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That Moslems are extraordinarily susceptible to the sweet influences of sound will not be doubted by any one who remembers how, in the Arabian Nights, heroes and heroines alike swoon upon the slightest provocation afforded by a singing-girl touching her lute and trilling a few lines of passionate verse. The fiction is true to life. When Sufi writers discuss the analogous phenomena of ecstasy, they commonly do so in a chapter entitled 'Concerning the Sama‘.' Under this heading Hujwiri, in the final chapter of his Kashf al-Mahjub, gives us an excellent summary of his own and other Mohammedan theories, together with numerous anecdotes of persons who were thrown into ecstasy on hearing a verse of the Koran or a heavenly voice (hatif) or poetry or music. Many are said to have died from the emotion thus aroused. I may add by way of explanation that, according to a well-known mystical belief, God has inspired every created thing to praise Him in its own language, so that all the sounds in the universe form, as it were, one vast choral hymn by which He glorifies Himself. Consequently those whose hearts He has opened and endowed with spiritual perception hear His voice everywhere, and ecstasy overcomes them as they listen to the rhythmic chant of the muezzin, or the street cry of the saqqa shouldering his waterskin, or, perchance, to the noise of wind or the bleating of a sheep or the piping of a bird.

Pythagoras and Plato are responsible for another theory, to which the Sufi poets frequently allude, that music awakens in the soul a memory of celestial harmonies heard in a state of pre-existence, before the soul was separated from God. Thus Jalaluddin Rumi:

"The song of the spheres in their revolutions

Is what men sing with lute and voice.

As we all are members of Adam,

We have heard these melodies in Paradise.

Though earth and water have cast their veil upon us,

We retain faint reminiscences of these heavenly songs;

But while we are thus shrouded by gross earthly veils,

How can the tones of the dancing spheres reach us?"

{E. H. Whinfield, abridged translation of the Masnavi, p. 182.}

The formal practice of sama‘ quickly spread amongst the Sufis and produced an acute cleavage of opinion, some holding it to be lawful and praiseworthy, whilst others condemned it as an abominable innovation and incitement to vice. Hujwiri adopts the middle view expressed in a saying of Dhu ’l-Nun the Egyptian:

"Music is a divine influence which stirs the heart to seek God: those who listen to it spiritually attain unto God, and those who listen to it sensually fall into unbelief."

He declares, in effect, that audition is neither good nor bad, and must be judged by its results.

"When an anchorite goes into a tavern, the tavern becomes his cell, but when a wine-bibber goes into a cell, that cell becomes his tavern."

One whose heart is absorbed in the thought of God cannot be corrupted by hearing musical instruments. So with dancing.

"When the heart throbs and rapture grows intense, and the agitation of ecstasy is manifested. and conventional forms are gone, this is not dancing nor bodily indulgence, but a dissolution of the soul."

Hujwiri, however, lays down several precautionary rules for those who engage in audition, and he confesses that the public concerts given by dervishes are extremely demoralising. Novices, he thinks, should not be permitted to attend them. In modern times these orgiastic scenes have frequently been described by eye-witnesses. I will now translate from Jami's Lives of the Saints the account of a similar performance which took place about seven hundred years ago.

"There was a certain dervish, a negro called Zangi Bashgirdi, who had attained to such a high degree of spirituality that the mystic dance could not be started until he came out and joined in it. One day, in the course of the sama‘, he was seized with ecstasy, and rising into the air seated himself on a lofty arch which overlooked the dancers. In descending he leaped on to Majduddin of Baghdad, and encircled with his legs the neck of the Sheykh, who nevertheless continued to spin round in the dance, though he was a very frail and slender man, whereas the negro was tall and heavy. When the dance was finished, Majduddin said, 'I did not know whether it was a negro or a sparrow on my neck.' On getting off the Sheykh's shoulders, the negro bit his cheek so severely that the scar remained visible ever after. Majduddin often used to say that on the Day of Judgment he would not boast of anything except that he bore the mark of this negro's teeth on his face."

Grotesque and ignoble features--not to speak of grosser deformities--must appear in any faithful delineation of the ecstatic life of Islam. Nothing is gained by concealing their existence or by minimising their importance. If, as Jalaluddin Rumi says:

"Men incur the reproach of wine and drugs

That they may escape for a while from self-consciousness,

Since all know this life to be a snare,

Volitional memory and thought to be a hell,"

let us acknowledge that the transports of spiritual intoxication are not always sublime, and that human nature has a trick of avenging itself on those who would cast it off.

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