Archives par mot-clé : Muhammad

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Atbaş pulled me aside last summer to tell me that I should take a look at some glass bottles, which remain unknown and unpublished, and yet surely would interest me.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



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.

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  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 []