"The initiatic journey to Islamic soil
has been a repeated theme of European esotericism, ever
since the Templars settled in Jerusalem and the mythical
Christian Rosenkreuz learnt his trade in "Damcar"
(Damascus). We find it in the lives of Paracelsus and Cagliostro,
then, as travel became easier, in a whole host that includes
P. B. Randolph, H. P. Blavatsky, Max Theon, G. I. Gurdjieff,
Aleister Crowley, Rene Guenon, R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz,
and Henry Corbin. There was very likely some element of
this in Napoleon's Egyptian campaign of 1797, when he announced
to an astounded audience that he, too, was a Muslim.."
- Joscelyn Godwin (1)
In the modern world, religion has been reduced to 'moralism'
and a question of faith. Once cherished doctrines are now
just simple formulas and routine practices, devoid of any
higher meaning. It is not really surprising that for large
numbers of people in the Western world the great religions
are unable to answer the most fundamental questions of existence.
Yet throughout history we find people convinced the great
religions are a necessary 'outer shell' veiling a Primordial
Wisdom that alone can reveal humanity's real origin, purpose
and destiny. Hidden behind vital religious practices and
doctrines is an esoteric or occult knowledge. But as the
scholar of religion James Webb points out:
Something may be hidden because of its immense
value, or reverently concealed from the prying eyes of the
profane. But this hidden thing may also have achieved its
sequestered position because the Powers That Be have found
it wanting. Either it is a threat and must be buried, or
simply useless, and so forgotten. (2)
Some of Europe's leading seekers after ancient secret wisdom
were convinced that in the Muslim lands of the Orient could
be found a Primordial Tradition transmitted from generation
to generation within closed communities of initiates. They
sought inspiration in a cultural and religious milieu long
denounced as the 'enemy' by European Christianity.
The French poet and historian Gerard de Nerval (1808-1855)
was of the opinion that secret Islamic communities, principally
the Druze, the Ismailis and the Nusairis, had been responsible
for transmitting ancient wisdom to Europe through their
influence on the Knights Templar.
Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, the reactionary nineteenth
century chronicler of secret societies, believed the Knights
Templar (and the Freemasons) derived their doctrines and
practices from the Ismaili Assassins, who in turn inherited
them from the ancient Gnostics.
Godfrey Higgins (1772-1833), whose books influenced Madame
Blavatsky and the early Theosophists, also concluded the
Ismaili Assassins passed their mysteries on to Europe's
Templars, Freemasons, and Rosicrucians. Higgins resolutely
defended Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam, and expressed the
hope to visit the Moorish lands of Egypt, Palestine and
Syria before he died.
Early this century the writer and mystic Laurence Oliphant
reasoned the Druze and Nusairi sects were the custodians
of the most complete system of secret knowledge. In The
Treasure of Montsegur, an authoritative book on the
medieval Cathars, the scholar R.A. Gilbert argues that the
doctrines of the Nusairis are identical to those of the
Wherever we look we find historians and authors searching
for the key to spiritual enlightenment among the Orient's
arcane Muslim communities. Elaborate 'myths' may guard the
source of the teachings of Europe's occult fraternities,
but they all point to the Muslim lands of North Africa and
the mysterious East.
Eighteenth-century Rosicrucians claimed sources in Arabia
for their secret wisdom. Indeed, a central Rosicrucian 'myth'
tells how young Christian Rosenkreuz [Rosie Cross] journeyed
to "the mystic Arabian city of Damcar" in search
of lost knowledge. According to Manly P. Hall:
C.R.C. [Christian Rosie Cross] was but sixteen
years of age when he arrived at Damcar. He was received
as one who had been long expected, a comrade and a friend
in philosophy, and was instructed in the secrets of the
Arabian adepts. While there, C.R.C. learned Arabic and translated
the sacred book M into Latin, and upon returning to Europe
he brought this important volume with him. After studying
three years in Damcar, C.R.C. departed for the [Moorish]
city of Fez, where Arabian magicians declared further information
would be given him. (3)
Returning to Europe from his sojourn in the Moorish lands,
C.R.C. is said to have established a secret "House
of the Holy Spirit" modelled on the Muslim "House
of Wisdom" he visited at Cairo in Egypt. Even the name
Rosicrucian, a follower of the path of the Rose Cross, is
remarkably similar to the common Moorish Sufi phrase "Path
of the Rose." One has only to intelligently study Rosicrucian
rituals and legends to see the borrowing of Moorish imagery
and the debt to Islamic esotericism.
The Rosicrucians - also called the 'Society of Unknown
Philosophers' and the 'Invisible College' - counted among
their number not only Sir Francis Bacon, but Robert Fludd,
Saint Germain and Cagliostro. Held to be one of the founders
of Western science and philosophy, Francis Bacon is also
the real author of Shakespeare's works. Within the writings
attributed to Shakespeare can be found Sufi ideas placed
there by Francis Bacon.
Roger Bacon, known as the "miraculous Doctor,"
received his knowledge of medicine and the natural sciences
from North African Moorish teachers. He often wore Arab
dress at Oxford, knew the Arabic language, and translated
Sufi texts. Bacon asserted that his knowledge was only part
of a whole body of ancient wisdom known to Noah and Abraham,
to Zoroaster, to the Chaldean, Egyptian and Greek masters,
and to Muslim mystics.
At the end of the eighteenth century, Napoleon invaded
Egypt. The French Emperor "held long discussions with
the Ulema [religious scholars] of Cairo on Moslem theology,
holding out to them the possibility of the whole French
Army being converted to Islam." (4)
The French writer Gourgaud noted in his Memories,
"the Emperor reads the Koran in silence. He raises
his head and says, as in a dream: 'Muhammad's religion is
the most beautiful'." Under Napoleon's patronage, one
of his generals embraced Islam and founded the secret Order
of the Seekers of Wisdom.
Like Christian Rosenkreuz, the Sicilian magus Alessandro
Cagliostro (1743-1795) reputedly travelled to the Moorish
lands in pursuit of ancient wisdom. And like Rosenkreuz,
Cagliostro - dubbed the "noble traveller" - was
seen as the emissary of a powerful secret society. He claimed
to have received initiation into Eastern mysteries at the
pyramids of Egypt. Cagliostro wore Moorish robes and worked
to establish a universal esoteric Order "above all
sects and schisms, which would restore the patriarchal religion
under which Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, etc., were in direct
communion with God, and eventually lead mankind back to
the state enjoyed before the Fall." (5)
After spreading his ideas throughout Europe Cagliostro travelled
to Rome, where he was arrested by the Catholic Inquisition
and died in prison.
Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825-1875), the influential
Black American Rosicrucian author, also followed in the
footsteps of the legendary Christian Rosenkreuz. He journeyed
over much of the old Moorish lands through Ireland, North
Africa, Egypt, Syria, Arabia, Palestine and Turkey. His
encounters with Sufis, Dervishes and other Muslim mystics
undoubtedly influenced much of his writings. In these Randolph
refers to the Muslim "Ansairs" (also known as
the Nusairi and Alawis), the "Ansairetic Mysteries",
and the secrets of "the Syrian mountaineers."
From his solitary travels in the Orient, he claimed to have
brought back arcane knowledge and practices that revolutionised
Western esotericism. Randolph's biographer says his ideas
"left their traces on Madame Blavatsky, her Theosophical
Society, and many practising occult organizations in Europe
and America today." (6)
The enigmatic teacher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1872-1949),
who travelled the Orient in search of lost wisdom, mentions
the mysterious "Aissors" in his book Meetings
with Remarkable Men. At least one writer speculates
they are the same as the secret community of Islamic esotericists
encountered by Randolph. Today, Gurdjieff's students believe
his system to be derived from centuries old arcane traditions,
whose representatives he met in the Muslim lands of Central
Asia. The Russian journalist P.D. Ouspensky, perhaps Gurdjieff's
greatest pupil, thought his teacher had derived his ideas
from the hidden wisdom found among the Muslim Sufis. The
British author and mystic J.G. Bennett attempted to replicate
Gurdjieff's journeys in Central Asia. In Syria, Iraq, Turkey
and Persia he met Sufi masters and wandering Dervishes.
Early this century another "noble traveller",
Noble Drew Ali (born Timothy Drew), the self-taught son
of former Black slaves, took a job as a merchant seaman
and found himself in Egypt. According to one legend, Noble
Drew Ali travelled around the world before the age of twenty-seven,
in an effort to discover all he could about the heritage
of his people and the tenets of Islam. It is commonly believed
he received a mandate from the king of Morocco to instruct
Black Americans in Islam. At the Pyramid of Cheops he received
initiation and took the Muslim name Sharif [Noble] Abdul
Ali; in America he would be known as Noble Drew Ali. On
his return to the United States in 1913 he founded the Moorish
Science Temple, "to uplift fallen humanity by returning
the nationality, divine creed and culture to persons of
Moorish descent in the Western Hemisphere."
A charismatic leader, Noble Drew Ali taught that the true
origin of Black Americans was 'Asiatic', and Islam their
original religion. "The fallen sons and daughters of
the Asiatic Nation of North America," he wrote, "need
to learn to love instead of hate; and to know of their higher
self and lower self." Allah, the one true God, has
been known by many names, "but everywhere His is the
causeless cause, the rootless root from which all things
have grown". Noble Drew Ali acknowledged Prophet Muhammad
as "the founder of the reuniting of Islam" and
the promised one foretold by Jesus. All prophets came with
basically the same message, and Islam was the original divine
faith to which Muhammed called people to return.
Noble Drew Ali laid the foundations of the Islamic movement
in the United States. He showed that knowledge of one's
own identity - one's self, community and religion - is indispensable
to a creative life for the individual and community. Noble
Drew Ali commented, "When we rely upon others to study
the secrets of nature and think and act for us, then we
have created a life for ourselves, one which is termed 'Hell.'"
Through his message thousands of Black Americans were exposed
to Moorish history, culture, religion, as well as the Islamic
principles of "Love, Truth, Peace, Freedom, and Justice."
But his meteoric success brought disaster. Noble Drew Ali
died in 1929, in the words of one commentator, "some
say from severe police beatings, others say he was assassinated
by his rivals in the movement. In his sincerity and undoubted
innocence, Noble Drew Ali met a martyr's end." (7)
"[The] conception of every doctrine
as having two aspects, one exoteric and the other esoteric,
apparently contradictory but in reality complementary, may
be taken as a general rule since it corresponds with the
nature of things as they are. Even when this distinction
is not openly acknowledged, there exists of necessity in
any doctrine of any depth at all something which corresponds
to these two aspects, illustrated by such well known antitheses
as outer and inner, the bone and the marrow, the visible
and the occult, the wide road and the narrow, letter and
spirit, the rind and the flesh." (8)
When we examine the life of Jesus, as presented in the
New Testament as well as the so called apocryphal Gospels,
we discover he made a clear distinction between the inner,
hidden or esoteric teachings and outer, external or exoteric
ones. There are several places in the Gospels where Jesus
publicly gave exoteric teachings to the masses of the people,
while privately instructing his trusted disciples in the
inner (esoteric) meaning. After the manner of the apostles,
the early Christians preached openly to the public the Gospel
message, while preserving the esoteric doctrines for those
who became initiated disciples.
The distinction between outer doctrines and their higher
inner meaning was known to Moses, an initiate of Egyptian
wisdom, and the Israelite prophets. The exoteric form of
the Mosaic revelation contained laws and commandments supremely
suited to the people and conditions of that era. While the
esoteric doctrines, explaining the meaning behind the external
forms and rituals, were preserved by the real priests and
By the time of Jesus, the esoteric spiritual side of the
Hebrew religion had been corrupted and almost lost. People
were enslaved to the "letter of the law," kept
in the bondage of ignorance by false teachers, not realising
that "the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life."
Thus the Essenes, being the true Israelite priests and the
mystic precursors of the early Christians, concerned themselves
with rediscovering the inner meaning of the Mosaic Law.
Within the first four centuries after Christ, the teachings
of Jesus underwent the same corruption and loss as those
proclaimed by Moses. Christianity emerged as a powerful
institution dominated by a clerical hierarchy largely ignorant
of the original esoteric truths. The Gospels, like the books
of the Old Testament, underwent editing and revision to
comply with the exoteric Christian creed. The many Christian
Gnostic texts, that spoke of esoteric doctrines, were denounced
and confined to the flames.
Messenger of Allah
At the same time that in the West the Church of Rome emerged
triumphant, in the East arose a new prophet and Messenger
of God. In the ancient land of Arabia, in fulfilment of
age old prophecies, Muhammed began to proclaim complete
surrender to the One God of all mankind. His message became
known as Islam, the last of the great revealed religions.
And after the manner of Moses and Jesus, the prophet Muhammed
distinguished between the exoteric and esoteric dimensions
of religion. Being the last of all the celestial faiths,
Islam contained the essential divine truths of all the earlier
In his youth Muhammed spent time in the desert conducting
caravans from Mecca to Syria. Here, according to some, he
first encountered seekers looking for the "original
religion of Abraham." Later he began the practice of
retiring each year to Mount Hira near Mecca for a time of
meditation and prayer. During one of these periods he entered
a level of higher consciousness and while in a sublime trance
state the Archangel Gabriel revealed to him the first chapter
of the Holy Quran, the sacred book of Islam and the direct
Word of Allah (God).
At first Muhammed confided his experience only to a small
group of close associates. Soon, an inner circle or secret
school of disciples began to form around him, and in time
they publicly proclaimed the exoteric message of surrender
to Allah. Prophet Muhammed never claimed to found a new
religion. In fact, he always said he was just continuing
the primordial tradition that was working long before him.
Like Moses and Jesus, Muhammed came in a long line of prophets
who from time to time delivered to their people, under divine
inspiration, the same revelation of God's nature and of
Man's relationship to Him, as had been given to Adam. Muhammed
came to reinstate this eternal pristine message that had
been obscured by ignorance, idolatry, and used to enslave
rather than liberate humanity. From this perspective the
Holy Quran teaches the primordial unity of all religions
and the common origin of each. It affirms that there is
not a nation or people to whom a prophet has not been sent.
The central message of Islam is the declaration of faith
(shahada): "There is no god but God [Allah] and Muhammad
is the Messenger of God [Allah]." From the esoteric
perspective this is also understood as "there is no
reality except Reality". The exoteric practice is summed
up in the 'Five Pillars of Islam'. These are Faith, Prayer,
Fasting, Almsgiving and Pilgrimage.
The Holy Quran has both an exoteric (zahir - the outer
or apparent) meaning and an esoteric (batin - the inner
or secret) meaning. Within Islamic esotericism, as in the
original Mosaic and Christian revelations, knowledge is
made accessible depending on the integrity and cognitive
ability of its recipients, with the consequence of requiring
the withholding of information from the uninitiated. This
is why there has always been a gradual unveiling or communication
of spiritual truths to mankind. What Muslim esotericists
call the "wisdom of gradualness" (hikmat at-tadrij).
Spiritual knowledge, states a highly regarded Islamic esoteric
text, is like food and light:
Just as a small child needs to be fed gradually,
stage by stage, until it reaches adolescence, so that it
may not eat something detrimental to its constitution, and
just as light is appropriate only to persons with open,
healthy and strong eyes, so that a person whose eyes have
been shut, or had just emerged from darkness, will be severely
dazzled by daylight, in the same way, those who get hold
of this Letter should communicate it only to those who are
in need of it.
Christian mystics travelled to Arabia seeking a genuine
spiritual Master Teacher. In fact, mystics surrounded Muhammed
during his life. These Companions, as they are known, he
privately instructed in the doctrines of Islamic esotericism.
Two of these Companions, the Prophet Muhammed's close friend
Abu Bakr and his son-in-law Ali, later inspired their own
Although Muhammed, as the last of the prophets, was the
repository of a complete treasure of precepts, Muslim tradition
asserts he publicly declared only some of them, leaving
the rest undeclared. This was due either to their inapplicability
at the time, or because of the expediency of disseminating
them in that particular period of history. It is said even
Prophet Muhammed himself mentioned certain secret moments
of revelation, saying, "If the Muslims knew of them,
they would stone me." He therefore entrusted the undeclared
precepts to the Companions and through them to the worthy
of succeeding generations so that they would progressively
reveal them at appropriate junctures according to their
wisdom, whether by inferring the particular from the absolute,
or the concrete from the abstract.
After the death of Prophet Muhammed in 632 A.D., the Companions,
particularly Abu Bakr, Ali and Salman al-Farisi, continued
to preserve the esoteric tradition within the exoteric faith
of Islam. Abu Bakr becoming the first Caliph, leader of
the Muslim community. However in time, just as Muhammed
had warned before his death, the thirst for power and political
intrigue soon caused strife and division among the Muslims.
The mighty Islamic empire became divided as positions of
authority were usurped by individuals bereft of spiritual
understanding. Those who seized power and wealth did so
in the name of the prophet and the exoteric creed of Islam.
The outer creed represented by the law (sharia), the accumulated
customs of the Prophet (hadith), and a literal reading of
the Quran, emerged as 'orthodox' Islam. Again, exotericism
appeared to vanquish esotericism. Many Muslim initiates,
custodians of esoteric wisdom, went into hiding or exile.
Yet a number of Muslim spiritual teachers, considered by
the people to be saints, did not conceal the fact they had
been initiated by members of a school or brotherhood (tariqah)
founded by one of the Companions.
Our cause is the truth of truth. It is the
exoteric, the esoteric of the exoteric and the esoteric
of the esoteric. It is the secret of the secret; it is the
secret of that which remains wrapped in secret.
- Hadith of the Sixth Imam
At the end of the eighth century and the beginning of the
ninth century, many Muslims who followed the spiritual path
openly declared their connection with Islamic esotericism.
They divulged truths based on spiritual experience that,
because of their outward appearance, brought on them the
condemnation of orthodox Islamic jurists and theologians.
Some were imprisoned, flogged, and even killed. Historically,
the practitioners of esotericism were associated with the
descendants of the family of Prophet Muhammed. Ali, Muhammed's
son-in-law, being universally regarded as the fountainhead
of esoteric knowledge. The relationship between the Prophet
Muhammed and Ali, symbolic of the exoteric form and the
esoteric core of divine religion. This is similar to the
Christian Gnostic idea of the relationship between Jesus,
representing the exoteric, and the beloved disciple John
to whom the esoteric doctrine was divulged.
Over time, from this Islamic esoteric tradition, eventually
emerged distinct Muslim groups such as the Fatimids, Ismailis,
Nusairi [Alawis], etc. Certain mystical brotherhoods and
Orders formed within Muslim communities and became known
as Sufis, the mystics or esotericists. It is commonly thought
the word Sufi comes from the Arabic word suf ('wool'); the
rough woollen clothing worn by early ascetics to demonstrate
their detachment from the world.
The Sufi appeal and "... strength lay in the satisfaction
which it gave to the religious instincts of the people,
instincts which were to some extent chilled and starved
by the abstract and impersonal teachings of the orthodox
and found relief in the more directly personal and emotional
religious approach of the Sufis." (9)
Clearly, the growth of Sufism was in response to the legalism
of orthodox Islamic exoteric practice and the dry intellectualism
of the mainstream Muslim thinkers.
The Sufi, like all genuine mystics, aims for a glimpse
of the Eternal while still trapped by life in this world.
To achieve such a personal encounter with their Divine Beloved,
"the Sufis laid out the 'path' (tariqah) that would
lead to gnosis (marifah) or mystic knowledge of the Lord.
The 'path' of ascension to divine union with God passes
through stages known commonly as 'stations' or 'states':
the last stage is that of fana, or passing away in God,
which is the ultimate desire of a successful mystic. The
Sufi at this point ceases to be aware of his physical identity
even though he continues to exist as an individual."
Although the majority of Sufi Orders meticulously observe
the Islamic law (Sharia), they believe it to be only the
outer clothing or external shell protecting the core, the
esoteric truth. The Holy Quran calls those who know the
essence of things "the possessors of the kernels."
The Sufis liken esoteric wisdom to a "kernel"
hidden within a shell. Exoteric Islam, experienced as a
traditional way of life, creates the environment, the culture,
the community, and necessary psychological orientation,
from which certain individuals are called to initiation
into esotericism. The authentic gnostic and mystic is always
a minority when compared to the great mass of humanity who
are fully satisfied with exoteric religion.
The Sufi schools and brotherhoods are renowned for propagating
Islam throughout the world. Their piety, deep spirituality
and tolerance, enabled the Sufis to attract a large following.
As one author says:
The brotherhoods rendered their incalculable,
monumental services to Islam in three different ways: they
prevented Islam from becoming a cold and formal doctrine,
keeping it alive as an intimate, compassionate faith; they
were mainly responsible for spreading the faith in east
Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; and they were among the foremost
leaders in Islam's military and political battles against
the encroaching power of the Christian West. (11)
By the tenth century, descendants of the Prophet Muhammed
through his daughter Fatimah, and her husband Ali, established
the Fatimid empire over a large part of North Africa. Many
Muslims saw this as a fulfilment of a prediction attributed
to the Prophet that a time would come in which "the
Sun [of Islam] would rise in the West." Prior to accepting
Islam, North Africa had been home to a number of Gnostic
communities. One historian speculates the Fatimid's esoteric
doctrines were widely received by the North African tribes
"due to the fact that [they were called] to a contemporary
version of their old beliefs, now clothed in the form of
the newly dominant religion." (12)
The dynasty's enemies even claimed the Fatimids were the
philosophical descendants of Bardesane, the renowned Gnostic
Christian Master Teacher.
The Fatimids ushered in a 'golden age' of Islam. They established
the city of Cairo in Egypt, calling it: "The Victorious
City of the Exalter of the Divine Religion". From the
new capital the empire grew to include Palestine. The public
devotions of the Fatimids differed very little from the
orthodox Muslims. Esoteric teachings being restricted to
those of the community able to receive them. A proper understanding
of their books required special education and years of training.
At Cairo the Fatimids established the Grand House of Wisdom
(Darul Hikmet) for the training of missionaries (dais) skilled
in the propagation of Islamic esoteric philosophy.
Students came from all over the Orient to the House of
Wisdom for instruction and initiation. Twice a week, every
Monday and Wednesday, the Grand Prior convened meetings,
which were frequented by adepts dressed in white. These
gatherings were named 'philosophical conferences' (Majalis-al-Hikmet).
The Fatimid Caliph was also the Grand Master of the House
of Wisdom. One of the students who attended was Hasan Sabbah.
On return to his native Persia, he formed the so called
'Assassins' with headquarters at the mountain monastery-fortress
From North Africa the Fatimid rulers despatched missionaries
(dais) throughout the known world. Under cover they even
infiltrated Christian Europe. Accomplished in the esoteric
doctrine, the dais could use any outer form - be it artistic,
scientific, religious or secular - to impart universal and
perennial truths. Even poetry, for which the Sufis are renowned,
could be used to transfer spiritual insights from one culture
or religion to another. Their use of allegory and cipher
amounted to a secret language, the universal language of
initiates. Together with wandering Sufis, they transmitted
ancient wisdom to Europe. A well-known ninth century Celtic
cross bearing the Islamic Arabic inscription Bismillah ir-Rahman
ir-Rahim ("In the name of Allah, the Compassionate,
the Merciful), suggests that the Celts were in close contact
with North African Moorish initiates. The Fatimids also
maintained communication with Persia, Turkestan and India
through the secret networks of the dais.
So influential was the Fatimid House of Wisdom that, centuries
later, European Freemasons copied its structure. In A
Short History of the Saracens, the Muslim historian
Ameer Ali says: "the account of the different degrees
of initiation adopted in the [House of Wisdom] forms an
invaluable record.In fact, the [House of Wisdom] at Cairo
became the model of all the [Freemasonic] Lodges created
in Christendom". By the time of the Fatimid empire's
demise in the twelfth century it was famous for its tolerance,
prosperity, love of knowledge and great cultural achievements.
The Fatimids founded the renowned al-Azhar University, today
the most venerable orthodox institution in the Muslim world.
The spectacular rise of the Fatimids in North Africa, together
with the influence of their underground networks, provoked
the largely orthodox Abbasid rulers in Mesopotamia to launch
a campaign against 'heresy'. With the backing of the hyper-orthodox
scholars and the legalists of exoteric religion, Mansur
al-Hallaj, the revered Muslim esotericist and Sufi saint,
was condemned to death. Hallaj had penetrated the outer
shell that is exoteric Islam, to reveal the inner core.
He realised illumination, fana, or what the Sufi's know
as 'death to one's self' and 'passing away in the Divine
I am He whom I love, and He whom I love
We are two spirits dwelling in one body.
When thou seest me thou seest Him,
And when thou seest Him, thou seest us both.
Viewed from the perspective of mainstream Islamic law,
such a declaration is indeed shocking and forbidden. However,
understood esoterically it is nothing less than the sentiment
of an illumined mystic. Hallaj further offended the legalists
with such statements as:
To claim to know Him is ignorance, to persist
in serving Him is disrespectful, to forbid yourself to struggle
with him is folly, to allow yourself to be misled by his
peace is stupid, to discourse on his attributes is to lose
The public execution of Hallaj in Baghdad (922 AD) attracted
large and sympathetic crowds. He was first scourged, gibbeted,
and finally decapitated. As he died, he prayed for mercy
for his executioners. Years after his murder he was openly
hailed by Sufis, dissident Muslims, and even some orthodox
writers, as a martyr of exoteric incomprehension.
For many years Hallaj had travelled widely in Persia, India
and as far as the borders of China. This has led some scholars
to speculate that Hallaj presided over a secret network
of missionaries and wandering Sufis.
Three decades after Mansour al-Hallaj stood upon the gallows
in Baghdad, a secret society emerged in the Iraqi city of
Basra. Like the Fatimids, the group, known as the Brethren
of Purity (Ikwan as-Safa), dedicated themselves to the pursuit
of science as well as political action. They published a
veritable encyclopedia of existing knowledge. Their works
covered such subjects as philosophy, theology, astrology,
metaphysics, cosmology, and the natural sciences, including
botany and zoology. The brotherhood recognised truth wherever
found, accepting the wisdom in other religions. A seeker
of truth must "shun no science, scorn no book, nor
cling fanatically to a single creed." They attempted
to compile a common doctrine of Islamic esotericism beginning
with self-knowledge and the emancipation of the soul from
materialism leading to a return to God. The first letter
of the brotherhood restated the Sufi axiom: "He who
knows himself, knows his Lord". Condemned as 'heretical'
and burnt by the authorities, their writings enjoyed a wide
influence, even reaching Europe in the Middle Ages.
Knowledge Is Power
Traditional esotericism is at one and the
same time doctrine and practice. It implies for the whole
of the being, body, soul and spirit, a fundamentally different
way of existence. (13)
Running through all Western culture are the threads of
an 'underground' Primordial Tradition. In our current Dark
Age of banality and materialism this great spiritual tradition
is well concealed. That which in the West most often tries
to pass itself off as 'secret', 'occult', or 'esoteric'
knowledge is at best vain foolishness, at worst a dangerous
counterfeit, a deadly parody of the universal supreme Truth.
Nevertheless all things have their reason for being. Thus,
as James Webb observed:
..if a newcomer to the vast quantity of
occult literature begins browsing at random, puzzlement
and impatience will soon be his lot; for he will find jumbled
together the droppings of all cultures, and occasional fragments
of philosophy perhaps profound but almost certainly subversive
to right living in the society in which he finds himself.
The occult is rejected knowledge: that is, an Underground
whose basic unity is that of Opposition to an establishment
of Powers That Are. (14)
For every fragment of truth there is a veritable cloud
of confusion, ignorant speculation and falsity. In the present
age of strife, this confusion, ignorance and falsehood is
important because it permits the genuine Ancient Secret
Tradition to remain hidden and protected.
On the eve of the twenty first century we do not need ever
more 'new truths' but a conception that allows a rediscovery
of that Primordial Revelation forgotten or parodied by the
ignorant. For, as the Sufis say, "everything that comes
from the Eternal One yearns to return to Him."
1) Joscelyn Godwin, The Theosophical
2) James Webb, The Occult Underground
3) Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages
4) Napoleon and the Awakening of Europe
5) Joscelyn Godwin, Ibid
6) John P. Deveney, Paschal Beverly Randolph A Nineteenth-
Century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex
7) Peter Lamborn Wilson, Sacred Drift, Essays on the
Margins of Islam
8) Luc Benoist, The Esoteric Path
9) H.A.R. Gibb, Modern Trends in Islam
10) Caesar E. Farah, Islam
11) G.H. Jansen, Militant Islam
12) Cyril Glasse, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam
13) R. Abellio, The End of Esotericism
14) James Webb, Ibid
The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 48 (July-August
© Copyright New Dawn Magazine, http://www.newdawnmagazine.com.
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