The Metaphysics of Interfaith Dialogue - Part II

Adam is therefore not just the first man, but also the first prophet, the first to have received words from his Lord. The guidance promised by God—the means by which the primordial human condition is restored to its plenary state—is, it is to be noted, immediately defined in terms of Our revelations, or Our signs, that is, ⹢tin⮠One is given a sense here of a single religion, Divine guidance, which comprises diverse forms of expression, different “signs”.

The universality of this guidance through revelation is clearly stressed in the following verses. First, “For every community (umma) there is a Messenger” (10:48). As noted above, the Quran makes explicit reference to several prophets, but the scope of prophetic guidance extends far beyond those mentioned, for “Verily, We sent Messengers before thee; among them are those about whom We have told thee, and those about whom We have not told thee” (40:78). Moreover, that which was revealed to the Prophet in the Quran does not differ in essence from what was revealed to all the prophets:

And We sent no Messenger before thee but We inspired him [saying]: There is no God save Me, so worship Me (21:25).

Naught is said unto thee [Muhammad] but what was said unto the Messengers before thee (41:43).64

This single, unique message of guidance is always revealed to the Messenger in the language of his folk (14:4).

To appreciate more fully the relationship between the substance of the message and its form, one can benefit from a distinction found in Ibn Arabi’s writings. This is the distinction, within the Speech of God, between the “necessary Speech” (al-qawl al-w⪩b), which is not subject to change, and the “accidental Speech” (al-qawl al-ma’r?which is subject to change.65It is the former, the necessary Speech, which one can identify with the unchanging substance of the Divine message. This view is articulated more explicitly in the following comment on the oneness of the religious path. It is, he writes,  that concerning which Bukhari wrote a chapter entitled, “The chapter on what has come concerning the fact that the religions of the prophets is one”. He brought the article which makes the word “religion” definite, because all religion comes from God, even if some of the rulings are diverse. Everyone is commanded to perform the religion and to come together in it…. As for the rulings which are diverse, that is because of the Law which God assigned to each one of the messengers. He said, “To every one (of the Prophets) We have appointed a Law and a Way; and if God willed, He would have made you one nation” (5:48).66 If He had done that, your revealed Laws would not be diverse, just as they are not diverse in the fact that you have been commanded to come together and to perform them.67

Thus, on the basis of scriptural and exoteric orthodoxy, Ibn Arabi points to the substantial content of religion, which both transcends and legitimizes the various revelations; the key criteria of this substance are centered on two elements: Divine command and human response. In other words, however diverse the particular rulings pertaining to the different religions may be, the substance or principle of these rulings remains the same: to submit to that which has been divinely instituted. The inner reality of religion is thus unfolded for the individual, of whatever religion, in the course of his submission to God and the practice of the worship enjoined upon him. 

Returning to the verse “We never sent a Messenger save with the language of his folk”, one can apply Ibn Arabi’s distinction and assert that the essence of the message, the necessary Speech, is one, whereas the “languages”, the accidental Speech, are many. Needless to say, the distinction in question is not to be understood as relating to a merely linguistic difference with identical semantic content, but rather by “language” should be understood the whole gamut of factors—spiritual, psychological, cultural, and linguistic—that go to make the message of the supra-formal Truth intelligible to a given human collectivity. Herein lies an important aspect of the message conveyed by Ibn Arabi’s Fus?-hikam: the nature of the jewel (Revelation) is shaped according to the receptivity—conceptual, volitive, affective—of the bezel (fass, singular of fus?that is, the specific mode of prophetic consciousness as determined by the particular human collectivity addressed by the Revelation.

The above considerations lead one to posit the distinction between religion as such, on the one hand, and such and such a religion, on the other. While such and such a religion is distinct from all others, possessing its own particular rites, laws, and spiritual “economy”, religion as such can be discerned within it and within all religions—religion as such being the exclusive property of none, as it constitutes the inner substance of all. It must be carefully noted here that this view of a religious essence that at once transcends and abides within all religions does not in the least imply a blurring of the boundaries between the different religions on the plane of their formal diversity; rather, the conception of this “essential religion” presupposes formal religious diversity, regarded not so much as a regrettable differentiation but a divinely willed necessity. The following verses uphold this calibrated conception, which recognizes the inner substance of religion inherent in all revealed religions, on the one hand, and affirms the necessity of abiding by the dictates of one particular religion, on the other:

For each We have appointed from you a Law and a Way (shir’atan wa minh⪡n). Had God willed, He could have made you one community. But that He might try you by that which He hath given you [He hath made you as you are]. So vie with one another in good works. Unto God ye will all return, and He will inform you of that wherein ye differed (5:48).

Unto each community We have given sacred rites (mansakan) which they are to perform; so let them not dispute with thee about the matter, but summon them unto thy Lord (22:67).68

These diverse laws, paths, and rites, however, ought not obscure the fact that the religion ordained through the last Prophet is, in essence, the very same religion as that ordained through all previous prophets:  He hath ordained for you of the religion (min al-d that which He commended unto Noah, and that which We reveal to thee [Muhammad], and that which We commended unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus, saying: Establish the religion, and be not divided therein (42:13).

This is the verse quoted by Ibn Arabi in the citation above; after quoting it, Ibn Arabi refers to a passage in the Quran which mentions the prophets Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, David, Solomon, Job, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Zachariah, John, Jesus, Elias, Ishmael, Elisha, Jonah, and Lot, and which ends with the words: “Those are they whom God guideth, so follow their guidance” (6:90). Ibn Arabi adds: “This is the path that brings together every prophet and messenger. It is the performance of religion, scattering not concerning it and coming together in it.“69 Again, what is being stressed here is quintessential religion, al-d

The “Islam” revealed to the Prophet Muhammad is unique, and thus a religion; but at the same time, it is identical in its essence to all religions, and is thus the religion; in other words, it is both such and such a religion, and religion as such. “Establish the religion, and be not divided” (42:13), for “naught is said unto thee [Muhammad] but what was said unto the Messengers before thee” (41:43). In another important verse, used above as our epigraph, we are given a succinct definition of what constitutes this inner, essential religion. The verse also stands out as one of the most significant proof-texts in the Quran for upholding the principle that access to salvation is not the exclusive preserve of the particular religion of Islam, that is, the specific Law and Way ordained through the last Prophet. On the contrary, the description given here of that which is necessary for salvation gives substance to the universal definition of Islam that we are trying to bring out here:

Truly those who believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabeans—whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and performeth virtuous deeds—surely their reward is with their Lord, and no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve (2:62).
It was seen above that the number of prophets is given indefinite extension by verses which mention several by name and then add, “We sent Messengers before thee; among them are those about whom We have told thee, and those about whom We have not told thee” (40:78). Likewise, in the preceding verse, the explicit mention of four distinct groups—those who believe, referring to Muslims in the particular sense, alongside the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabeans—is indefinitely prolonged by the universal category comprising “whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and is virtuous”. In a moment, we shall return to this crucial, and controversial, position, one which holds out the possibility of salvation beyond the confines of Islam qua particular religion. At this point, however, attention should remain focused on the ramifications of this “essential religion” of faith in God and in the Hereafter, allied to virtue.

The following verse is akin to a veritable creedal affirmation:

The Messenger believeth in that which hath been revealed unto him from his Lord, and [so do] the believers. Every one believeth in God and His angels and His scriptures and His Messengers—we make no distinction between any of His Messengers (2:285).70
What should be underscored here is the fact that belief in all the revealed scriptures is followed by the declaration that no distinction can be made between any of God’s Messengers. Again, there is the recognition of the formal diversity of revelation combined with the affirmation of a unique message. 

In the Quran, this universal religion, or religion as such, which resists any communal specification, is often referred to as the religion of Abraham, al-han “the devout”.71 Abraham stands forth as both the symbol and the concrete embodiment of pure, monotheistic worship: “he was not one of the idolators”. In the following verse, also from the Sura al-Baqara, we read:

And they say: Be Jews or Christians, then ye will be rightly guided. Say Nay but [we are of] the religious community (milla) of Abraham, the devout (hanifan), and he was not one of the idolators (2:135).

Then, in the verse immediately following this one, one finds a description of what affiliation to this milla, or religious community, entails:

Say: We believe in God, and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which was given unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have submitted (2:136; this verse is almost identical to 3:84).

After this comes another important verse, which reinforces the interpretation of religion as universal submission:

And if they believe in the like of that which ye believe, then they are rightly guided. But if they turn away, then they are in schism (2:137).

The next verse is also highly relevant to our theme. It begins, mysteriously, with a reference to the color of God (sibghat All⨩. Pickthall renders the verse thus, making explicit what he sees as intended by the ellipse: “[We take our] color from God; and who is better than God at coloring? And we worship Him” (2:138).72 The verses immediately following this one suggest what this “color” might mean:

Say: Dispute ye with us concerning God, when He is our Lord and your Lord? Ours are our works, and yours your works. We are devoted purely to Him.
Or say ye that Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes were Jews or Christians? Say: Do you know best or doth God? (2:139-140).

Here we are given a strong sense of the need to view religious affiliation in the light of absolute values, rather than allowing religious affiliation to determine the “color” or nature of the Absolute: “We are devoted purely to Him”; it is not religion, but God Who is worshipped. “And we worship Him.” One is reminded here of the image given by Junayd, and so often quoted by Ibn Arabi: “Water takes on the color of the cup.“73 The imperative of ‘transcending the gods of belief’, mentioned earlier, can be seen as concordant with the need to go beyond the “color” imparted by religious dogma or affiliation, to the pure Absolute, at once surpassing all color and assuming every color. As Rumi puts it:

Since colorlessness (pure Unity) became the captive of color (manifestation in the   phenomenal world), a Moses came into conflict with a Moses.
When you attain unto the colorlessness which you possessed, Moses and Pharaoh are at   peace.74

And again:

The religion of Love is separate from all religions: for lovers, the religion and creed is—  God.75

It might be objected here that the Quranic verses cited above could just as easily be interpreted as an affirmation of Islamic exclusivism, the “Islam” revealed by the Quran being the purest form of that primordial religion of Abraham that was subsequently distorted by the Jews and the Christians. It must readily be conceded that such a view would indeed be upheld, in differing degrees, and with varying implications, not only by traditional theological and exoteric authorities, but also by their mystical and esoteric counterparts, including those cited here, Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Kashani, and Ghazzali. For all such Sufis—those belonging to what one might call the “normative” Sufi tradition, in which the Shari’ah is scrupulously upheld—Islam in the particular sense would be regarded as the most complete religion, qua religion, and thus the most appropriate one to follow.76 This belief, however, on the plane of religious form, does not translate into chauvinism, and still less, intolerance. For the metaphysical vision of the religious essence that transcends all forms leads directly to an appreciation of the possibility of salvation and sanctification through diverse, and unequal, religious forms. Even if other religious forms be regarded as less “complete” than Islam, or in a certain sense superseded by it, all believers in God can nonetheless be regarded as belonging to the same community, the same umma defined in terms of essential faith, rather than as a confessionally delimited community. In the S?ntitled “The Prophets”, the following verse is given, after mention is made of several prophets, finishing with a reference to the Virgin Mary: “Truly, this, your umma, is one umma, and I am your Lord, so worship Me” (21:92). Just as our God and your God is one,77 so all believers, whatever be the outward, denominational form taken by their belief, are judged strictly according to their merits, and not according to some artificial religious label:

And those who believe and do good works, We shall bring them into Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever—a promise of God in truth; and who can be more truthful than God in utterance? (4:122).

Lest one think that the category of “those who believe and do good works” refers only to the Muslims in the specific sense—one possible reading, admittedly—the very next verse establishes the universal scope of the promise. This verse, indeed, is of the utmost importance for the perspective or “reading” being expounded here:

It will not be in accordance with your desires, nor the desires of the People of the Scripture. He who doth wrong will have the recompense thereof (4:123).

One can read this verse as implying that insofar as the Muslim “desires” that salvation be restricted to Muslims in the specific, communal sense, he falls into exactly the same kind of exclusivism of which the Christians and Jews stand accused: “And they say: None entereth paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires” (2:111). It should be noted that the very same word is used both for the “desires” of the Jews and the Christians, and the “desires” of the Muslims, am⮩yy. As noted above, the logic of these verses clearly indicates that one form of religious prejudice or chauvinism is not to be replaced with another form of the same, but with an objective, unprejudiced recognition of the inexorable and universal law of Divine justice. This universal law is expressed with the utmost clarity in the following two verses, which complete this important passage from the S?l-Nisa’:

And whoso doeth good works, whether male or female, and is a believer, such will enter paradise, and will not be wronged the dint of a date-stone.
Who is better in religion than he who submitteth his purpose to God (aslama wajhahu li’Ll⨩, while being virtuous, and following the religious community of Abraham the devout? (4:124-125).

In these four verses, taken as a whole (4:122-125), the Divine “promise” of salvation is starkly contrasted with confessional “desires”; on the one hand, there is an objective and universal criterion of wholehearted submission to God, and on the other, a subjective and particularistic criterion of formal attachment to a specific community. To return to the verse cited above, one should note the riposte that follows the unwarranted exclusivism of the People of the Book:

And they say: None entereth paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their own desires. Say: Bring your proof if ye are truthful.  Nay, but whosoever submitteth his purpose to God, and he is virtuous, his reward is with his Lord. No fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve (2:111-112).

Verse 112 thus comes as a concrete rebuttal of unwarranted exclusivism. It does not contradict the exclusivist claims of the Jews and the Christians with an exclusivism of its own, that is, with a claim that only “Muslims”, in the specific sense, go to Paradise. Access to salvation, far from being further narrowed by reference to the privileged rights of some other “group”, is broadened, and in fact universalized: those who attain salvation and enter paradise are those who have submitted wholeheartedly to God and are intrinsically virtuous. Faithful submission, allied to virtue: such are the two indispensable requisites for salvation. Thus it is perfectly justified to argue that the verse does not respond “in kind” to the exclusivism of the People of the Book, but rather pitches the response on a completely different level, a supra-theological or metaphysical level, which surpasses all reified definitions, confessional denominations, communal allegiances, and partisan affiliations. 

It is also important to note that the words cited earlier, “Unto God belong the East and the West, and wherever ye turn, there is the Face of God”, come two verses later, at 2:115. This verse is referred to by Ibn Arabi at the end of the following well-known warning to Muslims against restricting God to the form of one’s own belief, a warning that is entirely in accordance with the thrust of the Quranic discourse:

Beware of being bound up by a particular creed and rejecting others as unbelief! Try to make yourself a prime matter for all forms of religious belief. God is greater and wider than to be confined to one particular creed to the exclusion of others. For He says, Wherever ye turn, there is the Face of God.78

We can also turn to Ibn Arabi for a useful Sufi means of overcoming one of the obstacles to wholesome dialogue between Muslims and members of other faiths: the traditional legal notion of the abrogation of other religions by Islam. Before doing so, however, it is important to situate the principle of abrogation in relation to the verse cited above, 2:62, in which salvation is promised not just to Muslims in the specific sense, but also to Jews and Christians and Sabeans, whoever believeth in God and the Last Day and performeth virtuous deeds. A great deal hinges on the meaning attributed to this verse. Its literal meaning is clear enough: all believers who act virtuously, in consequence of their faith, are promised that their reward is with their Lord, and “no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve”. But it is held by many of the traditional commentators, based on a report from Ibn Abbas, that this verse is abrogated by 3:85—“And whoso seeketh a religion other than Islam, it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter.” Among the classical commentators, however, it is noteworthy that Tabari (d. 310/923) and the Shi’ite commentator Tabarsi (d. 548/1153) both reject the idea that the verse can be subject to abrogation. In general, as regards the principle of abrogation (naskh), Tabari writes, in his commentary on verse 2:106—“We abrogate no verse, nor do We cause it to be forgotten, but that We bring one better than it or like it”:

Thus, God transforms the lawful into the unlawful, and the unlawful into the lawful, and the permitted into the forbidden, and the forbidden into the permitted. This only pertains to such issues as commands and prohibitions, proscriptions and generalizations, preventions and authorizations. But as for reports (akhbⲩ, they cannot abrogate nor be abrogated.79

In regard to verse 2:62, he writes that the literal meaning of the verse should be upheld, without being restricted in its scope by reference to reports of its abrogation, “because, in respect of the bestowal of reward for virtuous action with faith, God has not singled out some of His creatures as opposed to others”.80 Tabarsi, in his commentary Majma’ al-bay⮠fafsal-qur’⮬ argues that “abrogation cannot apply to a declaration of promise. It can be allowed only of legal judgments which may be changed or altered with change in the general interest”.81

Nonetheless, as regards the specifically juristic point of view, it is almost universally upheld that Islam “abrogates” the previous dispensations, in the sense that its revealed law supersedes the laws promulgated in pre-Quranic revelations, with the concomitant that it is no longer permissible for Muslims to abide by those pre-Quranic revealed laws, the Shar39;ahbrought by the Prophet being henceforth normative and binding. How, then, can a Muslim today, concerned with dialogue, reconcile the idea of salvation being accessible to non-Muslims who faithfully follow their religions, on the one hand, with the principle that Islam abrogates or supersedes all previous religions? One answer is given by Ibn Arabi, for whom the fact of abrogation does not imply the nullification of those religions which are superseded, nor does it render them salvifically inefficacious. In a brilliant dialectical stroke, Ibn Arabi transforms the whole doctrine of abrogation from being a basis for the rejection of other religions into an argument for their continuing validity. For one of the reasons for the pre-eminence of Islam is precisely the fact that Muslims are enjoined to believe in all revelations and not just in that conveyed by the Prophet of Islam:

All the revealed religions are lights. Among these religions, the revealed religion of Muhammad is like the light of the sun among the lights of the stars. When the sun appears, the lights of the stars are hidden, and their lights are included in the light of the sun. Their being hidden is like the abrogation of the other revealed religions that takes place through Muhammad’s revealed religion. Nevertheless, they do in fact exist, just as the existence of the lights of the stars is actualized. This explains why we have been required in our all-inclusive religion to have faith in the truth of all the messengers and all the revealed religions. They are not rendered null [b⴩l] by abrogation—that is the opinion of the ignorant.82

Finally, one has to address the fact that the Quran not only contains verses that clearly assert the Divine ordainment of religious diversity, the exhortation to engage in dialogue, and the presence of piety and righteousness in religions other than Islam; it also contains verses of a polemical nature. For example: 

O ye who believe, take not the Jews and the Christians for guardians. They are guardians one to another. He among you who taketh them for guardians is (one) of them. Truly,  God guideth not wrongdoing folk (5:51).

And the Jews say: Ezra is the son of God, and the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of God. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. God fighteth them. How perverse are they! (9:30).

There are numerous such verses, which demonstrate the formal contradictions between different theological perspectives, and the consequent difficulties attendant upon the effort to engage in effective dialogue on the basis of theological perspectives alone. They also indicate, albeit indirectly, the necessity of elevating the mode of discourse to a metaphysical, supra-theological level, from the vantage point of which those formal contradictions are rendered less decisive as determinants of dialogue. The contradictions remain on their own plane; but the more challenging question is to determine the significance of that plane, and to make an effort to discern within the text of the Quran itself those openings that warrant a transition to a higher plane. This is what has been attempted in this paper, with the help of Sufi metaphysical perspectives on the Quran.

But one must also respond to the specific question: in the concrete context of interfaith dialogue, how is one to relate to the verses that severely criticize the dogmatic errors of the People of the Book? Apart from pointing out the need to examine carefully each such verse, to contextualize it, and to examine the degree to which the error in question is attributable to the orthodox theologies apparently being censured, one would respond immediately by referring to the following verse: “Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and hold discourse with them [the People of the Book] in the finest manner” (16:125). One is urged to use one’s judgment, one’s own “wisdom” to debate with the “other” in the most appropriate manner, taking into account both the particular conditions in which the dialogue is being conducted, and the principial priority that must be accorded to universal realities—so clearly affirmed in the Quran—over historical, communal, and even theological contingencies. In other words, insofar as one’s orientation to the religious “other” is determined by spiritual, rather than theological or legal considerations, one should give priority to those verses which are of a clearly principial or universal nature, as opposed to those which are clearly contextual in nature.83 By “contextual” is meant those verses which relate to the plane of theological exclusivism or inter-communal conflict, the very plane that is transcended by the vision that unfolds from the verses stressed and commented upon above.

Secondly, there is no warrant, even with an exclusivist reading of the Quran, for any brand of religious intolerance, and still less, persecution of non-Muslims. Far from it. In fact the Muslims are enjoined to defend churches and synagogues, and not just mosques—all being described by the Quran as places “wherein the name of God is much invoked” (22:40). One should also cite in this connection the historically recorded acts of tolerance manifested by the Prophet himself: for example, the treaty of Medina, in which the Jews were given equal rights with the Muslims;84 the treaty signed with the monks of St Catherine’s monastery on Sinai;85 and, especially, the highly symbolic fact that, when the Christian delegation arrived from Najran to engage the Prophet in theological debate, principally over the Divine nature of Christ, they were permitted by him to perform their liturgical worship in his own mosque.86

One observes here a perfect example of how disagreement on the plane of dogma can co-exist with a deep respect on the superior plane of religious devotion. This example of the prophetic sunnah or conduct is a good background against which one can evaluate the following important passage from the Discourses of Rumi. In one part of the book, he clearly takes to task a Christian, Jarrah, for continuing to believe in certain Christian dogmas, in particular, the idea that Jesus is God,87 but this disagreement on the plane of dogma does not blind Rumi from his majestic vision of the spirit above all religious forms—a vision so often evoked in his poetry—nor does it preclude discourse with Christians, or mutual inspiration. In Rumi’s words:

I was speaking one day amongst a group of people, and a party of non-Muslims was present. In the middle of my address they began to weep and to register emotion and ecstasy. Someone asked: What do they understand and what do they know? Only one Muslim in a thousand understands this kind of talk. What did they understand, that they should weep? The Master [i.e., Rumi himself] answered: It is not necessary that they should understand the form of the discourse; that which constitutes the root and principle of the discourse, that they understand.88 After all, every one acknowledges the Oneness of God, that He is the Creator and Provider, that He controls everything, that to Him all things shall return, and that it is He who punishes and forgives. When anyone hears these words, which are a description and commemoration (dhikr) of God, a universal commotion and ecstatic passion supervenes, since out of these words come the scent of their Beloved and their Quest.89

In this passage the notion of creative, spiritual dialogue is given clear definition. Receptivity to innate spirituality, such as is rooted in the fitrah, constitutes the inalienable substance of the human soul; and this innate spirituality recognizes no confessional boundaries. Rumi is not so much denying the fact that Muslims and non-Muslims disagree over particular dogmas, as affirming the ever-present validity of spiritual dialogue, a mode of dialogue which bears fruit despite theological disagreement, and which serves to limit the negativity arising out of that disagreement, while turning to spiritual account the underlying, devotional orientation to the transcendent Reality that defines the essential reality of all believers.

This mode of dialogue is possible because the receptivity proper to spiritual substance is of infinitely greater import than the limitations that circumscribe all mental conceptions. This is how one can understand the following statement, in which both faith and infidelity are transcended by something more fundamental than the plane on which this dichotomy exists: “All men in their inmost hearts love God and seek Him, pray to Him and in all things put their hope in Him, recognizing none but Him as omnipotent and ordering their affairs. Such an apperception is neither infidelity nor faith. Inwardly it has no name.“90 This perspective is reinforced by the following statements from the same work. Prayer, Rumi says, changes from religion to religion, but “faith does not change in any religion; its states, its point of orientation, and the rest are invariable”.91 “Love for the Creator is latent in all the world and in all men, be they Magians, Jews, or Christians.“92
Now, to return to the polemical verses that the Quran contains, in addition to all that has been said above, one has also to counterbalance such verses with the Quranic order to engage in constructive dialogue, and to avoid disputation—an order which is given added depth by affirmations of the presence of piety and faith in other religious traditions. For example:

They are not all alike. Of the People of the Scripture there is a staunch community who recite the revelations of God in the watches of the night, falling prostrate.  They believe in God and the Last Day, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency,  and vie with one another in good works. These are of the righteous.  And whatever good they do, they will not be denied it; and God knows the pious (3:  113-114).

Thou wilt find the nearest of them [the People of the Scripture] in affection to those who believe to be those who say: Verily, we are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and they are not proud (5: 82).

I believe in whatever scripture God hath revealed, and I am commanded to be just among you. God is our Lord and your Lord. Unto us our works and unto you your works; no argument between us and you. God will bring us together and unto Him is the journeying (42:15).

And only discourse with the People of the Book in a way that is most excellent, save with those who do wrong. And say: We believe in that which hath been revealed to us and revealed to you. Our God and your God is one, and unto Him we surrender (29:46).
And finally, it is worth repeating the following verse, which can justifiably be put forward as altogether definitive in respect of dialogue:

Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and hold discourse with them in the finest manner (16:125).

For those wishing to engage in dialogue with other faiths and their representatives, the key question devolves upon the way in which one understands that which is “finest”, “most excellent”, or “most beautiful”, the word ahsan comprising all these meanings. One is urged to use one’s own intelligence, one’s own “aesthetic” feel for what accords most harmoniously with the conditions of one’s own “dialogical” situation. The verse also links the “call” to the way of God with holding discourse with adherents of other belief-systems. Thus dialogue can itself be seen, not as contrary to the Muslim duty of bearing witness to his faith, but as an aspect of that duty, and perhaps, in the modern world, the wisest way of performing that duty. In an age when, in the words of Frithjof Schuon, “the outward and readily exaggerated incompatibility of the different religions greatly discredits, in the minds of most of our contemporaries, all religion”,93 a “call to God” which is based on universal inclusivity rather than dogmatic exclusivity is much more likely to be heeded. The Quranic discourse explicitly refers to the fragility and illogicality of confessional or denominational exclusivity, and affirms truths of a universal nature, doing so, moreover, with an insistence and in a manner that is unparalleled among world scriptures. It is therefore uniquely situated, in intellectual terms, to assist in the resolution of the contemporary crisis precipitated by mutually exclusive religious claims.

Wisdom is explicitly called for in the verse we have cited above; and wisdom, by definition, is not something that can be laid down in advance of all the concrete and unique situations in which wisdom needs to be applied, as if it were a formal rule or a blue-print. On the contrary, it is, on the one hand, a Divine bestowal, and on the other, a quality that can be developed and cultivated only through intellectual, moral, and spiritual effort. In the Quran, wisdom is described as a gift from God: “He giveth wisdom to whom He will; and he to whom wisdom is given hath been granted great good” (2:269). But it is also a quality which can be cultivated, acquired, or learned, and this is implied in the following verse, where the Prophet is described as one who teaches and imparts not just the formal message, but the wisdom required to understand and creatively apply that message: “He it is Who hath sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger of their own, to recite unto them His revelations and to make them grow [in purity], and to teach them the Scripture and wisdom” (62:2).

One of the most important aspects of wisdom taught by the scripture of the Quran and the conduct of the Prophet is tolerance of those with belief-systems different from one’s own, a tolerance grounded in a consciousness of the Reality which transcends all systems of belief, one’s own included, but which is also mysteriously present in the depths of each human soul. Authentic dialogue emerges in the measure that this presence of God in all human beings is respected. For Muslims living at a time when the alternative to dialogue is not just diatribe but violent clash, the imperative of highlighting that which unites the different religions, of upholding and promoting the common spiritual patrimony of mankind, is of the utmost urgency. As we have seen, there is ample evidence in the Quranic text itself, and in the compelling commentaries on these verses by those most steeped in the spiritual tradition of Islam, to demonstrate that the Quran not only provides us with a universal vision of religion, and thus with the means to contemplate all revealed religions as “signs” (⹢t) of God, but also opens up paths of creative, constructive dialogue between the faithful of all the different religious communities, despite their divergent belief-systems. It provides us with the basis for dialogue and mutual enrichment on aspects of religious life and thought that go beyond the outward forms of belief, yielding fruit in the fertile fields of metaphysical insight, immutable values, contemplative inspiration, and spiritual realization.
  _______________________________________________________________________
*This paper was first published in a volume of essays with this title: Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East, ed. J. Cutsinger (Bloomington: World Wisdom Books, 2002). It is being published here with the permission of World Wisdom Books.

1 See especially his seminal work, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (London, 1953). T. S. Eliot wrote of this book that “I have met with no more impressive work on the comparative study of Oriental and Occidental religion” (quoted by Huston Smith in his Introduction to the revised edition of the book [Wheaton, IL, 1993]).
2 Published in his work, Sufi Essays (London, 1972), pp. 123-151.
3 Ibid., p. 146.
4 Ibid., p. 150.
5 The commentary was published under the name of Ibn Arabi, with the title Tafsal-Shaykh al-Akbar, in Cairo (1866), and in Cawnpore (1883); and under his name, with the title Tafsal-Qur’⮠al-Kar in Beirut (1968). We are using the Cairo 1283/1866 edition.
6 P. Lory, Les Commentaires 鳯teriques du Coran d’apr賠‘Abd ar-RazzⱠal-Q⳨⮮ (Paris, 1980), p.7. It is also noteworthy that Kashani was a “Shi’i Sufi”, and that his work thus constitutes, as Abdurrahman Habil writes, “one of the several points where the Shi’ite and Sufi commentary traditions meet each other”. See his very useful essay, “Traditional Esoteric Commentaries on the Quran”, in Islamic Spirituality, Vol. I: Foundations, ed. S. H. Nasr (London, 1987). See also the excellent work by Abu Bakr Siraj ad-Din, The Book of Certainty(Cambridge, 1992), which offers a concise and profound exposition of Sufi gnosis based principally on Kashani’s commentary on certain Quranic verses.
7 Kashani, Tafs Vol. II, p.17.
8 Sayyed Haydar Amoli, J⭩’ al-asrⲠwa manba’ al-anwⲬ ed. H.Corbin, O.Yahia (Tehran and Paris, 1969), p.72.
9 Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, Vol.2, p.2058. Needless to say, in the Islamic tradition, the turban is also, and pre-eminently, endowed with a positive value, indicating nobility, dignity, and grace, as attested by numerous sayings of the Prophet.
10 Quoted in C.W. Ernst, Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (Albany, 1985), p.10.
11 As regards the increasing use by Sufis of the name al-Haqq for God, which is of profound significance for the shift from “theological” to “ontological” oneness, Massignon argues, in his essay on the lexicography of Islamic mysticism, that “it was from the tafsof Jafar and the mystic circles of Kufah that the term al-Haqq spread, through Dhul-Nun al-Misri and others, to become the classic name for God in tasawwuf” (cited in John Taylor, “Jafar al-Sadiq: Forebear of the Sufis”, Islamic Culture [Vol. XL, No.2, 1966], p.110).
12 Cited in A. Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (University of North Carolina, 1975), p. 55. Also Abu Nasr al-Sarraj makes the statement that none can say “I” but God, because “I-ness” (al-anniyya) pertains only to God. See the chapter on tawhin his Kit⢠al-Luma’, ed. R.A. Nicholson (E. J. Gibb Memorial Series XXII, London, 1963), p. 32 (of the Arabic text).
13 It ought to be said that in fact the ultimate “apotheosis” of Sufism is not fan⦣39;, but baq⦣39;, or subsistence, which follows the state of extinction, as is indicated in the sentence quoted above from al-Sadiq’s commentary. The “return” to the world of phenomena, and to the individual condition, after having realized one’s nothingness in the state of fan⦣39;, is deemed a “higher” or more complete attainment than the state of absorption, extinction, or annihilation. Ibn Arabi distinguishes between those “sent back” (mard? and those “absorbed” or effaced (mustahlik?the former are deemed “more perfect” and are in turn sub-divided into those who return only to themselves, and those who return with the mandate to guide others to the Truth, these latter being the highest of all. See his Journey to the Lord of Power: A Sufi Manual on Retreat—this being a translation of his treatise entitled Ris⬡t al-anwⲠf yumnah s⨩b al-khalwa min al-asrⲬ which is literally a “treatise on the lights in the secrets granted to the one who enters the spiritual retreat”. Trans. R. T. Harris (New York, 1981), p. 51. See also our forthcoming publication, Paths to Transcendence: Spiritual Realization according to Shankara, Ibn Arabi, and Meister Eckhart (State University of New York Press), where the theme of the “existential return” is discussed in comparative context. 
14 Ghazzali mentions various gnostic sciences (ma’ⲩf, pl. of ma’rifah) that are revealed only in the state of fan⦣39;, the reason for which is given as follows: the operations of the individual faculties act as obstacles to this mode of inspired disclosure, being tied to the sensible world which is “a world of error and illusion”. See No.56 of his treatise al-Arba’ quoted in F. Jabre,La Notion de la Ma’rifa chez Ghazali (Paris, 1958), p. 124. He also speaks of the ultimate degree of ma’rifah, the revelation of the sole reality of God, which comes about only through the state of fan⦣39;. See ibid., p. 65.
15 The Arabic root h⭱⦭q⦠represents very clearly this relationship between truth and reality:haqq means both “true” and “real” (as well as “right”), with the emphasis on true; while haqh means both “reality” and “truth”, with the emphasis on reality.
16 Kashani, Tafs Vol. II, p. 213.
17 Ibid., Vol. I, p. 100. The “she” in question is the great woman saint Rabi’ah al-Adawiyyah. For a discussion of this theme in the context of the doctrine of wahdat al-wuj?ee the chapter “Oneness of Being” (pp. 121-130) in M. Lings, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century (London, 1971). The statement attributed to Rabi’ah is found on p. 125, n.2. See also the discussion of Kashani’s treatment of evil by Pierre Lory in Chapter 8, “La Nature du Mal” (pp. 88-97) of hisLes Commentaires 鳯teriques. He cites the reference to Rabi’ah at p. 90, but translates the words m⠡dhnabtu as a question, quelle faute ai-je commise? (“what sin have I committed?”) instead of as an affirmation, “I have not sinned”. Both are possible readings, but the context favors the latter, to which Rabi’ah’s words are a fitting riposte: you have indeed sinned, inasmuch as your very existence is a sin.
18 The Tarjuman al-Ashwaq: A Collection of Mystical Odes by Muhyiddin Ibn al-Arabi, trans. R. Nicholson (London, 1978), p. 90.
19 It is difficult to refrain from mentioning here the words of a Christian mystic whom most Sufis would have no difficulty whatsoever in recognizing as an ‘ⲩf bi’Ll⨬ a “knower of God”, namely, Meister Eckhart. He said in one his sermons: “The bodily food we take is changed into us, but the spiritual food we receive changes us into itself” (Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises, trans. M. O’C. Walshe [Dorset, 1979], Vol. I, p.50).
20 Kashani, Tafs Vol. I, 17.
21 This pinnacle of contemplation, which is predicated on extinction, is discussed in relation to the prophetic definition of ihs⮬ or spiritual excellence: “that you should worship God as if you could see Him, and if you see Him not, He sees you”. By effecting a stop in the phrase “if you see Him not” (in lam takun: tar⨵), the phrase is changed into: “if you are not, see Him”. See pp. 48-49 of the French translation of M.Valson, Le Livre de l’Extinction dans la Contemplation(Paris, 1984).
22 This is one meaning of Ibn Arabi’s daring phrase “God created in beliefs” (al-haqq al-makhl?‘l-i’tiq⤢t); see his Fus?-hikam (Cairo, 1306 AH), p. 225; and p. 224 of the English translation, Bezels of Wisdom, by R. Austin (New York, 1980). What is in question here are conceptions of God that are pre-determined by the contours of an inherited confessional faith; as such they are more indicative of the believer’s own mind than of the Reality of God. See the chapter entitled “Transcending the Gods of Belief” in W. C. Chittick’s The Sufi Path of Knowledge (Albany, 1989), pp. 335-356.
23 See the article “The Qur’⮠as the Foundation of Islamic Spirituality”, by S. H. Nasr in Islamic Spirituality, op.cit., pp. 3-10. Frithjof Schuon cites the following relevant verses: “The Hereafter is better for thee than this lower world” (94:4); “The life of this world is but sport and play” (29:64); “In your wives and your children ye have an enemy” (44:14); “Say: Allah! Then leave them to their vain talk” (6:91); “Whoso feareth the station of his Lord and restraineth his soul from desire” (79:40). Then he adds, “When the Quran speaks thus, there emerges for the Moslem a whole ascetic and mystical doctrine, as penetrating and complete as any other form of spirituality worthy of the name” (Understanding Islam [Bloomington, 1994], p. 60).
24 Ma’a kulli shay’ l⠢i muqⲡna; ghayr kulli shay’ l⠢i muz⹡la. This sentence is found in the first sermon of the Nahj al-Bal⧨a. See the English translation of the sermon in Peak of Eloquence, by Sayed Ali Reza (New York, 1996), pp. 91-97.
25 This is the translation of al-B⴩n in the text in which this report is translated by Lings; likewise, al-Z⨩r is rendered as “the Outwardly Manifest”.
26 Cited in M. Lings, A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-‘Alawi (London, 1971), p.131.
27 Ibn Ata’ill⨦#39;s Sufi Aphorisms (Kit⢠al-Hikam), trans. V. Danner (Leiden, 1973), p. 25.
28 “The term self-disclosure (tajall-often translated as ‘theophany’—plays such a central role in Ibn al-Arabi’s teachings that, before he was known as the great spokesman for wahdat al-wuj?e had been called one of the Companions of Self-Disclosure (ash⢠al-tajallquot; (W. C. Chittick, The Self-Disclosure of God [Albany, 1998], p. 52).
29 This is cited from a new translation of the Fus?-Hikam by Caner Dagli, which is due to be published by Kazi Press, Chicago, in 2001, and which is the most accurate and reliable commented translation of this major text in the English language.
30 That is, a saying in which God speaks in the first person, on the tongue of the Prophet, but which is not part of the Quran.
31 Cf. “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the differences of your languages and colors. Indeed, herein are signs for those who know” (30:22).
32 Kit⢠al-Luma’, p. 40 (of the Arabic text). Ed. R. A. Nicholson, E.J. Gibb Memorial Series XXII (London, 1963).
33 See for example Hujwiri’s (d.456/1063) Kashf al-Mahj?ne of the most definitive of the classic manuals of early Sufism, trans. R. A. Nicholson (Lahore, 1992), p. 267; and Qushayri (d. 465/1074) in his famous Ris⬡, trans. B. R. von Schlegell as Principles of Sufism (Berkeley, 1990), p. 316. As regards exoteric scholars, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, for example, cites the had of the “hidden treasure”, as well as the interpretation ill⠬i-ya’rif?at the end of his commentary on 51:56. See Tafsal-kab(Beirut, 2001), vol.10, p. 194.
34 This theme is expressed in several other verses. See for example, 13:13; 59:1; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1,et passim.
35 Al-Ghazali, The Niche of Lights, trans. David Buchman (Provo, Utah, 1998), p. 16.
36 We are following Hermann Landolt’s translation of yals “turned to” rather than Buchman’s “adjacent to”. See Landolt, “Ghazali and ‘Religionswissenschaft’: Some Notes on the Mishkⴠal-AnwⲠfor Professor Charles J. Adams”, ɴudes Asiatiques, XLV, No.1, 1991, p. 60. Kashani refers to two faces of the heart:  the sadr (the breast) as the “face of the heart which is turned to (yalthe soul, just as the fu’⤠is the face of the heart which is turned to the spirit” (Tafs Vol. I, p.17).
37 The Niche of Lights, pp. 16-17.
38 Ibid., p.17.
39 See Ernst, Words of Ecstasy, for a good discussion of these shathiyy⴬ or theopathic utterances, by Hallaj and Bayazid al-Bastami, respectively.
40 The Niche of Lights, pp.17-18.
41 We have slightly modified this sentence, which Nicholson translates in The Tarjumᮠal-Ashwᱬ p. 68. The sentence is part of Ibn Arabi’s commentary on one of the poems.
42 Quoted by H. Lazarus-Yafeh, Studies in Ghazzali (Jerusalem, 1975), pp. 197-198.
43 A key distinction, stressed throughout his works by Frithjof Schuon.
44 The Message of the Qur’an: Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad (Gibraltar, 1984), p. 885, n.17.
45 Ibid., p. vi.
46 Kashani, Tafs Vol. II, p. 109.
47 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 131.
48 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 132.
49 Ibid., Vol. II, p. 132.
50 2:25. This verse is given as the words uttered by the souls in Paradise upon being given fruits of the heavenly garden.
51 We have slightly modified Arberry’s translation of 2:25 and of 9:128, which concludes the paragraph from Rumi’s Discourses, pp. 44-45.
52 Ibid., p. 227.
53 Mathnawtrans. R. A. Nicholson (London, 1926), Book I, 678-679. Nicholson does not include the heading, consisting of the verse, which is given in the Persian. See the edition by Abd al-Hamid Mashayikh Tabataba’i, published by Nashr-i Tul?;, in Tehran (n.d.), p. 35.
54 See 18:60-82.
55 This station “represents the ultimate point in the hierarchy of the saints” (M. Chodkiewicz,Seal of the Saints: Prophethood and Sainthood in the Doctrine of Ibn ‘Arabtrans. Liadain Sherrard [Cambridge, 1993], p. 58).
56 Fus?. 34. See R. Austin’s translation, The Bezels of Wisdom, p. 66.
57 Fus?. 167; in Bezels, p. 168.
58 Kashani comments on the domain which is said to lie beyond the scope of the law-giving function: “The explanation of ‘adornment of the soul with the qualities of God’ (takhalluq bi akhlⱠAll⨩, the proximity [attained through] supererogatory and obligatory devotions; and the stations of trust, contentment, submission,  realizing oneness, attaining singularity, extinction, union and separation, and the like” (Fus?. 168).
59 Fus?. 168; Bezels, pp. 168-169.
60 Al-Fut?al-Makkiyya, II.261. See the French translation of the chapter on the station of nearness (chapter 161) by Denis Gril in “Le terme du voyage” (pp. 339-347) in Les Illuminations de La Mecque, ed. M. Chodkiewicz (Paris, 1988).
61 As M. Chodkiewicz writes, in his excellent study of Ibn Arabi’s hermeneutics, “Given the extremely rich polysemy of Arabic vocabulary, rigorous fidelity to the letter of Revelation does not exclude but, on the contrary, implies a multiplicity of interpretations. Ibn al-Arabi insists on this point on a number of occasions, emphasizing that there is a general rule applicable to all the revealed Books: ‘Any meaning of whatever verse of the Word of God—be it the Qur’⮬ the Torah, the Psalms, or the Pages—judged acceptable by one who knows the language in which this word is expressed represents what God wanted to say to those who interpreted it so.’ As a corollary, none of these meanings is to be rejected. To deny the validity of this rule is to limit divine knowledge” (An Ocean Without Shore: Ibn Arabi, the Book, and the Law, trans. D. Streight [Albany, 1993], p. 30).
62 This accords with the principle, expressed in a variety of paradoxical ways throughout the Akbarian corpus, that “part of the perfection of being is the existence of imperfection within it; for were it otherwise, the perfection of being would be imperfect because of the absence of imperfection within it” (The Sufi Path of Knowledge, p. 296).
63 Identical to 38:72. Cf. also the verse “Then He fashioned him and breathed into him of His Spirit” (32:9).
64 Cf. “Say: I am no innovation among the Messengers” (46:9).
65 See “Le Livre du Nom de Majest馱uot;, trans. M. Valsan, ɴudes Traditionelles, No. 272, December, 1948, p. 345.
66 We quote here Chittick’s rendition of the verse. Our preferred translation of the first part of the verse is: “For each We have appointed from you a Law and a Way”. The importance of translating the phrase literally, together with the mysterious word minkum, “from you”, has been noted above in connection with Rumi’s illuminating comments.
67 Quoted in Chittick, Sufi Path, p. 303.
68 Cf. “And each one hath a goal (wijha) toward which he turneth” (2:148).
69 Quoted in Chittick, Sufi Path, p. 303.
70 The phrase “We make no distinction between any of His Messengers” also comes earlier in the same S? at 2:136, which we cite below.
71 We translate this word as “devout” on the basis of the following explanation of Asad: “The expression hanis derived from the verb hanafa, which literally means ‘he inclined [towards a right state or tendency]’. Already in pre-Islamic times, this term had a definitely monotheistic connotation, and was used to describe a man who turned away from sin and worldliness and from all dubious beliefs, especially idol-worship; and tahannuf denoted the ardent devotions, mainly consisting of long vigils and prayers, of the unitarian God-seekers of pre-Islamic times” (The Message of the Qur’an, p. 28, note 110 on 2:135).
72 The Arabic here is nahnu lahu ‘⢩d?hich can also be translated as “we are His worshippers”; the strong implication, in both senses of the phrase, is that God is the sole object of worship, and that for this reason true worshippers “belong” to God alone, this being made explicit in the verses which follow 2:138.
73 See Sufi Path, pp. 149, 229, 341-344.
74 MathnawI, 2467-8.
75 MathnawII, 1770.
76 For example, Kashani, after pointing out the flaws in the religions of Judaism and Christianity, avers that Islam is “altogether true; indeed, it is the truth of truths. It is the supreme and most brilliant truth” (cited in Lory, Commentaires 鳯teriques, p. 132).
77 The verse in which these words are given is as follows: “And only discourse with the People of the Book in a way that is most excellent, save with those who do wrong. And say: We believe in that which hath been revealed to us and revealed to you. Our God and your God is one, and unto Him we surrender” (29:46). We shall return to this verse below.
78 Quoted by T. Izutsu in his Sufism and Taoism (Berkeley, 1983), p. 254. We have modified somewhat Izutsu’s translation of this passage from the Fus?p. 135-16). In particular, the word ‘aq, should, we believe, be translated as “creed” and not, as Izutsu has it, “religion”. Izutsu’s translation nonetheless adequately conveys the clear intention behind this warning to believers not to restrict God to the form of their own belief, whether this is a doctrinal form vis-୶is other possible forms within the same religion, or a religious belief vis-୶is the beliefs of other religions. But, as has been discussed in the previous section, for Ibn Arabi, there is but one religion, which comprises diverse modes of revelation and different rulings, according to the requirements of different human collectivities addressed by the one and only Divinity. 
79 J⭩’ al-bay⮠‘an ta’way al-qur’⮠(Beirut, 2001), Vol.1, p. 546.
80 Ibid., Vol.1, p. 373.
81 Quoted by M. Ayoub, The Qur’⮠and Its Interpreters (Albany, 1984), Vol. I, p. 110. In the contemporary period, both Rashid Rida and Allamah Tabataba’i likewise uphold the literal meaning of the verse, and reject the possibility that it is subject to abrogation. See the discussion of this issue in Farid Esack, Qur’⮬ Liberation and Pluralism (Oxford, 1997), pp. 162-166; and in Abdulaziz Sachedina, The Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism (Oxford, 2001), pp. 29-34.
82 Cited by W. C. Chittick, Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity (Albany, 1994) p. 125
83 It should be noted that this stress on certain verses—those which are universal in content, and which promote peace and harmony between the different faith communities, as opposed to those which are more aggressive in tone, and which reflect particular historical situations or specific theological controversies—is not totally unrelated to Ghazzali’s principle of the “variance in the excellence of the Quranic verses”. See his Jewels of the Quran :Al-Ghazali’s Theory, trans. M. Abul Quasem (London and Boston, 1983), pp. 64-5. Needless to say, for Ghazzali, the Quran in its entirety is of a revealed substance, so each verse is equal to all others in respect of revelation; but some verses are of more profound import and of greater theurgic value than others, as attested to by the Prophet in many sayings. Ghazzali refers to the “light of insight” that helps us to see “the difference between the Verse of the Throne (2:255) and a verse concerning giving and receiving loans, and between the Sura of Sincerity (112) and the Sura of Destruction (111)” (p.64).
84 See the useful discussion of the first Constitution of Medina in S. H .M. Jafri, Political and Moral Vision of Islam (Lahore, 2000), pp. 11-41.
85 A copy of the document is displayed to this day in the monastery itself, which is the oldest continually inhabited monastic establishment in Christendom, and which—it is of considerable interest to note—includes within its precincts a mosque, constructed by the monks for the local Bedouins.  See J. Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai (London, 1985), pp. 18-19.
86 See A. Guillaume, trans., The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishⱦ#39;s St Ras?l⨠(Oxford, 1968), pp. 270-277.
87 Discourses, pp. 135-136.
88 We have taken the liberty of substantially altering Arberry’s translation in this sentence. He translates the Persian nafs-e sukhan as “the inner spirit of these words”; whereas Rumi’s contrast between the nafs of the “words” and the asl of the “words” makes it clear that the latter is in fact the “inner spirit” and the former is something relatively superficial, the formal correlate of the asl, the supra-formal principle, or the “inner spirit”.
89 Discourses, p. 108.
90 Ibid., p.109.
91 Ibid., p. 43. Arberry translates the word qibla as locus; but we prefer to translate this word as “point of orientation” in the above sentence.
92 Ibid., p. 214.
93 F. Schuon, The Transcendent Unity of Religions (Wheaton, IL, 1993), p. xxxiii.

Originally published in the Journal of The Institute of Ismaili Studies at http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/pm/index.php?sx=0&m=weblog&p=edit&id=32  Presented at ?Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East? Conference October 18-20, 2001 University of South Carolina, USA.  Reprinted in The American Muslim with permission of the author.

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