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Suhrawardi angelology has a firm relationship with his ontology, metaphysics and cosmology. This is nowhere more evident than in his mystical narratives. Once again we see that Suhrawardi’s analysis is elaborated upon in the language of mysticism and practical reasoning. Because philosophical discourse alone does not fulfill the spiritual thirst seeker, Suhrawardi translates his philosophical and ishraqi analysis of angelology into the language of practical wisdom, as we see in such treatises as The Chant of Gabriel’s wing and The Red Intellect.
A. Seeker’s quest for Truth in “the chant of Gabriel’s wing”
In The Chant of Gabriel’s wing, we see a discussion of Suhrawardi’s cosmology and ontology within the context of a seeker’s quest for truth. When the salik leaves the pleasures of the body and enters the desert, he sees ten old men (pirs) whose beauty and glory are mesmerizing. Having been asked where they come from, the old man who represents an angelic orders says, ”We are a group of incorporeals and come from the nowhere but prosperous land (nakuja abad).”
The ten ole men, whose hairs are white and have substance but do not occupy space are the ten levels of light which correspond to the Ibn Sinian levels of intellect. The seeker then asks, “What is your occupation” to which the old man responds, “We are tailors.” The angelic function is to “sew” the world below them, that is, the world of generation and corruption, the corporeal domain. They are the intermadiaries between the pure and the corruptible world of ours. In highly symbolic language Suhrawardi writes:
I asked, “Why are the old men that are above observing silence?” He replied, “Because they do not mingle with your types. I know their language and they do not speak to you.
The old man is the archangel Gabriel who explains to the salik that due to his limited spiritual accomplishment the cannot understand the language of the beings residing in the spiritual world.
B. Mystical analogies of Suhrawardi’s Emanationistic Scheme (Feyzan) and emanating of Creaition
Suhrawardi use analogies from nature to explain how creation takes place and what the function of each of the levels is. Whereas the creation of the other nine domains is not easily observable due to their softness, Gabriel’s creation is more solid and thus more visible.
The relationship between the ten angelic orders is one of the spiritual unity oneness. Gabriel tells the salik that the old man whose mantle is on the top is the spiritual master of the second one and so on until the ninth master who trained him and gave him his Sufi cloak. Here, the emanationistic ontology of Suhrawardi is explained in terms of a chain of initiation emanating from Ibn Sina’s first intellect (al-aql al-awwal) or Suhrawardi’s Bahman (al-nur al –arqab), the closest light to the of lights.
Suhrawardi’s visionary narrative continues with the salik questioning the relationship between the old man and the world. “Do you have children , property and the like ?” the salik asks, Gabriel responds’ by saying that he does not have mates but each of them has a child who works at a mil while they are staring at him with one eye and at the mill with the other eye. Suhrawardi uses the imagery of children to allude to each angelic order giving birth to or emanating a lower level of reality down to the tenth level which is pregnant with the created order. Gabriel then tell the salik, “When the time is proper, they come to me and not leave again and new children go there,” Those who have purified themselves and have become what Suhrawardi calls “brothers of purity” can return to the angelic order to the angelic order where they belong. As to the problem of the unchangeable and immutable nature of the angels and the very act of emanating, what implies the occurrence of motion in angels, the salik asks how they came to have children. The salik poses a rather old philosophical issue, namely the relationship between change and sameness in the created domain. The old master offers an explanation whereby he impregnates “a black slave,” who symbolizes the corporeal world, without a change occurring in him. Having questioned the tenth angelic order’s relation with the corporeal world, the salik then questions its relationship with God and whether the old master praises God. The old master replies:
Absorption in divine presence does not allow for praising [Him ], and if there be praise , it is not by virtue of tongue, no motion or movement is associated with it.
The old man Gabriel, the archangel of revelation and the intermediary between the corporeal and incorporeal world, then teaches the salik the esoteric secrets necessary to understand the true meaning of the Quran which is none other than the secret of creation.
In a esoteric phrase, the old master tells the saliks that “everything” in the four corners of the world is due to the wing of Gabriel.” Referring once again to the emanationistic scheme of lights, the old master indicates that God’s words are so luminous and profound that from them comes a lower and so on until “last words which are the words of Gabriel and the spirits of man (arwah) are from this last word.”
F. Contingency of Angels
but it suffices to say that Suhrawardi uses various Quranic references as well as other sacred scriptures to allude to the two-fold function of angels as entities between the world of light and the of darkness. It is noteworthy that Suhrawardi considers the luminous nature of angels to be an added relation (idafad) not inherent to angels. The angelic order are contingent beings, from the closest to the light of light, Bahman, to the last one, Gabriel.
Gabriel has two wing: the right wing is pure light and the entirety of that incorporeal wing is a relation (idafah) of his existence to God. And there is a left [wing] with a mark of darkness on it ... that is a sign of its existence which has one –side to non-existence. If you view its existence from a relation point with God, it exists [ becauseof] His existence. If you view its existence, it is worthy of non-existence.
suhrawardi and illumination school
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