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The saints form an invisible hierarchy, on which the order of the world is thought to depend. Its supreme head is entitled the Qutb (Axis). He is the most eminent Sufi of his age, and presides over the meetings regularly held by this august parliament, whose members are not hampered in their attendance by the inconvenient fictions of time and space, but come together from all parts of the earth in the twinkling of an eye, traversing seas and mountains and deserts as easily as common mortals step across a road. Below the Qutb stand various classes and grades of sanctity. Hujwiri enumerates them, in ascending series, as follows: three hundred Akhyar (Good), forty Abdal (Substitutes), seven Abrar (Pious), four Awtad (Supports), and three Nuqaba (Overseers).

"All these know one another and cannot act save by mutual consent. It is the task of the Awtad to go round the whole world every night, and if there should be any place on which their eyes have not fallen, next day some flaw will appear in that place, and they must then inform the Qutb in order that he may direct his attention to the weak spot and that by his blessing the imperfection may be remedied."

We are studying in this book the mystical life of the individual Moslem, and it is necessary to keep the subject within the narrowest bounds. Otherwise, I should have liked to dwell on the external and historical organisation of Sufism as a school for saints, and to describe the process of evolution through which the wali privately conversing with a small circle of friends became, first, a teacher and spiritual guide gathering disciples around him during his lifetime, and finally the head of a perpetual religious order which bore his name. The earliest of these great fraternities date from the twelfth century. In addition to their own members--the so-called 'dervishes'--each order has a large number of lay brethren attached to it, so that their influence pervades all ranks of Moslem society. They are "independent and self-developing. There is rivalry between them; but no one rules over the other. In faith and practice each goes its own way, limited only by the universal conscience of Islam. Thus strange doctrines and grave moral defects easily develop unheeded, but freedom is saved." {D. B. Macdonald, The Religious Life and Attitude in Islam, p. 164.} Of course, the typical wali is incapable of founding an order, but Islam has produced no less frequently than Christendom men who combine intense spiritual illumination with creative energy and aptitude for affairs on a grand scale. The Mohammedan notion of the saint as a person possessed by God allows a very wide application of the term: in popular usage it extends from the greatest Sufi theosophists, like Jalaluddin Rumi and Ibn al-‘Arabi, down to those who have gained sanctity only by losing sanity--victims of epilepsy and hysteria, half-witted idiots and harmless lunatics.

Both Qushayri {Author of a famous work designed to close the breach between Sufism and Islam. He died in 1074 A.D.} and Hujwiri discuss the question whether a saint can be conscious of his saintship, and answer it in the affirmative. Their opponents argue that consciousness of saintship involves assurance of salvation, which is impossible, since no one can know with certainty that he shall be among the saved on the Day of Judgment. In reply it was urged that God may miraculously assure the saint of his predestined salvation, while maintaining him in a state of spiritual soundness and preserving him from disobedience. The saint is not immaculate, as the prophets are, but the divine protection which he enjoys is a guarantee that he will not persevere in evil courses, though he may temporarily be led astray. According to the view generally held, saintship depends on faith, not on conduct, so that no sin except infidelity can cause it to be forfeited. This perilous theory, which opens the door to antinomianism, was mitigated by the emphasis laid on fulfilment of the religious law. The following anecdote of Bayazid al-Bistami shows the official attitude of all the leading Sufis who are cited as authorities in the Moslem text-books.

"I was told (he said) that a saint of God was living in such-and-such a town,and I set out to visit him. When I entered the mosque, he came forth from his chamber and spat on the floor. I turned back without saluting him, saying to myself, 'A saint must keep the religious law in order that God may keep him in his spiritual state. Had this man been a saint, his respect for the law would have prevented him from spitting on the floor, or God would have saved him from marring the grace vouchsafed to him."

Many walis, however, regard the law as a curb that is indeed necessary so long as one remains in the disciplinary stage, but may be discarded by the saint. Such a person, they declare, stands on a higher plane than ordinary men, and is not to be condemned for actions which outwardly seem irreligious. While the older Sufis insist that a wali who breaks the law is thereby shown to be an impostor, the popular belief in the saints and the rapid growth of saint-worship tended to aggrandise the wali at the expense of the law, and to foster the conviction that a divinely gifted man can do no wrong, or at least that his actions must not be judged by appearances. The classical instance of this jus divinum vested in the friends of God is the story of Moses and Khadir, which is related in the Koran (18.64-80). Khadir or Khizr--the Koran does not mention him by name --is a mysterious sage endowed with immortality, who is said to enter into conversation with wandering Sufis and impart to them his God-given knowledge. Moses desired to accompany him on a journey that he might profit by his teaching, and Khadir consented, only stipulating that Moses should ask no questions of him.

"So they both went on, till they embarked in a boat and he (Khadir) staved it in. 'What!' cried Moses, 'hast thou staved it in that thou mayst drown its crew? Verily, a strange thing hast thou done.'

"He said, 'Did not I tell thee that thou couldst no way have patience with me?'
"Then they went on until they met a youth, and he slew him. Said Moses, 'Hast thou slain him who is free from guilt of blood? Surely now thou hast wrought an unheard-of thing!'"

After Moses had broken his promise of silence for the third time, Khadir resolved to leave him.

"But first," he said, "I will tell thee the meaning of that with which thou couldst not have patience. As to the boat, it belonged to poor men, toilers on the sea, and I was minded to damage it, for in their rear was a king who seized on every boat by force.And as to the youth, his parents were believers, and I feared lest he should trouble them by error and unbelief."

The Sufis are fond of quoting this unimpeachable testimony that the wali is above human criticism, and that his hand, as Jalaluddin asserts, is even as the hand of God. Most Moslems admit the claim to be valid in so far as they shrink from applying conventional standards of morality to holy men. I have explained its metaphysical justification in an earlier chapter.

A miracle performed by a saint is termed karamat, i.e. a 'favour' which God bestows upon him, whereas a miracle performed by a prophet is called mu‘jizat, i.e. an act which cannot be imitated by any one. The distinction originated in controversy, and was used to answer those who held the miraculous powers of the saints to be a grave encroachment on the prerogative of the Prophet. Sufi apologists, while confessing that both kinds of miracle are substantially the same, take pains to differentiate the characteristics of each; they declare, moreover, that the saints are the Prophet's witnesses, and that all their miracles (like 'a drop trickling from a full skin of honey') are in reality derived from him. This is the orthodox view and is supported by those Mohammedan mystics who acknowledge the Law as well as the Truth, though in some cases it may have amounted to little more than a pious opinion. We have often noticed the difficulty in which the Sufis find themselves when they try to make a logical compromise with Islam. But the word 'logic' is very misleading in this connexion. The beginning of wisdom, for European students of Oriental religion, lies in the discovery that incongruous beliefs--I mean, of course, beliefs which our minds cannot harmonise--dwell peacefully together in the Oriental brain; that their owner is quite unconscious of their incongruity; and that, as a rule, he is absolutely sincere. Contradictions which seem glaring to us do not trouble him at all.

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