking legitimacy in order to support its rise to power between the 8th and the 9th century C.E. Considering this context, we can assume that the writing of the maghāzī contributed to the religious and political foundations of the Abbassid dynasty, although it was not its only purpose. Therefore, it has played a decisive part in shaping the figure of the Prophet, defining his features and contributing to the emergence of his worship, regardless of the prohibitions displayed in the Koran. Thanks to the many narratives recorded in the ḥadīt̲h̲-s compilations, along with the maghāzī literature, traditionalists were able to establish that Muḥammad became a role-model not only for the caliph, but also for all Muslims in their everyday life. In addition to a ruthless warrior, the Prophet was also a caring man, providing for his religious kin and capable of forgiving. The ḥadīt̲h̲-s compilations, like the work of al-Bukhārī, are heavily connected to the maghāzī, and were used to serve the law for the community. In this normative literature, stories of the Prophet can be seen as exempla, i.e. moral anecdotes for the early Muslims.

The Warrior-Prophet

Battles and combat

Muḥammad is first and foremost depicted as a warlord in the maghāzī literature. His expeditions[5] can be classified in four categories: raids or razzias[6], ranked battles, sieges and assassinations. In each of them the Prophet plays a key part, choosing the strategy for battles, selecting targets, blessing the warriors before and after combat and fighting side by side with his companions[7]. The traditionalists pay tribute to his heroic deeds at war, quoting his companions and poems that were allegedly composed by early Muslims around him. These extracts include features of epic literature, as the Prophet is truly seen as a hero, fighting for the quest that was given to him, that is to say spreading Islam with the use of his sword if necessary. Indeed, Muḥammad is described as the most formidable warrior by ʿAlī at the battle of Badr (624 C.E.), charging enemies without fear or hesitation. These epic depictions reach a climactic point during duels, where the Prophet displayed a tremendous force against a single foe, usually the champion of the opposite camp. An outstanding example of this heroic representation can be read in the story of his combat against Ubayy Ibn Ḵh̲alaf at the battle of Uhud a year later (625 C.E.). With a single blow, the Prophet instantly killed Ubayy who fell to the ground. This story is well known among traditionalists and can be found in several maghāzī with interesting variations. For example, Ṭabarī reports Ubayy’s words at the end of the duel : “Even if  he had just spat on me he would have killed me”, illustrating Muḥammad’s strength and the gap between the simple man and the Prophet. As early as the second half of the 8th century C.E., the Prophet seemed to be already worshipped and perceived as more than a man.

Relics from the Warrior-Prophet

The relics play a central part in these devotions, as there are numerous references to the Prophet’s weapons in the sources, sometimes making the core of whole chapters.  Muḥammad is known for possessing seven swords, Dhū al-Faqār[8] being the deadliest one. The sword was obtained as spoil at the battle of Badr and given to ʿAlī at Uhud, providing him with huge strength as he entered a trance state and performed a war dance. For the Shiites, the anecdote would confirm ʿAlī as the true successor of the Prophet and his rightful heir. The transmission of relics such as swords could determine one’s legitimacy to rule over the Muslim community. Other relics include the three swords taken from the armory of the Banū Qaynuqāʿ, one of the three Jewish tribes from Yathrib : Qalaʿī[9], Battār[10] and al-Hatf[11]. Ibn Isḥāq is also prolific with descriptions of his coat of mail, the value of which he stressed before the Battle of Uhud : “A prophet who has put on his armor should not lay it aside until he has fought”. This large collection of weapons and gear has contributed to shaping the image of the Prophet as a warlord and an epic hero. According to traditionalists, part of Muḥammad’s regalia besides his weapons were his cloak[12] and staff, which were carefully stored by the Abbasid caliphs to confirm their succession and power.

The miracle-maker and the thaumaturge

Miracles at war

As a warlord and a messenger of God, the Prophet was also capable of performing miracles in the heat of the battle. For example at Badr, the Quraych were in great number against the Believers and decided to charge quickly. Muḥammad bent to the ground and picked up sand and stones in his right hand, throwing them at the face of the enemy. With this simple gesture, the Quraych were blinded and could not keep fighting, forced to retreat. The anecdote is related in the sīra of Ibn Isḥāq and by al-Bukhārī. According al-Wāqidī, the miracle occurred again at the siege of the fortress of al-Nizār at Khaybar (around 629 C.E.), where the Prophet threw stones at the walls and created an earthquake to knock them down. The walls collapsed and the Muslims invaded the fortress, leading them to victory. The Prophet had no power of his own, but rather called upon God who expressed his power and wrath through him. This could be seen at Badr where Muḥammad invoked the help of God in the middle of the battlefield. Allāh sent an army of angels[13] which dived to the enemy from the sky and decapitated them. Only Muḥammad and a few of his companions were able to see the angels, whereas the others could only watch in horror heads falling from bodies. This miracle is the only one that can be found in the Koran as well[14]. Conjuring up the protection of angels was already a common practice before Islam, as Glen W. Bowersock analyzed in a series of inscriptions and ex-voto in Petra[15]. Although the Koran contains very few information about supernatural events at the time of the Prophet, the traditionalists are well aware of them and have rewritten most of the Judeo-Christian miracle tradition.

The power to heal

Like the prophets of the Bible and especially Jesus, Muḥammad could heal others. However, most of his miracles were performed in times of war. These miracles can be sorted in categories as well. First the Prophet could restore eyesight. The first instance of this healing power took place before the battle of Badr, when ʿAlī contracted an infection. The Prophet spat in his eyes, thus restoring his sight. Later during combat, as another companion was hit in the eyeball by an arrow, the Messenger of God took the eyeball out of the orbit, then blew on it before putting it back in. The companion was able to recover his eyesight, and his vision was even improved. Other similar miracles included healing of Hārith’s head who was injured during the assassination of Kaʿb the poet, and the healing of ʿAbdallāh Ibn ‘Atik’s broken leg, who was in charge of the assassination of Abū Rāfi. In other versions, the Prophet simply touched the injured part of their limbs, resulting in an instant recovery. Following the Judeo-Christian miracle tradition, Muḥammad was perceived as a thaumaturge Prophet. After the conquests, in a time where Muslims lived in territories inhabited by Christians, the figure of Muḥammad was in competition with other prophets from the People of the Book, and conquerors needed to assert their domination over the ḏh̲immi-s.

From the maghāzī literature to the ḥadīt̲h̲-s collections : writing the Prophet’s exempla


The ḥadīt̲h̲-s collections as well as the maghāzī literature offer numerous extracts from battles and expeditions, but the depiction of the Prophet is a vast one, evincing multiple facets.  Muḥammad is much more than a warlord, as he can be merciful and show forgiveness as well:

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ قَالَ كَأَنِّي أَنْظُرُ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَحْكِي نَبِيًّا مِنَ الأَنْبِيَاءِ ضَرَبَهُ قَوْمُهُ وَهُوَ يَمْسَحُ الدَّمَ عَنْ وَجْهِهِ  وَيَقُولُ‏” رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِقَوْمِي فَإِنَّهُمْ لاَ يَعْلَمُو

“ʿAbdallāh [Ibn Mas’ud] reported: I remember seeing the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, tell the story of a prophet who was beaten by his people and  wiping the blood from his face, he said “My Lord, forgive my people for they do not know.”[16]

This ḥadīt̲h̲ may refer to the Prophet’s time in Mekka and the persecution he suffered from, at the hands of the early Believers. The Prophet, burdened by his message and mission, was doomed to be persecuted by those who refused the ultimate Revelation. Since it was inevitable, he prayed to God for them, so they would avoid His wrath on the day of the Apocalypse. On other occasions, the Prophet taught prayers to his closest companions like Abū Bakr:

عَنْ أَبِي بَكْرٍ قَالَ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَلِّمْنِي دُعَاءً أَدْعُو بِهِ فِي صَلَاتِي قَالَ قُلْ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي ظُلْمًا كَبِيرًا وَقَالَ قُتَيْبَةُ كَثِيرًا وَلَا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ فَاغْفِرْ لِي مَغْفِرَةً مِنْ عِنْدِكَ وَارْحَمْنِي إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ


“Abū Bakr reported: He said to the Messenger of Allāh, peace and blessings be upon him, “O Messenger of Allāh, teach me a supplication to say in my prayers.” The Prophet said, “Say: O Allāh, I have wronged myself with many great wrongs and none forgives sin but you, so forgive me and have mercy upon me. Verily, you alone are the Forgiving, the Merciful.”[17]

In this ḥadīt̲h̲, the Prophet is clearly referred to as a teacher for the everyday life of Muslims. Muḥammad taught Abū Bakr to repent himself in front of God for his sins, and maybe his behavior, before he converted to Islam. Furthermore, these ḥadīt̲h̲ exhort Muslims to forgive each other and to rely on God for every moral decision. Hence, these anecdotes taken from the life of the Prophet can be interpreted as moral lessons or exempla, which encourage Muslims to follow the path indicated by the Messenger of Allāh.

As food for thought for the PhD[18], I am considering looking into the muṣannafāt literature, which dates back from even earlier than the maghāzī and ḥadīt̲h̲-s collections, and contains previous versions of these narratives and anecdotes. From the muṣannafāt material, I would study the different ways traditionalists used to shape the character of the Prophet: the narrative path with the maghāzī literature and the normative path with ḥadīt̲h̲-s collections.

Selected bibliography


al-Bukhārī, Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Beyrout, Dār Ibn Hazm, 2003.

Ibn Isḥaq, Sīra, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, 1860. See also translation by Alfred Guillaume.

Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-Rusul wa al-Mulūk, ed. University of California, 1923, 23 volumes.

Wāqidī, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, Oxford University press, 1966.

                   Literature on the subject

Jonathan Brown, The canonization of al-Bukhārī and Muslim : the formation and function of the Sunnī ḥadīth canon, Leyde, Brill, 2007.

Jonathan E. Brockopp, The Cambridge companion to Muḥammad, Cambridge, Cambridge university press, 2010.

Jacqueline Chabbi, Le seigneur des tribus : l’Islam de Mahomet, Paris, Paris : Éd. Noêsis, 1997.

Jacqueline Chabbi, « Histoire et tradition sacrée. La biographie impossible de Mahomet », Arabica, 1996, vol. 43, no 1, p. 189‑205.

Abdesselam Cheddadi, Les Arabes et l’appropriation de l’Histoire. Emergence et premiers développements de l’historiographie musulmane jusqu’au IIe/VIIIe siècle, Paris, Sindbad, Actes Sud, 2004.

Patricia Crone et Michael Cook, Hagarism : The Making of the Islamic World, Cambridge, Cambridge university press, 1977.

Patricia Crone et Martin Hinds, God’s Caliph : Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam, London, Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Fred McGraw Donner, Narratives of Islamic origins : The beginnings of islamic historical writing, Princeton, The Darwin Press, 1998.

Fred McGraw Donner, Muḥammad and the Believers : at the origins of islam, Cambridge, Belknap Press of Harvard university press, 2010.

Denis Gril, « Le corps du Prophète », Revue des mondes musulmans et de la Méditerranée, 2006, p. 37‑57.

Robert Gerard Hoyland, In God’s path. The Arab Conquest and the Creation of an Islamic Empire, New York, Oxford University Press, 2015.

Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the age of caliphate : the Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh century, Harlow, Pearson, 2004.

Wilfried Madelung, The Succession to Muḥammad. A study of the early Caliphate, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Harald Motzki, The biography of Muḥammad : the issue of the sources, Leiden, Brill, 2000.

Harald Motzki, Hadith : Origins and Developments, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2000.

Harald Motzki et Gregor Schoeler, « Methods of Dating Early Legal Traditions », Islamic Law and Society, 2012, p. 1‑10.

Yehuda D. Nevo et Judith Koren, The Crossroads to Islam, New York, 2003.

Albrecht Noth et Lawrence Conrad, The Early Arabic Historical Tradition. A Source-Critical Study, Princeton, Darwin Press, 1994.

Alfred-Louis Prémare, Les fondations de l’Islam : entre écriture et histoire, Paris, Seuil, 2002.

Uri Rubin, Muḥammad the Prophet and Arabia, Farnham, Ashgate, 2011.

Uri Rubin, The Life of Muḥammad, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1998.

Uri Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder : The Life of Muḥammad as viewed by the Early Muslims : A Textual Analysis, Princeton, Darwin Press, 1995.

John Schacht, The Origins of Muḥammadan Jurisprudence, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1967.

Gregor Schoeler, The Biography of Muḥammad : Nature and Authenticity, London, Routledge, 2011.

Gregor Schoeler, Ecrire et transmettre dans les débuts de l’Islam, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2002.

William Montgomery Watt, W. M. Watt. Mahomet : prophète et homme d’Etat, Paris, Payot, 1962.



[1]    John Wansbrough and Gerald Hawting, The Sectarian Milieu : Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History, London, Oxford University Press, 1978.

[2]    Yehuda D Nevo et Judith Koren, The Crossroads to Islam, New York, 2003.

[3]    Uri Rubin, The Eye of the Beholder : The Life of Muḥammad as viewed by the Early Muslims : A Textual Analysis, Princeton, Darwin Press, 1995.

[4]    Jacqueline Chabbi, « Histoire et tradition sacrée. La biographie impossible de Mahomet », Arabica, 1996, vol. 43, no 1, p. 189‑205.

[5]    Around 80 depending on sources and counting.

[6]    From which comes the original term maghāzī.

[7]      Also know as al-ṣaḥābah.

[8]    Can be translated as “two-edges”, could be meaning “the one who separates the Good from Evil”.

[9]    « Taken by force ».

[10]  « Really sharp ».

[11]  « Death ».

[12]  Burda.

[13]  malāʿika.

[14]  VIII, 9.

[15]  « Les anges païens dans l’antiquité tardive », conference by Glen W. Bowersock at the Collège de France, 09/09/2013.

[16]  Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6530. Also see Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim, 1792. Translations from Arabic are taken from Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research and NYU Abu Dhabi’s websites, little revised by myself.

[17]  Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 6953. Also see Ṣaḥīḥ al-Muslim, 2705.

[18]  Under the supervision of Mathieu Tillier, full professor at Paris-Sorbonne University.


Transmission du hadith et modèle prophétique chez les premiers soufis

Jean-Jacques THIBON (INALCO)

Paper presented at the GIS conferences (Paris,  7 juillet 2017).


First page of the MS Vollers 875d (Leipzig), see above note 12

La vénération attachée à la personne du Prophète est une donnée indiscutable dans l’ensemble du monde musulman, traversant toutes les époques depuis l’origine même de l’islam. Toutefois, les modalités qu’elle emprunte présentent une infinie variété, et cette diversité mérite d’être interrogée afin de dégager les spécificités d’un temps, d’un lieu ou d’un groupe particulier dans son rapport à celui qui a fait converger sur sa personne ces manifestations d’attachement, d’amour et de vénération. En centrant notre propos sur la période fondatrice du soufisme qui va du 3e/8e au 5e/11e siècle, nous nous interrogeons sur la manière dont les premiers soufis appréhendent la personne du Prophète. Celle-ci fait-elle l’objet d’une vénération particulière ? Et si oui, comment se manifeste-t-elle ? Dans un premier temps, nous nous sommes attachés aux liens entre la  transmission du hadith et le soufisme et à ses conséquences. La constitution des grands corpus de hadiths ayant contribué à la mise en place d’une norme désignée par le terme sunna[1], au contenu variable et imprécis, nous tenterons ensuite de cerner la signification que les soufis donnent à la référence à la sunna, en particulier à  l’imitation du Prophète désignée par les termes  ittibâ‘ et iqtidâ. Enfin, nous verrons comment l’imitation de la personne même du Prophète coïncide avec l’émergence de la figure du maître.


La transmission du hadith  et sa fonction

La collecte et la transmission du hadith est pour le 3e/9e siècle une activité essentielle dans l’élaboration et la constitution de tous les champs du savoir islamique. Les liens que le soufisme, dès son apparition, a entretenu avec la science du hadith et donc avec le milieu des transmetteurs de hadiths sont connus et documentés[2] et de nombreux maîtres soufis furent également des transmetteurs reconnus. Toutefois, le statut de transmetteur de hadith peut présenter quelques difficultés pour les soufis. La combinaison des deux ne va pas de soi et des réticences se sont manifestées ici et là, à cause de contradictions possibles entre ces deux démarches : le statut de transmetteur de hadiths offre certains avantages mondains comme l’accès à des postes ou à des fonctions prestigieuses et aux avantages matériels afférents, mais parfois au prix de certains compromis, en particulier avec le pouvoir politique. De plus, les transmetteurs jouissent d’une certaine considération auprès des populations. Tout cela peut paraître difficilement compatible avec le choix d’un renoncement aux biens de ce monde et à la pauvreté spirituelle qui exige humilité et effacement. Ainsi, une tension a existé, au sein du soufisme, entre les maîtres qui ont pratiqué la quête du hadith, et ont été d’authentiques transmetteurs de hadiths, et ceux qui, méfiants, ont refusé de transmettre les hadiths ou se sont montré réfractaires à sa collecte[3].

Bishr al-Hâfî (m. 227/841) illustre le conflit intérieur que peut susciter cette contradiction. À un certain moment, à Bagdad, il abandonne l’étude des hadiths pour se consacrer au soufisme, allant jusqu’à enterrer les ouvrages dans lesquels il les a consignés. Il s’abstient d’enseigner le hadith pour contrarier les penchants de son ego et maîtriser ce plaisir qu’il avait de le faire, tout en envisageant par la suite de reprendre son enseignement. La question que posait Bishr est la suivante : le combat contre l’ego et la maîtrise des passions doit-il aller jusqu’au refus de transmettre le savoir, même provisoirement[4] ? L’un des arguments qu’il emploie est intéressant, car, comme nous le verrons, il ne fut pas suivi par les soufis postérieurs. Il affirme : « Le hadith n’est pas un instrument qui prépare à la mort[5] » et encore : « La mention de la chaine de transmetteurs (isnâd) suscite de l’orgueil dans le cœur [6]». Aussi interdit-il à l’un de ses disciples de s’occuper de hadiths et de fréquenter les traditionnistes[7]. Par ailleurs, il rappelait à ces derniers qu’ils devaient s’acquitter d’une aumône sur leur activité, similaire à l’aumône légale (zakât) de 2,5%. Cela signifiait que pour deux cents hadiths consignés ils devaient en mettre cinq en pratique[8]. On mesure la sévérité de la critique contenue dans un tel rappel, adressé à des pairs apparaissant comme bien peu soucieux du salut de leur âme. Dans le même temps, il reconnaît que rien n’est plus méritoire que la quête du hadith pour celui qui a une intention louable et la crainte de Dieu[9]. La perspective de Dhû l-Nûn al-Misrî est similaire quand il affirme : « La préoccupation de mon âme m’a détourné des traditions[10]». Comme Bishr, le maître égyptien, pourtant transmetteur de hadiths dignes de confiance de l’avis de Dâraqutnî (m. 385/995)[11], est tiraillé entre son devoir de combattre l’ignorance en enseignant le hadith et son désir de s’en abstenir pour lutter contre les satisfactions que cela procure à son âme. Un texte particulièrement intéressant rapporte la transmission par Dhû l-Nûn d’un hadith de Hasan al-Basrî[12]. Il s’avère que le terme hadith n’a pas le sens technique usuel d’une parole attribuée au Prophète, mais en l’occurrence d’une parole de Basrî qui est un enseignement en forme de conseil (wasîya). Au début du texte, Dhû l-Nûn critique violemment les juristes et les traditionnistes, accusés d’avoir utilisé leur science pour acquérir les biens de ce monde et non en vue de la vie future. Dans la version que rapporte Ibn ‘Arabî, Dhû l-Nûn se montre impitoyable dans l’énoncé  des conséquences de ce choix :

Ils sont devenus ignorants après avoir été savants, pauvres après avoir été riches, vils après avoir été honorés, et ils sont devenus les esclaves des grands de ce monde après que Dieu ait fait d’eux des hommes libres[13].

Dans ce même texte, Yûsuf ibn al-Asbât (m. 199/814-15) avait eu le même dilemme : se taire face à la corruption de l’époque ou au contraire transmettre son savoir. Il finit par dire à Dhû l-Nûn :

  Je vais te transmettre un récit dont j’ai tiré profit, peut-être te sera-t-il également profitable, car je ne pense pas que quelqu’un puisse entendre ce récit sans en tirer profit, hormis un réprouvé[14].

Cette prévention envers la dictée du hadith est partagée par des savants prestigieux : Abû Sahl al-Su‘lûkî (m. 369/980), l’une des autorités les plus réputées de Nîshâbûr à son époque enseigna sa vie durant la jurisprudence mais refusa pendant longtemps de dicter le hadith, comme avant lui son oncle Abû Tayyib (m. 337/949), et il ne s’y résolut qu’à la fin de sa vie. Mais son fils, nommé également Abû Tayyib, Sahl b. Abû Sahl (m. 404/1014), et lui aussi grand juriste, fut un traditionniste reconnu et ses dictées du hadith réunissaient le vendredi une foule considérable[15].

Un peu plus tard, Najm al-Dîn Kubrâ (m. 618/1221), raconte comment, alors qu’il pratiquait la retraite spirituelle, le démon tenta de l’en faire sortir, en l’encourageant à partir à la recherche des traditions de l’Envoyé. Cet argument faillit le faire céder, mais il se souvint de la parole de Sulamî, à la fin de sa vie : « Je demande pardon à Dieu, car la plus illustre chaîne de garants n’est toujours issue que des séductions de ce bas monde[16]». Mais tous les soufis ne partagent pas cette réserve sur la transmission du hadith. À Bagdad, Junayd affirme de manière solennelle : « Notre science est entrelacée avec les hadiths de l’Envoyé[17] ». Et Abû ‘Abdallâh al-Rûdhbârî (m. 369/980) assure que : « consigner le hadith bannit l’ignorance chez celui qui s’y adonne[18] ».

À Nîshâbûr, l’œuvre de Sulamî comme celle de Qushayrî témoignent, de manière différente, des liens étroits entretenus entre les soufis et les traditionnistes[19]. Toutefois, il ne s’agit pas seulement de collecter et d’organiser un corpus de hadiths à seule fin de justifier des pratiques, celles qui seraient propres aux soufis[20]. Ce n’est pas une démarche apologétique qui est entreprise, il s’agit plutôt de dégager la portée spirituelle de chaque hadith, pour fonder et organiser la vie spirituelle autour de ceux-ci.

De plus, dans les hadiths, il n’y a pas que les paroles et l’enseignement transmis par le prophète qui sont à prendre en considération. Sulamî est sans doute parmi les premiers à relever l’importance que revêt la chaîne des garants (isnâd) comme véhicule de la présence prophétique et support d’une influence spirituelle qui se transmet au fil des générations. L’activité de transmission du hadith est le signe visible de ce lien qui relie le transmetteur au Prophète, et au-delà du savoir qui est transmis, l’essentiel est peut-être cette présence que l’isnâd véhicule. Son importance est confirmée par Ibn ‘Arabî, comme l’a souligné D. Gril : « l’isnâd, malgré ses imperfections, porte en lui ce secret : la présence du premier locuteur dans la parole de son transmetteur [21]».

Le commentaire de Sulamî du hadith « Bienheureux celui qui m’a vu (tûbâ li-man ra’ânî)» est important pour notre sujet et mérite d’être cité in extenso. Il y  emploie la première personne dans la première phrase, se substituant ainsi au Prophète :

(Bienheureux) Celui qui fut marqué par l’influence spirituelle attachée au fait de m’avoir vu, qui dompta ses passions grâce à ma compagnie, s’éduqua par mon adab et endossa mes vertus. Car son adab (du Prophète) est celui de Dieu (al-Haqq), et ses vertus sont conformes à la manière dont Dieu l’a décrit[22].

Si la mention du caractère normatif de l’exemple prophétique pour les règles de convenances (adab) et pour les vertus n’est pas nouvelle, nous y reviendrons, l’influence spirituelle (baraka) attachée à la vision apporte une dimension supplémentaire à la tradition orale. Le rôle de la vision comme vecteur de la transmission de l’influence spirituelle devient capital[23]. Elle est indispensable pour que le maître communique au disciple cet influx qui initie un processus perçu comme une renaissance à l’existence, ce qui  fait dire à Abû ‘Amr al-Zujâjî (m. 348/959) : « Comment seriez-vous vivifié alors que vous n’avez pas vu un ‘vivant’ [24]». Abû al-Fadl al-‘Abbâs b. Hamza al-Nîsâbûrî (m. 288/901)[25], lorsqu’il rencontra pour la première fois Dhû l-Nûn (m. 245/860 ou 248/863), le reconnut : « Je bénéficiai d’un profit spirituel (intafa‘tu) dès que je le vis, avant même de m’asseoir[26] ». La seule vision du maître est déjà une source de bénédictions. Un propos anonyme commentant le verset 90 de la sourate al-An‘âm, affirme que l’imitation (iqtidâ’) du maître n’est valable que si celui-ci porte les traces de cette vision transmise au fil des générations, ce qui sous-entend sans l’expliciter une transmission continue, autrement dit une chaîne initiatique[27].

La transmission du hadith est le signe visible de ce lien qui relie le transmetteur au Prophète, il représente certes un savoir qui est transmis, mais il est bien plus que cela : c’est un peu comme une relique[28]. C’est du moins son efficacité spirituelle, soulignée par Sulamî, qui justifie de lui assigner le statut de relique, au sens étymologique du terme (du lat. reliquiae) « les restes ».

Mais dès lors, les paroles des maîtres, transmises dans des conditions et selon des méthodes similaires à celles de la transmission des hadiths, pourraient aussi être perçues comme des reliques, à un degré moindre bien évidemment, à condition toutefois qu’il y ait transmission régulière, c’est-à-dire que ces paroles soient transmises d’après un isnâd ininterrompu remontant au maître qui a énoncé cette parole. Dans le texte que nous avons mentionné sur Dhû l-Nûn, la transmission d’un hadith -dont on ne sait exactement s’il s’agit de la parole de Hasan al-Basrî ou d’un hadith du Prophète- est même ritualisée, pour lui conférer plus de solennité : elle est précédée de prières, d’invocations, voire même dite en secret ou en cachette, comme on transmet un bien précieux.

Sur un autre plan, la collecte et la compilation des hadiths contribuent à la mise en place de la sunna prophétique revendiquée par les différentes branches du savoir. Intéressons-nous maintenant  au contenu de celle-ci dans le soufisme, car il n’échappe pas à ce mouvement général.


L’imitation de la sunna (ittibâ‘ al-sunna) et la conformité au Prophète (ittibâ‘ al-nabî) dans les Tabaqât al-sûfiyya

Dans l’introduction de ses Tabaqât al-sûfiyya, Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Sulamî (m. 412/1021) décrit les saints comme ceux qui suivent les traditions prophétiques (muttabi‘ūn sunan al-rusul), expression dans laquelle le terme sunna, mis au pluriel, renvoie à une pratique collective et renouvelée, tandis que les saints s’inscrivent comme les continuateurs de la prophétie[29]. Cet ouvrage, le plus ancien du genre, présentant en cinq générations les hommes qui ont contribué à la genèse et aux premiers développements du soufisme, nous offre un miroir des doctrines et des pratiques de celui-ci à ses débuts. Nous y recourrons pour nous interroger sur les significations de la référence à la sunna dans les paroles de ces premiers maîtres : que recouvre ce terme sunna et la mention de l’imitation prophétique dans la voie spirituelle ? Que nous dit ce terme de la relation des maîtres au Prophète ?

Ces quelques citations tirées des Tabaqât, bien que succinctes, permettent d’entrevoir comment se formule la référence à la sunna et à l’imitation prophétique jusque vers le dernier quart du 4e/10e siècle. Mise à part la première génération, les quatre suivantes ne présentent pas de différences suffisamment prégnantes pour être dissociées, les évolutions historiques dans cette courte période de près d’un siècle n’étant pas nettes, à la lumière de ce seul ouvrage. Il est aussi difficile de dire s’il y a une différence d’appréciation entre les maîtres du Khurâsân et ceux de l’Irak sur cette question. Il est par contre plus facile de saisir la distinction qui s’opère entre suivre le Prophète et suivre la sunna. Cette dernière expression est plus large, englobant les pratiques des Compagnons, et renvoyant à un modèle collectif incluant même les premières générations. Dans le même temps, elle apparaît comme une notion relativement vague qui désigne un comportement ou des pratiques externes, voire même sociales (kasb). À ce titre elle ne représente  pas une forme de la vénération prophétique, mais plutôt un gage d’orthodoxie, à une époque où les soufis ont encore besoin de démontrer qu’ils s’inscrivent bien dans les normes communes. Elle est de ce fait souvent opposé à l’innovation (bid‘a), au service d’une rhétorique argumentative. Par contre, une autre formulation se précise, centrée elle sur la personne du Prophète, avec les termes ittibā‘ al-nabî ou iqtidâ’. Elle vise une adéquation avec la personne même du Prophète, dans tous ses aspects, y compris les plus insaisissables, comme ses états spirituels. Et l’amour qui, dans nos sources, visait presqu’exclusivement l’amour de Dieu, au moins pour le deuxième siècle, inclus maintenant de manière plus importante l’amour du Prophète comme moyen de réaliser cette identification.


Le modèle prophétique et la figure du maître

Pour préciser le contenu de cette référence à la figure prophétique que les maîtres du soufisme proposent dans leur enseignement, nous aurons encore recours à Sulamî qui expose sa propre vision dans la citation suivante tirée des Manâhij al-sâdiqîn :

La première chose par laquelle l’aspirant commence, c’est d’imiter les états du Prophète (ahwâl) ; s’il est capable de le supporter il s’y emploie, sinon, il se tourne vers ses vertus (akhlâq) et s’il est toujours incapable de le suivre, vers son comportement (âdâb). S’il se révèle incapable d’atteindre ces différentes stations, il doit au minimum s’en tenir à l’imitation de sa sunna (l’ittibâ‘ al-sunna )[30], car il ne peut en aucun cas descendre en deçà de ce degré[31].

Dans les objectifs fortement hiérarchisés que Sulamî, comme maître spirituel, assigne au disciple, l’ittibâ‘ al-sunna représente une sorte de minimum dans l’imitation du modèle prophétique. Toutefois, Sulamî conscient du degré d’exigence de ses directives, précise qu’elles concernent ceux qui aspirent au niveau le plus élevé de la hiérarchie spirituelle, celui des Véridiques :

Le degré le plus élevé de la station de la véridicité consiste à se conformer (muwâfaqa[32]) au Prophète dans ses ordres, dans ses actes et dans ses vertus, et à s’abstenir du moindre écart par rapport à sa conduite (adab)[33].

Les éléments récurrents qui se retrouvent dans les premiers traités de soufisme et que Sulamî synthétise dans son propos appréhendent la personne du Prophète à travers trois éléments : ses convenances spirituelles ou règles de conduite (adab), ses vertus (akhlâq) et ses états spirituels (ahwâl). Ce sont eux qui composent le modèle prophétique institué en source d’imitation. Par rapport à la pratique de la sunna (ittibâ‘ al-sunna) telle que la comprennent les théologiens ou les juristes, on observe une intériorisation de cette imitatio, qui ambitionne non seulement  d’imiter des prescriptions rituelles, ou des us et coutumes de vie mais de parvenir à une identité totale avec la personne du Prophète appréhendée dans ses dimensions les plus intimes. Certains maîtres ne privilégient que l’un de ces éléments : Ibn ‘Atâ’ al-Adamî, discutant avec ses disciples, leur affirme que ceux qui se sont élevés (dans la voie) ne le doive pas à l’effort ascétique, mais aux belles vertus qui n’ont trouvé leur perfection que dans la personne du Prophète. Et il conclut : « La créature la plus proche de Dieu est celle qui suit les traces de l’Envoyé par (la pratique) des belles vertus[34] ».



Au début du 5e/11e siècle, l’attachement de nombreux soufis à la collecte, à la transmission et à l’exégèse du hadith représente déjà une forme de dévotion à la personne du Prophète. Celle-ci est à relier à la mise en place progressive, vers la fin du 4e siècle, d’une part du modèle prophétique comme source fondamentale de la voie spirituelle et de ses exigences et d’autre part de la formalisation du rôle et du statut du maître spirituel dans l’éducation des disciples.

En outre, la transmission du hadith offre un cadre méthodologique qui est applicable à la collecte des paroles des premiers maîtres soufis dont l’enseignement est reçu et transmis selon les canons de la transmission du hadith. Un élément nouveau a toutefois fait son apparition qui transforme  cette activité de collecte : l’isnâd n’est pas seulement le garant de la qualité du savoir transmis mais est aussi perçu comme le véhicule d’une influence spirituelle, qu’il s’agisse des paroles du Prophète ou de celles des maîtres de la voie. Les savants des différentes disciplines islamiques, droit, théologie ou exégèse en particulier, ont scruté dans le détail les isnâds, garants du processus de légitimation du savoir. Ce sont eux qui permettent de sacraliser ce qui est consigné dans les corpus canoniques. Pour les soufis, du moins pour certains d’entre eux en commençant par Sulamî, l’isnâd ne légitime pas seulement l’enseignement transmis : le hadith, à travers sa chaîne de transmission, porte la trace de la présence prophétique qui chemine à travers les générations de transmetteurs et se manifeste dans la fonction du maître. Cette présence transforme les hadiths en reliques, transmises avec ferveur, comme le sont également les paroles des maîtres. Ceux d’entre eux qui sont aussi muhaddith-s, jouissent donc d’un prestige et peut-être d’une maîtrise spirituelle plus efficace[35].

Si la collecte du hadith et la compilation des grands recueils de la tradition prophétique donnent corps à une norme de comportement générale que l’on désigne sous le terme de sunna, sa mise en œuvre n’échappe pas à des débats, à des divergences, parfois à des conflits, que ce soit au niveau juridique ou théologique. Les soufis également participent à ces confrontations, nous en avons trouvé la trace dans les Tabaqât, en particulier dans les débats visant à faire le tri entre innovation, toujours blâmable, et conformité à la norme (sunna). Toutefois, les soufis se sont dégagés de la référence à une norme prophétique imposant seulement prescriptions rituelles, us et coutumes, pour rechercher une adéquation totale avec la personne du Prophète, notamment ses vertus et ses adab-s.

Dès lors, le maître spirituel, héritier et successeur du Prophète, s’impose progressivement comme modèle global et exclusif aux disciples, et son imitation ne se distingue pas de celle du Prophète. Les exercices spirituels qui requerraient une ascèse rigoureuse n’ont pas disparu, mais ne suffisent plus car c’est une transformation intérieure radicale qui est demandée aux disciples dont les diverses formes de mortifications ne sont plus que la première étape.




Algar (Hamid), « Hadith in Sufism », in Encyclopaedia Iranica, consultable en ligne :, (Last Updated: February 24, 2012).

Baghdâdî, (al-) al-Khatîb, Ta’rikh Baghdâd, éd. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Ghumarî al-Maghribî, Le Caire, Maktaba al-Khânjî, 1349/1931, 14 vol. ; repr., Le Caire, Maktabat al- Khânjî et Beyrouth, Dâr al‐fikr, s.d.

Ballanfat (Paul), Najm al-Dîn Kubra, La pratique du soufisme, trad. et présent. par, Nîmes, éditions de l’Éclat, 2002.

CHIABOTTI, Francesco, Entre soufisme et savoir islamique : l’œuvre de ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī (376-465/986-1072), Thèse de doctorat soutenus le 12/12/2014 à Aix-en-Provence, Aix-Marseille Université § Iremam.

DAAÏF, Lahcen, « Dévôts et Renonçants : L’autre catégorie des Forgeurs de Hadiths », in Arabica, 57, (2010), p. 201-50.

Deladrière (Roger), Ibn ‘Arabī, La vie merveilleuse de Dhû-l-Nûn l’Egyptien, trad. et présent. par, Paris, Sindbad, 1988.

Dhahabî (al-) (Shams al-Dîn), [Siyar] Siyar a‘lâm al-nubalâ’, éd. Sh. al-Arna’ūt et M. N. al-‘Araqsûsî, Beyrouth, Mu’assasat al-risâla, 1401-1409/1981-1988, 25 vol.

Fella (Audrey) (dir.), Les Femmes mystiques. Histoire et dictionnaire, Paris, Robert Laffont, 2013.

Graham (William A.), « Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay in Interpretation » in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23/3, hiver 1993, p. 495-522.

Gril (Denis), « Le hadith dans l’œuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabī ou la chaîne ininterrompue de la prophétie», in C. Gilliot et T. Nagel, Das Propheten hadī, Gottingen, 2005, p. 123- 44.

Honerkamp (Kenneth L.), [Adab mujâlasat], « Adab mujâlasat al-mashâ’ikh wa-hifz hurumâti-him », éd. K. Honerkamp in Maǧmū’e-y-athār Abū ‘Abd al-Ramān al-Sulamī, N. Pourjavardi et M. Soori (éds.), Téhéran, Iranian Institute of Philosophy § Free University of Berlin, 2009/1388 H., p. 89-120.

Juynboll (Gautier H. A.),  « Sunna », EI2, 9, p. 913b-917a.

Karamustafa (Ahmet T.), Sufism : The Formative Period, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Kharkūshī (Abū Sa‘d), [Tahdhīb al-asrār] Tahdhīb al-asrār fî usûl al-tasawwuf, éd. Sayyid Muḥammad ‘Alī, Beyrouth, Dār al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 2006.

Knysh (Alexander), Islamic Mysticism: a Short History, Leyde, Brill, 2000.

Massignon (Louis), La Passion de Hallâj, 4 vol., Paris, Gallimard, 1975, 1e éd. 2 vol., Geuthner, 1922.

MIRZA, Sarah Z., « The Peoples’ Hadith: Evidence for Popular Tradition on Hadith as Physical Object in the First Centuries of Islam », Arabica, 63, (2016), p. 30-63.

Mojaddedi (Jawid A.), [The Biographical Tradition] The Biographical Tradition in sufism: the Tabaqât Genre from al-Sulamî to Jâmî, Richmond, Curzon, 2001.

Nwyia (Paul), [Exégèse coranique] Exégèse coranique et langage mystique. Nouvel essai sur le lexique technique des mystiques musulmans, Beyrouth, Dar el-Machreq, 1970.

Orfali (Bilal) et Saab (Nada) (éds), Sufism, Black and White, Leyde-Boston, Brill, 2012.

Qushayrî (al-) (Abû l-Qâsim), al-Risâla al-qushayriyya fî ‘ilm al-tasawwuf, éd. Ma’rûf Zurayq § ‘Alî ‘Abd al-Hamîd al-Biltajî, Beyrouth, Dâr al-Jîl, 1410/1990.

Sulamî (Abû ‘Abd al-Rahmân),

Tabaqât al-sûfiyya, éd. Nûr al-Dîn Shurayba, Le Caire, Maktabat al-khanjî, 1969.

Haqâ’iq al-tafsîr, éd. Sayyid ‘Imrân, Beyrouth, Dâr al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 2 vol., 1421/2001.


Thibon (Jean-Jacques),

– [L’œuvre] L’œuvre d’Abū ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (325/937-412/1021) et la formation du soufisme, Damas, Ifpo, 2009.

– [Les voies des Hommes], « Les voies des Hommes sincères parmi les Soufis », introd. et trad. du texte de Sulamî Manâhij al-sâdiqîn in La règle d’Abraham, n° 34, 2012, Milan, Archè, p. 27-64.



[1] Sur ce terme, voir art. de Gauthier H. A. Juynboll, « sunna », EI2, 9, p. 913b-917a.

[2] Voir par exemple Ahmet Karamustafa, Sufism : The Formative Period, p. 87-91 ; Alexander Knysh, Islamic Mysticism, p. 125-30 ; Hamid Algar, « Hadith in Sufism », in Encyclopaedia Iranica.

[3] Pour la période antérieure et les liens entre les renonçants et le hadith voir L. Daaïf, « Dévôts et Renonçants : L’autre catégorie des Forgeurs de Hadiths », plus particulièrement p. 217-22 et 230-2.

[4] D’une manière plus générale, cette question de la transmission du savoir s’est posée dès les premières générations, voir infra la réflexion de Yūsuf b. Asbāṭ.

[5] Voir Baghdâdî, Ta’rikh Baghdâd, 7, p. 70. Sur Bishr, voir l’article de F. Meier, « Bishr al-Hâfî », EI2, 1, p. 1282a-4a.

[6] Voir Siyar, 10, p. 471. Dhahabî trouve le propos excessif, mais doit reconnaître qu’il est fondé.

[7] Voir Siyar, 10, 471. Car il avait pour principe, s’il avait un penchant pour une chose, de se l’interdire, et on peut supposer qu’il poussait ses disciples à en faire autant.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Voir Siyar, 10, p. 472.

[10] Voir Roger Deladrière, Ibn ‘Arabī, La vie merveilleuse de Dhû-l-Nûn l’Egyptien, p. 66.

[11] Cité par Ibn ‘Arabî, voir Deladrière, op. cit., p. 65.

[12] Voir l’étude et l’édition du manuscrit Vollers 875d de la bibliothèque de l’université de Leipzig dans l’article de Francesco Chiabotti et Bilal Orfali intitulé « An Encounter of al-ʿAbbās b. Ḥamza (d. 288/901) with Dhū l-Nūn al-Miṣrī (d. ca. 245/859–60) » à paraître dans le Journal of Abbasid Studies. Je remercie les auteurs qui ont eu l’amabilité de me communiquer une version préliminaire de leur article.

[13] Voir R. Deladrière, op. cit., p. 67.

[14] Voir Vollers 875d, f. 63a. Dans ce récit, les transmetteurs successifs, à savoir Yûsuf b. Asbât (199/814-15), Sufyân al-Thawrî (d. 161/778), Hasan al-Basrî (m. 110/728) et al-Musayyib b. Wâdih (d. 246/860) font des constats analogues.

[15] Voir Jean-Jacques Thibon, L’œuvre, p. 105.

[16] Voir Paul Ballanfat, Najm al-Dîn Kubra, La pratique du soufisme, p. 129. Nous n’avons jamais rencontré cette parole de Sulamî et son attribution nous laisse dubitatif.

[17] Sur les références et les différentes variantes de cette sentence, voir Jawid A. Mojaddedi, The Biographical Tradition, p. 113-4.

[18] Voir Sulamî, Tabaqât al-sûfiyya, p. 500, n° 12.

[19] Voir J.-J. Thibon, L’œuvre, p. 131-41 et Francesco Chiabotti, Entre soufisme et savoir islamique : l’œuvre de ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Qushayrī (376-465/986-1072), p. 563-81.

[20] Voir la discussion sur la nature fondamentale de ce que Graham a appelé ‘the isnâd paradigm’ dans la culture islamique, William A. Graham, « Traditionalism in Islam: An Essay in Interpretation », p. 495-522.

[21] Voir Denis Gril, « Le hadith dans l’œuvre d’Ibn ‘Arabî ou la chaîne ininterrompue de la prophétie », p. 133.

[22] Voir Kenneth L. Honerkamp, Adab mujâlasa, p. 115. Dans un autre texte reprenant le même hadith, il en fait un commentaire similaire, mais précise que « Les états spirituels sont fondés sur une transmission orale, comme le sont également les statuts juridiques, mais de manière plus précise et plus subtile », voir J.-J. Thibon, Les voies des Hommes §14, p. 40.

[23] Ce n’est pas la seule fonction du regard, il sert aussi au transfert des difficultés du disciple vers son maître, sur cette question voir L’œuvre, p. 432-5.

[24] Voir K. L. Honerkamp, Adab mujâlasa, p. 109.

[25] Il fut disciple de Ahmad b. Abî l-Hawârî (m. 230/ 844-5), comme le montrent les chaines de transmission de Sulamî, voir Tabaqât al-sûfiyya, p. 98-102.

[26] Voir MS Vollers 875d, f. 59b.

[27] Voir, Haqâ’iq al-tafsîr, vol. 1, p. 207-8, commentaire de Cor. 6, 90.

[28] Pour  le ‘hadith-objet’, comme source de baraka au même titre que des objets conservés comme reliques voir, Sarah Z. Mirza, « The Peoples’ Hadith: Evidence for Popular Tradition on Hadith as Physical Object in the First Centuries of Islam », p. 46-50 et p. 58-61.

[29] Voir Sulamî, Tabaqât al-sûfiyya, p. 2.

[30] C’est-à-dire ici à une conformité aux formes extérieures de cette pratique prophétique.

[31] Voir J.-J. Thibon,  Les Voies des Hommes, § 19,  p. 43.

[32] Dans ce contexte, ce terme correspond à l’adequatio des scholastiques. Tirmidhî avait défini le sidq (sincérité) comme « l’adéquation (muwâfaqa) entre la science et l’action », voir P. Nwyia, Exégèse coranique, p. 283. On observe donc un glissement, le Prophète s’étant en quelque sorte substitué à la science.

[33] J.-J. Thibon, Les voies des Hommes, §18,  p. 43.

[34] Voir Tahdhîb al-asrâr, p. 200.

[35] Ils sont particulièrement nombreux dans les Tabaqât de Sulamî, puisque plus de la moitié des personnages qu’il a réunis dans cet ouvrage sont présentés comme transmetteurs de hadiths, précisément 57 sur 105. Il s’agit sans doute pour l’auteur d’une ‘qualité’ supplémentaire qu’il s’est attaché à noter de manière systématique.

The Prophet and the other prophetic figures in the mystical interpretation of the Quran. The case of Abraham

Pierre LORY (EPHE)

Paper presented at the workshop “Between God and Man. The Representations of the Prophet in the Construction of Islamic Knowledge” (Paris, 5-6 July 2017)


BNF, Supplément turc 1614, fol. 18v, Abraham saved from the flames

Our starting point is a specific literature, that of the mystical commentaries on the Quran, especially the oldest ones: Tustarî, Sulamî, Qushayrî, Rûzbehân… A mystical tafsîr is not a treatise on piety, nor is it a genuine exegesis. It is the appropriation of the Quranic verses according to a living experience which does not have its source in any sort of exegesis. This type of Quranic commentary is paradoxical. It is individual in that it expresses the welling up of an intimate experience, one that is strictly and profoundly individual, but it also belongs to a way of thinking, to a group. In fact, these exegeses of the Quran exist in a mystical tradition that attaches great importance to the transmission of the experiences of the great figures of past spirituality. A phrase from Tustarî might appear in his Tafsîr, as an expression of his individual experience. Yet one also finds this citation in the work of Sulamî, along with others – Wâsitî and, Hallâj, for example. This literary environment will then modify the meaning of these words of Tustarî’s. Later, Rûzbehân will, in turn, cite the phrase, as a codicil and support for his own ideas and the same quotation will again acquire new connotations. The notion of the imitation of the ancients seems an evident interpretation: an ever-enriching and developing imitation, pre-supposing a powerful mimetic impulse in the hermeneutic process.

Clearly, this imitation is based on the prophetic model, by which I mean the model of Muhammad himself, as well as that of other Quranic prophets. I am basing this notion on the hypothesis that each prophetic figure in the Quran refers back to the experiences of Muhammad and to his relationships with his contemporaries. The point is not to produce a historical document, but rather an exemplar, aimed at believers. This is why I’ve chosen passages here that refer back to Abraham.

BNF, Arabe 1489, fol. 156v, Abraham distroying the idoles

The point being upheld here is the following: the prophets are exemplars of faith in God and of perseverance in their missions. Even so, there may be moments or passages where one can see the prophets hesitating. Abraham arrives at faith only after having rid himself of astral divination – he needs to set his heart at rest concerning resurrection. Moses hesitates to go back to the Pharaoh, and there are similar hesitations even in the life of Muhammad himself. [1] We want to look at the ways in which the hesitation of a prophet can become a locus of imitation. We will observe that the records of these hesitant moments attracted an interpretation as marks of spiritual perfection. To be precise, the example set by these prophets is of leaving conceptual arguments behind to arrive at a pure revelation and mystical union.


Abraham and the celestial bodies (Qur’an VI 75-79)

We will examine two specific passages: the first is that of Abraham, Surah VI, verse  75-79. Here the exegesis is not at all that of speculation and reasoning, unlike what appears in the developments of Philon of Alexandria. Sufi exegetes perceive these verses as a description of the experience of the fanâ’:

75. So We were showing Abraham the kingdom of the heavens and earth, that he might be of those having sure faith. 

وَكَذَلِكَ نُرِيۤ إِبْرَاهِيمَ مَلَكُوتَ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلأَرْضِ وَلِيَكُونَ مِنَ ٱلْمُوقِنِينَ

76. When night outspread over him he saw a star and said, ’This is my Lord.’ But when it set he said, ’I love not the setters.’

فَلَمَّا جَنَّ عَلَيْهِ ٱلْلَّيْلُ رَأَى كَوْكَباً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّآ أَفَلَ قَالَ لاۤ أُحِبُّ ٱلآفِلِينَ

77. When he saw the moon rising, he said, ’This is my Lord.’ But when it set he said, ’If my Lord does not guide me I shall surely be of the people gone astray.’

فَلَمَّآ رَأَى ٱلْقَمَرَ بَازِغاً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي فَلَمَّآ أَفَلَ قَالَ لَئِن لَّمْ يَهْدِنِي رَبِّي لأَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلْقَوْمِ ٱلضَّالِّينَ

78. When he saw the sun rising, he said, ’This is my Lord; this is greater!’ But when it set he said, ’O my people, surely I am quit of that you associate.

فَلَماَّ رَأَى ٱلشَّمْسَ بَازِغَةً قَالَ هَـٰذَا رَبِّي هَـٰذَآ أَكْبَرُ فَلَمَّآ أَفَلَتْ قَالَ يٰقَوْمِ إِنِّي بَرِيۤءٌ مِّمَّا تُشْرِكُونَ

79. I have turned my face to Him who originated the heavens and the earth, a man of pure faith; I am not of the idolaters.’

إِنِّي وَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِيَ لِلَّذِي فَطَرَ ٱلسَّمَٰوَٰتِ وَٱلأَرْضَ حَنِيفاً وَمَآ أَنَاْ مِنَ ٱلْمُشْرِكِينَ

Tustarî does not offer any development on the subject of this passage, VI 74 s. He merely affirms that the significance of the questioning of the prophet before the celestial bodies was as a pure demonstration before his people, as a way of awakening their hearts.[2] This goes along with an interpretation that was widespread at that time, found notably in Tabarî. In fact, Tustarî’s thinking goes further. He elaborated an entire prophetology around the concept of the light of Muhammad as the first being to be created. The prophets are the first human beings to have issued from the loins of Adam; the rest of humanity derives from them and owes them its life on the material plane, as on the spiritual plane, as well as relying on them for support as far as the gates of the hereafter. They are the intermediaries through which one realises the final steps to being fully human. [3] From this point of view, it’s easier to understand why there was no requirement for any history of Abraham’s spiritual searchings, even if such a story were expected in a literal sense. As a prophet, Abraham was already, even before his own birth, the recipient of the gift of divine knowledge.

Among the mystics of the third and fourth centuries, the contemplation of celestial bodies becomes a symbolic recital of spiritual evolution. First, Abraham saw God everywhere. According to Ibn ‘Atâ’, Abraham loved his God so much that he saw Him everywhere, saying before a star, not « this is the work of my God », but « this is my God ».[4]

Al-Wâsitî comments: Abraham saw the star, and the sun and the moon in which he perceived God (al-Haqq), rising in the secrecy of his heart. He added: I do not love those who disappear – at the moment at which the supernatural perception came to an end and so, as a result, did the pleasure and the ecstasy.[5] The experience of that which is fortuitous is a preparation for the encounter with the Eternal. Nasrabâdî says: God showed him disappearance and thus brought him an ecstasy in that which knows no disappearance. An anonymous writer declared, according to Sulamî : « This is my God » , meaning, this fortuitousness points to my God, who Himself is immutable.

Qushayrî proposes a sober but profound interpretation of this passage. Abraham discovers that there is only one God, creator and ruler. That is to say, suggests Qushayrî, that he rejects all that is not God. No element of that which is not God can filter though to his spirit. For Qushayrî, the fanâ’ begins with the total abandonment of bad actions, and then moves to conceptions on God, and finally to the actual consciousness of one’s fanâ’. The meditation on the celestial bodies describes the gradual progression of Abraham’s certainty before he has arrived at the decisive experience (sabâh al-wujûd), starting from the star of the intellect (al-‘aql). He recognised God in the star by demonstration (burhân), but the light of the moon of religious science (al-‘ilm) arrived to erase this preliminary form of certainty and replace it with a second type. Then the sun of gnosis (al-‘irfân) left no more space for questions or research (talab), or for the insinuation of doubt : with this sun, the veil (of night) was lifted and vision (al-‘iyân) became possible.

For Qushayrî – as he appears in the context of all his works, and especially in his Risâla, the stimulus of the ‘aql is the love that the future Sufi feels growing in him, which is structured with the help of the demonstrative process. The second stage (the moon) corresponds to the purification of carnal influences from the heart by means of ascesis and pious acts. The third stage (the sun) leads not only to contemplation, but to the inversion of the intentions of consciousness: it is God who speaks in the heart of the mystic. How to explain the fact that Abraham then refuses to stop with the sun? Initially he had considered the traces and the aghyâr through God; and then to God, and coming from God: “Thus, in the end, beyond the light of the sun, everything was erased within God, including his own consciousness”.[6]


Abraham and the four birds (Qur’an II 260)

BNF, Supplément persan 332, fol. 3, Abraham and the birds

Another passage on Abraham can also be of interest to us. Its theme is « the questions formulates a certainty » II 260:

And when Abraham said, ’My Lord, show me how Thou wilt give life to the dead,’ He said, ’Why, dost thou not believe?’ ’Yes,’ he said, ’but that my heart may be at rest.’ Said He, ’Take four birds, and twist them to thee, then set a part of them on every hill, then summon them, and they will come to thee running. And do thou know that God is All-mighty, All-wise.’


وَإِذْ قَالَ إِبْرَاهِيمُ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِـي ٱلْمَوْتَىٰ قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِن قَالَ بَلَىٰ وَلَـكِن لِّيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي قَالَ فَخُذْ أَرْبَعَةً مِّنَ ٱلطَّيْرِ فَصُرْهُنَّ إِلَيْكَ ثُمَّ ٱجْعَلْ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ جَبَلٍ مِّنْهُنَّ جُزْءًا ثُمَّ ٱدْعُهُنَّ يَأْتِينَكَ سَعْياً وَٱعْلَمْ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ


Among strictly mystical commentators, let us first name Tustarî, who takes a lot of time over this verse. He replies in the negative to the question of whether Abraham had been subject to doubt when formulating such a demand. Abraham was a believer, as demonstrated by his response to God, in the same verse.  He was simply requesting an increase in faith, kashf al-ghitâ’, with the help of concrete, material vision; this is what was designated as « bringing peacefulness » (tuma’nîna)[7]. This request for an increase in faith is also taken up by Qushayrî, who explains that the request for more faith is permitted.[8]

We’ll pass over several more distant interpretations.[9] One proposition advanced by Tustarî is that Abraham needed to assure himself of the reality of the divine khulla, of which he felt himself to be unworthy.[10] Qushayrî adds that the return to life of a dead person was the sign of having acceded to this rank. Another commentary states that the request of Abraham revealed his desire to contemplate the works of God, and carried with it no grounds for suspicion, according to Nasrâbâdî. In the same spirit, an anonymous writer says that tranquillity is not the opposite of doubt – the question lies elsewhere. This verse also suggests the theme of ‘death to oneself’, as summed up by Qushayrî: “The heart of a man who didn’t sacrifice his ego through spiritual efforts won’t be alive in God” [11]. He continues: a human being is like these flocks of birds. Broken up by the beloved (God), it re-assembles itself at his call.

Supplément turc 1088, fol. 17, Abraham et Gabriel

Rûzbehân takes up these exegeses that are a bit scattered and proposes a more synthetic reading: Abraham had been tried by God in many ways: material (thrown in the furnace, called to sacrifice his son), but also spiritual, in his search for certainty (for example, the contemplation of the celestial bodies). Like other prophets, the experience of the loss of the beloved (God) was imposed on him in order to consume any remains of human or satanic attachment. Abraham’s faith was not perturbed: he asked how God’s reign was manifested to his servants in what was created. He wanted to know the greatest secrets of divinity, for he who loves always wants to know everything about the beloved. God responded that since he (Abraham) was part of creation he could not have access to the secrets of pre-eternity. Instead, God agreed to set his heart at rest by the vision of His Beauty. Abraham’s request was greater than that of Moses, who asked God for contemplation, whereas Abraham asked for the secret of the contemplated. The four birds are: the intellect, whose throat is cut with the knife of love on the threshold of the Malakût; the heart, whose throat is cut with the knife of desire (shawq) on the threshold of the Jabarût; the soul, whose throat is cut with the knife of the ‘ishq in the plains of isolation; and the spirit, whose throat is cut with the knife of impotence in the trackless deserts of the mysteries of unicity[12].

Finally, we will mention the interpretations of this same verse, as evoked by Fakhr al-dîn al-Râzî, who said they were transmitted “according to the language of the Sufi Masters” ( ‘ala lisân ahl al-tasawwuf). The dead people in question are the hearts that are veiled in regard to the theophanies. To ask to see the resurrection amounts to aspiring to this theophanic unveiling that permits access to pure and total certainty, going beyond the simple speculations of deductive theology.[13] This statement carries weight. It proves that mystical commentary can by right be incorporated into a more general Tafsîr.



To conclude: What do these passages on the evolution of prophetic modelling bring to our interpretations of the Quran? We can observe that from the most ancient commentaries, those of Tustarî and his contemporaries, up until the most recent, with Rûzbehân, there is an evident homogeneity. The commentators place themselves in the same relationship with the Quranic text. They write in registers that are sometimes doctrinal, sometimes more ascetic, and sometimes more lyrical, using the language of love, but their exegetic universe is the same. They have the same idea of the prophetic model. Abraham here becomes a paradigmatic figure of the person following the path to God. It is in this sense that he must be followed himself, and imitated. But he is more than a simple Shaykh. As a prophet, he is gifted with a dimension that is always turned towards the divine world. His human gestures are in fact simple demonstrations, with a pedagogical character, offered to ordinary human beings. An advanced Sufi will know how to translate his words. He will know how to perceive, under the apparent doubt, the proximity of theophany. In fact, like Muhammad, Abraham is himself only in relation to God. In relation to other human beings, he is working to teach them.



[1] See Qur’an XI 12 (all translations by Arberry) :

“Perchance thou art leaving part of what is revealed to thee, and thy breast is straitened by it, because they say, ’Why has a treasure not been sent down upon him, or an angel not come with him?’ Thou art only a warner; and God is a Guardian over everything.”

Or, among others, these verses: (Qur’an XVII 73-76) :

73. Indeed they were near to seducing thee from that We revealed to thee, that thou mightest forge against Us another, and then they would surely have taken thee as a friend;

74. and had We not confirmed thee, surely thou wert near to inclining unto them a very little;

75. then would We have let thee taste the double of life and the double of death; and then thou wouldst have found none to help thee against Us.

[2] We note in passing that Ibn ‘Arabî commented on this passage of surah VI of the Quran in chapter 367 of the Futûhât. While telling of his own celestial ascencion, he recounts how he met Abraham in the seventh heaven and asked him why he had pronounced those idolatrous words « this is my God ». Abraham merely replied that it was a roundabout way of putting his people onto the right path, because they adored idols of wood and stone; speaking to them of celestial bodies was a way of gradually drawing them away from error and on to the right path.

[3] G. Böwering, The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam – The Qur’ânic Hermeneutics of the Sûfî Sahl At-Tustarî (d. 283/896), Berlin/New York, Walter de Gruyter, 1980, pp.148, 156. See also Keeler, Annabel et Ali (tr.) ῾Abd Allāh al-Tustarī, Tafsīr al-Tustarī. Great Commentaries on the Holy Qurʼān. (Louisville : Fons Vitae), 2009

[4] Sulamî, Haqâ’iq al-tafsîr, ed. S. ‘Imrân, Beirut, Dâr al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 2001, I p.206.

[5] Haqâ’iq al-tafsîr I p.205; see also Rûzbehân Baqlî, ‘Arâ’is al-Bayân fî haqâ’iq al-Qur’ân, ed. A. F. Al-Mizyadi, Beirut, Dâr al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 2008, I p.376-377.

[6] ” « Kâna yulâhiz al-ashyâ’ wa-l-aghyâr bi-Allâh, thumma kâna yarâ al-ashyâ’ li-Allâh wa-min Allâh, thumma tâla`a al-aghyâr mahwan fî Allâh »”, Latâ’if al-ishârât, ed. I. Basyûnî, Cairo, al-Hay’a al-misriyya al-‘âmma li-al-kitâb, 1981, I p.484-485.

[7] Also cited by Sulamî. Haqâ’iq al-tafsîr, I p.79.

[8] Latâ’if al-ishârât, I p.202.

[9] Sulamî provides us with other opinions: Abraham’s request reveals the psychology of lovers. He addresses God to attract His blame, and the question « are you not a believer? », coming from God who knows Abraham better than he knows himself, is a reproach that brings him back to life (shared exegesis; anonymous authors). Another citation: this act is a hîla by Abraham, who is seeking to attract to himself the delectation of divine discourse. Even a reproach from God is a sign of His love, Wa-yabqâ al-wuddu mâ baqiya al-`itâbu. More prominent is the idea that what Abraham is asking for is in fact the mushâhadat al-ghayb (anonymous author). Are you not a believer, replies God, you who has interrogated the celestial bodies before asserting your certainty; you, for whom We have been the guide, the proof? See also, in the same sense, Qushayrî, Latâ’if al-ishârât, I 202.

[10] Tafsîr al-Tustarî, ed. M. B. ‘Uyûn al-sûd, Beirut, Dâr al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 2002, p.37.

[11] “Man lam yadhbah nafsa-hu bi-al-mujâhadât lam yahya qalbu-hu bi-Allâh ” Qushayri, Latâ’if al-ishârât, I p.203.

[12] ‘Arâ’is al-Bayân, I p.106-109.

[13] Mafâtîh al-ghayb, Beirut, Dâr al-kutub al-‘ilmiyya, 1990, VII p.34-35.

Le rôle du prophète dans une eschatologie “inaugurée” en Islam – Dix Thèses.


Stefan REICHMUTH (RUHR University)

Paper presented at the summeschool “Prophétologies musulmanes” (Aix-en-Provence, 30th June 2017) and at the GIS conference (Paris,  7th July 2017) 


1. Le rattachement au prophète est partagé par tous les individus et communautés qui se considèrent comme musulmans, qu’ils soient Sunnites ou Chi’ites, qu’ils suivent la lettre ou plutôt l’esprit de l’islam, qu’ils soient réformistes ou conservateurs. Restant à la fois le foyer de l’émulation personnelle et de la précédence normative, le prophète de l’islam est toujours présent : sa présence continue à travers les croyants musulmans. Cela s’exprime dans les croyances eschatologiques liant les débuts de l’islam (ou même les origines de la création) au présent et à la fin du monde. Un accès immédiat et métahistorique est également évoqué par la transmission des paroles prophétiques, comme elles s’adressent aux croyants de façon directe et leur fournissent des promesses de salut et même de victoire s’ils restent attachés à la Sunna du prophète. Emergeant des formes de piété nées dans les temps médiévaux, le modèle prophétique depuis les temps modernes s’est situé de plus en plus dans le centre des efforts personnels et collectifs visant à fortifier l’individu et à renouveler la culture et la politique dans le monde musulman.

2. Même aujourd’hui, la figure du prophète reste ainsi attachée au salut, à la vie spirituelle et intérieure, et à l’identité socio-psychologique des musulmans. Souvent est-il évoqué par des États et mouvements dits « islamiques » pour renforcer leur promesses messianiques. Ça veut dire qu’on peut parler d’une présence prophétique dans le cadre de l’orientation générale des musulmans d’aujourd’hui. En tant que médiateur et intercesseur et comme modèle à suivre en toute chose, la personne du prophète reste fermement lié à l’avenir et au présent de la vie musulmane. Il continue de s’imposer comme la porte unique vers les promesses et attentes eschatologiques, et selon une tradition fort influente, il reste toujours vivant dans sa tombe, répondant aux salutations et prières des croyants. Des millions de musulmans même portent son nom.

3. Pour mieux comprendre ce rapport remarquable d’avenir au présent dans la personne du prophète et dans son rôle eschatologique, il convient de nous rappeler du modèle de l’eschatologie chrétienne. Là, on peut parler d’une eschatologie déja “inaugurée”, avec la présence continue du Christ chez les croyants par le Saint Esprit, jusqu’à son futur retour au jugement final. Ce modèle a été élaboré par des théologiens protestants au vingtième siècle, aboutissant par exemple chez Oscar Cullmann à une eschatologie double du “déjà et du pas encore”. Contrairement aux autre modèles contemporains d’une eschatologie déjà “réalisée” avec le ministère de Jésus, ou un autre modèle tout à fait dirigé vers la décision individuelle d’accepter la parole de Jésus comme message existentiel, c’est l’eschatologie “inaugurée” qui permet la comparaison la plus pertinente avec le rôle du prophète après sa mort dans l’histoire du salut en Islam.

4. L’eschatologie islamique, en tant que basée sur la croyance au Jour Dernier, implique la croyance aux signes (ʿalāmāt al-sāʿa) qui précéderont l’Heure finale et annonceront son arrivée plus ou moins imminente. Comme il y a, à part des signes majeurs, qui précéderont immédiatement le Jour de Jugement, une autre série des signes mineurs ou intermédiaires qui sont déjà en train de se déployer depuis la mort du prophète, on peut regarder cette chaine des événements qui se passent le long de l’histoire musulmane comme éléments d’une eschatologie inaugurée. Mais il faut dire que le prophète ne joue aucun rôle dans cette chaine lui-même jusqu’au Jour du Jugement, quand il reçoit les hommes chez le bassin de l-ḥauḍ. Néanmoins sa présence s’impose certainement dans plusieurs occasions de la vie individuelle et collective des croyants musulmans au cours de l’histoire, et ce sont ces formes de rattachement à sa mémoire et à son rôle médiateur, à son aura et même à une présence prophétique spirituelle conçue comme directe, que nous voudrions bien énumérer et discuter ici.

5. La forme la plus directe que rattache le croyant aux prophète est sa bénédiction régulière pendant les prières rituelles et volontaires, la taṣliya ṣallā llāhu ʿalaihi wa-sallam, qui a connu un développement assez vaste et diverse dans les communautés musulmanes. Dans son usage soufi, la bénédiction a été présentée comme moyen de rapprochement au prophète qui peut aboutir aux expériences de sa vision en rêve ou en éveil. Cette forme de la prière continue forme la base des collections les plus fameuses de bénédiction sur le prophète, comme les Dalāʾil al-ḫayrāt d’al-Jazūlī (m. 1465), et aussi de la ṭarīqa muḥammadiyya qui a été le sujet de beaucoup de recherches et discussions ces dernières décades. Elle peut être considérée comme le signe le plus clair des efforts des croyants musulmans pour maintenir le contact spirituel avec leur prophète. Les traditions prophétiques conçernant la présence vivante du prophète dans sa tombe à Médine, était nettement exposée par Suyūṭī et reste fortement controversée jusqu’à présent. Elles servent comme illustration de la même tendance pieuse de maintenir un attachement vivant avec le prophète, pour s’assurer de son intercession (šafāʿa) au Jugement et pour le salut dans les Deux Mondes (saʿādat ad-dārayn).

6. La voix du prophète reste plus claire dans le corpus du ḥadīṯ, ou ses déclarations transmises sont lues et conçues par la plupart des musulmans comme interventions directes qui franchissent facilement les limitations de l’histoire. Cette présence métahistorique s’exprime également dans la Loi islamique avec sa fondation sur la Sunna du prophète. La prétention d’un “retour à la Sunna” ou de sa “revivication” (iḥyāʾ), tant propagées par les mouvements réformistes dans l’histoire moderne, fait largement appel à cette autorité directe du prophète, qu’ils trouvent conservée dans ses mots et ses actions transmis, et dont ils se réclament souvent en mettant de côté la méthodologie juridique établie.

7. La bénédiction du prophète inclut aussi celle de sa famille (āl), et dans les traditions prophétiques il y a des textes rapportés par chiites et sunnites soulignant l’importance d’aimer et de respecter ses descendants. Le fameux “ḥadīṯ des deux poids” (hadīṯ al-ṯaqalayn), interpelle les musulmans (dans une des diverses versions): “Ô gens! En effet, j’ai laissé parmi vous ce à quoi, si vous vous y attachez, vous ne vous égarerez pas : Le Livre d’Allah et ma famille (ʿitratī), les gens de ma demeure (Ahl-Baytî).”  Dans le contexte des conflits sur le califat et la formation du parti chiite, le rôle joué par les descendants du prophète se déployait en même temps dans le champ politique et dans la sphère religieuse proprement dite. Le respect et l’amour pour sa famille, les chérifs ou sayyids, ne se limitaient pas aux chiites mais s’étendaient dans une large mesure aux sunnites. L’histoire des imams et mouvements chiites et leur eschatologie sont mieux connue que celle des chérifs sunnites, que leur rôle politique et souvent millénariste, et que la vénération des croyants sur laquelle ils pouvaient se baser dans les temps différents. Par cette existence continuelle des descendants du prophète fondateur, l’islam s’est distingué clairement du christianisme. Il a focalisé les espoirs et les attentes des musulmans et l’aura du prophète même dans une grande mesure sur cette famille, qui pour sa part a souvent offert une certaine sacralisation aux champs divers de la vie politique, sociale et religieuse.

8. La doctrine chiite, soit ismaélite ou duodécimaine, clamait très tôt une position cosmologique pour le prophète et ses imam-successeurs ʿAlides. De telles doctrines, largement dérivées des conceptions néo-platoniques du monde intelligible, s’imposaient aussi sur la théosophie mystique sunnite et sa théorie de la lumière muḥammadienne (nūr muḥammadī) comme origine du monde créé. L’élévation du prophète trouve peut-être son expression la plus élaborée dans l’œuvre de Ibn ʿArabī (m. 1240), où sa Réalité est identifiée sur le plan ontologique avec le Logos, formant la “Réalité Muḥammadienne” (ḥaqīqa muḥammadiyya) comme Intellect premier, et unifiant toutes les essences des autre prophètes dans un seul principe rationnel universel. Pour Ibn ʿArabī et ses successeurs, il devenait même possible pour l’âme purifiée du mystique d’arriver à une rencontre avec l’image du prophète dans le monde intermédiaire du barzaḫ, et de s’élever aux plans supérieurs du monde intelligible, jusqu’à la “Réalité Muḥammadienne” elle-même. Par conséquent, cette doctrine offrait pour ses adhérents le cas spécial d’une eschatologie présente et metahistorique en même temps, dans la mesure ou elle permettrait d’établir un contact immédiat avec l’essence cosmique du prophète, et de s’en assurer comme une source d’autorité religieuse et sociale, hors de chaque imamologie chiite.

9. En addition à l’eschatologie islamique dominée par les signes mineurs et majeurs signalant la voie à la fin du monde, il y a un autre type d’eschatologie cyclique dérivé de la tradition prophétique. C’est le concept bien connu d’un rénovateur (mujaddid), qui est envoyé par Dieu au début de chaque siècle pour renouveler la Sunna et la communauté musulmane. L’histoire de cette idée et de son application à travers les siècles islamiques reste à écrire. Elle semble avoir gagné en importance à l’époque moderne, des savants, des maitres soufis et même des sultans et des chef de mouvements réformistes se réclamant de ce titre. La mystique décrite de l’ascension jusqu’au niveau de la “Réalité Muḥammadienne” contribuait en grande mesure à la prolifération de ceux qui s’attribuaient ce statut de rénovateur, comme des fondateurs des mouvements religieux (e.g. Aḥmad Sirhindī et sa ṭarīqa mujaddidiyya, et beaucoup plus autres) ou politiques (comme Sayyid Aḥmand Brelvi et sa ṭarīqa muḥammadiyya, et le mouvement de Uṯmān b. Fodiye dans le Soudan occidental). En tout cas, tous les acteurs revendiquant le rang religieux d’un mujaddid faisaient l’effort de se placer à une position la plus proche du prophète dans le plan temporel de l’islam.

10. La reproduction du modèle prophétique dans la vie personnelle et collective continue a diriger les efforts des mouvements islamiques et islamistes contemporains. Par exemple, les Frères Musulmans déclaraient le prophète leur “Chef” (zaʿīm). Le recours à la “méthodologie” (manhaǧ) du prophète comme modèle d’action politique continue à dominer le discours idéologique des mouvements islamiques radicaux aujourd’hui. Un comportement explicitement modelé sur le modèle du prophète tend a donner une teinte religieuse aux activités politiques, aboutissant souvent à une sacralisation complète de la vie politique. Cela aussi peut être regardé comme un effort de se rattacher à l’aura du prophète pour un “self-empowerment” musulman. Ainsi il devient clair que tels mouvements, qui souvent sont fortement anti-soufis, partagent avec leur opposants soufis l’ambition de s’assurer de la présence du prophète et de son aura, même dans la vie contemporaine.

© PROPHET (ANR-16-FRAL-0003-01)



Muhammad in the Everyday Life of a Barelvi Sunni household of Pakistan (December 2016)

 Sajida FAZAL (M.A. RUHR University)

Sajida Fazal is a PhD candidate  at the Center for Religious Studies (CERES) of the University of Bochum. She is currently working on ‘Intra-religious among Pakistani Muslims migrants’.


Each Muslim community has its religious traditions attached to the presentation of Prophet Mohammad in their surroundings. These images are taken from a typical Barelvi Sunni household of Pakistan (December 2016). These are not only images but are sources to represent the presence and association of the family with Prophet Mohammad. Collectively all images show the relationship, but each image has its history and reason to be present in the household.

The sandal (na’l) of Prophet Mohammad, a poster hung on wall of the house.


This image is called sealing of Prophet Mohammad. It is a copy of the seal that allegedly was used by Prophet –according to Islamic tradition – to seal his official documents.  According to Pakistani household this image presents that the Prophethood was concluded by Prophet Mohammad. The idea of sealring (khatam) reminds of the the Qur’anic verse “”Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but (he is) the Messenger of Allah, and the Seal of the Prophets: and God has full knowledge of all things.”  (Qur’ān 33:40) مَّا كَانَ مُحَمَّدٌ أَبَآ أَحَدٍ مِّن رِّجَالِكُمْ وَلَـٰكِن رَّسُولَ ٱللَّـهِ وَخَاتَمَ ٱلنَّبِيِّـۧنَ وَكَانَ ٱللَّـهُ بِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ عَلِيمًا


















This image shows the association by keeping the name of Prophet Mohammad in several ways, for example door hanger, stand, etc.


The name of the Prophet











Poster of the Mawlid (celebration of the birth of the prophet)

A second poster of the Mawlid











The shahāda (“There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God”, in Arabic). This hanging piece details the value of the Shahāda: if someone recites it once all his sins are forgiven and 4000 good deeds will be ascribed to him.


The footstep of Prophet Mohammad (nagsh). This picture says its explanation and explicitly indicates the reasons for its being at home. It is considered as a source to attain Jannah (paradise) and is relatated to the Miʿrāj narrative.


The Mosque of Medina


A devotional object present in the house.




Poetry in Honor of the Prophet in the Works of Sanāʾī (1080 – 1130) and ‘Aṭṭār (ca 1145 – ca 1221)

Eve FEUILLEBOIS-PIERUNEK (Paris 3 Nouvelle Sorbonne)

Paper presented at the GIS conferences (Paris,  7th July 2017) 

Une scène du mi‘râj, « l’ascension céleste » de Muhammad. Sur le dos de sa monture ailée, le prophète rencontre lors de sa traversée des sept ciels un ange en forme de coq. Manuscrit produit à Hérat, XVe siècle (Paris, BnF, Manuscrits orientaux, Supplément turc 190, fol. 11).
source :

The poetry in honour of the Prophet is a widespread genre throughout the Muslim world and expresses most beautifully and eloquently the love and veneration of Muhammad. In Persia, the founder of this type of poetry appears to be Sanāʾī, who devotes to it a part of his introduction to his mathanawī Ḥadīqat al-haqīqa (The Garden of Truth), and several qaṣīdas. In these poems, numerous images and key themes embraced by future generations appear for the first time in Persian: the beauty of the Prophet, his role as the Seal of Prophets in this world and intercessor on Judgement Day, the light emanating from him, his precedence over Adam, and his role in Creation. We will here focus on two specific issues which show the originality of Sanāʾī in combining classical and personal ideas: the Light of Muhammad and the role of the Prophet in the salvation of humanity.

In Sanāʾī’s mystical prophetology, Muḥammad is identified as a light and as the first being created. In Quran 33:46, the Prophet is called the “illuminating lamp” (sirājun munīr), as he brought the light of truth and faith from the depths of darkness. In the eighth century, the theologian Muqātil interpreted the Verse of the Light (24:35) in reference to Muḥammad. Thereafter, Sahl al-Tustari (d. 896) elaborated a theology of Light according to which the entire universe, including the celestial (malakut) and terrestrial kingdoms (dunyā), the future world (ākhira) and the light of all the prophets, derives from the radiance of the Muḥammadan Light, which itself originates from the divine Light. The Prophet is therefore a sort of bridge between the Divinity and the created world, a kind of Logos through which the whole creation appeared (Böwering, 1980: 149-164).

Sanāʾī rephrases this concept with his own words: Muḥammad was the first to present himself at the Divine Court and he pre-existed the rest of the created world. When Adam was created by God from clay and water, a light was placed in his heart and this light was Muḥammad.  The whole universe, once created, bowed down before him in the same way that the Angels would bow down before Adam. He is the object of desire and love of everyone and everything from the stone to the Holy Spirit, and he brings harmony to the world, so that living next to him is like living in the Paradise (Sanāʿī, 2003: verses 929-949). The Ascension of the Prophet (Miʿrāj) is subsequently reread in a specific light: not only the Prophet travels towards God, but he also brings with him the whole world, and so elevates it above its initial condition (Sanāʿī, 2003: verses 950-986).

The Prophet is presented as a microcosm that encompasses the entirety of the universe with both its negative and positive aspects. The images of the Prophet’s face and hair, representing light and obscurity, are harmoniously combined to express His oneness: faith and impiety, purity and vice, predetermination  and destiny, night and dawn1. are intrinsically part of this world and exemplified by the light of the prophetic face and the blackness of his hair. His lips are the mark of God’s Mercy and his eyes the symbol of God’s wrath.  The person of the Prophet thus encompasses also all the Attributes of God, attributes whose interplay keeps the whole universe in motion. From one hand, he is the one who manifests God, and from the other hand, he is also the veil before the Face of God (Sanāʿī, 1996: 118-9).

Sanā’ī further emphasizes the Prophet’s role in the salvation of the human kind:  he is presented as a devoted and merciful doctor patiently enduring the ridicule and aggressiveness of his ignorant patients. He is selfless and full of solicitude, like a mother.  As a human being who experienced the pain of orphanhood, poverty, jealousy, and bad faith, he is able to understand men’s difficulties and forgive their sins (Sanāʿī, 1996: 118-9). Not only does he help them fight their passions in this world, but he will also intercede for them on the Day of Judgement, descending to hell to free the lost members of his community and take them to paradise (Sanāʿī, 2003: verses 1081-1108). Sanāʾī also reinterprets paradise and hell with regard to the prophetic presence: paradise rejoices, full of enthusiasm and yearning for him, whereas the eyes of hell fill up with tears, overwhelmed by the envy caused by his absence (Sanāʿī, 1996: 118-9). The only thing we have to do in order to be saved is to choose the Prophet as the guide of our lives, to listen to his message and to imitate his perfect behaviour. Whoever cultivates love for the Prophet cannot be evil: injustice and demonic impulses simply cannot coexist in the heart with his remembrance (Sanāʿī, 1996: 118-9).

Attar, Tazkirat al-awliyyâ (trad. anonyme), BNF, Supplément turc 190, fol. 69v, Sarlauh

Our next poet, ʿAṭṭār, praises the Prophet in several qasidas and at the beginning of each of his mathnawis (‘Aṭṭār, 2004: 265-408; 2007: 325-525; 2008: 157-296): he is presented as the most perfect creature, the best prophet, the mercy of the two worlds, the shadow of God, the guide of the visible and invisible, the sun of the Law and the ocean of certainty. ‘Aṭṭār incorporates many of Sanāʾī’s thoughts and images, giving them frequently an even deeper meaning and adding some new elements. Like in Sanā’ī’s poetry, the Prophet is a Light, the first creation of God, from which all creatures of the world came into being. God created the Prophet for Himself and the world for the Prophet. No sooner had this Prophetic Light come into existence did it bow down before God, giving an example to all the creatures to come. In its quest for God, it spun round, and the seven heavens appeared. Then all creatures—djinns, angels, men, animals, plants, and minerals—came forth and prayed to God with him (‘Aṭṭār, 2004: 265-408).

As a man, God has favoured him with many gifts: prophecy, miracles, noble manners, the best Revelation, and He has shared His secret with him during the Ascension. From his infancy, he was special: he was born in this world circumcised and with his umbilical cord cut, his first act as a new born was to bow down to worship God. No one ever saw his bodily secretions, and not even a fly dared to land on him. He was much greater than the average and towered over his audience. He had the gift of seeing both before and behind him. His body cast no shadow on the ground.

The most important virtues of Muhammad in his terrestrial life were humility, poverty and generosity. Even when Destiny elevated him, he continued to glorify poverty and did not attach to anything in this world. He remained humble and simple, tenderly looking after his family and animals, instructing children and playing with them, helping his neighbours, visiting the ill, and following funerals. But for ‘Aṭṭār, poverty means much more than deprivation: it is the annihilation of the self in the divine Presence. Poverty calls for proximity to God: when man has nothing left and is nothing, God Himself comes to meet him (‘Aṭṭār, 2004: 3979-83).

Unlike Sanāʾī, ʿAṭṭār does not directly praise the Quran and does not expand on the problem of the inimitability of the Book (iʿjāz) as proof of Muḥammad’s mission. He pays little attention to the miracles attributed to the Prophet of Islam by the Tradition, although he sometimes alludes to them. Nevertheless, he emphasises the universality of Muḥammad’s mission that is addressed to all people of the past, present, and future, as well as his role as the Seal (khatm) of the prophecy.

The Miʿrāj plays an important role in ʿAṭṭār’s work: it is found in the prologues of two mathnawīs (ʿAṭṭār, 2008: 119-273; 2007: 395-497) and serves as a symbol of the ascension of the soul on numerous occasions. One night, Muḥammad was elevated above both worlds and rose to heaven. Gabriel appeared to invite him to the Miʿrāj. He mounted Burāq and rose to the Throne, going beyond time and space. He then met the prophets who had preceded him and brought them to their perfection. He lifted up Adam, covered his nakedness with the clothing of faith, and taught him the names of everything.  He gave Abraham lessons in divine friendship, exalted Moses, dictated the psalms to David, healed Job, guided Jonas out of the whale’s belly, watered Khiḍr with the water of life, and made Jesus the Messiah.

After arriving at the Jujube tree of the boundary, he continued alone, as Gabriel could not follow him when he entered in proximity to God; if the angel had taken one more step, his wings would have been burnt by the Light of the manifestation (Nūr-e tajallī). Trembling, Muḥammad thus approached the Throne at a distance “of two arcs”. He left his body and abandoned his spirit, and once striped of himself, he entered into the divine Presence. At that very instant, he did not longer exist, and only God existed: the “mīn” of Aḥmad fell away, with duality being annihilated in the One, Aḥad. The experience of the Ascension is compared to the aim of the mystical life: effacement and subsistence in God, and the key to this experience is poverty as defined by Attar.

Like Tustari and Sana’i, ‘Attar believes that God favoured humanity with a gift that heralds its destiny and constitutes the source of revelation and mystical union: the heart of Muḥammad (qalb Muḥammad). The mystic’s love for God is consequently the excess that gushes forth from the heart of Muḥammad. Along with the Muḥammadan Light, ʿAṭṭār also speaks of the Light of God (Nūr Allāh) in alchemical terms: this Light has the ability to perfect and ennoble everything that it touches. The annihilated mystic is transfigured by this Light, and given the Attributes of God. However, warns ‘Aṭṭār, this is not divinisation, since it only occurs in the “absence” of the creature: it is a dialogue within God, a self-Manifestation of God (‘Aṭṭār, 2008: 6282-320). Better than anyone else, the Prophet of Islam has been the perfect tool of this Theophany through the mystery of unification (tawḥīd), and thus he is the best teacher for human beings.

In conclusion, poetry in honour of the Prophet constitutes for these authors an opportunity to deal with a large number of theological, mystical or philosophical topics, ranging from prophetology and anthropology to morals and the difficulties of the spiritual Path. Of course, it will be necessary to study many more Persian poets in order to trace the evolution of the themes and images related to the Prophet. Annemarie Schimmel has gracefully charted the way in a chapter of her book entitled And Muhammad is his messenger (1985: 176-215) and we hope to be up to the challenge.


ʿAṭṭār (2007). Asrār-nāma, introduction, edition and annotations by M. R. Shafīʿī Kadkanī. Tehran: Sukhan.

ʿAṭṭār (2008). Ilāhī-nāma, introduction, edition and annotations by M. R. Shafīʿī Kadkanī. Tehran: Sukhan.

ʿAṭṭār (2004). Manṭiq al-ṭayr, introduction, edition and annotations by M. R. Shafīʿī Kadkanī. Tehran: Sukhan.

ʿAṭṭār (2007). Muṣibat-nāma, introduction, edition and annotations by M. R. Shafīʿī Kadkanī. Tehran: Sukhan.

Sanā’ī (1996). Dīwān, ed. P. Bābā’ī, introd. B. Furūzānfar. Tehran: Nigāh.

Sanā’ī (2003). Ḥadīqat al-ḥaqīqa wa sharīʿat al-ṭarīqa: Fakhrī-nāma, edition and introduction by M. Ḥusaynī. Tehran: Nashr-i dānishgāhī.

Schimmel, A. (1985). And Muhammad is his messenger, The Veneration of the prophet in Islamic Piety. Chapel Hill/London: The University of North Carolina Press.

Böwering, G. (1980). The Mystical Vision of Existence in Classical Islam: the Qurānic Hermeneutics of the Ṣūfī Sahl at-Tustārī (d. 283/896). Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter.

© PROPHET (ANR-16-FRAL-0003-01)



  1. This is an allusion to the suras of the same name (92, 93): the first promises punishment to the impious and the second recompense to the believers []

Journée d’études “Prophétologies musulmanes : discours et représentations”



On July, the 4th, Prof. Stefan Reichmuth (University of Bochum),  Prof. Denis Gril (University of Aix-Marseille) and Dr. Francesco Chiabotti (INALCO, Paris) will participate to a workshop on Islamic Prophetology, organized and coordinate by Dr. Anne-Sylvie Boisliveau (University of Strasbourg). The program of the workshop can be downloaded here.