Suhrawardi's "Recital of the Occidental Exile"
Thus saith the knowledgeable gnostic Master, the Unique of his age and teacher of his epoch; the Master and Blazing Meteor of the Religion (shihabuddin) Suhrawardi, may God sanctify his spirit and illuminate his grave.
In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful!
Praised be unto God, the Lord of all the worlds. And salutations be upon His chosen servants, especially our master Muhammad, the Chosen, his family and companions – all of them!
As for the matter at hand: When I read the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzân (The Living son of the Watchful) [of Avicenna] I found it lacking in that certain Illumination regarding the supreme experience of the Great Overwhelming (79:34), despite the admirable phrases and suggestions contained in it. This experience is guarded like a treasure in the Holy Scriptures, confided in trust to the symbols of the sages and hidden in the Recital of Salâmân and Absâl, also written by the author of the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzân . This is the Secret confirmed by the spiritual stations of the Sufis and of those who possess visionary intuition. No reference is made to it in the Recital of Hayy ibn Yaqzân except at the very end where it says: "Sometimes certain solitaries among men journey towards Him..." Then I wanted to tell of a few things myself, in the form of a recital that I have called the Recital of the Occidental Exile, dedicated to certain of our noble brethren. As for what is of my own design, I offer this to God.
1. Beginning of the Recital. Once upon a time, my brother 'Asim and I undertook a journey to the land of the Occident, being from the land across the river, to hunt certain shore birds from the Green Sea.
2. Suddenly we came upon "the city whose inhabitants are oppressors" (4:77), I mean the city of Qayrawân.
3. The inhabitants noticed our sudden arrival and gathered that we were the children of a Shaykh known as al-Hâdi ibn al-Khayr (the Guide son of the Good) the Yemenite.
4. They surrounded us, tied us up in chains and a yoke of iron, and threw us as prisoners into an infinitely deep pit.
5. A high castle fortified with many towers stood over the empty pit into which we had been thrown.
6. We were told: "You commit no offense if you climb up to the castle when night falls and you have no clothes on. But at daybreak you absolutely must return to the bottom of the pit."
7. In the bottom of the pit there certainly was "darkness upon darkness" (24:40). When we extended our hands we could scarcely see them.
8. But during the hours of night we climbed up to the castle that stood over the immensity of space and we looked in through one of its windows. Often doves came to us from the forests of Yemen and told us how things were in that forbidden region. Sometimes a bright light from Yemen visited us, whose bright flash from the "right side" (28:30), from the "oriental" side, told us about the family living in the Najd. A breeze filled with the aromatic scent of the arak awakened in us ecstasy after ecstasy. Then we gasped from desire and nostalgia for our homeland.
9. Thus we climbed up at night and got back down during the day. Then, one night when the moon was full, we saw a hoopoe (27:20), it came through the window and greeted us. In its beak there was a message that came "from a blessed spot on the right side of the valley, from inside a bush" (28:30).
10. It said to us: "I have seen (27:20) the means of your delivery and bring both of you 'truthful news from the Kingdom of Sheba" (27:22). All is explained in this message from your father."
11. We took cognizance of the message. This is what it said: "You are being addressed by al-Hâdi your father. In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We long for you, but you feel no nostalgia. We call you, but you don't commence your journey. We give you signs, but you don't understand them".
12. Then the writer gave me directions in the message, like this: "You there, if you want to save yourself at the same time as your brother, don't wait with resuming you journey. Grab a hold of our cable, that is, of (the nodes of) the Dragon of the Heaven of the Moon over the spiritual world that rules the ends of the ecliptic."
13. When you have arrived in the "valley of the ants" (27:18) shake the hem of your robe and say: "Glory be to God who has brought me back to life after having cut my body to pieces." (2:244 and 261) "To Him we shall return who is our Resurrection." (67:15) Then be finished with your relatives.
14. Be no longer concerned with your wife, "because she is among those who stay behind." (15:60 and 29:31) "Go where you are commanded," (15:62) "for these people will be utterly destroyed by tomorrow morning." (15:66) Get into the boat and say: "In the Name of God, as it moveth and as it rests!" (11:41)
15. Everything that would happen en route was explained in the letter. The hoopoe went ahead and the Sun was just above our heads when we arrived at the edge of darkness. We took our places in the vessel and it carried us "to the wilderness in the mountains." (11:44) Our plan was to climb mount Sinai and then to visit the oratory of our father.
16. Then "the floods rose" separating me from my brother and "he was among those who were swallowed up." (11:45)
17. Then I understood that the time of the occurrence of the threat that was the concern of my people was the morning. "Isn't morning near?" (11:83)
18. I knew that "the city that surrenders itself to wickedness" (21:74) will be turned upside down "from top to bottom" (11:84) and that it would rain "bricks of clay upon them." (11:84)
19. When we came to the place where the floods dashed against each other and the waves rolled, I took the nurse who had nursed me and threw her into the sea.
20. But we traveled on a ship "made of planks and nails." (54:13) Thus we voluntarily damaged it (18:78) in the belief that there was a king behind us who "took every ship by force." (18:78)
21. And the "laden ship" (the ark, 26:119) carried us past the island of Gôg and Mâgôg (18:93 ff.) on the left side of mount al-Jûdî (11:46).
22. However, there were artisans with me who worked for me and I had at my disposition the source of molten copper. I told the artisans: "Blow on the iron until it becomes like fire" (that I may throw the molten copper on it, 18:95). Next I erected a barricade so that I was separated from Gôg and Mâgôg (18:94).
23. Then I truly realized that "the promise of your Lord is true" (18:98).
24. During the journey I saw the pits of 'Ad and Thamûd; I crossed the region and "it was desolate and in ruins" (2:261 and 22:44).
25. Then I took the two burdens and the spheres and put them and the artisans in a bottle that I had made into a round shape, with lines like circles on it.
26. I cut off the currents of living water from the realm of the heavens.
27. When the flow of water was cut off to the mill, the building collapsed and the air supply disappeared.
28. I flung the Sphere of Spheres against the heavens so that it pulverized the Sun, moon and stars.
29. Then I escaped from the fourteen coffins and the ten tombs where the shadow of God comes to life again, the kind that is "drawn little by little" (25:48) to the hieratic world after "the sun has been given as a guide" (25:47).
30. I found God's way. Then I understood: "This is my Path and it is straight." (6:154)
31. During the night my sister "was overtaken by the divine scourge." (12:107) She remained wrapped in darkness for a small part of the night and from fever and nightmares fell into a state of complete collapse.
32. I saw a lamp with oil in it; a light shot out of it into the different parts of the house. There even the lamp niche was set on fire and the inhabitants were illuminated from the effect of the light of the sun rising above them.
33. I placed the lamp in the mouth of the Dragon that lived in the castle of the water wheel; under it was a certain Red Sea; above it were stars of whom no one knew the places of irradiation except their Creator and "those who have a lot of experience of the Knowledge." (3:5)
34. I noticed that both Leo and Taurus had disappeared; Sagittarius and Cancer were both involuted in the folding caused by the rotation of the Sphere of Spheres. Libra stayed in equilibrium when the Star of Yemen (Suhail, Canopus) rose from behind some slender clouds, composed by what the cobweb of the angles of the elementary World drew in the world of generation and corruption.
35. There was still a sheep with us; we left it in the desert where it perished from the trembling of the earth while lightening fell upon it.
36. Then, when the entire distance had been traveled and the road had come to an end, while the "water welled out from the furnace" (al-tanur, " athanor", 11:42 and 23:27) in a conical shape (of the heart), I saw the celestial bodies; I united myself with them and heard their music and their melodies. I was initiated into their recital; their sounds struck my ears like that of a bell-like sound produced by a chain drawn over hard rock. My muscles were at the point of tearing, my joints felt like breaking, so vivid was the pleasure that I experienced. This did not cease happening in me until the white cloud went away by dissipating and the membrane was broken.
37. I left the caverns and the caves and was finished with the vestibules: I went straight to the Spring of Life. Then I saw the Great Rock at the summit of a mountain that looked like the Sublime Mountain. I asked the fishes that were frolicking in the Spring of Life, enjoying the quiet and the gentleness of the shade of the Lofty Peak. "What is that high mountain," I asked, "and what is that Great Rock?"
38. Then one of the fishes "chose a certain current for its way in the sea." (18:60) It told me: "That is what you so ardently desire; that mountain is Mount Sinai and that Rock is the oratory of your father". "But who are these fishes?" I asked. "These are your equals. You are sons of the same father. They have passed a test similar to yours. They are your brothers."
39. When I heard that answer and experienced the truth, I embraced them. I rejoiced in seeing them like they rejoiced in seeing me. Thereafter I ascended the mountain. Behold, I saw our father as a Great Sage, so great that Heaven and Earth were about to split asunder from the epiphany of his Light. I stayed amazed, stupefied. I came close to him and behold, like a leader he greeted me. I bowed to the ground before him and was left speechless in the Light that radiated from him.
40. I cried for a moment when I lamented to him about Qayrawân's prison. He told me: "Have courage! You are saved now! It is still absolutely necessary that you return to the occidental prison because the fetters have not yet completely unclothed you". When I heard those words my reason left me. I wept and cried like one who is at the verge of dying and I called out to him.
41. He said to me: "It is unavoidable that you return there for the moment. However, I have two good things to tell you. First, once returned to your prison, it will be possible for you to return again to us here and easily climb up to our paradise, whenever you want to. Secondly, you will be totally free; you will be joined to us and leave the Occidental land behind you completely and forever."
42. His words filled me with joy again. He also said: "Know that this mountain is Mount Sinai (23:30, Tûr Sinâ'); but above this mountain there is another one: The Sinai ( 95:2, Tûr Sînîna), of the One who is my Father and your Grandfather, to whom I am related just like you are to me.
43. "We have still other ancestors and our ascendance finally ends at a King who is the Supreme Forebear, who Himself has no ancestors and no father. We are His servants; we owe Him our Light and we borrow our Fire from His Fire. He possesses a beauty more imposing than any other beauty, the most sublime majesty and the most subjugating Light. He is beyond all Beyond. He is the Light of Light, beyond Light and Eternity for all eternity. He is the Epiphany for all things and "all things perish except His Face." ( 28:88)
44. Postscript. This recital is about me, because I have lived through a disaster. From the higher space I fell into the abyss of hell, among people who are not believers; I am a prisoner in the land of the Occident. Nevertheless I keep feeling a certain sweetness that is impossible to describe. I am sobbing, I am imploring, I am gasping with regret about this separation. This passing stand-off was one of the dreams that quickly faded.
45. From the prison of Nature and the impediment of Matter save me, O my God!. "And say: Praise be to God, who shall soon show you His Signs so you shall know them, and your Lord is not unmindful of all that you do." (27:93) "Say: Glory to God! But most of them do not understand." (31:25)