Awaz-e par-e Jibrail -The chant of Jabrail’s wing-

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A. The chant of Jabrail’s wing
This highly esoteric work is about a seeker of truth who goes to a khanaqah (Sufi house) which has two doors, one facing the city and the other one the desert. Having gone to the desert, he meets ten spiritual masters and questions them with regard to the mystery of creation, the stations of the path, and the dangers therein.

The conversation which follows reveals the essential elements of the ishraqi doctrine and the initiation rite which is necessary if one is to understand the esoteric knowledge of the Quran…In the Awaz-i par-i Jibra’il, which has come to be known as a classical work of Persian literature, Suhrawardi discusses the essential elements of his theosophical epistemology. There he states: “ Most things that your sense perception observes are all from the chant of Gabriel’s wings.

In the most esoterically oriented treatise, he makes full use of the traditional symbolism of gnosisticism and a number of other symbols are uniquely employed by him and cannot be found in the classical Persian Sufi literature. The thrust of the work is stated in the beginning:

….Abu Ali Farmadi, peace be upon him, was asked, “How is it that those who are clothed in black call certain sounds the sound of Gabriel’s wings? “He replied, “know that most things that your faculties observe are from the sound of Gabriel’s wings.

One can say that Suhrawardi’s theory of knowledge is discussed in this mystical tale. In metaphorical language Suhrawardi provides us with a map for developing a faculty within us that capable of gaining knowledge directly and without mediation. Relying on the traditional symbolism of Sufi poetry and prose, Suhrawardi elaborates on the contention that exists between empiricism, rationalism and the gnostic mode of cognition.

B. Aql-e Surkh (The red intellect)
In The Red Intellect, the story begins with the question of whether birds understand each other’s language. The eagle, who initially says yes, is later captured by hunters and her eyes are closed, only to be opened gradually. The eagle meets a red-faced man who claims to be the first man who created. He is old since he represents the perfect man who existed in the state of perfection before the creation, the archetype of man, and he is young since ontologically he is far removed from God who is the eternal and therefore the oldest being.

Suhrawardi then uses the Zoroastrian symbolism of the Qaf mountain, the story of Zal, Rustam and other epic heroes as exemplified in the Shah-namah. Qaf is the name the mountain on whose peak Griffin (Simurgh), the symbol of divine essence, resides Zal, who was born with white hair representing wisdom and purity ,was left at the bottom of Qaf mountain. Simurgh took Zal to his nest and raised him until he grew up and married Tahminah from whom Rustam was born. Rustam, hero of Shah-namah, who often is perceived as the soul of epic Persia, is a man who has ultimately overcome his own ego. Whereas Firdawi, the author of Shah-namah, emphasizes the epic and historical aspects of the Persia, mythology, Suhrawardi focuses on its mystical and esoteric connotations.

In this work Suhrawardi’s theory of knowledge is expressed in a symbolic language similar to that of Awaz-i par-i Jibra’il Using a new set of symbols, Suhrawardi’ brings forth some of the classical issues of Islamic philosophy and mysticism, such as the distinction between the rational faculty, which he calls the “particular intellect”, (aql-i juz’i) and the Intellect which he calls “ universal intellect”, (aql-i kulli ). In doing so he relies heaving on Zoroastrian symbolism and sources from ancient Persia. It is precisely the interaction between the minor and major intellects that is the basis upon which one can gain knowledge. Like other works of a theosophical nature, Suhrawardi hides his theory of knowledge behind a maze of myth and symbols which can only be disclosed if one is familiar with the traditional Sufi symbolism.

H. Ruzi ba Jama’at-e Sufiyan ( A day among the Sufis)
The story begins in a khanaqah, where several disciples speak of the spiritual status of their masters and their views regarding the creation. Suhrawardi, who speaks as a master, objects to such questions which merely seek to explain the nature of the universe and the structure of the heavens. Suhrawardi considers them to be shallow and maintains that are those who see the appearance and those who understand the science of the heavens Finally, there are those attain the mastery of the celestial world, the true men of knowledge. Suhrawardi then goes specific instructions which are essential in actualizing the power of the faculty which enables men to gain cognition without mediation. As he states:

All that is dear to you, property, furniture and worldly pleasures and such thing …. ( throw them away)….if this prescription is followed, then the vision will be illuminated.

Amidst a mixture of myth, symbolism and traditional Islamic metaphysics, Suhrawardi continues to put emphasis on the relationship between pursuing the attainment of esoteric knowledge and the practicing of asceticism. Practicing asceticism will open the inner eye, which for Suhrawardi is the mode of cognition that is essential if one is gain knowledge of the esoteric dimension of Islam. According to Suhrawardi, true knowledge is possible when empiricism and rationalism end. As he states:

Once the inner eye opens, the exterior eye ought to be closed. Lips must be sealed and the five external senses should be silenced. Interior senses should begin to function so the person, if he attains anything, does so with the inner being (Batin), and if he sees, he sees with the inner eye, and if he hears, he with the inner ear….Therefore, when asked what one would see, (the answer of inner self is that ) it sees what it sees and what it ought to see.

Therefore, closure of the five external senses for Suhrawardi is a necessary condition for the opening of the internal senses which are essential for the attainment of the truth. This work alludes to different states and stations of the spiritual path and how the spiritual elite can achieve purity of heart and clarity of vision. In this work, Suhrawardi describes his conversations with a group of Sufis and what their Masters have told them regarding the attainment of truth and how Suhrawardi’s vision compares with theirs.

This brief work contains some important references to allegorical and metaphorical concepts and how different stages of the spiritual path can be described through them. In this highly symbolic work, the relationship between one’s purity of heart and the degree to which one can gain knowledge, as well as the relationship between asceticism and epistemology, is discussed by using Sufi symbolism.


suhrawardi and illumination school


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