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 The point is not to produce a historical document, but rather an exemplar, aimed at believers.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 []