The Shadhiliya order founded by Shaykh Abul Hassan Shadhili (d. 656/1241) was introduced into all walks of life by great Maghribi scholars. One of these is the famed Sufi Shaykh, al-Qutb al-Kabir, the Khatm, Sidi Mohammed Wafa’ al-Hassani al-Idrissi (702/1302–765/1363) who was initiated into it by Sidi Dawud ibn Bakhila (733/1332), a disciple of the great Egyptian master Sidi Ibn Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari (709/1309). Al-Minufi says in his Bayt as-Saadat al-Wafa’iya (Adobe of the Wafa’i Lords),
He was born in Alexandria in 702/1301. His speech concerning the mystical sciences was peculiar (gharib). He wrote many works, among them Kitab al-‘arus, Kitab al-sha’a’ir and a great diwan of poetry. It is said that he is named Wafa’ because one day the Nile stopped its yearly rise, falling short of its completion (al-wafa’). The people of Cairo were resolved to flee the land (in anticipation of famine), when Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ appeared at the river’s edge and said, ‘By the grace of God, Rise!’ The river then rose and the water reached its proper level.
He travelled in the Way of Abul Hassan Shadhili, under the guidance of Dawud Ibn Makhilai. He went to Akhmim (near Suhaj), marrying there and establishing a large zawiya. People flocked to visit him. He then moved to Cairo, taking up residence on the island of al-Ruda. There, engaging in devotions and busying himself with the remembrance of God, his fame spread to the most distant corners. He died in Cairo, on the 11th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, in the year 765/1363, and is buried in the Qarafa cemetery between the (Shadhili shaykhs) Abu-s-Sa’ud Ibn Abil Asha’ir and Taj al-Din Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari, according to his wish before dying: ‘Bury me between Sa’ad and ‘Ata’.
Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ was Moroccan in origin, his grandfather Mohammed al-Najm having arrived at Alexandria. He (al-Najm) was the master of splendid mystical states, and clear miracles. He joined with the pole Ibrahim al-Dasuqi, and they both drew on (the teachings of) his master. Al-Najm’s place of birth was Tunis, and his family are from there and the area of Sfax. He settled in Alexandria, where he was blessed with a son, Mohammed al-Awsat, the father of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’. Mohammed al-Awsat was famous for his sanctity, being among the companions of knowledge and excellence. He died young, being buried in their zawiya in Alexandria, known as the Najmiya, beside his father.
When Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ died, he left two sons, Sidi Ali Wafa’ and Shihab al-Din Ahmad Wafa’. They were young at the time, and so were raised under the tutelage of Mohammed al-Zayla’i. When Ali reached the age of seventeen, he took his father’s place, holding (Sufi) gatherings. His Dhikr spread throughout the land, and his followers multiplied. For the most part he resided on the island of al-Ruda. He composed supplications, prayers, admonitions, poetry and other works. His death was at home, on Tuesday the second of Dhual-Hijja, in the year 807/1405. By way of sons he had Abul ‘Abbas Ahmad, Abul Tayib, Abul Tahir and Abul Qasim.
Halfway through this account Sidi Mohammed al-Najm is mentioned. In spite of his being described here as having ‘splendid mystical states, and clear miracles’, there seems to be no mention of him, in either the Egyptian or Tunisian sources, beyond his position in the Wafa’ genealogy. In fact, the family’s descent is rather unremarkable until it is traced back to the 2nd/8th century. At this point Alid credentials are established through Mawlana Idriss ibn Abdellah ibn Mawlana al-Hassan ibn Mawlana Ali ibn Abi Talib, the founder of the Idrissid state in Morocco. The family which came to be known as the Wafa’ did proudly identify themselves as descendants of the Ahl al-Bayt, that is, people of the Prophet’s family. As we shall see below, this has remained an important part of their social standing.
This pedigree claimed by the Wafa’ family is, however, quite distinct from the spiritual ancestors it claims in its silsila (chain of transmission) of esoteric science. Sources for the Wafa’iya order reproduce a line of esoteric initiation which goes back through various Sufi figures to Mawlana al-Hassan ibn Ali (ra). The line first runs through the Shaykhs of the early Shadhiliya Dawud ibn Bakhila (or Makhila) (733/1332); Ibn Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari (709/1309); al-Mursi (686/1287); al-Shadhili (658/1258); Ibn Mashish (622/1225)… al-Junayd (297/909); al-Sari al-Saqati (c. 253/867); Ma’ruf al-Karkhi (200/815); )… Imam Mawlana Ali ibn Abi Talib (40/661).
In the hagiographical passage quoted above, mention is made of the origin of Mohammed Wafa’s laqab, or honorific, Wafa’. This title has served as the family name through to the modern era—often appearing as Ibn Wafa’. However, this laqab was not unknown before Mohammed adopted it in the 8th/14th century. The name Abul Wafa’ was used by three tribes the Hijazi tribe descended from Abul Wafa’ Ahmad ibn Sulayman; parts of the Tamim tribe of the Hijaz; and one tribe from Iraq. Of the latter tribe, the famous saint Abul Wafa’ Taj al-‘Arifin (d. 501/1107) had taught Mawlana Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (d. 561/1166) in Iraq. Some of the families descended from Taj al-‘Arifin, known as Wafa’iya, travelled to Egypt and the Levant at various points in time. One family was that of Abul Wafa’ Taj al-Din Mohammed (d. 803/1401), which settled in Jerusalem in 782/1380. His great-great grandfather, Badr al-Din Mohammed (d. 650/1253), had originally moved from Iraq to Palestine.
Taj al-Din Mohammed brought what was to become known as the ‘zawiya of the Abu al-Wafa’ family’ across from the western edge of the Haram enclosure. His descendants were the shaykhs of the Wafa’iya order in Jerusalem. This family is not related to the Wafa’ family of Egypt, nor does its Wafa’iya order appear to have any connection with the Wafa’iya of Cairo. Another well-known descendant of Taj al-Din Mohammed was Abu Bakr al-Wafa’i (d. 991/1583), who lived in Damascus and Aleppo, and about whom more than one hagiography was written. However, the ‘Wafa’iya’ of Syria (a branch of the Shadhiliya), existed from the mid-eighteenth century through to about 1950. Its founder was another Abul Wafa’, who died in 1140/1727.
In the passage quoted above we read of the miracle of Mohammed’s commanding the Nile to rise. Not surprisingly however, this is not the only reported sign of his sanctity. The hagiography composed by Abu al Lata’if, relates an account in which the head of the Shadhiliya order in Egypt, Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari, visits the infant Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’. In view of Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah’s death date, this encounter would have been possible, since Mohammed was seven years old at the Shaykh’s death. Abul Lata’if tells us that,
When Sayyidi al-Kabir (Mohammed Wafa’) was born, Taj al-Din ibn ‘Ata’ Allah came with a number of companions to his home in order to visit him. When he saw the swaddling baby he kissed him, saying to his friends, ‘This one has come (into the world) with the science of our (spiritual) realities’.
It would seem that the Shaykh Sidi Mohammed Wafa’ was an extremely precocious child it is said that he composed his many books on the Sufi Way before reaching the age of ten. The spiritual link between Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ and his son Ali (759/1357–807/1405) also a significant concern of the hagiography. Although Ali was only six years old when his father died, he describes him as a storehouse of mystical knowledge on which he continued to draw. On the authority of Ali’s nephew, it is related that on his death bed Mohammed took the form of Ali, saying, ‘My vision is his vision’. Elsewhere the story is told of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ passing down his gift for mystical poetry to his son Ali. Sha”rani tells us that,
When his (Mohammed’s) death neared, he conferred his belt (mintaqa) upon al-Abzari, the composer of muwashshahat poems, saying, ‘This is placed with you in trust until you confer it upon my son Ali’. While he had the belt he composed elegant muwashshahat. Once Ali grew up, and he conferred it upon him, he returned to his previous condition of not being able to compose muwashshahat.
Although Sidi Ali Wafa was his father’s second son, Shihab al-Din being the first, there is no question as to the former’s superior status. As will be suggested in the survey of manuscripts below, Ali was a mystical writer of considerable ability. His older brother, however, clearly made no such contribution. Nevertheless, the older Shihab al-Din did direct the Wafa’iya order for seven years after the death of his younger brother. There does appear in this hagiographical tradition to be a need to demonstrate the superiority of the Wafa’ family over their spiritual forefathers. As we saw above, Shaykh Sidi Mohammed’s superiority is recognized by Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari. Mohammed himself also claims that, although he was schooled in the mystical sciences by Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah’s student, Dawud ibn Bakhila, he has since eclipsed that tradition, and set out on his own Way. He says. “We were directed (nantasibu) first by Dawud, but now this connection with him is broken, as it is with all others.”
Sidi Ali Wafa’ later contributes to the superior image of the Wafa’iya. As stated above, Ibrahim al-Dasuqi was an associate of Ali’s great-grandfather, Sidi Mohammed al-Najm. This great Egyptian saint founded a popular Sufi order, the Burhaniya. It was probably the success of this order that led Ali to consider this saint another figure to be spiritually surpassed. Abul Lata’if tells the story of Ali traveling to the grave of al-Dasuqi, only to be ignored by its living occupant. In response to this snub, Ali begins reciting ‘Allah, Allah’, at which point all the plants on earth join him in recitation. This preoccupation with surpassing one’s predecessors is not without precedent. Imam Abul Hassan al-Shadhili himself, when asked about his spiritual masters, said that at one point he had been directed by Mawlana ‘Abd al-Salam Ibn Mashish, but now he swims in the five Adamic seas of the Prophet, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the five spiritual seas of Gabriel, Michael, “Izra’il, Israfil and the Great Spirit (al-ruh al-akbar).
Not surprisingly, in addition to their relations with other saints, Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’ were able to get the better of all sorts of enemies. In the hagiography, the cases range from a scheming wazir, to a doubting shaykh, to abusive Mamluk soldiers. It must be noted, however, that most of the miracles attributed to Mohammed and his son are rather more straightforward typically, an eastern holy man visits and has produced for him a lemon from his native land; or a boy drowned in the Nile is brought back to life.
All the major biographical writers of the 9th/15th century seem to have taken note of the charismatic figures Sidi Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’. Shaykh Sidi ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha”rani (d. 973/1565) held both the father and son in the highest esteem. In his immensely popular biographical dictionary of Sufi figures, al-Tabaqat al-kubra (or Lawaqih al-anwar fi tabaqat al-akhyar), his longest entry by far is on Sidi Ali Wafa’. This priority of place accorded to Ali can be partially accounted for by Sha’rani’s association with the Shadhiliya order in Egypt. However, the sheer size of the entry, forty-three pages, calls for some reflection. The notice on Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s is barely a page long, while that for Shadhilis only eight-and-a-half. Not surprisingly, in the light of other works dedicated wholly to him, Shaykh al-Akbar,Sidi Muhyi’d-Diin ibn Arabi (d. 636/1221 receives less than one page in the Tabaqat. The fact that Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s shaykh, Ibn Bakhila, is quoted at some length (nineteen pages), makes it clear that Sha’rani was intentionally focusing on this branch of the Shadhiliya.
Here we might propose that since Sha”rani had taken it upon himself to make Ibn Arabi’s teachings more accessible, he must have seen Sidi Ali Wafa’ as the inheritor of this great Shaykh. We also know that Sha”rani had established personal contact with the shaykhs of the Wafa’iya order and family, and in particular with the eighth khalifa, Shams al-Din Mohammed Abul Fadl al-Majdhub (d. 942/1536), to whom he attributes miracles and whom he calls the ‘Seal of the cycles’. Reading Sha’rani’s entry on Sidi Ali Wafa’, one is immediately struck by the Akbarian terminology; a vocabulary which Sha”rani undoubtedly did not wish to hide. However, nowhere does Sha”rani describe Ali or the Wafa’iya as ‘Akbarian’, nor does he explicitly mention any parallels in their doctrines. Since no new documents are likely to present themselves, we can only guess at Sha’rani’s intention in not making this connection explicit. My understanding is that his earlier interest in Ibn Arabi made him responsive to the work of Sidi Ali Wafa’, and that his long entry in al-Tabaqat al-kubra was an effort to advertise what had become in Egypt the latest manifestation of Akbarian mystical teaching.
Although the writings of Sidi Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’ do not seem to have been circulated widely—other than via Sha’rani’s Tabaqat, and to a lesser degree al-Yawaqit—they have not fallen into utter obscurity. Shaykh al-Suyut1i (d. 911/1505) quotes from Sidi Ali Wafa’ in his Ta’yid al-haqiqa al-Aliya. In the late 10th/16th century a commentary on Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s Kitab al-azal entitled Kashf al-asrar al-azaliya was written by one Abul Madad ibn Ahmad (d. 1008/1599). Also, the famous Syrian figure al-Nabulusi (d. 1143/1730) was familiar with the poetry of Sidi Ali Wafa’; he quotes from it in his commentary on Shaykh Arslan’s Risala. The founder of the Tariqa Sammaniya, the Ghawt, Sidi Mohammed ibn ‘Abd al-Karim as-Samman al-Madani (d. 1775), also quotes from this source. However, with the writings of Sidi Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’ remaining unpublished in the modern era (with the exception of Sidi Mohammed’s Kitab al-azal) it does not appear that they enjoy a wide circulation in Sufi circles.
As we have seen, Sidi Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’ were well known as composers of mystical poetry. A collection of poetry (Diwan) by each of them has been preserved. The work is a lengthy collection of poems of various lengths and styles, ranging from four lines to over forty. The hemistiches are usually divided by markers, and vowelling is supplied. There is no commentary, and beyond the occasional notice of the rhyming letter, there are no significant titles. As we saw earlier, the Wafa’s were noted for their composition in the complex style of the muwashshah. However, in this Diwan none of the poems appear to be in this style. In the following example the poet is conversing with existence, which has been exiled from God:
All existence asked me who I am.
I answered, I am the most foreign of foreigners.
Existence said, Then you are that through which my substance
is wealthy, because you are the poorest of the poor.
To me are the wonders and marvels among
the perceptions of (both) the ignorant and the wise.
In Surat al-Ikhlas came my exile.
The rational thinkers marvel at the freedmen.
The following verse may be understood to be either in the voice of the divine creative aspect, or from the perspective of the Mohammedan Reality. The Akbarian doctrine of the Perfect Human held this individual to be the isthmus between God and creation.
I am the final point in whose shadow
you will find that which opened existence and ranked (it).
Thus I am the pole of existence and center point
of the source which is the unseen of seeing, hidden from it.
The following is in the same vein, but communicates a certain finality.
The claim to being a Seal, of some kind, is implied.
I am the pole of existence without doubt,
and the imam who guides those of my time.
My time is an all-encompassing era,
in which the existence of meanings has expired.
If the veil is annihilated from the eye (‘Ayn) of my unveiling,
the secret witnesses its unseen in my elucidation.
Discard “‘becoming’’ (kawn) from your witnessing and obliterate the dot of the letter ghayn (ﻍ) if you want to see me. This collection also contains a number of devotional pieces, some directed to God, others to the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him). These poems may well have had a use in the ritual practices of the Wafa’iya order, although this cannot be confirmed.
Prayer compositions have played an important role in the founding of Sufi orders. It appears that almost all orders use devotional prayers (ahzab, sing. hizb) in their communal ritual. These are often the compositions of the eponymous founder. The one-time teacher of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’, Ibn Bakhila, wrote a commentary on one of the ahzab of Abu al-Hassan al-Shadhili. There are a number of significant dimensions to these prayers, the most important of which is the author’s claim to wilaya. These are inspired compositions, which are bestowed only upon saintly figures. The success of a hizb is invariably tied to, or reflects upon, the sanctity of its progenitor. In other words, these prayers serve as vehicles for the expression of the spiritual authority of their authors.
The ritual function of these prayers must also be considered. Their recitation, in addition to the practice of dhikr, is central to Sufi walking. It is difficult to conceive of the gathering of a Sufi order without hizb recitation. It is significant that Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ composed ahzab (or at least has them attributed to him), since these compositions would have been essential if an independent order was to break away from the Shadhiliya. In other words, Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s assertion that he was no longer a follower of the Shadhili way, but rather the founder of a new order, in part rested on his ability to produce divinely inspired prayers. This claim to independence relied on his wilaya being recognized by his followers, and new ahzab were part of this claim to sanctity. It should not be surprising then to find ahzab attributed to Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’, and none to Ali. In manuscript form we have Hizb al-sadat fi jami’ al-asrar, Hizb al-fardaniya and Hizb al-azal. In the bibliographical record there was also a Hizb al-fath.
Although the fame of Sidi Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’ was based on their poetry and their mystical writings, they were trained in jurisprudence of the Maliki rite. To Shaykh Mohammed is attributed a work on fiqh, Bahjat al-irshad (The Splendor of Guidance); although it is not noted in the early sources. Attributed to Sidi Ali, and also now lost, is a fiqh work the title of which suggests it dealt with the four legal schools in some way al-Kawthar al-mutra’ min al-abhur al-arba’a (The Kawthar Full from the Four Seas). This book is mentioned by al-’Asqalani in the 9th/15th century. This is also the only source to mention the Ba’ith ‘Ala al-khilas fi ahwal al-khawas (The Occasion for Deliverance in the States of the Elite).
Mystical treatises of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’
This group of writings certainly represents the primary intellectual effort of Shaykh Mohammed and Sidi Ali Wafa’. Although we must restrict our comments here to the descriptive, it may be said that the mystical speculations of the Wafa’s fall generally into the tradition of Ibn Arabi. This is not, however, to say that these two writers saw their purpose as one of simply expanding upon the thought of Ibn Arabi. This task fell to a group of thinkers we may call the ‘Akbarian school’ proper. Of these the most outstanding were Sadr al-Din al-Qunawi (d. 673/1274), Mu’ayad al-Din al-Jandi (d. c. 700/1300), ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Qashani (d. c. 735/1334) and Dawud al-Qaysari (d. 751/1351). These figures composed a number of commentaries on the works of Ibn Arabi in addition to their own mystical writings in the Akbarian tradition.
In contrast, Sidi Mohammed and his son composed no such commentaries, nor do they mention Ibn Arabi by name, yet their writing relied heavily on his terminology. The only major edited work of the Wafa’iya, the Kitab al-azal (The Book of Pre-existence), stands out among the writings of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’. While formally a commentary on the Names of God, it is a text clearly in the tradition of Ibn Arabi. It consists of sixty-one sections, some of which are only a few sentences in length. In the introduction (p. 12), the editor describes the text as belonging to the ‘oneness of being’ (wahdat al-wujud) school. This assessment is borne out by closer inspection. It should also be said that this text is significant for its systematic use of philosophical terminology. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that our author was influenced by the writings of Akbarian followers, such as al-Qunawi, who had interpreted Ibn Arabi in quite philosophical terms.
The Kitab al-azal touches on a variety of specific concepts, but the idea of the ‘oneness of being’ recurs. Typical in style and vocabulary is the following from the section entitled ‘Realities’:
The Name ‘He’ (Huwwa) is the absolute name, which is the reality of the [divine] Essence which you can neither know, nor be ignorant of. The reality of the other [than God] (al-ghayr) is independence in person (nafs) and in existence (wujud). Yet, a thing only has existence by His existence, so there is no real independence. When the condition is absent, then so is the conditioned, thus there is no ‘other’. [God] the Manifest then requires the other; but being either Manifest or Non-Manifest does not penetrate to the absolute Essence, which is Him. Likewise [is the case for] all the levels of differentiation, opposition, difference, homologousness and contrariness. All of this [i.e. qualification] is not said of Him, rather it is said to the levels of existence and possibility, according to what is appropriate to each level.
Thus creation, or the ‘other’, has no independent existence; its existence is conditional upon that of the Divine. Without God’s existence nothing else can be. Further, this conditional existence is qualified by the infinite levels of differentiation through which it may pass. It is this qualification which makes conditional existence distinct from its divine source, and makes it apparent to us here below. The idea of a single existence, shared by all, is clear. We are told that ‘(Existence) is one in itself, with no duality or plurality. There is no existence to any existent, except He’.
Elsewhere the creative movement from God is described as the Throne which serves as the existential medium for all creation,
The Throne (‘Arsh) is that by which what was not came into being; and what had not been thought was thought. Everything that reaches form or conception does so by its [the Throne’s] power… The entity (ka ‘in) is by it, and it [the Throne] is in it. It is not possible for [the entity] to be removed from it [the Throne]. It [the Throne] is like the sea, and the entities are as its waves.
Thus all entities come into being thanks to the Throne. They take their own forms in this process, but in the end are simply variations within a universal whole.
Our comments on the mystical philosophy of Kitab al-azal are necessarily brief, having served here only as an indication of that work’s content and style. Of course, to describe a work as being in the wah1dat al-wujud tradition is only a start, leaving serious reading still to be done. However, we may in general restate the importance of this work as Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s most philosophically consistent effort. The style and precision of vocabulary is unlike that used in his other expositions of mystical thought. A work which is more typical of the literary production of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ is Sha’a’ir al-‘irfan fi alwah al-kitman (The Marks of Gnosis on the Tablets of Secrecy). The language used is less philosophical in tone, but many of the concepts which are to be found in Kitab al-azal are present in this work. The text is divided into 114 ‘marks’ (note the number of suras in the Quran is also 114), or sha’a’ir. The first pages contain short, enigmatic phrases in rhyming prose (saj’a). For example:
Praise be to God who blots out the sunan [customary practices] with the sunan,
and completes the graces with the graces,
[He is] the appearance of the secret in the open,
and the entry of time into time.
[He is] the collector of the nations into nations,
producing wisdom by [His] Wisdom.
He sent down the spirits in the angelic forms,
making clear for the eloquent and the unintelligible.
He mixed obscurity into the clarification.
A speaker is not silent, nor does he speak.
He has caused the evenings to run into the mornings,
He who is unsure [in faith] neither perceives nor speaks.
He obscured the secrets within the lights,
and the mute and dumb speak.
The style is certainly allusive, but the mystic theme of hidden truths is central. With a deceptive change in form, the first shari’a presents a number of mystical definitions. However, they are so concise that they seem to evoke more questions than they answer. We read,
Mystical union (ittihad) is the last of the levels of witness;… Humility is the quieting of the soul along the path of eternity;… Scrupulousness is choosing the preferable; … Hope is awareness of the occurrence (husul); …Spiritual chivalry ( futuwwa) is vision by the eye of beauty. Joy is witnessing from pure mercy (rahma);… Wisdom (hikma) is witnessing union in difference;… Perspicacity (firasa) is the extraction of the unseen from the seen. Glorification is the memory of al-Haqq in everything;… Gnosis (ma’rifa) is witnessing al-Haqq in all things by His Rule (hukm).
The remaining sha’a’ir take a more discursive form, touching in some detail on mystical themes. Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ takes up cosmology on a number of occasions. The three worlds of the corporeal (mulk), sovereign (malakut) and omnipotent (jabarut), are sometimes assigned angels (Israfil, Michael, and Gabriel respectively). In Shari’a, the human faculties such as gnosis, vision, inspiration and bewilderment are tied into the levels of creation. These levels of creation are described elsewhere as the divine possibilities (as distinct from the necessary), which can be divided into three the world of command (‘alam al-amr), the world of creation (‘alam al-khalq); and the world of becoming (‘alam al-kawn).
In the Sha’a’ir al-‘irfan the themes of oneness and the divine origin of creation are also present. There are veils which serve to differentiate between the various modes of necessary being, and which thus are responsible for the levels of creation. Their ultimate source, however, remains an aspect of the Divine. We read ‘If the veil of beings (sitr al-akwan) is raised then the majesty of humanity (jamal al-insan) will appear. If the veil of mankind is raised then the face of the Merciful will manifest.’ From the perspective of the individual soul, the divine is not far off either. We are told that ,
The interior of the heart is the mirror of al-Haqq and the site of sincerity. He to whom his Lord makes Himself known has his heart turned to Him, and in it [his heart] appear the lights of His Truth…
Further along, Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ repeats a favorite hadith among the Sufis, as an elucidation of the soul’s proximity to the divine ‘He who knows himself knows his lord’.
Another major work of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ is the Nafa’is al-‘irfan min anfas al-Rahman (The Gems of Gnosis from the Breaths of the Merciful). It consists of 294 ‘gems’. The Dar al-Kutub manuscript provides a twelve-folio introduction which is absent from the Azhariya manuscript. At least some of this introduction is simply taken from elsewhere in the body of the text (e.g. gems 276, 278, 281, 285).
Although it is not possible for us to summarize this work (because of its compartmentalized structure) we may offer samples of the important themes and questions. First, as a general observation it can be said that this work is written using less philosophical terminology than the two titles described previously. More typically Sufi themes are also addressed. In the introduction there is discussion of the link between the spiritual follower and his shaykh. We read, for example ‘He who knows himself knows his shaykh. … He who does not find his shaykh does not find his heart; he who does not find his heart has failed to find his Lord…. Your shaykh is he who empties you of yourself, and fills you with himself’. There is also a significant discussion of wilaya in a number of nafa’is.
In a number of places Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ takes up the subject of the three worlds, or three levels of creation—as was the case in Sha’a’ir al-‘irfan. The lowest level is that of the corporeal world, which is associated with the five senses, and is linked via the ‘common sense’ (‘hiss mushtarak) to the World of Sovereignty. This world is the level of the intellect and the five internal senses. From here the link is made by the ‘common intellect’ (‘aql mushtarak) to the World of Omnipotence. This is the level of the five comprehensions (I’hatat), and is linked by the ‘Throne of the Merciful’ to the absolute Necessary (wujub mutlaq), which itself is from the essence of God. The manuscript also touches on the subject of the relation of God’s preexistence to his everlastingness. In nafisa these two aspects of the divine are shown to be accessible to the gnostic.
The One said, From every side I am the First as the Merciful and the Last in Humanity; the Apparent in creation, and the Hidden in truth. So he who knows Me thus and realizes Me in all this, I have gathered his last into his first, and numbered his apparent among his hidden, so that he becomes pre-existent (azaliyan) without an end to his first, and becomes everlasting (samadiyan) without an external to his internal.
Thus, the human soul, by knowing God, may attain to a mode of eternity. There are a number of other substantial discussions taken up. Of these, perhaps the most interesting are those of the variety of divine Names, the various divine Presences in creation, or the effusion of creation itself by way of the First Intellect (al-‘aql al-awwal).
Moving still further from philosophical language and style is Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s Kitab al-ma’arij (The Book of Ladders). The single form of ma’arij is mi’raj, which may also signify the Holy Prophet’s night journey to the heavens. Mystics such as Abu Yazid al-Bastami and Ibn Arabi followed this prophetic model with accounts of their own ascensions into the heavens, but this manuscript describes no such event. The general direction of the work is one which presents prayer, in its various forms, as various ‘ladders’ upwards. Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ treats questions of salat, describing its possible spiritual types. He associates, for example, various bodily locations with elements of communal prayer. In the latter part of the work it seems that Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ has come to substitute the word mi’raj for what usually in Sufi writings would be the maqam (spiritual station). Also scattered throughout the text are a number of minor mystical commentaries on certain passages from the Quran.
A shorter work, of only thirteen folios, is Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s al-Suwar al-nuraniya fi al-‘ulum al-sarayaniya (The Luminous Forms of the Sciences of Dispersion). It is divided into 25 sections, or suwar (sing. sura). These sections are given titles such as ‘The Form of the Mohammedan Spirits’ (surat al-arwah al-Mohammediya), ‘The Form of Prayer’ (surat al-salat), ‘The Form of the Key’ (surat al-miftah), and ‘The Form of Descent’ (surat al-tanazzul). The first folios, however, contain short statements which may be described as being between definitions and aphorisms. For example, we read, ‘The witnessing of al-Haqq in all things is the straight path to God’, and ‘Elucidation is an existence based upon the mental faculties of the finders’. Some of the ‘Forms’ are quite short, for example two related definitions are:
The Form Pre-existence is the essence of the unseen, beyond the attribute of existential sharing (al-ishtirak al-wujudi). The Form Everlasting is the essence of (physical) seeing within the attribute of existential sharing.
These pronouncements are certainly brief. The term ‘existential sharing’ is unusual, but here it seems to be an equivalent to creation, in as much as it conditionally partakes in the permanent divine Existence. Elsewhere, however, ideas are a little more fleshed out. Thus, in the ‘Form of Indwelling’ (Surat al-hulul) Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ explains that there are two different perceptions of (Divine) Indwelling. This indwelling is a kind of unveiling, the mistaken perception of which is reached by delusion (takhayul). On the other hand, a second perception, that by verification (tahqiq), is sound. This sound perception may then attain one of two different kinds of indwelling, either that of connecting (ta’alluq) or Divine self-disclosure (tajalli). The manuscript is corrupt in a number of places, but we may propose the following passage
The Form of Indwelling is the first of the levels of unveiling, which is false by the corruption of delusion, but is sound by verification. This indwelling is of two kinds, [the first is] the ‘indwelling of connection’. This is like knowledge as it is connected to the known, or as decree is connected to the decreed. It is a causal connection … It is said of the ‘indwelling of connection’ that it is a union (ittihad) by the comprehension of the connected by the connecting and not as the union (ittihad) of a substance with an accident … [Of the second kind], the ‘indwelling of Self-disclosure’, it is called ‘oneness’; it is without the metaphor of duality or witness, for this is absolute comprehension (I’hata mutlaqa), like water which is held together in ice.
Thus the ‘indwelling of connection’ concerns the union of the effect with the cause, not the inherence of the accident in the substance. In this sense, its existential basis is fleeting. On the other hand, the indwelling of Self-disclosure (hulul al-tajalli) is part of the eternal Divine. It is not the result of a causal relationship, rather it is part of the absolute Oneness of God. In his Miftah al-sur min ‘ayn al-khabar (The Key to the Enclosure from the Source of Intelligence) Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ discusses a number of concepts related to worship. One of these is the word ‘hamd (praise), which operates on several existential levels, and which has a role to play in the Divine act of creation. Other terms and names receiving elaboration or commentary are ‘al-Rahman al-Rahim’ (the Merciful, the Compassionate); ‘Maliki yawm ad-din’ (Lord of the Day of Judgment); and al-Malik (King). Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ also devotes three folios to a discussion of the mystical significance of various letters of the alphabet. It is significant that at the outset of this work Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’ makes clear the inspired nature of his composition. We are told that,
He (Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’) said ‘I heard God in my secret/essence (sirri) say, ‘I by Myself am the Secret without end. My Existence is from its own sufficiency. And the source of sources in Me does not change…’’’
Another substantial work is Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s Kitab ta’sil al-azman wa tafsil al-akwan (The Book of the Foundation of Times and the Particularization of Beings). The text deals with a number of themes, including the mystical dimensions of various prophets. Cosmology is also discussed. In one instance a fourfold hierarchy, called the levels of the four thrones, is proposed. This model is distinct from that of the three worlds of mulk, malakut and jabarut. At the first throne, that of the level of natural dispositions (tiba’), we find the four elements (water, earth, wind and fire), and the three entities (mineral, plant and animal). At the second throne, that of sovereignty (malakut), we find the hearts and the subtleties of humanity. We also find the following four ‘elements’, which are the faculties of conceiving (fikr), remembrance (dhikr), preservation (hafdh) and fantasy (khayal). The three entities present are the angels, the jinn and the demons. The third throne is called the world of (Divine) command. This is the location of the descending of the Night of Power, and the true location of witnessing the Divine. The four elements here are the four spirits (arwah), which are called ‘God be praised’ (subhan Allah), ‘Praise be to God’ (al-hamdu li Allah), ‘there is no God’ (la ilaha), and ‘God is Greatest’ (Allahu Akbar). The three entities—reflecting mission, prophecy and sainthood— are the Divine dispatch (irsal), notification (inba’) and friendship (wala ‘). The fourth throne is that of necessity. It is the level of God. The four elements are the First, the Last, the Apparent and the Hidden. The place of the three entities is held by the Divine Names, Attributes and Essence. It is interesting to note in this model the use of both philosophical categories and devotional vocabulary as parts of a cosmology.
As its title suggests, Maqamat al-saniya li as-sada al-sufiya (The Sublime Stations of the Sufis), this work is to be located firmly in the arena of traditional Sufi writing. This short piece (nine folios) consists of 0brief definitions. Each definition is followed by a haqiqa (reality) and a ghaya (purpose), which expand on the definition. The terms covered are what would be expected in any Sufi manual of spiritual discipline. For example, we find entries on Fear (khawf), Trust in God (tawakkul), Patience (sabr), Poverty (faqr), Tasting (dhawq), Spiritual expansion (bast), Spiritual contraction (qabd), Extinction (fana’) and Gnosis (ma’rifa). The entry for the term Union (jam’a) reads:
Union is the negation of ‘witness’, and the absence of differentiation completely (bi al-kuliya). Its reality is the union (ittihad) of the levels of the world into One which is self-determined with the existence of what is thereby united in it. Its purpose is the vision (ru’ya) of the everlasting by the eye of pre-existence, which neither speaks nor is spoken of.
In the following entry Unity (tawhid) is described as,
A reality, which does not divide in oneness, nor is it distinguished by plurality, nor is it numerable as numbers that have no end. Its reality is a meaning the hearts do not deny, but which the intellects cannot imagine, and the eloquence of explanation does not reach it. Its purpose is negation of all others…
The ‘reality’ and the ‘purpose’ seem to extend the initial abstract definition from the perspective of either the cosmos or the individual. This structure, however, is not adhered to strictly. Of Inspiration (ilham) we read,
Ilham is revelation (wa’hy) which the notion of al-Haqq inspires in every heart that has lent its ear, and is a witness. Its reality is the address (khitab) to the master of true tasting (dhawq). Its purpose is the tongue speaking in words for which untruth is impossible.
Another short piece is the Fusul al-haqa’iq (Sections on Realities). It opens with two pages of supplication, and then presents thirteen sections of varying length. The tone of the entire work is one which reflects divine emanation and presence in creation. The shortest section reads,
Praise be to the Self-discloser (subhana al-mutajalli) of the Secrets of His Pre-existence, by [way of] the Commanding Spirit blown into the form of knowledge by the essence of union (bi ‘Ayn al-jam’a). [The Spirit] lets each benefit from a lordly Grace (latifa), and divine Tenuity (raqiqa); it is by this Tenuity that [the Command’s] existence stands in its unseen, to which none may rise, and it is by that Grace that its essence (‘ayn) is directed.
It is difficult to read many of these sections with certainty, since each seems to have been composed independently. Sustained development here, as in most of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’s other writings, is lacking. Nevertheless, in the passage quoted above it seems that the dynamic of creation is based on the Commanding Spirit, which has an eternal unseen, in addition to the form it produces. This form is sustained by a Grace and a Tenuity. The Tenuity provides an existential basis in the unseen, while the Grace determines its essence in the apparent.
Mystical treatises of Shaykh Sidi Ali Wafa’
In addition to the eleven titles of Shaykh Mohammed Wafa’, the al-Azhar majmu’a, also contains two short works attributed to Sidi Ali Wafa’. The shorter, only four folios in length, entitled Libas al-futuwwa (The Garments of Chivalry), makes mention of Ali twice; he is clearly the author. The six-folio Kitab al-waridat (The Book of Spiritual Inrushes), however, makes no mention of its author. The copyist notes on the front cover that this text is ‘something from the Waridat of Ali’. The content of Kitab al-waridat, as the title suggests, takes the form of concise sayings. The following is typical,
He said, He who witnesses al-Haqq in all things fears Him in all things; and he who fears Him in all things believes in Him through all things; and he who witnesses God alone, He appoints him ruler of all things. He said, He who is poor in God is rich in all [other] things, and for him who is rich in God, all things are poor to him.
Also discussed in this short work is the threefold cosmology of mulk, malakut, and jabarut. Sidi Ali Wafa’s thinking on a number of central mystical concepts is developed in a collection of his advice to followers. The Wasaya Sayyidi Sidi Ali Wafa’ (The Injunctions of Sidi Ali Wafa’) exists as a 110-folio manuscript. It touches upon a variety of topics, including existence, knowledge, spiritual guidance and the cycles of sainthood. The Divine is the source of existence, and therefore the source of one’s understanding of Him. Sidi Ali Wafa’ tells us,
He is the single existence present in every ‘one’ (wahid); He is the Witnessed and the Witness. There is to each of His levels a saying, and to each domain (majal) in Him a man. The wiseman only speaks by the tongue of each level, and treats it only according to its measure and scales ‘We have only sent messengers in the language of their people, to explain the sign to them.’
He also writes,
It is said that knowledge and gnosis and understanding are the presence of a thing in oneself. Thus only He knows or understands anything; so know who you are, O he who knows only by his known!
Elsewhere he adds ‘The gnostic is the source (‘Ayn) of what he knows, and the verifier (muhaqqiq) is the reality (haqiqa) of what he verifies (haqqaqahu)’. This theme of mystical epistemology is extended by Ali towards his understanding of the spiritual guide. He writes,
If you find your true teacher, you have found your reality. If you find your reality you have found God. If you find God, then you have found everything; so everything desired is simply (to be found) in love (wajd) of this teacher. You are in the form in which you see your teacher, so see what you want. If you see him as creation, then you are a ‘creation’. If you witness him as truth, then you are a ‘truth’. God said, ‘I am according to My servant’s opinion of Me, so he thinks of Me as he wills’.
This work is certainly the most simple of all the titles from Sidi Ali Wafa’ in style and vocabulary. It must be seen as a central text for any understanding of the teachings within the Wafa’iya Sufi order—in other words, this is the closest thing to a novice’s handbook that has come down to us.
In this work, of even greater interest is perhaps Sidi Ali Wafa’s development of a doctrine of the cycles of sainthood. He and his father Shaykh Mohammed had certainly read Ibn Arabi’s al-Futuhat al-Makkiya (Meccan Openings) and ‘Anqa’ Maghreb fi khatm al-awliya wa shams al-Maghreb (The Western Phoenix in the Seal of Saints and Sun of Morocco) closely, paying particular attention to his reality of the final or Seal of Saints (Khatm al-Wilaya). Ibn Arabi described this Seal as “the inheriting saint, who receives from the source, who recognizes the degrees and ascertains the entitlement of their holders, in order to give each creditor his rightful due, for that is one of the virtues of the Chieftain of the Envoys, the Captain of the Community.” In the Wasaya a model of spiritual authority is developed which incorporates the divine creative act, the cycles of prophethood, the cycles of sainthood, and ends with the appearance of the Great Seal of Saints.
The First Intellect of the Sufi community is identified as the Master of Time (sahib al-zaman), who is God’s greatest sign (aya) and existential self-disclosure (tajalli al-wujud) to the people of each age. This sign, also described as the Spirit, displays its esoteric reality more deeply with each ensuing cycle. There are two sets of these cycles that of the seven prophets Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon and Jesus; and that of the seven sainthoods of seven centuries. Both sets are completed, or Sealed, by their superior and most esoteric figure. In the case of the first set this is of course the Holy Prophet Sidna Mohammed (peace and blessing be upon him). In the case of the second, Sidi Ali Wafa’ tells us that its Great Seal was born in the year 702.
He provides no further information on this figure, but the fact that his own father was born in that year leaves us with little doubt as to the Seal’s identity. The authorship of the Kitab al-masami’ al-rabbaniya (The Book of Lordly Hearings) is debatable. This lengthy work opens by telling the reader that what follows is from Shaykh Sidi Mohammed Wafa’, as recounted by his son Ali. The question quickly arises as to how Sidi Ali, who would have been an infant when his father died, could here be giving an account of his father’s teaching. Of course, Ali could simply have been relating these teachings according to written records his father had left behind. Perhaps this work should be understood as the son’s digest of his father’s work.
The text itself is divided into sections marked by the word ‘listen!’. The overall tone and concern are in line with the other writings described here. The following is illustrative of the mystical ontology ‘All existents are levels of your existence, in relation to you; for nothing appears before you except that which is you, and is from you, and to you…”. Elsewhere we read,
The All is from you and to you, while He is your Ruler [in creation], appointed by the decrees at each level [of creation] according to [that level’s] due. So note [reader] what you see. Each level has its saying, and to each domain its man.
These notices reflect God as existence simply manifested in different forms at different levels. At the same time, aspects of the Divine may be found either in their necessary (eternal) form, or in their possible (temporal) form. Sidi Ali Wafa’ writes,
The ‘Wise Spirit’ (ar-ruh al-‘hakim) of God, which is the starting point of the [human] virtues and praises, is the face of [God’s] Lordship in the realm of possibility.
He then takes this a step further, describing the distinction between the Divine and its worldly agents as the difference between the Spirit’s permanent and potential modes,
For him in whom the divine Existence appears as the ar-ruh al-‘hakim, he is he god, the lord, the truth, by virtue of his existence; and he is the messenger, the prophet and the guiding saint, by virtue of his possibility (imkan).
The point here is that one who receives the ar-ruh al-‘hakim is divine in as much as he shares in necessary existence, but is only a messenger, prophet or saint through his contingent being. In a discussion which sheds light on the central role played by the spiritual adviser, Sidi Ali Wafa’ says the following,
If you know your teacher, the imam guiding you by his necessary divine existence, then you know your Lord al-Haqq. Do you know who He is? He is simply the source of your divine existence, as determined for you at the level of the distinction of your being.…
It is the permanent aspect of the Divine that is presented to the seeker in the form of his guide. The seeker recognizes its nature thanks to his own small part of the necessary existence. Further reading of Kitab al-masami’a al-rabbaniya would produce many more statements of this kind. A picture emerges which is at once emanationist—the Divine outpouring which takes various forms through its descent—and ontological. It is an ontology which recognizes that the necessary (eternal) and the possible (temporal) modes of existence are at play simultaneously.
Of note also in this work are the statements on the subject of spiritual authority. In brief, we may say that the mystical doctrine developed here is an elaboration of what is also presented in the Wasaya. The cycles of the Masters of Time are described for both a set of prophets and a set of saints. The cycles of sainthoods will be completed by the Mohammedan manifestation (madhhar) or the Mohammedan sainthood (al-wilaya al-Mohammediya). Of note also are the identifications of the First Intellect as the Great Spirit (ar-ruh al-‘hakim) and the Great Name (al-Ism al-A’adham); and the Active Intellect as an angel.
Of Sidi Ali Wafa’s writings, his Mafatih al-khaza’in al-Aliya (The Keys to the Lofty Treasury) is certainly his most sustained discussion of wilaya. His lengthy comments on sayings from al-Junayd and al-Bastami also serve to position this work squarely in the Sufi tradition. Here, for example, Sidi Ali identifies the Adamic sphere, which the Prophet reached during his Heavenly Ascension (mi’raj), as being equivalent to the sphere of the Active Intellect. In accord with his other writings the oneness of God and creation is a significant element. We are told that although the single real existence is particularized into creation, it maintains its link to its original divine source.
Reality is a single essential existence particularized by its own principles, which are its attributes and existences (mawjudat). Creation is the levels of proportion which are fixed within their limits as immutables, verified in perceptions (madarik) affected by them… As al-Haqq said ‘Verily, all things We have created in proportion’. But according to the reading of damma over the lam of ‘kull’ [we may read this as] ‘Verily, We are all the things We have created in proportion’.
In the same vein, describing the Divine as the Essence of creation, Sidi Ali Wafa notes, ‘It is nothing but Him when the Secret of existence manifests in a particularity in time…’. Elsewhere he echoes the image of the Divine as the source of all existence. We read,
The reality of (the Prophet’s) existence is ‘I created everything for your sake, and I created you for my sake’. This is the meaning of the root’s saying to the branch ‘You are from me’ that is, ‘You are from me in existence (wujudan), and I am from you in witnessing (shuhudan)’. He who realizes these words has seen the noble Oneness with the eye of the Lofty, the Great.
These statements, and a number of others in the text which are not mentioned here, clearly identify Sidi Ali Wafa’ as a proponent of the ‘Oneness of Being’ perspective. A number of other topics are dealt with in this work. Sidi Ali Wafa’s commentary on Abraham having asked God how he gives life to the dead takes the form of twenty-five questions and answers. In this discussion he argues, among other things, that Abraham was able to adopt the Divine perspective—along with his human one—within his understanding. Elsewhere Sidi Ali comments on the mystical significance of a number of events in the life of Joseph.