Subtleties of the Ascension, Early Mystical Sayings on Muhammad’s Heavenly Journey
This first time translation into any language of a recently discovered tenth century manuscript provides a window into the thought-world of the early Muslim mystics known as the Sufis, and offers a comparative case of mystical exegesis for those interested in mysticism more generally.
Fifty-six teachings on a variety of ascension-related issues illustrate the profoundly creative imagination of such early Sufi mystics as Hallaj, Junayd, and Bistami, demonstrating their remarkable ability to mine gems of insight from the deepest depths of spiritual experience, and highlighting their abiding love for the Prophet Muhammad.
The book provides the essential framework for both novices and experts to understand how the early Sufis approached the Qur’an and the oral reports attributed to Muhammad, illustrated with stunning masterpieces of 15th century Persian miniature painting.
This extraordinary text illustrates how early Muslim mystics understood one of the key experiences in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension from there to the heavens and into the divine presence.
Muslims have discussed the meaning and significance of the night journey and ascension ever since the Prophet first described the events to his contemporaries upon his return. Sufi mystics have shown particular fondness for discussing the night journey and ascension, especially since a number of Sufis have seen in Muhammad’s journey a model for the mystic’s quest.
Records of early Sufi discussions on the subject can be found in the Qur’an commentary of the tenth-century Sufi compiler Abu’ Abd al-Rahman Sulami and in the work of Sulami’s student Abu al-Qasim Qushayri. A recently discovered manuscript attributed to Sulami, however, preserves an even richer source of ascension-related sayings.
Entitled The Subtleties of the Ascension, Sulami exclusively dedicates this short Arabic work to recounting how the early Sufi mystics interpreted the Prophet’s journey. It represents the most extensive collection of early Sufi ascension sayings known to date. In this fascinating and insightful text, Sulami attributes fifty-six teachings on a variety of ascension-related issues to early Sufi masters such as Hallaj, Junayd and Bistami. Sulami’s Subtleties of the Ascension is an important addition to the growing body of woks on Sulami’s legacy and the formation of early Sufism, as well as a contribution to the study of other worldly journeys in general and of Muhammad’s night journey and ascension in particular.
The present volume contains the original text of The Subtleties of the Ascension from its manuscript in Arabic, together with Frederick Colby’s introduction, translation and commentary upon the text in English. It thus offers both the general reader and the learned specialist a lens through which to examine how Sufis of the formative period express and elucidate the mystical subtleties of Muhammad’s ascension, one of the central narratives of Muslim sacred tradition.